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Hot & Cold: Washington Capitals and Olaf Kolzig
On the RotoWire staff message board, we've been debating recently whether the Caps are for real in the East and can make a serious push toward the playoffs. I, as the Caps beat writer (and admittedly a diehard fan), think that their 4-0 record against Ottawa this year and 16-7-3 record since December indicate that they can. They have the best player in the league right now in Ovechkin, and are playing solid in all facets of the game... except potentially goaltending.

One writer, Jason Brown, contended their problems in net will hamper their efforts to become serious East contenders. I, probably overly optimistically, think they can be. Maybe I'm blind, but from what I've seen, I think that the 37-year-old Olaf Kolzig is not the problem. He had a .910 save percentage as recently as last season, and coach Bruce Boudreau's system is much more about activating defensemen to the sometimes detriment of his goalies. But then again, that argument is somewhat refuted by Brent Johnson's 5-2-0 record under Boudreau where he has allowed more than two goals in only two of six 60-minute appearances. The team might agree -- after offering Kolzig a two-year deal two seasons ago on the first day they were eligible to do so, they have delayed making him a contract extension offer this season. Kolzig is making $5.45 million this year, and there's probably a strong likelihood that if the team wants to bring him back, they want to do so at a decreased price. But could Kolzig stomach that?

He's been in the organization ever since being drafted in 1989 (he played with the team in the former USSR in a well-publicized scrimmage against the Red Army team prior to the fall of the iron curtain), stayed in Washington the last four years of rebuilding when he could have arguably left for a contender, and is a stalwart in the community. He's also the most vocal leader on the team and is beloved in the locker room. The team will be faced with a sticky decision as to whether they want to extend him another year or two while the team waits for recent draftees Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth to develop. But would the team be better off with Johnson at the helm the next couple years? It would seriously piss off the fan base to let go of Kolzig, and be a crappy way of rewarding him for sticking with the team through the bad years. Hopefully they won't lowball him either, but then again, what other team is going to want to sign a 38-year-old free agent former Vezina winner who is coming off his worst save percentage in a while? Maybe Detroit... The operative question is: can Kolzig lead a team to a Cup?

In my opinion, as a fan and a person who believes Olie has at least another couple of seasons left in the tank, I think they should re-up him on a one-year deal and then break the bank to sign some high-priced veteran talent to make a run within the next two seasons. They definitely have the talent base to do it.

Posted by Bret Cohen at 2/1/2008 12:20:00 PM

Comments (10)

Actual Hockey Analysis in a Blog!
The NHL trade deadline is fast approaching (Feb. 26) and the next few weeks will dictate whether teams are buyers or sellers in the marketplace. In the Western Conference Detroit stands tall as the team to beat but Anaheim lurks near. Detroit won a hard-fought 2-1 game at Anaheim on Jan. 23. It was even more impressive because the Red Wings were missing MVP candidate Henrik Zetterberg. Detroit was determined to match Anaheim's physicality and they did but this was JUST ONE GAME. If they are to meet in a playoff series, Anaheim will wear them down, provided they aren't taking stupid penalties and giving Detroit too many power plays. Anaheim is a huge team and they hit to hurt. Remember what Chris Pronger did to Tomas Holmstrom in last year's playoff series? Holmstrom scored three goals, two on the PP, in the first three games and was a fixture in front of the Ducks' net. In Game 4 Pronger and Rob Niedermayer tag-teamed Holmstrom with Pronger throwing an elbow to the winger's head. Pronger got a one-game suspension, but it was worth it for Anaheim as Holmstrom played scared the rest of the series and was ineffective - he went pointless and was a minus-3 in the last three games of the series. With Anaheim's depth on defense Pronger could do it again and Anaheim would again benefit. I'm not condoning this tactic, I'm just stating a reality - the Ducks are physical and mean and they will do whatever's necessary to win. They are bullies and blowhards and new additions like Todd Bertuzzi (6-3, 245) and Brian Sutherby (6-3, 210) just add to their physical prowess. Teemu Selanne is returning and that's bad news for Detroit, as he solidifies a second line with Doug Weight and Chris Kunitz. Other than Detroit and Anaheim, perhaps San Jose, Minnesota or Calgary could take a run at it but each team has its Achilles' heel. The Sharks are suffering from a poor season from Patrick Marleau, which reduces them to a one-line team. Minnesota's problem is that they're so brittle. Every time they put together a win streak a major player goes down. Can they stay healthy for a protracted playoff run after an 82-game season? Calgary's main issue is that Mikka Kiprusoff is not having his best season. If Kipper can turn it up in the playoffs they have a chance. In the Eastern Conference I see it as two teams right now - Ottawa and Philadelphia - but things are so close that any major player acquisitions by New Jersey or Pittsburgh could alter the landscape overnight. Ottawa needs perhaps another top-6 forward (J.P. Dumont or Ladislav Nagy?) and/or a bruising winger or defender. They are very good, but they were pushed around by Anaheim in the Finals, and that was their downfall. Philadelphia seems like Anaheim East, except for two important points - Martin Biron does not have Jean-Sebastien Giguere's playoff pedigree and Philly's defense is not close in talent to the Ducks' big 4 of Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Mathieu Schneider and Francois Beauchemin (even if his plus-minus is hurting right now). Nevertheless, the Flyers' are loaded up front with two speedy French guys (Briere, Gagne), an emerging second-line center named Mike Richards (think Michael Peca with hands), the best third-line center in hockey in Jeff Carter, power-forward Scott Hartnell (an NHL regular since 18), wiley vet Mike Knuble, talented if inconsistent winger Joffrey Lupul, and former first-round flop RJ Umberger now excelling as a 25-year-old. Their Achilles' heel could be in the young and disturbed Steve Downie, who's an insane asylum candidate. New Jersey could use another top-4 defenseman and another scoring winger, but any team with Martin Brodeur has a chance to make the Finals. Pittsburgh needs to hang in there until Sidney Crosby comes back. They need some seasoned playoff vets as the loss of Gary Roberts and the release of Mark Recchi leave them thin in the playoff experience department.

Posted by PMain at 1/28/2008 6:23:00 PM
Comments (6)

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