The Hangover: Some Questions for the Offseason

Photo credit: Paul Bereswill

Hey you: thanks for reading RMNB. Crazy season, right?

We started the year with our Winter is Coming promotional series. We documented a crazy winning streak, and then its astonishing decline. We said goodbye to one coach and hello to another. We saw gruesome injuries. We analyzed the Caps’ struggles at and before the trade deadline in our Capitals During Wartime series. We made posters and signs to pump up the fans and the team both. And we tracked the Caps as they made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.

Yeah, we had exhaustive coverage this season, but there are so many questions left unanswered. Here are few we’d like to address this summer.

Collective Bargaining

The NHL Players Association and the league have to find common ground this summer lest they risk another lockout. No one wants a repeat of the lost season, but with hockey’s popularity on the rise the stakes are pretty high. Many decisions hinge on the outcome of these negotiations.

Free Agency

The following Caps players will be unrestricted free agents this summer: Alex Semin, Mike Knuble, Jeff Halpern, Keith Aucoin, Dennis Wideman, and Tomas Vokoun. If McPhee doesn’t re-sign him, Semin will command a lot of attention on free agency day. Mike Knuble is getting older but wants to keep playing. Jeff Halpern is a hometown boy with fantastic talent on the faceoff dot. Dennis Wideman is an all-star/playoff goat who might want a big pay day. Tomas Vokoun’s crummy goaltending is mostly responsible for Bruce Boudreau getting fired. Anyone wanna take bets?

On the RFA side, Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, John Carlson, and Mike Green are all on the docket. Will the Caps risk a qualifying offer on Mike Green? Perreault didn’t play in the postseason, but Jay Beagle was a star– who gets paid?

Dale Hunter

Word leaked that Hunter’s contract as head coach of the Capitals was for one year only. George McPhee and Brooks Laich each have said they want him back next year, but Hunter has a very comfortable gig as demigod of the London Knights association. We’ve been very critical of Hunter hockey here, but his postseason results were attractive. Will Hunter give it another shot?

Hershey Bears

The Capitals’ current AHL farm team, the Hershey Bears, do not have contract for next season yet. They signed a one-year extension over a year ago. Both teams struggled this season, and the Caps pretty much depleted Hershey’s talent in the spring– so what will happen during the offseason? And will the Norfolk Admirals, who were freaking amazing this year but who have a similarly frayed relationship with Tampa Bay, be involved?

And why do we keep hearing about Baltimore whenever this topic pops up?

Alex Ovechkin

Ovi is probably going home to Russia this summer. There’s no real drama here; we just wanna know what kind of wacky hijinx he’ll get in to. No way he can beat the wookiee suit. I mean: no way, right?

Evgeny Kuznetsov

The KHL superstar has been playing games with our heart all year. Will he come to the Caps this year or not? We don’t know. We’re gonna keep on translating and covering anything we can get our hands on– but at this point we trust nothing until there is ink on paper one way or the other. We’d love to have another Russian on the team for selfish reasons, so we’re firmly in the “C’mover, Kuzya!” camp.

Braden Holtby

For a span of 16 hours last year, Braden Holtby was the presumptive #2 netminder for the Washington Capitals. Then the Caps acquired Tomas Vokoun for a song, and Holtby had to toil in Hershey all year. He had a disappointing season until the Caps called him up for some late-season heroics. Holtby became a star, besting one future hall of fame goalie and nearly felling another. But goalies are passed around like sriracha in the offseason, and you know he’s an object of desire for many teams (Brian Burke, what up.) So is Holtby our future franchise goalie? If not, will the Caps use him to acquire what they truly need…

Second-line Center

Aside from deadline acquisitions that didn’t last, the Capitals have been without a strong second line pivot for the past few years. Whereas many other teams are supposedly built from the middle out, Washington has treated its 2C as a swappable part. Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, and Mathieu Perreault have all given it a shot, but it hasn’t worked out. Having a talented top-six guy backing up the top line can give the Capitals options on offense that they’ve never had before.

That’s all I’ve got. What did I miss? What other questions will be plaguing you between now and September? Whatever happens, we’ll be here writing and cracking jokes. Don’t be a stranger.

  • Dark Stranger

    So which one of you will win your bet — on whether or not Knuble would be with the Caps later than Hunger

  • http://twitter.com/vtcapsfan99 vtcapsfan99

    John Carlson is a RFA as well.

  • Hokaheyhockey

    While Hunter did create a sense of team spirit in the Capitals, including the will to suffer a loss and make a comeback (though it was not evident in Round 2 Game 7), it was Holtby who really made the difference. So other than Holtby, trade who we can to get a strong 2nd line center and get Beagle well and back in the line up.

  • daniluvsthecaps

    we should keep all the fa’s and rfa’s, except we should let wideman and vokoun go. also i think knuble should retire and work as a coach. he has been and still is a great inspiration.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    http://capgeek.com/charts.php?Team=30

    right you are– thanks! added

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    I still think I’ll win that one.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    I’ll be writing something this week that will echo that sentiment.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    That’s a tall order! ALL OF THEM? We didn’t use MP85– is he worth the expenditure? Beagle was great for his pricetag, but there are a billion players of his talent level out there.

    If Vokoun wants to sign for peanuts again, wouldn’t we let him?

  • Sprubee

    I know there’s much love for mike green in Capsland, but I have been the most underwhelmed by him all season. Sure he was out with injuries for most of it, but why fill that spot when it could go to someone who is more consistent in game performance And health? Ideally I would like to see a super trifecta of amazing defense and give the Carlzner Alliance get one more really consistent player to round it out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1005713165 Pat Magee

    Carlson will definitely absolutely get signed. If not, i will eat my own head.

    If Hershey and Washington break up, im gonna be screwed! :(

  • brian!

    I’m still interested in the non-AHL prospects the Caps have a hold on (Grubbauer, Galiev, etc). Curious to see if either of them is in the future plan.

  • http://twitter.com/zaronow Zachary Aronow

    Grubauer definitely. You can find the Caps brass saying that if it weren’t for the depth at goalie, Grubauer would have been in Hershey. Galiev if he can add some strength to his frame. He’s certainly been lighting up the competition at juniors so he’s someone to watch.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jdgreer Jake Greer

    I wasn’t aware of the Hershey thing. Like Pat said, if they split I’m gonna be screwed. I mean, I guess I keep rooting for both teams but the Bears are the reason I’m a Caps fan.

    I’d like them to re-sign at least Knuble, Carlson, Aucoin, Beagle and Semin. I’d be happy to have the rest of the guys back minus Wideman, since it felt like he was a goat for the stretch and not just the playoffs, and Vokoun IF they don’t move Holtby since he’ll be a hot item.

    These series made me a fan of Hunter as coach, so if he comes back I’ll be happy with it. If he chooses to leave, what options do we have?

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    WARNING: Resign is not re-sign!

    I’d like to see Knuble and Semin back. I hope Carlson can be as effective as he was two years ago, but I’m not sure if that’s true.

    As much as I love him, I think Aucoin belongs in the AHL. Beagle is welcome back if he’ll take a contract well under $1M.

    Just my $0.02.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jdgreer Jake Greer

    Thanks for the assist there, That’s one of those things I always screw up.

    I may just be looking at things through a set of glasses that are tinted for recent play with the re-signings. I felt all those guys were good through most of the playoffs. Thinking about it now though, how likely is it that they duplicate that level of play, let alone keep it up all season? I guess this is why I’m not a GM.

    As an aside – Thanks to you and the rest of the staff for what you do here. There has been plenty of times a RMNB post has made my day better. Keep up the awesome work!

  • KareeLyn

    This feels so soon to be talking about this…. BUT, I’d keep Beagle but only if we can do so for cheap. I want more than anything to keep Knuble because he’s such a stand up guy. However, I wasn’t quite on board with his treatment here this season, so if he can find a better gig, then let him walk for his own good. (Not trying to be naive about his obvious aging, but I do think he has more than we saw this year left in him.) I’d let go of Wideman without batting much of an eyelash. Same with Vokoun who arguably got the rawest of all deals this season. Taking a “safe bet” to go with the Caps who imploded during the regular season and came up short in playoffs, although not without a valiant effort. AND, he managed to get hurt. Poor thing. Sasha and Green are tough ones. I want to like/keep them, but they are making it difficult. Very difficult.

  • KareeLyn

    Also, the convenient thing about Carlson is he overshadowed his extremely lackluster regular season with a handful of very solid playoff games which are of more recent memory.

  • Guestz

    For the love of your mother I hope we don’t re-sign TV.

  • jspoke

    I have never been impressed by Semin. I wouldn’t feel bad if the Caps didn’t re-sign him. Caps should bring back Knuble, Green, Halpern, and Beagle. Don’t re-resign TV – let the two young goalies Holtby and Neuvirth be our net minders. Bring Hunter back as coach. And for the love of everything that is holy – AVOID A LOCKOUT.

  • Derek

    You seriously weren’t impressed by his MVP performance in the Bruins series? Methinks blind bias is afoot.

  • jarvis

    Didn’t Kuznetsov say he was staying in Russia for another two years?

  • charlie

    living near hershey as i do, i HOPE the two teams re-up. . . my loyalty goes wherever the caps do, though. and THANKS to you who run this superb web site. it makes my hockey season so much better. you deserve a cup!

  • Paul Oxley

    One thing not brought into this offseason discussion is which direction does the team go with the 2 1st round draft picks… presumably a 2C and a solid D man is my guess but do they package the picks for a star player or move up and take a shot at a draftee future star (Nail?)

  • http://twitter.com/Moosifer Moose

    Ok… I’d like to see Knuble and Semin come back obviously. Aucoin should probably go back to the AHL. The rest can be let go I think. Not entirely impressed with Wideman this year. TV just doesn’t seem to work for us.

    As for the RFA’s I’d like Carlson and Beagle to stay. I kind of want Green to stay but he’s so on again off again he drives me insane. As for MattyP I don’t know what to think.

    I think they should go for the Holtby/Neuvy combo for next year in goal. TV didn’t impress me at all.

    And as for Hunter, I’m not sold on him. I like the defense, but, if they don’t bring him back what are our options?

  • jspoke

    One series does not a keeper make. I look at his entire career. Not impressed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692356341 Matt Mendelsohn

    Whether it’s a barometer of anything, I’m not sure, but I woke up this morning not feeling half as bad as I did last year after the playoffs. We had a really murky season, one in which the playoffs seemed like a distant mirage for a long time, and then we had a stellar playoff run in which we suddenly morphed into a different team in no time flat. So on a really basic level, we have room for optimism. Fans in Philly and Pittsburgh, looking at 196 goals (okay, I exaggerate), must have been saying, wow, how can we play playoff hockey like the Caps?

    Of course the question is whether cutting our nose to spite our face was worth it. Yes, we played really exciting shut-down hockey (exciting might not be the word for such a defensive style) and it really took the Rangers and Bruins out of their games. Amazing, right? Except that our franchise is built around a flash Russian guy who a) has never been the kind of leader who can inspire guys to keep this particular style of play up for very long; b) despite what he says in interviews, can’t be very happy about a style of play that turns him from goal scorer to shot blocker; and c) doesn’t show up as often as he does, making the whole argument irrelevant anyway. It doesn’t much matter if we have Ovi-the-shot-blocker or Ovi-the-goal-scorer if Ovi-the-heart isn’t in the house. For every dazzling display of brilliance (the 360 degree, seated goal attempt) there is another game where he just doesn’t seem to be present.

    We can’t begin to discuss roster changes until the big question re DH is answered. In his favor, things came together by the playoffs, right in the nick of time. And he instilled a brand of discipline that Bruce Boudreau can’t even imagine in his wildest dreams. We really did look like a Russian team in the end, but a Russian team of my youth, the 1970′s, where no one looked particularly happy. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not.

    But there are a lot of things about DH that feel unsustainable. All of that discipline came at a price. I mean, a coach that doesn’t talk to some players for two months? A coach who looks at a guy like Matty P., busting his ass all over the ice, and says, I’ve got it–let’s bench him for the entire playoffs. But of course.

    And then there’s Mike Knuble. Full disclosure: my daughter played in the house league at Kettler with Mike’s son and we as a family are unabashed supporters and fans. My daughter, who is nine, adores Mike and he has been a prince, always laughing with her and suffering her endless chattiness with good humor. Clearly this makes me biased but for the life of me I can’t figure out DH’s handling of Mike all season.

    Mike is 39, yes, but the guy is one of only a few hundred players in the history of the NHL to play in 1,000 games. Just as Kirk Gibson didn’t forget how to play baseball when he stepped to the plate in the World Series and hit one out of the park, Mike has not lost his ability to crash the net. None of us would be here this morning discussion a Rangers series if Mike had forgotten how to do that, as he pretty much saved our season in Game 7. (He scored in Game Game 5 against the Bruins, then that overtime thriller in Game 7, then a goal in Game 2 against the Rangers.) His line grinded better than most and he even beat a kid half his age in a foot race to erase icing. All this despite very limited ice time.

    Mike responded so well to his re-insertion into the lineup after Backstrom’s suspension that a blog, The Bleacher Report, had the headline on May 1, “Mike Knuble is carrying the Washington Capitals.” So what does Coach Hunter do by the end of the Rangers series? Break up the line, separate Knuble and Ward, and reduce Mike’s time even more. But of course.

    Maybe it’s natural that as one approaches fifty, like me, you tend to gravitate towards the older players, the tried-and-true vets. As I’ve said many times this season, when the pilot of your plane gets on the p.a. system you want to hear him or her to say that this is his 26th year in service, not his first. I know there’s a chicken/egg argument out there about Mike: his playing time is a product of his goal production OR his decreased goal production is because he didn’t get any playing time. I’m not sure any of it matters. All I now is that every time Mike got scratched this season, something no alternate captain with a career like his should endure for as long as it went on, he came back and answered with heroism. And instead of saying, “What have I’be been doing?? Let’s give Mike’s line more time!”, Dale responded with further inexplicable reactions–diminished line time, further isolation. It’s like 2 plus 2 equals 57.

    There will be another year for the Caps and life will go on–just ask your father about the Brooklyn Dodgers. For me, I’m glad my daughter got to see her hero respond time and again to adversity–not injury or bad play but intangible things like benching–with dignity. Youth CAN be wasted on the young. I don’t know where Mike will be playing next year but wherever it is, we’ll be rooting.

    Good job, Caps.

  • http://twitter.com/DCRothman David Rothman

    Please explain how Mathieu Perreault didn’t work out as 2C. He posted career numbers this year, mostly while deployed as 2C, and the 2nd line of him, Chimera, and Semin was our most consistent all year. I’m betting he was hurt by that slash, because Hunter seemed to like him a lot, always seemed to speak highly of him in postgame pressers. I would think the Caps bring him back because he’d still be dirt cheap.

  • Ben Reed

    Whether or not he’s in the long-term plans, you don’t let a young asset like MP85 just GO. McPhee will re-sign him, you can count on that.

  • Ben Reed

    Holtby plus everyone being healthy. People are overlooking that.

  • Ben Reed

    He has one goal in the second round in the playoffs in his career. One. He was a soft no-show in game 7.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692356341 Matt Mendelsohn

    Couldn’t agree more. It seems the more he played well, the more he got benched….

  • Road worrier

    Caps need to stop the merry go round in goal. No TiVo. It’s Holtbeast with Neuvy backing him up. Or trade Neuvy and get a good 2nd line center. Maybe the Ducks can cough up one of their big guys and BB can have Neuvy again.

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  • Fletch McFletcher

    Great piece. But Tim Thomas is NOT a hall of fame goalie and Kuznetsov said he is not coming over.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    two-time vezina, one-time conn smythe
    four-time all star
    led league in GAA and SV% each twice
    31 career shutouts (49th all time)
    shutouts in a whole buncha game sevens
    Lifetime .921 Sv% and 2.48 GAA

    Playoffs .933 Sv% 2.07 GAA, 6 shutouts in 50 games

    Tim Thomas is a future hall of famer.

    And if you’re setting your watch to what Kuznetsov says, I genuinely worry for your sanity.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Thanks for your thoughts. You KNOW I agree about MK22.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    http://www.behindthenet.ca/2011/new_5_on_5.php?sort=10&section=goals&mingp=&mintoi=&team=WSH&pos=F

    Worst possession relative to competition among players with more than 20 games played.

    http://www.behindthenet.ca/nhl_statistics.php?ds=34&s=32&f1=2011_s&f2=5v5&f5=WSH&c=0+1+3+5+29+30+31+32+33+34#

    Benefited from the best on-ice shooting % (i.e. luck) on the team.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692356341 Matt Mendelsohn

    Well, the bet re Knuble leaving before Hunter is at least settled. :)

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett