Caps Update and Pre-NHL Draft Thoughts

June 24, 2009 | Ed Frankovic

So it appears that Donald Brashear is not in the plans for next year for the Washington Capitals (check out more on that and an update on the Sergei Fedorov situation here). While Brashear did serve a purpose the last couple of seasons in DC by protecting Alexander Ovechkin and many other Caps players he is now 37 years old and following a knee injury he suffered in a losing fight to Nashville’s Wade Belak his value has drastically diminished. The question GM George McPhee has to answer is:

Can the Caps go forward with defenseman John Erskine and forward Matt Bradley as the guys who will take on opponents players and tough guys when they start taking liberties with the Great #8 and some of Washington’s other highly skilled players next season?

Here is my answer: No, I think McPhee needs to add a guy to try and fill the Brashear role next season because Erskine and Bradley aren’t good enough fighters to take on the league’s heavyweights plus both of them have other more important roles on the team than just being a fighter. During the regular season the Caps absolutely need someone who can fight and protect. Come playoff time that skill pretty much goes out the window (As an example of this, take a look at how little ice time forward and resident tough guy Eric Godard, who played 71 games and had 171 PIMs for the Pens in the regular season, received in the playoffs: 0!).

If one takes a look at the coverage and analysis from blogs and national publications about the Caps you will see various need assessments ranging from a second line center to a defensive d-man to a power forward who can go to the net and score the ugly goals. I’ll stand by my assertion that the biggest need is a second line center (I don’t think Fedorov will be back and if he does come back can he be counted on to play anywhere close to 82 games?).

Some of the other things McPhee needs to do this summer is solve the Michael Nylander (as in how can he get rid of this guy and his huge salary cap figure?) and Jose Theodore situations. I am 100% convinced that Theodore cannot be the #1 goalie for the Caps going into next year’s playoffs no matter how well he does in the regular season because the Washington players can’t possibly have any confidence at all in this guy after he opened the playoffs with one of the worst goaltending games in Caps playoff history. Rob Yunich over at Storming the Crease throws out some options on where McPhee could send #60. I think Edmonton or Colorado make the most sense but at $4.5M this might not happen until after the season gets rolling or even closer to the trade deadline. Bottom line in both situations is it doesn’t matter what the Caps get back  in return for these guys as long as they can unload the salary.

On to the 2009 NHL Entry Draft where TSN/NBC’s Pierre McGuire and former Flames GM Craig Button offer up their predictions. As I mentioned in my last blog, Button, who used to run the draft for the Dallas Stars back in the 90′s (he selected Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, and Marty Turco) before moving on to Calgary, likes d-man Victor Hedman to be the first overall pick by the Islanders. McGuire and I see New York taking forward John Tavares.

Once again scanning the national publications and blogosphere several people have the Caps picking forward Landon Ferraro with the 24th selection in the first round on Friday night. Ferraro, who is the son of former Hartford Whalers and Islanders forward Ray, is only 5′ 11″ and 165 pounds. The younger Ferraro is reportedly very fast but given his genetics one can’t expect him to grow into the body necessary to be a power forward (next biggest Caps need behind a second line center). Since Ferraro is a right wing, is small, and the Caps have several other young, small, and speedy forwards in their system already (see Chris Bourque, Mathieu Perrault, and Francois Bouchard), I just don’t see any reason why McPhee and head scout Ross Mahoney would take him. McGuire picks him for the Caps while Button goes with defenseman Dmitri Orlov.

Another popular name associated with the Caps in the first round is Jacob Josefson. Button has him going in the top 10 while McGuirre has him taken by St. Louis with the 17th pick so it is unlikely he is around where Washington is currently slated to pick. However, you never know if the Caps will move up (or down) and last year there were over a dozen trades in the first round so trying to predict who Washington will select is extremely difficult. I would not be surprised at all to see McPhee trade this year’s pick for a player who can help the Caps next season. In fact, what will surprise me most is if McPhee and his staff leave Montreal without making a single trade that will immediately fill in some of the current needs for next season.

All players drafted this weekend will be invited to the 2009 Caps development camp which will be held July 13-18 at Kettler Ice Plex in Ballston, Virginia. Last year defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson and goalies Simeon Varlamov and Michal Nuevirth really stood out while we also got good looks at forwards Oskar Osala, Bouchard, Perrault, Jake Hauswirth and Steve Pinizzotto; defensemen Keith Seabrook and Patrick McNeill; and goalie Braden Holtby. The one player I will be looking at most during that time is last year’s first round draft pick (21st overall), Anton Gustafsson.

The son of former Capital Bengt-Ake Gustafsson did not attend the 2008 development camp and then after just one day of training camp last September he was done with another back injury. Anton, who was signed by the Caps to a three year contract back in May, hardly played at all this past season (27 regular season and 5 playoff games in Sweden) and his stats to date don’t inspire any confidence to me that he can play an 80 game season. Some have Gustafsson rated as the 5th best prospect in Washington’s system behind Alzner, Carlson, Varlamov, and Neuvirth. I talked with the NHL scouting director of one team last year after the draft in Ottawa and based on their due diligence he said there was no way his team would take Anton because they believed much of his injury situation was in his head. Clearly the book is still really out on Anton and he needs to show his skill and his ability to stay healthy at the development camp.

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