Good morning and welcome to the Dart4Pack of Fan Questions, where we provide answers to your most pressing questions regarding the Washington Capitals. Every week through the remainder of the regular season we’ll select four questions and do our best to “keep it real” with our answers.
Let’s get started:
Chuck, is the "salary cap" the reason the Caps have chosen to sign some lesser-experienced players recently (such as Aaron Volpatti, Steve Oleksy), as opposed to getting a seasoned player that will help them? - Chris Fox on Facebook
Hey Chris, I don’t think the NHL salary cap had much to do with the Caps picking up Volpatti, who makes $600,000, and Oleksy, who makes $541,667. Even with Roman Hamrlik on the roster, the Caps were at roughly $67 million, which is $3.2 million under the cap.
I have to say I was perplexed when the Caps claimed Volpatti off waivers from the Canucks. He’s pretty much a one-dimensional player who can throw his body around and drop the gloves. The rationale, and it’s a good one, is that Adam Oates didn’t want John Erskine, who plays top four minutes, and Matt Hendricks, one of the team’s best penalty killers, in the box with fighting majors.
The Oleksy signing was another eye-opener, especially after the Caps claimed Volpatti. But Oates is a real “left-right” guy and with Mike Green out indefinitely with groin problems he wanted a right-handed shot on that third defense pairing. Oleksy has been very impressive in his first two NHL games, picking up three assists and at least a half dozen bone-crushing hits.
Don’t worry, though. With Hamrlik off the books the Caps have about $6.8 million in salary cap space and can use it before the April 3 trade deadline.
Good question, Amanda. Let’s first give a medical update on both players. Dmitry Orlov suffered a concussion in the Dec. 6 AHL Showcase game between the Hershey Bears and Norfolk Admirals and has not played since. However, the 21-year-old Russian is ready to return to the Bears lineup. The plan is for him to return tonight in Norfolk, sit out Saturday’s game in Norfolk, then, if all goes well, play Sunday at home against Binghamton.
The Caps likely will let Orlov play a long stretch of games before deciding if he’s ready to play at the NHL level, where he’s need to beat out Jeff Schultz or Tom Poti for time on that third pairing.
As for Marcus Johansson, he passed a neuropsych test earlier this week and has shown some real jump in recent practices. The plan for him is to improve his conditioning and take a few bumps in practice before giving him the green light to play his first game since that ugly Feb. 7 loss in Pittsburgh.
Johansson shoots left, so look for him to return to the lineup as a left wing. That could mean he replaces Matt Hendricks on a top line with Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin, or he could slide in on a second line with Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer. A lot will depend on how many minutes he can handle and how well he plays.
Another good question, Alberto. With Braden Holtby nailing down the No. 1 job and receiving a two-year contract extension, it’s clear that Michal Neuvirth’s time in Washington may be limited. His $1.15 million contract expires at the end of this season, when he’ll become a restricted free agent. If it looks as though Holtby is clearly the Caps’ No. 1 guy, Neuvirth may welcome a trade, while the Caps may be in the market for a veteran netminder content to play a supporting role behind Holtby.
The Caps organization is very encouraged by the rapid development of Philipp Grubauer but he’s just 21 years old and ideally they’d like to see that development continue in Hershey, where he can play the majority of games. Unless Neuvirth is requesting a trade, my guess would be the Caps would like to keep their goaltending tandem at least until the April 3 trade deadline, and possibly beyond.
That said, I do not expect to see Neuvirth in a Capitals uniform next season.
Hey Puck Buddys. The short answer to your question is no. Hamrlik played in just four of the Caps’ first 20 games and had fallen to fifth or sixth on the team’s depth chart of left-handed defensemen. That would make him eighth or ninth on the depth chart overall.
Because of his lack of mobility, Hamrlik fit into Dale Hunter’s shot-blocking system much better than Adam Oates’ push-the-pace style, which is why he was claimed off waivers by the Rangers, whose shot-blocking style under John Tortorella more closely mimmicks Hunter’s system from last spring.
I still think Hamrlik can be an effective player in the NHL as a fifth or sixth defenseman but other than the positive impact he had on fellow Czech Tomas Kundratek, I don’t see the Caps regretting his departure, especially if they can land a valuable asset with the $3.5 cap space they gained with his departure.