Welcome to our weekly edition of Penn Quarter Sports Tavern’s 6-Pack of Questions, where we aim to keep it real while answering your most pressing questions regarding the Washington Capitals.
Let’s get started.
@wvufish Why isn’t [Dustin] Penner playing on the top line?
Your timing is impeccable, Mr. Fish. Adam Oates was asked that same question on Thursday and here’s what he said about Penner, who has no goals on eight shots and is a minus-1 in five games as a Capital, mostly while playing on a line with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer. “I don’t think he matches well with them because he’s not the fastest guy in the world,” Oates said of putting Penner with Ovechkin and Backstrom. “I think he’s a puck-possession, battle-along-the-wall guy and I think Ovi and Backy need a quicker guy.” When I asked if there are things Oates would like to see more out of Penner, Oates said, “I’m still getting used to him. I think his strengths are in the O-zone and along the boards in our end to get it out. He needs to just complement his partner. When the puck is on [Brouwer’s] side, he needs to get over there a little quicker so that when it’s his turn to go push the pace he does. He’s never had to do that, so it’s something a little different for him.”
@AloeCap10 Post-Season seems unlikely ... What off-season moves do you think would solve the #Caps' woes?
Unless the Caps can earn 22 points in their final 15 games – a point total they haven't achieved in any 15-game stretch this season – the post-season seems unlikely. To answer a question from @MyTradeRumors, I think center Mikhail Grabovski is probably asking for more than the Capitals are willing to spend to keep him in Washington. Otherwise, he would have signed a contract extension by now. My guess is that Grabovski, Jaroslav Halak and Dustin Penner all go to unrestricted free agency. If that happens, assuming the NHL salary cap rises from $64.3 million to $70 million, the Caps would have roughly $13 million in cap space. Some of that money would need to go to a goaltender. If the Caps decided to go with Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer that would mean only an additional $579,000 in Grubauer’s salary. Let’s also assume Andre Burakovsky, who is lighting up the OHL with 78 points in 54 games for Erie, replaces Penner at $925,000 per season. If the Caps project Evgeny Kuznetsov as their top-line left wing, you now have Kuznetsov, Burakovsky and Jason Chimera as your top three left wings. [More on Brooks Laich in the next question]. That would leave the Caps with $11.5 million to fill their greatest needs – a No. 2 or No. 3 center, depending on how you view Marcus Johansson and Kuznetsov, and a No. 3 or No. 4 defenseman, depending on how you view Mike Green.
@CayugaLaker58 Any chance of voiding Laich's contract if he's finished because of Swiss injury? Just wondering.
I’m sure there’s an attorney out there who could make a case that Laich’s injury while he was playing in Switzerland during the lockout adversely affected his contributions to the Capitals, giving the NHL team the right to void the contract. But Laich played nine games for the Caps last season and 50 more this season, so the argument wouldn’t hold much water. What the Caps could do is use their second and final compliance buyout on Laich, who has three years and $13.5 million [$4.5 million a season] remaining on his contract with the Caps. Under the rules of the CBA compliance buyouts can be made between June 15 [or 48 hours after the final game of the Stanley Cup Final] and June 30 and can only be made to players who were under contract before the 2012 lockout [which eliminates John Erskine as a candidate]. If he was given a buyout, Laich would receive roughly $1.4 million per year for each of the next six seasons and be free to negotiate with any other NHL team. Instead of a $4.5 million cap hit, the Caps would take a cap hit of $1.38 million for Laich. Freeing an additional $3.1 million in cap space would give the Caps plenty of room [roughly $15.5 million] to land a quality defenseman and No. 2 center.
@caddlecreek It appears [Mike] Green is no longer a top 4 D-man in this league. How does this club fix the hole on D and 2-C in the offseason?
We could probably debate this question all weekend long while sipping green beer, no pun intended. For a guy who has been relatively healthy this season, Green’s play [he’s a career-worst minus-15] has been far below expectations for a player in his prime. Here’s my question: Is Green being placed in a difficult position by playing alongside Dmitry Orlov, another defenseman who takes offensive risks? Would his numbers be dramatically better if he was paired with, say, Karl Alzner? My answer to both of those questions is yes. If the idea is to keep Green through the remainder of his contract, which expires after next season, then why not try getting a solid, stay-at-home defenseman to play alongside him? Someone like Brooks Orpik, a left-handed defenseman who will be a free agent this summer. I personally believe that if Green was given a defensive rock as a defense partner, he’d become the dynamic defenseman everyone raved about four seasons ago when he played with Jeff Schultz. As for the need for a No. 2 centerman, there’s a guy in Colorado, Paul Stasnty, who’s in the prime of his career and awaiting unrestricted free agency. Even better, how about St. Louis Blues irritant Steve Ott? For those who don’t think the Caps are tough enough to play against, Mr. Ott would change that reputation in a hurry.
@_CSpence Do you think the Caps will experiment with [Evgeny] Kuznetsov and [Tom] Wilson in expanded roles down the stretch if playoff possibility gone?
Yes and yes. In the case of Kuznetsov we’re already seeing it. The Caps didn’t burn up one year of Kuznetsov’s entry-level contract to play him on a fourth line with Jay Beagle or Casey Wellman. Win or lose, we’ll see a lot of Kuznetsov down the stretch and, quite honestly, I’d like to see him play a bunch of games with Backstrom and Ovechkin to see if there is any chemistry there. As for Wilson, I think the plan from the start was to groom the kid to take Joel Ward’s spot as a third-line right wing. Someone must have forgotten to tell Ward because he’s having a career year with 18 goals and 37 points. If the plan is to move Wilson into a top six or top nine role next season, the Caps will need to move either Ward [one more year at $3 million] or Troy Brouwer [two more years and $3.66 million]. I’m not crazy about either proposition, but if you want to get Wilson playing time …
@Terpinyc If the Caps miss the playoffs this year & [George] McPhee is retained, will he blow this team up?
That’s kind of a loaded question. McPhee is reportedly in the final year of his contract with the Capitals and has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the vacant general manager’s job in Calgary. Ted Leonsis has not replaced a general manager during his tenure as owner of the Caps and Wizards. If McPhee is retained, I see him adding to the core of the Capitals roster and not blowing things up. The Caps are intrigued by the potential of players like Kuznetsov and Burakovsky, but if they hope to become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders they will need a significant upgrade to their blue line and possibly between the pipes. Trading Mike Green would be the equivalent of blowing up the blue line. I think it’s a safer bet that the Caps try to add a defenseman who can complement Green, either through free agency or a trade.