Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Don't Stop Believin"

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

And just like that our season was over. It felt like someone had punched you in the gut, my stomach hurt, my throat began to swell. I can only imagine what the players must have been feeling when Joffrey Lupul's backhander found a it's way past Cristobal Huet. It was heart-breaking and completely unexpected. Nobody could have possibly imagined that the Flyers would come into Verizon Center, less than 24 hours after their own heart-breaking and demoralizing loss in game 6, and steal a win from this team of destiny.

But that's hockey. That's why we love this game. The passion displayed from each and every member of both sides is what makes it so special. My hats go off to the Flyers, they are the heels of hockey, a team you love to hate. A team that gets under your skin and makes you despise them with every fiber of your being. But without them, I wouldn't feel as passionately about the Caps as I do. So, I guess I have to say thank you to the Flyers and their fans. Let's do it again next year.

And speaking of next year, is it here yet? I'm already looking forward to rookie camp in July, a chance to start anew. Another round of promising young Capitals about to make their impact on the capitol of hockeytown.

As the off season progresses we'll be looking at what the Caps have to do in depth in order to extend their playoff run next spring. It seems as though they are already working on it though. Earlier today GM George McPhee, while declining to give specifics, did confirm that Bruce Boudreau is going anywhere. That would have been the number one priority on my offseason to do list for the Caps. For now, here's a short list of what's next:

1. Sign Cristobal Huet.

- I'm not going to get into the specifics of what they should offer him in terms of years and dollars. But the Caps made the choice this season that he is our number one goaltender. In response, Huet put together the best month of his career, and made one highlight save after another. McPhee made the great move to get him here, now he just needs to close it out and keep him here.

2. Upgrade the Defense

- If there was one thing that this series made me realize is that the weakest part of this team is it's defensive group. That's not to knock any of the players themselves as they played some of the best hockey of there lives. Specifically John Erskine and Steve Eminger grew leaps and bounds during the postseason. Let's hope they can carry it over into next season. And when I say they need to upgrade the defense, I'm not saying that they need to go out and sign some stud free agent. They have prospects coming through the ranks that will be ready to contribute soon. Karl Alzner and Sami Lepisto should be given every opportunity to make the team out of camp this fall. Oh and did I mention Steve Eminger, he'll be a restricted free agent this summer. Qualify him and play him next season, he has earned a place on this team.

3. Figuring out the Forwards

- This is going to be the hardest job for McPhee this summer. What to do with potential free agents Fedorov and Cooke while realizing that this lineup will already be adding two players this fall with the healthy returns of Michael Nylander and Chris Clark. Plus, prospects such as Chris Bourque, Andrew Gordon, Francois Bouchard, and Mathieu Perreault will all be fighting for a spot in camp. At the same time you also have Eric Fehr, who seems to be hitting his stride, and Tomas Fleischmann, who continues to develop, fighting for playing time. It's going to be a logjam up front. I'd love to see Fedorov and Cooke back with the team this fall, but there just might not be room for them.

This summer will be interesting. It's time to rest and recharge as we get ready for the Caps to make the leap next season into a Stanley Cup favorite. Just one request for all the fans out there, be ready to go from day one this fall. Let's "Rock the Red" again real soon.

In the meantime, don't forget about our prospects who are fighting for their lives tonight. The Hershey Bears face elimination trailing 3-0 to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. While the South Carolina Stingrays face the Gwinnett Gladiators in the finale of their best of five series tonight in Charleston. Good luck to both teams in carrying on the Caps tradition of "Don't Stop Believin."

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