It's been a long summer of
depression speculation, discussion and dissection, of delving into the minutiae and trying to figure out just what went wrong - while trying to forecast what lies ahead, as well. Trade rumors, free agent conjectures, salary cap manipulation...it's been a fun five-and-a-half months. Twenty weeks. 140 days. 3360 hours. 201,600 min-...ahem.
Did we mention it's been a long summer?
Now just days away from the start of training camp, it's time to step back and look at the big picture. How does each position really stack up coming into camp? Who are the locks and who could be the dark horses? And with some interesting battles and subplots brewing, what are some things to watch as camp unfolds?
Position: Left / Right Wing
2009-10 Wingers: Jay Beagle, Matt Bradley, Jason Chimera, Chris Clark, Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, Andrew Gordon, Boyd Gordon, Boyd Kane, Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, Quintin Laing, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Scott Walker
In the mix for 2010-11: Jay Beagle, Francois Bouchard, Matt Bradley, Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, Andrew Gordon, Boyd Gordon, Kyle Greentree, Anton Gustafsson, D.J. King, Mike Knuble, Dmitri Kugryshev, Brooks Laich, Alex Ovechkin, Steve Pinizzotto, Alexander Semin, Brian Willsie
Probable Caps: Bradley, Chimera, Fehr, Fleischmann (likely as a center), Gordon (likely as a center), King, Knuble, Laich, Ovechkin, Semin
Potential surprises: Beagle, A. Gordon, Pinizzotto, Willsie
Things to Watch: While there are jobs to be had at almost every position, the wing is where it really gets crowded for the Caps. With the top four lines fairly secure on either side (even with Fleischmann's probable move to center), the margin of error for Hershey vets hoping to move up is razor thin. To do so they have to unseat a veteran - hardly a guarantee considering their competition, particularly on the top two lines.
Instead, the focus will be less on who makes the cut and more on how that logjam settles down. With a new contract in hand, how much time does Eric Fehr earn this year - and on what line? Does D.J. King prove himself as more than just a three-minute-a-night, press box-warming enforcer? With all the depth at wing, does Brooks Laich end up as a second-liner or a third-liner? Questions to be asked, and hopefully answered, over the next three weeks.
2009-10 Centers: Keith Aucoin, Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Belanger, Chris Bourque, Tomas Fleischmann, Alexandre Giroux, Boyd Gordon, Andrew Joudrey, Brooks Laich, Brendan Morrison, Mathieu Perreault, Dave Steckel, Kyle Wilson
In the mix for 2010-11: Keith Aucoin, Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, Trevor Bruess, Cody Eakin, Tomas Fleischmann, Boyd Gordon, Anton Gustafsson, Jake Hauswirth, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault, Steve Pinizzotto, Dave Steckel
Probable Caps: Backstrom, Fleischmann, B. Gordon, Laich (likely as a wing), Steckel, Johansson, Perreault
Potential surprises: Eakin
Things to Watch: While the Caps have plenty of holes to fill and issues to fix, there's no question that the biggest question mark continues to lie down the middle. Just about everyone with a hockey brain and a pulse understands and has outlined ad nauseam the Caps' need for a solid second-line center - barring a move and/or signing in the near future, that job appears to be Tomas Fleischmann's to lose, but he'll still have competition from both Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault for the role.
The reality is that beyond über-center Backstrom, no one's really got a claim on a specific line. Expect the battles for second-, third- and fourth-line duties all to generate some serious heat in camp, especially if someone like Steve Pinizzotto (or even Cody Eakin) starts making Steckel and Gordon look over their shoulders.
In the mix for 2010-11: Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Sean Collins, John Erskine, Brian Fahey, Joe Finley, Josh Godfrey, Mike Green, Patrick McNeill, Zach Miskovic, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Tyler Sloan, Dustin Stevenson
Probable Caps: Alzner, Carlson, Erskine, Green, Poti, Schultz, Sloan
Potential surprises: Collins, Fahey, McNeill
Things to Watch: As is the case through much of the roster, the drama on the blue line lies not in who will make the team but where he'll play when the roster is set. Carlson and Alzner will be on the team - who they skate with and how well they do once they're in the NHL full-time is another question, an answer to which we hope will take shape sooner rather than later. Who they're paired with, how much ice time they're given and how well they perform in preseason games will go a long way toward determining just how comfortable the Caps are with this current crop of blueliners.
Beyond that the focus for defensemen will really be shaping the Hershey defense in the wake of losing both Carlson and Alzner to the NHL. It's a hole for the defending Calder Cup champs, but one that will also provide an opportunity for Collins, McNeill, Miskovic and newcomer Dustin Stevenson to step up and try to earn big minutes. And never discount Finley - after all, he's a guy that Bruce Boudreau sort of likes...
In the mix for 2010-11: Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth, Dany Sabourin, Semyon Varlamov
Probable Caps: Neuvirth, Varlamov
Potential surprises: Holtby
Things to Watch: In previous years, the Caps have gone into camp with at least one established veteran and one or two youngsters clamoring to play backup. This year, it probably won't be a question of who makes the NHL roster so much as who will be the #1 guy. Varlamov and Neuvirth both have their pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, fans and detractors - and both are hungry to be The Guy in net. All in all, the battle between the two is already shaping up to be one of the more interesting subplots of the 2010-11 season.