Saturday, May 12, 2012

What Now?

The Washington Capitals struggled. They struggled where they were so powerful just two years ago. A lack of offense. You would think with a salary burden of just over $34 million in player salary just on forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Alex Semin, Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera. Little good it did them as the best they could do is 2.66 goals a game, and just over 2 goals a game average  the playoffs.

When Dale Hunter took over for the Capitals in November, he didn't give the offense free range like Bruce Boudreau had. Instead he took the stance that if the big guns weren't going to score then they better had been defensively sound in their own end. With the personnel he had to work with, it seemed a monumental task.

But it slipped them into the playoffs. That style helped the Caps pull up an unlikely upset of Boston, and nearly toppled the first place team in the East. They went toe to toe with the Eastern Conference two best teams and took them to the brink, one eliminated, the other eliminated them. But questions are still out there. Did general manager George McPhee flub getting a solid second line center? Could he have found better scoring when his team needed it the most?

Frankly, this team went from high expectations with their off season acquisitions, to a team in distress, to a team that barely made the playoffs, to being a goal or two shy of making it to the Conference Finals. It has been a rollercoaster ride for the team and its fans. But how can that change into a winning season, and getting the Capitals back to a Stanley Cup Contender.

Let's look at the possibilities of losing some names. Mike Knuble most likely will not be resigned. Alex Semin may not return, rumors still stirring he might join the KHL. Tomas Vokoun might jet now that the Capitals seemed set with two young warriors in net in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Dennis Wideman (the only Capital that was at last year's all star game) most likely will walk.

Loose ends on the RFA front include Jay Beagle, Mathieu Perreault, Mike Green and John Carlson. All played an important part in the Caps' post season push, especially Beagle who was the hardest working player outside of Matt Hendricks for them.

The Capitals still need to find a solution for a second line center. McPhee failed to secure one in the off season, and even at the trade deadline. Even though his group exceeded expectations of a mostly failed season, they still came up short of the Conference Finals and hopes of a Cup contending team seem fleeting.

If those unrestricted free agents walk, the Caps lose a combined 214 points gained in the 11-12 regular season. That will be hard to replace if McPhee loses that talent with out bringing in some solid offense. If Hunter sticks around, then it will be offense that can succeed inside of that system. That might be the trickiest part of the off season for McPhee. If he is still around.

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