Capitals are ready to put best skate forward
On the eve of training camp, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis announced "the rebuild is over," confirming what a lot of observers were already thinking. After several years of grinding it out without high-priced free agents, which gave General Manger George McPhee and coach Glen Hanlon the time to let prospects gain experience and allowed young team leader Alexander Ovechkin to establish himself in the NHL, the Capitals are ready to challenge for the Southeast Division championship.
The time is now in Washington. It was a bold move by Leonsis to eschew the quick fix. The team slipped from Stanley Cup Finalist in 1998 to the unsuccessful Jaromir Jagr era to Leonsis' order to build from within. The lack of success during the slide provided Washington with numerous high draft picks who, like Ovechkin, have established themselves or are on the verge of doing so.
Don't shoot the messenger, but some people, including Ovechkin, think he's the most talented young player in the NHL, not Sidney Crosby. They may make funny commercials together, but compete like demons on the ice. For the NHL, it's deja vu to 50 years ago, like arguing whether Jean Beliveau or Rocket Richard was better. Crosby, like Beliveau, is tall, strong and graceful on ice with a tremendous determination to win. Ovechkin, like Richard, can be unorthodox, can score in traditional ways or from his knees, his belly and his butt, and has a fanatical determination to win.
Don't overlook the continued progress of Alexander Semin, the Capitals' first pick, 13th overall in 2002, who returned last year after a three-year absence to be second on the Capitals with 38 goals and 73 points.
As the Capitals rise in prominence, expect the world to take sudden notice of the well-built and balanced defense. They're an unheralded unit now. They won't be come next March.
The Capitals have two veterans in net in Olie Kolzig and Brent Johnson, but they haven't been under intense pressure to win for several years now. Despite pass successes, they have to be regarded as question marks.