Where Do the Caps Go From Here & Without Dale Hunter?
May 14, 2012 in nhl
By DC Staff Writer John Manuel:
The 2011-2012 Washington Capitals season was the epitome of a roller coaster. The Caps started great but then managed to slip down the standings spending the majority of the season wavering between 7th and 10th in the conference standings, yet still in striking distance of the Southeast division title. A season that saw Bruce Boudreau’s tenure in Washington end and the beginning of Dale Hunter's now short reign as coach. A reign that has ended just months later.
After two hard fought and exciting seven game playoff series, the season is once again over without a visit to the conference finals. When the third period ended Saturday night at MSG, many Caps fans had to feel better about their team than after losses like Tampa, Pittsburgh or Montreal. Yet, in a sport where it’s been proven lately that a seven seed can make a long playoff run, it still has to be disappointing that a team loaded with talent is home in early May again. Where does the Caps organization go from here? And they must now begin another search for a head coach. It feels like the Redskins or the Wizards.
First we have to look at the top. George McPhee came under fire at the trade deadline when he stood pat. Many wanted the Caps to be buyers and many wanted them to be sellers. He saw nothing worth making drastic moves and hoped Nicklas Backstrom would get healthy, a move that ended up paying off. I can't see Ted Leonsis keeping an Ernie Grunfeld and then letting GMGM go. The late season run should have ended any speculation at the top of the organization.
With a lot of decisions to be made this summer, McPhee should stay on to see where this goes. McPhee now must find a head coach. Does he go again with no NHL head coaching experience or back to one that does like a Ron Wilson? With so much made of the Dale Hunter-style in this town, the coaching decision will now be examined so closely.
McPhee has major decisions to make on some big time players. Good news is they look to be in good shape in the net. All signs look like Braden Holtby is ready to become their main goaltender. Then again we probably thought the same thing a year ago with Michal Neuvirth. Holtby's play should earn him the lead for the #1 job come this fall. Add the return of Neuvirth, and everything should be pretty good in the net.
Defense is another story where 3 of the top 6 defensemen are free agents. Mike Green is the big name. Followed by John Carlson and Dennis Wideman. Green and Carlson are restricted, so most expect them to be back with the Caps. I hope both are back and feel that both were much better in the playoffs than in the regular season. As for Wideman, my guess is he would have to come back on a lower salary and will probably get better offers as an unrestricted free agent than what the Caps can offer. Wideman and Schultz were at times a major struggle during the playoffs.
Up front, the major name is the enigma known as Alexander Semin. Semin continues to show signs of being a superstar and then signs of being a normal player. Only 21 goals will probably keep Washington from offering a long term deal worth anything close to the $6+ million range he made this season. Feeling that with 29 other NHL teams, someone will pay Semin what he wants based on his talent.
The recent Caps of McPhee have always made moves in the off-season. They’re not the Redskins, but will do things in an attempt to improve the roster. It looks like Washington starts with around $19 million in cap space. Signing back Green, Carlson and restricted free agent Jay Beagle will be a priority and take up a lot of that space.
The Caps also have 2 first round picks after acquiring Colorado's last season in the Varlamov trade. McPhee was rumored to be shopping one of them at the deadline so it wouldn't shock anyone of the trade a pick like last year for a player (Troy Brouwer).
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter highlight the big names that will hit the market. Both would fit well with any team. And Rick Nash will once again be available via trade. Washington should have some flexibility to make something happen question is finding players that will fit into another new system.
Personally I would love to see them able to make a run at Parise. At only 27 he would fit in with the other mid 20s the Caps have. The team will also have to wait at least another season and most likely longer for Russian former 1st round Yevgeni Kuznetsov who decided to stay in the KHL.
Even a couple days after being eliminated it still hurts. The sting of Game 5 lingers and knowing we could take a tough Devils team most likely in a seven game series, leaves fans waiting for next season. I don't see a major overhaul going to take place.
What I had written two hours ago suddenly changed with the Hunter announcement. Focus changed from continuing to buy into the Hunter system to a new coaching search. Then again, McPhee could have already known that Hunter planned to return to London, Ontario. Leonsis and McPhee will have an important summer to determine what will win come playoff time.