|With Ovechkin, Boudreau set, Capitals face other questions|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 23 April 2008 12:01|
With the superstar player signed for 13 years and the turnaround-engineering coach under contract ``for a long time,'' the Washington Capitals began their offseason Wednesday with a couple of certainties and a whole lot of decisions to make.
This much is clear: The Capitals want to make playoff participation a regular occurrence, and they believe they have the right foundation. They hadn't been to the postseason since 2003, but they climbed from last place to first in the Southeast Division, then bowed out to the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime of Game 7 in the first round Tuesday night.
``Now that we have a good core, and we have a good team, we'll spend the money to keep it a good team and to make it better,'' general manager George McPhee said. ``We really like what we have now. If the decision is made not to keep someone, we're going to replace that player with somebody better.''
He'll be meeting with players this week and coaches next week in an effort to figure out specific plans. Ovechkin has his $124 million contract, forward Alexander Semin has his two-year, $9.2 million extension, and they are part of the group of players aged 24 or under that produced 18 of Washington's 20 goals against Philadelphia.
But there are all sorts of question marks.
To wit: What happens to Olie Kolzig, the 38-year-old goalie who has never played for another franchise? He skipped the mandatory team meeting Wednesday at the practice facility and said through a Capitals spokesman he needs some time before speaking to the media.
Will goalie Cristobal Huet re-sign? How about forwards Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke, two other trade deadline pickups who are unrestricted free agents? Will the team keep Mike Green, who gets to test the free-agent waters if he wants after leading NHL defensemen in goals? Will defenseman Brian Pothier, sidelined since January because of a concussion, ever play again?
``I have to talk to the players to see who wants to stay, who doesn't want to stay,'' McPhee said. ``Up until 12 hours ago, we were still playing, and you don't want to distract anyone with those kinds of conversations.''
Boudreau will play a significant role in the offseason maneuvering - when he's not house-hunting in the area.
While no formal announcement was made by anyone, and neither McPhee nor Boudreau would go into specifics, the career minor league coach apparently was given a multiyear deal recently.
``He's our coach. It never seems to benefit anybody to talk about contracts for management or coaches. But he's our coach for a while,'' McPhee said. ``He's under contract ... for a long time.''
Boudreau was promoted from the AHL's Hershey Bears to replace the fired Glen Hanlon in late November, when the Capitals were a league-worst 6-14-1.
They went 37-17-7 under Boudreau, whose attacking style was a perfect fit for players such as Ovechkin (65 goals, an NHL record for a left wing), Nicklas Backstrom (Calder Memorial Trophy finalist for top rookie) and Green.
The coach often sought to deflect praise to his players - repeatedly noting his team's success was due not only to Ovechkin - and he praised the veterans for believing in him.
``They could have come in here - there are some pretty high-name, high-profile guys - and could have said, 'Geez, who's this 50-ish, minor league coach? We don't respect him.' And they didn't,'' Boudreau said. ``They had ultimate respect from the beginning, and that really helped us go an awful long ways.''
A lot further than seemed possible on Thanksgiving Day, when he got lost driving from Pennsylvania to Virginia and was given the title of ``interim coach.''
That label eventually was shed, and now Boudreau and Ovechkin will work together to try to build on a late-season surge in which the Capitals won 11 of their final 12 games to earn a playoff berth.
``I hope everybody stays here for next year,'' Ovechkin said, before stuffing a red duffel bag with skates. ``This team has a great future.''
Notes: Ovechkin isn't sure whether he'll play for Russia at hockey's world championship in May. ``I don't know yet. I have to talk with George (McPhee), and I have to talk with the Russian federation about my insurance,'' he said. ... Several Capitals, including Ovechkin, played through injuries at season's end, Boudreau said, listing Green (hip, foot), D Shaone Morrisonn (broken jaw), F Boyd Gordon (hamstring). Neither Ovechkin nor Boudreau said what his injury was. ... McPhee said the Capitals will make a qualifying offer to D Steve Eminger.