2007-08 Team Preview: Washington Capitals
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
The Starting Line
By Scott BurnsideAfter years of appearing not to have a clue about how to get from here to there, the Capitals may well be on the verge of arriving. After eschewing the free-agent market since the lockout to get costs under control, the Caps made significant additions this offseason in an effort to get themselves back in the playoff mix. The timing is no coincidence. Alexander Ovechkin is a bona fide NHL star, but needed a better supporting cast after two solid seasons. Alexander Semin is likewise a fine talent and center Nicklas Backstrom, the fourth-overall pick in 2006, is ready to make an impact. Then, there's veteran netminder Olaf Kolzig, who has played his entire NHL career in Washington and turned 37 in April. Kolzig still can deliver the goods, but time is not on his side. Given all that, GM George McPhee got the green light to bring in some secondary scoring and veteran presence up front with Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov, and some offensive pop on the back end with Tom Poti. Does it spell a visit to the playoffs for the first time since 2003? In a market that still exists on the fringes of relevancy, it'd better. OFFENSE
The Capitals finished in the middle of the pack in terms of goals scored (17th), but they lacked real depth. There were three players with more than 30 goals (Ovechkin, Semin and captain Chris Clark) and only one other player with more than 15 goals (Matt Pettinger's 16). Nylander, who perfectly complemented Jaromir Jagr for the past two years with the Rangers, will help shoulder some of that offensive burden. Kozlov is more of a question mark. Big and talented, the 32-year-old had a career-best 25 goals for the Islanders last season. More importantly, he was plus-12, the first time since 1999-2000 he was a plus player. Both Kozlov and Nylander should help a Caps power play that was 24th in the league. Poti, who had 44 points and led the Isles in ice time, should help bring some more offense from the blue line, where Brian Pothier led the team with 28 points. Expectations are high (perhaps too high) for Backstrom, but he's going to get a shot. DEFENSE
Poti's arrival also will help a team that is still forming its defensive identity. The Capitals, in general, have been a physical team under coach Glen Hanlon, but they still give up too much in their own zone (they finished 26th in team defense). That will have to improve significantly if the Caps are to sneak into the postseason. Improving their special teams also will help: Washington's penalty kill ranked 24th in the league. GOALTENDING
Kolzig is part of a dying breed -- an elite player who spends his entire career with one organization. Although he could have opted for free agency at the end of the 2005-06 season, Kolzig believed in the team's blueprint for the future and stuck around. This season, he is hoping to see that belief yield a trip to the postseason as his contract comes to an end. Kolzig saw his goals-against average hit the 3.00 mark last season, although his .910 save percentage is a testament to the amount of rubber he routinely faced. Kolzig missed 13 games with a knee injury, and his health will be a major factor in whether the Caps can challenge for a postseason berth. Brent Johnson simply doesn't supply the needed depth as his 3.61 GAA and .889 save percentage in 30 games performance shows. COACHING
You could hardly find a more thoughtful NHL coach than Hanlon, whose professorial countenance belies a hard-nosed attitude toward the game. The former NHL netminder has had little to work with in terms of depth and talent the past two seasons and still managed to keep his team in the mix far longer than expected (last season, until the end of December). Opposing coaches often praised the Caps' work ethic and the team's preparation. Hanlon will have more tools at his disposal than ever, which ups the expectation ante. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
• Capitals Home
• 2007-08 Schedule
• Complete Roster
• Search: Capitals LAST-SEASON REVIEW
• Record: 28-40-14
• Division: Fifth in the Southeast
• Conference: 14th in the East
• Playoffs: Did not qualify
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The big man signed a two-year deal in February 2006. If the Caps fall out of the playoff hunt, teams will be knocking down the door come trade-deadline time, and one could hardly blame Kolzig if he jumped this time around. Defenseman: Tom Poti
Poti enjoyed a career renaissance with the Islanders last season under Ted Nolan. Can he build on that in Washington? Forward: Chris Clark
In many ways, Clark embodies the Caps' blue-collar style of play. He also might be one of the most under-the-radar forwards in the league, having scored a career-best 30 goals last season.
MORE FROM BURNSIDEBuzz Cut
If the Caps stay in the playoff hunt or even challenge for a division crown -- a possibility -- will anyone in D.C. notice? It says here they will. Where They Will Finish
The Capitals will finish third in the Southeast Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference.
SPORTSNATIONWhere do you think the Washington Capitals will finish this time around? Who will lead the Capitals in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench? Vote now!