Okay, it’s official. A week into August, with Development Camp long done, all contracts signed, and no more free agents left to pursue, the dog days of summer are officially upon us. There is no hockey to pay attention to and no news to wait for. So, it’s time to hypothesize and have some fun. Todays topic: the opening night roster. For my lines, defensive pairings, and camp cuts, take a look below.
First Line: Alex Ovechkin, L; Nicklas Backstrom, C; Mike Knuble, R:
After a truly pathetic year last year by all of their standards, I think that the top trio will stay intact as Bruce Boudreau hopes for some of the magic of 2009-10. Knuble can still go to the net and score goals, as he proved towards the end of last season, but he’s not good enough to be the second best player on his line anymore, as he would be anywhere else in the lineup. It stands to reason that after such awful luck last year, a bounce back can be expected.
Second Line: Troy Brouwer, L; Marcus Johansson, C; Alexander Semin, R:
It all hinges on Johansson. If he is able to live up to his potential, this line could prove to be the excellent secondary scoring threat that the Caps lacked last year. Alexander Semin, despite his misgivings, still has electric talent, but he cannot do it by himself. He does need a center to get him the puck, as was proven by Jason Arnott last spring. Brouwer will bring toughness and size to a line otherwise seriously lacking it, as well.
Third Line: Jason Chimera, L; Brooks Laich, C; Joel Ward, R:
If this line comes to pass, it will be an absolute nightmare to play against, and could pass as the Caps’ “shutdown” offensive line. All three of these players have speed and size, and they can all block shots as well as hit a little bit and forecheck very well. Laich will have to be the “engine” that drives the line, but that’s okay, because he does have a 40-50 point offensive ceiling; that’s fine for the third line.
Fourth Line: Matt Hendricks, L; Jeff Halpern, C; Jay Beagle, R:
Halpern and Hendricks are basically locks to play on this line when healthy. Halpern is a proven veteran who can win faceoffs, play good defense, and score a little bit. Hendricks is physical, defensive, and blocks shots well. Beagle is a little bit of a question, but he wasn’t totally awful when he played last season. He’s also a natural center, which would give the Caps three centers on the line (nice if you need to win a faceoff). This could end up being one of the better fourth units on the circuit.
Defensive Pairing A: John Carlson, Karl Alzner:
Duh. I detail this further here, but these guys are like Batman and Robin. They make one another better, it’s a great mix of offense and shutdown defense, and they were the top pair last season. Case closed.
Defensive Pairing B: Mike Green, Roman Hamrlik:
One of the Caps’ new acquisitions, the aging Hamrlik is no longer good enough to be the best defenseman in his pairing. He’s got a little offensive pop, but his primary job with the Caps will be blocking shots and playing very good defense. That gives Green some extra room to roam, but they should be good defensively because they were both excellent shot blockers last year.
Defensive Pairing C: Dennis Wideman, Jeff Schultz:
When Wideman and Schultz were together last year before Wideman got hurt, they were actually a pretty good match. Wideman’s offense and Schultz’s defense, like the other two pairs, complement each other nicely, and that is something few other NHL teams can afford. Having Wideman on your third pairing is silly good. And if you’re calling for Big John Erskine, I direct you here.
Healthy Scratches: John Erskine, Mattias Sjogren:
Erskine is obviously going to be on the team and will probably play a bunch of minutes due to inevitable injuries, but as I outline above, Sarge is probably going to get the call on Opening night. I pick Sjogren to make the team over, say, Cody Eakin because he’s older, more experienced, and because Eakin isn’t ready to jump into the fire yet in his first season of pro hockey. He needs time in the AHL.