Without going into too much detail, I want to start things off by letting everybody know I've learned to see things in a positive light. So right off the bat let me say that I believe in out heart of hearts--as all of us Capitals fans--that we have a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup this year. Now more than ever.
BUT (you knew it was coming!)
There is a question looming in the organization. No, it's not "when with the coach be fired" although that may come as soon as the next losing streak hits. It's the same question that went unanswered most of last season and for all of the season before that, and truly began the end of the season before that with the departure of Sergei Fedorov. You and I know what it is, but it has been momentarily forgotten by the big splash made by the Capitals, they who are now up against the Salary Cap ceiling like white on rice, stink on garbage, peanut butter on.....well you get the idea.
Of course I'm talking about the lack of a true second line center. Yes, it's time once again to bring up the subject of number two, but the emphasis is on true. We're talking pure centers here. Your top line center has to be one of two things: set up man for your No. 1 scoring threat or the havoc creating, crease crashing terror that will create scoring chances and put pucks in the net. We already have Nicklas Backstrom, one of the niftiest set up men in the game, despite his down year. Number 15 out of 25, my ass.
So it's on to number two... and who do we have? A cursory look at the depth chart shows four names that stand out: Marcus Johansson, Matthieu Perrault, Brooks Laich, and Jeff Halpern. Those first two names I'll get to in a moment--let's first eliminate the last two candidates. Brooks Laich doesn't cut it as he is a natural winger and Jeff Halpern is now a third-liner at best. You folks already know what I think of Brooks Laich overall. This has nothing to do with that--he is most effective doing what he does off the wing. Halpie is great to have back and he'll provide a valuable veteran presence, but he has gotten on in years. While his durability was once beyond question, one has to wonder if he can step up and take on the rigors of second line duty when and if he's called upon to do so. Duties such as providing a consistent secondary scoring threat, taking key faceoffs, and keeping the other teams' lines in check when the matchups go the other way. We'll see...
As well as the Caps played last season, you have to have all your bases covered. A solid second line from wing to wing is one of those bases. So why wasn't a true pivot part of George McPhee's quest to improve the team if Uncle Ted's vault was going to be opened? It bothers me that for all their spending ways they only made a passing attempt to fill this hole with these moves. It's as if we as fans have a genie who grants us wishes we never asked for; giving us things we don't need. Don't even get me started on Brad Richards, that's one move I'm glad the Caps went nowhere near.
I just hope all these deals don't end up like cotton candy. You know, sweet and fuzzy feeling at the beginning but dwindling to nothing eventually?
No, the reason they didn't go after anyone was because of the remaining two candidates, Marcus Johansson and Matthieu Perreault. The Caps are pinning their hopes on these guys to fill in this gap that's been there a while. These two are not bad players. Johansson had his highs and lows all last season but ended up sticking with the team. Perreault made a better overall effort than the year before, but still couldn't seem to overcome consistency issues as he went the yo-yo route between D.C. and Chocolate City. We as Caps fans have to ask ourselves though--is this kind of stopgap measure going to get us over the hump?
We can hope that these two take that next step forward this coming season. We could hope for that, but wouldn't it have made more sense to have a legitimate No.2 pivot already in place instead of praying one develops over the course of a season? It's been said before--depth and chemistry are key. While we may have plenty of the first part, the second part will be an ongoing experiment. In other words a carbon copy of last year. Not too sure if that'll work out so well this time.
Johansson seems most likely to take over the No. 2 slot so that would give the team a pair of Swedes as its top two Centers. While I like his upside and his quiet grit, I'm not too sure he'll be able to take the punishment that will surely come with the responsibilities he'll face. I'll end with this--if you're going into a poker game with a pair, you better have a big pair. Because it may not be enough to Sweden the pot!
Ut för nu! (Out for now)