Friday, April 4, 2 p.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 4, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Friday, April 4, 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

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Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps are selling out Verizon Center. They're setting records for T.V. ratings. Now all they've got to do is make the playoffs. What seemed unlikely just two weeks ago, today looks inevitable considering the scenarios.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by. Let's get going.

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Rockville, MD: Tarik,

Does Alex wear the "C" next year?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't see that happening. Chris Clark is the captain, and unless he decides to give up the 'C', he'll be the captain again next season.

Who knows if Ovechkin even wants the 'C'? He's doing just fine without it, if you ask me.

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Washington, D.C.: Since all the other games are obvious, who do I root for tonight: Ottawa or Boston? And, of course, rooting for no 3 points is at the top of the list.

Tarik El-Bashir: The second half of your point in the most important part. As long as the game doesn't go to OT, I didn't get the sense today that the players or coaches care who wins. They just want to know heading into tomorrow's game that they control their destiny.

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Frederick, Md.: What was the mood in practice today? Were they as jittery as I am -- or as thrilled as I am?

Tarik El-Bashir: Today's practice was very optional. But I didn't get the feeling that the participating players were nervous or jittery. Remember, they've been playing must-win games for about a month now. It's nothing new.

If the Caps do get into the playoffs, I think the fact that they've played so many pressure-packed games down the stretch is going to work in their favor.

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Ocean City, Md.: Tarik,

What a ride for the last month or so, eh? It must mke your job eaiser and more enjojable to be around the team now as opposed to the last couple of years.

Anyway, I noticed Ted said he will loose 10 million this year. I expect the payroll and attendance to continue to climb in the coming years so will this ever be a profitable franchise? Does it take 41 sellouts and a deep run into the playoffs for Ted to make money?

Tarik El-Bashir: Yes, covering a winning team on the verge of making the playoffs does make my job much more enjoyable. The players are easier to talk to and more cooperative when you need extra time.

As for the economics, that's a complicated question. It all depends on which figures you believe. But I've also heard that the Caps will still lose $7-10 million this season, despite getting revenue sharing. A lot of that can be attributed to the weak attendance at the start of the season.

Ted's wallet, though, could take a much bigger hit next season if attendance is not much, much stronger from the get go. Remember, he owes big raises to Ovechkin, Clark, Semin, Green and still has to sign a No. 1 goalie.

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Rockville, MD: Man, what a run! Feel a little bad for Ollie though, riding the bench and seeing all the screaming fans holding up signs of appreciation for Huet. How's he handling his odd man out status?

Tarik El-Bashir: Olie is being a true professional. But he's also not really talking much these days. He's a smart guy and a good guy and he knows that speaking out would only hurt the team at this point. So he's keeping a low profile.

I expect that to change when the season ends, though.

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Los Angeles: Hi Tarik,

Is there any sense or fear that Ottawa and Boston may conspire to play to a regulation tie to preserve their own self-interests and help keep the Caps out of the playoffs? Conspiracy theorists unite!

Please tell me I'm off my rocker here.

Tarik El-Bashir: You, my friend, are off your rocker. If you play for a tie, you're going to lose.

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Washington, D.C.: Would you say that McPhee's move at the deadline were the most astute of all the GM's? Also how active will we be in signing Huet and Cooke? Both are tremendous performers in their positions. Not taking anything away from Federov but these two players have years ahead of them.

Tarik El-Bashir: McPhee did a great job at the deadline. Not only did he get three valuable players without sacrificing the future (or committing to any big contracts), he got the RIGHT guys.

Did you notice the three stars in the Carolina game? 1) Huet, 2) Fedorov, 3) Cooke.

I think McPhee needs to to do all he can to keep all three. Could you imagine a team with Clark, Pothier and Nylander back from their injuries, plus Huet in net, Cooke on the third line and Fedorov centering that line?

Sounds good to me. The trick will be convicing the three to stay and take a little less than they might get elsewhere.

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Leesburg, Va: Is it just me or is Shultz starting to be a decent defender??

He was painfull to watch in the begining of the season.. But it looks like he is starting to be more relaible.

Thoughts??

Tarik El-Bashir: I agree. Early on, Schultz was clearly overwhelmed and frequently was getting outmuscled. But hat's not happening anymore. He's been solid since February.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Tarik:

Could you talk a little bit about the interest in the Caps from the rest of the sports reporters in The Post newsroom. Are any other writers besides Wise beginning to show interest? Are you ever actually in the newsroom, or do you work remotely most of the time?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm actually one of the few reporters who works from the newsroom a lot. With two little ones at home, I find it easier to concentrate at my desk. (I actually sitting there now.)

But yeah, I can't go five feet around here without someone saying something about the Caps. I even heard rumors that Tom Boswell might write a column on Saturday's game.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: What's wrong with Semin? Yesterday he didn't look himself... Do you hear anything from the coaches regarding his performance?

Tarik El-Bashir: I thought Semin played his best game as an NHLer against Carolina. But you're right, he didn't stand out as much last night. I don't think anything was wrong with him, like an injury or anything.

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Rockville, MD: Given the impact that the players feel that Sergei Federov has brought, do you think the Caps will try to retain his services along with Huet?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's up to Sergei. He's going to be able to make $3-4 million somewhere next season. I think the Caps would probably balk at a figure that high. But if he's enjoying himself as much as he seems to be, and he wants to come back, and he accepts a little less than market value, I think it would be wise for the Caps to bring him back for at least one more year.

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Alexandria, Va.: If/when the Caps make the play-offs... how much can realistically be expected to still be in their tank? This push has got to be wearing on them.

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great question. I've been wondering that myself. While on one hand I think the experience of playing in pressured situations will be a big help, you have to wonder if it's taking a physical toll.

But the Caps do have one thing working in their favor: their best players have young legs. And since the majority of them haven't been to the playoffs, I don't see them mailing in a single shift, much less a period or a game.

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Tampa, Fla.: Since the Lightning were so kind as to roll over and play dead for the Caps, could you please answer a Lightning question (they are in your division, after all): What went wrong? Stanley Cup champs to cellar-dwelling chumps in two seasons. Did they fail to adopt to the new rules? Lose too many key players (e.g., Khabibulan)? Is their system obsolete?

Obviously, they have to rebuild. Should they start with coach Toterella? GM Feaster? Trade Lecavalier?

Tarik El-Bashir: There are a couple of things that stand out to me. They paid way too much money to three forwards (Lecavalier, St. Louis and Richards), which left them with a bunch of third and fourth liners everywhere else. They've had a suspect draft history. Look at the Caps prior to the rebuild. Bad drafting can sink a franchise faster than anything else.

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Germantown, Md.: Tarik,

Do you believe that Bruce Boudreau's chances of getting the Adams is directly related to the Caps making the postseason?

Who else do you feel should be considered? Boston, Nashville, SJ? Thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: If the Caps make the playoffs, no one else should be considered. Period.

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Fairfax, Va.: Reminder for a RED OUT tomorrow night. Mass Hysteria!!!!

Tarik El-Bashir: I've got to say, it's pretty cool looking down from the press box and seeing nothing but red everywhere in the bowl. Reminds me of Calgary.

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North Capitol Street: Deep down inside--The NHL must be crossing their fingers that The Capitals get into the playoffs. An electric player in Ovechkin for a professional sports league in dire need of attention--during the playoffs You get that feeling?

GO CAPS!!

Tarik El-Bashir: You've got to believe the NHL is rooting for Ovechkin to get in. As are the television partners. But the league can't come out and say it, or every call on Saturday will be questioned by other teams.

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South Riding, Va.: With it possibly being Olie's last game with the Caps, anything planned this Saturday? Perhaps the fans could chant Olie instead of MVP at the end of the game. No doubt that Huet should be playing, but it would be a nice gesture of appreciation for what Olie has done for the team.

Tarik El-Bashir: I agree. That would be a classy gesture by fans. Olie has meant a lot to this franchise and this community.

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Washington, D.C.: I could understand the caps balking at $3-4 mil for Fedorov. But what if Huet demands the same amount? With the way he's been playing lately, I don't see why he wouldn't. Can the Caps afford to let him go with the small supply of No. 1 goalies available and how much he has meant to this team in the stretch?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think money is going to be the issue. Term will be the snag, if there is one. First, Huet must want to be here. Second, he might have to settle for a contract in the three-year range, rather than the five-year range.

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Ashburn, Va.: This may be a dumb question because I don't remember correctly. Was Bruce only brought in to finish this season? Was he extended a contract going forward?

Tarik El-Bashir: When the interim tag was removed from his title, I was told that he would finish out the season and that the future would be discussed in the offseason.

The Caps gaurd the length of management and coaches contracts very closely. I only find out when I get the information from someone else in the business. And I haven't heard anything yet. But when I do, I'll write it.

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Leonardtown, Md.: Who would be the best team for the Caps to play in the playoffs?

Tarik El-Bashir: Anyone but Pittsburgh. The Penguins are clearly in the Caps' heads.

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Los Angeles: Much has been made about Ovechkin's candidacy for MVP if the Caps don't make the playoffs. What about Boudreau for the coaching award if the Caps miss the playoffs?

Two years ago, baseball gave Manager of the Year to a manager whose team finished below .500. I realize there are a lot of great teams and coaches in the NHL this year, but what BB has done is nothing short of remarkable.

Tarik El-Bashir: The fact that Boudreau took over a last place team, one with six wins on Thanksgiving, and will have the Caps on the verge of the playoffs on the last day of the season makes him the coach of the year in my mind.

They've got the fourth most points (79) in the league since he's taken over, behind only Detroit, San Jose and Pittsburgh.

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Washington, D.C.: If the offseason economics forces a decision between Bradley and Cooke, who stays?

Tarik El-Bashir: If it comes down to money, it would have to be Bradley who stays. The Caps can keep him for half of what Cooke will want. Cooke, though, contributes more on offense. That's a tough one.

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Washington, D.C.: I find it odd on one hand that we receive no quotes anymore from the de facto leader of the locker room, but at the same time it doesn't surprise me, since he's no longer playing. Of course I'm talking about Kolzig. Is it odd for you and the others in the media to not go over to him for quotes? Is he even available for quotes after games anymore? I do admire his professionalism through all this. Just curious....

Tarik El-Bashir: It's very strange. He's still in the room during media availability, but he doesn't really want to talk since he's not really invloved anymore.

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Arlington, Va.: Hey Tarik. The Caps have so many young players that it seems like they could be a force in the league for many years. Will they be able to keep the young nucleus together? More specifically, what are the young guys' (Mike Green, for example) free-agent status after this season?

Tarik El-Bashir: Ovechkin is signed obviously. Backstrom and Semin are, too. Green is a restricted free agent and will get a huge raise. Laich and Morrisonn also need contracts, but they're RFAs, too.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think the thuggery initiated at the end of last night's game by Tampa Bay was mainly in retaliation for the hit and resulting injury to Levcavalier? According to your reporting, Tortorella called the check by Cooke a "cheap shot".

Tarik El-Bashir: That was absolutely payback for Cooke's perceived "cheap shot" on Lecavalier. BTW, I think the Lightning should be applauded for squeezing 39 minutes in penalties into 23 seconds. That takes effort.

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Union Station, D.C.: Tarik, do you or anybody else from The Post get a vote in any of the league's awards at the end of the season? Any notable voters from the D.C. area?

Tarik El-Bashir: I cannot vote per Post rules. Corey Masisak from the Times and one of the AP writers will cast votes for postseason awards.

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Rockville, MD: Is it frustrating to see local media (and even Mr. Tony & Wilbon) all of a sudden start talking about the Caps even though they ignored - or worse insulted - the team and its attendance numbers through the lean times? The misinformation coming from non-traditional hockey sources who just started covering the story can be frustrating!!

Tarik El-Bashir: Cut them some slack, will you? Don't forget, the Caps were really, really bad for three seasons. Welcome them back with open arms, I say. More coverage is good.

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Warrenton: Tarik,

What is the scenario going into tonight's session for the Capitals? Is there any way Carolina loses tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't see Carolina losing. The best thing for the Caps would be having Philly lose and Ottawa and Boston settle the score in regulation.

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Ovechk, IN: What an amazing season by Alex Ovechkin!

He has 13 more goals than the second place scorer. When was the last time there was a gap that large?

Tarik El-Bashir: Pavel Bure in 1999-00 finished ahead by 14 goals.

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Falls Church, Va.: Will the Lightning be fined for sending their guy out there with 16 seconds left to start that fight?

Tarik El-Bashir: We should know by 4. That's usually when the league hands out fines and punishments.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tarik -- I can't find a replay of Cooke's hit on Vinny last night. Is there a sense among any of the Caps that it truly was a "cheap shot" -- I don't recall it looking that way at all.

Tarik El-Bashir: Everyone I talked to today (Cooke wasn't around) said it looked to them like Cooke was aiming for Ouellet, who was carrying the puck along the boards. Then Vinny just got in the way.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for joining me today. As much as I would love to stick around and answer all of your questions, I've got a story to write. Take care.

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