Hockey News Crowns CapsPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
As you’ve likely heard by now, The Hockey News preview issue has anointed the Washington Capitals as the 2012 Stanley Cup champions. As we all know by now, it will take 82 regular season games and two months worth of pluck, luck, sweat, toil and sheer will to make that prediction become a reality. And as we also all know by now, these sorts of preseason predictions don’t mean anything. That said, this 2011-12 Caps team sure looks to be a solid group on paper. Going into the playoffs last spring, four different long-tenured Capitals players told me they believed the 2010-11 Caps team was the best squad – again, on paper – that had been assembled during their days in the District. I think most of us believe that the whirlwind of off-season activity has improved the club even more. Although the Caps suffered the off-season loss of some strong character players who had been part of the fabric in the room for a long time, they also brought in some players from other organizations who have been seen in a similar light over the course of their careers in Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern. Each of those players scored at least 10 goals last season. Among those who departed, only Eric Fehr scored that many in 2010-11. Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon were both terrific role players and solid room guys. But between them, they had just one NHL season with as many as 10 goals in their 17 combined NHL campaigns. With the additions of Brouwer, Ward and Halpern, the Caps now have 11 players on the roster who reached the double-digit goal level last season. Having that sort of scoring depth should come in handy if some of the primary scoring comes up dry in the postseason, as it has done during the last couple of springs. Brouwer, Ward and Halpern have all demonstrated a knack for chipping in key goals at opportune times in the Stanley Cup playoffs during their respective NHL careers. Matt Hendricks scored nine goals last season, and he also had a couple of tallies that should have counted get nixed by video review. So the Caps should be able to put together three strong scoring lines and they can also expect to get some reasonable production from their fourth unit. Mike Green, Dennis Wideman and John Carlson combine to give the Caps a very strong 1-2-3 offensive punch on the right side. A trio of righties of that caliber is rarely seen in the NHL, and it has yet to be seen in the District, too. After the Caps acquired Wideman from Florida last Feb. 28, the threesome never once suited up for the same game during the regular season or the playoffs. The Caps hope that changes on opening night, Oct. 8 against Carolina. Wideman is one of those 11 aforementioned players who reached the double-digit level in goals scored last season. Green has done so multiple times in the NHL and Carlson is likely to at some point in the not-too-distant future; he scored seven as a rookie in 2010-11. Washington also added veteran portside blueliner Roman Hamrlik over the summer. Hamrlik has spent half his life in the NHL, and he has had five seasons in which he has scored 10 or more goals. Among all active defensemen in the NHL, only Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom has played more career NHL games than Hamrlik, who debuted as a teenager with the Lightning in 1992. Last season’s Caps team was the first in NHL history to have three goaltenders aged 22 or younger (at the outset of the season) each win nine or more games in a single campaign. Semyon Varlamov has since moved on to Colorado, but he has been more than adequately replaced by veteran Tomas Vokoun, who has spent the last several seasons backstopping a lackluster Florida team and seeing more rubber than I-95. Among all NHL goaltenders with more than 20 starts in the nets last season, Vokoun’s power play save pct. of .925 was far and away the best in the NHL. The expectation is that the Czech combo of Vokoun and incumbent Michal Neuvirth will be more than adequate in goal behind a team with the offensive weaponry and the defensive depth of the Capitals. It’s still mid-August. In many ways, hockey seems like it’s still a long time away. But at this time next month, we’ll be watching players on the ice at Kettler in preparation for the 2011-12 season. I don’t know if the Caps have one of those catchy slogans or taglines that teams seem to feel compelled to have, and maybe it’s something that Bruce Boudreau is still working on. But for me, the upcoming campaign can be summed up thusly: Turning Paper Into Reality. Sounds like a Dunder-Mifflin slogan.
Thursday’s release of the NHL’s national television schedule for the 2011-12 season brings some good news for out-of-market Caps fans. Not including games that may be featured on the NHL Network and on Canadian-based telecasts, the Capitals will be featured on 15 national broadcasts during the