Highlights: Capitals 5, Panthers 4
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.
@DanZaitsev1 Will Ovi forget Sochi?
Never. From seeing himself on nearly every Coca-Cola billboard to losing to Finland in the quarterfinal to seeing his father, Mikhail, recovering from heart surgery, Alex Ovechkin will never forget his 14 days in Sochi. But I will say this about the Capitals’ 28-year-old captain: It was remarkable how comfortable he seemed answering questions at Kettler on Tuesday. Maybe it was the relief of knowing his dad was heading back to Moscow with his mother and brother. Maybe it was the return to normalcy after months of pre-Olympic hype. Whatever the reasons, Ovechkin handled himself exceptionally well on Tuesday, from apologizing to the fans of Russia and accepting blame, to challenging the Capitals to play well enough to return to the playoffs for a seventh straight season. He even said the word “Cup.” To answer your question, Ovechkin will not forget Sochi. But I do not think it will burden him the rest of this season.
@Matt Faulconer Should Caps trade for Ryan Miller and what would it cost?
To be honest, I’m surprised at how often this question has come up. Would Ryan Miller help the Capitals get into the playoffs? Absolutely. Is he worth the $6.25 million the Caps would need to clear in cap space? No. As it is, the Caps have only $800,000 in cap space [the lowest in the NHL] and I just don’t see them adding a guy who likely will want to play somewhere else next season. My guess is that Braden Holtby will be given every opportunity to get the Capitals into the playoffs this season, and if he doesn’t, he’ll have quite a battle on his hands with Philipp Grubauer next season.
@CapsTapp Q: #CapsFamily eagerly anticipate [Evgeny] Kuznetsov's arrival in DC soon, what about [Riley] Barber/[Andre] Burakovsky for next year?
If you believe what’s being reported out of Russia, Kuznetsov already has his bags packed and is planning on becoming a house guest of Alex Ovechkin in a few weeks. Kuznetsov still has to fulfill his KHL contract and if Traktor Chelyabinsk fails to make the playoffs [they are in ninth place and the top eight teams make the playoffs], that commitment is set to expire March 8. Capitals general manager George McPhee said he’s “proceeding as if he’s not going to be here,” but it appears the wheels are in motion to have Kuznetsov signed to a contract as soon as he is eligible. If that’s the case he likely would carry a $900,000 cap hit and would burn one year off his entry-level status. As for Barber and Burakovsky, both are having strong years. Barber, 20, captained Team USA in the World Junior Championships and has 18 goals and 20 assists in 30 games for Miami [Ohio]. Burakovsky, 19, is tearing up the OHL with 33 goals and 37 assists for the Erie Otters. Taken with the 23rd pick of last year’s draft, McPhee claimed Burkovsky “might be, with where we got him and what he is now, one of the best picks we’ve ever made.”
Frustrated Caps Fan: While [Marty] Erat continues to ask for a trade, wouldn’t a better win-win solution be to trade [Brooks] Laich, thereby getting rid of an underperforming player and giving Erat the playing time he is looking for?
I think the toothpaste is out of the tube with Erat. Even after receiving increased playing time, scoring his first goal of the season and going to the Olympics, Erat says nothing has changed and that he still wants to be traded before the March 5 deadline. McPhee says he will try accommodating Erat, but I don’t see teams clamoring for a 32-year-old forward with one goal and a cap hit of $4.5 million for next season. Laich is in a similar situation. Although he has not asked for a trade and is the dean of Washington’s pro athletes with 10 years of service, Laich is also having a tough year, entering Thursday night’s game in Florida with just five goals and four assists in 44 games. [He had a breakout game with one goal and two assists on a top line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom]. That is not very enticing to a team that would need to pay him $4.5 million for another three seasons after this season. Laich could be a buyout option for the Caps, but only if the Caps are convinced he cannot average 20 goals and 50 points again.
Anthony Cole: It seems to me the Caps are continually “on the cusp” of being a great team. What do you feel they need in order to move beyond being “just good enough?”
Excellent question, Anthony. I can only speak from experience, but when the Philadelphia Flyers acquired defenseman Chris Pronger from the Anaheim Ducks in the summer of 2009 they immediately became a Stanley Cup contender and found themselves in the Cup Final against Chicago the following spring. Pronger brought the Flyers everything – a strong voice in the locker room, a nasty presence in front of the net and a first-pass defenseman that was as good at generating offense out of his own zone as anyone I’ve seen. To answer your question, the Caps need that kind of defenseman. While their top three of John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Mike Green is good, if they could find a veteran stud like a Zdeno Chara, Ryan Suter or Drew Doughty. Among the potential free agents that could be available on July 1, Dan Girardi will be the best of the bunch, followed by Andrei Markov and Brooks Orpik, who was paired with Carlson for Team USA during the Olympics.
@TriciaDrummond: How is the Caps fan base supporting Backstrom's Sochi disappointment?
I asked Nicklas about the support he’s received since Sunday’s banning but he didn’t really delve into it much. He was certainly distraught over the news and the ensuing firestorm, saying he wouldn’t wish on anyone the humiliation he was forced to endure. I’m told that the Swedish Hockey Federation has petitioned the International Olympic Committee to award Backstrom with a silver medal, saying missing the gold medal game against Canada was punishment enough. All things considered, that would be the right thing to do. I mean, this is not Lance Armstrong we’re talking about. The fact Team Sweden’s doctor has taken full responsibility for allowing Backstrom to take Zyrtec-D for his allergies could help Backstrom’s cause. But as you might have guessed, there are now complaints coming from Finnish officials who believe Finland should be awarded the silver medal instead of the bronze due to Backstrom’s banning.