17 April, 2014


The Unexpected Rebuild

“Who’s putting the puck in the net?” in D.C. next season, Greg Wyshynski wonders, while digesting the news of Alexander Semin signing with Carolina. I wonder too.

Let us hope that the captain shows up in shape this fall.

Or: Let us hope there’s prolonged labor strife.

It’s one thing to jettison Semin as at last intolerably inconsistent, maddeningly mercurial, and simply not worth the big dough. The room perhaps will be improved by his no longer being there, even. But it’s quite another to wave goodbye to the gamebreaker (and yes, he is one) and make no attempt whatsoever at replacing his production.

Semin was no savior for the underwhelming power play of recent seasons, but his skill was such that he did keep PK units honest. How much sleep do you imagine the rest of the East is losing this summer imagining a Capitals PP next season minus Dennis Wideman and Alexander Semin?

Your offseason acquisitions to date by the GM:

  • Joey Crabb ($950,000)
  • Jack Hillen ($650,000)
  • Wojtek Wolski ($600,000)

A Murderers Row, isn’t it?

And graduating from the ‘A’? Basically, nobody.

Tell me: As you watched the Capitals lined up at Madison Square Garden’s center ice to shake hands with their Blueshirt vanquishers this spring, how many of you in that moment had an offseason wish-list of Crabb, Hillen, and Wolski, in furtherance of the Capitals Stanley Cup aspirations? And: how many of you wished for those three while simultaneously wishing for the walking of All-Star talents Wideman and Semin . . . for nothing in return?

Or put another way: what do you imagine is the data on 20-game plans purchased this July on the basis of those Big Three in this summer of RGIII and Natsensational?

It’s a whole new sporting landscape in town this summer, and I’m not so sure Capitals brass realize it.

Or perhaps they do. A case could be made that by going Ben Clymer and Mathieu Biron on free agents this summer George McPhee knows full well that he needs a rigorous rebuild of his top six up front, and that the two key components for that are overseas and not donning Capitals colors before the 2013-14 season. And in the case of Evgeni Kuznetsov, not before 2014-15, at the earliest. If you watched Kuznetsov at the most recent World Juniors you understood how it might have been that McPhee foresaw Semin’s walking the plank this summer and being instantly replaced by the young, dynamic Russian with the bigger heart. Problem is, early this spring heartbreak on that score set in. To the best laid plans.

I’ll take it a step further. Dale Hunter, who covets association with a Stanley Cup every bit as much as he does his next breath, high-tailed it out of town before the ink on his apartment lease was dry. It’s possible that he got a real good look at the Cup worthiness of the current Capitals roster, such as it is, and said to his pal the GM, ‘Lemme know if I can help out in about two years’ time.’ Not long after, as draft advisor, Hunter guided the Caps to Tom Wilson, after the Caps had already landed the contact-loving, highly skilled Swede Forsberg. Some might call that a marked departure from draft trends of recent years; also: rebuilding.

Additionally: McPhee could have entered into his calculus the thought that Braden Holtby is another couple of seasons away from being primed for leading the Caps to the promised land as a legit, experienced no. 1.

So new coach Adam Oates will favor a more offensive style of play, relative to his predecessor. But even if you play pond hockey you have to have more than two-thirds of a first line in your top 6. The offseason is not yet over, but this morning the Capitals are missing merely a no. 1 right wing and a no. 2  left wing. Other than that, the top 6 is set. Maybe. No one this summer, other than George McPhee, was much lining up to pick Wolski’s stick out of the pond puck pile as sides were being selected. Ditto that for Joey Crabb. And Jack Hillen.

For years, Washington’s hockey fans were tormented by a dearth of reliable playmaking pivots in town to set up the Sashas, Mike Knuble, Tomas Fleischmann, Jason Chimera, and Brooks Laich. Now that Mike Ribero is here, the Caps look rock solid down the middle. But out on the wing — especially in the top 6 — the Caps have gone grab-bag, journeyman, driftwood . . . and prayer, apparently.

Mathieu Perreault as a top 6 winger? That’s what the diminutive pivot told Washington’s hockey media his GM expected at his signing presser earlier this summer. Matty knows no greater admirer than I in these parts, but undersized shiftiness like his belongs where it’s been his entire hockey career, and that’s not getting thumped and concussed in corners and along walls. Moreover, Matty doesn’t possess anything approaching an on-rushing heavy shot that would force respect from any defenders.

Again, I think Kuznetsov really threw this organization a curveball with his enduring commitment to development back home, but that’s no excuse for McPhee ignoring the center of the second line for three years running, for failing to address right wing with any impact draft after draft after draft, and most especially for choosing Joel Ward over Erik Cole in free agency last summer. Now he’s paying a heavy price. And most especially so are you, the ticket-buyers.

The Caps would never admit to it, but I believe they’re rebuilding. George McPhee might credibly believe he needs a new slate of impact top 6 forwards to seriously challenge the likes of the Rangers and Penguins in the East. I would agree. The good news is those players are in the organization; the bad news is they’re overseas, and neither Evgeni Kuznetsov nor Filip Forsberg will wear a Washington sweater as the window further closes on the captain’s claim to changing the fate of hockey in Washington.



20 Comments

  1. Mark Novak wrote:

    Ribero

    27 July, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink
  2. RoadWarrior wrote:

    You’ve forgotten to mention Stan Galiev…

    27 July, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink
  3. @ MARK: the post does mention Ribero. “Now that Mike Ribero is here, the Caps look rock solid down the middle. But out on the wing — especially in the top 6 — the Caps have gone grab-bag, journeyman, driftwood . . . and prayer, apparently.”

    27 July, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  4. @Roadwarrior: Galiev belongs in Hershey next season, where MJ90 should have been sent at his age.

    27 July, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  5. josh wrote:

    Great post, and exactly why we cancelled our season tickets. No second line center for 4 years, get one and jettison every good winger minus Ovie.

    27 July, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  6. CAL15 wrote:

    I’d argue addition by subtraction in this case. It clearly did not work with Semin here the last few years. A change was needed. Will be interesting to see the effect on Ovechkin without his Russian buddy in town any longer.

    27 July, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  7. Adam wrote:

    I fully supported letting Semin walk, but only contingent on somehow replacing his production. I have no idea what McPhee’s thinking. His once “generational team” that barely made the playoffs last season is now WORSE on paper.

    27 July, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink
  8. dave wrote:

    Wow. The sky is falling, huh? I personally don’t like losing Semin, but GMGM knows better than I the pros and cons of that decision. As for the rest, you might have noticed the FA market was a little thin. Adding a skilled centerman like Ribiero can increase the production of whomever you have on the wings. It works that way more often than the opposite, so Ribiero for Semin might prove to be a positive tradeoff. And expecting to constantly remain a bonafide top threat in the East year after year is fairly unrealistic; and calling the current situation a rebuild is hyperbole. A product of the dog days of summer hockey news, I guess.

    27 July, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink
  9. David wrote:

    Great post. Am I the only Caps fan soured on the idea of putting our hopes on yet another Russian? I was also disappointed in the Green signing. Seems to me 30 or so games from that guy doesn’t justify the price paid. Only a fan still dreaming about the ” young guns” of distant memory would applaud that move. A more offensive style ( read : get fans in the seats for the reg season… who needs a Cup?) …doesnt excite me much at all. I love the Caps…but I expect another disappointing year from our “consistent contender”.

    27 July, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  10. The Fingerman wrote:

    Great piece–agree almost completely. Seems to me as if GMGM is just killing time waiting for Forsberg and Kuzentsov to arrive and is trying just to get by with pickups that don’t cost anything. Meantime, he’s apparently going to expect Ovi to score 65 goals again –or Troy Brouwer to become a 40 goal scorer somehow — in order to make up for not replacing Semin’s production. Well at least no one will be picking the Caps as Cup favorites next year. Instead, the Caps will once again be fighting for a playoff spot in April.

    27 July, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  11. Jon wrote:

    Love the article. First of all Ribiero will be a great 2nd line center for us. And hopefully Wolski will return to the form he was in before his injuries. I still say we need to make a major push for Bobby Ryan. Boudreau knows our team well and I am sure there are players that he would like to have in Anaheim. MoJo, Schultz, Galiev or the rights to Kunetzov and a pick should be more than enough to get Ryan in a trade. Hell…i would even throw in Ward just to dump him. We have too many Left wingers and not enough right wings. I would love to see the following…

    Ovi/Nicky/Ryan
    Wolski/Ribiero/(Fill how you want)
    Chimera/Laich/Brouwer
    Hendricks/Beagle/Crabb

    Green/Poti(if he is actually healthy)
    Carlson/Alzner
    Hamrlick/Orlov

    27 July, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  12. ValleyCapsFan wrote:

    I wouldn’t fret over Semin’s departure. I’m personnally glad that a division rival, no less, will now be paying him to underachieve and poison the locker room. Yes, the Caps are thin on the wings, but show me a team, even a cup contender, that isn’t thin SOMEWHERE. In a salary cap era, you have to choose which area you’re going to take risk at.

    GMGM has chosen to be thin at wing. The Flyers have chosen to be thin on the blue line. The Rangers just traded depth up front for a Rick Nash that broke 70 points just once in Columbus. Without Semin’s penalty-in-the-offensive-zone per game, I look forward to fewer PKs and more PPs.

    27 July, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  13. Ralph wrote:

    Ehh, I think the team is a little deeper than you’re giving it credit for. It doesn’t take a lot to be a 1st liner–50-60 points will get you into the top 30 in scoring at your forward position. 35-40 will get you into the top 60 at your position.

    While the Capitals only have three or four top six forwards who should produce at an above-average level relative to their roster spot, it’s not the worst thing ever if you fill another spot or two with average production, and bump down the others to be above-average third and fourth liners.

    27 July, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  14. Rob wrote:

    Are people forgetting that we’ve still got over $10M of cap space left unspent? Assuming we sign Carlson for ~$3.5M (fingers crossed here), that’s ~$7M left to spend, meaning that we’ve got a ton of room left for making trades with teams that find themselves in need of clearing their own cap space.

    I’m still hoping for Bobby Ryan (who seems to have issue with the Ducks and would be a steal at ~$5M), but I don’t know what we’d really have to trade…

    27 July, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink
  15. My take on the cap space: I think the Caps are figuring on a new CBA with an appreciably *reduced* cap. More than $5 million; perhaps in the $8-10 million range. If so, the Caps will need every penny of space they can preserve. I wondered how Holmgren was going to make Weber work under such new constrictions. Moot point now.

    Let us hope, too, for an ‘amnesty’ provision attendant to the new CBA. That Ward pact is positive albatross.

    27 July, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink
  16. Jeff wrote:

    Really enjoyed this read.

    To me, the Ribeiro trade makes sense if you bring Semin back. For so long Semin toiled on the second line with no center (Morrison, Arnott, Perreault….), and now that the Caps have a legit 2C, they let Semin go?

    I understand it was perhaps time to move on, but the timing is a bit odd here.

    27 July, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink
  17. @ ROB: Good observation: ~$7M left under the cap; Semin signed a one-year, $7M deal… while I too won’t bemoan his departure in the grand scheme, the team had better spend up to the cap on quality somehow. ’cause otherwise they should have brought Sasha back for a one-year deal to play with Ribero.

    28 July, 2012 at 1:57 am | Permalink
  18. Hittman wrote:

    Anyone who says we are only thin at wing is fooling themselves. Ribeiro is the 2nd coming of Brendan Morrison, not a Jordan Staal level 2nd line center. MoJo is a great player, but he’s more of a Detroit Red Wings style winger than a center. Laich has shown that he can play a great 3rd line center role, but he can’t pass for shnit and so he can’t play 1 or 2. I agree that wingers are like WR’s in football, but without a QB to pass the puck, you need a gamebreaking winger or the whole system breaks down. We still need a #2 center, IMO, and at least one top 6 winger. Not to mention the massive holes on defense and in goal (who knows what’s going on there? Nobody.), but that’s a topic for another day.

    28 July, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Permalink
  19. Ouch wrote:

    ”George McPhee might credibly believe he needs a new slate of impact top 6 forwards to seriously challenge the likes of the Rangers and Penguins in the East”

    Penguins? They need to replace their whole defence and their goalie is question mark again now. Not to mention they added selfish Vokoun who is not going to be happy to be backup. They have much bigger problems right now, since behind Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz and Sutter their forward core is extremely poor and no help is coming from forward prospects either.

    29 July, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink
  20. DOC wrote:

    Wow, What a bunch of Crap you guys go through year after year . Lets all face it. Caps Fans thought they had a productive team ?????. Now The new coach after coach after coach What a JOKE.

    I did mention this a few years ago the Caps have to rebuid from the Bottom again. Get rid of the Russian Idiot Captain. He soaked you for Big Bucks he got what he wanted he has no Interest of holding the Stanley Cup.

    Green that is another waste product so who do you guys have for a TEAM?????????????????.

    Get a Grip all you Caps Fans they will “NEVER” get to Hold the Stanley Cup.

    Washington Capitals are Finnished.

    3 August, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Permalink