Friday, Jan. 4, 1 p.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 4, 2008; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Friday, Jan. 4, 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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Tarik El-Bashir: Hello everyone, and thanks for spending another Friday afternoon with me. We've got lots to talk about (including the Caps' problems getting to Montreal today), so let's get going.

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: When Brent Johnson was injured against the Penguins a couple weeks ago, Kolzig came on in relief. If Kolzig had gotten hurt, any idea who Coach BB would have put in goal? Do the Capitals have a designated "emergency" goalie? Locker joked the Capitals would put Ovechkin in goal. I hope not.

Tarik El-Bashir: I asked Boudreau about that the other day. He said he wasn't sure what he would have done. He joked that he would have put Quintin "Shot Blocking" Laing in net (without goalie pads). Seldom-used defenseman Steve Eminger cracked that he had played goalie in soccer and would have been up to the task.

But to answer your question, I'm not sure the Caps had a backup, backup plan.

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Friendship Heights: So was any progress ever made on improving the ice at Verizon Center?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps did reach out to the NHL for help, and apparently it's made some difference. Brian Pothier told me the other day that he hasn't noticed the ice much the past few games -- and he took at as a good sign.

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Spotsylvania, Va.: Hi Tarik,

Looks like Eminger may get another chance if Poti and Pothier are unable to go tomorrow.

How has he looked during practice? I can't help but to think that we haven't heard the whole story about No. 44, especially since he's only played in just one game since Boudreau took over (and usually a new coach is more than willing to give guys that have been in the doghouse a chance at redemption). I don't recall anyone else in recent memory who has been a healthy scratch in all but 2 games over the course of half a season. Do you have any additional insight for us on what the deal is with Eminger?

Tarik El-Bashir: I've talked to team officials. I've talked to Eminger and his camp. I've talked to people around the league. And no one knows why Eminger isn't playing -- or whether there's anything more to the story other than he's just the No. 8 defenseman.

I can say this: Don't be surprised if he gets traded soon.

As for tomorrow, if Poti and Pothier are out (practice today was cancelled so I can't say for sure) Eminger will have to play, unless the team recalls a player from Hershey.

The whole situation is really a shame. It seems to me the Caps are wrecking his future while simultaneously diminishing his value if and when they decide to trade him.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is Brooks Laich the only guy talking to the media right now? I've met him several times and I know he likes to talk, but it's like the Brooks show lately...

Tarik El-Bashir: That's an astute observation. The media attempts to talk to everyone. But after losses, it just seems Laich is consistently in the locker room and willing talk. The same cannot be said for all the players.

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Aurora, Colo.: Hey Tarik,

Is it tough to cover a game from some of the press boxes in the NHL that are in a high position? What are some of the best and worse press boxes in the NHL?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's both good and bad. The good part is that you can see the entire play develop, check the bench, watch players talk trash between the penalty boxes and get a sense for the crowd. But the bad part is that fans at home get to see multiple, up close replays of critical plays. There are TVs in the press box, but there's no sound and it's easy to miss the replays.

The best box in the league is Madison Square Garden. It's just off ice level in the corner behind the visitor's goal. I'm so close to the action, I actually heard Olie Kolzig yell at defenseman Brian Muir once.

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Atlanta: Mr El-Bashir,

The Bruins' second goal last night (where Schultz and Kolzig were tangled up) has raised a little debate today. Do you think Schultz was "outmuscled" down low or do you think it was a case of Kobasew giving him a well-timed nudge while the two were skating together? Should it have been a penalty or crease violation on Kobasew?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think it was a well-time shove. But I also think it should have been an interference call. I mean, when a team is already down two players, the refs can't allow the opposing team to intentionally take out the goalie, too, right? Kobasew knew exactly what he was doing.

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Chantilly, Va.: Any chance of the Caps playing a game at Fed Ex next year? I was amazed that Buffalo had 80,000 in attendance. Are the Caps still at the bottom of the league in attendance? Should I be concerned about the team leaving or D.C., or worse, not resigning Ovechkin because of this?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think it would be possible to play an outdoor game down here because of the weather.

As for attendance, the Caps do rank at the bottom of the league in announced attendance. But, as I've said before, there are the numbers in the box score and the "real" numbers that the NHL shares with the PA in order to determine revenues and the salary cap. These numbers are top secret, but my sources tell me the Caps aren't at the bottom (or really near it) in terms of "real" attendance. ("Real" attendance doesn't include give aways or other non-paid tickets).

That said, the Caps don't draw well, and must find a way to get more people into the building. But the situation isn't as dire as it might seem.

And, no, the Caps are leaving town. Ted Leonsis's ultimate goal is to eventually own the entire enterprise on F Street--the Wizards, Caps, Verizon Center and Ticketmaster.

Attendance also won't have much bearing on the negotiations with Ovechkin. He's going to get paid and I don't see any way that he won't be in Washington next year.

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Scrapped Sweaters: I know the Caps went back to the old material in the new "system."

Do you know how many other teams have done that as well?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think the whole league has switched back. At least that's what I heard from a Reebok rep a while back.

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Nokesville, Va.: Hey Tarik. Any word if Cassivi is going to get a start? Wearing Olie down in the middle of the season might be detrimental on his condition if we make a late-season push.

Tarik El-Bashir: Bruce Boudreau said he was contemplating putting Cassivi in net. But because the team didn't get to Montreal in time for practice, I won't know until I catch up with everyone at the hotel later. Check my blog for an update around 5 or so.

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Union Station, D.C.: Sounds like their plane had a mechanical malfunction. I got stuck at Dulles for more than three hours by one of those once.

Are the Caps just plain jinxed against Boston? We seem to play good-to-outstanding against everyone else, but we flop miserably against the Bruins.

Tarik El-Bashir: It wasn't mechanical. And, yeah, travel sometimes stinks.

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Boston: We don't get too many shutouts up here so thanks to the Caps for that. How has Ovechkin's contract "insult" comments gone over inside the locker room? Does this reinforce why contracts should not be discussed during the season?

Tarik El-Bashir: I was told by a reputable source that Ovechkin wasn't insulted by any offer, and that the offer that was reported was wrong.

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Silver Spring, Md.: The New Year's Day game was great. Any chance that the Caps could play at the new baseball stadium?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think we'll ever see that. It would be cool. But way too hard to pull off.

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Minneapolis: Tarik, what do you think of the chances the NHL showcases Ovechkin in the next Winter Classic?

I wouldn't mind seeing it done up here on one of our 10,000 lakes, either.

Tarik El-Bashir: Based on the success of this year's Classic, the NHL would be wise to do this as often as possible -- and include as many superstars as possible. The TV ratings were good (for hockey), the product was entertaining, and more than 70,000 fans showed up.

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Alexandria, Va.: Are we going to need to make goaltending changes next year? It seems like Olie is a little slow and I keep hearing that Johnson isn't good enough to be our No. 1. Is that true and, if so, what are the club's options at this point? Do you think Olie is looking a little out of it or does he look okay to you? I've only been watching hockey for a little while now so I can't differentiate and have nothing to compare him to.

Tarik El-Bashir: Kolzig's performances have been uneven this season, that's for sure. But then he has a game like he did last night in Boston, and all of a sudden he looks like his old dominant self (neither of those goals were his fault, in my opinion.)

The Caps are going to have some tough decisions to make in the coming months. If they think Kolzig can bridge the gap to the future (Neuvirth and Varlamov), then they need to re-sign him for at least two years. If not, they've got to find another option.

I'm not sure Johnson is consistent enough to be a No. 1. But I've got to say, before he got injured, he was looking like one.

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AO 2 LA?: What's this I hear about the Caps trading AO to the Kings?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't Alex getting traded. The Caps simply wouldn't get back fair value. The reason L.A. comes up is simple: they are the one team that has enough cap room AND enough young talent to make a deal work.

I still don't see it happening. Alex has said he wants to stay here and that he wants to win. He wouldn't get any closer to a Stanley Cup with the Kings (especially if they give away their future to acquire him).

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Murrells Inlet, SC: Having moved to SC. I don't get to see "my" Caps anymore, but keep up by reading the Post and your reports. Thanks for a good job. What's missing with the Caps to make them a really good team? If it's a couple more star-quality players, why hasn't management signed them? Are they trying to spend as little as possible? Don't they realize that by acquiring good players attendance will increase and funds will be recovered?

Thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps knew coming into the season that they were a couple of players short of being a "good" team. But they still hoped (and lots of people around the league believed) they had done enough to at least make a run at the playoffs. It hasn't happened yet, and if they don't get healthy in a hurry, it might not happen at all.

This offseason, the Caps need two do a few things: Hope and pray Jagr comes off the books. Sign another first line winger. Sort out their goaltending situation. Sign their RFAs. And hope and pray that their youngsters like Green, Backstrom and Semin become superstars.

That's a lot of hoping and praying, I know, but that's what needs to happen.

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Ottawa, Canada: Why, in your opinion, do the Ottawa Senators (the best team in the league, in my opinion) have so much trouble with the Capitals?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's one of three things: Either a) they don't match up well with the Caps, which is something that's hard to explain but happens frequently in pro sports b) they have underestimated them three times or c) the Caps are so scared of being humiliated that they play out of their minds.

I'm guessing it's some combination of choices 'a' and 'c'.

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Atlanta: Mr. El-Bashir,

How good do you think Shaone Morrison is? He was a plus player each of the last two seasons with the Caps and although his +/- this year is only +1 it's gone way up after he stopped being paired with Jurcina.

Tarik El-Bashir: I think Shaone is a solid defenseman. I also think he can get a whole lot better. Earlier, when I mentioned the young Caps who need to continue to improve if this team is going to rise to contender status, I should have mentioned him. He's one of the keys to their success.

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DC: Hiya Tarik

Aside from the fact that Oilers GM Kevin Lowe is preparing a 40-year, $398.7 million offer sheet that the Caps will have to match, what reasons would you give Alexander Ovechkin for sticking with the Caps? There does not seem to be the organization's commitment to getting talented players that we originally heard about. What say you?

Tarik El-Bashir: If I'm the Caps, Ovechkin isn't the player I'm worried about signing an offer sheet. Everyone in the league knows the Caps will be forced to match.

If I'm the GM, I'm worried about someone like Lowe making a crazy offer to snag Mike Green. Something like five years, $25 million. It could happen.

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Chantilly, Va.: Hi Tarik,

Happy New Year!

Last night's game was the most critical two points that the Caps have blown this season. In my mind, I think that two points will haunt the Caps in the long run. The Capitals must capitalize on these opportunities against struggling teams like Boston, if they want to gain in the standings.

Tarik El-Bashir: I agree. The Caps couldn't afford to drop those two points, especially with a tough game looming tomorrow.

The loss in Boston simply puts more pressure on them to sweep the upcoming five-game homestand. If they lose to Montreal, then don't win all five home games (or at least go 4-0-1), this might one of the stretches they look back on with regret in April.

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Norman, Okla.: Do you think Backstrom will be the next Peter Forsberg? Do you think he'll get to that level?

Tarik El-Bashir: They are very different players. But from what I've seen the past month or so, there's little question in my mind now that Backstrom will be a star -- a big one.

I've got to admit that I didn't always feel that way. Especially after the first few weeks of the season.

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Mclean, Va: Tarik,

Couple of quick questions...do you think Kozlov is headed for the trading block based on his poor showing in the first half?

Also, any chance of Clymer making it back to the NHL this year - with Washington?

Tarik El-Bashir: If the Caps are out of it at the deadline, I could see them moving Kozlov.

As for Clymer, I haven't talked to him (or about him) in several weeks. I know the plan was to keep putting him on re-entry waivers to see if another team bites. But I would be surprised to see him in Washington again, unless the team is gutted by injuries.

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Atlanta: Mr. El-Bashir,

You've again mentioned that the Capitals don't give away as many tickets as many other teams - is there some reason for this? Even if the Capitals aren't near the bottom of the league in "real" attendance they're not filling the building every night; certainly not weeknight games against other Southeast Division opponents.

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps give away less than 900. Some teams give away upwards of 3,000 each night.

Giving away tickets doesn't really work. The Caps gave a way tons and tons of tickets the year after the lockout, and yet they still struggle to draw.

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Portland: Tarik

Can we draw any conclusions from the fact that both the Flyers and Rangers had 6 kids a piece in the World Juniors, while the Caps had far fewer (unsure of exact number)

Thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: Maybe. But two of the three Caps prospects in the tourney (Alzner and Neuvirth) are also two of the best.

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Leonardtown, Md.: Do you think that if Crosby hadn't signed so early there wouldn't be all this panic about Ovechkin not being signed?

Tarik El-Bashir: Great point. Crosby re-signing early certainly put some additional pressure on Ovechkin's situation.

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Glover Park, D.C.: Tarik: I listen to Caps road games on XM so I can get the benefit of the opposing teams' play-by-play feed. I notice that when they speak of Koslov they repeat the oft-mentioned line "When he wants to, he can do anything out there...". Is this really true? I mean, if his paltry 4 goals are a result of not trying, why aren't his teammates and McPhee on him more? Or is this a knock he got years ago and the color guys have nothing better to say than to repeat what they've heard before?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't know if "anything" is the word I would use. But he's got talent to spare. It's just a question of applying it consistently.

One minute, he'll wow you by carrying the puck through five players. The next, he'll turn away from a hit instead of making one, or fumble a pass. It's frustrating.

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Rockville, Md.: Tarik,

Time to put on your GM hat! If you were GMGM what would you offer Ovechkin in terms of years and dollars? What do you think he is worth to the Caps and what is your impression of what other teams might be willing give him in the form of a offer sheet?

Tarik El-Bashir: I would give him more than Heatley, but not a penny more than Crosby.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for joining me this afternoon. Unfortuntely, I didn't get to all of your questions because I ran out of time. I've got to go find the Caps, who should be arriving (late) from Boston any minute now. Until next week, take care.

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