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Japers' Rink Mailbag: Ovechkin or Green, Roster Questions, and Laich's Health

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A pair of Young Guns face off, portside or starboard for the captain, are the kids alright, Winter Classic ticket prices, Brooks Laich's health and more in this week's edition of "you ask, we answer."

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Yet another big 'Bag, so let's hit it:

A productive Alex Ovechkin is more important to the team's fortunes than a bounce-back year from Mike Green (and the extent to which he has something from which to bounce back is probably overstated), largely because we're talking about an area of team weakness (goal-scoring) versus a strength (defensive depth). Don't get me wrong - I think that Mike Green does a lot of things better than anyone on the Caps and better than most guys in the League - but secondary scoring looks likely to be the Caps' biggest weakness headed into the season, so if they don't even have the primary scoring on track, goals might be awfully hard to come by.

I'm not sure I really have an opinion as to which side Ovechkin is better-suited for right now (though I do think it's important for the team that he actually play whichever position he's nominally assigned to, rather than free-lancing all over the ice), so the deciding factor to me would be what it means for the rest of the roster. Take Ovechkin out of the picture and the natural right wings on the roster include Troy Brouwer, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward and Tom Wilson (if and when he's ready to go), while the left wings are pretty much Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich and Evgeny Kuznetsov (all of whom can also play in the middle), Jason Chimera and Aaron Volpatti. Sure seems like there's a lot more talent on the right, so shifting Ovechkin to the left may help balance things out and prevent the S.S. Capitals from listing to the starboard side.

Probably pretty slim. By my math, the average age of those three isn't even old enough to buy beer (with Old Man Kuznetsov leading the way at 22 and change), and the trio has just 102 games of NHL experience to its credit (85 of which belong to Wilson). That strikes me as a bit too green for two or three members of a Barry Trotz second line, and the coach will likely want a little more adult supervision for these kids, at least early on.

Anything's possible, but if I was making the decision, it would be an easy one - Dmitry Orlov is simply much better at being a National Hockey League defenseman than John Erskine or Jack Hillen. But Orlov is still recovering from a wrist injury (and the Caps' depth on the blueline allows them to be patient with the rehab rather than rush him back... novel concept, that), and there's a benefit to "competition," even if it's largely illusory. That said, if all three are healthy and Orlov isn't playing, it'll be both surprising and disappointing.

To the first question, the Caps have some flexibility and milestones with regards to Andre Burakovsky (about whom we've written plenty). To make the team out of camp, he'll likely have to clearly outplay his competition (probably for the second-line center spot or the left wing on that line) and be considered worth the risk of losing whomever they'd have to place on waivers to keep him (I'm looking at you, Volpatti). To stick with the club, he'll have to show he can handle the NHL game and/or be on a trajectory towards quickly being able to do so. Otherwise it may be back to Juniors or the AHL for him to further develop for now.

As for the move to the middle hurting Burakovsky's development, I don't see it. By all accounts, he's handling the transition well and if at some point it looks as if he's not cut out for playing center at the NHL level, he'll go back to the wing with some additional perspective and skills. Will he have missed out on becoming a better wing in the interim? I tend to doubt it.

Apparently "[t]he average face value of seven price levels of [last year's] Winter Classic tickets was $186," with tickets ranging "from $89 to $279, with the majority priced $129 to $189"... and that was for a 100,000-seat football stadium. So you're probably not getting into the building for less than, what, $125? Maybe there are obstructed view tickets that will go cheaper, but I'd imagine the median face value ticket price will be around... I have no idea. $150? $175? Smaller venue aside, there's a point at which they need to, y'know, sell the place out.

Anyway, if you're looking to the secondary market, check out this recent Forbes column or this from BrooksLaichyear.

Laich has declared himself healthy and fully recovered from the injuries that have plagued him since the last lockout and that's great news, of course. Unfortunately for Caps fans, that optimism has to be somewhat tempered by similar statements from Laich during those last two "very hard, painful, injury-riddled" seasons. To wit...

"no red flags, no setbacks. Felt pretty good last night and I’m very optimistic right now." -

March 20, 2013

"It looks like the problem was maybe coming more from my back which was hard because I’ve never had any back pain and we’ve tried some stuff with the back that’s really got me back on the ice and I’m really excited about[.]"

...

"For me it’s important to be 100 percent when I come back. I can’t come back at 70 percent, I can’t come back at 80 percent. I need to be fully comfortable when I return because I don’t want this to happen again," Laich said. "I firmly believe that we’ve identified the source of the problem so moving forward it should be [easier]. Before we were trying to pick one of 15 things that could possibly be reflecting the pain to that area and now I think we’ve actually narrowed it down to the source of the problem, so treating it further down the road should be easier for us to prevent a relapse from occurring."

- December 17, 2013

"I would never have done this (a few weeks ago)," offered the Washington Capitals forward, a native of Wawota. "I was in constant pain for two years. When I would wake up in the morning it would take me about three or four minutes before I could stand up straight. Getting in and out of a vehicle was a process - day-to- day tasks that you take for granted."

...

"I'm so happy and relieved to be pain free." - June 7, 2014

It's been two years since Laich has been as energized and excited to lace 'em up as he is now; two very hard, painful, injury-riddled years to be exact.

"Now when I step on the ice I feel completely free as opposed to very limited, like the last two years," Laich told NHL.com.

These injuries are tricky - there's no reason to think that Laich didn't believe every word of each of these quotes when he spoke them. But Laich has played just 60 games over the past two seasons, 51 of which came in 2013-14, and few of which resembled the effective and versatile player that was as durable as they come prior to the work stoppage during which Laich initially incurred the injury that has troubled him since.

A healthy Laich would be a huge boost to the 2014-15 Caps' fortunes, but you'll forgive Caps fans for approaching recent proclamations of full health with a bit of skepticism - they've certainly heard it before.

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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.