Thursday, June 19, 2008

Caps Love RFAs. UFAs Love Caps.

Two of the more trauma-inducing (to non-optimists) Capitals’ off-season situations received some trauma-reducing news this week. First, the bring-it-on statement from still-somehow-maligned, division-championship-team-building GM George McPhee that Restricted Free Agents will not be plucked away from the team, possibly by offer sheets from Edmonton. Offers will be matched, players will stay. In other words, Mike Green will be here next year. We’ll presume such an attitude also extends towards players named Laich, Morrisonn, Gordon, etc.

Strike a blow for continuity. Nothing to worry about here, just as there turned out to be no worrying necessary with the Why Isn’t Alex Locked Up Yet minor crisis earlier this year. That turned out better than any of us hoped, and with that as precedent, we look forward to seeing Mike Green weave between opposing forwards and around their defensemen to score more Orr-ish goals against their goalies. All this with an increasingly un-Gonchar-like commitment to his “proper” end of the ice. We already know certified elite player and NHL-bound defenseman Karl Alzner looks up to him, too, so put “mentor” into his job description for the next decade as well.

Now the other "worry": the unrestricted free agents, those often-elite, often offensively minded players the Capitals would desperately woo in an off-season, only to be refused by the likes of Roenick, Turgeon, Tocchet, et al. Times have changed, and DC is apparently a desired place to be for soon-to-be-not-rented Sergei Fedorov and Cristobal Huet.

Fedorov, that perfect-for-the-third-line veteran whose enthusiasm for the sport was rejuvenated in Washington after enduring a couple of life-sucking years in Columbus under Ken Hitchcock, was long-rumored to want to stick around, rumors seemingly confirmed by his buddy/prodigy/countryman Ovie last month. A cagey veteran third-line center with Selke-worthy shutdown skills and an offensive upside? Possibly out there with a crease-clogging, 25-goal-scoring Brooks Laich? Sounds pretty good.

Huet seemed equally smitten with the burgeoning DC dynasty, having himself contributed in a big way to getting it started. His division-clinching and nearly-playoff-series-clinching win streaks established him as a must-have for next year (as did the sad departure of Olie) as we hope to see that much-talked-about “bridge” established to the fine crop of young goaltenders the Caps are raising. Huet is apparently quite willing to be that bridge, even looking for the same sounds-so-perfect three year deal the Caps should hope for. Deal term was a potential worry, but no more. And if the Caps are apparently so willing to ante up to match RFA offer sheets, they should conceivably be willing to make money a non-issue with equally (more so?) critical-to-keep Huet.

As nice as the last off-season was, with the needed injection of offense in the acquisitions of Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov (remember when everyone was ragging on Kozlov early on? Seems pretty silly now, with those 51 points and team-leading +28 and all), plus the heralded minutes-eating ability in Tom Poti, this summer looks even better. This time, the needed pieces are already here, just waiting to be signed. A free agent or two would be nice, but it doesn’t have quite the desperate urgency that was felt in some quarters last year with the “GMGM better score big or he needs to go” attitude floating around. The braintrust pulled it off last year and this time around, with the help of some willing non-free-market-hitting potential UFAs, we’re optimistic they’ll do it again.

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