Why did the Caps lose in the playoffs the last three years? A few reasons. They rely too heavily on the power play. They suck along the boards. They get frustrated too easily when things don't go their way. They do not block shots. They do not play in front of the net at either end. They do not hit, fight, or play physically, at all. They flop around on the ice, looking at the refs, instead of looking to just play the damn game.
So how do we fix this? We mix up the roster a bit. The returning forwards we have are Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Knuble, Laich, Chimera, Steckel, and Bradley. All of them except Semin have some grit - Backstrom is not that strong on his skates, but he is smooth like Datsyuk. And even he showed some emotion last year in the infamous Pittsburgh game, something that is pretty rare for the smooth operator he has become.
I expect Fehr, Fleischmann, and Gordon to be back next year. That leaves one roster spot (not counting the 100 combined games that Bradley, Gordon, Semin, and Fleischmann will miss). I liked the addition of Eric Belanger, but he seems to be out the door. Marcus Johansson will be competing for a roster spot, but it does not make much sense to bring in a top prospect to anchor the third or fourth line when he has top line talent.
Some bargains the Caps should pursue: Colby Armstrong, Rob Niedermayer (both UFAs), or Dan Carcillo, Ben Eager, and Andrew Ladd (RFAs). Of these, Ladd would be the best pick up. He has played in 53 playoff games, and won 2 Stanley Cups, and he is only 24 years old. A great combination of grit, size, leadership, durability, and poise, he would make for a great bargain - I see him making around $2 million next year, certainly within the Caps budget. The question is, are the Caps willing to part with a 2nd rounder as compensation? They should be, especially for this winner.
I would love for the Caps to add a gritty enforcer, maybe a guy like Zenon Konopka. Zman was amazing in the faceoff dot, has served as a captain in the AHL, and despite leading the league by a large margin in penalty minutes, did so with respectable and clean play. He only had two instigator penalties - something he takes pride in doing is defending his teammates without setting them back. But we know how the Caps feel about having a fighter. They would rather flop around like a Ghanaian when any contact is made, hoping for an penalty, instead of pressing the matter and having a highly effective deterrent on the roster. We can always hope.
The defense seems pretty much set: Green, Carlson, Poti, Schultz, Alzner, Erskine/Sloan/FA. There are a ton of third pair veterans available, for low salaries, but there is one in particular I am interested in - Shane O'Brien. He is young, physical, and if he could be kept in check, would make a great second/third pair dman. He has attitude problems, but that leads to passionate play, something the Caps have badly been lacking since the pre-Jagr days. If Boudreau is such a great coach, he should have no problem reeling him in and getting the most of him, right?
The goalies are set. Maybe look at the bargain bin for a backup (Emery?), but the future is in net now, and Varlamov and Neuvirth need all the experience they can get right now.
All this cap space, and for what? Use it.