Friday, March 28, Noon ET

The Washington Capitals

Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 28, 2008; 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Friday, March 28, at 2 p.m. ET to examine the team and the rest of the National Hockey League.

A transcript follows.

Post Coverage:

NHL News

Washington Capitals


Tarik El-Bashir: Good afternoon from sunny South Florida. I'm hoping to be able to stay for the whole hour, but the Caps' schedule today at BankAtlantic Center is a bit of a moving target. So I many have to bail in order to do some reporting in the dressing room.

Let's get started.


Rockville, Md.: Tarik: in a chat a few months back, you said the Caps would have to win two out of three games from that point on to stay in the playoff hunt. You indicated you didn't think it was possible, yet here they are, battling every game to stay in the hunt. What turned the team around -- the coaching change, for sure, but what other factors can you point to?

Tarik El-Bashir: What the Caps have done under Boudreau is nothing short of amazing. I think 75-percent of the turnaround is the job he's done, particularly with the young players.

The rest is confidence. Once Boudreau took over and the team got a couple of wins under its belt, the players started to believe they could win. Confidence is something that cannot be underestimated in pro sports.

The recent surge, though, is a direct result of the mmoves George McPhee made at the deadline. Huet, Fedorov and Cooke have ignited the Caps and delivered exacatly what was missing.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Tarik. If the Caps fall short, do you still get the feeling the players and management will be able to step back and realize this really has been a great season? After the last 3 miserable seasons, it's pretty hard to argue the season hasn't been a success, playoffs or not.

And how great was that Federov faceoff win? He might be worth $3 million to the Caps next year.

Tarik El-Bashir: Ted Leonsis said recently on Washington Post Live that missing the playoffs will be considered a failure. And to a certain excent I think he's right.

But what's become obvious to everyone around the league is that since Boudreau took over behind the bench, the Caps have been a playoff-caliber team. If not for the wretched start, they would be playing for seeding, not just to sneak in.

So from that standpoint, the season has been a success. the young players are maturing and the fanbase seems to excited.

But if the Caps miss the playoffs, no one is going to remember the second half surge five years from now. It will be just another year with no playoffs.


West Palm, Fla.: Tarik,

Is anyone working with Ovie on his penalty shots? As far as I can tell, this is one of his only real weaknesses. Great job!

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think Ovechkin is getting any special help from anyone on penalty shots. But you are right. He does everything well, except score in the shootout. It's kind of mystifying.


Davidsonville, Md.: So Tarik, if you were a betting man, are you putting you money on the Caps making the playoffs or falling short?

Tarik El-Bashir: I wrote in my preview that the Caps would sneak into the eighth spot in the final two weeks of the regular season. I'm sticking to that prediction.


Washington, D.C.: If the Caps finish the regular season tied with either Boston and/or Philadelphia for the final playoff spot, how is the tiebreaker determined?

Tarik El-Bashir: The first tie breaker is wins. The Caps can't beat out Carolina if they are tied, but they can still beat out Boston and Philly. The second tie-breaker is head-to-head points.


Arlington, VA: Tarik,

Can you tell us whats going on with Brent Johnson? Being the third goalie on the roster has to be a bitter pill to swallow, even if it is only temporary through the rest of the season. I imagine he'll be with the Caps next year, but the huge question is who will he be backing up....

Tarik El-Bashir: I see Brent every day, but since he hasn't been playing, we haven't much to talk about. I can tell you this: he's been handling a very difficult situation with class.

Since he's under contract, I see him coming back next season. But, like you said, the big question is who is going to be the starter?

It could be Huet. It could be someone else. I'm starting to get the feeling that it won't be Kolzig.


Detroit: When you guys acquired Fedorov, he had to have been viewed as a rental, but his play has been terrific. What do you suppose the odds are that he could re-sign, or does a healed Nylander and returning Backstrom put the squeeze on him?

Tarik El-Bashir: Fedorov has done everything that has been asked of him -- and more. But I still think he's viewed as a rental. When Michael Nylander comes back next season, Fedorov would be reduced to a third line center.

While I think he would be great in that role, I think he'll be able to get more money and playing time elsewhere.


20772: Any word on Viktor Kozlov? He seemed to struggle mightily to get off the ice after blocking a shot late.

Tarik El-Bashir: The team has just arrived. I'm going to check on his status. I'll post an update on my blog.


Alexandria, Va.: What's the mood of the team in between games?

Can you cut the tension with a knife? Are people going out tonight in Miami? Will people be watching other NHL games or purposefully not watching them? Or, is it pretty much the same ol' conversation?

Tarik El-Bashir: There is some tension. You can see feel it in the dressing room and you can see it on the ice. And it's only going to get more tense in the coming days, particularly if the Caps keep winning but continue not to gain any ground.


Sacramento: Fedorov is amazing. That pass to Brooks, the recovery and the pass, was fantastic. I think many Caps fans want him back next year. Are the players attached to him as well?

Tarik El-Bashir: That pass was great. But I thought his faceoff win that set up Semin's goal was even greater.

Since the day he's arrived, he's been so accomodating to his new teammates and the media. He's a calming voice on the bench and in the room. He's a workout freak, too, which is something that will likely rub off on the younger players.

In short, Fedorov has been a huge addition.


JR Fan: Tarik,

I noticed you linked to a blog, Japer's, this week. I've never noticed you actually linking to a blog before.

What others do you read?

Tarik El-Bashir: As far as hockey-related blogs, I check out Kuklas Korner, Japers Rink, On Frozen Blog and Dump and Chase on a daily basis. I also check all of the newspaper blogs that cover the Southeast Division.


Manassas, Va.: Fast forward to April 5th. Caps are 2 points away from securing the playoff berth and Huet has been HOT! Does Olie get the start since it could possibly be his final game as a Capital? I'm glad I won't have to make that decision, but I hope the Caps do.

Tarik El-Bashir: Pro sports are about wins first, second and third. If Huet is hot, he will be in goal.

_______________________ Tarik will be back, he just had to step out to do some reporting. Check back after 1 for more answers.


Rockville, Md.: Tarik - What do you think the future holds for Steve Eminger? How would you assess his overall play this year? Is he a top 6 defender who deserves regular shifts? Thanks

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think even he knows what's going to happen this summer. The Caps can retain his rights by extending him a Q.O. But he makes $1 million. That's a lot for a player who only got into 18 games. But if they don't qualify him, then he can leave for no return.

Stay tuned on this one.


Columbia: What do you think the future holds for Matt Cooke? Is there any chance the Caps bring him back next year?

Tarik El-Bashir: Since he's an unrestriced free agent, it's going work two ways. The Caps have to want him back, but he must want to come back. When I talked to him recently about his future, he said he was planning to wait until the offseason before making any decisions.


Bucharest, Romania: Hi Tarik -- is there any talk of Jagr's contract coming off the books? It looks like he'll miss 84 points and probably won't be Playoff MVP; will this help the Caps be more flexible in resigning players or, since it does not count against the salary cap, not help out GMGM too much?

Tarik El-Bashir: The $3.46 million payment to Jagr looks like it will be coming off the books. It doesn't count against the cap, but it did count against Ted Leonsis's wallet.

Much of that money, though, will go towards paying for the huge raises owed to Semin, Ovechkin, Clark and (eventually) Green.


Arlington VA: Barry Melrose recently stated that if the Caps make the playoffs that Ovechkin is a "slam dunk" for MVP, but if they don't then he says it's Malkin. So if they miss out by a point or two he isn't MVP but if they get in by a point or two he is? Am I the only one who finds this to be completely idiotic?

Tarik El-Bashir: No you are not alone. The debate has been raging in press rooms around the league. The concensus is virtually split down the middle.

Personally, I think that Ovechkin has proven himself to be the league's MVP this season. I also believe that he still should be the MVP if the Caps miss the playoffs by a point or two.

But in talking to other reporters -- we are the ones who vote -- my opinion is not shared by everyone. It's going to be interesting to see how people vote.


Leesburg, Va:"I'm starting to get the feeling that it won't be Kolzig. "

Could you please expand on that a little further

Tarik El-Bashir: Kolzig wants to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL next year. He's also not too happy about the way things have unfolded the past few months -- and that's putting it gently.

I'll have much more on his situation when the season is over. He's pretty much told everyone that he doesn't want to discuss his future publicly because he doesn't want to become a distraction during the playoff push.


Newmarket, N.H.: Aside from the need to sign a starting goalie (Huet, Kolzig, other), what roster changes do you see the Caps making this offseason? Any word if Alzner is going to be NHL ready by next year? It seems that a rugged stay at home defenseman should be their primary target.

Tarik El-Bashir: A rugged stay-at-home D-man should be their primary focus, and I would surprised if they do not land one this summer. Also, when discussing the blue line, you have to consider Brian Pothier's concussion. Who knows when he's going to be ready to resume his career?

As for Alzner, he should be ready next season, but you never know until training camp.


Washington, D.C.: Why hasn't Boudreau been given a contract beyond this year? And does his possible interest in naming his own assistants have anything to do with that? Seems like a pretty big story: How come we haven't read anything about this in the paper/on the blog?

Tarik El-Bashir: When I have something to report on Boudreau's future and whether he plans to make any changes to his staff, I will.


Ashburn, Va.: Do you think that Kolzig will retire if he catches wind of Huet being re-signed, assuming they don't make it into the playoffs this season? or do you think it's more likely that he'd try to move to another team for one more shot? I know I'll be upset if Olie doesn't retire a Cap.

Tarik El-Bashir: Right now, I see him playing somewhere else next season. That's the sense that I've gotten in recent weeks.


Baltimore: How is Kozlov?

Tarik El-Bashir: I just saw Kozlov. He did not skate, but told me he is fine and will be ready to go tomorrow.


Emotional: Is it okay to weep tears of joy when the Caps come back against Atlanta, beat Carolina in the SO and overcome so-so play in Tampa to win in OT? If not, I'll proceed to the office shredder with my man card.

Tarik El-Bashir: There's no crying in hockey, man. Catch a grip.


McLean, Va.: Tarik,

What does the demotion of Sasha Pokulok to South Carolina mean for the former 1st round pick? Is it time to right him off as a bust?

And how is Viktor Kozlov? Will he be in the lineup on Saturday?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's probably too early to write him off as a bust. But he did not progress the way the organization hoped this season in Hershey. If he does not make significant strides over the summer and into next season, then it's probably fair to label him a bust.

From everything I've heard, he sure hasn't performed like a first round pick -- yet.


Tarik El-Bashir: Sorry about leaving in the middle of the chat, but duty called. The Caps had an optional practice, and I had to get down to the locker room to do some reporting. I'm writing my story for tomorrow's paper about Sergei Fedorov and the impact he's had in his short time in Washington.

I better get cracking on that, so let's chat again next week, okay?


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