With the Stanley Cup now safely in the hands of the Los Angeles Kings over the summer, and the NHL Draft a week away, it's time for the other 29 teams to try and plan for next season and see if they can arrange their own parade come next June.
Capitals General Manager George McPhee spoke to the media Thursday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, and while McPhee isn't usually one to tip his hand on pending personnel moves, Caps fans can certainly glean a glimpse of the road map of what's in store for the club this summer.
While you make your own summer plans, enjoy the road to the 2012-13 season - Washington Capitals style.
Coach: McPhee told reporters Thursday that there was no rush to hire Dale Hunter's replacement, and while he did say he's narrowed down the contending field a bit, he also noted that this year's Eastern Conference champ, the New Jersey Devils, didn't hire their coach - Pete DeBoer - until July, well after the draft and opening of free agency.
McPhee certainly didn't indicate any rush to making the important hire, who will be the fifth different coach since the Caps hired Ron Wilson in 1997 - the same day McPhee joined the club. It also is McPhee's first off-season coaching hire since Bruce Cassidy was hired in 2002.
"It's a fun process doing it in the summer," McPhee said. "Obviously, if you have to do something midseason, it's much more difficult. There are fewer people available to talk to, so there's some real limitations and some time constraints. ... You can talk to a lot of people and come up with a plan on how you're going to do it. We've enjoyed it. There's some terrific people out there."
With the radical shift from the offensive style employed early in Bruce Boudreau's tenure to a shot-blocking, defensive posture adopted under Dale Hunter, one thing players and McPhee indicated since the team's elimination from the playoffs by the Rangers is style-wise, there's a desire for more of a hybrid up-tempo style from the new coach to pair with the defensive responsibility.
"We really liked the way that the team competed [under Hunter]," McPhee said. "That was something that we were trying to get to - to have them compete like that - and they were terrific. They played their guts out. We want to maintain that kind of commitment and play a little more uptempo."
McPhee did say that Hunter's assistant coaches, Dean Evason and Jim Johnson are "probably not' going to return to the team, seemingly precluding them from earning a promotion to the head coaching job. Candidates still in the running likely include Devils assistant coach Adam Oates, Rangers assistant coach Steve Sullivan and Kings assistant coach John Stevens.
With the last coach having previous NHL experience being Ron Wilson, it's "not neccesarily" a prerequisite for the Caps job, something McPhee reaffirmed Thursday.
"There are really some terrific people available," he said. "Without getting into names, there are veteran people that have been terrific and there are young people that have been terrific."
Showing no urgency, it may not be until after next weekend's draft or the opening of free agency before the Caps settle on a new head coach.
Goaltender: With the goaltenders from the last two playoff runs signed and in the fold for next season - and Dany Sabourin and Philipp Grubauer seemingly ticketed for Hershey - for once, the Capitals appear to have a set tandem to carry over to the new season.
Braden Holtby proved his playoff mettle this spring despite starting the season with the Bears, and the Saskatchewan native likely will be opening the season as the club's starter. However, with an 82-game slate - give or take some games with the expiring CBA perhaps delaying the start of the new season - he figures to balance out with Michal Neuvirth next season, with both young netminders going to vie for the starting role come playoff time.
Of course, without a coach in the fold, it's hard to say which goaltender will get the better look, or even the tandem's game distribution, as some coaches opt to ride one goaltender through a season, while others want to balance it out to reduce workload. Either way, you can probably figure on a neighborhood of a 50-32 split in favor of Holtby next season.
Defense: According to McPhee, two of the Capitals' best young puck-rushing defensemen, John Carlson and Mike Green, got qualifying offers from the Capitals Thursday, meaning they will retain their restricted free-agent status and would be prohibitively expensive for another NHL team to try and lure them from Washington with an offer sheet.
Green is the most interesting case, since he has played just 81 games in the last two seasons, and is one year away from being old enough to qualify for unrestricted free agent status. If Green does stay with the Capitals - which appears likely barring a trade - it seems probable he'd accept the Caps' one-year qualifying offer. With the UFA market for defensemen being very thin this summer - Nashville's Ryan Suter is far-and-away the most prized catch - it's not out of the question a team seek to make a trade offer to the Caps to acquire Green and use his rights to sign the Calgary native to a long-term deal - without having to go through the prohibitively expensive offer sheet process.
Carlson, who had an up-and-down season, will come back as an RFA, and while not quite earning the market price he had hoped for last summer, should get a healthy raise from the $787,500 he made this past season. Expect him to get a deal on par with what his defensive partner Karl Alzner makes, while getting more than last year's salary, but something in line with his performance overall since arriving from Hershey.
Dennis Wideman, who is an unrestricted free agent, is likely going to sign elsewhere for a sizable raise with a market desperately seeking blueliners.
Otherwise, the core of Karl Alzner, Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Dmitry Orlov and Roman Hamrlik likely will be joined by Green and Carlson next season, with any trade involving a blueliner likely requiring one coming back Washington's way.
Offense: The biggest question mark for the Caps is who will be playing forward next season, particularly with Alexander Semin likely heading elsewhere over the summer as an UFA. Should Semin depart, the Capitals would have just two players under contract - Alexander Ovechkin and Jason Chimera - who scored 20 goals or more in 2011-12, leading an obvious goal-scoring void for next season if the team desires to open up a bit more offense next year.
With the UFA market for forwards rather thin - New Jersey's Zach Parise is the only real impact forward available - it seems evident that the Capitals will need to acquire some more punch via the trade route.
Washington certainly has some chips to trade in looking to acquire an impact forward - the team's 11th or 16th overall selection in this year's draft, along with Green's RFA rights, figure to be inquired about by other clubs and potentially fetch the biggest return.
Primarily, the Capitals would need to acquire a center, as after Nicklas Backstrom, there is a significant drop-off to the rest of the team's centermen in Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich and Mathieu Perreault. If anything, the Kings showed how important filling that second-line center role can be, as getting Jeff Carter sparked Los Angeles' impressive playoff run, sparking a dormant offense to earn the franchise its first Stanley Cup title.
While the Capitals have Ovechkin and Backstrom as their primary forwards, Washington needs to acquire at bare minimum at least one or two Top 6 forwards to present enough of a threat that their top stars aren't shadowed by opponents. The team has plenty of guys to fill the third-and-fourth line roles, and McPhee needs to turn his focus to top-end talent with an estimated $25 million of cap space to play with over the summer.