Wednesday, October 04, 2006

2006-2007 Washington Capitals Preview Part II: The Forward Corps

Read Part I right here. Today we look at what the Caps have up front.

If the Capitals proved anything last year, it was that they had the market cornered on the hard working grinder type of forwards. This is the reason that the Caps let Jeff Halpern and Brian Willsie depart via Free Agency and moved Ben "What A" Clymer back to the blueline. Those three right there could form a decent third line. However, the youngest of that bunch, Clymer (by a month over Willsie) is only 28. So youth will definitely be served on the Caps up front this year when it comes to the grinder types looking to find ice time.

On the top line, A.O., Dainius Zubrus, and Captain Chris Clark will once again team up. Both Zoobie-doobie-doo and Captain Clark are coming off of career years and A.O. is in his sophomore season. Quite frankly, nothing about A.O. would surprise me. A.O. could build upon his freshman season and score 60 goals and top 120 points, but he's going to need help to do that. Players like Zoobie-doobie-doo and Captain Clark who are coming off of career years tend to revert to form. A.O. won't score 60 goals if that is the case with Zoobie-doobie-doo and Captain Clark. It already isn't looking good for Zoobie-doobie-doo as he's still recovering from off season knee surgery.

On the second line, just who will center Richard Zednik and Alexander Semin is anybody's guess right now. I would guess Jakub "and Sons" Klepis would be a better bet than Kris Beech. Don't get me wrong, it isn't that I don't like Beech, but if years of watching Peter Bondra taught me anything it is that European wingers tend to play better with European centers than they do with North American centers. Klepis is a European center and Beech isn't. This is a situation that the Caps have put themselves into with their drafting of European wingers. They now need some European centers to work with them. Why do you think the Caps drafted Nicklas Backstrom over Phil Kessel and converted Zubbie-doobie-doo to center A.O.?

The third last this year returns Brian Sutherby and Matt "Omar" Bradley. Who will take Clymer's spot from last year? I would guess Boyd Gordon for now until Matt "Princess" Pettinger returns from the I.R. The Caps love Gordon's penalty killing ability and his natural position is center so the Caps could use an extra center on the third line for late game situations. If the Caps have one weakness up front, it is who will take the faceoffs late in games? There isn't anybody on the roster who right now can be counted upon to win the big draw late in a one-goal game.

The fourth line looks to be rotating random players for right now. Beech could end up here. Donald Brashear is a safe bet when they dress him. Rico Fata will find some time here as well. Gordon could up end here too when Princess returns. Brooks Laich could also center this line. Most teams use the fourth line as a time killer and as a place to audition new players. The Caps will be no different.

Princess is also coming off a career year. Now in his case, was this because of getting more playing time than he ever had before or was it a career year? A similar question could be asked of Zoobie-doobie-doo and Captain Clark. Were their numbers inflated by playing with A.O.? I don't expect A.O. to go into a prolonged slump unless he gets injured. But a drop off from all three is to be expected. Princess will also have a hard time living up to what he accomplished last year. Semin and Zednik should provide the Caps with more goals but the question becomes, who on that line will go into the corners to dig the puck out? That isn't exactly Semin's or Zednik's strong suit and European centers tend to hang back and not get caught up deep in the play.

The addition of Semin and Zednik to the Power Play unit should give the Caps more options to score on the first Power Play unit. The second unit though looks to be as scary (for Caps fans that is) as it was last year, though we won't be seeing a Brendan Witt type on the point. Some have asked why the Caps haven't gone out and gotten A.O. help? Well, Semin could very well be that guy to help A.O. Zednik hasn't been the same since he was closelined by Kyle McLaren in the 2002 playoffs. Personally, I think Zednik is part insurance on Semin and part trade bait. The Caps weren't sure that Semin would actually show up and when he was here three years ago, he didn't make an effort to fit in very well. Should Semin come along and cooperate with the team from here on out, Zednik becomes attractive trade bait at least IMHO.

By my count (where's Ron Webber when you need him?) Zednik is the 12th player in Caps history to leave the team and return. Of those 12, only the unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) Dmitri Khristich and Todd Krygier lasted more than one season in their second tours of duty. Both players had two seasons playing 104 and 108 games respectively. That isn't good company for Zednik. Another reason why Zednik won't be on the team next year is that he makes more $$$$$ than Zoobie-doobie-doo. Before last season, the Caps intentionally made Zoobie-doobie-doo their highest paid forward. They let Jeff Halpern go because he would have assumed that mantle had they matched Dallas' offer. Unless Zednik leads the NHL in scoring and wins the Richard trophy in the process (yeah, right) there's no way the Caps keep him over Zoobie-doobie-doo who will also be UFA after this season.

So what does all this mean? Well you'll have to come back and read my wrap up when I include my overall outlook for the Caps when I preview the Southeast Division.


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