If you took a break from hockey after May 4th, when the Tampa Bay Lightning swept the Washington Capitals out of the playoffs, we completely understand. It was rough. But the new season is here, along with reasons for renewed hope. So in case you’ve been avoiding hockey in general and this blog in particular, we’ve prepared a primer to catch you up.
Here is everything you need to know about the Washington Capitals but were afraid to ask (2011-2012 edition).
Who won the cup?
Boston Bruins. Tim Thomas was a monster. So was their bar tab.
Where’s Semyon Varlamov?
On July 30th, we thought that Varly was headed to the KHL. But the rumor was dubiously sourced, two teams (SKA and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl) disputed Varlamov’s negotiation rights, and the Caps weren’t talking. On July 1st, the first day of free agency, the Capitals dealt Varly to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for some very nice draft picks. As a condition of that deal, if the Avs don’t to make the playoffs those picks get even better.
Who else is gone?
Most of the team’s free agents:
- Matt Bradley was signed by the Florida Panthers.
- Boyd Gordon was signed by the Phoenix Coyotes.
- Jason Arnott is a member of the St. Louis Blues.
- Marco Sturm is in Vancouver on a gig for the Canucks.
- Scott Hannan will play for the Calgary Flames this year.
- And F16 Eric Fehr is a member of the brand-spanking new Winnipeg Jets. Yeah, more on that in a moment.
And Brooks Laich is back?
Is he ever! Brooks Laich signed a monster 6-year, $27M contract on June 28th. You’ll be getting lost in those eyes through 2018.
Who is this new goalie?
“New” is a relative term. Tomas Vokoun is a 35-year-old Czech goalie most recently out of Florida. Because he wants to play on a team with a chance at victory, Vokoun agreed to take a serious pay cut to play for the Caps. This is very good news, as Vokoun is an elite goaltender with a very real chance at the Vezina Trophy for best goalie this year. As sad as I’m sure you are about losing Semyon Varlamov, be heartened that the team has added someone this talented.
Who’s new on defense?
On July 1st George McPhee signed Roman Hamrlik, a grizzled vet who has spent the last four years with the Montreal Canadiens, to a 2-year, $7M contract. Hamrlik represents the added depth and experience that GMGM was looking for in the defensive zone. You can expect him to pair up with Dennis Wideman.
Who’s new up front?
That would be Joel Ward, who got a 4-year, $12M contract with the team on free agency day. Ward distinguished himself with a superb playoff performance with Nashville, scoring seven goals in 12 games, and he has a reputation as a defensively minded forward and hardy penalty killer. With the Caps’ apparent evaporation of secondary scoring, Ward will be expected to produce this year.
And don’t forget Troy Brouwer, who was picked up on draft day. Brouwer is what GMGM calls a “power forward”, a tough guy who will likely see time on the top two lines. McPhee thinks he might put up 20 goals this season.
And what’s this I hear about Olie Kolzig?
Vezina and King Clancy winner and the winning-est goalie in Capitals history, Olaf “Olie” Kolzig has rejoined the team as associate goaltending coach! Olie intends to be here for a while and has sold his insane mansion in the pacific northwest. If you’ll forgive a momentary brag, we talked to Kolzig back in February and told us then he was enthusiastic about future relations with his old team. Maybe we’ll see number 37 retired soon?
Any other new old faces? Maybe one that’ll actually play?
Hell yeah! Caps veteran Jeff Halpern is back with a one-year contract. Halpy was a Cap from 1999 until 2004 and says he “jumped at the opportunity to come back” to the team that launched his NHL career. Between this and the return of Olie, you can expect to see noticeably more blue/black/bronze jerseys around Chinatown this year.
How about those injuries last year?
Dennis Wideman missed the playoffs after a nasty hit to the leg from Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu (checked: still not a Star Wars character) at the end of the regular season. We heard it was “just a bruise”, but it turned out to be something gross called “compartment syndrome.” Wideman is looking good in the preseason and should be playing on opening night.
Tom Poti missed most of last year with a nagging groin injury. We usually make jokes about groin injuries here, but Poti’s ailment is seriously endangering his hockey career. Tom failed his physical and will likely be on injured reserve status this year.
Any cool drama I need to know about?
Alright, get this: Matt Bradley gives an interview to a Florida radio station and says that Alex Semin doesn’t care. Then David Steckel kinda-sorta says the same thing. And then everyone else jumps to Semin’s defense. And then the dude himself gives two English-language video interviews, which kinda makes you think someone in the organization was really worried about this meme. Speaking of memes, we made some bar graphs about the whole kerfuffle.
In other news, Alex Ovechkin slouched in an interview with Mike Vogel, leading everyone to think he got fat. A subsequent onslaught of notables (including Ted Leonsis himself) defended Alex’s fitness. This in no way justified and perpetuated a ludicrous story that should have been ignored by all sensible people except us and Dan Steinberg.
Just recently the Caps tried out white netting instead of black netting behind the ice, creating a kind of snowblindness for fans who sit at funny angles. People complained, and the white netting lasted exactly one game. Don’t laugh; we actually have to read and write about this stuff.
And any blatant gimmickry I should be aware of?
For 16 road games this year, the Caps will be wearing their third jersey, which is basically the Winter Classic uni. Most of those games will be in February and March, when the Caps will be on the road a lot.
What utterly trivial things did RMNB write about this year?
Hook me up with some #fancystats.
My favorite piece by Neil this summer was The Sasha Index, which tracks how Alex Semin’s janusian nature affects the team’s performance by inventing a brand new statistical metric. You might also be interested in Jeff Halpern’s projected output, the lofty expectations placed on Alex Ovechkin, and who Nick Backstrom should play with.
What’s up with the Caps on the radio?
Longtime Caps play-by-play man Steve Kolbe did not have his contract with the team renewed over the summer. In his place, John Walton, former PR boss and play-by-play guy for the Hershey Bears, will be doing radio and other stuff. Scott Stuccio takes over for the Bears.
How was your summer, Russian Machine Never Breaks?
Oh not bad; thanks for asking. Neil has been contributing to ESPN Insider in addition to WaPo’s Capitals Insider. Ian has two ferrets. I’ve got a new bulldog named Georgia who sits on my coffee table when I’m not home. Chris got his pubes. Fedor and Igor are still Russian, and Rachel is working on her artist chops.
We’ve got bigger news, but let’s save that for later in the week.
What’s going on in the rest of the NHL?
The Atlanta Thrashers are history. The franchise has become the Winnipeg Jets, restoring the team that left for Phoenix in ’96. Manitoba native and newly minted Jet Eric Fehr is particularly happy about this news. The sucky part is that the ‘Peg is still technically in the NHL’s Southeast division, so there’s gonna be a lot of travelling for SE teams this year. The NHL will realign next season.
Sidney Crosby is still recovering from the concussion he suffered at the beginning of 2011. There is no timetable for his return.
Perhaps Washington’s most reviled ex-player, Jaromir Jagr, has returned to the NHL. He will play for the Philadelphia Flyers.
Speaking of Philly, the Winter Classic of 2012 will pit them against the Rangers.
Sean Avery is still a douchebag, but now with a heart of gold. Matt Cooke is still a thug, but wants to reform. The Sedins are still creepy, and that’ll never change. Martin St. Louis is still lilliputian, and he probably wears lifts in his shoes.
What are the expectations for the Caps this year?
Oh man. Well they struggled a bit in the preseason, but let’s pretend that doesn’t matter.
As of right now, The gambling site Bodog has the Caps tied with the Canucks to win the cup at 7:1. Puck Daddy’s profile on the team predicts they’ll advance to the conference finals at least. As long as no one paints any oil paintings, this thing should be a lock.
Crash the net.
Illustrations and layout by Ian Oland; Capitals photos by Chris Gordon.