It is hard to overemphasize the effect the change in centers on the top two lines is likely to have on next year’s Capitals club. Let’s look first at the top line.
In 2006-2007, up to the trading deadline, the top line of Alexander Ovechkin, Dainius Zubrus, and Chris Clark had a total of 84 goals. But the oddity was that Dainius Zubrus had only 32 assists. Had that pace played out over the entire year, Zubrus would have ended up with 42 assists. That would have been good for a tie for 26th among centers and a tie for 45th among all forwards in the NHL last year. Those are not necessarily bad figures, but on a line with a goal scorer such as Alexander Ovechkin more might be expected out of that position.
However, it might be the second line where the changes will be felt more keenly. The pivot on the second line was shuffled around quite a bit last year, itself a problem. Kris Beech might have had the most opportunities in that spot and finished the year with only 26 points. Even if you sum the production of Beech, Jiri Novotny, Brian Sutherby, and Brooks Laich, you find this composite center having a finish with the Caps of 23-42-65. Without putting undue pressure on the rookie, Nicklas Backstrom, he should settle into the range of those numbers for the season (perhaps with a few fewer goals and a few more assists).
It makes Alexander Semin’s year on offense all that more noteworthy and could signal a much bigger year this coming season from the young left wing. Semin was 38-35-73 last year, but he was 17-21-38 on the power play (he led the Caps in power play scoring), leaving him “only 21-14-35 at even strength. If there is any production out of the second line center, it could result in a substantial improvement in Semin’s scoring at even strength.
That Ovechkin and Semin could combine for 84 goals last year is quite an accomplishment, given the depth of centers last year, especially on the second line. This year, they could be the league’s top 1-2 goal-scoring tandem.