Interim head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals looks on from the bench as his team plays against the Philadelphia Flyers on November 23, 2007 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
When Bruce Boudreau took over behind the Caps bench back in late-November, 2007, he inherited a team that had been torn down and rebuilt, a squad that should have been ascending towards big things... but for whatever reason wasn't. Many of the pieces were there, but even after he put them and a couple others together for a near-miraculous run to a Division title that season, it was clear that the puzzle was incomplete.
And so General Manager George McPhee has tried and tried again to find those proverbial missing pieces and whether or not he has in the past (perhaps they've been there the past couple of years), there's once again optimism that he has this summer; the only question remaining is whether or not these pieces will come together and reveal a bright, shiny masterpiece in late spring.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, let's look back at from whence these Caps - Boudreau's Caps - came. What follows is a line-by-line look at the team Boudreau iced for the first game of the season that he coached in the past four campaigns, and what we expect the lineup to look like for the 2011-12 opener (subject to change, of course, as line combinations always are with Gabby). These snapshots provide a glimpse at the evolution of McPhee as a manager, Boudreau as a coach and players as they've developed (or haven't). It's all after the jump...
|2007||Alex Ovechkin||Viktor Kozlov||Chris Clark|
|2008||Alex Ovechkin||Nicklas Backstrom||Viktor Kozlov|
|2009||Alex Ovechkin||Nicklas Backstrom||Alexander Semin|
|2010||Alex Ovechkin||Nicklas Backstrom||Mike Knuble|
|2011||Alex Ovechkin||Marcus Johansson||Troy Brouwer|
The one constant throughout Boudreau's tenure has, of course, been Alex Ovechkin as the top-line left wing. Almost as constant has been Nick Backstrom's presence on Ovechkin's line. Despite the top line that Boudreau threw out there for his first game, Ovechkin ended up skating more than half of his even strength shifts with Backstrom in 2007-08 and has been above 60% ever since. So even if Ovechkin starts out with Marucs Johansson this season, it's a pretty safe bet that he'll be back with the other Swede before long.
On the right side of the Caps' dynamic duo, we've seen a bit of a revolving door, though Mike Knuble has pretty much held down the spot for the past couple of years, with brief appearances from Alex Semin when the team needed an offensive spark.
|2007||Tomas Fleischmann||Michael Nylander||Alexander Semin/Brooks Laich|
|2008||Brooks Laich||Sergei Fedorov||Alexander Semin|
|2009||Brooks Laich||Brendan Morrison||Mike Knuble|
|2010||Brooks Laich||Tomas Flesichmann||Alexander Semin|
|2011||Alexander Semin||Nicklas Backstrom||Mike Knuble|
The second line has been Semin's for years - as he's gone, they've gone (and when he's been gone, the team has often followed suit). Brooks Laich has spent plenty of time on The Other Alex's opposite wing, and it's no secret that second-line center has been a problem for a while. One way to solve it? Put your first-line center there. Spreading out the talent makes sense in theory - let's see if it sticks. If it doesn't, the Caps could once again find themselves looking for a second-line pivot come late-winter.
|2007||Matt Pettinger||David Steckel||Boyd Gordon|
|2008||Tomas Fleischmann||Michael Nylander||Chris Clark|
|2009||Quintin Laing||David Steckel||Chris Clark|
|2010||Jason Chimera||Marcus Johansson||Eric Fehr|
|2011||Jason Chimera||Brooks Laich||Joel Ward|
The third line has been a bit of a jumble (David Steckel is not a third-liner in the NHL), and has oscillated a bit between "shutdown checking line" and "tertiary scoring line" in the past. The current incarnation is a bit more of the former... and easily the best trio Boudreau has assembled for this crucial role.
|2007||Donald Brashear||Nicklas Backstrom||Matt Bradley|
|2008||Donald Brashear||David Steckel||Matt Bradley|
|2009||Boyd Kane||Boyd Gordon||Matt Bradley|
|2010||Matt Hendricks||David Steckel||Matt Bradley|
|2011||Matt Hendricks||Jeff Halpern||Jay Beagle|
There's another constant: Matt Bradley. The Caps haven't gotten a lot out of their fourth line in recent years - some penalty-killing, some toughness - but this year's trio will be counted upon to provide at least that, if not a bit more. Oh, and it's not bad when a coach can get an overtime tally from a fourth-liner in his first game, eh?
|2007||Shaone Morrisonn||Mike Green|
|2008||Shaone Morrisonn||Mike Green|
|2009||Shaone Morrisonn||Mike Green|
|2010||Jeff Schultz||Mike Green|
|2011||Karl Alzner||John Carlson|
Mike Green is a two-time Norris Trophy finalist and a legitimate first-pairing defenseman in the NHL. But due to the emergence of Karl Alzner and John Carlson last season, the Caps now essentially have 1A and 1B defensive pairings. Expect Alzner and Carlson to continue to play the tough minutes, as they've got the perfect makeup for success in today's game - they're smart, they're mobile, they're good with the puck and they're quick decision-makers. At least two of those traits make them clear upgrades over Jeff Schultz and Shaone Morrisonn.
|2007||Jeff Schultz||Milan Jurcina|
|2008||John Erskine||Tom Poti|
|2009||Tom Poti||Milan Jurcina|
|2010||Tom Poti||John Carlson|
|2011||Roman Hamrlik||Mike Green|
A healthy Tom Poti was probably a legitimate top-four defenseman, but Milan Jurcina never was. Carlson quickly proved to be, and a Roman Hamrlik-Green pairing would be the top duo for plenty of teams around the League.
|2007||Brian Pothier||Tom Poti|
|2008||Jeff Schultz||Milan Jurcina|
|2009||John Erskine||Brian Pothier|
|2010||John Erskine||Karl Alzner|
|2011||Jeff Schultz||Dennis Wideman|
There may be no better third-pairing in hockey than Schultz and Dennis Wideman, yet another lefty-righty pairing that balances offensive and defensive skill and instincts.
|2007||Olie Kolzig||Brent Johnson|
|2008||Jose Theodore||Brent Johnson|
|2009||Jose Theodore||Semyon Varlamov|
|2010||Michal Neuvirth||Dany Sabourin|
|2011||Tomas Vokoun||Michal Neuvirth|
The Caps haven't had much stability in goal since Olie Kolzig grabbed his nameplate and left town, but that doesn't mean the talent hasn't been there - it has (Dany Sabourin's spot on the 2010 opening night roster due to an injury to Semyon Varalmov notwithstanding). In Tomas Vokoun, the Caps think they have "The Guy"... but that's likely just for a year before Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby resume their battle for the Number One role.
If there's any big conclusion to be drawn here, it's that the current incarnation of Boudreau's Caps are the deepest, most well-rounded and best-balanced crew that Gabby has had to work with. The pieces are there. Now it's up to Gabby to put them together... or these likely won't be Boudreau's Caps for much longer.