Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Snip-Snip Here, Snip-Snip There

Well, we're down to a week remaining in the pre-season prelude to the 2009-2010 season. The Caps have trimmed their roster with little in the way of surprises, but now things will really start to get interesting. Here is how the forwards stack up...

23 forwards remain, including Michael Nylander, whose locker has been relocated to limbo, as well as Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr, whose availability on opening night is in question. Of that group, there seem to be 12 spots nailed down, when healthy -- Ovechkin, Morrison, Bradley, Flesichmann, Fehr, Gordon, Clark, Backstrom, Laich, Knuble, Semin, and Steckel.

There remains one, perhaps two permanent spots, depending one whether the Caps choose to carry 13 or 14 forwards, and perhaps two "audition" spots that will be open so long as Flesichmann or Fehr are out. The openings break into two parts. First, on the top two lines, five spots are set -- Ovechkin, Backstrom, Knuble, Semin, and Morrison. That sixth spot -- right wing on the second line -- could be grabbed by any of Brooks Laich, Chris Clark, or Alexandre Giroux among the healthy forwards. It could be Fehr or Flesichmann when they are back to health.

At this point, it would be hard to handicap a favorite. Although Giroux has been given every opportunity to grab that spot, at least on an interim basis, he hasn't yet taken a firm grasp. Fehr would seem to be the best fit, on paper, for that spot, but he's coming off shoulder surgery and himself hasn't yet firmly grasped a scoring line role. Clark has played that role on the top line, but injury and the turnover among forwards suggests he might be better suited to a third line role with this team. Flesichmann once occupied the Giroux seat for a time as a player given an opportunity to grab onto a scoring line role, but he wilted some when the spotlight shown upon him. He did, however, play a good portion of last year at a 30-goal pace. There is something there -- again, if he can grab onto it. Laich might be the most intriguing one of the bunch, given that he is something of a jack-of-all trades. But sometimes the kind of versatility he possesses doesn't translate well into a specific role.

On the other two lines, there appear to be fixtures among Bradley, Gordon, and Steckel. Clark and Laich could end up in this half of the forward draw, leaving one spot open. Quintin Laing might be the front-runner for that one, although Chris Bourque also has been given opportunities.

The defense follows a similar track. Here is the current picture among defensemen...

Of this group, the safe bets would seem to be Pothier, Poti, Erskine, Jurcina, Morrisonn, Green, and Schultz. OK, so that's seven. If the Caps carry 14 forwards, then the rest of those guys in bold are headed to Hershey, unless they don't clear waivers (like Tyler Sloan). If the Caps go 13/8, carring two extra defensemen, then there would seem to be a battle between Karl Alzner and Sloan for that last slot (this isn't news, dear reader -- you've probably concluded this a long time ago, or at least since John Carlson was sent down). While injuries make the forward situation a little more flexible in the early going, permitting "auditions," the same isn't true of the defense, and that makes this part of the roster murkier in terms of what it might look like. Will there be a trade? Will the Caps try to sneak Sloan through waivers? Will they keep him and send Alzner down?

By comparison, the goaltending situation is comparably cut and dried -- a straight up competition between Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth for the backup position. Both have had a cup o' coffee in the NHL regular season (Varlamov for six games, Neuvirth for five). Both have had post season success (Varlamov coming on in relief in the Caps opening round win against the Rangers and taking the Penguins to seven games, Neuvirth leading Hershey to a Calder Cup), both have been solid in camp and pre-season games (even Varlamov getting torched in the Duchesne Cup finals appears to be more of what was happening in front of him). What adds spice to this competition is that they are such different goaltenders in style. If we had to guess, we'd say Varlamov has the slightest of edges as the incumbent on the roster, but it isn't a significant edge.

As the roster gets whittled down over the next week, it occurs to us that for a roster allegedly so "settled" coming into camp, there are all sorts of interesting subplots playing out.


Shaggy said...

"That soy-tain air of savoir faire in da merry old land of pucks".

I think this:
Perrault needs time on the big stage - he has the best vision and playmaking skills and really should be alongside Semin to see if they click. I'm pulling for him. I love Bourque's heart but it doesn't seem to be clicking for him.

Giroux - eh. Why am I not feeling it? Because we've seen this act before.

Laing is a hockey player, but how many non-scoring threats do you carry? let's face it, the 3rd and 4th line contributions have not up to par consistently. If Bradley and Stecks turn this around, we can carry a Laing.

There are my picks: Laing and Perrault on opening night.

Diane said...

The little French guys,like Perrault and Aucoin, rule this preseason. And, in the French hopeful department, there's also Bourque and Giroux. Les petites Chocolates.