2008-09: 50-24-8 (2nd in the East – Eliminated in Conference SF by Penguins)
TSN Pre-Season Power Ranking: 5th
General Manager: George McPhee (12th Season)
Head Coach: Bruce Boudreau (3rd Season)
What They Did In The Off-season:
Considering how much noise they made during the season last year, the Caps were relatively quiet this summer. Sergei Fedorov marked the end to an illustrious NHL career by signing with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. Viktor Kozlov followed him out the door, signing with Salavat Yulaev. Goaltender Brent Johnson defected to the Penguins, while Donald Brashear surprised many by heading to Broadway and the Rangers.
Washington took a good dip in the free agent pool, snatching up Mike Knuble from the Flyers and adding Brendan Morrison from the Stars. Boyd Gordon, Chris Bourque, Eric Fehr, Shaone Morrisson and Milan Jurcina all re-upped for one more year in D.C.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
While so many things went right for the Caps last year, at the end of the day they came up short on their ultimate goal. Alexander Semin's scathing comments about Sidney Crosby came back to haunt Washington as they were eliminated by Sid the Kid's Penguins in one of the most entertaining playoff series in recent memory.
While it was Semin who made the comments, it is likely Alexander Ovechkin that will be most haunted by the Pens' Cup run. Whether he would admit it or not, the competition between Ovie and Crosby is a driving factor in the dynamic Russian's career. While Ovechkin may hold back-to-back Hart Trophies, it was Crosby who was the first one to hoist hockey's Holy Grail. For a competitor like Ovechkin, this has to be eating away at him. There may be no player more driven to succeed this season than ‘Alexander the Gr-8.'
While he is unquestionably the most exciting player in hockey, Ovechkin will have to learn to adapt his game. One aspect will be learning to trust his teammates more and try not to put too much on his own shoulders. There were times last season when it appeared that Ovechkin was in full Teen Wolf mode as the rest of the Capitals were left standing around watching him work his magic. Fortunately for the shaggy superstar, his supporting cast is extremely solid.
Semin and Nicklas Backstrom add some elite level scoring punch, while newcomer Knuble will take care of the dirty work to make Ovie's life easier and chip in a minimum of 20 goals. Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr represent depth while the Caps power play is quarterbacked by one of the league's best in Mike Green.
While Green will never be mistaken for Doug Harvey, he is far from a liability in his own end. He took a great deal of heat with a poor post-season performance, but injuries certainly took their toll. With a Canadian Olympic roster spot on the line, expect another stellar season. While Green is the sole elite defenceman, the Caps blueline is filled with solid, but relatively anonymous role players who could get an added boost from a full season with Karl Alzner.
Player to watch:
If the team does have a question mark, it's in net. Russian rookie Semyon Varlamov looked spectacular when he replaced Jose Theodore early in the Caps' first-round series with the Rangers, but the Penguins exposed what appeared to be a weak glove hand in the second round.
It can't be a very comfortable feeling for a franchise with Stanley Cup aspirations to be handing the reins over to an unproven rookie. That being said, the Capitals wisely brought long-time NHL netminder Arturs Irbe into the fold as a goaltending coach and to act as a mentor to the young Russian. As a player who has seen it all, Irbe should be able to lead Varlamov through the rough patches.
After signing a two-year deal and playing relatively well during the regular season, Jose Theodore completely fell apart during the playoffs. The former Hart Trophy winner certainly has something to prove coming into the campaign, especially with the prospect of unrestricted free agency coming at seasons' end. Unfortunately Theodore faces perhaps his greatest challenge off the ice as he dealt with the tragic death of his infant son over past summer. No one should fault him if his mind is elsewhere.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
Last year's darlings of fantasy hockey, the Washington Capitals finished third in the league in goals scored and have the young talent to at least match last season's production.
The pre-eminent player in the league right now, Alexander Ovechkin should be the first pick in the vast majority of leagues, not only for his production -- more than 50 goals and 100 points in three of his four seasons -- but also for his durability (he's missed four games in four years) and, at left wing, he holds a dominating edge over the rest of his positional competition.