Friday, May 09, 2008

2007-2008 Season Wrap Up: Part II Defensemen and Goaltenders

We've been preoccupied with other things recently which is why these posts have been so few and far between. We're not THAT angry and bitter...

Steve Eminger INCOMPLETE, Emmy barely gets this grade and we wonder just how much fault it is of his own versus the organization. He was placed on IR at the start of the season and once declared "healthy" he barely saw the ice as he became the 8th and even 9th defensemen on occasion. When he did get into the lineup, he had precious little icetime in order to make an impression. We've heard that his problem is that he wasn't doing what the team was telling him he needed to do but it doesn't make any sense to us because why would the Caps keep him around under those circumstances? He may luck out with the issues surrounding Pothier but he can't be too sure of his long-term future here in D.C. He's an RFA if he gets the qualifying offer that the Caps say they'll give him.

John "Coach's Pet" Erskine Bowles F, It should be no secret how we feel about this slow footed dim witted player. We've heard other Caps fans describe him as "a complete waste of icetime" and we don't disagree. The most damning evidence going against him is that he's advertised as a "Rugged Defenseman" yet the #1 item on our off season shopping list is a "Rugged Defenseman." Case closed. The worst news, he's under contract for another season.

Mike "BEAM ME UP" Green A-, A year ago, it looked as if Green was a long way away from doing what he did this season. The Illegitimate Son of James Traficant however had a breakout year and it couldn't have come a better time. But what wasn't as noticed was his improved play in his own zone. He is a defenseman after all. He posted a +6 after being a negative player in his first two NHL seasons but still has room to improve. He's a classic finesse defenseman, a guy who won't throw the big hit or clear out the crease. But Green is young and should be a Norris contender someday. He's also an RFA and the most important restricted free agent we have to sign this summer.

Milan Jurcina C+, He's more of a stay at home type of a defenseman and despite his size, he isn't a physical force on the blueline. Jerky seemed lost out there from time to time this season and ended up being a healthy scratch a few times. He's got a good shot from the point but hardly ever uses it. He could end up being an odd man out with the prospects in the pipeline and should the Caps sign another free agent. But for now, he's under contract for another season and we'll have RFA rights once this contract expires.

Shaone Morrrissonnn B-, Kind of the forgotten man on the Caps blueline, but his stay at home play was very instrumental in Mike Green's breakout season. In terms of games played as a Cap, he's now #2 behind A.O. He hasn't seemed to reach his potential on the offensive end but with some of the other defensemen on the team, that isn't much of a problem. The Caps could use a little more offensive pop out of him, but for now, his commitment to his own end is very much needed. He's an RFA and the Caps should qualify him but he won't break the bank.

Brian Pothier C+, Last year he was asked to play out of position and this year he was adjusting back to his usual role when he took another concussion. The bad news for Pothier is that career could now be over, the good news for the Caps is that it could free up the $2.5 million of cap space he currently occupies for the next two seasons. With the younger players coming up through the system and the likely addition of another blueliner through free agency, it's sad to say but the Caps may have caught a break here.

Tom Poti B-, Like most free agents, Poti had a hard time adjusting to a new team. Throw in a lingering shoulder injury that he played through and Poti didn't register the points that the Caps were expecting. He also didn't quarterback the Power Play as he was expected to but was still able to skate a lot of minutes and allowed the Caps to move Pothier to a more familiar role. With three more years at $3.5 million per season left on his contract, Poti isn't going anywhere and it could be interesting to see what he does next season when he's more comfortable and healthy.

Jeff "Sergeant" Schultz C, A favorite whipping boy of many Caps fans this year, Sarge actually lead all of the Caps defensemen in the regular season with a +12, Poti was second to him with a +9. The big complaint Caps fans have is that despite his size, Sarge isn't very physical and the legitimate complaint is that he doesn't move the puck very well. We wouldn't mind at all if Sarge spent this offseason doing whatever it was Mike Green did last offseason. Schultz isn't going to be the next Scott Stevens but he could certainly become the shutdown guy we've been looking for. His goal scoring run was fun to watch as he has another year left on his rookie contract.

Cristobal 'WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE" Huet A, Practically given to the Caps by Montreal, there was nothing more you could have asked out of UA as he backstopped the team into the playoffs. Once the playoffs began his play slipped a little but he was by no means the reason why we lost in seven games. As a matter of fact, he came up with the saves we needed to get to Game 7. UA certainly is a change of pace from what we're used to seeing in Kolzig but he got the job done where Kolzig didn't. UA is a UFA this summer and is very much open to the idea of staying put in Washington. He's the only player that the Caps need to resign more than Mike Green as he not only represents the bridge to our developing prospects, but the goaltender that has the potential to carry the Caps deep into the playoffs the next few seasons.

Brent Johnson B, He's a backup goaltender and if he didn't know it before he knows it now. The team certainly looked a lot more comfortable playing in front of him this season than they did last season which is a plus. How much longer he'll last in D.C. remains a bit of mystery as while he's the only NHL caliber goaltender on the roster under contract, he only has one more year left on it. With UA's injury history, he could see some more playing time next season and let's hope he does a better job with it than he did two seasons ago now when he was plugged in as the starter when Kolzig got hurt.

Olie Kolzig C, This is another "Gentleman's C" we are very much aware of today's developments and we'll comment on them at another time in another post. Kolzig's numbers continued their decline despite playing behind an improving defensive corps. His rebound control is inconsistent and his recovery ability shows his age. Kolzig also made some impolitic comments this year when it was clear his influence in the locker room was beginning to wane. To his credit though, he kept his mouth shut and, to date, did not rip the team over the awkward situation created by the acquisition of UA.

Overall, we'll give the defense and goaltending a C- for the season. First of all, the Caps allowed 55 fewer goals this season than they did last season and actually scored more than they allowed for the first time in 5 years which was also the last time they made the playoffs before this season. The blueline is better than it has been since the lockout but still needs improvement. First the Penalty Killing was not up to par all season long. That has to improve if the Caps are going to be serious contenders for the Cup. Some of that will come with better goaltending but the defensmen need to continue their improvement as well. Secondly, the Caps need more offense from their defense. Only Mike Green (and to a much lesser extent Tom Poti) saw regular time on the Power Play as both coaches like using forwards on the point all season. There's more talent on the way and the Caps are expected to be looking for another UFA to install back there. Hopefully that will bring an end to Erskine Bowles stinking up the joint but we aren't holding our breath.

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