Much was made over the weekend about how the Washington Capitals and General Manager George McPhee did "borderline-magical things" during the opening days of free agency. Not only did McPhee bring back a former captain (Jeff Halpern), an unheralded postseason performer (Joel Ward) and an established two-way defenseman (Roman Hamrlik), he traded supposedly KHL-bound goaltender Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for two draft picks. And don't forget signing Tomas Vokoun, who took roughly a 80% pay cut to join the Caps.
Several notable hockey publications have given the Caps high marks for their free agency proceedings and majority owner Ted Leonsis took the time Tuesday to appreciate the hard work that his management had done. But he also praised a team that was not his own.
We received high marks and kudos for our work in free agency this past weekend. I am very happy with the performance of our front office and professional scouting department. I think they really delivered.
In between thanking Matt Bradley for his services while playing for the Caps (he signed with the Florida Panthers this weekend, but then again, who didn't?), Leonsis went on to say that despite the praise, that the Caps are "only improved on paper." In fact, according to Leonsis, the Caps should not even be favored in the Southeast Division. That distinction belongs to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who swept Washington out of the Eastern Conference Semifinals:
I believe Tampa is the team to beat. They finished this past season a few points behind us and they beat us in round 2 of the playoffs. They are the team to beat in the division with the Boston Bruins the odds on favorite to repeat in the East as defending Stanley Cup champs.
The Lightning may have been the team to beat last season as they led a comfortable lead in the division until the Caps ultimately caught and usurped them to win their fourth consecutive Southeast Division championship. Tampa Bay had the last laugh, but have not made the drastic moves that the Caps have since July 1. The Lightning re-signed rejuvenated goalie Dwayne Roloson and acquired Mathieu Garon, but lost Simon Gagne and playoff hero Sean Bergenheim. But the core of yet-to-be-signed Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier should all provide another challenge to the new-look Caps.
The last time Leonsis made a bold statement on his blog, it came to fruition as the Caps made several personnel moves as promised. Usually, bulletin board material comes from the opposition, but perhaps Leonsis' bold statement could plaster the Caps' locker room at Verizon Center come October?