WASHINGTON DC, DC - APRIL 23: Alex Ovechkin #8 and head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals look on against the Montreal Canadiens in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 23, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
It goes without saying that expectations headed into this coming season for the Washington Capitals are sky-high. The team was the NHL's best through 82 games a season ago before imploding in the first round of the playoffs after taking a commanding 3-1 lead over the Canadiens.
Most of the team's players are back, a year older, a year wiser, and a year hungrier... you'd hope. That combination of talent and disappointment, built up over a couple of years, results in a few organizational pressure points - men who are on the hot seat, as it were. Here, however, we're going to use a more familiar icon to represent just how much heat the following five men are feeling... a scale of one-to-five "hot sticks" (yes, in reality the "hot stick" is a good thing, but just go with it).
After the jump, the five Caps who are feelin' the heat...
Bruce Boudreau. No, he's not on the verge of being fired. But in nearly three full seasons with the Caps, Gabby has followed up a 113-point average regular season point pace with one playoff series win and three series losses... to lower-ranked teams... on home ice. With payroll and expectations being what they are, this is an important year for Boudreau's boys to show what they've got. If that ain't much, someone's going to have to be held responsible for another disappointing spring. [For more on Boudreau and the pressure he's under, check out Puck Daddy.]
George McPhee. McPhee has built a regular-season monster of an NHL team, and provided much of the ammunition for an AHL squad that has been to the Calder Cup Finals four times in the past five seasons, winning three championships. But he's quickly running out of high-end talent on entry level contracts, and many of the Caps' weaknesses over the past few seasons (second-line center, defensive defenseman) are still question marks today. He has a longer leash than Boudreau, you'd think, but GMs, like coaches, are hired to be fired... eventually.
Alex Ovechkin. After suffering through a season full of stunning defeats (at the Olympics, in the playoffs and at Worlds), suspensions, and reputational assaults, the Caps' captain will be out to shed all sorts of labels, fairly deserved and otherwise. Besides that individual pressure, Ovechkin will always be the poster boy for the Caps' successes and failures - it comes with the territory with that contract and that letter sewn above his heart.
Mike Green. The two-time Norris Trophy finalist flamed-out in the playoffs for the second consecutive season last spring (he has 65 goals in his last 204 regular-season games, but just one in his last 25 playoff matches). He also failed to make the Canadian Olympic team. He's still just 24-years-old, and is in no real danger of being passed on the Caps' depth chart, but you'd think that at some point soon he's going to have to start coming up big when it matters if his high-risk/high-reward style of play is going to be in the Caps' long-term plans.
Semyon Varlamov. For the first time in his young North American professional career, Varly is entering a contract year. Not only that, but after two seasons of carrying (or trying to carry) the Caps' water in the playoffs, he enters the season with an edge in what should be a tight goaltending battle that will likely play out over the course of the campaign. Varly will need to prove he can stay healthy: He played in just 40 games last season (including playoffs and Worlds) and just 46 in 2008-09. Add the expectations surrounding this team and the ever-present question of whether entrusting such expectations to a kid (or kids) is a good idea, and the pressure is most certainly on the 22-year-old Russian.