by Kevin Klein
After a tumultuous regular season that preceded a surprising postseason run, it seemed as if the Capitals may have found a coaching diamond in the rough in Dale Hunter.
But after a disappointing game 7 (something Caps fans are all too accustomed to), Dale Hunter announced that he would not be returning, and the scramble to find a replacement coach began. About 50 days later they succeeded, reeling in New Jersey Devils assistant— and one of Dale’s old teammates— Adam Oates.
But before a new benchminder could be secured, the makeup of the roster had already undergone significant change.
It was announced that fan-favorite Mike Knuble would not be returning to the club. Shortly thereafter it was confirmed that hometown hero Jeff Halpern had played his last game in a Caps uniform.
The most significant change to the Washington lineup, however, came on June 22nd when the Capitals sent top prospect Cody Eakin and a 2nd rounder to Dallas in return for Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro has scored over 50 points in each of the last 8 seasons, and has notched over 50 assists three times in the last five seasons, thereby filling the Capitals biggest offensive need of second line center.
But as big as Ribeiro’s arrival is, or will be, the departure of Alex Semin is one that takes a chunk out of offensive potential, as well as the hearts of many Capitals faithful. The prospect of the suave, sniping winger remaining in the nation’s capital under a long contract was always a dubious, and the organization’s uncertainty in his relative worth was evident in the consecutive one-year deals he received in 2009 and 2010.
Signings of Jack Hillen— a young, stay-at-home defensive signed presumably to replace the departed Dennis Wideman— and Joey Crabb, who will likely play alongside Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks on the fourth line, leave the team’s roster overhaul nearly complete.
Except for one thing: replacing Semin, if such a thing can truly be done.
Which brings up the current hot dilemma: does Ribeiro’s presence as an effective pass-first second line center make up for the absence of Semin’s potential to score at will? One sentiment is that without a high-scoring winger on his line will affect his production in the same way that the absence of a center affected Semin’s.
There are wingers still on the market that might fit will on one side of Ribeiro, most notably Zach Parise, who has the whole of the NHL looking for signs of intent in his wake, like Aragorn tracking hobbits into Fangorn Forest. The driven price of Parise will likely put him outside of the Caps’ spending bubble, but other players, such as UFA Shane Doan, or Bobby Ryan who is rumored to be a trade target, make for intriguing prospects.
Offensive production, however, was stymied under Hunter’s style (which, for the record, we were staunch supporters of), and the second line production of the year past may not be an appropriate representative of what’s to come— especially with the more offensive minded Oates taking the reins.
And hey, if the Caps can play well into February, and it still seems they need a wing, there’s always the trade deadline, right?
But if you still find your arse to be chaffed, we recommend you direct your ire not at George McPhee, but rather at Evgeny Kuznetsov, who would have most likely been a versatile top-6 forward.
If you liked this article, give us a follow on twitter, and contribute to the war on workday productivity.