Friday, Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 26, 2007; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Friday, Oct. 26 at noon ET to examine the team and the rest of the National Hockey League.

A transcript follows.

Post Coverage:

NHL News

Washington Capitals

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Hi Tarik. I was watching the Pens-Rangers game a few days back, and found myself rooting for the Penguins. Can you believe that? I'm all giddy to the fact that the Rangers are the worst team in the league so far (if you take into account the payroll). Isn't this the last year we'll be paying Jagirl's salary? That'll free up $7 million next year won't it? Thanks!!

Tarik El-Bashir: Cheering for the Pens? Wow.

This *might* be the last year the Capitals are on the hook for Jagr's salary. They are paying $3.46 of his $8.36 million.

But if he wins a major award, or has a pretty decent year (84 points and the Rangers win a playoff round), that kicks in an automatic option for 2008-09.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Good afternoon. I'm already at Verizon Center, prepping for the Caps' showdown against Roberto Luongo and the Canucks. Is this the year they finally beat him? You know he's won nine in a row.

Anyway, I see tons of great questions. So let me get started.

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Washington, D.C.: Tarik: Many folks on the Caps message board have been criticizing Hanlon for playing guys out of position (e.g., Backstrom at wing, Kozlov at center, Motzko on the PP). A few straightforward questions: Has Hanlon given any consideration yet to moving Backstrom to center? When do you personally think it will happen? Who do you think would be a better center for the first line (i.e., have better chemistry with Ovie and Kozlov), Nylander or Backstrom?

Tarik El-Bashir: If you've watched carefully, Backstrom has taken a few shifts at center already. I think he'll get more opportunity to play his natural position in the second half of the season, or when injuries hit.

As for the lines, now that Clark is back with Ovechkin, I think we're going to see them stay like that for a bit. I don't have a problem with the combos.

I do sometimes wonder whey they insist on having two "evenly-matched" pp units. I would stack one unit.

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Fairfax (City of): Luongo seems to be off his game to start this season, what do you think accounts for that? I don't have the statistics in front of me, but is he historically a slow starter?

Tarik El-Bashir: He's definitely off to a slow start with .900 save percentage. Perhaps the higher expectations caused by last year's playoff run has put some pressure on him. I'm really not sure.

But I would be surprised if he's not among the league leaders by December.

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Myrtle Beach, S.C.: When do you expect the young Mr. Bourque to begin his career in Washington? Also, how are the rest of our prospects looking?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think Bourque is going to get a taste of the NHL this season. But it really depends on how he plays in Hershey. He's leading the Bears with three goals and five points, so he's off to a fine start.

I'm thinking he may be next in line. But I thought that last week when Joe Motzko was recalled.

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RTP, NC: So what is going on with Tom Poti? Is it something that has been bothering him for a couple of games?

Tarik El-Bashir: I haven't seen Tom yet today, and the Caps don't always comment on injuries. I am told, however, that if he misses tonight's game, the Caps will provide a detailed update on whatever is wrong with him.

I didn't see anything obvious, and I've covered every game and every practice.

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Ontario Canada: Do you see Backstrom ever centering Ovechkin on the 1st line at some point during this season?? With Kozlov on the wing. I would like to see it for a few games. Thanks for all the coverage of the Caps, Tarik!! With living in Canada it is tough to find Caps coverage, but I do go to all the Leafs and Sabres gamed VS the caps. I will be at the ACC on Monday. Thanks again keep up the good work!

Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks. I love games in Toronto. Great city, too. And I'm totally bummed that I won't be able to go on Leafs Lunch on Sunday. Unfortunately, I'm going to be on a plane from St. Louis.

Anyway, with Coach Hanlon, anything is possible. Even though he said at the start of the season that he wanted to keep the lines together this season, he's already scrambled them for a number of games.

So why not? But first Backstrom will have to prove he's ready to be a center in the NHL. That may not come until later this season, though.

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Warrenton, Va.: I've asked this question of several broadcasters and journalists, but it has always gone unanswered. In a TV interview during Nylander's last stint with the Caps, I heard him clearly pronounce his own name as "Nigh-lander". So, why do all of the TV and radio personalities insist on calling him "Knee-lander"? Has anybody ever asked the guy how he would like to have his name pronounced?

Tarik El-Bashir: I've never asked him directly, but Swedish journos call him "KNEE-land-RRR".

Hanlon and some of the players call him "NIGH-lander." I always thought that was a Canadian thing, though.

I'll ask him tomorrow. We can follow up next week. Cool?

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Washington, D.C.: Now that Glen Hanlon has apparently said that there is nothing Brian Sutherby can do to get back in the line up because the centers ahead of him have yet to play badly enough or get hurt (though that's not entirely true), is there any reason he couldn't, or won't, skate on a wing? He skated on a wing some last year, when for two games Hanlon tried (and succeeded with) a Pettinger-Gordon-Sutherby checking line, and he could contribute at least as much (and probably more) than Fleischmann, Bradley and Brashear.

Tarik El-Bashir: It's completely weird that an alternate captain is sitting in the press box every night. But who would you sit instead? That's the problem.

Brashear has a clearly defined role. Bradley plays with more edge. Laich is a top penalty killer.

Sutherby is in a bad spot. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if he is traded.

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Baltimore: Tarik, how long of a leash does Glen Hanlon have before the Caps seriously look at bringing someone else in? If Hanlon doesn't last the year or is fired at the end of the season does Bruce Boudreau get a shot?

Tarik El-Bashir: Although some people have said the rebuild is over, I'm not so sure the folks in hockey ops think it is. This team is still flawed and shallow at some positions (right wing, defense). We've seen that already this year when Semin went down. They were forced to turn to Joe Motzko.

I know there is more emphasis on winning this year. But is it Hanlon's fault that he's got the youngest defense in the NHL and a revolving door on the right side of the first line? He's still being asked to do more with less than most coaches.

Considering all of that, I think this team would really have to tank for there to be a change behind the bench. And let's not forget, Hanlon is McPhee's guy, so they are kind of in this together.

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Wheeling, W.V.: Tarik:

Thanks for the great Caps coverage, Tarik. I'm a huge Caps fan stuck in Penguins country, and hopefully Washington can finally beat Pittsburgh in at least one game this season. This is a fashion question, so indulge me. I thought that NHL teams were returning this season to wearing white uniforms at home.

I really don't like seeing some of the classics -- Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Canadiens -- wear the dark sweaters on their home ice. I think one of the charms of hockey is the home team wearing the white uniforms.

It seems that the switch to wearing dark unis at home started about four years ago. Was this mandated by the league?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't know the whole story about why the league made the change years back. But I agree with you. I like white jerseys at home, too.

And in my opinion, the Caps' whites look a little better than the reds.

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Rockville, Md.: Tarik -- You do a great job covering the Caps. Even with the Redskins presence and the other sport teams in the area, I am shocked and disappointed that The Post's columnists completely ignore the Caps. Neither Boswell, Wise, or Wilbon has written one single article on the Caps since the beginning of LAST season. Don't you think there is something wrong with that?

Tarik El-Bashir: I agree. I also think we might be able to get Wilbon out here at some point soon. He's shown some interest in recent weeks.

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Vienna, Va.: re: Nylander pronunciation

According to the NHL's official pronunciation guide the pronunciation is NEE-lan-duhr.

Tarik El-Bashir: There you have it. But you have to really roll the 'r' at the end.

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Bethesda, Md.: I haven't been impressed with Brashear at all this year. He has hardly played, and not contributed much when he has. At an overpriced $1.1 million this season, is this his last year with the Caps?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's $1.1 million of pure deterrent. He doesn't need to play much. Just having him on the bench keeps other teams' tough guys in check.

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Washington, D.C.: Tarik, love your columns keep up the good work!! I was wondering if you could give odds on the following folks being here NEXT year -- Sutherby, Eminger, (gulp)Ovechkin. And you write that Caps need stay-at-home D-man, but then Erskine hardly ever plays??

Tarik El-Bashir: I honestly don't see where Sutherby and Eminger fit in at the moment. I could see both of them traded.

As for Ovechkin, I still think the Caps are going to get him signed to a long term deal. The questions haven't started yet, but with each passing month and no deal, those questions are going to intensify.

Erskine is what he is. He's a rugged D-man who won't kill you on most nights. But if you want to move the puck and score some goals, he's probably not the solution. That's why he's sitting at the moment. (He could get in tonight, though, if Poti can't play.)

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Fairfax, Va.: Tarik:

What are the Capitals going to do about that gaping hole in their arena known as the Club Level section? I've heard that the deal struck between the Leonsis group and the Pollin group gives the Capitals little or no revenue from the sale of those seats, so the Capitals make little or no effort to sell them. The problem is that when Alex Ovechkin's contract is up and he has to choose between playing for a team like Detroit or New York, who sell out their arenas every night, or Washington, with an arena that is always 1/3 empty, what choice do you think he is going to make? Is the relationship between Pollin and Leonsis so bad that nothing can be worked out between the two sides? And even if no deal can be struck, shouldn't the Capitals try to sell those seats anyway, just to fill up the arena and increase the crowd volume? Please tell us what you know. Thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: Everything you said is pretty much spot on. But let's be honest here, if the Caps can't sell tickets (on most nights) in the cheap seats, how are they going to sell tickets in the club level? I'm just asking.

Did you see the attendance the other night against the Lightning? There couldn't have been more than 8,000 fans in the building ...on a Wednesday, against a division rival that has two 100-point scorers. Pathetic.

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Frederick, Md.: Tarik-do you think the Caps are a playoff team, or should we be content with 82-90 points? How would Ovie feel if they don't make the playoffs this year?

Thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: I said before the season, and I'm sticking to it: the Caps can finish anywhere from 6th-8th. Carolina is clearly the best team in Southeast, so you can forget about winning the division.

It's going to come down to injuries, I'm afraid. They really can't afford to lose one of their top guys (like Semin) for an extended period.

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Fairfax: Tarik: Have you heard anything from Coach Hanlon about Dave Steckel getting time on the top line? It looked like he got some shifts there on Wednesday, especially since Alex Ovechkin and Viktor Kozlov provided assists on his goal. Thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: No, I haven't. He definitely got a little playing time on the top two lines last game. But don't look for Big Dave to spend too much time up here. He's a face off and defensive specialist. So sometimes, he remains out there after a draw. That's all.

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Rockville, Md.: Should the Caps just resort to playing their normal lines on the PP? It can't be any worse, could it?

Tarik El-Bashir: With the exception of Pettinger on the second unit, they pretty much are doing that.

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Washington, D.C.: Why does Hanlon seem to never want to put together a legitimate fourth line? This grouping of Steckel, Brashear, and Fleischmann seems like the oddest collection of players who probably wouldn't work well together and couldn't develop any chemistry. Last year, it was often Brashear, Zednik, and either Sutherby or Gordon. In camp this year, he seemed to have a ready made fourth line with Sutherby, Bradley, and Laich (who played very well together, even when going against Gordon's line in a scrimmage) but he hasn't given them a shot. It just seems to me that if you have enough talent on the team to healthy scratch a guy like Brian Sutherby (or Matt Bradley), then you should be able to put out four, legitimate (and productive) lines.

Tarik El-Bashir: It sounds like Fleischmann will be out tonight, with Bradley in.

I understand what you're saying, but with this team's depth the way it is, the fourth line isn't going to get many minutes anyway. Brashear is averaging a whopping 4:25 a game.

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Walkersville, Md.: I'm sure Ted knows the impact it would have on the Caps fans if he didn't do whatever it took to keep Ovechkin, who is after all, the face and future of the team, don't you agree?

After all, he is a pretty smart businessman when all is said and done.

Tarik El-Bashir: Agreed. They are working to sign him. But they've got to walk a fine line.

If they max out Ovechkin, how much money will be left over for Kolzig, Semin and Morrisonn? And I'm not talking about space under the cap. I'm talking about the Caps' budget.

The best thing that could happen to the Caps is that the Rangers' stink this season and Jagr doesn't achieve the option year.

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Frederick, Md.: About the attendance at the last game...

I have no doubt that if the Caps were still in the Patrick Division of the old days and they were playing the Flyers or Rangers or Pens on a Wednesday night, the Phone Booth would be filled. Being in this division does little to spur attendance. They will have to keep winning in order to get people to come see Tampa or Florida on a weekday night, don't you agree.

Tarik El-Bashir: You are right. Just pray for realignment. It could happen, depending on the fate of a few (really) struggling franchises.

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Capitol Hill: Tarik,

I was at KCI yesterday for practice and couldn't help but notice that Semin seems more friendly with the rest of the team this year -- I also noticed that he was one of the last players to leave practice when he used to be one of the first. Previously, a lot of fans were thinking Semin was a "locker room cancer" so to speak, but I feel as though that has changed--what are your thoughts? Has Semin become more team-oriented and less standoff-ish?

Tarik El-Bashir: Yeah, I would say so. He's still not the most popular guy in the room. But I think he's warming up to living in the states, and his teammates are starting to get a better sense of who he is.

But, really, if he scores 45 goals every year, does it really matter if he's Mr. Popularity? That's how most pro athletes look at it, anyway.

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Sterling, Va.: Kolzig has played pretty well so far, but is he really worth almost $6 mil? I'd say no...that said, is there any chance the Caps and Kolzig part ways after this season? Will he take a pay cut? That money seems more useful going to other guys.

Tarik El-Bashir: With the exception of his off game against the Islanders, Kolzig's numbers are very good -- 2.42 and .917.

If he continues to put up those stats, stays healthy and doesn't show signs of decline, why not bring him back? For the right price, that is. I certainly couldn't see him getting a big raise.

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Washington, D.C.: When Ted Leonsis purchased the Caps in 1999, he said that he had a 5-year plan to make the team profitable. How are he and his partners doing with this plan as we are into about year 7 or 8 of their ownership?

Tarik El-Bashir: They are still losing money, albeit less money than before the new CBA (think revenue sharing) went into effect. This is a gate-driven sport, and when you can't get people to come to your building on a consistent basis, you're going to operate in the red.

Winning might take care of it. But that, too, remains to be seen.

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Washington, D.C.: What are the Caps going to do about the RW problems? A trade?

Tarik El-Bashir: A trade would make the most sense. But trades, especially for top-notch players, just don't seem to happen much anymore.

Someone did tell me to expect some action around the league in the coming weeks.

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Bethesda, Md.: Please comment on the Caps defense, esp. the proclivity to allow teams to get position inside and make plays to the net against Kolzig and Johnson. Against Tampa, Kolzig stopped 3 or 4 shots that could easily have found their mark and I am concerned that the low scores so far have lulled this group into thinking they have solved their issues at the blue line. I think this unit has the size and talent to do the job, my question is whether Hanlon needs to add a guy like a Langway as an ass't coach to teach these younger players like Morrisonn, Jurcina, Green and Schultz how to use the body and play the man in front?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think they need an assistant coach as much as they could use another grizzled veteran who could help bring along the youngsters like Green and Schultz.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: So this is the third chat (I think) since the season started, and I'll continue my running question: How many more games for Flash?

Is there any chance he becomes the RW on the other side of Semin/Nyls and we get a No. 1 line of Ovy/Becks/Kozlov?

Tarik El-Bashir: At least you're consistent. I'm hearing Fleischmann could be out tonight. If so, that's not a good sign for him.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks again for joining me. I really enjoyed today's chat because we seemed to get some different questions from new readers. Spread the word. Let's get some more of that.

See you next week.

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