Earlier this fall, the fine folks at DC Pro Sports Report asked us to participate in a survey of Media and Internet writers answering seven "easy" questions. It was an honor to be asked to be part of the group, the best and the brightest covering the Capitals in the electronic media. Thanks very much to DC Pro Sports Report for putting the survey together and asking me for my opinion.
1) Will the Caps three-peat as SE Division Champs?
2) Will the Caps make it to the finals?
3) If and when will Semyon Varlamov wrestle the starting goalie position from Jose Theodore?
4) Each year there seems to be a surprise offensive player. Who could that be this season?
5) What player -- or type of player -- do the Caps need to win the Cup?
6) What impact will 2008 1st round pick John Carlson make on the Caps this season?
7) Rank the SE Division standings.
Here are my answers. I was fairly direct in my answers on the survey, so I'll elaborate a bit here.
1) Yes. Carolina has to be considered a challenge, but this Caps team is built to win this division and go deep in the playoffs. With the addition of Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison, the team is tougher, stronger and better balanced across the three scoring lines.
2) No. The Caps are slowly progressing by round in the playoffs, and the natural progression of growth is good for the team; they are getting better but still have more to strive for.
3) Christmas. I think coach Bruce Boudreau is going to have Theodore on a long leash this fall, but eventually Theo will play his way out and Varlamov will play his way into the No. 1 spot.
For all his talent, Varly still hasn't played a full season in the AHL or NHL. He needs to learn how to channel his energy in playing two or three games a week instead of laying all out once a week. We saw how his talent dulled a bit as the grind of the playoffs took it's toll.
The regular season doesn't have the emotional strain of the playoffs, obviously, but playing more often will help him control his energy -- and emotion.
4) As for surprise palyers up front, I just don't see it. The door is open for someone to step up with Fehr and Fleischmann out during preseason at least. Someone like Alexandre Giroux or Andrew Gordon will have an opportunity to impress.
But for the most part, the Caps are set up front with dependable veterans. And another budding superstar in Alexander Semin, who needs only to stay healthy to advance to be an elite scorer in the NHL.
5) The biggest glaring need for the Capitals to advance to the Stanley Cup finals is a big, strong, tough, nasty defenseman whose only care is keeping his goalie's crease and doorsteps clean. Whether they find that player internally or from another club, if they want to take "the next step", it begins with finding that player.
You can win 50 games in the regular season, but the rink gets shorter in the playoffs, especially as you get closer to the finals.
6) I stated that there would have to be a ton of injuries for John Carlson to make a real impact. That's not an indication of Carlson's talent -- that's unquestioned. But the Caps have a ton of defensemen under contract, and as they showed last season with Alzner, and with Green before him, GM George McPhee is willing to be patient with this top defensive prospects.
7) Washington, Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, Atlanta.
Almost all my collegues agreed that Washington and Carolina -- in that order -- are the cream of the division. I'm a little surprised that several of the survey results have Atlanta higher in the standings, but the bottom three in the division won't be a factor in the playoff discussion regardless, unless something completely wacky happens.