Saturday, June 05, 2010

2009-2010 Caps Season Wrap-Up Part III The Forward Ranks

All right, let's keep the train rolling...

Nicklas Backstrom: A+, He shattered his career highs in points and goals this season.  Ok it was only his third NHL season but he established himself as a top level player in the NHL and handled things much better in the playoffs this season than he had in his first two.  His Game 2 Hat Trick was a testament to that.  The pressure is really on Backstrom now because he's now locked up for the next ten years and will be expected to perform at this level if not higher for all ten of them.

Eric Belanger: C+,  The one deadline day acquisition that the Caps will at least attempt to keep.  He had a hard time fitting in with the Caps after the trade primarily because he kept bouncing between the second and third lines but given his style of play, could be the center for a true third line checking unit should he stay in D.C.  His arrival also helped to improve the Penalty Killing a little bit.

Matt "Omar" Bradley: B+,  A career year for the 31 year old fourth liner who set career high marks in goals, assists, and points this season, besting his previous totals which all came in his rookie season.  His ice time diminished after the trade deadline as the Caps picked up players much more willing to go to the front of the net than Omar is.  He has one more year left on his contract and plenty of players in Hershey behind him on the depth chart making this upcoming season huge for him.  He may not finish it here in D.C. if he doesn't build on the numbers he put this past season.

Jason Chimera: C+, Acquired in late December for the former team Captain Chris Clark along with Milan Jurcina, Chimera had trouble adjusting to Bruce Boudreau's style of play.  However he did eventually catch on and could be a useful checking line winger because he just doesn't have a goal scoring touch.

Eric Fehr: B-, No other player is abused by Boudreau as much as Fehr.  He posted career highs across the board this season despite constantly being yanked, sat down, and scratched for his defensive miscues.  Fehr also got on the scoreboard in the playoffs this year, scoring three goals and an assist in the seven games after just scoring one goal in his previous 14 playoff appearances.  Which of course means he'll be a healthy scratch for opening night...  Fehr is an RFA and expect the Caps to make a move to protect his rights.  If Fehr is smart he'll elect arbitration to force the Caps to keep him or move him.  Either way, we hope he can continue to show his improvement as we think he'll be needed on the top lines at some point in the next couple of years.  At age 24, he's nowhere near tapped out on his potential.

Tomas Fleischmann: C-, Fleischmann is easily the second biggest enigma on the team.  Here's a guy whom Boudreau absolutely loves and is only 26 years old.  He set career marks for goals, assists, points, and even finished as a plus player for the first time in his career this season.  Yet when the chips are down and the pressure is on, he's nowhere to be found.  3 goals, 2 assists, and 5 points in 22 playoff games are a testament to that and even Boudreau had finally seen enough, scratching Fleischmann for Game 7.  Fleischmann had just one assist in this year's playoffs and it came in Game 2.  In an attempt to finally get him going, he was tried at center on the 2nd line but that experiment failed miserably after a promising start.  Simply put, there's really nowhere this guy fits on this team. He posted some nice career numbers this year which should help him as an RFA but the Caps need to look into trading him now while he's got a high value and a somewhat reasonable salary going forward.  He's great from November through February but the Caps really need somebody who can get it done in April, May, and June and Fleischmann can't.

Boyd Gordon: INCOMPLETE,  Gordon's season was derailed by a bad back that he kept re-injuring.  He never got into the flow of this season.  A lost year for the guy who does well on the fourth line and Penalty Killing unit.  At age 26 he's young and as an RFA the Caps really don't have to worry about losing him to another team right now.

Mike Knuble: B+,  Brought in to camp out in front of the net to tip in shots and score off of rebounds, Knuble put up some fantastic numbers this season skating on the top line at age 37.  He's got another year left on his contract and he could improve upon those numbers if he was placed on the top Power Play unit.  He had only two goals in the playoffs though and one was shorthanded which was disappointing with all the shots the Caps were generating in the series.  And because of his age, he won't be around much longer which begs the question, who is going to eventually take his place on the top line?

Brooks "and Dunn" Laich: B,  Stop us if you've heard this before, but career highs for this guy too this season.  Brooks found himself a home on the second line this season and maybe in a couple of years he could inherit Knuble's spot on the top line because he remains willing to go to the front of the net.  After all, that's where he plays on the Power Play.  His fortunes however rise and fall because of his linemates and not the other way around.  Laich scored two goals in the playoffs including the lone tally in Game 7.  However it is his tire-changing episode after the game that most people are going to remember.

Brendan Morrrissonn: C+,  Brought in on a one-year deal to center the second line and revive his career, Morrrissonn gets mixed marks at doing both.  There were parts of this season where he looked great and there were parts of the season where he looked awful.  The deadline deals created a glut that did him no favors either but by that point his star was clearly fading in Boudreau's mind.  The concern that cropped up during the season that his play could price him out of the Caps plans going forward was dashed (they tried Fleischmann in that role for crying out loud) and now the question that the Caps face is do they want to bring him back to center the second line again?  Probably not but we'll see because he could be the best option out there right now for the Caps.

Captain A.O.: A-, He once again set a career high, in assists, this season and after being named team Captain; found a way to raise the level of his game.  However a couple of injuries and suspensions took their toll on him as he came up short on the Ross and Richard Trophies.  Furthermore, we happen to think that the suspensions will be used against him in the voting for the Hart and Pearson/Lindsay trophies as well completely shutting him out on hardware for the 2009-2010 season (unless you want to count the President's Trophy).  Captain A.O. also led the team in points in the playoffs after a slow start to Game 1.  Our advice to him going forward, is to first of all, ignore the critics who are likely to back down now that the Olympics are well within the rear view mirror.  Secondly rediscover his joy in playing the game.  That more than anything else is what has made him what he is today and endears him to fans.  Trust us, the NHL pays a bigger price by branding him a thug and suspending him all the time than he does by playing hard.  He's the best player in the league and it is because he plays the game so hard.  If he stops doing that, he stops doing what makes him special.

Alexander "Slappy" Semin: B+,  Ok folks, we need this explained to us here because we just don't get it.  Slappy sets career highs for goals and points this season.  He had the second fewest PIM's of his career, scored shorthanded for the first time in his career (twice!), and was a point-per-game producer in his first two trips to the playoffs.  Yet because of a 2 assist effort in the first round this season and zero goals on 44 shots in 7 games, you want to run him out of town?  That's just over six shots on goal per game in the first round folks.  Slappy averaged just under 4 shots on goal per game in the regular season and he still has 24 points in 28 playoff games which is more than respectable.  He agree, he's an enigma who is great when he is on and is as bad as anybody when he doesn't care.  But you cannot blame his lack of goal scoring in the first round on a lack of effort or him just not caring enough.  And don't forget, it was Slappy that broke up a shorthanded breakaway in Game 5 and did so without taking a penalty negating the Caps Power Play.  If your wishes are granted and Slappy is dealt, who replaces his scoring on the second line?  We know Fleischmann can't handle the load and Boudreau would have to be fired in order to give Fehr a shot who certainly can't score at the clip Slappy does.  Slappy took a gamble and signed a one year contract so the Caps can't get him to sign another extension until January 1st, 2011.  His next contract however could go down to the wire before getting done.

David "Bolt Cutter" Steckel: D+, Ah, finally a forward who didn't set career highs this season.  Ok, his +4 was a career high but nothing to write home about.  After his excellent play in the playoffs last year, we were really disappointed that he didn't build on that this season and once the roster got loaded up at the deadline, his ice time really dwindled and he was a non-factor in the playoffs this year.  He's a faceoff specialist which earned him a three year extension which starts with the upcoming season.  He could be on the way out though if he doesn't develop the other parts of his game with all the talent sitting in Hershey.

Scott Walker Texas Ranger: B-,  Another deadline pickup who technically doesn't qualify but we'd thought we'd grade him too.  He was brought in for depth and that's what he provided and maybe a little extra leadership in the lockerroom.  We would have liked to seen more of him in the playoffs because he's a player willing to get in front of the net and get dirty.  The Caps though have already decided to let him go and not bring him back for the 2010-2011 season and at age 35, he doesn't have much NHL time left anyway.

When you look at the gaudy offensive stats you have to grade it out at an A+ but when the offense came up dry in the playoffs, you just have to scratch your head.  The Power Play unit operated at 25.2% in the regular season and went 1 for 33 in the first round for just 3%.  For the record that isn't the worst of the first round, the Buffaslugs went 0-19.  However leading the league in goals by 45 and Power Plays in by 3.4% and 11 goals doesn't mean everything is perfect and the offense doesn't need any tweaking.  First of all, Bruce Boudreau has to develop, deploy, and trust a second Power Play unit.  His top Power Play unit gets way too much of the man advantage and the second unit just doesn't get enough time to generate anything.  Secondly, yes we still need a second line center.  That's on General Manager George McPhee's list.  Some fans think that "Mighy Mouse" Mathieu Perreault could fill that role but we're not convinced.  Finally, while the job of the forwards is to score goals, they also have defensive responsibilities too.  Too many forwards were blowing assignments and the zone leaving the blueline exposed this past season.  That has to change if the Caps want to improve upon this season.

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