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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rolling up the Sleeves on 2011-12

Another hockey season over.  A new Cup champ has been crowned, with a freshly painted target on their backs.   The hunters become the hunted...or something like that.  And we've got a whole year of hearing how wicked good Tim Thomas is.  Which, actually, he is.  But anybody who's had at least one eye on this game knows one thing--this is the time where the real work begins.

It's the time for figuring out the boring stuff (to some fans anyway) like who fits under the dreaded salary cap and into the long term plans and who doesn't.  Who deserves a long look come training camp and who will get a one-and-done and go back to riding buses. Who deserves a raise and who doesn't--and those who don't, do you let them walk if they're due for a qualifying offer?  As of this article there are exactly 11 days before the July 1 shopping, er, free agent period begins.

The tweaking  has already begun with a change in the job of prepping the goalies.  Dave Prior returns for a second stint at the job.  To help him out, the popular former Cap Olie Kolzig comes back to where it all started...sort of.  His primary responsibility will be to help out with the development of the goalies in both Hershey and South Carolina.  Looks like all has been patched up between Godzilla and the Caps, namely GMGM.  Good for them them.

I'm just going to go ahead and admit I'm not up on potential prospects that would be good for the team, or even all the different free agents-to-be who should and shouldn't stay.  One thing's for certain--this season proved that the parity among the teams means the margin for error is razor thin.  I mean, if the Caps can come back from an eight-game losing skid to overtake the division leaders only to lose to that very same team in the playoffs?   So for that reason, I believe chemistry, more than anything, may dictate the choices made from now until opening night.

I call on my sense of hockey history for my reasoning.  Conn Smythe--that's the former coach/GM/owner of the Maple Leafs who the playoff MVP trophy is named after--once said that youth was the key to winning in hockey.  He always figured that the younger guys were hungrier than anyone because they wanted to prove themselves.  While this might have been in the 1940's when he said this, not much has changed--your rookies and second/third year players don't make anywhere near the cash other players do.  So yes, doing well and/or winning is a motivating factor because it can lead to bigger and better things.

What has changed is the fact that coaches have more of an impact on the game than players do.  Which, I feel still has to change.  Look at Tyler Seguin--benched for the first two rounds, then comes on to score 7 points in 13 games on the way to the Cup.  What does this have to do with the Caps?  Especially since we already have one of the youngest average age rosters in the league? It has to do with this team being in need of new blood, and not a veteran either, although Jason Arnott did a wonderful on-ice job of stewarding the team into the playoffs and past the first round.

So why not take a chance on a Cody Eakin or Dimitry Orlov?  Can they last the entire 82-game grind?  I don't see any reason why they couldn't, but the only trade-off would be where would you put them (and who would you sit?).  I would think it's worth injecting their enthusiasm and energy into the lineup.  Orlov in particular has already proven that he can't wait to be a Cap.

To be sure, there's a lot more to do and an injection of "youth" would not be a cure-all.  But for a team that looked like it could have used a tune-up in the second round, that kind of a spark might be a good weapon to roll out.  Taking notes, Mr. Boudreau?  I hope for your sake you are.  Because a coaching change would mean the opposite of progress at this point.  But that's for another day.  And besides, that was the first choice made.  Nope, we may as well get used to it--all the decisions will have to do with on-ice personnel from here on out.

So let's get to work.

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