NHL Free agency has lived up to all the hype. There were plenty of moves made across the league whether it was big faces in new places, team buyouts or players acquired via trade. The Washington Capitals haven’t made a big splash during the free agency period, but have lost some of their own players. Mike Ribeiro signed with the Phoenix Coyotes, which was the biggest question mark for the Capitals during the off-season. They were interested in bringing back Ribeiro, who had forty-nine points in forty-eight regular season games, but at the right price. They could not come to a mutual agreement, so Ribeiro took his talents to Phoenix. Matt Hendricks is another Capitals player that got signed elsewhere, where he will be playing in Nashville. The Capitals weren’t expected to bring Hendricks back, but he was a gritty player with flashy dekes in shootouts and a fan favorite. The Capitals are now left with uncertainty at the second center position, which has plagued them since the departure of Sergei Federov after the 2009 season. They have tried to fill that void with players like Jason Arnott, Eric Belanger, Brendan Morrison and now Mike Ribeiro since 2009, but no one has been around to stay long-term. So what is next for the Washington Capitals with their hole at the second line center position?
George McPhee, the general manager of the Washington Capitals, recently told media after a development camp held at their ice complex that Brooks Laich will be the second line center for the team in the 2013 season. McPhee said, “You need a really good two-way player to play there, which is why we’re looking at Brooks Laich to play there now.” Brooks Laich is a solid player for the Caps and his presence was missed during the regular and post seasons last year, when he missed pretty much the entire season due to injury. Now that he is back in the lineup, it will help the Capitals become a better team, but is he the best option at second line center?
There are options out there for the Caps to bring in someone else to try to play second line center and they still have cap space to make a move. The name that comes to mind is Mikkhail Grabovski. The Toronto Maple Leafs bought out Grabovski, just one season after he got a five-year contract extension. In the shortened season last year, Grabovski did not put up the quality stats that he had put up years previous to the shortened season. He was not happy with the way coach Randy Carlyle managed him and his agent agreed with how Grabovski was “mismanaged.” He has the capabilities of being a 50-60 point top six forward in this league and the Washington Capitals should strongly consider the Russian center to help fill the second center position. McPhee emphasized how he likes a two-way player at center, but the Capitals need more offensive threats. The defense for Washington is solid with Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Jack Hillen, John Erskine and Steve Oleksy. They also have a great young goaltender in Braden Holtby as well. The problem in the playoffs this post-season was not defense, it was scoring. After a 3-1 victory in game one, the Capitals struggled with offense to help them win the series, especially being shut out in both game six and seven. The Rangers defense made adjustments on defending the Capitals power play and MVP Alex Ovechkin. Once the Rangers defense would shut off Ovechkin in the power play, it caused problems for the team in converting. Mike Green remained as the only legitimate scoring threat from the point. Not only does Grabovski solve your offensive problem in five on five hockey, but also his game translates to power play opportunities. Mike Ribeiro was in the power play set, so his departure leaves a hole. The unit already has plenty of good puck possessors like Backstrom and Johansson, but they need another scoring threat besides Ovechkin and Green. The addition of Grabovski would add another scoring threat and free up Ovechkin and Green to make plays as well. Brooks Laich is a solid player on offense, but does not pose as big of an offensive threat as Grabovski does. Bringing in Grabovski would be a great addition to the Capitals for many reasons. He can be a very successful player in Washington, especially because of coach Adam Oates. Dale Hunter did not use Ovechkin effectively just a season before and there was a lot of doubt surrounding Alex Ovechkin’s ability. Oates comes in without a full training camp due to a lockout and after a slow start to the season, Ovechkin exploded to have an MVP season. Sounds similar to Grabovski’s situation in which his last coach did not use him effectively, so this seems like a golden opportunity for Washington. Adam Oates is a player’s coach and they gravitate to his style and personality. If Oates in a shortened season can help get Ovechkin back to MVP form, why can’t he get the best out of Grabovski in a regular season?
It is uncertain if George McPhee will make the move to bring Grabovski in to play for the Capitals. Chances do not look good with his statements regarding Laich playing at second line center, but things can always change. Laich could succeed at second line center, but wouldn’t having him on the third line make this team that much better? He could excel on that third line and be used primarily more on the penalty killing, which is one of his biggest strengths. If McPhee remains with this lineup into the upcoming season, there could be a few reasons why. McPhee could have high hopes for what kind of impact Martin Erat, acquired from Nashville before the trade deadline, can bring as a top six forward. He could also be patient in waiting for the most anticipated Captials prospect, Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Russian prospect will be finished with his KHL contract during this season and is expected to play for the Capitals as soon as possible. He could play center for the Caps as McPhee has said before, but only time will tell what happens when he gets here. There a lot of questions facing the Washington Capitals for now and they will soon start to be answered as the season begins. There are high hopes for Washington in year two of Adam Oates coaching stint; expectations are bringing home the Stanley Cup. Could this possibly happen this season? Anything is possible in the NHL as we have seen many times before, and if the Capitals can get a good cast of consistent scoring across the three to four lines, they can find themselves in pursuit of the Stanley Cup.