The Evolution of Bruce Boudreau's Capitals

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...

Forwards: First Line
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.

Forwards: Second Line
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.

Forwards: Third Line
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.

Forwards: Fourth Line
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?

Defense: First Pair
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.

Defense: Second Pair
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.

Defense: Third Pair
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.

Goaltenders
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.

The lineups above were based on the following: 2007, Dump 'n Chase; 2008, Capitals Insider; 2009, Capitals Insider; 2010, Capitals Insider

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