Part Six of our end-of-season roundtable has our esteemed panelists contemplating GM George McPhee’s next step: Where does the club go from here? Other than hiring a new head coach, what is this team’s biggest need this off-season?
Once again, our panelists are Dave Nichols (DSP Editor-in-Chief), Abram Fox (DSP Caps Page Editor), Erika Schnure (Ravings of a Rink Rebel and DSP’s Caps minor league contributor), Andrew Tomlinson (DSP Caps contributor) and respected Caps media Ted Starkey (author of Transition Game and Red Rising), Peter Hassett (Russian Machine Never Breaks) and Adam Vingan (NBCWashington.com and Kings of Leonsis).
Click here to see Part I, “Disappointed or encouraged“, here to see Part II, “How did Hunter do?”, here to see Part III, “Overachiever or underachiever?”, here to see Part IV, “Captain, My Captain“, and here to see Part V, “Free agent frenzy.”
So, what’s the Caps biggest area of concern?
Dave: The obvious need for this team is a re-vamping of the second line. There was a huge drop-off from Ovechkin’s line to whomever was in the mix on any particular night on the second line. Hunter even tried to split Ovechkin and Backstrom between lines to mitigate the damage, to no avail. McPhee needs, once and for all, to fix the problem.
The Capitals have to — HAVE TO — get stronger down the middle. It hurts on offense, it hurts on defense, it hurts on faceoffs and it hurts on special teams. Laich and Johansson were both under 50 percent on faceoffs this season and in the playoffs. That kills puck possession. In my mind, both are better utilized on the wing than in the pivot. The Caps have had a pattern recently of drafting and developing speedy, undersized centermen (Perreault, Johansson, Eakin); that has to change.
The team could use some grit as well. Not the good-natured, hard-working grit that Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle do a good job bringing, but a real agitator, someone who’s willing to be feisty and stir stuff up. I’m not advocating a Matt Cooke or Sean Avery type — that crosses a line. But some real old school toughness, like a Steve Ott type of player, would do wonders for this team. The Caps, for lack of a better term, are too nice.
In that vein, I’d like to see some size and toughness on the back line as well. There have been too many instances where opposing forwards waltz into the Caps zone, charge the net with impudence, and crash the goalie without fear of — or receiving — repercussion. The Caps — notably John Carlson — did better in this regard during the playoffs, but it should be a way of life. The Caps have some very able and skilled defensemen, but only John Erskine brings the ruggedness I’d like to see more of. It’s unfortunate that is really the sole skill Big John brings to the table.
The Caps defensemen need to do a better job giving opposing forwards something else to think about when they cross the blue line other than picking which hole to shoot at.
Abram: Once the Caps hire a new coach, they need to find two Top 6 forwards that fit into that system. If it’s an offensive-minded coach, maybe they try hard to retain Semin. If not, maybe they look for more physicality. Washington’s white whale has been a second-line center, so I won’t discuss that further.
More importantly, they need someone to play on the top line alongside Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom who’s actually worthy of the sort of minutes those players should get. The salary cap is expected to go up to the ballpark of $69 million for 2012-13, meaning the Caps will have a lot of room to make a splash. With a dearth of talent in the free agent pool, Washington will need to pry a skilled (and likely highly paid) forward off another team in a deal.
Erika: The ever-present 2C situation remains. It would also help if that 2C was a consistent sniper. It’s a fact that the LA Kings’ offense got a lot stronger when Mike Richards arrived — the Capitals need someone with a similar effect.
Andrew: It is hard to pin point one position, but I think the top two lines need the most work. Washington has got to get Ovechkin some help on the top line to relieve some of the defensive pressure so he can get open more. On top of just helping Ovechkin though, the Caps are probably looking at a full rebuild of the second line, as they will probably need a new left wing, with Semin leaving, still need a center and there is certainly not a current lock at the right wing position. On top of the offensive needs too, Washington needs some solid stay-at-home defensemen to shore up the back check and defensive end of the ice
Ted: The team desperately needs a strong second-line center, something they’ve missed since Sergei Fedorov’s departure. The center is a key position not only for offense but also defense in terms of breakouts, and despite attempts to establish Marcus Johansson as the second-line center, he doesn’t seem to have the strength or presence to crash the net and better suited as a wing.
The Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes showed how important a strong pivot was to a playoff run, both reaching the Western Finals after acquiring Jeff Carter and Antoine Vermette, respectively. While the free-agent market is thin at center, the Capitals certainly have some chips they can turn into a trade to bring a second-line center in return. It’s an area the Capitals have been lacking in for the past several seasons, and was evident as lost face-offs and strong play by Brad Richards helped turn the Rangers series against Washington.
Peter: A collective-bargaining agreement! Haha (editor’s note: Not funny, Peter). And after that, I’m gonna say “new blood.” The Caps ran out of scoring options last season. Injuries to key players like Green and Backstrom revealed shallowness in the scoring pool that needs remedying. I’d like to see a couple new top-6 forwards so that guys like Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson aren’t expected to carry the water.
Adam: In free agency, the Caps need one thing: an @$$hole. Dave and I lamented ad nauseam this season about Washington’s lack of toughness, especially around the crease. The Caps need a player that will stir up trouble and make his presence felt after every whistle, keeping Washington’s opponents on notice every time he is on the ice. I am not talking about an enforcer, but more of a pest that can contribute offensively.
Monday will be the final installment of our end-of-season roundtable, where we asked our panelists to free-form on any facet of the team (owner, front office, coach, team, individual player, affiliate, media) of their choosing. They had some very interesting responses.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.