Saturday, May 03, 2008

2007-2008 Season Wrap Up Part I: The Forwards

We're still angry and bitter at how the season ended but let's take a look at how the individual players shaked out this season and grade each one as if we actually know what we're talking about...

Nicklas Backstrom A-, His rookie year got off to a slow start but picked up when Bruce Boudreau moved him off the wing and had him center the fourth line. It wasn't long before he was centering the top line and one wonders just what he could have done centering the top line all season considering that he set the team record for assists by a Rookie. He picked up a Calder Trophy nomination but isn't favored to win because of who his linemates were most of the season and the fact that there is an Original Six Franchise rehabilitation program going on. He should have a fine career with the Caps and his playoff performance could be easily attributed to hitting the wall. Though he once again came to life after being shifted to another line. However, Backis played in all 89 games this season which is 21 more than he's ever played in his career. Our only complaint is that he needs to shoot the puck more. We know he's a setup guy and isn't a goal scorer, but we're only asking him to shoot once maybe twice more out of every ten chances. He's signed for another two seasons on his entry level contract.

Matt "Omar" Bradley B+, We had some harsh words for Omar last year but he deserved them. This year, Omar returned to form and provided some nice energy on the fourth line while also doing some good work on the Penalty Kill. He's still a dime a dozen mucker and grinder so if he's allowed to walk as a UFA this summer, we wouldn't mind in the least. But something tells us that he'll be back. As long he remains on one year deals, we'll be happy.

Mr. Donald Brashear C+, Early in the year, Mr. Brashear looked old and slow but when the coaching change was made, he seemed to pick up his game. Down the stretch his line provided a jolt of energy for the team and you could easily argue that he was one of the best forwards for the Caps in the series against the Flyers. However, we should also note that he wasn't leading the physical assault for the forwards with guys like Alexander Semin taking a stand against the Flyers. He's already been given a modest raise and will be back for another season but he's getting up in age and won't be around for very much longer.

Captain Chris Clark INCOMPLETE, Poor Clark. First he was expected to put up first line numbers on the third line which ended in total disaster. Finally put back on the first line, he got injured and couldn't get back into the lineup. The good news is that the Caps were able to do so well this season without out him. The bad news is that it showed how expendable he is, at least in the regular season because the Caps certainly could have used him in the playoffs. He starts a new three year contract next season and his cap number more than doubles to $2.633 million.

Matt Kent Cooke C, A spare part player acquired at the deadline from a team that he fell out of favor with; Cooke showed his excitement at a change of scenery. If there was a player on this team that we were looking forward to seeing in the playoffs more than A.O., it was Cooke. However, Cooke disappointed us in the playoffs. Cooke wasn't brought in to score goals but he didn't provide the energy and spark against the Flyers that he did down the stretch of the regular season. As a matter of fact, we thought he mostly disappeared in the playoffs. Cooke is a UFA this summer and while he wouldn't mind seeing him come back, we don't want a contract longer than two years and he'll need to take a paycut from his $1.5 million salary.

Sergei Fedorov B+/A-, We will admit that we didn't like the trade that brought Federov here. We thought that this was a good move if the Caps were guaranteed a playoff spot. But it is tough to deny just what Federov did while he was here. Federov unlocked the riddle, inside the enigma, wrapped in a mystery (or something like that) that is Alexander Semin. The late Dave Fay once wrote that the Caps needed a leader; a guy who will do whatever he needed to do in order to for this team to win and rally everybody behind him. Federov proved to be that guy down the stretch and in the playoffs. He got and kept the team's attention upon arrival by all accounts and certainly looked reinvigorated playing on a young team heading into the playoffs. Federov has cleary lost a step or two and is not the player he once was. However, he's a player with knowledge and experience that the Caps still need going forward. He's another UFA after this season and is considering retirement. Should he decided to return, the Caps should offer him a contract, two years if they absolutely positively must but he's going to have to step way down from the $6 million+ he's earning right now.

Eric Fehr C, Fehr gets the "Gentleman's C" because he did appear in 23 games this season. However, his season was mostly lost because he showed up at training camp injured and didn't get back onto the ice until over halfway through the season. When he did get back on the ice, he was rushed back to the NHL and was thrown in on the top line. We thought he actually acquitted himself well on the top line but was having a hard time keeping up because he was rushed back into the lineup. Fehr seemed to find his groove in the playoffs scoring a goal in Game 3 and put together some nice games on the third and fourth lines against the Flyers. Next season will be the big one for Fehr as he's an RFA this summer that the Caps are certain to qualify.

Tomas Fleischmann F, Flash entered training camp without a contract and played well enough in camp to warrant a one year contract. Once the regular season started, it is pretty safe to say that he began to disappoint. He rang up 10 goals and 20 assists but with the amount of time he spent on the top two lines, he should have done better than 30 points in the 75 games he was dressed. Flash was dropped after two games in the playoffs in favor of Fehr because Flash couldn't handle the increased physical nature of the playoffs. The club is convinced he's on the verge of a breakout and that's why they inexplicably gave him a two year contract for next year along with a raise. However, it's looking more and more like he's another Dmitri Khristich. The sooner he's gone, the better off we'll be.

Boyd Gordon B+, Employed on the third line and used as a penalty killer, El Gordo continues to show that he belongs in the NHL. However, he's another dime a dozen, mucker and grinder who is certain to stay with the Caps because of his young age and his status as an RFA. He won't hit a home run in contract talks so the Caps can afford to keep him around.

Viktor Kozlov C-/D+, Kozlov was a guy brought in to improve the Caps in the gimmick but he scored just three times in seven attempts this season. Even more troubling is that Kozlov pulled his usual disappearing act in the playoffs. He did register three assists in the seven games but was a team worst -4 after being tied for the team lead with a +28 in the regular season. He performed about as well as could be expected despite being a UFA pickup in the offseason but it should be interesting to see what he does next year now that his one year adjustment period is over. The Caps have him for another year and would be wise to see how he does in the playoffs next season before deciding to give another contract lettalone a raise.

Brooks "and Dunn" Laich A-, With the impending departure of Olie Kolzig, Laich is now the third longest tenured Cap on the roster. Laich did what Matt Pettinger couldn't go which was pick up his game when given the chance to skate on the second line. Laich posted career highs in goals, assists, and points and could very well cash in should he decide for arbitration again this summer. Laich though should be careful as he isn't totally inexpendable and will find himself in Pettinger's shoes should his production fall off the way Pettinger's did.

Quintin "The Human Bruise" Laing B-, A career minor leaguer who only stuck around as long as he did because he was willing to block shots. We certainly salute his courage and don't mean to downplay his contributions. However, he became the odd man out down the stretch and the Caps really didn't miss a beat with him out of the lineup. He's a UFA and should he return, we won't be upset but we'll feel just the same if he ended up somewhere else.

Michael Nylander C, In order to get an incomplete, you have to play less than a quarter of the season and Nylander appeared in 40 games. We could give him an incomplete and want to give him an incomplete because it is debatable as to how many of those 40 games he actually played. This is another "Gentleman's C" because he was apparently injured when he signed his contract here and finally shut things down when it was obvious he was hurting the team more than he was helping it. We've got three more years of Nylander and his role on the team is greatly diminished by the presence of Sergei Federov. If we had to choose between Nylander and Federov, we'd choose Federov and trade Nylander. Backstrom isn't going to need a mentor for another three seasons and and a 38 year old Federov is still better than a 36 year old Nylander.

Alex Ovechkin A+, The numbers speak for themselves. Career high and team record 65 goals this season that also won the Rocket Richard Trophy leading the NHL. Career high and second highest point total in team history with an Art Ross Trophy winning 112 points. Career high and second most game winning goals in team history with a league leading 11 game winning goals. Career high and tying the team record for Power Play goals in a season and leading the league with 22 Power Play goals. He should be the runaway winner of the Hart and Pearson Trophies and a unanimous selection for this third First Team All-Star in three years. A.O. has cracked the Top 20 on the Caps All-Time Scoring list and the Top 10 on the Caps All-Time Goal Scoring list. He could conceivably move into the Top 3 on the Goal Scoring list and stalk the Top 10 on the Scoring list by the end of next season. There is no debate in our minds who the best player in the league is right now but A.O. could actually be better. First of all, he needs to stop blowing the zone defensively and we would love to seem him improve his defensive play to the point where he can be trusted to kill penalties. Everybody was wondering how he'd do in the playoffs and he led the Caps with 4 goals, tied for the team lead with 5 assists, lead the team with 9 points, and also lead the team with two game winning goals. Once Kolzig goes, nobody else on the Caps roster will have played in more games for the Caps than A.O., but the best part is, we'll get to see him for at least the next 13 years.

Alexander Semin B-, His season started off slowly with a high ankle sprain suffered in the preseason. Once he did return full time, it took some time for him to regain his form which only drove his critics even crazier. His game greatly improved under the tutelage of Federov and but Semin is still prone to the lazy hooking penalty and stretches of lackadaisical play. That being said his 26 goals and 16 assists in 63 games was impressive as his 3 goals, 5 assists in 7 playoffs games were. We were also very impressed with his willingness to physically stand up to the Flyers and his +2 rating in the playoffs which was second on the team to Backstrom's +3. There's a great debate as to how much longer he's going to stay with the Caps but we do know that a new two year contract comes in next season and his cap number increases dramatically to $4.6 million while he retain his RFA rights.

David "Bolt Cutter" Steckel C+, If it weren't for his ability in the faceoff circle, we'd wonder why he was on the team in the first place. He led the team in the regular season but was by far the worst of the bunch in the playoffs. Maybe it was the broken finger but we really weren't impressed with him unless we were playing the Ning. He's under contract for another season and then a UFA.

Overall we'll give the forwards a B- for this season. Without A.O. this bunch would have had some serious trouble. The Caps scored a grand total of 7 more goals this season than they did last season. While the Power Play was improved over last season, it ran way too streaky and couldn't be counted upon to produce the big goals that the team needed on a consistent basis. With the talent among our forwards, that is inexcusable though there is some blame that should be placed upon the shoulders of the coaching staff who put all the best players on one unit and then played that unit too much.

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