I know what some of you are thinking, "What about a break down of round 2 Eddie". My response to that would be the Caps were swept in four games. What else do you want to know?
Ok... I was impressed with Nevy's ability to keep the Caps in the first three games. I also was impressed with how composed he was after not once, not twice, but three times goals were deflected in off his own players or bad bounces off Tampa's players. Nevy can't clear the crease that falls to the Caps D. On the negative side I was unimpressed with Bruce's ability to adapt to another playoff series. Some blame needs to fall on the players but this is becoming a pattern. Also is it just me or were the Caps never in the middle of the offensive zone. Every time they would dump it in and struggle along the boards. We needed to find a way to get the puck in the slot. This seems to be a constant theme with this team.
With that said I thought it might take some of the sting out of last night to look at the very bright future the Caps have:
Cap numbers from CapGeek.com
2011-12 Payroll: 50,896,795
2011-12 Cap Space: 8,503,203
As a side note the NHL signed a larger TV deal with NBC. This should lead to more revenue. Even with a struggling economy I think we will see an increase in the Salary Cap next year.
What we have for next year:
Michal Neuvirth is signed through the next two years at 1.1 million.
He was great in the first round and while he struggled at times vs Tampa I felt very confident with him in between the pipes. I can remember at least 5-7 times thinking for sure Tampa had scored only to see Nevy come up with a huge save.
Holtby is also signed for two more years at 677,000.
Mike Green, Dennis Wideman, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, John Carlson and Tyler Sloan are signed through next year. The total cap hit for these players is around 17.7 mil.
The change to a defensive mindset seemed to work as the Caps enjoyed one of their best defensive seasons in team history. I think this group of defensemen give the Caps the ability to skate three d-pairs with both a defensive and offensive d-man. The Caps blue line struggled to provide offensive numbers this year. I do not see that continuing to be a problem. Carlson should continue to get better and better. Wideman and Green provide two great puck moving defensemen.
Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Knuble, Fehr, Chimera, Johansson, Hendricks, King, and Beagle are all signed through next season.
This is where I see the biggest changes coming next season but that is for a later section. The change to a defensive mindset may have kept the puck out of our goal but the Caps struggled to score this season. I believe the Caps were shutout an incredible ten times last season. There is too much talent on this team to have that happen. Johansson continued to make large strides this season. This is a 20 year old kid who is still getting used to the North American rink and speed and style of the NHL. I look for him to continue to get better and better.
Who is currently unsigned:
Scott Hannan: Is it just me or does Hannan never smile. Don't get me wrong I really liked his play throughout the season. Hannan's calling card is smart, solid, defense first play. Maybe not so much during the OT in Game 2 vs Tampa but everyone makes mistakes. At the moment we have seven defensemen signed for next year. I would love to bring Hannan back next season. But with such a logjam already and a large price tag (Hannan made 4.5 mil last year) I think Hannan finds a new home next year.
Karl Alzner: I think my wife, Rachel, thinks Alzner is my "one". "One" being the one famous person I could sleep with and not get in trouble. That is not the case but Alzner is far and away my favorite hockey player. He's a RFA which will allow the Caps to sign him for less than he would as a UFA. That said I still think he will get a decent increase from his 1.67 mil. If I had one wish for George McPhee it would be to sign Alzer and Carlson long term. This pairing impressed time and time again against the opponents top line. And don't forget these two are 21 (Carlson) and 22 (Alzner). Oh and it's Kate Beckinsale for those wondering.
Brooks Laich: This is probably the toughest call of the off season for GMGM. Brooks Laich is an old school hockey player and a class act. He has a balance of skill, toughness, and sandpaper that make him very attractive in the Free Agent market. And from women tell me he's also very attractive and not to mention he just seems like a really good guy. (Ex. Stopping to change a tire after game 7 last year) I know Brooks has been a huge supporter of Bruce over the years. We'll see how that situation affects his possible return to the Caps. I would try to sign Brooks. I think he seems like a great Locker room guy. However there is a limit and in the salary cap league you have be careful.
Jason Arnott: Jason Arnott seemed to spark the Caps after his arrival however he did not seem to do the same after a late season injury. Was that a result of not being a 100%, an older player wearing down, or just an overall bad offensive post season for the Caps? I'm not sure. If I were the Caps I would be open to brining Arnott back but only for a small one year contract.
Marco Sturm: Marco never really seemed to make a mark for this Caps team. I thought he actually played better in the Tampa series but still had little effect on the games. He's still working back from a major knee injury. But I did not see enough from him to justify investing.
Boyd Gordon: Remember David Steckel? Yes Joey I know you remember and while we are on the subject the candles burning and picture collage is a little weird. Well for the rest of you normal fans you might not. Boyd stepped in after Steckel's departure and was great as the 4th line center and top PK man. I think Boyd is an important FA for the Caps to sign.
Matt Bradley: Ah good old Professor Bradley... you have been a solid 4th line forward for years now. We had some good memories. However 1 million for an aging 4th line forward seems steep. I think its important for the Caps to give some young guys some time. As a result I'd let Bradley walk. I just think its time to move on.
Semyon Varlamov: Varly has been great when he has been healthy. However that has been a major problem for this young Russian net minder. I think Varly has the athletic ability to be a dynamic goaltender that teams can lean for stretches. With that said, I have no idea how salary works for goalies. Just last year Chicago let go of Stanley Cup winning goalie. I would bring Varly back if its not too costly. However with Holtby and Nevy signed for two years you wonder how GMGM deals with this. Is this the time when one of these three is dealt?
What to do with Bruce:
Let me preface this by saying I'm not a hockey expert. I'm a fan. There are much smarter hockey people out there and I'm glad they are making this call and not me. With that said I think a change will be made. I look at the roster and there doesn't seem to be a ton of room to make changes. Maybe you try to move Semin but you're probably selling low after these playoffs.
Why make a change:
I just find myself confused watching this team. Last year we play offensive, up-tempo hockey lead in goal and power play %. However we struggle to keep pucks out of our goal. This year we switch to a defense first mentality. We are towards the top in GAA and PK. However we are shut out 10 time over 82 games. Where is the balance? Between the two years there is very little change in the roster. People this year continued to say we need a complete game or effort from these Caps. That has been the case for two years now. We seem unable to play aggressive and smart hockey at the same time. The ability to be both a top offense one year and top defensive team another tells me this team has talent. Everyone can see that. The inability to do both tells me that there is something wrong with the scheme and game plan. I have been a huge Bruce fan for years. After last year I was the first to say he needs to stay. However professional sports is a what have you done for me lately business. Bruce has had control of a tremendousness amount of talent here for three years now. Each time the team has come up way short of expectations.
I'm not sure what will happen over the next four months. The one thing I do know is I'm a Caps fan. That is not going to change. If you don't like the drops and let downs get off the train. No one is stopping you. However I'm confident I'll see you back next year wearing your Caps jersey and saying you never stopped believing. Hockey is a great game where anything can happen. Enjoy it. We have one of the best players in the world with an incredible roster of players. Our time will come.