Washington Capitals 2001-2002 Regular Season Review

Was Jagr that big of a good deal, or was Monica Lewinsky found in the Capitals GM’s office? Key players, the staff, and what is to be expected in the off-season for the Washington Capitals. Another team that was a big disappointment, the Capitals slightly changed their roster by oh just adding one player who scores only about 100 points a season…only for 3 prospects that were not on the line-up. The Capitals seriously need to make quick changes now that Jagr is on the line-up. They set high and bad expectations with the idea of “Jagr + same playoff team of last season = better success”. Well, it turned out that the Caps have little depth at center, they were a defensive team, Oates was their only true offensive center, Halpern is a good 3rd liner at best. They could have done a Bondra-Oates-Jagr line as a full out offense, leaving lines 2, 3, and 4 as fore-checking lines. That is a very weak idea, so they stuck with playing two lines to produce offense. Good or bad idea? Good idea because you always want to have two lines that are capable of scoring, and Jagr and Bondra on two different lines is smart. Bad idea since Jagr is not accustomed to the defensive style play and not playing with a strong offensive forward. Oates is the playmaker, but you need more than just a 39-year-old playmaker. In the end, it got so frustrating that Coach Wilson had to put Zubrus (a winger) in center with Jagr, which worked out quite well in the end, but it was too late. Still, the team would lack depth even if Zubrus would be the number one center on that team. Kolzig had a decent season, the defense was terrible in the first half, especially when they allowed 11 goals in one game against Ottawa. After the first half, Jagr seemed as a mistake. A very high contract, little done in the first half, and below the standings in the East. Later, they picked it up and Jagr wound up scoring 79 points in 69 games. Bad? No, not at all, but considering that Jagr used to score more than, or almost, 100 points a season. The defense was nothing special, Gonchar had an amazing finish to the season, scoring 26 goals and finishing with a just a –1. This team’s performance next season depends on McPhee’s moves in the off-season, or any trades he makes.

The Key Players

Jaromir Jagr did not have such a bad season, but it wasn’t his usual season either. He does cause the Caps to change styles and game plans, but he brings massive offensive power to the team. People said Jagr would also put Bondra in a dark corner all by himself, but Bondra still managed to score 39 goals. Jagr is a threat on the PP, probably the best player to have on the PP. He does not back-check all that well, but the team does force him to work hard when using his size, strength, and stick when it comes to defense. Jagr could adapt to the Caps style of play, and would do even better if the Caps acquire a center like Jan Hrdina or the best fit for Jagr, Petr Nedved.

Peter Bondra still has that lethal shot and was not overshadowed by Jagr. Bondra is a Washington Capital and the team ought to keep this guy for quite a long time. He is not extremely expensive, although if Jagr makes 10 million dollars or so, then maybe Bondra wants to make 8 million dollars. Bondra is a consistent player, and would most likely guarantee any team 30 goals or so. He is a fantastic player, one of my favorites. He is also great to have on the PP, on the wings or points. I expect Bondra to score 42 goals next season, and he has the power to do that. He should be kept on the 2nd line, however.

Sergei Gonchar is one of the best defensemen in the league and indeed very underrated. This guy is a blast to have on your team. He is not a Leetch or a Neidermeyer where the skating skills make him look marvelous, it is his shot that makes him look great. Gonchar will be one of the most important players when it comes to free agency. Your defense needs to be tough, but you must have at least one defenseman who is able to score goals. Twenty-six goals is rarely seen anymore in the league nowadays, which makes Gonchar a unique defenseman. His is the best point man to have on the PP. This guy does not have to score 26 goals again next season, but 15 goals are almost a guarantee out of this guy. He was also just a –1, which should make people vote for him for the Norris Trophy.

Ulf Dahlen is getting old, but it is the Swedish blood in him that makes him a permanent player on the team. If this player is available, and your team is making a Cup run, get this guy. He is outstanding in the corners and high knowledge in his defensive game. Definitely a key to this team, especially for next season if this team makes the playoffs.

Dainius Zubrus is only 24 years old. This kid started at age 18 with the Flyers, a bit too early? His age is very important, 24 years of age, give this kid 3 or 4 more years with Jagr and Bondra, and he might turn out to be a permanent 25 to 30 goal scorer. Talk about his size too, 6’4 and 230 lbs. Montreal got a good deal in return as did the Flyers when Recchi came back. But, it is the Capitals turn to change this kid’s career around, can they? The Caps lack forwards with size, excluding Chris Simon, so Zubrus would most likely succeed in a team with speed and size. He ended the season very well with Jagr and he has the potential to become a 25 goal scorer, centering Jagr. Does McPhee want to gamble with that? Try to give this kid a chance to play center with Jagr? Or trading him to the Rangers or Penguins for either Nedved or Hrdina? It’s a gamble, but worth going for it. Zubrus finished the season with 17 goals, expect him to finish with 25 next season, only if he plays with Jagr.

The Coach

I think Head Coach Ron Wilson deserves credit. This guy was given a team where it was mostly defensive with two power scorers in Bondra and Gonchar, who played fantastically well with that system. All the sudden, he gets Mr. Hot $hot in Offen$e Jagr. It must have been hard for Wilson to find the right player to play with Jagr, the right defense to play with Jagr, the right strategy that would make Jagr fit and especially…the defensive strategy that he wants Jagr to follow. Personally, I think Wilson did that in the end of the season. He got Jagr going. Ron Wilson did a speech to his players and all the sudden, they start winning games. Jagr was winning games by himself, and to me, Wilson was a part of that. It is the GM’s job to give him more depth.

The General Manager

Sure, GM McPhee deserves credit for trading just three prospects for the league’s top offensive gunner, and sure he had Bobby Clarke’s face turn red with anger when talking to him. “Oh, you want Adam? Well…Pierre just called me and would give me this one more thing, if you really really want him, then I want the first three picks of this year’s draft.” Clarke: “! @#$%^&(&( ok….” McPhee: “Pierre is offering me a prospect too, I might go with that offer Bob, but I would definitely trade Adam Oates for your top goalie prospect, Maxime Ouelete and your first three picks.” Clarke: “ ….^)*^&%$$%%$!!!!! Okay….deal!”. My pathetic made up dialogue of these two GM’s just showed that McPhee played the smart game. With those three picks, he could make up for those three lost prospects, although highly doubtable since this year’s draft is mediocre. What McPhee did not do though, is make the Caps better during the season. Will he go out and get a UFA player? Possibly, and maybe Bobby Holik would be it, which would change the team around. McPhee must find a center for Jagr though, especially if he does not want to gamble with Zubrus. The chances of Zubrus becoming Jagrs center don’t look as good. A possible trade bound to happen? Depends how this summer goes. McPhee brought in a player that would be hard to fit in the coach’s system. The reason why the Caps missed the playoffs? Maybe it’s just one of the reasons why they missed the playoffs, but it is only the first season with Jagr. McPhee should have and should still add depth to the team.

The Positives and Negatives

The Capitals could be a team that has the ability to make a very big change in next season’s standings. They have the top scorer in the league, and now have Bondra and Gonchar to be even more dangerous on the PP. They got a young goalie prospect, a highly touted one. They have the three top picks of a team, they might find something there. Zubrus could have a big change and has played much better, a 50/50 chance. The negatives simply are that they missed the playoffs with the same team of the previous season except they added Jagr. The defense dramatically had a minus change. They lack depth, especially in center positions.

In the Off-season

Look for the Caps to be active, but come out short. It is basically up to McPhee how this team performs next season. Who does he sign? Bobby Holik would be a top candidate, but teams like the Rangers, Stars (GM Armstrong seen at Devils vs. Hurricanes game), and Blues could outbid the Caps easily. Caps could try to sign Amonte, but again…anyone will outbid them, same with Selanne and Guerin. Maybe Kasparaitis could be a possibility.

Thank you for reading. Next will be the Dallas Stars.

Micki Peroni

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