GM George McPhee has been a busy guy in the last couple of weeks.

In:  Mattias Sjogren, Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun.

Out:  Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Semyon Varlamov, Tyler Sloan and Eric Fehr.  In addition to Tomas Fleischmann and David Steckel last season.  So far.

That's a quarter of the team's active roster juggled since McPhee re-upped Brooks Laich to his brand new six-year deal.  It's quite a remarkable roster de-construction for a team that has been the class of the Eastern Conference, at least in the regular season, the last two seasons.

The changes, and the type of players being brought in, signify that McPhee identified some significant deficiencies in his roster.  Those deficiencies were obvious.  And it's nothing mystical like "leadership" or "presence".  It had everything to do with the toughness of the players on the roster. And I'm not talking about the willingness to play hard or drop the gloves.

For the last couple of seasons, the Caps have been routinely outmuscled; on the boards, behind the nets, in the crease.  They've been built on finesse, and as such their speed and skill have been one of their biggest strengths.  Teams across the Southeast Division couldn't keep up with the Caps and most adapted and changed themselves to a more offensive, speed-oriented game.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  But that nagging problem of muscle lingered.

It's most evident, obviously, against the more physical teams, and in the playoffs when the ice sheet shrinks.  The Flyers. The Penguins. The Bruins.  The Canadiens.  These are teams that traditionally have built their schemes around winning individual physical battles along the boards and doing the dirty work around the goals.  Look at a shot chart from Sidney Crosby one time.  You'll see most of his shots come from 15 feet in.  Then look at a shot chart from the Caps.  It's a stark difference.

A matter of style, of course.  Bruce Boudreau has always played a wide-open, offense-first system.  But when things bogged down last season, starting the first week of December, for the first time in his coaching career Boudreau pulled back the reigns.  He stressed responsibility. He eased up on the three-man forecheck. He employed (GASP) the trap!

His players took to the changes, but they weren't a good fit. It was like asking a thoroughbred to pull a plow.  The players on last year's team were talented enough athletes to adapt to the new systems, but it wasn't who they are.  Or I should say, who they were.

McPhee and Boudreau obviously like the hybrid systems they ran after the first of the year, when they had so much success, moving from the doldrums of December and early January to the top of the conference.  But with time to assess and contemplate, they decided that didn't have the right players to put into those systems.

Enter the "Stealth GM".

McPhee really surprised no one by locking up Laich.  He would have been one of the most sought after free agents had McPhee let him get there: a talented, hard working two-way player that can play any forward position on any line and any situation without being a liability.  He could even play D for you in a pinch if you needed it.  Laich's versatility -- beyond even his skill or work ethic -- is his biggest asset.

McPhee brought in Swedish forward Sjogren, who in his own words said "I like to hit."  Joel Ward was second among forwards in blocked shots and fourth in hits for a gritty Nashville team last season.  Hamrlik is a veteran two-way defenseman.  Halpern is a face-off and penalty kill specialist that isn't a liability in the offensive end.

And Brouwer is physical (fifth in hits in 2010-11), has a mean streak (11 fights last season), and 39 combined goals in the last two seasons.  And has his name on the Cup.

The kicker is Vokoun, the 35-year old goalie that eschewed longer contracts to sign a one-year deal for a mere pittance to come play in D.C.

All are veteran players that will add strength, muscle, physicality to a team that for the last couple of seasons had acquired a well-earned reputation as a "finesse" team.  There is no more damning description for a hockey team than that, and McPhee went out of his way and spent a lot of Ted Leonsis' money to change that.

Let your mind wander and imagine for a moment a third line of Brouwer-Laich-Ward and a fourth line of Chimera-Halpern-Hendricks. That's toughness right there. Just picture those six wearing down opponents top lines all night.

The Capitals now have a pretty impressive blend of thoroughbreds and plow-horses.  Let's see how well this formula works come April 2012.

Capitals Trade Fehr to Jets

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, July 08, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals today announced they traded winger Eric Fehr to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a fourth round pick in the 2012 entry draft and RW Danick Paquette.

The move clears $2.2 million off the Capitals' salary cap for the upcoming season.

Paquette, 20, had 13 goals and seven assists with 179 penalty minutes for the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL last season.  He was originally a third round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2008 entry draft.

On the ice, this looks like a big loss for the Capitals.  Fehr was a first round selection, had a pair of 50-goal campaign in the minors, and has shown the talent to be a consistent 15-20 goal scorer in the NHL, especially considering coach Bruce Boudreau's reluctance to use the winger on the power play.  But Fehr has had multiple surgeries on his shoulder, and reports this summer have indicated that he will not be ready to play at the start of camp as a result of his latest surgery.

The Caps have acquired several wingers via trade or free agency in the last couple of week with the idea of adding toughness to the team without sacrificing some scoring ability.  Fehr was seen as an offensive option, but a liability physically and defensively.  Combined with his injury history and the knowledge that Washington was up against the Caps with Karl Alzner yet to be re-signed, the package the Capitals got back for a potential 20-goal scorer was more about freeing up the money than getting talent back.

GM George McPhee did Fehr a solid, trading him to a team that can use the offensive help, and moving Fehr back to Manitoba, where he grew up.

Capitals D-Camp Roster and Schedule Out

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, July 07, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals announced the roster and schedule for next week's Development Camp, held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex July 11-16. The roster is highlighted with some of the brightest prospects the organization has to offer, including forwards Mattias Sjogren and Cody Eakin and defenseman Dmitri Orlov.

The 6’2”, 214-pound Sjogren (23) spent last season with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League, recording a career high 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) and 44 penalty minutes in 51 games. He helped lead his team to the SEL championship after registering nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 13 playoff games. The 23-year-old also played for Sweden at the 2011 World Championship in Slovakia, winning a silver medal while tallying a goal and three assists in nine games. This will be his first season in North America.

Eakin, 20, began the 2010-11 season as the captain of Swift Current before being traded to Kootenay for five players and three draft picks. The Winnipeg native recorded 83 points (36 goals, 47 assists) in 56 games during the regular season and was a key component of his team’s run to the Memorial Cup, adding 11 goals and 27 points in 19 playoff games. He finished tied for second among all WHL players in postseasons scoring as his Kootenay Ice won the WHL championship. Eakin hopes to translate his strong track record of success to the pro level.

Orlov, 20 on July 23, the highly-touted Russian defenseman, won a gold medal for Russia at the World Junior Championship this year and was named to the tournament all-star team while recording the most assists (8) by a defenseman in the tournament. He recorded a career-high 12 points for Metallurg of the KHL before signing an entry level deal with the Caps in March. He appeared in 19 games with Hershey, collecting two goals and seven assists. He will be beginning his first, full season in North America this year.

All on-ice sessions, including the three intersquad games, are free and open to the public.  Fan Fest is Saturday, July 16, a free-to-the-public event that features the team's annual equipment sale, games, autographs and public skating.


29 FLEMMING, Brett D 5-11 184 2/26/91 Mississauga (OHL) Draft ‘09*
31 GRUBAUER, Phillip G 6-0 180 11/25/91 Kingston (OHL)/Germany (WJC) Draft ‘10*
33 SJOGREN, Mattias C 6-1 209 11/27/87 Farjestads BK (SEL)/Sweden (WC) Free Agent ‘11*
38 HAAR, Garrett D 6-0 193 8/16/93 Fargo (USHL) Draft ‘11
40 SOBERG, Steffen G 5-11 176 8/6/93 Manglerud (Norway)/Norway (WJC) Draft ‘11
44 KOUDYS, Patrick D 6-4 210 11/15/92 RPI (NCAA) Draft ‘11
49 GALIEV, Stanislav LW 6-1 188 1/17/92 Saint John (QMJHL) Draft ‘10
50 EAKIN, Cody C 5-11 179 5/25/91 Swift Current/Kootenay (WHL)/Canada (WJC) Draft ‘09*
53 BOYD, Travis F 5-10 185 9/14/93 USNDT/USA (WJC) Draft ‘11
54 BURKE, Greg LW 6-3 205 5/1/90 New Hampshire (NCAA) Draft ‘08
56 WEY, Patrick D 6-2 200 3/21/91 Boston College (NCAA)/USA (WJC) Draft ‘09
65 CARRIER, Samuel D 6-1 186 4/28/92 Lewiston (QMJHL) Draft ‘10
66 STEVENSON, Dustin D 6-5 220 8/12/89 South Carolina (ECHL) Free Agent ‘10*
72 HERBERT, Caleb F 5-11 185 10/12/91 Sioux City (USHL)/USA (WJAC) Draft ‘10
76 MITCHELL, Garrett RW 5-11 195 9/2/91 Regina (WHL)/Hershey (AHL) Draft ‘09*
78 ANDERSON, Brandon G 6-0 163 6/13/92 Lethbridge (WHL)/Hershey (AHL) Free Agent ‘10*
81 ORLOV, Dmitri D 6-0 197 7/23/91 Metallurg (KHL)/Hershey (AHL)/Russia (WJC) Draft ‘09*
93 KUGRYSHEV, Dmitry RW 5-11 193 1/18/90 Hershey (AHL)/S. Carolina (ECHL) Draft ‘08*
96 STEFISHEN, Taylor LW 6-0 185 8/15/90 Prince George (WHL) Trade ‘11


Monday, July 11
9:45 a.m.: Group A on ice
2:00 p.m.: Group B on ice
Approx. 12 p.m.: Media availability

Tuesday, July 12
9:30 a.m.: Group B on ice
11:45 p.m.: Group A on ice
Approx. 2 p.m.: Media availability

Wednesday, July 13
9:00 a.m.: Group A on ice
10:20 a.m.: Group B on ice
3:00 p.m.: Intrasquad scrimmage
Approx. 12:30 p.m.: Media availability

Thursday, July 14
9 a.m.: Intrasquad scrimmage
Approx. 11:30 a.m.: Media availability

Friday, July 15
9:30 a.m.: Group A on ice
11:15 a.m.: Group B on ice
Approx. 12 p.m.: Media availability

Saturday, July 16
Capitals Fan Fest
10 a.m.: Intrasquad scrimmage
Approx. 1:00 p.m.: Media availability

*Player descriptions from Capitals development camp guide.

Making Room for Alzner

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, July 06, 2011 | , , , | 3 comments »

The Washington Capitals today announced they signed winger Troy Brouwer to a two-year deal, reported to be worth $2.35 million per year.  That's certainly a reasonable contract for a guy that's scored 39 goals the last two years combined, not to mention the physical aspect he brings to the game.

That leaves the Caps with one priority: Signing Karl Alzner.

With the Brouwer signing the Caps are over the salary cap, but the team can carry 10 percent over the cap throughout the summer.  It gives them some time to sign Alzner, then deal to make room.. But where are those deals going to come from?

According to (and if you don't have it bookmarked, why not?), the Caps are $1.8 million over with 23 players signed for next season.  They currently have the highest payroll in the NHL.  Where do the Caps get relief?

Let's take a look at some of the more obvious candidates:

Tom Poti ($2.875 million):  The veteran defenseman played in just 21 games last season due to a variety of injuries, worst of all his brittle groin.  If the Caps put Poti on the Long Term Injury List, they could save his cap number this season.

Eric Fehr ($2.2 million):  Like Poti, Fehr spent a lot of last season injured, and he's had multiple surgeries on his shoulder.  Reports say he probably will not be ready to play by the start of camp.  But he's still young, and a 20-goal scorer for this team with the limited minutes he gets.  Healthy, and on a team that could give him extensive power play time, he could be a real asset for someone.

Jeff Schultz ($2.75 million): The Caps currently have seven defensemen under contract before Alzner signs.  At the best, it now looks like Schultz will only be the sixth or seventh (or eighth) best defenseman on the team.  Not sure if that warrants the cap hit he carries. But he's big and durable, someone would play him 20 minutes a night.

Jason Chimera ($1.875 million):  Chimera brings a lot of speed and energy, and a fourth line of Chimera-Halpern-Hendricks is awfully enticing.  But his hands of stone really limits him offensive effectiveness for a player making almost $2 million per.

D.J. King ($637,500):  Not a big hit, but still... He was a forgotten player down the stretch, and only managed to dress 16 times the whole season.  This good soldier just doesn't fit into the coach's system or philosophy.  With Hendricks and Brouwer, the Caps have all the pugilists they would need on any given night.  The era of heavyweights is just about finished.

Alexander Semin ($6.7 million): Saved the best and biggest cap hit for last.  What more need be written about The Enigma?  If you could bring back Good Sasha at half the price and let Bad Sasha go, it would be one thing.  The problem with trading him? Where to, and would he report?  A player of his obvious talent would be a real boost to a team's scoring, but he would have to go to a team looking at the cap floor, and those teams generally aren't very attractive to play for, especially for a player that at times has had problems with motivation.  The other problem trading Semin?  None of these problems are a well-kept secret.  For a non-All-Star, he carries more baggage than anyone else in the league.

(ed. 12:32 pm: I was called out for not including Mike Green on the list, which was fair.)

Mike Green ($5.25 million): I don't think the Caps will entertain offers for Mike Green, but it would be understandable if they did.  He's the most gifted offensive defenseman in the game, and a work in progress on the back end.  He now also carries the stigma of a concussion victim, on top of various other elements that have dramatically affected his performance in the playoffs the last two years, including a bum shoulder.