Friday, 18 January 2013


Photo credit: Washington Post
After an agonising (British spelling, deal with it) season shortening lockout, the Washington Capitals will finally face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first game of the NHL season tomorrow night - it's about time. With just a 48 game regular season, there will be more riding on every game - a shootout loss could spell the end of a team's playoff hopes.

But how will the 48 game season affect the Caps? I'll do my best to dissect all the factors involved:

Firstly, the Caps have made the playoffs every season since 2006-07, a run of five years - a good omen. With all of the key components (minus Alexander Semin) still in place, there is no reason to believe that they could not repeat this - even last season, with low production from Ovechkin and Semin, multiple injuries to Green and Backstrom and goaltender issues, the Caps still gave a very respectable performance.

Over the offseason, the Caps made four NHL caliber acquisitions - Mike Ribeiro, Joey Crabb, Wotjek Wolski and Jack Hillen - also, Tom Poti is back from injury for the first time since January 12th 2011. Without further ado, here's the new Capitals, looking like the world's worst boy band.

 Jack Hillen, D - The 26 year old to a one year $650,000 deal by the Caps in the summer, having played with Nashville last season with a somewhat of a down year, putting up just two goals and four assists in 55 games, despite picking up four goals and eighteen assists with the struggling Islanders in 64 games the year before. He be fighting for a spot on the third defensive pair, and if he gets back to his 2010-11 form, could be a great unsung pick up for the Caps.

Wojtek Wolski, LW - Now here's a gamble - a one time 65 point scorer who is now down on his luck after a couple of poor seasons. The Polish-Canadian 26 year old  has real drive to return to his form of yesteryear, according to Caps GM George McPhee - 'He was really good, really honest, really blunt, and said, I know my career's on the line, I have to play better, I put my foot off the gas.' Signed at $600,000, the Caps have made a great low risk, high reward signing here.

Mike Ribeiro, C - A SECOND LINE CENTER. Yes, not since the days of Seregi Federov's tenure with the Caps have we seen such a player. But now we have one. Awesome! Traded from the Dallas Stars for Cody Eakin and a 2012second round pick, the 32 year old will hopefully use his extensive playmaking skills to set up chances - and he does this well, putting up 63 points in 74 games last season. He comes at a $5 million cap hit, but his contract expires at the end of this season , so is another low risk, high reward player...

Joey Crabb, RW - 26 year old Crabb was signed to a $950,000 one year deal in the summer. Playing a gritty game, he will slot right into the fourth - or third if he impresses - line. He put up 26 points in 67 games with Toronto last season, certainly respectable numbers. In my humble opinion, this is a great deal for the Caps and Crabb will fit in very well. This is the one situation where we can exclaim "We've got Crabbs!" with delight. Yes, I made that joke.

Eric Fehr, RW -Recognise this man? Well you should! Fehr played with the Caps from 2005 until 2011 when he was traded to Winnipeg in effectively a salary dump. Although he is normally a fairly consistent 20+ point scorer, the 27 year old did not have a great season in the 'Peg, putting up 3 points in 35 games. Signed by the Caps on a $600,000 one year deal, it's good to have him back. Expect him to battle for the spot on the third line with Crabb and Joel Ward.

The major departure from the team was Alex Semin, who left as a UFA and signed with the Carolina Hurricanes. The enigmatic forward made monetary demands that the Caps couldn't meet, and was less than impressive in his past two seasons compared to his forty goal 2009-10 season. Also, with poor performance in the playoffs, it was perhaps the best decision for both sides that he left. Unfortunately, this means that other players such as Wolski will have to step up their point production to make up for the loss of Semin, a significant ask.

On the injury front, the Caps are actually in the best situation for years. Firstly, take a bow Mr. Tom Poti. The man who held the title of having the most allergies in the NHL and the worst groin, was written off by many and seen as forced into retirement due to his faulty groin. But Poti didn't listen to them, never giving up, and two years later he's back and ready to go, after a brief conditioning stint with the Bears. Congratulations Tom, your story is inspirational.  Backstrom and Green, two massive point producers have returned healthy after an injury plagued season, meaning that there will be an increase in goals from those two, but also lifting the game of others around them, and that brings us on to a certain newly engaged Russian...

Ovechkin's production over the past couple of seasons has been less than fantastic. There's no beating around the bush here. However, he is allegedly more driven and determined than ever this season. With an improved supporting cast around him and an offense minded coach in Oates, I am willing to beat that Ovi will have a far more productive season than usual this year.

As for the playoffs, it's always hard to tell. I don't want to be the guy that says "the Caps will win it all in 2013!" only to see them lose out in the second round yet again. However, this year the Caps are a new team - new players, new coaching staff and healthy players. With the team gaining more experience - the Carlzner combo just keeps on improving - this could finally be the year the Caps overcome that second round plateau  But the first task is making the playoffs - anything can happen in a shortened season.

There's one thing for sure - I can't wait.

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