In the immediate aftermath of being eliminated from the playoffs in just about as unceremonious a fashion as one could imagine, Alexander Semin was asked whether or not his team had taken a step forward from the prior season.
"Honestly?" Semin answered, "In my opinion we played better last season. I think that despite the fact that we got a lot of points and finished second in the regular season this year, I really liked last year."
It's an interesting response from a player who, statistically, had his best NHL season in 2008-09 after struggling a bit in the previous campaign, and whose team finished the season with the League's fourth-best record and won a playoff round for the first time in more than a decade.
Granted, Semin's answer might be different today, given the perspective that a month of distance from a devastating loss no doubt provides, but the question is still as valid as it was on that night - how much real progress did the Caps make this season? Put slightly differently and in a way that's perfectly tailored to be debated while perched upon bar stools with a few rounds down, would the 2008-09 Capitals have won a best-of-seven series against the 2007-08 Caps?
The personnel on the two squads was nearly identical, of course, with the notable exceptions being between the pipes (au revoir to Cristobal and Olie, bonjour to Jose, Simeon and Michal) and the loss of Matt Cooke for this past year's squad (as a point of reference, here are the two teams: 2007-08 and 2008-09). And, of course, the most recent incarnation was a more experienced group, having been through a playoff series whereas its predecessor, for the most part, hadn't.
There are plenty of stats after the jump, so do make sure to click through (below the poll if you're reading this on the front page of the site).
Regular season (all 2007-08 numbers are projected 82-game totals based on the 61 games Bruce Boudreau coached):
Would 2007-08's 65-goal scoring Alex Ovechkin be enough to put that team over the top, or would Norris-finalist Mike Green's squad prevail? Would Cristobal Huet out-duel Simeon Varlamov and/or Jose Theodore? Would the healthy scratch Michael Nylander go visit his rehabbing dopplegänger and warn him about the year ahead? Et cetera. (And if you're having a hard time answering these questions and making up your mind or just want to have some more fun with the scenario, head on over to WhatIfSports and play it out a few times.)
The variables are many and the hypothetical a bit fantastic, but there is one near certainty - this series would go seven games after one team came back from a 3-1 deficit to force that deciding match before a raucous, red-rockin' Verizon Center crowd.