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The Washington Capitals: 2009-10 Season and Beyond

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Tarik El-Bashir, Lindsay Applebaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2009; 2:30 PM

Washington Post staff writer and Capitals Insider blogger Tarik El-Bashir and Washington Post Capitals and NHL Editor Lindsay Applebaum were online Tuesday, Oct. 6 to discuss the start of the Capitals' 2009-10 season, the future for the team, and The Post's coverage of it.

This Story

Caps Coverage

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Lindsay Applebaum: Hey -- thanks for joining us. I'm sure most of you will have game-related questions for Tarik ahead of tonight's showdown in Philly, but I'll be here to field any questions about The Post's hockey coverage this season and beyond.

We've ramped up our Caps coverage and added plenty of new features over the last season or so (morning roundups, Twittering, pre- and postgame videos, etc.) and feedback is always appreciated...or, more accurately, noted.

So feel free to throw anything -- ideas, questions, comments, whatever -- my way.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Good afternoon and welcome to the first Caps/NHL chat of the new season. I'm here with Lindsay to answer all of your questions about this season of high expectations for the Caps and the Post's coverage of it.

After five months off, we've got a lot to talk about. So let's get started!

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Fairfax, Va.: First chat of the new season -- yay!

Not a current question per se, but something that's bugged me for a while. You've said that the Post does not allow it's staff to vote when the results may affect the income of people they cover. If every news organization had that rule, no one could vote! It may be nice that the Post thinks it's above all that, but I know I'd be unhappy if the voting on an award came down to your missing vote, although I know it's not likely to ever be that close. Do you know how many other organizations have that same rule, and do you have an opinion on it's fairness?

Lindsay Applebaum: (Plenty of Nylander/Versus questions in the queue, which I'm sure Tarik is getting to after he deals with a minor technical difficulty...)

Well, you pretty much answered the question yourself, but let me try to clarify:

Tarik can't vote for Alex Ovechkin as MVP and then write the story as if he had nothing to do with it. Especially if a hefty bonus for Ovechkin is involved, as it was when he won the Hart in 2008.

It's not that The Post is "above" voting, but rather we feel we owe it to our readers to be objective.

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Leeguru: Tarik and Lindsay! Welcome back!

With the overload on defense, will we see a trade before the end of the calender year, or will Alzner and Carlson have to wait until the trade deadline, if they even get the shot at the bigs this year?

And why can't they make up a phony upper lower body injury for Nylander and trade him?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great question Lee, and one all of the organization's defensemen are wondering at the moment. On the surface, it seems like a positive to have so many D. But how do you think Brian Pothier is feeling right now? He works hard all summer, plays two good games and now he's sitting because Coach Boudreau doesn't want any of his eight D sitting too long.

And what about Karl Alzner? To me, he's definitely ready top be here. But the team is capped out and he would put them over the limit.

Something's got to give.

Over the summer, it seemed to me (and others) like Shaone Morrisonn might be a good candidate to be dealt, in part, because he earns $1.975 million and will be a UFA. But he's been very impressive in the first two games. If he continues to play like that, it will further cloud the situation.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey, just a comment here ... I love the use of Twitter lately, but Corey Masisak of the Times posts Twitter updates far more often than Tarik does, so I rely on Masisak's.

Lindsay Applebaum: Nice try, Corey. Get back to work.

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The Next Twitter?: What is it? And how are you guys going to use it to get more Caps stuff out there? Seems like you all are always up on new tools. And any chance we can bring back the shot tracker from the playoffs?

Lindsay Applebaum: The NEXT Twitter? Jeez, I don't know. I'm still getting used to the current Twitter, which, as many of you have probably also come to realize, can be a fantastic reporting tool and, alternately, one of the great annoyances of this century.

We're hoping for the former -- advice appreciated.

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Washington, D.C.: Tarik, welcome back. Love the new coverage. A couple of questions: Regarding Nylander, how is he being received in the locker room? Is he considered "part of the team" in the locker room? Do other players express their feelings about the situation?

Also, any word on whether they are actively trying to move one of their defensemen?

Tarik El-Bashir: From all appearances (and what players have told me), Michael Nylander is being a true pro though a nightmare of a situation. He's not complaining or making waves and seems to be committed to be ready just in case.

That said, he's always been a little aloof, and he's certainly more distant these days, which is completely understandable.

It's starting to look more and more like he's going to be in this awkward situation all season. If that happens, he will surely be one of the most expensive healthy scratches in history.

It's a tough situation for all involved. I'm not even sure where to assign blame, except maybe to team management for giving him a no movement clause in his contract (which expires after this season).

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Silver Spring, Md.: What's your thinking behind BB starting Varly over Theo tonight? Theo was phenomenal against Boston and Varly was pretty good against Toronto for two periods, but after that tough third period is this just a chance to redeem himself?

Tarik El-Bashir: Two things: I think Coach Boudreau wants to give Varlamov the chance to immediately bounce back from a forgettable third period against Toronto (though he was let down by his teammates). He also wants to make sure that both goalies get one game on the road and one at home early on.

I'm expecting Theodore to start Thursday at VC.

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Washington, D.C.: True or False - Tarik's entire wardrobe consists of black shirts?

Tarik El-Bashir: True. Black shirts with stripes. Got about 50 of them. Black shirts, I'm told, make one look thinner. Stripes help, too. So there you have it.

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Hi caphcky!: Now that you are a big time celebrity (people were asking for your autograph at the Caps Convention, right?) please help us settle this once and for all - is your name pronounced "Tare-ick" or "Tar-ick"? Or maybe "Tah-ARE-ick" in honor of Var-LA-mov?

Lindsay Applebaum: I'm going to guess Tarik (TAR-ick) is too modest to answer this one, but let me just say as a third-party observer that he was asked for autographs many times at the convention, and it was highly entertaining. One kid asked him to sign his jersey, even though Tarik explained that this would significantly decrease the value.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Tarik...

Chances that Theodore can play well enough first half that we can deal him to a playoff hopeful team?

How long do you think it is before Varlamov at least gets a chance to make this job his for an extended stretch?

Stockpiling GK...will we look to possibly move one of these at the deadline for that "over the hump" player? Potentially to package cumbersome contracts with them e.g. Theo, Nylander, etc.?

Do you think the Caps can maintain 30 percent on the power play all season???

thanks.

Tarik El-Bashir: I do think that Theodore could be dealt at the deadline. But two things would have to occur for that to happen: he would have to play well enough to attract another team's attention and Varlamov will need to prove he's mentally and physically ready to carry the load.

As for the Caps' power play, it's really clicking right now. But the sample size is very small. Thirty-percent is out of the question, though a league leading 25 or 26 percent is certainly a possibility. The key, as it was last season, is going to be getting their fair share of dirty goals from Laich and Knuble.

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Section 120: What is the team doing to address their tendency to relax in the third period? Strong starts, weak finishes seem to be their calling card at the end of last season, and there it was again against the Bruins ...

Tarik El-Bashir: I know Coach Boudreau has talked his players almost to death about playing for a full 60 minutes and about closing out teams in the third period instead of letting up.

Now, it's up to the leadership in the room to make it happen. Killer instinct can be learned from vets like Knuble and Clark. But the kids have to be willing to listen.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Do you see the Caps keeping eight defensemen all season? If not, who goes and how?

Tarik El-Bashir: I do not. I think one will be dealt. But GM George McPhee is likely waiting for another team to suffer some injuries. That way he'll maximize his return.

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Kingstowne, Va.: I've been pleased to see that the Post is finally giving the Caps more attention, and I hope this is a long-term thing and not just an "all the other teams stink, so let's cover the Caps" type of thing. But with that said, I think the Post still seems to operate from the viewpoint of "put the Caps on the front of Sports when they won the previous day; otherwise, stick them inside." The editors seem to have a predilection for filling up two-thirds of the front of the Sports section with enormous photos that are unnecessary (especially when they relate to a team the majority of DC-area readers do not follow, that being Maryland football). If those pictures were made smaller, there would be more room to cover the other local teams (at the cost of making the layout a little bit more complex, but still nothing like the New York Times' front page).

I guess what I'm saying is, it seems like the Post's "Powers That Be" are still reluctant to give the Caps the up-front coverage every day that they hurry to give the Redskins and Maryland. I know the "Powers That Be" like to cite "popularity polls," but that's bogus -- the news is the news. If "reader interest" drove the news, then the Post should not run any more stories regarding the war in Iraq!

Lindsay Applebaum: Part of me wants to agree with you and then high-five and shoot dirty looks at the "Powers That Be", but because there is a legitimate reason, I can't.

Here's the deal: The Caps are good, and getting better, but the Redskins are, as they say here quite often, our "bread and butter." We have several writers devoted to the Redskins and one (and some helpers) devoted to the Capitals. That could change one day, of course.

The other thing I like to remind people of is that there are some things -- interesting features, really newsy pieces -- we nee use our front page to call attention to.

Caps Insider readers make up one of the most well-informed, educated groups of fans I've seen - it's a devoted audience, and we know you'll find and read our coverage no matter where it is.

One final point: The Caps will be on the front page PLENTY this season, win and lose. Trust me.

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Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.: Lindsay, I thought the postseason coverage was great. Will we see more supporting coverage from the likes of Svrluga and Boswell (and the rest) once football season is over? Tarik's articles are required morning reading for me, but more coverage is always a nice bonus.

Loved the NHL '09 Preview section! I think I read every word, and I hope to see it every year.

Lindsay Applebaum: Thanks very much..

I hope we can steal Barry sooner (even if kidnapping is involved), but it's safe to say Tarik will have some company, writers and columnists, during, if not before, a postseason run.

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Arlington, Va.: I find it hard to believe how calling up Alzner cannot be seen as anything other than an upgrade on defense, and a significant one at that. Other than the supposed salary cap issues with calling him up is it because Boudreau has favorite guys that he doesn't want to sit? I just find it hard to believe that the Caps wouldn't enhance their defense solely for a 'cap reason'. That's like saying we have the talent but we can't use it because we can't afford it.

Yea, Alzner struggled for a few games last year but the kid is ready and he's already better than Murcina, Schultz, and Erskine. Why not give him some playing time early in the season so when we get the playoffs he's got some solid NHL experience under his belt?

Tarik El-Bashir: You make some great points. But the Caps really do have serious cap issues. They started the season less than $20,000 under the ceiling. If they were to keep Alzner, they would have lose salary somewhere else. And since he doesn't have to clear waivers, he's the easy choice to send down.

But there's something else to consider: If Alzner is not going to pay in a top 4 role, and will be one of the defensemen rotated in and out of the lineup, wouldn't it mke more sense for him to get steady playing time in Hershey? For now, at least? I think so.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I would love to get more postgame coverage from the Post. The ideal would be to have videos of the postgame interviews of Boudreau and some of the players, as opposed to simply one or two select quotes within the article summarizing the game.

Is there any hope of expanded coverage on the web site anytime soon? ESPN.com does a 30-second video with the highlights of most games, but a real Caps fan wants more!

Lindsay Applebaum: I agree that we need more video. My boss and I have been talking about an easy way to do some video after games, and if you check yesterday's morning roundup you'll see our first attempt at that. Aside from the amateurish camera-ing, let us know what you think.

(Flip cameras, by the way, are incredible. $200, HD and easy to use. And I swear, they've done nothing to get me to say this.)

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King of Prussia, Penn.: Tarik, do you sense that the Caps players who have been around for the past two seasons have found enough determination to bear down on all opponents and not put themselves in situations like last year's 3-1 deficit to the Rangers, or are they still learning in that regard?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's way to early to tell. But I can tell this: learning to "bear down" comes from experience. And all the youngsters are a year older.

I suppose we'll find out soon whether they've learned anything.

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Reisterstown, Md.: Just what you wanted - another Nylander question - Do you think the Caps are better off playing once and a while or making him a healthy scratch the rest of the season.

Tarik El-Bashir: I think it's possible they'll be forced to play him at some point, as soon as injuries become a factor. I just don't see im cracking the lineup right now. He doesn't fit on the third or fourth lines. And which player would you scratch in the top six in order to get him in?

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Bourque: How big of a blow was it to lose Bourque for nothing?

Tarik El-Bashir: It certainly was not the best management of assets, considering the Caps spent a second round pick on him and then four years developing him. That said, I was a little stunned by the level of outrage from fans. Bourque could become an okay player at some point in the future -- emphasis on "could."

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Baltimore: Regarding the cap issues with Alzner:

The Caps need to avoid using the bonus cushion unless it is a dire emergency; any money taken from the bonus cushion this year will count against our cap hit for next year - when we need to re-sign Steckel, Semin and Backstrom. Thus, use of the bonus cushion this year could cost us one of Semin, Backstrom, or Steckel next year.

Tarik El-Bashir: That's another excellent point re: Alzner.

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Reston, Va.: The way you phrased your role in today's chat ("I'll answer any complaints/questions/praises concerning our NHL coverage.") and previously comments by you (our regular season awesomeness will only make up for our laziness to this point) on Capitals Insider seem to indicate that you are willing to acknowledge that your coverage of the Caps has been incredibly sub-par up to the start of the regular season. I'm glad you're at least willing to admit that, because it has been horrible. Nothing like waiting until 5:00 PM in the afternoon for Tarik's one daily update from training camp or waiting four hours between his pointless tweets from training camp when there has to be something going on worth tweeting about at least every hour.

There were tons of guys fighting to make an impression at training camp, multiple scrimmages each day for the Duschene Cup, and all Tarik could muster one day was how "Neuvirth looked uncomfortable with a hanging neck guard." Seriously? You can't tweet with updates from the scrimmages? Can't tweet about who IN YOUR OPINION (not Bruce's) looks good, and who IN YOUR OPINION (not Bruce's) doesn't look good?

Which gets to my next point, Tarik rarely gives his opinion on anything. I'd love to get some analysis from time to time instead of just a bland reporting of the facts. For what's supposed to be the best newspaper and sports page in this area, you're coverage of D.C.'s best team has been pretty pathetic to this point.

Lindsay Applebaum: You hear that, Tarik? GET TO WORK. (Joke.)

Well look, I honestly don't think our coverage has been sub-par (if it is, I guess I'm not getting a bonus this year?), but I understand where you're coming from.

It's tough when you've got a long season ahead (not to mention an NHL special section to put out, which is what we devoted most of our resources to leading up to the opener).

Tarik is one person covering a team that plays 82 games, plus, depending on how far you think the Caps go into the postseason, several more.

My goal as hockey editor, is to have quality rather than quantity. We're simply not going to write about every prospect you'll probably never see play an NHL game when we can instead focus on producing compelling journalism - a good feature or enterprise piece.

We know we can't cover EVERYTHING (though we can try, and Tarik does tweet a lot, if you ask me), but we can make sure what we do cover is the quality you'd expect from the Post.

Also, Tarik's not a columnist, so his job isn't to opine.

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: It certainly appears that Alex No. 2 has bulked up quite considerably in the offseason ... any chance that he has started to take his conditioning a bit more seriously this season? I'm not saying that all of the chattering about his extracurricular activities last season had any truth to it, but he clearly was one of the least fit players on the team.

Thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: The past few seasons it's been tough for The Other Alex to stay in top condition because of injuries. The key for him is, and always will be, staying healthy.

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Kingstowne again: Thanks for the reply. I certainly understand the notion of how and why the Redskins will always get the first coverage, and I didn't mean to imply that I think the Caps should REPLACE Redskins coverage. If I made that argument, I'd be the same as a soccer snob, right?

My point is more that the Post has long had a tendency with the Caps to put them up front when they win and sweep them under the rug otherwise, and I'm hoping that perhaps that will no longer be the case, that now the Post will finally treat the Caps as an equal player on the DC sports scene. (I mean, heck, the reporting on so-called "local" football teams sometimes results in VPI--which is located in Blacksburg, of all places, i.e. further away than New York City! -- getting more prominent coverage than the Caps.)

Lindsay Applebaum: Nobody's ever an equal player on the D.C. sports scene (I mean, let's face it, we stopped regularly putting the Nats out front ages ago).

The Caps are definitely a priority these days -- we cover what our readers are interested in, and it's pretty clear people are interested in The Flying Ovechkins (Boston Globe reference)

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re Kingstowne: As a Terps fan, I wonder what Kingstowne's sample size was for the earlier assertion?

Lindsay Applebaum: Ha!

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Washington, D.C.: I have noticed Steinberg is giving the Caps decent coverage over at the Sports Bog - would he show up even more if they served free cheese in the press box?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great question. Do they sell Cheez Whiz on the concourse? If so, I'll buy some if that gets Dan out to VC more.

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Baltimore: How come the Caps did not buy out Nylander?

Tarik El-Bashir: The window for buying out Nylander has closed. The reason the team did not buy him out earlier is twofold: a) it's expensive and they still were holing out hope they could move him and b) the buyout would have stretched over four seasons. That's a long time to be paying for player who is no longer on the roster.

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Oak Hill, Va.: Tarik, it is now the third and final year of the three year bet I made with my friend about Backstrom scoring 100 points in a season. 100 points, I get 100 bucks ... anything less and I'm out 100 bones.

In this economy I could surely use a Swedish Stimulus Plan. You think no. 19 has it in him?

Tarik El-Bashir: Absolutely. This is the year. In fact, I would ask your buddy for the check now. So you can just cash it in April.

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NRV, Va.: Feinstein wrote that the Caps should have celebrated the Southeast Division Championship a little more - what do you think? Also, can we get rid of the faces on the retired jerseys - it is awful?

washingtonpost.com: John Feinstein: Capitals Should Revel in Every Banner Night (Washington Post, Oct. 6)

Lindsay Applebaum: On his blog this morning, Ted Leonsis said this: "Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Make a division championship banner raising have more celebration or play it more modestly? We have done both. I am fine either way but what do you think? Let me know."

The Caps' aspirations were much bigger than a division championship, and the celebration, to me, seemed appropriate. They wanted, and were close to having, more last season.

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New York, N.Y.: True or false: Beyonce had the greatest video ever?

Lindsay Applebaum: Don't you mean:

"True or false: Beyonce had the greatest video ever and also, what's the deal with Michael Nylander?"

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Washington, D.C.: Tarik, I REALLY dont want to sound negative about a guy who came in second for Norris trophy, but it seems like Mr. Green is taking up where he left off last year: making foolish 1-on-3 rushes up the ice like he's Bobby Orr, coughing up the puck when he's checked against the boards, and not doing a whole lot in his end either. Is he still favoring an injury, or forgetting that he's a defenseman and not a forward!!

Tarik El-Bashir: I was not impressed by the early portion of Mike's preseason. But after a shaky start, he seems to have gotten on track. Hois decision making was really good the second half of the Boston game and it was solid again against the Leafs.

As with a lot of things right now, it's too small of a sample size to make any judgements.

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Annandale, Va.: TEB: Thanks for your always excellent coverage. I'm one of many DirecTV subscribers that is caught in the Versus/Comcast mess. I don't see a quick solution, if any, here. I know Bettman is focused on Phoenix and other issues, but this one seems to be on the NHL suits' back burner. Do you see any resolution to this problem anytime soon?

Tarik El-Bashir: All I know is this: DirecTV and Versus better get their acts together. This has dragged on way too long and it's going start resulting in a loss of customers. Including this one.

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Ashburn, Va.: Thanks for expanding your hockey coverage! I'm a new "bandwagon" fan, but I'm having the time of my life learning about Caps hockey. It doesn't hurt that I can now watch the games in HD, I can actually see where the puck is going! Not a question, just kudos from a 48 year old woman.

Lindsay Applebaum: Thanks for the kind words -- bandwagon fans are welcome here, especially in the form of page views.

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Falls Church, Va.: I hesitate to ask, since it's worked great so far, but do you think the Caps will stick with having their two real net crashers, Laich and Knuble, on the same line, or will they spread them spread them out so one is paired with Ovechkin and the other with Semin?

Tarik El-Bashir: The offense is clickin right now, so I don't expect any changes at the moment. But as soon as the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin line starts over-passing, look for Knuble to swap places with Semin. In my opinion, that's the way it should have been from the start.

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Baltimore: Hi Tarik,

Thanks for all that you and your team do with the blog and Twitter coverage.

What's the deal with the D today? Why is Bruce sitting who he's sitting and playing who he's playing?

washingtonpost.com: TarikElBashir on Twitter

Tarik El-Bashir: Schultz will make his season debut and Pothier and Sloan are out.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for the chat, Tarik and Lindsay!

Backtrom and Semin are off to great starts this year. That of course, makes me start to get nervous about their next contracts. Have you heard any rumblings on those fronts? Is it possible we could see Backstrom get a lucrative long-term deal to stay here?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps' first priority is getting Backstrom under contract. That said, I don't get the sense that either side is in much of a hurry. It's going to be big. The question is how big and will the Caps be able to keep Semin, too. I know ownership wants to keep both players.

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Hershey, Penn.: Regarding Nylander, is it better for him to stay in shape by practicing with the Caps or by playing in games here in Hershey?

Tarik El-Bashir: He can't go to Hershey. For that to happen, he would have to waive his NMC and be assigned. And that's not happening.

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Beautiful Loudoun, Va.: How do Caps ticket prices compare with the rest of the league?

Tarik El-Bashir: Just about in the middle.

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Washington, D.C.: Good to have you both back. Isn't there 1 of 29 teams out there that would trade a prospect for Nylander? The Caps would get a future asset and unload a salary. Even if we waive Nylander, we would get half of the salary off the books, right? Right now, we are getting nothing.

Tarik El-Bashir: Nylander's contract (two remaining years for a total of $8.5 million) makes him, at 37, almost impossible to trade.

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Owosso, Mich.: When will Fleischmann and Fehr be back on the ice for games? Thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: Fleischmann should be cleared for contact drills in about a week; Fehr will be game ready by Thursday, though it doesn't mean he'll play.

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Owosso, Mich.: Hey guys! Who gets re-signed after this season and who doesn't? The Caps have fourteen contracts set to expire on their NHL team alone! Here are the numbers:

Alexander Semin - $5 million (RFA)

Nicklas Backstrom - $850,000 (RFA)

Brendan Morrison - $1.5 million (UFA)

Eric Fehr - $772,000 (RFA)

Boyd Gordon - $761,000 (RFA)

Tomas Fleischmann - $725,000 (RFA)

David Steckle - $725,000 (UFA)

Quintin Laing - $TBA (UFA)

Brian Pothier - $2.5 million (UFA)

Shaone Morrison - $1.975 million (UFA)

Milan Jurcina - $1.375 million (UFA)

Jeff Schultz - $715,000 (RFA)

Tyler Sloan - $640,000 (UFA)

Jose Theodore - $4.5 million (UFA)

Thanks and keep up the great work!

Tarik El-Bashir: I think Jurcina, Backstrom, Semin, Fleischmann, Gordon and Steckel will all be re-signed. The other players' future is less clear.

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Lindsay Applebaum: Well, Tarik might stick around a bit longer but I've got to get back to work. Thanks for the questions, compliments and insults -- enjoyed them all!

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"[C]an we get rid of the faces on the retired jerseys - it is awful?": Someone missed Saturday night's game!!!! LOL

Tarik El-Bashir: Yep. Gone.

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Washington, D.C.: Just quick kudos for Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley, and David Steckel from the Caps Convention a week or so ago. They couldn't have been nicer and more accommodating to the many kids that asked them questions and talked about their comings and goings in hockey.

It was a great thing to see that these young men are grounded, team-oriented, and humble as professional athletes. They truly did a great job, and the kids loved it.

Tarik El-Bashir: Those are three well-grounded hockey players. Doesn't surprise me at all.

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Reston, Va.: Tarik,

Is there any chance Ovie would be willing to restructure his contract if it meant keeping his buddy Semin in town?

Tarik El-Bashir: This ain't the NFL. Can't be done.

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arlingTON, Va.: I assume Fehr back means adios Quintin Laing?

Tarik El-Bashir: Adios Boyd Kane.

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Washington, D.C.: Thoughts on the toughest buildings to play in?

Where do you get an idea that the Verizon Center ranks?

Tarik El-Bashir: In no particular order: Montreal, Pitt., San Jose, MSG, Calgary and Philly. Verizon Center is fast moving up the chart, though.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you think that the importance of the game tonight against the Flyers (as both teams are expected to vie for the Eastern Conference crown) and it's winner will gauge just how far each team still needs to go to be hoisting the Cup?

Tarik El-Bashir: I wouldn't put that much emphasis on tonight's game. It's big, but these games will mean much more in the second half.

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Owosso, Mich.: If Theodore isn't re-signed, and so far it doesn't appear he will be, do you feel the Caps are comfortable with Varalmov and Neuvirth as their goalies going into next season? Thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: On one level it makes sense. But having Varlamov and Neuvirth -- two 21 year olds -- as the 1-2 on a team that expects to contend for the Cup in each of the next few years seems risky to me.

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Owosso, Mich.: The Capitals were close to playing in this season's Winter Classic, do you think they'll be in next season's game? Thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: I do think they'll be in next year's game. Does Caps-Rangers at Yankee Stadium sound appealing? It could happen.

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Washington, D.C.: Tarik - Wouldn't you agree that the goalie situation is where the Caps will make or break in this season? If you look at every NHL team that has sustained success there is either depth at goal or a goalie that can consistently stand on their head late in the season and in the playoffs.

While the Caps arguably have depth with three goalies, there has to be concern that it's fragile at best.

Tarik El-Bashir: You are correct. Until one of the three goalies proves he can enjoy sustained success, the Caps will have questions in goal. Coach Boudreau desperately wants to have that answered before the playoffs this year.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi Tarik,

How many sellouts you think there will be at the Phone Booth this season?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps are hoping for 41, but it all depends on whether the small amount of remaining tickets for some games get sold. If the Caps stay hot, there could be a packed house every night.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for joining us this afternoon. I stayed an extra 30 minutes, but still didn't get to all of your questions. I wish I could have answered them all, but I've got to get going. Until next time, take care.

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