Monday, July 16, 2007

Rebuild . . . Replenish

The words sound similar, but they are a world apart in meaning, and the Capitals are about to move from one phase to the other.

How can one say that of a two-consecutive-70-point-seasons team? It’s all in the eye of the beholder. Back in January we took a look at the rebuild. Out of those (and related) efforts the Caps might have some or all of these players stepping in or stepping up and contributing over the next 1-3 years:

Tomas Fleischmann
Mike Green
Shaone Morrisonn
Jeff Schultz
Brooks Laich
Joe Finley
Jakub Klepis
Francois Bouchard
Patrick McNeill
Semen Varlamov

To this one might add Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Steve Eminger, and perhaps Chris Bourque (you might add others of your own) – Caps’ own draft picks or draft picks obtained prior to the big selloff.

It is to this youthful group that players from outside like Michael Nylander, Tom Poti, and Viktor Kozlov are being added. This is where we enter the end-game of the “rebuild” phase – restoring the Caps to a competitive position, capable of making the playoffs and doing some damage in the next 1-3 years.

But enter the kids we saw last week at Kettler. This is the begining of the “replenish” phase – players who will make their impact perhaps in the next 4-6 years (although we would expect Nicklas Backstrom to make his presence felt sooner), players who will fill in those spaces that are created as other players leave in free agency, retire, or are traded. What we saw last week was precisely what folks signed on for when the rebuild started. Mike Vogel described it well in his Dump and Chase blog:

“I just checked my notes from the Capitals’ 2003 summer camp at Piney Orchard. There were 22 players in attendance that summer, compared to 42 this season. Only 13 of those 22 players in 2003 were Capitals draftees, and the most notable attendees were Steve Eminger, Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr. This year’s camp featured 30 Caps draftees out of the 42 players in attendance, and included five first-round and four second-round choices.

“It’s also worth noting that among players in the Capitals’ organization but not at this week’s camp are Chris Bourque, Eminger, Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, Gordon, Mike Green, Jakub Klepis, Brooks Laich, Shoane Morrisonn, Alex Ovechkin, Jeff Schultz and Alexander Semin. None of those players has celebrated his 25th birthday yet (Morrisonn is the only one who has reached 24), and the group includes nine more first-rounders and two more second-rounders.

“The talent is there, arguably as much young talent as has been in the system at any time in the team’s history. The trick now is to develop the young talent, and fill in around the edges and in the holes where needed. We’re starting to see some of that, too. Hershey has had two straight long playoff runs including a championship. And the Caps brought in three free agents to fill needs earlier this month.”

Developing the young talent – in addition to what the Caps have on board – and filling in “around the edges and in the holes” is where the Capitals will leave the “rebuild” phase behind and enter the “replenish” phase that they can sustain (we hope) via the draft and the judicious use of trades and free agent signings.

And now...what?

Arbitration hearings will be held from the period beginning July 20 and ending on August 4, with decisions to be rendered by August 6. This might be expected to be the great void in NHL activity as the arbitration process works its way to its conclusion.

At the moment, based on the data compiled by the fine folks here, no one is over the “summer cap” of $55,330,000, but there are three teams over the opening night cap of $50,300,000:

-- Philadelphia: $54,376,039
-- NY Rangers: $52,505,757
-- Boston: $51,254,888

There are another four teams within 10 percent of the opening night cap (Toronto, Anaheim, Detroit, and Vancouver). Only the Rangers of these seven teams have players currently scheduled for arbitration (Sean Avery, Marcel Hossa). In fact, there are only 21 players left scheduled for arbitration representing 14 teams.

But we also find a host of unattached players still available. All of them have warts or flaws, to be sure, but with talents that might be a bargain….at the right price.

We’re stuck at one of those tipping points where one signing, one odd arbitration decision could start another cascade of movement. The trick is figuring out just where that is going to occur. There isn’t a lot at this time of year to satisfy our interest, especially since the frenzy of the early free-agency signing period has passed. Part of the fun right now is trying to figure out where the dam is going to spring a leak.