Caps Sign Laich, Fedorov Deal Imminent
The Washington Capitals announced today that they have signed Brooks Laich to a three year deal avoiding salary arbitration with the forward who made $725,000 and scored 21 goals and 16 assists in 74 games last season with the Caps. The deal is reportedly for $6.1M which seems high but given that Ryan Malone received more than $31M for over 7 years with Tampa yet only scored six more goals than Laich last season (and Malone played on a line primarily with Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora), the deal doesn’t look so bad comparatively (in fact it could end up being a big bargain). Laich is a team guy and very well liked in the dressing room so the guy who had 41 goals and 53 assists for Seattle in the Western Hockey League back in the 2002-03 season hopefully will continue to produce for the Caps. He did do a very good job in front of the net on the power play last year and is very solid in both ends of the ice. Laich was acquired for Peter Bondra, along with a second round pick, in 2004 (that trade looks better and better every day).
Also, TSN and now ESPN are reporting that the Caps have signed forward Sergei Fedorov to a one year, $4M contract. The Caps have not confirmed it officially but during today’s press conference with the media GM George McPhee indicated that the negotiations are going well and that there is just a “paperwork snag” holding up making the deal official.
Here are some other responses from McPhee from today’s press conference:
On the Laich signing: “We expected him back, he has been progressing well and so he received the three year deal as a result.”
On the possibility of signing Shaone Morrisonn before arbitration: “Not sure if that will happen.”
On the overall make-up of the Caps now: “Basically we have put the team together for next season.”
On what the Caps will do with three centers in the fold with Nicklas Backstrom, Fedorov, and Michal Nylander: “That is for (head coach) Bruce (Boudreau) to figure out.” By the way, Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post told me he asked Boudreau the same question but the Coach was evasive on his plans. Guess we’ll have to wait and see but it is not a bad problem to have. Nylander is making a lot of money (he will count $4.875M against the salary cap the next three seasons) so the Caps need him to really produce this season.
When asked if it is easier to recruit players to Washington these days: “There is no doubt it is easier to get players to come here….Washington is a hockey town, we’ve felt that way all along…look at the way the fan base responded down the stretch….the GM of the Flyers (Paul Holmgren) told me our building was electric….we also have great looking uniforms…everything is coming together like we had hoped.”
On Fedorov: “The thing that really stuck out was that his leadership last season was incredible.”
On the Frozen Four that will be held at the Verizon Center in April of 2009: “It is finally here and it should be a great weekend. We are thrilled to have it in DC. It is great because we don’t get a lot of exposure to college hockey in this area.”
Caps Development CampInformation
Day three of Caps development camp brought the first scrimmage of the week. Overall my biggest observation was that the condition of the players seemed to deteriorate as the game progressed. I guess that is expected given that this was the first game these players have played in at least six weeks. I asked both defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson about the conditioning aspect and they both said they are not in game shape right now due to the layoff. Despite that there was some good hockey played today and it was entertaining.
Here are some observations on some different players from the scrimmage:
Karl Alzner (defensemen, 1st round in 2007, 5th overall): Very smooth overall and he looks like he has a really good chance of making the Caps out of camp this year if he stays healthy. The thing I really liked about him was his ability to receive and then make a solid pass even when he was given the puck with one or two defenders on or very close to him (defensive partner Josh Godfrey did this to him a few times). Like many of the other players fatigue seemed to set in during the third period so he made some mistakes but overall his positioning was outstanding and I didn’t see anyone get around or behind him. I did notice that one time in the third period he had the opportunity to lay a shoulder into an opposing forward and separate him from the puck but Karl chose not to when that appeared to be the correct play. I am going to chalk that decision up to fatigue for now.
John Carlson (defensemen, 1st round in 2008, 27th overall): Still learning positioning in the defensive zone but was okay for the most part in his own end, although his defensive partner and forwards left him to fend off several odd man rushes. Very good moving the puck up the ice and had a nice assist late in the third period on one of his point shots. I talked with John after the scrimmage and he is pretty much pleased with where he is at and what he is learning but wants to improve his conditioning since he was clearly winded. When discussing his point shot and power play abilities he said, “I have pride in my shot.” Carlson will play for the London Knights next year along with Justin Taylor (6th round of 2007 draft) and he is excited about the upcoming season and believes they will have a good team. London traded with the Kitchener Rangers (2008 Memorial Cup runners-up) to obtain forward Nazem Kadri, who one NHL scout told me could be a first round pick at the 2009 NHL entry draft, so Carlson should get some great experience this season (playing for the Hunter brothers won’t hurt either).
Simeon Varlamov (goalie, 1st round in 2006, 23rd overall): Didn’t face as many shots as fellow goalie Michal Neuvirth did in the first half of the scrimmage but looked fairly solid although he struggled a couple of times with rebounds on routine shots. Seems destined to be in Hershey next season and I will be surprised if he doesn’t start.
Michal Neuvirth (goalie, 2nd round in 2006): Only gave up two goals in 30 minutes but faced lots of shots and scoring chances. Had the highlight save of the day robbing an opposing forward with his glove on a shot destined for the upper corner of the top shelf. Still seems to be recovering from his knee injury but looked much better than on Monday.
Sasha Pokulok (defensemen, 1st round in 2005, 14th overall): Very physical defensemen who seemed to take the body and deliver a big check whenever the opportunity presented itself. That was nice to see as defensive physicality is something this team could improve on overall. Needs to progress skillwise but with his physical ability he could have a chance to make the Caps for the 2009-10 season if he really does well in Hershey this season.
Francois Bouchard (forward, 2nd round in 2006, 35th overall): An NHL scout described him to me as a “skilled floater like his brother.” He wasn’t very noticeable today so the floater term seemed to fit today. I would have liked to see some more skill today. My most vivid memory from the scrimmage of Bouchard was him skating with the puck along the offensive left wing boards back towards the blue line and then an opposing defensemen (and it wasn’t Alzner) came over and took him right off the puck knocking the forward to the ice. Not close to NHL material at all from what I saw today. We’ll see how he does in Hershey this season.
Josh Godfrey (defensemen, 2nd round in 2007; 34th overall): Was paired with Alzner quite a bit today and I had problems with his decision making on some of his passes because he put his partner in trouble several times. Has a very strong point shot. Skating must improve because he seems awkward on the ice. We’ll see how he does in Hershey this year.
Steve Pinizzotto (forward, signed as a free agent in March 2007): He is 24 years old so it is no small wonder that he seemed to dominate the younger players with his skill. Set up several scoring chances. Had 32 points in 40 games with South Carolina of the ECHL last season and only had four assists in 23 games in Hershey last season.
Oskar Osala (forward, 4th round in 2006): BIG kid at 6’ 4”! Took a few open ice hits and recovered okay. Decent shot and had pretty good hockey sense. Skating needs to improve. He recently signed a three year contract so the Caps believe he has a shot to make the team at some point in the future. He was rookie of the year in the Finnish league last season.
Justin Taylor (forward, 6th round in 2007): not flashy but I was impressed with his hockey sense and ability to get the puck moving up the ice even in some tough situations. Clearly playing in London last year was good for Taylor as he was sound position-wise. First impression is he is a potential third line NHLer some day, which would be great for a 6th round pick.
Brandon Holtby (goalie, 4th round in 2008): He was left out to dry during most of his 30 minutes in net but he did make some good saves. Major project but you never know with goalies.
Dan Dunn (goalie, 6th round in 2007): Big, upright style goalie who was okay. Size is biggest asset.
Keith Seabrook (defensemen, 2nd round in 2007); Younger brother of Chicago Blackhawks defensemen Brent Seabrook really struggled today being out of position several times. Plays small and he has to be disappointed with today’s effort.
Maxime Lacroix (forward, 5th round in 2006): Good offensive skills. On the small side but skating is what matters these days and he wasn’t bad in that area. Had a goal and was on the ice for at least one other. Another to watch in Hershey this season.
Mathieu Perreault (forward, 6th round in 2006): Excellent offensive skills (he led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in scoring last season). Had several nice set ups and had some creativity to his game. Ticketed for Hershey this season.
Jake Hauswirth (forward, unsigned): played for Omaha in the United States Hockey League last season and will go to Michigan Tech this year. The puck really seemed to follow this 20 year old around the ice. He had excellent hockey presence and sense and knows how to take a check (in fact one time a player went to hit him and Hauswirth put his body up against the boards so solidly the defender bounced off him to the ice while Hauswirth kept on going). Scored a nice goal going to the net on a deflection of a Carlson shot late in the third period. Big, lanky kid at 6’ 4’’ 205 lbs. He was the surprise of the day in my opinion.
Michal Dubuc (forward, unsigned): Scored a couple of goals and came very close to a hat trick a few times. Very good offensive skills. Played for Rouyn-Noranda in the QMJHL last season scoring 44 goals in 70 games so clearly this guy has offensive upside. The 20 year old is 6’ 2’ and around 180 lbs. He was very noticeable today.
Of course, the caveat to this analysis is that it is only based on today’s scrimmage. There are two others this week (Thursday and Saturday – OPEN to the PUBLIC) and then training camp for many of these players in September. For those who live in the MD/Baltimore area it will be well worth your while to drive up to Hershey and see these young players next season. I know I will try and take in a few Bears games in 2008-09.
As for goaltenders, Mike Vogel who writes Dump N’Chase on the Caps website and has been around the team for over 13 years, pointed out to me that the Capitals have drafted 36 goaltenders in 36 years as a franchise yet only four of them have gone on to play at least 100 games in the NHL. The four are Olie Kolzig, Jim Carey, Byron Dafoe, and Peter Sidorkiewicz. Vogel also pointed out that of the 30 starting goalies from the end of last season that only 11 of them were actually drafted by the team they were playing for! This is quite interesting stuff and that lets you in on how tough it is to draft and develop a goaltender.
One final note: both the sons of Boudreau and Caps TV analyst Craig Laughlin were suited up and played in the scrimmage today. The younger Laughlin has some skill and made some very nice plays. Unfortunately the son of the head coach was injured on his first shift and appeared to suffer a knee injury. Let’s hope he heals up soon but he did leave the rink on crutches.