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Monday, Jan. 28, 1 p.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 28, 2008; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Monday, Jan. 28, at 1 p.m. ET to examine the team and the rest of the National Hockey League.

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A transcript follows.

Post Coverage:

NHL News

Washington Capitals

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Tarik El-Bashir: I just arrived a little while ago from Atlanta, where a good time was had by all over the All-Star Weekend. But now it's time to get back to work -- and our weekly discussions. So let's get to it.

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Maryland: Tarik;

How about a status on our injured guys; Clark, Pothier, and, to a lesser extent, Morrisonn? Did the All Star Break help these guys heal up any?

Thank you so much for all you do!!!

Tarik El-Bashir: I wish I could share more about the injured guys. But I won't know their status until practice begins. I've been on the road for pretty much the past week.

I would imagine that Shaone Morrisonn will be ready to go, considering he had a bruised foot. But if Chris Clark (groin) and Brian Pothier (concussion) don't hit the ice at some point this week, it's probably time to get concerned -- and perhaps looking for some help from the outside.

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Athens, Ga.: Tarik, What are your thoughts on the Mike Green contract situation? He easily could command $4-$5 million from us now. But if he becomes a restricted FA I can definitely see someone pulling an Edmonton and offering him 7 years and $50 mil or something insane like that. Do you think it will get to that point and is there any way the Caps would/could match such an offer?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps would be wise to get Mike Green locked up ASAP. I thought he was a little shaky in the two games against Toronto, but he's proven that he's going to be a star in this league.

My sources tell me that he's seeking in the $4-5 per range. But I would imagine he might settle for a bit less if he's offered a longer term deal.

You are exactly right about the RFA offer sheet. It's likely someone will drop one on him if the Caps don't take care of business. I'm suspecting they will, however.

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West Virginia: Who do you think is going to come out of the East and into the Finals?

Tarik El-Bashir: I know I'm not going out on a limb here, but Ottawa is the best and deepest team in the East, even without Dany Heatley (for now). When the Sens' goaltending is on, they are tough to beat. That said, I imagine they really don't want to see the Caps in the first round.

I also think Montreal is awfully good, and that Philly and the Devils might have a shot.

It's pretty wide open, though.

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Downingtown, Pa.: Will the Caps have any room in their budget for free agents next summer? Does the answer change if they don't have to pay for another year of Jagr's contract?

Tarik El-Bashir: A lot does hinge on whether they've got to fork over $3.46 million to JJ. But it's looking more and more like he's going to be coming off the books.

That's another mid-to-upper-level player right there.

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D.C.: I think it would be a great move for this franchise to find a way to package Eminger, Pettinger, and possibly Flash for one solid defenseman from somewhere, perhaps Zidkicky in Nashiville or another one of their half a dozen extra defenseman. That way the Capitals can bring up Fehr.

What do you think? Also, when will Fehr return to the Capitals?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think the Caps might be active at the deadline, especially if they continue to have injury problems. The names you mentioned are certainly candidates to be on the move.

As for Fehr, I think he may get some time in Washington this season. But GM George McPhee told me the other day in Pittsburgh that he's not going to rush him back. Remember, he missed 10 months of hockey.

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Nowheresville: What is an agents average cut of a players contract? Ten percent? I'm wondering how much moohla Ovie-one "saved" by negotiating his own contract? Thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: I believe it's usually around 4-percent. But I hear that Ovechkin had been paying his old agent 6-percent.

So, yeah, Ovechkin probably did save himself a lot of cash. Donald Brashear, too.

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Alexandria, Va.: Tarik,

We've heard all about Ovie and his antics at the All-Star Game, but what did Backstrom think of everything going on?

Tarik El-Bashir: Nicklas is a very enthusiastic young player, yet he's often tough to read because he's usually so serious.

That said, he had a smile on his face every time I saw him this weekend. He definitely had a good time. Trust me on that one.

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Virginia: If/when the Capitals sign Mike Green, will they have enough cap room to sign more players? I think we need to fill some spots with better players, but I'm worried we won't be able to.

Tarik El-Bashir: Mike Green will get signed, so you have to include his new salary (whatever it turns out to be) on the payroll. The big questions are the payment to Jagr (and whether it comes off the books) and what the Caps and Olie decide to do. Olie makes $5.45 million, but as of last week had not begun negotiating an extension.

Another thing to remember is the ceiling is going to go up again, so the Caps will have room under it.

The team certainly could benefit from a physical, stay-at-home veteran defenseman. And if one is available this summer, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Caps go after him.

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Roanoke, Va.: Tarik...glad to have you back...hope you had fun in Atlanta. Do you think Ovechkin can score 60 goals this year, and if he leads the Caps into the playoffs; is he the MVP?

Tarik El-Bashir: If A.O. scores 60 (or more) and the Caps make the playoffs, he deserves the MVP. And Bruce Boudreau had better be the Coach of the Year, too.

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Sterling, Va.: "A lot does hinge on whether they've got to fork over $3.46 million to JJ. But it's looking more and more like he's going to be coming off the books.

That's another mid-to-upper-level player right there."

I'm not sure about that...if you look at the team the Caps iced in the last game before the break, that same lineup will cost about $7.6 million next year, and that doesn't include the raises due to Chris Clark and whatever Mike Green might get.

Does it not make more sense that the Cap will not be players in free agency, that the "grow from within" movement will continue?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps need a physical D-man. Everyone knows this, especially other teams' forwards who too often roam around down low with little fear.

While Joe Finley may eventually fill this role for the Caps, he won't be ready next year.

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Cologne, Germany: How are the chances for the Caps to pick up a No. 1 goaltender in the summer? Kolzig played really bad in his last games and the offense must score 5 or 6 goals to win games when he is in net.

That must be a sign for George McPhee. The Caps can't score every game 5 or 6 goals.

Tarik El-Bashir: That all depends on how Kolzig plays down the stretch. He needs to be better, and everyone in the organization knows this.

If he doesn't get it done, the Caps are going to have some tough decisions to make.

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Delaware: Tarik,

Could you comment on the NHL's disciplinary process when it comes to suspending people for hits to the head and from behind? Kovalchuk deserved more than a game on his hit.

It seems like there is no standard that is being followed. How do you feel about this. Should there be a set standard or case by case?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think it's possible to have a standard punishment for dangerous hits. Colin Campbell must take several factors into consideration, such as: does the offending player have a history of these types of hits? Did he intend to hurt the other player? Was it heat of the moment or was it premeditated?

All that must be weighed before handing out penalties, in my opinion.

All that said, Kovalchuk got what he deserved, I think.

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Commish: Tarik,

If you were Commissioner of the NHL, what rule change would you lobby to implement or what current rule would you lobby to change?

Tarik El-Bashir: Changing another rule, in my opinion, isn't the solution to getting scoring back up and capturing fan attention. The biggest problem with the NHL are teams like Florida and Boston that muck up the middle, sit back and hope to win 1-0. Those games are impossible for me to watch -- and I get paid to do it.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Tarik,

Do we have any goalie prospects with potential to break into the NHL in the next yr or two?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps have to stud prospects in Michal Neurvirth and Simeon Varlamov. But I don't think either will be ready to play next season.

That's the Caps' issue right now. They must somehow bridge the gap to those two players.

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Warrenton, Va/: Who do you think is the world's best hockey player?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a tough one. How about I tell you the handful of players I would pay to watch?

The short list: Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Crosby, Lecavalier, Luongo. There are a few others, but when I'm cruising around on Center Ice, I'm looking for their games.

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Rockville, Md.: Can the Caps realistically go ahead and play Johnson as the more likely No. 1 for the rest of the season and still keep Kolzig? I think Kolzig is performing better in the back up role, while Johnson has looked like he did when he was with St. Louis over the past few months. Can and will BB make the decision to switch their roles?

Tarik El-Bashir: Coach Boudreau has said over and again that Olie is his No. 1, but Brent is going to get one start every three games down the stretch. How each of them performs, I think, will determine whether that changes.

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Wheeling, W.Va.: Tarik:

Great stuff by A.O. in the skills competition Saturday night.

Do you expect him to be even better the rest of the season--in essence, putting the team on his shoulders to secure a playoff spot? He seems like he'd relish the pressure.

Also, are the Caps buyers at the trade deadline?

Tarik El-Bashir: Ovechkin is so comfortable in the spotlight, I can only imagine he would be absolutely awesome in the playoffs. But I can't say that for sure until I see him under that pressure.

As for the trade deadline, that's still a month off. A lot can change. But if the Caps continue to play they way have, I would expect them to be buyers on Feb. 26.

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Rockville, Md.: Why has Washington never gotten to host the All-Star Game? The Verizon Center has been open for more than 10 years now.

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm told the Caps haven't sought the all-star game, that ownership would like to get its own house in order before taking on a major event. I can't say I blame them for that stance. But D.C. would be a terrific host.

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Rockville, Md.: Do you see any reason behind Semin's recent surge, or is it just a sign he's getting healthy?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's mostly because he's healthy. An ankle injury is especially tough for a hockey player, and it also affects his conditioning. With that behind him, I can see him scoring 15 goals down the stretch. Which would be a bad season considering all the games he missed.

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Nicholas Backstrom: What are my chances of continuing my recent form and winning rookie of the year?

Tarik El-Bashir: Did you forget how to spell your own name, Nicklas? I think your chances are okay. But I think in the end the award will go to Chicago's Pat Kane.

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Bethesda, Md.: Can you talk about the current TV state with the NHL. Why aren't more games on NBC? The league keeps talking about expanding their fan base. The only people that get Versus are already hockey fans.

The All-Star weekend should have been on NBC. To get Versus you have to get a high-price plan on cable.

Stupid move by NHL and Bettman.

What are your thoughts.

Tarik El-Bashir: The NHL just re-signed with Versus for three more seasons. I've got say I don't understand that move. The sport needs to be on ESPN. And ESPN needs to have hockey. Period.

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Washington, D.C.: I loved your article yesterday about Ovie and Backstrom becoming fast friends as well as great linemates.

I'm sure there have been linemates in the league who have "chemistry" on ice, but lack it off the ice.

Do you think friendship helps?

Keep up the great work!

Vicki

Tarik El-Bashir: Friendship absolutely helps foster chemistry between players -- in any sport. As Backstrom said, being friends away from the rink helps him understand Ovechkin on it.

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Tarik El-Bashir: I wish I could stay and answer all of your questions, but the Caps have decided to start practice early. So I've got to run. See you next week.

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