Let’s make no mistake about it: the 2011-12 season is a pivotal one for the Washington Capitals franchise. Many players will be harshly judged if the team comes up short again, while head coach Bruce Boudreau’s job is probably on the line.
If you take a step back, however, you’ll see that this team could be bound for great things. Maybe they were already hurtling toward that destination by merely employing Alex Ovechkin, but two days of great goalie-related moves could plant the final seeds for something truly special.
July 1, 2011: The Capitals realize that they’re just not that into Semyon Varlamov – at least at the price he wants. Shockingly, they managed to trade him to Colorado for the startling package of the Avs’ 2012 first round pick and a second rounder in either 2012 or 2013.
Getting two high-end picks is a significant victory even out of context, but it gets downright crazy when you consider the fact that Colorado was bad enough to receive the third pick in 2011. Naturally, the Avalanche aren’t guaranteed to tank again – they made a surprising run to the 2010 playoffs, after all – but the fact that the 2012 first rounder isn’t lottery protected just makes the trade astounding.
(Somewhere, an especially optimistic Capitals fan is picturing a Washington team with dual Swedish center-Russian winger combos of Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson-Nail Yakupov.)
July 2, 2011: GM George McPhee didn’t rest on his laurels after that master stroke deal, though. He made sure that the Capitals’ short-term future could be brighter than ever by signing world-class goalie Tomas Vokoun to a ridiculously cheap one-year, $1.5 million deal.
The Capitals have been the victims of great runs by goalies, especially Jarsolav Halak’s masterpiece in 2010. Thanks to Varlamov’s demands and a lax group of rival general managers, Washington opened up a spot for their best goalie since the days when Olaf Kolzig was in full-on Godzilla mode. (Some might argue that Vokoun’s even better, but we’ll see.)
Things could get really interesting if the Capitals win the Cup and get the top overall pick in 2012. Even if they fall apart in 2011-12, McPhee would have the option of blowing a big portion of the team up without being forced into any corners. Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Vokoun, Mike Knuble and Dennis Wideman will see their contracts expire, so the team could change its direction in a single summer by letting them go.
Having what could be an outstanding first round pick wouldn’t hurt that hypothetical renovation process, either.