Friday, Jan. 9 at 2 p.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 9, 2009; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir was online Friday, Jan. 9 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions about the team and the rest of the NHL.

The transcript follows.

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Tarik El-Bashir: It's been a busy day out here at K-Plex. Tom Poti was placed on long term injured reserve so the Caps could keep Karl Alzner on the payroll; Tyler Sloan was recalled to replace a hurting Jeff Schultz; and Nicklas Backstrom was named to the YoungStars Game, again. Caught up? Okay, good. Now on to your questions.


Washington DC: I don't care about the All-Star game. What I want to know is, with a healthy Fedorov and Fleischmann, is there any reason the Caps can't take first place in the East? Are the Bruins that much better?

Tarik El-Bashir: No, the Bruins are not that much better. They got more consistent (read: good) goaltending during the first half of the season than the Caps.

With Jose Theodore in a groove now, and the rest of the team getting healthy, I think the chances of the Caps catching (and then overtaking) them are pretty good.


Aldie, Va.: Ovie seems to be breaking a lot of sticks lately, ruining a number of quality scoring chances -- what gives? Bad shipment? New supplier? Feds/Semin playing a gag on him that has gone horribly wrong? Inquiring minds wanna know...

Tarik El-Bashir: Alex is notoriously hard on his sticks. Earlier this season, he switched from CCM sticks (the company he has an endorsement deal with) to Bauer.

But you are right, he still seems to be snapping them like twigs. That said, he's second in the league in points. So let's cut him some slack, huh?


Rockville, Md.: Hi Tarik,

What do you think the chances are that Michael Nylander is on the Caps roster in one week? One month? After the trade deadline?

Tarik El-Bashir: I said this earlier in the season, and I'll repeat it now: The Caps would like to trade Michael Nylander; he has little chemistry with either Alex, he's not playing well and he doesn't seem to fit Bruce Boudreau's style of play.

But making a trade is not easy these days because of the salary cap. And when the player you are trying to move is a struggling 36-year-old with a big contract, it's even harder.


Manassas, Va.: Okay, so Poti is on LTIR and can come off on Wednesday. What is your opinion that he will be ready by then, or does it look like he will be out for another full week to 10 days?

Tarik El-Bashir: I spoke to Tom this morning. He said he's improving, but at a much slower rate than he had anticipated. I'm thinking that since he's already returned prematurely from this groin pull once, the team is going to keep him out until he's 100-percent.

I would doubt he'll be ready to come off LTIR on Wednesday.

And with the team winning, there's no rush, either.


New York, NY: I think the goaltending, more than anything, will determine how far the Caps can go this year in the regular season and more importantly the playoffs. Do you think Theodore's "groove" will last? Is the "real" Theo the one from the beginning of the season, the one we see now or somehwher in between? What's your thought?

Tarik El-Bashir: Jose Theodore has been really, really good of late. In fact, since getting yanked at MSG, he's 6-0-0 with a 1.40 goals against and .948 save percentage.

He seems to be playing with confidence. He's not bobbling every stop me makes. He's steering rebounds to the corner. And the defense -- it should be noted -- is playing well in front of him.

That said, if I were Boudreau, I would want to see another month of consistent play out of him before feeling totally comfortable heading into the postseason.


Leesburg, Va.: Tarik,

I'm not familiar with the All-Star voting process in the slightest. I have no idea how it works, but I was watching the Rangers game last weekend and they flashed on the screen the starting line-up for the game...

I was kind of surprised to see that it was basically the Montreal Canadiens plus Malkin and Crosby.

How did that even happen, and doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose? If I wanted to see the Canadiens play, I'd just watch them play...

Tarik El-Bashir: When you allow fans to vote as often as they would like, that's what you get. It's a sham.


Kangaroo Court: Any fall-out in the locker room for Semin going all Ralphie on Staal the other night in his pink undies?

Tarik El-Bashir: I didn't notice anyone giving Semin a hard time. That said, I know a few of his teammates had a chuckle at his expense.


Alexandria, Va.: At this point, are the Caps legitimate Cup contenders with the roster as is, or will they be looking to add a piece at the trade deadline?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's an excellent question. And, honestly, I don't know the answer right now. With the team playing so well, is it really a good idea to tinker?

That said, if GM George McPhee can move Michael Nylander, he will.


Washington, DC: The way everyone talks about trading Nylander it sounds like it's a foregone conclusion that he'd waive his no-trade clause. Is that really the case? I can't imagine he'd accept a trade to just anywhere at this point in his career.

Tarik El-Bashir: I do think Nylander would consider it. He knows things aren't working out here in Washington.


Washington, D.C.: So is Nylander on the block again? Right now the Caps would be lucky to get 10 cents on the dollar, right?

Tarik El-Bashir: Here are the tweaks Commissioner El-Bashir would make: One fan, one vote for the starting lineup. I also would mandate that the best players get picked, not this one from every team nonsense. I mean really? Are folks in Toronto really not going to tune in if Tomas Kaberle isn't on the team?


Madison, Va.: How come they didn't pick you to be the back-up goalie a few weeks ago? Something in your contract with The Post?

Tarik El-Bashir: I've been day-to-day with an upper body injury for over six years now. That might have been why.


Ovechkin's Sticks: Your saying that he's snapping them like twigs reminds of the way Craig Laughlin refers to the stick as a twig. Say what you will about Laughlin, but his awe shucks silly euphamisms make me laugh.

Tarik El-Bashir: I grew up listening to Locker. That's probably where I picked it up.


Baltimore loves the Caps: Hey Tarik,

What is it about the Caps? I took my girlfriend to the recent TB game and she is not at all a fan of hockey, let alone the Caps. She fell in love. She thinks Laich is "a cutey" and loves Ovie. When we got home that night, she wanted to see YouTube vids of Ovie and is in line to buy a jersey. I mean, it's unbelievable. We're going back in February and maybe more. Why is this team so likable... even by people who don't like sports or hockey?

Tarik El-Bashir: You're not annoyed that YOUR girlfiend told you Laich is a "cutie"? Wow. I'm not trying to go all Dr. Phil on you, but wow.

Just kidding.

This team has that certain "something" about it. What's not to like? They're exciting to watch. Their coach is likeable, their star players have grown up before fans' eyes here in Washington, and oh yeah, they win. A lot.


NW DC: Is Ovie going to hit 50 goals? Is any other Cap close behind?

Tarik El-Bashir: I do think Ovechkin will surpass 50. He's on pace for 55, and he still hasn't started beating up on his favorite punching bag: the rest of the Southeast Division.


Baltimore: Whats your sense when you go into other cities and arenas around the league about this Caps team? I mean it's gotta be a complete 180 for you.

Tarik El-Bashir: I always tell people that it's a beat writer's reward for having to slog through back-to-back 70 point seasons.


McLean, Va.: Seems like a really cohesive team -- when was the last time you witnessed a fight at practice?

Tarik El-Bashir: Alex Semin beat up Bryan Muir in practice a few years ago. Haven't seen one since.


Washington, D.C.: Just heard Leonsis with be on the Sports Reporters this evening at 6...should be some good radio.

Along those lines how do you feel about driving all the media newcomers on the bandwagon?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's all about the Caps. I'm just along for the ride.


New York, NY: As the Caps were heading to the locker room after the Rangers victory last week, the camera caught Ovechkin poking at Greene with his stick and then it looked like he was yelling at him, almost challenging him. Did something happen between these guys?

Tarik El-Bashir: I would seriously doubt that it was anything serious. They are friends. In fact, this morning, Green was showing me the gold and diamond No. 52 necklace medallion that Ovechkin just bought for him.


Chicago: Why doesn't Alzner have that big of a shot? He seems pretty solid on D -- but he never seems to get good wood on his slappers. He often times misses the net on purpose -- trying to bank it in front off the back boards. I'd like to see him open up more -- especially when we get traffic. When he does let one loose -- they've got nothing on them -- especially when comparing to Juice or Green.

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great observation. Karl doesn't have a great shot and he does, at times, struggle to get it through to the net.

Also, when he misses the net just wide, he's doing that on purpose. He's trying to bank it back out front.


New York, NY: Tarik, you must mean that Semin slapped Brian Muir silly a few years ago?

Tarik El-Bashir: No. Semin actually drew blood with a punch to the nose.


Chevy Chase, Md.: What do you think the Caps are missing or need for a long playoff run?

Tarik El-Bashir: I still believe the Caps could benefit from one more veteran defenseman. As for who, in the coming weeks, it would be a good idea to start looking at the teams that are definitely going to miss the playoffs. I bet Phoenix, with its cash flow problems, also will be a seller.


Stone Ridge, Va.: Just curious -- where do the Hershey guys stay during extended call-ups? Corporate apartment? Hotel with room service? Ovie's swingin' bachelor pad?

Tarik El-Bashir: Both -- a hotel and, for those who are up long term, in a corporate apartment. Don't you remember the Jumbotron video last season that showed Quintin Laing using a walk in closet as a bedroom for his newborn?

Call-ups live large on the Caps' dime.


Helsinki: Hello Tarik, It seems that Semin is frequently out for extended periods with injuries that are rather vague eg "back." Are these legitimate injuries or is he particularly fragile? He is such a great player when healthy.

Tarik El-Bashir: When healthy and motivated, Semin is as skilled as they come. But he came to training camp with back spasms, and twice now those back spasms have returned.

It's also important to remember that every player has a different pain threshold. For example, Ovechkin's is incredibly high. Semin's? Not so much.


Scarsdale, NY: Okay, don't mean to jinx the Caps, but if they were to win the Cup, would it survive its day with Ovechkin?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't know. But I want to be there to cover his day with the Cup. I'm sure I could write a book about those 24 hours.


All-Star Game: How is all-star balloting a sham? If players have a big enough following that their fans vote once a minute all day, doesn't that mean that they deserve the start? Everyone got uppity that AO didn't make the starters, but 30 seconds after the puck drops the line changes anyway and he was a shoo in for the reserves. People need to calm down.

Tarik El-Bashir: The same fan, with or without the help of technology, should not be able to vote 50 times. That's why it's a sham.


Chicago: Looking to the offseason -- who's contracts are up at the end of the year? Who is a threat to leave at the end of the season? Anyone we should be worried about?

Tarik El-Bashir: Here are the big guys who will need contracts: Fedorov, Kozlov, Brashear, Fehr, Gordon, Morrisonn, Jurcina, Schultz and Johnson.

I think it's going to be tough to bring back Fedorov. Maybe, but tough considering his age and salary requirements.

Kozlov? Let's see how he finishes the season.

Johnson and Brashear? They are very good at their roles, and aren't expensive. But I don't sign the checks, and Simeon Varlamov looked good during his brief call up.

Morrisonn? If he wants $3 million per and a long term deal, he might price himself out of the Caps' range.

Jurcina would have been easy to peg early. But he's played so much better lately. Perhaps he's earned an extension.

Perhaps. Fehr, Gordon and Schultz will be back.


DC: Why dont we see you on TV like we used to see La Canfora?

Tarik El-Bashir: I do a lot of TV on Washington Post Live. It comes on at 5 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.

I don't come on much during the games, because the Post and Comcast no longer have that arrangement.


Baltimore: Tarik, two questions: (1) do you think there will be a significant trade to open up room for Alzner and any others from Hershey; and (2) what do you think are the most effective line combination and defense parings?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm running short on time, so I'll be brief. Yes, I do think the Caps will eventually make a trade so they can afford to keep Karl the rest of the year.

The best forward line in my opinion is Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov. (Not sure why Boudreau ever breaks them apart).

The best 'D' pairing of late has been Alzner and Jurcina.


Tarik El-Bashir: It's that time already, folks. I couldn't get to all of your questions, and for that I apologize. I've got to get over to Verizon Center before traffic gets bad. Talk to you again soon.


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