COACH Bruce Boudreau (5th season)
LAST SEASON 48-23-11 (1st in East); lost in second round to Lightning
KEY ADDITIONS RW Troy Brouwer, G Tomas Vokoun, RW Joel Ward
KEY LOSSES C Jason Arnott, RW Eric Fehr, G Semyon Varlamov
THE SEASON may be a marathon, but the Capitals started training camp with sprints, end-to-end dashes that punished the legs and made even veterans wince. The veterans, in fact, were special targets of Caps G.M. George McPhee. "Time for you guys to take over," McPhee told forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich and defenseman Mike Green, the heart of the team that for the past three years has followed regular-season promise with postseason implosion.
After last season's 107-point campaign and second-round exit, there are simply no more excuses, not when McPhee drew an unexpected ace into an already strong hand. During free agency frontline goalie Tomas Vokoun, who wanted to test the market, was surprisingly available. So McPhee pounced, inking the 35-year-old Vokoun to a one-year, $1.5 million deal that is far below his market value.
Vokoun should help the Caps in case they return to the run-and-gun mantra of years past. They abandoned that style last season for a more restrictive, responsible system that was supposed to work in the postseason, only to have Tampa Bay tear it apart. The problem may be that some offensively gifted Capitals such as Backstrom (65 points last season) and Alexander Semin (28 goals) are simply ill-suited for the elevated demands of the playoffs. For that reason the summer pickups of workmanlike veteran forwards Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward may be more significant than the sum of their parts.
This season's Caps will likely split the difference between the trigger-happy team that led the NHL in goals in 2009--10 and the one that slipped to 19th last year, but styles notwithstanding, the team that has so often strutted into the playoffs will be better prepared than the one that crawled off again last spring.