Friday, Dec. 12 at 1 p.m. ET

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Friday, Dec. 12 at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions about the team and the rest of the NHL.

The transcript follows.

Post Coverage:

NHL News

Washington Capitals

Capitals Insider blog

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Tarik El-Bashir: Welcome back for another online chat and thanks for spending some of your afternoon with me. There's a lot going on today, so let's get right to your questions.

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New York, NY: What's your opinion on the goaltending situation? Will Boudreau ever say Johnson is the No. 1? Do you think Johnson has what it takes to be the caps main goalie for the season/playoffs, or do you believe the GM will trade for a bigger name if Theodore doesn't come around?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm not sure Bruce Boudreau will ever name Brent Johnson his No. 1, even if he ends up getting No. 1 minutes. That would further erode Jose Theodore's confidence and undermind management's decision to take a $9 million chance on a goalie who has been inconsistent in recent seasons.

Johnson is playing like a starter right now. But you have to wonder about his durability. He seems to have gotten banged up quite a bit over the past few years.

That said, I'm not sure the Caps expect Johnson to lead them to the Eastern Conference championship. Right now, they're hoping against hope that Theodore comes around.

If he doesn't, I think it's very possible GM George McPhee will be forced to make a move.

(And before you ask, Simeon Varlamov has been really good in Hershey. But he's probably not ready for the NHL just yet.)

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Alexandria: Who is this new practice goalie that is a WEB designer for the Caps. Is this the first time you can remember that the Caps have gotten a guy out of the cubicle to play practice squad hockey?

And no - I am not going to ask you about Nylander!

Tarik El-Bashir: His name is Brett Leonhardt and he's a web producer. He cuts and produces all of the videos on the team's site.

He's from Ontario, played some junior hockey and also played at Neumann College in Philly. He's about 6-7 and wears NHL style pads, so people often mistake him for a Caps goalie.

He's pretty good. But he's no match for an Alexander Semin wrist shot. (Then again, not many goalies are.)


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Austin, Tex.: Hey Tarik, wanted to drive down I-35 to see the Bears last night...couldn't make it happen, though. I wanted a close up look at Varlamov. Is the Caps brass happy with his progress? Is he the presumed No. 1 by 2010?

Tarik El-Bashir: I was talking to someone about Varlamov today. He's progressed to the point where if the Caps needed a goalie to start a game up here, he would probably be the guy.

I also recently asked one of the call-ups to compare Varlamov to Johnson and Theodore. He told me that Varlamov is one of the toughest goalies to score on in the AHL, and he's still getting better. But the player also said that both Johnson and Theodore are still tougher to beat.

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Greensboro, N.C.: I am a long (long) suffering Leafs fan. I have become resigned to the fact that Sundin does not want to play for the Leafs, and that maybe this is a good thing, but I don't think I can take watching him play for another team. Do you think he will actually play this year?

Tarik El-Bashir: Sounds like Sundin is coming back. Chicago? Vancouver? We should know shortly.

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Arlington, Va.: Why is Brian Pothier still listed on the roster? Everything I'm hearing is that he won't play again.

Tarik El-Bashir: Brian has not retired, and he does not currently have plans to. In fact, he's working out and recently started skating (really, really lightly) to see where he's at.

In reality, Brian faces a long road and might have played his final game. He realizes that. But he's also not ready to give up his career just yet.

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Kettler: So, I hear Ovy wore shorts and a t shirt on the ice this morning. What's the deal? Is he threatened by Sexy Theodore's movie star looks he decided to show off his gams?

Tarik El-Bashir: Ha! He went out for about 30 seconds in shorts a t-shirt, hockey gloves and a stick. I think he was testing out a new stick (or that sore shoulder the team denies that he has).

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Annandale, Va.: My neighbor Alexandria wouldn't ask you about Nylander, but I will. He is definitely struggling. Do you know if the Caps are still trying to move him?

Tarik El-Bashir: All of the injuries put the brakes on the Nylander to Chicago trade speculation. But now that the Caps are getting healthy again, I expect them to start heating up any minute now.

Nylander is really struggling to find his place on this team and in Boudreau's system. It's to the point now where I'm not sure he ever will. The problem is it's really, really hard to make a trade, especially when the player is older (36) and has a big cap hit ($4.875 million).

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Falls Church, Va.: When will the team rip the 'C' off Chris Clark's chest and put it on Ovechkin?

How long can we go without a Captain that can play and produce?

I like Clarkie a lot, but his time as Captain is up...we need our Captain to be on the ice to make a serious charge into the playoffs.

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't see it happening. The only way it does happen is if Chris decides to give it to Ovechkin.

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Frederick, Va.: Do you think we'll see an increase in production from Laich if he gets set on a line? He's been great doing the little things, but it would be nice to see him get on the board some more

Tarik El-Bashir: The key for Laich is to get steady time on the power play, plant himself in front of the net and jam some pucks in. That's what he did late last season, and if he's going to reach the 20 goal plateau again, that's what needs to happen.

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Brooklyn: Tarik: I'm on to you. Stop taking hatchets to player's legs while they sleep. Thanks - Caps fans.

Tarik El-Bashir: Shouldn't that be: "stop taking hatchets on players' undisclosed body parts?"

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Fairfax County: Yay, another chat finally!

Last chat, someone asked a travel question and you joked about Marriott points. Which raises a different question. Doesn't it make more sense for the beat reporter(s) to travel with the team, rather than via the cheapest method for the paper? Too many times I've seen you talk about connecting flights, travel conditions, etc. It would really stink if there was no game story in the Post the next day because you didn't make it to a game. I'm not suggesting the team pay for your flight, just charge you for a seat on the plane.

Tarik El-Bashir: Some beat writers do travel with the team they cover and pay for a seat on the charter. But the Caps and my bosses are not a big fan of that.

It would also put me in a strange spot. For example: let's say I see Ovechkin receiving medical attention on his right leg or shoulder on the plane. Everything that happens on the plane is supposed to be off the record. What do I do? I wouldn't want to be put that position.

Not to mention it doesn't work for on deadline, either. The team leaves right after games. I don't unsually finishing writing until 11:10 and then I don't finishing blogging until 11:45. I can't file or blog from 35,000 feet.

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Over The Rainbow: Not a question, more a comment. There is a lot of talk of the NHL and the economy, especially the smaller market teams, or the ones with lower attendance, possibly having to move. While Bettman denied this, it's a rumor that won't quit. Kinda glad the Caps tanked when they did...they are fielding an exciting team that casual fans feel is worth spending money on. Imagine if this economy was the season we traded Jagr...we would be one of those teams rumored to fold!

Tarik El-Bashir: That's an excellent point. It's also a good thing that most fans paid for their season tickets before the econonmy went into the tank.

As for next season's renewals ...

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New York, NY: What do you think of the leather-jackets, Metrosexual theme of the Verizon Centre Caps intro? "Sexy" Theodore seems to be lapping it up, but something tells me some of the other dudes weren't so keen...?

Tarik El-Bashir: You know, I laugh each time I see the picture of Brooks Laich with the hood on.

I don't know how the players feel; never asked. I guess the Caps wanted to appeal to the young ladies in the crowd.

I don't have a problem with it. But some visiting reporters have chuckled about it.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Although the general consensus seems to have been Mike Green, who do you think the Caps have missed most, or even least, during this crazy injury spell?

washingtonpost.com: Caps' Green, Fedorov May Return Tonight (Post, Dec. 11)

Tarik El-Bashir: Green without a doubt. Yeah, I know he has his moments in his own end. But at the end of the day, he's the Caps' best puck-moving defenseman and he also gets the job done on the PP.

Tom Poti would be the second most-missed Cap. But he's back now. And what a difference he made last game, huh?

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Board King: Do you really think Feds will be playing tonight? He seems to slow the game down whenever he is on the ice.

Plus, the ladies on the message board will be thrilled if he's back on the ice!

Tarik El-Bashir: Look like Fedorov is going to try to play tonight. But he didn't skate long this morning, and he was walking with a pretty pronounced limp when he left KCI. So we shall see.

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Washington, DC: Tarik, It looked like Bruce Boudreau wanted to match Osala against Lucic on Wednesday night. Was this a conscious effort, or did it merely work out that way coincidentally?

Also, how great was Ovechkin vs. Chara that night?

Tarik El-Bashir: Boudreau doesn't do anything by accident. And that's a great observation. Each time I looked up when Osala was on the ice, No. 17 in white wasn't far behind.

Ovechkin was asked about his check on Chara yesterday and he declined to say much. But his smile said it all. That hit that threw Chara into the boards was payback.

Ovechkin has only missed one game in his career because of injury, and that groin strain was caused by a Chara hit.

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Washington, D.C.: Ted stated in a recent XM204 radio interview that the Verizon ice is middle of the pack in quality, and that poor ice is not a factor in the rash of Caps injuries:

What do the players say to you? What do you think is the main reason for the VC's (poor) ice quality? Rumor has it that Abe Pollin, the building's owner, doesn't want to do anything to improve VC's ice that would involve $$$ (e.g., lowering the temperature or adding a dehumidifier, like they did in Toronto) because he no longer as invested in the team.

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps' ice is probably a little below middle of the pack. But it's not the worst. Both Chris Clark and Shaone Morrisonn have said to me that they felt poor ice conditions contributed to their groin injuries. But to blame all the Caps injuries on bad ice would be a huge stretch, not to mention just plain wrong. If I were owner of this team, I would demand better ice, not only for the safety of my players, but because it would be beneficial for Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Fleischmann and the rest of the young, skilled Caps.

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DC: Can you see Kovalchuk in a Caps uniform with all the trade rumors going on around him?

Tarik El-Bashir: Anything can happen. But you have to remember that building a team doesn't just mean going out and getting all of the high-priced snipers you can get your hands on. There needs to be a balance. Ask yourself this: do the Caps really need another Ovechkin-type winger? Or would that money be better spent on a veteran defenseman and/or a goalie?

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Lancaster, Pa.: Did any of the Bears get sent down? I'm particularly interested in Osala, who does not appear to have skated. It seems wasteful to send a guy down when da Bears are stuck out west.

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think any moves have been made (officially at least). But I wouldn't hold your breath on Osala. Doesn't sound like he's going to play tonight.

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Richmond, Va.: Tarik, can you help me understand the salary cap situation as it relates to players on IR? I'm sure hoping that Alzner can stay in D.C. for the rest of the season and am curious if the Caps have options to make that happen.

Tarik El-Bashir: When Chris Clark comes off LTIR, the Caps likely will have to send Karl Alzner back to Hershey. That is, unless the team makes another move to clear space. Getting a really accurate handle on a team's salary cap is really tough. But once a team puts players on LTIR like the Caps did with Schultz and Clark, anyone who says they know where the Caps stand in relation to the cap is lying. The cap nerds out there know what I'm talking about.

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Washington, DC: I've been to about 5 Caps home games already this year, and the attendance and energy level at this time of the year compared to years past is eye-opening. How much has this enthusiasm contributed to the Caps great home record, and have the players taken notice of this?

Tarik El-Bashir: It really has been a stunning turnaround at VC this season. But what did you expect. The Caps aren't only good, they have the reigning MVP and are exciting as heck to watch.
And yes, the players and coaches take notice. Players don't like to admit to this, but when they come out and the building is half full and quiet, it puts a damper on their spirits. When they come out, and the place is packed and loud, it has the opposite effect.

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Burke, Va.: Just a comment/question. I think the Caps have slightly benefited from having certain players OUT of the lineup. In a couple of instances, the younger players who have stepped in have outshined the regulars. Thoughts?

Tarik El-Bashir: The only call-up who has come in and outshined the player he replaced (at least on a consistent basis) has been Karl Alzner. But we expected that, right? He was the team's third or fourth best defenseman when he was cut in training camp.

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Fort Washington, Md.: Want to take this opportunity to say "thanks" for the great coverage of the Caps. It's good having a "Insider" to keep us up to date.

Tarik El-Bashir: Thank you for stopping by The Insider. Our numbers are WAY up this season, and the bosses are taking notice of the demand for more Caps coverage.

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Harrisonburg, Va.: In your opinion, with all of the injuries, has coach matched or exceeded the job he did during his Adams Award winning season?

Tarik El-Bashir: Since the Caps' injury situation went from bad to ridiculous in Minnesota on Nov. 24, the Caps are 5-3-0. So yeah, I would say Boudreau is earning his keep.

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Chicago: Where is Fleischmann? I don't think we've heard the full story of his injury. What happened? When will he return?

Tarik El-Bashir: Tomas Fleischmann had been playing through a calf injury (not sure if it's a strain or a bruise) for about a month. it finally got to the point where he couldn't play on it anymore. I saw him briefly this morning and he was limping pretty good. He sneaked out before I could catch him, though.

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Washington, D.C.: It doesn't really seem to me that Boudreau has any idea what to do with Nylander. He is often out there with 4th line guys right now and is seeing very little time on the PP or with any of the Caps skilled forwards.

This guy has been better than a point per game over his career and last year under Hanlon when the Caps were struggling to score he was the only bright spot on the team besides Ovie and he had a significant injury for part of that.

Am I missing something - is there a reason BB is giving Nylander almost no chance to succeed this season?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's a viscous cycle with Nylander this season. Boudreau doesn't give him big minutes, so he doesn't play well/hard every shift. But until he plays well/hard every shift, why should Boudreau give him 20 minutes on a top line? At this point, I'm not sure the two can work things out.

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Kremlin, Va.: Yes, there truly is a place called Kremlin in Westmoreland Co, Va.

Great job Tarik! Your coverage is superb!

The Caps seem like a great place to play hockey. They have a core group that have played together in the "A" and the NHL.

How important is it to a player to want to remain with an organization that he was brought up with. I am sure there must be more to it than money. Didn't Mike Green allude to Boudreau?

What is your take on it?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's different for every player. But it really depends on the person's character (and that's no different than in the real world). Some players want to win at any cost. They'll take less money and/or accept a trade to another organization in the hopes of hoisting the Cup. Some players (Ovechkin comes to mind) are loyal and patient and are willing to wait until their team is ready win. And, of course, some players play for the money. They might like the game and the lifestyle, but if they never win the Cup, they would just fine with that, too.

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Wake Forest, NC: I have to tell you that I enjoy reading the Capitals section of the Post online, especially the Capitals Insider blog. I really like the idea of the morning reading list, it makes my day to have links to different articles all in one place.

Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks. I will pass your kind words along to Katie, who has done a great job with that.

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Injuries?: Hi Tarik, It was great to see Semin on ice on Wednesday, though I cringed every time he got hit. When should we expect to see Green, Federov, et al, back in skating form? Any word from the Caps? Thanks for the coverage!

Tarik El-Bashir: Looks like Fedorov and Green will be back in the lineup tonight against the Sens. Poti and Johnson also were back on the ice this morning.

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Bethesda, Md.: Tarik, I still feel this team is going to need or even have to make a move towards the deadline. What position or player-type would assume the Caps would target? Any specifics in mind?

Tarik El-Bashir: If Theodore's play doesn't turn around, I would have to say goaltending will be the Caps' biggest need as the playoffs approach.

I hear Washington might be looking to move a second line center, and the 'Hawks might have an extra No. 1 goalie. Just kidding. Sort of.

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Marietta, Ga.: Great work this year, Tarik! Tell Katie she's a value-add.

Of the call-ups you've observed, who do you expect will be in a Washington uniform next season?

(I'm guessing Alzner and Sloan have a good chance at making the squad.)

Tarik El-Bashir: Just looking at things right now, I would have to say that Alzner, Osala and Varlamov have the best chance of making the Caps out of camp next season.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for joining me today. As usual, there were tons of good questions and a bunch that time would not allow me to answer. Anyway, thanks again and talk to you again soon.

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