Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers: Will Semin play? Is Ovi a 'dirty' player? What's going on with Nylander?

Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post staff writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer and Capitals Insider blogger Tarik El-Bashir took your questions about the Caps as they prepared to play the Florida Panthers.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Good afternoon everyone, and thanks for dropping in. It's been a long time since our last hockey chat and I know you've got tons of questions. So let me get right to answering them.


Smyrna, Ga: Will Semin play tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: Alexander Semin will indeed play tonight after missing seven games with a wrist injury. He'll be on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich.


Baltimore, Md.: I thought Ovie's annual salary was $9.5 or $10 million? During his 2 game suspension he forfeits about $100,000. This only comes out to $4.1 million over 82 games. Escrow isn't that high, is it?

Tarik El-Bashir: He makes $9 million this season. The fine is calculated by dividing his salary by 192 days, which is the length of the season.

If he gets into more trouble with the NHL down the road, the next fine will be his salary divided by 82.


Washington, D.C.: Glad you're doing these chats again, Tarik.

Do you get the sense that Varlamov is now the #1 goalie, or do you think more games need to be played for the #1 position to solidify?

Tarik El-Bashir: Coming into the season, I felt that Varlamov and Theodore would get equal time (or close to it) in net. And I still feel that way.

Boudreau is not overly concerned with his goalie's feelings. He just wants to win and for his netminders to produce. So, just like last season, he's going to play the goalie who is on a roll.

I don't see Boudreau changing his stance on that.


Washington, DC: Putting aside the Ovechkin issue, what seems to have slipped below the radar is the Nylander matter. In my view, the Caps have a big black eye from that. I have no problem with the original decision to sign him given that Hanlon was coach at the time and Nylander's style fit his system. But since then, it has been a fiasco. Are you really going to tell me that Boudreau can't find a way to make use of his skills? McPhee looks horrible because of the big cap hit Nylander causes, which prevents the Caps from spending that money elsewhere to improve the team (i.e., the defense). As far as I can tell, Nylander has been very classy, but the Caps look awful. Comments?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Nylander mystery has been a tough nut to crack. But believe me when I say that barely a day goes by that I'm not trying to crack it.

I'm dealing with one of the most secretive GM's in pro sports as well as a very private athlete, who doesn't talk much to people outside of his small inner circle.

You also have to remember that Nylander has $5.5 million reasons to stay silent on the matter. He is not going to do or say anything to jeopardize this contract.

Boudreau tried to get Nylander to adjust his style of play to better suit what the Caps are trying to do. Nylander did not and that led to friction between the coach and player.

Both are very set in their ways, and it kind of became a standoff between the two. Neither blinked, and that's led us to the current situation.

Nylander was sent away from the team because a) he wasn't going to get into the lineup no matter what and b) team management doesn't like injured/scratched players hanging around because it can drag the group down.

Nylander has the option to go play in the KHL, but has so far the team and the player have not been able to agree to the terms of such a loan. It's a complicated matter. Nylander wants the freedom to switch teams id/when he wants; the Caps want to ensure they get paid by the team that takes him.

The Caps, obviously, want rid of him and the $4.875 million cap hit that's killing them right now. But Nylander wants what is best for him and his family. Which is his right -- the Caps signed him to the deal and gave him the no move clause.

I also think he's not in much of hurry given the way he's been treated. Would you?


Arlington, Va.: Have you talked to Corey Masisak since the news across town?

Tarik El-Bashir: I have talked to Corey, and I feel for him right now. I just hope everything turns out okay. He works hard and is a good guy.

It's a tough time to be in the newspaper business -- and everyone in Washington just got reminder of that.


Injuries?: Tarik,

To what do you attribute the sudden increase in injuries throughout the NHL this season? It seems that players are getting injured much more frequently than ever before. My theory is that the players are getting bigger, faster and stronger while the equipment is getting lighter. What do you think?

Tarik El-Bashir: You make a great point. Players are bigger and faster than ever before. Composite sticks are allowing players who used to have average shots fire the puck much, much harder.

Skates, too. When I was a kid, skates were the heaviest piece of equipment in the bag. Not anymore. But they also do not provide the type of protection they used to provide.

Still, I think the biggest factor is the size and speed of the players as well as a general lack of respect for opponents (and head shots specifically.)

Hits that seemed violent 20 years ago are just ordinary hits in today's game. Games 20 years ago that made you sit back and say, 'Wow, that was a physical one' are just an average Tuesday night these days.

I don't know what the answer is, but something's got to give.


Annapolis, Md.: Will the caps sign Nicklas Backstrom to an extension? I'm assuming they will!! Just hope we don't lose too many guys, this team plays so well together.

Tarik El-Bashir: Yes. I don't think you have to worry about Nicklas Backstrom coming back. He'll get locked up, and locked up long term.


Washington, DC: When will Poti be back? Do you think him being out is the main reason the PK has been lousy the past few weeks?

Tarik El-Bashir: Tom could return Saturday, Boudreau said this morning. And yes, his absence has had something to do with the PK's struggles.

Poti is at his best when the Caps are shorthanded. When he gets the puck down low, you can count on him to get it out. The same cannot be said for some of the Caps' other D-men, who often blindly try to bank the puck off the glass.


Floris, Va.: How many first round draft choices would the Caps give up for Eric Stahl?

Tarik El-Bashir: Nylander and a first? Just kidding. Eric Staal isn't going anywhere, especially not to the 'Canes biggest rival.


Washington, D.C: Tarik, Enjoy Capitals Insider immensely and thank you for your efforts. Quick question - as much as I admire the character (& skill) of Matt Bradley and his willingness to be our tough guy is there any way you foresee us getting someone better suited to dropping the gloves? Is it possible that Nylander could be traded for a brawler? Your thoughts on our chances of adding an enforcer and thanks again for your coverage of the Caps -

Tarik El-Bashir: I heard rumblings a few weeks back that the Caps were putting out feelers for a (cheap) heavyweight. The problem is that they would have to clear space to make any such deal.


Centreville, Va.: Do you think the league will do anything about these long-term front or back loaded contracts in the near future? Or will it be tabled until a new CBA comes around? Just saw the Bruins lock up Savard until he's 40...

Tarik El-Bashir: I hope so. These contracts are getting ridiculous. I can guarantee that long term, front loaded deals will not be permitted under the next CBA.


Falls Church, Va: The Caps have a load of RFAs who seem clearly due for raises next year. Any word on negotiations for the guys not named Backstrom or Semin?

Tarik El-Bashir: Semin and Backstrom are the priorities. Whatever's left will go to the other RFAs. While that may sound cold, that's just a fact of life.


Denver: Hi Tarik. Looking forward to seeing the Caps when they hit Pepsi Center in a few weeks.

I know Mike K. can come off the LTI on 12/9. Will he be ready by then?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm told Knuble is planning to play in Buffalo, which means he should definitely be ready for the Avs.

Can you just make sure it doesn't' snow this time? Last time I was out there I got stuck at the airport for a bit. That [stunk].


Arlington, Va.: Hi TeB -

For a team that has yet to really show any sustained effort over several games, does this lead you to believe that the team is saving it for the stretch run/playoffs...or is this what we should expect all year? Also, how different will the roster look after the trade deadline? I'd say the marginal players, like Fehr, are finally starting to show what they are capable of.

Tarik El-Bashir: Absolutely. Many of the Caps have had their eyes on the playoffs since September. But being that they're in first place in the East, they haven't been taking it too easy.

It's important for teams to peak at the right time. The right time in May/June, not November/December.

As long as they continue to show growth from month to month, they should be just fine.


Alexandria, Va.: Do you think Perrault will stay with the Caps through the rest of the season - even once all the other players are healthy?

Tarik El-Bashir: I do not think he'll spend the whole season here. Perreault has played very, very well and has certainly boosted his stock long term. But because he can be sent back to Hershey without clearing waivers, when the team is forced to make a move, he'll be the guy who gets the bad news.


Owosso, Mich.: With Backstrom and Semin taking up a lot of free cap space next year, do you see Morrison coming back next season? He has been a great pick up for the team. Thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: The Brendan Morrison signing is looking really, really good for both sides right now.

If it were up to me, I would re-sign him. The problem is that if he keeps playing well, he's going to price himself out of the Caps' budget.

He definitely likes playing here, but there have been no discussions on an extension, according to my sources.


Arlington, Va.: What is your initial take on how Leonsis' acquiring the Wiz and Verizon Center will change the Caps? Both financially and operationally.

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think it's going to have a huge impact on how the Caps are run. From a financial standpoint, however, it will be huge.

Ted will finally get to share in all the revenue streams (like club seating and beer) that the Caps are not benefiting from right now.

I also think the Caps will get better treatment from the building. If Ted wants better ice, he'll get it. He won't need to ask for someone else's permission.


Greensboro, N.C.: Hey Tarik,

When Poti comes back, does that automatically mean Alzer is going back down?

Tarik El-Bashir: That is certainly possible. The Caps do not need nine defensemen, especially given their cap problems.


Mount Vernon, Va.: How much English does Semin really know?

Tarik El-Bashir: Much more than he lets on. He understands everything that is said to him, and more and more, he's speaking in the dressing room. That said, he does not speak to reporters without an interpreter.

I've definitely heard him say things like, 'Hey, what time is the plane?'

So it is improving. I think he's just not comfortable speaking publicly.


Great Mills, Md.: Hey Tarik, with key players out, the lines have been changing pretty often. When they all get healthy, who do you see as the odd man out for the top 6? I'm guessing that we will have Ovie, Backstrom, Semin, Knuble and Morrison on the top 2 lines. Do you see Fehr or Fleischmann staying in the top 6 bumping Laich the the 3rd line?

Tarik El-Bashir: I see Fehr and Fleischmann as the candidates for being dropped to the third line. Laich, however, has cooled of after a hot start.


Owosso, Mich.: Do you have any insight into when we might see Knuble in a game again? I saw that you said he was skating with an orange jersey today, so things must be getting better for him. Thanks!

Tarik El-Bashir: Knuble will return Dec. 9 in Buffalo. He's on LTI and is not eligible to come back before then.

He skated hard today and looked to be getting close.


Reston, Va.: Thanks for doing the chats - and welcome back! My question: After the Caps riveting win last Saturday against Montreal I was disappointed that the Post had no story what-so-ever in the paper the next day. They had the score so it wasn't a "late game". Reading some of the comments in the Insider indicates that other noticed this too. What happened? Were the Caps, the biggest sports story in this town, bumped from the sports page that day? I have my paper delivered to my house so I don't think I had an especially early edition - was there a game story in the later editions or was the decision made that the score was sufficient? As a Caps fan I feel somewhat marginalized.

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm not sure what happened. I was in Montreal, covered the game and made deadline. So I have no idea why the story wasn't in your paper. I will look into it, though.


Seriously?: Someone said in Boswell's chat today that the Caps have led in every one of their games this season. Is that true??

Tarik El-Bashir: That is true. They have led in all 27 games, and have held a lead in 25 of their contests in the second period or later.

Crazy, huh?


Washington, DC: What are the chances that the Caps trade some of their excess D to give Alzner and possibly Carlson the chance to play full time this year?

Tarik El-Bashir: I think that Alzner is ready for full-time duty. I'm not so sure about Carlson. I think Carlson is going to be very good, but he's still raw and needs to get grown-man-strength. He still gets pushed around up here.

If the Caps could find a way to keep Alzner in Washington full-time, I think they should do it. He has been steady as a rock.


Mount Vernon, Va.: When will the Caps officially recognize at a game the contributions to the Caps by Olie and Bonsai?

Tarik El-Bashir: That day is coming. But I wouldn't hold your breath.


Centreville, Va.: On the subject of locking up Semin...is he still sour about the issues he had with the Caps when we drafted/signed him originally? I remember there being issues with his contract and something about Russian Military service? I don't think he was too happy about it back then...

Tarik El-Bashir: He's over that.


Germantown, Md.: Tarik,

What is Artus Irbe doing to help Varly improve his glove hand, which continues to be the rookie's weakest link?

And while we're on the topic, what exactly caused Dave Pryor to retire? Irbe seems to be a good addition, but everyone agrees that Pryor was a great coach and well liked/respected by all. But, with almost no warning to us on the outside, one day he was just gone. Can you please give us some details other than just saying it was "personal reasons?"

Tarik El-Bashir: Dave Prior wanted to spend more time at home in Toronto. He regularly spent 200 days of the year on the road and he wanted to spend time with his wife, whom he felt had put up with his lifestyle long enough.

As for Arturs Irbe, he seems to be doing a solid job with Varlamov. Every day before the start of practice, he and the other assistants fire dozens of pucks at Varlamov's glove hand and blocker.

Still isn't where the goalie or the coach wants it to be, but there seems to be some improvement. Varlamov has also switched glove manufacturers, going from a Bauer to a Vaughn. He said he likes the Vaughn much better.


Arlington, Va.: Will the Comcast/NBC deal get announcer Joe Beninati on the NBC hockey broadcasts?

Tarik El-Bashir: I will ask him tonight. I hope so. Joe B. is one of the best broadcasters in the biz. He's also one of the nicest guys I've ever met.


Annapolis, Md.: Alexandre Giroux tore up the AHL last year. Why is he not a full time cap? He deserves it.

Tarik El-Bashir: He needs to produce up here before you can say that he "deserves" a spot on the Caps.


Springfield, Va.: Tarik,

Who would you keep if it comes down to only keeping one? Backstrom or Semin? Do you think the caps can keep both with so many players ready to make the jump from Hershey, and so many players contracts being up this year?

Tarik El-Bashir: First line centers are much more valuable than skilled wingers, no matter how many goals they score. So I would have to go with Backstrom.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Tarik, I have been impressed with Pothier's play this season. Do you think that the Caps would have an interest in bringing him back?

Tarik El-Bashir: He has played well. But with Alzner and Carlson knocking on the door, I think it would be tough to bring Brian back, even if he took a discount.


Owosso, Mich.: What are your thoughts on Chris Clark? Personally, I think his -6 rating, with only 9 points is a bit ridiculous. He can't use health as an excuse for his poor play this season. Time to find a new captain. Your thoughts?

Tarik El-Bashir: Regardless of his stats, Chris Clark will not be stripped of the 'C'.

Boudreau has said that a half dozen times.


Blacksburg, Va.: Did you see much difference between Ovechkin's knee-to-knee hit on Gleason and his knee-to-knee hit on Gonchar in last year's playoffs?

Tarik El-Bashir: I do not. Both were dangerous and probably worthy of a suspension.


Greensboro, N.C.: If Ovechkin wasn't suspended tonight, would he be playing? Also, any idea on whether it will be Voukoun starting in net for the Panthers?

Tarik El-Bashir: Based on what I saw from Alex Ovechkin this morning, I do believe that he would play tonight. I don't think his knee is 100-percent, but the fact that he skated hard for about 15 minutes at the end of the morning skate is a pretty clear indication that he's healthy enough to play.

As for Tomas Vokoun, I was told earlier today that he's out because of the injury to his ear/head.


Curious, MD: Why no more Friday chats? I know of many people that enjoyed them.

Tarik El-Bashir: I am going to lobby to do more chats as the season moves along. I know readers enjoy them, and they're fun for me, too.


R-ville, Md.: Tarik, do you dread asking some of the questions you were asking Ovie yesterday? The ones that you know he won't answer, or that he won't give you much more than two words on?

Tarik El-Bashir: I did not "dread" doing that interview. I was curious to know what he thought of the league's decision.

In the back of my mind, though, I knew he was angry and probably wasn't going to say a whole lot.


Upper NW, DC: So I'm wondering Tarik, how you would define a "dirty" player?

We've never seen A.O. deliver two handed slashes to the back of anybody's leg. We've never seen A.O. whack players in the head with his stick or try to carve somebody's face open with the stick blade. We've never seen him go a suck punch somebody. As a matter of fact, when somebody wants to confront A.O., he stands up to the challenge, he doesn't run and hide.

Is there something we're missing here? I agree with Bruce that A.O. can be reckless and out of control at times, but he's a guy who is playing the game hard, the way many people think it should be played yet now he's being called dirty because of it?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't consider Ovechkin to be a dirty player. I do, however, think that he plays too close to the edge some times.

For his own health, he needs to learn when to dial it back a notch.


Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for all of your questions today. There were more than a dozen I couldn't get to this week. I wish I could have stayed all afternoon, but I've got a game to get get ready to cover.

Until next time, take care.


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