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Summer Change for the Caps

By Guest Blogger Rob Yunich:

The wrestler Triple H used to be known as the “cerebral assassin,” paying homage to his brain power and the element of surprise. One could argue that Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee should be known by the same moniker. Over his tenure with the Caps, which began in 1997, nary a leaked rumor has escaped from his troops, often leading to surprising announcements of player movement.

That was reinforced leading into Friday’s draft, when the Caps traded for Blackhawks winger Troy Brouwer — a deal completed two days in advance but kept secret until the announcement. Brouwer is the perfect player for Coach Bruce Boudreau’s system that was unveiled midway through last season, but one that didn’t yield the desired results as the Caps were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs.

Brouwer possesses so-called sandpaper, the ability to score 20 goals and kill penalties. If this sounds like Brooks Laich, it is, but that doesn’t mean the popular player won’t be returning to Washington. (More on that in a second.)

The only exception to McPhee’s leak shutdown seems to be when players aren’t going to return. The latest casualty purportedly is goalie Semyon Varlamov, who either will find another NHL job or head back to Russia. My bet is that Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon won’t be back, and neither will any of the players acquired last season (Scott Hannan, Marco Sturm and Jason Arnott). Dennis Wideman, who also joined the Caps last season, still has a year left on his contract.

Laich is too good, too influential in the locker room and, perhaps most importantly, too well-suited for the team’s system to not return. He’s not going to break the bank and wants to stay with the Caps. Besides, he earned a respectable amount of votes for the Selke Trophy (for defensive forward), something needed more on the team. McPhee will find a way to bring Laich back.

More and more, though, the player who sticks out like a sore thumb on the roster is Alex Semin. Granted, he’s only signed for one more year, but with the acquisition of Brouwer, and more roster turnover coming in the next week or two (unrestricted free agency signings begin Friday), this is the time to deal Semin. If the Florida Panthers will take on Brian Campbell’s inflated contract, somebody out there will be willing to pay Semin $6.7 million for the 2011-12 season.

Last February, I called for a major change of culture for the franchise. Although there haven’t been sweeping changes in terms of personnel or coaches, the entire system was overhauled and things are turning around. Yes, their playoff fate was telling — and was most likely the driving force behind what we’re seeing now.

But hockey’s “cerebral assassin” still has some moves up his sleeve — and be sure that they will definitely help the Caps move closer to their stated goal: winning a Stanley Cup.

You can read more of Rob’s work at Storming the Crease.

 



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