Category Archives: NHL Offseason

An Informal Guide To The Capitals’ 2012 NHL Draft

The 2012 NHL Draft is just days away and the Washington Capitals will be very busy. The draft can solve a lot of problems, but it can also provide more questions than answers. With that being, below is a FAQ of sorts regarding the Caps and this year’s NHL Draft.

First things first. When is the NHL Draft?

It begins Friday at 7 p.m. with the first round live on NBC Sports Network. Rounds two through seven begin Saturday at 10 a.m. and will be broadcast on NHL Network.

Looks like I’ve got my weekend plans already. Where is it being held?

This year’s draft will originate from CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Obviously, the NHL did not consult with Caps fans on that decision.

How many selections will the Caps have?

As of now, the Caps have a league-high 11 draft picks, which is more than they had in the last two years combined (10).

Eleven? That’s a lot. Are they good ones?

It looks that way. The Caps have multiple first-round draft picks for the fourth time since 2004 and the first time since 2008, when they selected Anton Gustafsson at No. 21 and John Carlson at No. 27.

Anton Gustafsson? Who’s that?

Well, Gustafsson is the son of former Cap Bengt-Åke Gustafsson, but unlike his father, Anton never played for the Caps. He was more or less a bust.

Anyways, back to the draft picks…

Right. The Caps will select 11th and 16th, the former pick coming from the Colorado Avalanche as part of the Semyon Varlamov trade last summer. The 11th selection is Washington’s highest since 2007 when Karl Alzner was the fifth overall pick; the Caps’ last four first-round picks have been 21st or later.

The remaining selections are as follows:

  • No. 54 (second round; acquired from Colorado via Boston in the Varlamov trade)
  • No. 77 (third round)
  • No. 100 (fourth round; acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in the Eric Fehr trade last summer).
  • No. 107 (fourth round)
  • No. 137 (fifth round)
  • No. 167 (fifth round)
  • No. 195 (seventh round; acquired from the Calgary Flames in a trade for Keith Seabrook’s rights in 2009)
  • No. 197 (seventh round)
  • No. 203 (seventh round; acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Tomas Vokoun trade June 4)

Have the Caps ever selected 11th overall?

Yes, once. Washington snagged defenseman Brendan Witt at No. 11 in the 1993 NHL Draft.

What about at 16th?

The Caps have actually never had the 16th pick before.

So I know where the Caps are picking, but the better question is who are they going to pick?

If I knew that, then I would not be writing from my parents’ basement (I actually write from my own room in my own apartment; I never even had a basement growing up, but this isn’t about me). Anyways, what I can tell you is that this year’s draft is more defense-heavy, which, while important, is not necessarily the Caps’ biggest need.

Since becoming general manager in 1997, George McPhee has used 10 of his 19 first-round selections on forwards. Washington’s prospect pipeline is thinnest at forward (particularly top-six forwards), so bulking up that area should be on top of Washington’s priority list.

Yet, according to McPhee, the Caps’ draft policy has always been to “take the best players” regardless of position, so that will be the theme of the weekend.

Is it possible that Washington will trade any of their draft picks?

Of course. Based on McPhee’s comments Thursday, however, the Caps’ plan “is to make picks.” McPhee was not shy in expressing his opinion of last summer’s draft, which he believed was weak (especially around the end of the first round where the Caps were slated to pick at No. 26). Sensing that, the Caps elected to trade that selection to the Chicago Blackhawks for Troy Brouwer.

“Where we were picking [last year], we were concerned with the mock drafts that our scouts were doing that we weren’t going to get a real difference maker at the end of the first round,” McPhee said. “It didn’t look like a top player would fall to where we were picking. That’s why we made the decision to trade the first pick for Brouwer. I thought it was great example of our amateur department working real well with our pro scouting department. We made a decision that worked real well for us.”

“This year, we like the draft a lot,” he continued, adding that he believes that Washington can grab that difference maker that was missing last summer. “We like what we think we can get at 11 and 16. We have a lot of picks this year, so we’ll be making a lot of picks.”

As McPhee reiterated Thursday, Washington’s modus operandi has been to build a team from within: drafting players, developing them in the minor leagues and calling them up when ready. Of the 17 players currently under contract for next season, nine of them were drafted by Washington (three of the four restricted free agents – Carlson, Mike Green and Mathieu Perreault – were also Caps draft picks).

While McPhee did not completely shut down the idea that the Caps could be involved in trades this weekend, it seems more likely that they will hold onto as many picks as they can.

“We’ll see what develops,” McPhee said, noting that making trades is much easier during the summer than during the season because fellow general managers are “far more forthcoming” in regards to their needs. “You have lots of discussion about the draft itself and you have lots of discussion with the teams around the league about what they’re doing with their personnel.”

“I expect more [of that talk],” he continued. “Everybody’s planting their seeds this week and we’ll see what they reap next week as a result. It will pick up as we move along.”

What is the likelihood that any of the draft picks make an immediate impact in Washington?

It is definitely possible that the 11th and 16th picks could do just that (never say never), but more than likely, both of them will see extended time in Hershey. As for the other/later draft picks, most of them will also join the Bears or South Carolina Stingrays, while others may elect to return to juniors or college.

Yet, you will get a chance to see them in action sooner rather than later as they will attend the Capitals Development Camp, which runs from July 9-14 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

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Keith Aucoin In Contact With Capitals Regarding Extension, According To Agent

The Washington Capitals ended the season with seven unrestricted free agents and that number has been whittled down to three as Alexander Semin, Dennis Wideman and Keith Aucoin remain unsigned.

While it seems that both Semin and Wideman are unlikely to return to Washington, Aucoin is currently in talks with the Caps in regards to negotiating a new contract, according to his agent, Jerry Buckley.

“We’re still in contact with the Capitals with regards to Keith potentially re-signing with them,” Buckley said in a phone interview Friday. “We’re continuing conversations. We’re working on potentially doing an extension.”

Aucoin, who has spent the majority of his professional career in the American Hockey League, earned consistent playing time down the stretch for the Caps, appearing in 22 of the last 23 regular season games and all 14 postseason games and finishing with 13 total points (three goals, 10 assists) in a bottom-six role. His 41 total NHL games this season were nearly double the amount he had played in the NHL since joining Washington in 2008 (22).

Through most of his four-year stint in the Washington organization, however, Aucoin has been a linchpin of the Hershey Bears. In four seasons, Aucoin has won a scoring title and a MVP award while leading the Bears to two Calder Cup championships.

Buckley did not comment on what Aucoin is looking for in a new contract with Washington, such as a more prominent role with the Caps or a one-way contract. Yet, considering that the team chose to notify both Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern – also unrestricted free agents – early on that they would not be returning next season, the odds that Aucoin will continue to be a member of the Washington organization next season seem to be high.

“If we can strike a deal that makes sense, that’s great,” Buckley said.

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George McPhee, Capitals Taking Time Hiring New Head Coach

It has been exactly one month since Dale Hunter stepped down as Washington Capitals head coach and the team – just one of two with a head coaching vacancy – is still looking for the right person to fill that position.

Thursday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, General Manager George McPhee provided an update on the search.

“It’s going great,” McPhee said. “It really is. It’s been a real enjoyable process. It’s a fun process doing it in the summer. Obviously, if you have to do something midseason, it’s much more difficult. There are fewer people available to talk to, so there’s some real limitations and some time constraints. When you do it in the summer, it becomes a real thoughtful process, real comprehensive. You can talk to a lot of people and come up with a plan on how you’re going to do it. We’ve enjoyed it. There’s some terrific people out there.”

“There’s some real good candidates and we like where we are in the process,” McPhee continued. “We like how it’s gone so far. We’ll just keep working away until we’re comfortable making that final decision.”

That decision, according to McPhee, will likely not be made before the NHL Draft, which begins June 22, but the list has been “narrowed down a little bit.”

McPhee added that the Caps are “not necessarily” looking for a coach with previous NHL experience either as a head coach, associate head coach or assistant coach (all four of McPhee’s coaching hires – Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau and Hunter – did not have NHL head coaching experience upon their respective arrivals in Washington).

“We’re wide open,” McPhee said. “There are really some terrific people. Without getting into names, there are veteran people that have been terrific, there have been young people that have been terrific. We’ll let you know when we get there.”

Reported candidates included Philadelphia Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, former Carolina Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice, while New Jersey Devils assistant coach Adam Oates, Los Angeles Kings assistant coach John Stevens and Norfolk Admirals head coach Jon Cooper have also gained steam as potential replacements,

Two other possible candidates are already members of the Washington organization: assistant coaches Dean Evason and Jim Johnson. Yet, McPhee said Thursday that he does not believe that either of them will return next season.

While McPhee was characteristically tight-lipped Thursday, he did reveal what kind of style that he would like the Caps to play next season. McPhee was impressed with the compete level that Hunter instilled and wants that to continue along with the defensively-responsible style of play, but wants to speed things up as well.

“I think the whole league is obviously trending towards an uptempo style of play,” McPhee said. “Everyone wants to do that. It’s not necessarily the style of play that’s most important. If you’re the coach, you’ve gotta sell this to the players and have them buy in. That’s what works, if you can get everybody to buy in.”

“We really liked the way that the team competed,” McPhee continued. “That was something that we were trying to get to – to have them compete like that – and they were terrific. They played their guts out. We want to maintain that kind of commitment and play a little more uptempo. It’s the compete we want.”

McPhee has hired four coaches since becoming General Manager, but it has been 10 years since he hired one during the summer (Hanlon, Boudreau and Hunter were all hired midseason). Now that he has that luxury, he plans on taking his time.

“There’s no need to set an artificial deadline to have it done before the draft or have it done by [development] camp,” McPhee said. “The Devils hired a guy in [mid-July] last year and they end up in the finals. I think in terms of housekeeping, some people like to get it done before the draft, but I just don’t think it’s that important. What’s important is hiring the right person and really being able to come to your team with a terrific coach and knowing that you’ve really done a real comprehensive job in the summer talking to these people.”

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Evgeny Kuznetsov’s Decision To Remain In KHL Further Brings To Light Capitals’ Lack Of Forward Depth Among Prospects

It was widely known that Washington Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov was planning to stay in Russia and the Kontinental Hockey League, but with Monday’s news that he had signed a two-year contract with Traktor, it became concrete.

While Kuznetsov’s decision hardly came as a surprise, it highlighted the fact that Washington’s organizational depth among its forward prospects is incredibly thin.

As of now, arguably the Caps’ most NHL-ready forward prospect is Cody Eakin, who saw 30 regular season games with Washington last season. Yet, Eakin’s time in the NHL had the opposite effect of what the Caps probably hoped would become of their highly touted prospect as his mystique wore off as the season progressed and his deficiencies (offensive consistency on the NHL level, size) were brought to the surface.

After Eakin, the Hershey Bears currently possess little to no semblance of impact players. Mattias Sjogren, who was thought to be one of the aforementioned players when he signed last summer, did not impress, even leaving North America altogether during the season before returning during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last month, Washington traded Chris Bourque, who had plenty of scoring upside, but could never translate it to the NHL level, to the Boston Bruins for Zach Hamill, who fits the same exact mold. Michael Carman will likely remain in the AHL throughout his career, while Garrett Mitchell and Christian Hanson might see some NHL time as fringe players in an energy role.

There is a reason why Hockey’s Future recently ranked the Caps 27th out of 30 teams in regards to overall prospect talent: they have a “surplus of role players,” but a “shallow pool in terms of overall NHL potential,” none of which have “proven game-breaking ability outside of Kuznetsov.”

Fortunately for Washington, it looks like help might be on the way. Stanislav Galiev will begin his first professional season in 2012 after another productive season with Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. A season with the Bears is likely in store, but that will allow Galiev to build strength and develop his game, which the Caps hope will be similar to that of Alexander Semin (minus the temperamental issues). Also, the Caps possess two first-round picks in this month’s NHL Draft at 11th and 16th. Both picks could bring in much-needed forward reinforcements.

The Caps have enough high-end forward talent on the main roster to keep them competitive for now, but they must restock the pond with quality forward prospects sooner rather than later. The last thing Washington – or any team for that matter – can afford is for the prospect pipeline to run dry.

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The “KOLWTF” Countdown – No. 1

To say that the Washington Capitals’ 2011-12 season was tumultuous would be an understatement, but there were several moments that stuck out even more so as being just, well, awful. This is a countdown of those awful moments.

Welcome back to the “KOLWTF Countdown,” where we will look back at the five moments of the season that made us scratch our heads, throw our hands to the sky and simply ask, “Why?” Or more appropriately, “WTF?”

No. 1 – “The Wrecker” In More Ways Than One?

When a parent club recalls a player from its minor league affiliate, the reasons behind it can usually be sorted into one of two categories: performance or injury. Yet, when you cannot properly classify a certain call-up by either of the aforementioned labels, what do you call it then?

Joel Rechlicz, that’s what. Or more appropriately, who.

Rechlicz is a mountain of a man. Standing at 6’4′ and weighing in at a solid 220 pounds, Rechlicz looks like he was chiseled out of stone. He is also as old school as it gets; he is a “punch faces first, ask questions later” kind of enforcer who uses a wooden stick to boot.

Unfortunately for Rechlicz, as the NHL game has evolved and sped up, there is not much use for a tough guy with a limited skillset. That fact, however, did not stop Washington from calling him up not once, but twice in what became the most confounding move/moves of the 2011-12 season.

Upon his first recall January 30, Rechlicz had one goal, one assist and an AHL-leading 184 penalty minutes in just 27 games with the Hershey Bears. To make Rechlicz’s recall official, the Caps, who already had little wiggle room salary cap wise, had to sign him to an entry-level deal, taking away $525,000 worth of space.

When asked about the reasons behind Rechlicz’s promotion, head coach Dale Hunter said that it was because he is “a tough character and he’s just a tough guy you can have on the road” (the Caps were preparing for a three-game road trip). Yet, during that three-game trip, Rechlicz took a total of six shifts for 4:26; he did not even play in the final game of the trip against the Montreal Canadiens February 4 (though his comments regarding Rene Bourque might have had something to do with that). The Caps reassigned Rechlicz after the game.

That was not the last time, however, that Rechlicz would be join the Caps. Before Washington’s game against the San Jose Sharks February 13, the team recalled Braden Holtby and Rechlicz. While Holtby’s start came as a slight surprise, it did not compare to Rechlicz’s, who earned a roster spot over newly anointed healthy scratch Mike Knuble, who was already sour over his recent lack of playing time, and Keith Aucoin, one of the AHL’s leading scorers.

Making matters worse, Rechlicz only played 1:30 during the game and received a 10-minute misconduct while seated on the bench.

Pressed once again on his decision-making process regarding Rechlicz, Hunter said that he inserted him into the lineup as a deterrent to Sharks enforcer Brad Winchester, who took liberties with Alexander Semin in the teams’ previous game in January.

“They had that Winchester,” Hunter said February 14. “He ran over Semin and Ovi had to jump in last game…so Winchester wasn’t a factor out there.”

Sadly, but perhaps expectedly, neither was Rechlicz.

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The ‘KOLWTF’ Countdown – No. 2

To say that the Washington Capitals’ 2011-12 season was tumultuous would be an understatement, but there were several moments that stuck out even more so as being just, well, awful. This is a countdown of those awful moments.

Welcome back to the “KOLWTF Countdown,” where we will look back at the five moments of the season that made us scratch our heads, throw our hands to the sky and simply ask, “Why?” Or more appropriately, “WTF?”

No. 2 – Buffa-WOAH (Alternate Title: Buffaslugged)

The Caps lost 40 combined games during the regular season, so there are plenty of defeats to dissect. Yet, there was not a team that handed Washington more embarrassing and/or potentially season-altering losses than the Buffalo Sabres.

November 26, 2011: The End Of An Era

Washington had seemingly recovered from a hellacious three-game road trip with two straight victories at home, but a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers November 25 – the day after Thanksgiving” – gave “Black Friday” new meaning.

That is, until November 26.

The Caps faced the Sabres for the first time while the latter was missing nine regulars from its lineup. On paper, the game looked like an exhibition game between a NHL team and its AHL affiliate, but it was actually the Sabres that looked like the better team. The Sabres jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period with two goals in 4:36. Jason Chimera cut the Caps’ deficit in half with a penalty shot goal in the second period, but 27 seconds later, Zach Kassian scored his first career NHL goal to restore the two-goal lead. Buffalo scored two more times in the third period – including a backbreaking shorthanded goal by Luke Adam just 1:12 into the period – as it coasted to a 5-1 victory.

This game ultimately became Bruce Boudreau’s last. Two days later, the team relieved Boudreau of his duties as General Manager George McPhee admitted that the players were no longer responding to their coach.

December 26, 2011: Buffalo Stampede

Exactly one month after their last visit, the Caps returned to Buffalo looking to exact some sort of revenge. So much for that plan.

The Sabres steamrolled the Caps in the first period, putting the game out of reach within 15 minutes. Jason Pominville scored a power play goal just 51 seconds into the contest (Roman Hamrlik was the offender in the penalty box, committing a  delay-of-game penalty nine seconds into the game). Matt Ellis, Christian Ehrhoff and Brayden McNabb followed their captain’s lead and Buffalo took a commanding 4-0 lead after 20 minutes before holding on for a 4-2 victory.

March 27, 2012: “The Seventh Game Of The Playoffs”

Entering the teams’ final meeting March 27, the Caps and Sabres were tied with 84 points in a tight Eastern Conference Playoffs race. Washington held the tiebreaker and a win would give them even more breathing room by way of a two-point lead. Head coach Dale Hunter likened the game to “the seventh game of the playoffs.” Considering Washington’s patented brand of bad luck in decisive postseason games (at least before this postseason), perhaps that was a bad idea.

The Sabres took a 1-0 lead on a very costly turnover by Braden Holtby. Holtby’s errant clearing attempt behind the crease found Brad Boyes instead of Jeff Schultz and Boyes sent a centering pass to Cody McCormick for the game’s first goal at 8:45. With less than two minutes remaining in the first period, Drew Stafford added another goal to give the Sabres a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Thomas Vanek made it 3-0 2:31 into the second, chasing Holtby after he allowed three goals on 18 shots. Alexander Semin gave Washington some hope less than three minutes later to cut Buffalo’s lead to 3-1, but near the end of the period, Jason Pominville took advantage of an Alex Ovechkin turnover on the power play, outmuscled the Caps’ captain and finished a 2-on-1 shorthanded break on his own to put the game out of reach and completely deflate Verizon Center in the process. The Sabres added another goal in the third period and won 5-1.

With five games remaining in the regular season, Washington was on the outside looking in at the postseason. Of course, we all know how it turned out; the Caps secured the seventh seed, while the Sabres could not take advantage of the momentum gained March 27, falling out of the playoffs by season’s end.

Regardless, Buffalo gave Washington all it could handle this season. It might be difficult to sum up how Caps fans (and the Caps themselves) feel about the Sabres.

Well, maybe not.

Check back later this week for the No. 1 “WTF” moment of the season.

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The ‘KOLWTF’ Countdown – No. 3

To say that the Washington Capitals’ 2011-12 season was tumultuous would be an understatement, but there were several moments that stuck out even more so as being just, well, awful. This is a countdown of those awful moments.

Welcome back to the “KOLWTF Countdown,” where we will look back at the five moments of the season that made us scratch our heads, throw our hands to the sky and simply ask, “Why?” Or more appropriately, “WTF?”

No. 3 – Bad Things (And Red-Line Goals) Come In Threes

Some goals are scored with precision and skill. Others, pure luck. With that being said, during the first half of February, the Washington Capitals’ goaltenders were hexed.

First was Michal Neuvirth on February 1 against the Florida Panthers.

Not to be outdone, Tomas Vokoun was up next eight days later, when he allowed an 82-foot goal to Dustin Byfuglien.

After allowing two long-distance goals in a span of five games, surely it could not happen again – this time to Braden Holtby – right? Not so much.

For those of you keeping score, that is three goals scored on three different goaltenders from an average length of 67.3 feet and, most importantly, three losses.

Bad things do indeed come in threes.

Check back throughout the next two weeks for more “KOLWTF” moments.

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