Japers' Rink Mailbag: Second-Line Centers, the Blueline and More

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Hmmm... seems people have two things on their minds in this week's edition of "you ask, we answer."

We got an absolute ton of questions in the wake of the opening of free agency, and I'm going to try to set a world record for most questions answered in a single mailbag post, rapid fire, just like Tuesday afternoon...

We're all in agreement that the current in-house options for second-line center are inadequate, at least insofar as icing a contender, right? Right. Some of the options for the position that we discussed a week or two ago are no longer options, but there are still some guys out there. And if you're looking for trade candidates, maybe a two-way guy like Patrik Berglund fits the bill... unless the team wants to go big and try to land Joe Thornton. Obviously any deal will likely involve some salary cap gymnastics to work for a Caps team that's up against it.

Brian MacLellan says that Mike Green is still a part of the Caps' future, and he should be. For now. But he's scheduled to hit free agency next summer, and if he doesn't fit what Barry Trotz wants to do and/or the team needs to move a big piece to get better, he could be on the move (there's certainly a debate to be had on this point... and we've debated it). If the Caps were to make him available, you can bet he'd have suitors.

Opposed to bringing back Mike Ribeiro? Very much so. Dennis Miller once quipped during his SNL Weekend Update segment regarding German reunification, "I view this in much the same way I view a possible Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis reconciliation: I never really enjoyed their work, and I'm not sure I need to see any of their new stuff." That's how I feel about Ribeiro, especially in light of the fact that his recent buyout was due to "behavioral issues." Pass. (Pun intended.)

With good health, the two new blueliners and competent coaching, I think they should contend for a playoff spot. With a legit second-line center added to that, they could be very competitive in the relatively weak Eastern Conference.

They wouldn't have to drop Green to add a second-line center like Derek Roy or David Legwand (though they might have to do some juggling, and reasonable minds might certainly challenge that "second-line center" designation for those guys), and they should steer clear of fourth-line centers for now - Michael Latta and Jay Beagle can handle that role.

Johansen is a heck of a player, but I'm not a big fan of tendering offer sheets to restricted free agents (for many of the reasons Peerless outlined here). But if GMBM wants to play a little dirty pool with a team in the Division with which the Caps are likely going to be fighting for a playoff spot, this would seem to be a decent opportunity.

I think John Erskine's days as a serviceable NHL defender are likely behind him, though Trotz might have other ideas, and Trotz did coach Jack Hillen for a season in Nashville, for what it's worth. Given that they play very different games, it's possible that the Caps keep both on the active roster and start the season with eight defensemen (depending on Dmitry Orlov's recovery from that broken arm), and if they need a puck-mover, they'll turn to Hillen and if they need a bigger-bodied guy, they go with Erskine.

No chance. Burns was actually drafted as a forward and converted to a defenseman in the minors. Green has been a defenseman for his entire junior and professional hockey life, and isn't about to change that at 29-years-old. More to the point... why would you? He's a dominant puck-possession blueliner, which is one of the most coveted assets in the game. Why change him to a decent-at-best winger?

Whoa... a question about the second line that isn't about who will center it. Caught me off guard. If Evgeny Kuznetsov is the center, Brooks Laich is probably the left wing; if Laich is the center, it's Kuznetsov on that wing (which probably is more likely). If I had to put money down right now, though, as to who the second-line left wing on opening night is, I'm going with Kuznetsov.

It allows them to develop where they should and at an appropriate pace. And with injuries, trades and so on, they'll get their chances if and when they earn them, as opposed to if and when they're pressed into them.

Rob went into this in some depth yesterday, so give that a read if you missed it. I'm not sure yet what the best pairs would be - I'm still just sorta thrilled that there are good options.

As for Erskine, no, I don't see a buyout being imminent, though the team has bought out Ben Clymer, Tyler Sloan and Jeff Schultz (all back-end defensemen... Clymer only sorta) in the past. For what it's worth, here's what an Erskine buyout would look like (remember, it wouldn't be a compliance buyout).

Trotz's time in Nashville was characterized by rock solid defenses and goaltending first and foremost, even if that left some holes among the top-six forwards. Sound familiar? It's pretty clear that MacLellan and Trotz's top priority was exactly that - solidifying the back end on the ice, and a bit of a culture change off it. Looks like they're going for a defensively sound team that's tough to play against and outworks opponents. Can they be that? It would be a 180-degree turn from where they were not five years ago, so that remains to be seen. But at least there does seem to be a vision with some cohesion to it for the first time in a while.

I asked my fellow writers and they came up with hardy, Nashville-ization, depth, balance, immediate and stolid (yes, stolid). I'd go with encouraging.

Karl Alzner is signed through 2016-17 and John Carlson through 2017-18. There's too much time between now and then to really judge the impact of these new deals on their future pacts, but maybe they provide some incentive - outplay Matt Niskanen and earn a bigger deal, Carlson; prove yourself the team's top shutdown defender and you can argue you're worth more than Brooks Orpik, Alzner.

Nope - the guy who was responsible for their handling was dismissed in April (and so was the guy who traded for them).

It's hard to say without seeing what Trotz has in mind, system-wise, but how about a total wildcard here? Eric Fehr. He and Ovi have played well together and Fehr brings size, solid forechecking ability, some defensive conscience and skill. I'm not ready to give up on Marcus Johansson quite yet... but I'm ready to see some other options.

Why didn't they buy out Brooks Laich and save a lot more money while being able to use a compliance (rather than an ordinary-course) buyout? The world may never know.

Braden Holtby actually had a pretty good 2013-14, all things considered. His numbers got a bit bloated due in large part to an incredibly woeful penalty kill, but his five-on-five save percentage (generally accepted as a good measure of a goalie's ability) was very solid. Like better-than-Henrik-Lundqvist solid.

But Holtby could stand to be more consistent and work on other aspects of his game, and should get strong coaching from Mitch Korn and better support from the team in front of him. His numbers should get better and his development very much back on track.

***

Agree? Disagree?

If you've got something on your mind, go ahead and ask it here on the site, on Twitter (use #JapersMailbag), via email or on Facebook, and we'll try to get to them. As always, there are always a lot of question marks around this team... so let's talk about as many of them as we can.

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