Friday, Jan. 23 at 1 p.m. ET

The Washington Capitals

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 2009; 1:00 PM

Live from Montreal, Washington Post staff writer Tarik El-Bashir took your questions about this weekend's All-Star Game, the Caps and the rest of the NHL.

The transcript follows.

Full Coverage: Washington Capitals

Tarik's Blog: Capitals Insider

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Tarik El-Bashir: Hello everyone and thanks for joining me this afternoon. I'm set up here at the media hotel in downtown Montreal, where its snowing and frigid. That said, it's still Montreal, the best city (outside of Washington, of course) on the NHL circuit. Let's get to your questions.

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Montreal, Canada: Why the new paint job on Theo's mask? I noticed the company name on the helmet changed, was that the reason for a new mask? Great articles and blog!

Tarik El-Bashir: I think he was not completely satisfied with the blue mask he's wearing now. When it arrived, it had a huge Reebok logo on the forehead (which he has since painted over). The new one has a very similar paint scheme, but it's an Itech design, which is the brand he wore in Montreal years ago.

He told me he plans to wear it in practice a few times before wearing it in a game.

Personally, I love the new red mask. It might be the best/most detailed mask in the league.

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Arlington, Va.: Hey Tarik, I know you mentioned it in an earlier post, but how nice (minus the the weather) is it being in Montreal?

washingtonpost.com: Capitals Insider

Tarik El-Bashir: This city is all about hockey. You can walk 10 meters without seeing a Canadiens jersey or hat or scarf. And given that it's the 100-year anniversary of the Habs, I've got the feeling the NHL is going to pull out all the stops this weekend.

Really looking forward to it.

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Spotsylvania, Va.: Are the Caps going to have a third jersey? If so, when?

When is the league going back to home white jerseys?

Tarik El-Bashir: I asked about the possibility of an alternate jersey not so long ago. I was told by Caps officials that they want to "build brand equity" in the red and white jerseys before adding another one.

But I would not be surprised to see the Caps go to a blue jersey with the "weagle" on the front in the future. Considering they have several of the NHL's hottest players, there's a lot of money to be made from a third jersey.

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Washington, D.C.: Tarik - now that Gary Bettman is threatening to suspend absent players from the ASG, do you know whether Backstrom will be attending?

Thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm pretty sure that Nicklas won't be here this weekend -- Bettman ultimatum or not. One does have to wonder whether he would have been Crosby's replacement had he already been here.

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Washington, D.C.: In a story on what the Caps must fix in the second half, how can you leave out Backstrom's faceoff percentage? It's having a major impact on offensive chances. It's the reason that Backstrom has only 3 points at even-strength in his last ten games, and that AO has only one in eight games.

washingtonpost.com: Caps Still Have Room To Improve (Post, Jan. 23)

Tarik El-Bashir: As you know, the space allocated for stories in the paper edition is limited. So I decided to stick with team issues/problems/deficiencies. That's also why I did not mention the struggles of Chris Clark and Michael Nylander, who have scored a combined five goals.

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Front Royal, Va.: Any reaction from Backstrom blowing off the YoungStars game? And how exactly does the NHL not have a Red Wing in the All-Star game - no Datsyuk?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm hoping to write a story for Sunday's paper about how so many players are blowing off the ASG because of "injuries". Funny thing is many of the no-shows have not missed any time with their teams.

It's something the league must address.

I thought there was a marketing "partnership" between the players and the league now. Not so much if a half dozen all-stars decide to take the weekend off.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you see any rift between Semin and Boudreau concerning the coaches comments about stupid penalties and selfish play?

Tarik El-Bashir: Boudreau holds his players accountable for their actions and he calls it like he sees it. More coaches should be so bold, in my opinion.

Star players who repeatedly make the same selfish mistakes should be called out. (Not to mention it makes for great copy, and I am in the business of selling newspapers.)

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Baltimore: If a player is waived, does his salary count against the salary cap?

Tarik El-Bashir: If a player is waived and assigned to the club's minor league affiliate, his salary no longer counts toward the cap. The club still must pay the player his entire NHL salary, though.

The Devils did this with a number of players a few years back.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Hi Tarik, My question is in regards to our goalies. Theo has been in my opinion playing great here as of late. Is the same impression you have and how about with the coaches? Do you think they now view him as our #1 goalie?

Tarik El-Bashir: Theodore is without a doubt the Caps' No. 1 goalie now. He has been very good, in my opinion, for about a month now.

Coach Boudreau was very critical of Jose earlier in the season, but he has been less critical in recent weeks, even when Theo has allowed a bad goal. That tells me that Boudreau is finally starting to believe in him.

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Elkton, Md.: Tarik,

What is your feeling on the mood in the locker room in regards to Michael Nylander and the trade rumors?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a tough question. There is a lot of support in the room for Clark, so Boudreau has to be careful when he scratches the captain. I don't get that feeling with Nylander.

Nylander is a pro's pro. He shows up early and works hard at his craft. But he doesn't seem to be as tight with all of his teammates. For example, when the team plays its rebound game after practice, I rarely, if ever, see Nylander take part in that team-building stuff.

So I'm not sure how the other players would react if he were traded. But I don't think it would cause too much tension, if any.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: "Baltimore: If a player is waived, does his salary count against the salary cap?"

"Tarik El-Bashir: If a player is waived and assigned to the club's minor league affiliate, his salary no longer counts toward the cap. The club still must pay the player his entire NHL salary, though. "

You have repeatedly reported that Nylander has a NTC, which is incorrect. He has a NMC, which means that this is not an option for the Capitals.

Tarik El-Bashir: I did not make any mention of Nylander in my answer.

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Alexandria, Va.: Tarik,

Do you prefer Molson or Labatt's with your poutine?

Tarik El-Bashir: Molson with my poutine, please.

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Washington, D.C.: Does anyone from the NHL address the difference between "Real" All-Stars and the "Fans" All-Stars. Between all the undeserving Canadians, no Red Wing, and the reigning MVP not starting, I see this game as a JOKE! Is anyone embarrassed?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's more of a statement than a question. But you are not alone in feeling "embarrassed" by the situation. I've heard from dozens if not hundreds of fans who are disgusted with the selection process -- for the starters and the reserves.

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Newark, Del.: Backstom was getting roasted on HNIC Radio Thursday for skipping the Young Stars game, since he had no "phantom" injury to cover his decision.

Should players, like Backstrom, Sid and all the Wings, at least GO to the festivities even if they aren't going to play, since the game is really just an excuse for sponsors to schmooze with the players?

Tarik El-Bashir: As I mentioned in a previous post, I feel players who are asked to participate in the game/fesitivities should do just that. If a player has an injury, that's one thing. But if he simply wants to rest (or take a vacation) then he ought to rethink his priorities. The NHL -- and his enormous salary -- are made possible by fans (and sponsors).

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College Park, Md.: Tarik, great work on the blog and paper. I think the Caps still need to add a big defenseman ala Brendan Witt for a playoff run. Do you think anyone could be on the move outside of Ovie, Green, Backstrom and Semin?

Tarik El-Bashir: GM George McPhee would love to add another veteran defenseman. So would a dozen other GMs.

I think that if John Erskine can continue to play the way he has since coming back from the concussion, Tom Poti stays healthy and Brian Pothier is able to return this season (don't laugh, he's making some serious progress) the Caps' 'D' will be in good shape. The salary cap won't be, but the blueline will.

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Reston, Va.: Tarik,

Great analysis of the team to date. It confirms what I've thought, that it's a team with a lot of strengths that can cover up weaknesses. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't, and seems to have wild swings like the stock market.

Will time/maturity help the process? (they seem to have 'gelled') There'll be some new folks next year will that help?

As it is now, I get the feeling that the Caps can get hot, win the Cup, or get waxed in four games in the first round.

Tarik El-Bashir: At the start of the season, I thought the Caps were a year away from making a serious Cup run. Now I'm starting to think this could be the year. We'll find out on March 4 (the trade deadline) if GM George McPhee shares my optimism.

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Tarikville, D.C.: Do you think the NHL All-Star weekend will be coming to DC in the next 3 years?

Tarik El-Bashir: I asked Ted Leonsis about this a few months ago. He told me that the team's first priority was to build a consistent winner. Then they would turn their focus to hosting NHL events.

I have to imagine, though, if the Frozen Four goes smoothly, that the NHL will target DC for the ASG or draft in the near future. Downtown DC has become a happening place in recent years and Verizon Center has become a top notch building with all the updates.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I like Clark, but what does Clark do off the ice and during practice to get the respect of his fellow teammates? Does he use the other veterans like Federov and Brashear to get his message across to younger players?

Tarik El-Bashir: As Boudreau mentioned earlier this season, it's tough for a captain to infuence the room when he's stuggling. And no one is struggling as much as Chris is right now.

That said, Ovechkin and Backstrom have really embraced their expanded roles in team leadership. Neither says very much between periods, but they lead by example every shift.

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Olney, Md.: On the salary cap note: what teams might be on #92's short list of acceptable locations?

Tarik El-Bashir: He spurned Edmonton and chose Washington because he wanted to live in a cosmopolitan area. So I would have to believe that is still atop his list of requisites.

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Pentagon: Tarik. What do you see happening with Alzner?

Keep up the great work.

Tarik El-Bashir: I think GM George McPhee would like to make a trade and clear some space for Alzner. But if that doesn't happen, Alzner will return for the playoffs.

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Toronto: With the salary cap not playing a role during the playoffs. What do you the chance of Alzner and Varlamov playing a much bigger role during the playoffs? Could Varlamov play a Steve Penny role?

Tarik El-Bashir: I definitely see Alzner playing a huge role in the playoffs. As for Varlamov, the goalie situation still hasn't completely played itself out yet. It's way too soon to speculate.

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Baltimore: Speaking of Montreal, my college-age son visited Montreal with a couple of friends during his winter break. They went to a college hockey game, and between periods these pee-wee teams, maybe 5-year-olds, came out to play hockey. They start 'em young up there.

Tarik El-Bashir: Yep. They start them early in Canada. But they're starting them early in Virginia, too. My 4 1/2 year old boy is already playing, and there must be two dozen kids in his mini-mite program.

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Reston, Va.: Actually, in regards to the ASG, Frozen Four, and Verizon Center. The arena's been different than other new buildings that open up as shiny new toys that lose their luster over the years, but the re-vitalization of the area has vastly improved the facility over the last decade.

Tarik El-Bashir: There are only a few cities that say that have a state-of- the-art arena in a prime location. DC can claim that now.

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Columbia, Md: With Crosby not playing in the actual ASG, do you know who's going to be taking his place as a starter?

Tarik El-Bashir: I was just making some phone calls about that. Sounds like it will come down to Alex Ovechkin or hometown favorite Vinny Lecavalier.

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Washington, D.C.: Tarik, what does Boudreau see in Jeff Schultz? He is not fleet of foot and he gets shoved around like a pylon by the likes of a Martin St Louis. It seems many opposition scoring chances are created of Schutlz turning the puck over or getting run over (which happens often)

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps feel that Schultz, with some more maturity and experience, can become a reliable stay-at-home defenseman who can get the puck to his forwards with efficiency. He's a work in progress at the moment, and there's only one way for him to get that seasoning.

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Owings Mills, Md.: Tarik,

Is it ok to use the "P" word yet? Thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: Yes. Use the 'P' word whenever you would like.

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Fredericksburg, Va.: Since Varlaranov has a 2-0 record and high save percentage, why isn't he Theo's backup until Johnson gets back?

Tarik El-Bashir: Varlamov has had some injury problems of his own. But you also don't want to call up a top prospect goaltender and sit him on the bench. If he's healthy, he needs to be playing not sitting.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Tarik, I am wondering what your take on Alex Semin is. Do you ever think he'll speak to the media in English? Do you even think his standoffishness should be an issue?

Tarik El-Bashir: Semin is still uncomfortable speaking English to reporters and teammates. His English is improving a little, however. I have had some very short conversations with him. But I can tell he still doesn't understand everything I'm saying.

I don't think his limited English is a problem in the room. But it does affect his relationship (to a certain extent) with his North American teammates because they can't communicate.

It also affects me, because I can't ask him about his magnificent goals, or his boneheaded penalties.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for joining me this afternoon. I wish I could stay longer, but the media availability for players is going on now. Enjoy the weekend's events.

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