THE PAIN BRINGS CHANGE
The Caps are out of the playoff since 2007 and it hurts, it hurts a lot! Whether they deserved to make the post season or not (they didn’t), nothing beats watching your team play in the playoffs. But in the grand scheme of things, this is probably the best thing that could happen to the Capitals organization. They have been declining the last couple seasons, treading water, gasping for air, and they have finally been overtaken. It is time for something new.
General Manager George McPhee (GMGM) has been steering the ship for the last 17 years without ever getting the team past the 2nd round of the playoffs (excluding the first year he was on the job in which they made it to the Stanley Cup finals and were swept). He isn’t a horrible GM, he has made some good trades and has drafted very well the last 2 years, but organizations tend not to win the Stanley Cup with just being “not terrible”. Hopefully, Ted Leonsis sees that it is time for something new and gets some fresh blood in here. Without the changing tides I fear the Caps will just keep sinking to the bottom.
So before I give my opinions and such on what the Caps should aim to do this offseason it must be known that NONE of this works if there isn’t proper management in place. The Caps (like any other successful sports team) need to have a proper GM and coach on board before making any moves. If you have a poor GM and a lost coach then making certain moves is all for naught. You can have a great GM that gets the right players but a coach that has no idea how to handle them. Or a great coach that is given the incorrect pieces by the GM and can’t make anything happen. Both candidates need to be good at what they do and in complete understanding of one another.
Before any type of trades or moves are made, Ted Leonsis MUST find a GM that, in return, can find an experienced head coach that will communicate well together. Oates and GMGM never seemed to be on the same page. It is evident in the way GMGM went out and got 2 top 6 players in Erat and Penner, and both spent a good chunk of time either playing on the 4th line or eating nachos up in the box.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s continue.
WHICH PATH TO TAKE
The question is what is the next move, or multiple moves, that need to be taken to put the Caps back on track to hoist Lord Stanley. Well there are two paths to take: the long rebuild or the short rebuild.
The Long Rebuild
The long rebuild entails gutting everything (including Ovechkin) and starting from scratch. If we are going to go that route then I suggest bringing in Don Sweeney (current Boston Bruins Assistant General Manager) as the new GM and having Dale Hunter return as coach. Give them complete control and let them rebuild the franchise any way they want. You will get a hard-nosed team that grinds and never quits (Boston, Los Angeles, Columbus style). It might not be as pretty as the 2009 Caps but they will get the job done and will be built for the post season play.
Don’t be scared that that type of style of play is “boring”. The Bruins are at the top of league when it comes to points (1st) and goals for (3rd). Plus their defensive stats are the best of the best. It’s no wonder they won a Cup 3 years ago and got to the finals last season, and are a favorite to return once again in a few months. Their system works and is worth copying.
I’m pretty happy with that above set up, but I still think there is plenty of life in the current team that could be harvested to make the playoffs and compete for the Cup over the next couple seasons.
The Short Rebuild
Now, I don’t have particular suggestions for the GM and coaching positions for this short rebuild (though Mike Keenan is near the top of my list for head coach), but with the right guidance Leonsis could possibly find it. All I can suggest is what I would do as General Manager and coach (Mr. Leonsis, I’ll email you my resume shortly; I know daycare worker is what you’re looking for).
First, let’s look at the cap space for next season. The total cap roof projected is to be about $71 million, but is now believed that it could dip as low as $67 million. So let’s break it in the middle and say it will be $69M for the sake of being on the safe side. The Caps cap (that will get annoying) is at $58.4M according to CapGeek.com next season, which leaves about $10.5M in space available.
This is the last season that teams are allowed to use their compliance buy outs after the new CBA handed them out. The Caps used their first buyout last season on Jeff Schultz, thankfully. They now have one more left and it should be used on either Mike Green or Brooks Laich.
I would choose to buy out Brooks Laich’s contract at $4.5M for the next 3 seasons, giving the Caps about $15 million remaining. I love a healthy Laich, but he isn’t healthy anymore and groin issues are killers that tend to stick with players for their careers. On top of that he doesn’t play like a $4.5M player, he plays more like a $3M player, which is fine but it’s wasted money. At best he is a 3rd line center and that position is very replaceable at this point considering the way Eric Fehr has been gelling with Chimera and Ward.
Don’t feel that bad for the guy and his groin, he’s dating Julianne Hough.
There are 5 UFAs this summer for the Caps: F Mikhail Grabovski, F Dustin Penner, D Tyson Strachan, D Julien Brouillette, and G Jaroslav Halak.
Dustin Penner more than likely wont return. His heart is in California (or some state with constant sunshine) and his lower back is at an IHOP. Strachan is a very replaceable defensemen though he has a dog rescue program so Caps should at least donate to that before cutting him (or sign him to a minor league deal). Brouillette paired well with Patrick Wey when they played together but he’s still replaceable; keep him in minors as an emergency call up. Halak is a good goalie who will fetch a pretty penny on the open market, but we don’t need him. Holtby is a very talented goaltender and if the goalie coach didn’t try to change him to be less aggressive he would have had better numbers this year. Holtby and Grubauer can hold it down next season. Plus, Halak ruined the one true chance the Caps had winning the Cup back in 2010 so I don’t have much pity for him. NEVER FORGET!
Of those remaining is Mikhail Grabovski and the Caps should re-sign him ASAP. The Caps have had a 2C (second line center) issue for years since Fedorov left. Grabovski has come in and done wonders there. I would sign him for the $5M he is rumored to be asking. No team goes far in the playoffs without at least 2 solid centers unless you are named the Chicago Blackhawks.
So if you are keeping up our available cap is at about $10M, on the safe side.
It’s always tough to want to move your players but it’s absolutely necessary. Heck, Wayne Gretzky was traded!
First on the chopping block is Mike Green. He had some good years here but he is just not good enough in his own end to earn his $6M pay check. He’s a liability in the back end (though I think with proper coaching and a proper pairing partner he could be a good, not great, two way defenseman- still not worth $6M though). I’ll hold off on what to trade him for in a sec, in the mean time, we need more trades!
Marcus Johansson is a good player, I like him, but he doesn’t seem to fit in with this team properly. He is replaceable by the very talented Evgeny Kuznetsov, who, unlike Mojo, loves to shoot.
Troy Brouwer is coming off his best career season so his trade value is at its max. But, like , he is replaceable by the up and coming “Ten Trains” Tom Wilson. Wilson is a big boy that can skate, hit, and has slick hands. He could be a Brouwer but with more skill.
If you can somehow trade Erskine off then that’s extra money. He is just too slow for this league. His almost $2M cap hit is money that could be used better elsewhere. Sorry Big John. You will always be the best damn cowbell player I’ve ever seen though.
So, we are trading Green, Mojo, Brouwer, and Erskine if possible. What do we want in return you ask? DEFENSEMEN! In his long 17 year tenure, GMGM has always lacked in picking up defensemen when we needed them badly. Alzner, Carlson, and Orlov were great pick-ups and their contracts are awesome, but they need some help. The new GM should use whatever possible to acquire these defensemen, including draft picks and prospects.
What We Should Receive
As who our 4 tradable assets should fetch for that’s a bit tougher to determine. Edler up in Vancouver looks mighty fine. A nice, big, stay at home defenseman, which the Caps really need. Rumor has it Vancouver was interested in Brouwer but Vancouver just went and fired their GM so who knows. I also think Brouwer would fit really well in LA. I would love Muzzin but he will fetch a far higher price than just Brouwer. That’s where picks and prospects come in.
Johansson would gel very well with the likes of Detroit. They are one of, if not THE best organization. They just made the playoffs for the 23rd year straight. They know how to draft and coach, and they love their Europeans. Johansson would fit well with their young guns such as Tartar and Nyquist. Other teams that would be interested would be Buffalo, Islanders, Anaheim, San Jose, and Colorado. Those teams have a plethora of fine d-men that the new GM should look into acquiring.
As for Green, I still think he could hold some value even though his cap hit is quite high. Calgary would be good for him because he’s from there and they have plenty of cap space. But the Caps need to move him no matter what. It’s not about getting NHL ready bodies as much as it is dumping his contract. So look for him to be moved for draft picks.
Erskine, well, just give him away for a bag of pucks if possible. His nearly $2M contract can be used elsewhere.
Out of all of that, Green, Mojo, Brouwer, and Erskine must be moved for AT LEAST 1 top 4 stay at home defensemen, but getting 2 would be best. All 4 of those players contracts add up to about $13.5M which now has us at $23.5M in cap space, but assuming we get at least 1 good dman from the trades at an average of $5M then we have $18.5M in cap space left.
THE LINEUP AT FIRST
With the cap space in mind let’s look at our current line up:
(someone from the trades)-Carlson
Alzner-? /(hopefully someone else from the trades)
So we have 2 question marks (only 1 if you don’t find a second viable defensemen from the trades above) out there that need to be filled with $23.5M in cap space. Now we must dive into the Unrestricted Free Agency pool to find our remaining players. Grab your money towels, we’re going swimmin’!
The defensive UFA isn’t looking too hot this summer. If I had my pick, I’m looking at Dan Boyle, Andrei Markov, Marek Zidlicky, Kyle Quincey, Brooks Orpik, Willie Mitchell, Nick Schultz (no relation to Jeff), Stephane Robidas, and Matt Greene (no relation to Mikee). So if you sign one of them let’s round it out to $5M; some of them might be more or less.
Thus leaving us with $13.5M to fill in that top line winger spot to play with Ovi. This is important! Ovi hasn’t had a proper wing mate in years. Mojo has been filling that spot and he went the whole season without a single even strength goal at that position. Can’t blame him though, Oates horribly mismanaged him, but that’s another post.
Anyway, there are a couple top line guys to pick from this year’s UFA: Marian Gaborik, Thomas Vanek, Mike Cammalleri, Ales Hemsky (who has had a wonderful month since being traded to OTT), Matt Moulson, and Radim Vrbata. I personally would prefer Moulson or Vanek out of that batch, but any of those would be an upgrade on what we have and all of them fit under the $13.5M cap space that should be available.
THE LINEUP AFTER
So after all of that we would have:
At the top end, Vanek and Gaborik will fetch the highest price at around $6M so we’ll use that number to be safe once again. Thus leaving us with $7.5M in cap space to still use in any form management wishes. And again, that’s a safe number; I would imagine it would be closer to $10M of cap space. You could use the extra money to shore even better defense on the bottom pairing. I like Schmidt, he has upside, but if you can put Markov, Boyle, Zidlicky, Quincey, etc there, then you do it. Or if you think we can find some better bottom 6 players, you have the money to do so. There is a lot of room for some creativity if needed, or save it for the trade deadline.
Now, is this a perfect roster? Probably not. There are many ways to skin a cat (sorry Nuevirth), this is just my take. But this team I’m proposing is much better than what we have been shown the last couple seasons. And with the right coach it could be a team that thrives and starts competing for a Cup. If anything it’s a good starting point to free up some cap space and start moving in the right direction towards a cup final in the 2015-2016 season.