The Washington Capitals dealt with yet another playoff disappointment in 2011 after the Tampa Bay Lightning swept them from the second round. While many people were calling for Bruce Boudreau’s head, it seems like the team will give their bellicose head coach one more try.
One feeling was that Boudreau & Co. were committed to transitioning their system from a wide-open scheme to a more traditional defensive setup, but they didn’t really have the right ingredients to make that recipe work. It seems like GM George McPhee is doing his best to change that scenario this off-season, at least if his most recent moves are any indication.
McPhee recently landed unrestricted free agent forward Joel Ward with a four-year, $12 million contract. It almost seems too perfect that Ward will be with Washington since he’s been compared to former Capitals forward John Druce, a player who came out of nowhere to score a bunch of postseason goals. Obviously, Washington hopes that Ward simply experienced a breakthrough playoffs instead of being a one-hit wonder, though.
He’ll literally be capable of more than one hit, if nothing else. Ward plays a nice defensive game (just under two minutes of shorthanded time per game in the regular season) and will be well-equipped for responsible play after his time with the structured Nashville Predators. With Ward and recently added rugged forward Troy Brouwer in the mix, the Capitals’ team will enjoy an interesting hybrid between finesse wingers (Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin) and blue-collar guys (with Mike Knuble bridging that gap).
No doubt about it, the Caps want Ward to score quite a bit since they’re paying him $3 million per year. Having some talented teammates might make it easier for Ward to stay out of the Fernando Pisani One-Hit Wonder Club, though.
The Capitals didn’t just beef up their forward ranks, though. McPhee signed Roman Hamrlik to a two-year, $7 million deal as well. While Ward was an undrafted free agent who scrapped his way to the NHL, Hamrlik was the first overall pick of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft who managed to find his game even if he’s far from a superstar. In a way, Hamrlik seems like a replacement for Scott Hannan and in that regard, Hamrlik should be a solid upgrade. Hamrlik has a better scoring touch and is a bit less error-prone in his own end. He might even soak up some of those tough top-line minutes so the team can protect excessively-critiqued defenseman Mike Green a bit more.
Ward’s deal is risky because his breakout might have been a mirage while Hamrlik’s contract could be a short-term problem if he’s gotten too old. That being said, the Capitals have added some nice assets that might not make them a flashier team but could give them those “sandpaper” type guys who could help them get over the hump in the playoffs.