Will Jose Theodore start in goal?
Ever since Semyon Varlamov usurped the starting job from the less-than-stellar Theodore in the first round of the playoffs, this question was on the table. Based on past performance alone, the job would have been Varlamov’s for sure. But Theodore would be a grossly overpaid backup and was not happy about losing his job last season. That’s quite the albatross for a team to deal with for 82 games.
In my opinion Theodore will get every benefit of the doubt during camp and open up the season as the Caps’ No. 1 goalie. Washington finished second in the East last season even with Theo’s mediocre performance, so the risk isn’t huge unless he plays every game like last year’s debacle of a debut (pulled after allowing four goals on 17 shots) against Atlanta. That’s unlikely. Any sustained slippage however and Varlamov will be back between the pipes and my guess is Varly will start Game One of the playoffs as well.
Will Michael Nylander do everyone a favor and play in Russia’s KHL?
Since the start of the offseason, speculation raged that the disgruntled Michael Nylander would leave Washington, where he was a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs. But here we are in September and he’s still on the roster. Maybe those foreign mega-bucks offers aren’t actually there for the 36-year-old Swede. Or maybe Nylander has the good sense to realize that it’s not worth $6 million a year to live in freakin’ Siberia.
If he reports to camp as expected and decides to stay in Washington, the Caps will lose a roster spot they could give to a rookie and gain a dark cloud that could linger in their locker room. And they’ll also lose a ton of financial flexibility this year ($4.875 million), likely precluding any blockbuster deal at the trade deadline that could bring in a veteran defenseman or any other missing piece. Sometimes those moves are the difference between winning a Cup and losing one. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that if Nylander sticks it out with Washington, as he’s certainly entitled to do, he could seriously harm their Stanley Cup aspirations.
Who will play RW on the Ovechkin line?
Paging all fantasy hockey players: Whoever fills this slot on the top line has a very real chance to score 30 goals this season. Viktor Kozlov cashed in for 13 last season and his effort level was about as inspiring as a three-toed sloth. Okay, I’ll be fair, a three-toed sloth with a sugar buzz. There were some decent highs, but he’d crash back with a lot more lows.
With a more sustained effort from the newly acquired Mike Knuble, production should boom on both the top line and the power play, particularly since Knuble will do one thing that Kozlov never did: Park himself in front of the net.
Which veteran defenseman will lose his job?
It’s not a guarantee that one of last year’s starters will lose his gig, but the Caps need to get stronger on the blueline and do a better job moving the puck out of their zone. They didn’t make any big offseason moves to address that area because the team believed it had the parts in house to help. That would seem to indicate Karl Alzner and/or John Carlson is getting a promotion. That means at least one defenseman, if not two, from last year’s starting core could be spending a lot of time wearing a suit in a Verizon Center skybox. This could be the toughest question of all to sort out. We’ll find out the answer in a few weeks.