Although Washington seems intent on icing a veteran lineup in 2000-01, there is a possibility that some rookies will be given the chance to earn a spot on the roster. Some of the names mentioned include: 1999 first-rounder Kris Beech, newly-acquired defensemen Stephen Peat and Remi Royer and 28-year old Swedish blueliner Bjorn Nord. However, the prospect with the best shot at sticking with the Capitals is Alexei Tezikov.
Tezikov was acquired at the trading deadline in March 1999 from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Joe Juneau and a switch of draft picks. The Sabres were looking to bolster their team for a run at the Stanley Cup, and figured Juneau was the missing piece. The Caps insisted on including Tezikov in the deal, as Chief Scout Ross Mahoney remembered Alexei from his days on the Buffalo scouting staff. The story of Alexei’s journey from talented nobody to the next big thing for the Capitals involves a lot of moves in a very short time.
Even though Alexei had been named the Russian Junior League’s best defenseman twice, he was not rated by Central Scouting Bureau in his draft year of 1996. The Sabres were impressed enough to select him in the 5th round (115th overall). The following season, he decided to stay in Russia and played for both Nizhny Novgorod and his hometown team of Lada Togliatti.
It was bound to happen eventually. Former first round pick Nolan Baumgartner just wasn’t a part of the Capitals future anymore. After Nolan’s contract expired at the end of the season, there didn’t seem to be much reason to re-sign him.
Capitals’ GM George McPhee traded Baumgartner to the Blackhawks for defenseman Remi Royer in an exchange of headaches. Chicago fans had made Royer a target after watching him make several mistakes in his brief NHL stint in 1998. Both these players seem to hold a wealth of potential, but neither has put it together enough to secure a job in the big leagues.
The Capitals have made it their mission to acquire more toughness this off-season. They started by trading for defenseman Stephen Peat, and drafted Ryan VanBuskirk a month later. Two weeks ago, they brought back a familiar face by signing Free Agent Craig Berube. Now, with this deal for Royer, the Caps are certainly a tougher team – but it remains to be seen if they are better.
The Capitals main problem now seems to be an abundance of defenseman. They currently have 15 blueliners under contract, and two more ready to turn pro, in Bjorn Nord and Ryan VanBuskirk. Added to that are their three Restricted Free Agents: Sergei Gonchar, Ken Klee and Brendan Witt. With NHL teams carrying seven defensemen and AHL teams employing eight, the Caps have to find a place for the five extra defensemen to play.
Unless you’ve been a Capitals fan for about five or six years, you would think that Nolan Baumgartner is just another minor league defenseman that never made it. To those following the Caps in 1994, Baumgartner was the potential cornerstone of our defense corps and future star. After four years of minor pro without breaking through to the NHL full-time, it seems that he won’t live up to the expectations heaped upon him. Since he is a Free Agent this off-season, it may be time to consider letting him leave to continue his career elsewhere.
Earlier this season, Washington GM George McPhee traded away Alexandre Volchkov and Jaroslav Svejkovsky – first round picks from 1996. Capitals fans were outraged, and they wondered how he could give up on two good, young players. Last month at the Entry Draft, McPhee dealt 1995 first-rounder Miika Elomo to Calgary. Although many fans were skeptical about the deal, they didn’t take it as hard as the previous trades. McPhee has been able to make those trades without losing face because it was David Poile who drafted those players and tabbed them as future stars. Now the time has come to part ways with Baumgartner, even though he was once seen as a “can’t miss” prospect.
On July 13th 1990, Capitals GM David Poile decided not to match the St. Louis Blues’ Free Agent contract offer to defenseman Scott Stevens. As compensation for their loss, the Capitals received first-round picks in 1991 through 1995. The players selected by the Capitals were: Trevor Halverson, Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt, Nolan Baumgartner and Miika Elomo. Now, 10 years later (and with the benefit of hindsight), it is up to us to decide if Poile made the right move.
About a month ago, I wrote an article detailing the situation and the decision that David Poile made. I asked the readers of Hockey’s Future to write in and let their opinions be known on the subject. Well, the votes are in – and an overwhelming 75% of you said that you would not trade Stevens for the five players listed above.
A lot of Capitals fans think that this “trade” is a black mark on the organization. It seems that most of the public feels the same way. Here are some of the comments against letting Stevens go:
“I would not make the deal unless I was an expansion team looking for a bunch of young blue-liners.”
“When trading a player of Stevens’ calibre, you have to get more than what essentially is two NHL starters, Witt (solid, but unspectacular) and Gonchar (second tier defensive star).”
“Poile did well to get Baumer, Gonch and Witt, but with Stevens here, he wouldn’t have needed to make at least two of those picks (Witt and Baumer).”
The Capitals have already had a busy off-season, but the biggest moves are yet to come. Many of the changes so far have affected the minor league system, leaving the NHL roster intact. However, with six big-name Restricted Free Agents and the potential for some blockbuster trades very soon – the Caps could have a different look for 2000-01.
As with the rest of the league, the Capitals had to sign their 1998 draft picks by June 1st or lose the rights to them. George McPhee got things started early by signing collegiate defenseman Michael Farrell in March. Then, right at the deadline, the Caps came to terms with Krys Barch, Nathan Forster and Rastislav Stana. They are all expected to play minor pro next season, and the Caps have high hopes for all of them. This meant that the remaining 1998 draft picks: Goaltender Jomar Cruz, Forwards Blake Evans and Todd Hornung re-entered the 2000 draft. None of them were selected, and they will look for Free Agent deals during the summer.