The Caps will be the favorites to win the Southeast Division next year and also for many years to come so it will be a whole new game for the team having to deal with higher expectations in 2008-09. This year the team was able to free wheel it after starting 6-14-1. Bruce Boudreau has won wherever he has gone so Caps players and fans should take lots of confidence into next year knowing the past track record of their head coach.
This team is still not a Stanley Cup contender on paper so GM George McPhee has a busy summer ahead of him. The good news is I spoke with an NHL scout on Thursday and it appears that next year’s salary cap limit will be $56M (vice the $52M I originally mentioned yesterday) which gives the Caps plenty of room to do whatever they need to make themselves a Stanley Cup contender for the first time in several years. Also, the scout thought that in order to sign goalie Cristobal Huet it would only take around $4M versus the $5M to $6M I listed in yesterday’s blog. It will be interesting to see what kind of a budget Owner Ted Leonsis puts together for McPhee for next year. Revenues certainly have to be up with Alexander Ovechkin in the fold and ticket sales increasing.
The key for McPhee will be to not make mistakes overpaying for free agents. The big free agent acquisitions of the last two years (Brian Pothier in 2006 and Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov, and Tom Poti in 2007) cost $14M this year and will cost the same amount next year, but the production out of those guys has not matched the dollars spent. Poti was really the only guy making a significant contribution. I am not a Nylander fan but maybe he proves me wrong next year, although I doubt it.
Bottom line is the team’s success came from the sure thing draft picks of Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom plus the major leap in production that the team got from defenseman Mike Green this year (29th pick in 2004 NHL draft). McPhee also did a very good job with trades getting Huet, Sergei Fedorov, and Matt Cooke for pretty much nothing. Waiting in the wings on defense is the 5th overall pick in last year’s NHL draft, Karl Alzner, who is still considered to be the best defenseman from that draft. Once free agency gets closer to reality in late June I’ll put together a list of guys that might look good “rocking the red” here next year. McPhee has to finally acquire some really good players on defense via trades or free agency.
NHL Playoff Preview
Friday night the other two NHL quarter final playoff series kick off. Here are my predictions:
Pittsburgh vs. New York Rangers
This will be a great sries and I can’t see it not going at least six games and very likely seven. The Penguins are young and they are loaded with talent in Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Peter Sykora, Ryan Malone, and Sergei Gonchar. Meanwhile the Rangers have a star studded line-up as well with Jaromir Jagr, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Martin Straka, and Brendan Shanahan. Neither team has a real strong defense although Mark Staal is really blossoming for the Rangers. Some of the media experts seem to think that Henrik Lundqvist is the better goalie and the NHL scout I spoke with says Lundqvist is the better goalie right now. But I pointed out to the scout that since goalie Marc Andre-Fleury went to the white pads and returned from his ankle injury he has been a different goalie. The scout concurred and he still can’t believe that all goalies haven’t gone to white pads. Rangers forward Sean Avery, who was deep into the head of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur in the first round, will try his antics again in this series but the Penguins can counter him with veteran Gary Roberts. I think Crosby will take his game to the next level and play his best hockey of the season.
Series Prediction: Pittsburgh in seven games
San Jose vs. Dallas
Ron Wilson and Mike Keenan were the two playoff coaches with the most career wins in the NHL but anyone who watched that Sharks-Flames series saw each make several blunders over the seven games. Luckily for Wilson he had the far superior team and it outweighed his wretched coaching. Unfortunately for Flames fans Keenan has two more years on his contract and unless Iron Mike walks away you can write the Flames off for the next two years. Anyways, back to this matchup, San Jose has a very good team that skates well with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, and defenseman Brian Campbell. They also have a very good goalie in Evgeni Nabokov. I also like some of the lesser known younger Sharks such as Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi who can really fly. But the Sharks downfall is their coach who thinks he is smarter than everyone, will pretty much tell you that in so many words, and will likely say something stupid that gets the other team riled up.
The Stars have the more quiet and likeable Dave Tippett as their head coach. Tippett played for the Caps back in the 90’s as a fourth line center and was always a team guy who really knew the game. Dallas has Brendan Morrow, Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Modano, and Jere Lehtinen up front. There are also rumors that all star defenseman Sergei Zubov, who has been hurt since January, will try and make a comeback in round two. Dallas has a banged up defense that is being carried by veterans Stephane Robidas and Mattias Norstrom along with a bunch of kids named Matt Niskanen, Trevor Daley, and Nicklas Grossman (veteran Phillipe Boucher is also hurt with a lower body injury but could be back in this series). The Stars do have a good goalie in Marty Turco who I have a hunch will finally have a great playoff season. Turco attended the University of Michigan and still owns the school record for career wins.
Series Prediction: Dallas in six games.