Sports talk with Tarik El-Bashir

Jun 30, 2011

Tarik El-Bashir chatted about the Caps, NHL free agency and everything else sports.

Good morning everyone. Tracee is on vacation, so you're stuck with me today. As you may know, I cover Georgetown/Big East hoops, auto racing and, from time-to-time, the Caps. But I've got an opinion on just about EVERYTHING, particularly when it comes to  the DC sports scene.

I see you've already submitted a ton of questions, so let's get started.



Tarik, Are you hearing anything about the Caps making a major trade?

Based on the hints that owner Ted Leonsis has dropped on his blog in recent days/weeks, it sure sounds to me like the Caps are weighing their options, including making a trade that would qualify as  "major."

I wrote at the end of the playoffs, that the Young Guns were in need of a shakeup, and I still believe that to be true. I've gotten the sense that they've allowed themselves to get a little too comfortable around here.

By process of elimination, Ovechkin and Backstrom are cornerstones and not in play. That leaves us with Green and Semin. Green, I think, is in the process of finding the balance between offense and defense and has his best years in front of him. Semin, though, has probably reached his potential and, to me, has always seemed a little disconnected from what was going on around him. Thus, he would be my candidate to be dealt.

Let me be clear: no one has told me that Semin will be dealt this offseason. But if he is, I would not be surprised one bit.




The Caps are never easy to figure out, which is George's MO, but this year seems tougher that usual. Are the trying to get tougher and more physical at the expense of some skill?

That is absolutely the vibe that I've been getting. Just look at the moves they've made over the past 12 months, from dealing Fleischmann for Hannan to acquiring Brouwer at the draft.

Grit and guts in the face of adversity is the name of the game in the playoffs, and I think they are moving in that direction.

The one thing that stands out to me from the Caps' loss to the Lightning was how badly the Caps' bottom six forwards were outplayed by the 'Bolts' bottom six. That, to me, should be GMGM's top priority this week.





Where can I get my "Fire Davey Johnson!" t-shirt?

Check with Dan Steinberg. He seems to always have the scoop on where to purchase DC sports-themed t-shirts.

But serious, it's been three games. Chill out. ...For now, at least.

Are the Caps now set with Neuvirth and Holtby or will a veteran backup be brought in? Or is it possible a guy like Vokoun who is a proven game stealer might be brought in to push the youngster and really try to win THIS YEAR?

If Varly is truly out of the picture -- and I'm not ready to say that yet -- then the Caps absolutely need to get a veteran, whether as a backup or someone to split time with Neuvirth.

Let's say Neuvirth is named the starter out of camp, do you want Holtby sitting on the bench in Washington or developing in Hershey? I know where I'd want him.

Let's say Neuvy and Holtby play well enough in the preseason to earn co-starting roles. What if there's an injury or Holtby struggles? Then what?

I think we'll all have a better idea once the Varlamov situation in resolved.


Who do you see playing center on the Caps second line? Johansson, Arnott, or someone new?

I do not see Arnott returning. I also think Johansson is going to be a tremendous third line center for a long time in the NHL.

Which means the Caps will need a second line pivot, unless that role is filled by Laich, which based on what McPhee has said recently, could be what ends up happening.


So what's our chances of resigning?

As I just mentioned earlier, I feel Arnott won't be re-signing here and will instead test the market.

I thought he played okay in his short time with the Caps, but it became painfully apparent in the postseason that he doesn't possess enough speed anymore to skate on the Caps' second line.

His leadership, as it turns out, was more valuable than his actual production.

Any updates on the Brouwer & Alzner contracts?

I do not have any up to the minute updates, but I don't think the Caps are going have any major issues re-signing either of them. Brouwer can go the arbitration route and Alzner can't, so his options are limited. 


It will get done one way or another.

What do you think will happen with Poti? Is he recovered, will the Caps buy out his contract, or could he go on LTIR for the season?

As you probably remember, GMGM said after the season that Poti's injury was potentially career threatening. And the fact that GMGM declined to discuss Poti's situation the other day really makes you wonder. 


I don't believe he can be bought out since he wasn't placed on waivers.


I was told at the end of last season that Poti's groin injury was a little mysterious -- as in doctors couldn't really figure out what was causing the pain. That, to me, is most troubling.



Obviously we don't know the specifics of Laich's meeting with management, but the main points seem to be players need to be held accountable, players should be more receptive to practice, and coaching was not the problem. How much would you agree with these assessments?

I am not ready to give the coaches a free pass, since they are in part to blame for creating an atmosphere where players don't feel the need to practice -- or practice at 100-percent. I also think that a benching or two wouldn't hurt.


So, in short, I agree with what you're saying. I think the players -- all of them, from Ovechkin on down -- need to be held accountable by coaches and their peers. 


I would be shocked if there are half as many "optional" practices next season in which only six players show up.



Given his contract and what it could mean with shoring up other positions, what are the chances Semin is traded for a #2 center before the season starts? or does it appear that Laich is slated to take that slot between Semin (RW) and Brouwer (LW)?

If Semin is not dealt, I think that could be the Caps' second line -- Brouwer-Laich-Semin. 


On paper, that line seems to be pretty balanced. Someone to go get the puck (Brouwer), someone to distribute it and win faceoffs (Laich) and one of the game's best snipers and passers (Semin) to finish.


I've been told that Semin's $6.7 million salary next season could make him very tough to move. That said, we've seen some big salaries/contracts get moved in recent days.

TEB, Why does it seem that certain teams, Pitt and Tampa come to mind, always are able to sign guys to hometown discounts. Asham for 700k, Dupuis for 1.5, Hall for 660k. Those are great deals for bottom line guys. But we seem to reward are bottom tier guys with contracts close to a million. After a couple of deals it adds up. Shouldn't Washington be in a position to sign guys for cheap because they WANT to play here?

Your points are valid. Washington doesn't seem to get many hometown discounts (though Backstrom's deal might constitute one), while others do.


That Steckel deal still has people around the league shaking their heads.

As much as the fans love Matt Bradley, it seems like Boyd Gordon is much more important to be brought back because of his faceoff abilities and work on the PK, is that your sense from team?

I haven't heard much re: Gordon. But you are right. When healthy, he's a solid fourth line pivot and cheap. Good on faceoffs, good in the room, good on the PK.


Coaches call him a "security blanket" for a reason.

Tarik, EJ Hradek from ESPN is reporting that the Caps will make a big trade to change things in the locker room? Have you heard anything about a potential move? Dealing Semin perhaps? PS - Caps fans miss your coverage. It was great having you back for the playoffs.

Thanks for the kind words. As I mentioned earlier, that's the sense that I'm getting, too. There's too much buzz coming from too many places for the Caps NOT to be seriously contemplating a big move.

What are your expectations for Georgetown for 2011-12? They lost their two main scorers in Freeman and Wright and their recruiting class looks uninspiring. Is a 13-17 season too pessimistic?

Switching things up, I do think 13-17 is too pessimistic. I do, however, feel this will be a retooling season for the Hoyas, who will be forced into playing many young and raw players. Getting to 20 wins might be tough in the rugged Big East.


I'm looking forward to next month's Kenner League and getting a look at all of the youngsters. If you missed it, check out today's paper, I wrote a note on the Kenner league schedules and rosters.

Out of the Capitals' prospects, who do you think has the best chance to make to the opening night roster?

Cody Eakin came close to making the team last season. He would be my odds on favorite going into camp.

Tarik: Is having Varly go to the KHL so bad? The Caps essentially stash him and if he proves to stay healthy and wants to come back, he only has increased his value. Also, do you see the Caps looking to make any significant trades, and if so, who has real value that GMGM might look to deal?

I have not been shy about my assessment of Varlamov. When healthy -- and that's important to note, obviously -- I think he's the best goalie the Caps have in terms of talent, athleticism and focus. To me, he's got the highest ceiling.


So losing him, even if it's only for a year or two, is still a blow.


This is the type of question you should expect from Tracee's audience. And what beer would you pair your cheese with pray tell? Oh and when will DJ get his first win?

DJ gets his first win vs. Pirates.


And, oh yeah, I don't do cheese.


Looks like the Penguins will be re-signing Jaromir Jagr, after all these years. Do players who return to a sports team after many years away tend to do well? (Antwaan Randle-El seems to be, but in most cases isn't there emotional "baggage" on both the player's and management's sides?)

My take on Jagr is this: he knows, at 39, he's got maybe one more season playing at an elite level. Returning to Pitt will allow him to get some closure on the NHL portion of his career -- and give him one heck of a chance to win another Cup.

How stable is his job going into the 2011-12 season? Do you think this is the reach at least the ECF or this is it season?

I don't think you can say it's ECF or bust. I don't think it's  that black and white.


I do, however, believe that another December like last season's could spell the end of the Boudreau era.

What are you hearing? Are the doom and gloom predictions believable?

Having covered the NHL lockout in 2004-05, I see a lot of similarities. I'm not plugged in enough on the NBA to say, with any certainty, that an entire season will be lost, but the issues at stake sure sound familiar.


And the one thing people don't seem to realize is this: even if the sides come to an agreement on the big issues, it's the details that often take up the most time. Have you ever looked at the NHL CBA? That's what the NBA's next CBA is going to look like. And it took MONTHS to construct.


(This applies to the NFL lockout, too).

Tarik, make a prediction: Will Varly become a superstar goalie in whichever league he plays for in the future.

If he can avoid injury, I absolutely believe he'll become a star. He's got that "it" factor that is hard to describe.

Is he a true leader? Great players can be great leaders, but not all !!!!!!!

Ovechkin leads by example. I don't think anyone would disagree with that.


That said, I want to see more from him this season. When you hear about Hannan and Knuble slamming closed the  doors to the dressing room and saying what needs to be said, it does make you wonder where the captain was.


I know English isn't his first language, but it's about time that he begins asserting himself more verbally.

Sorry, I more: Kuznetsov, Orlov and Sjogern - any chance of seeing them in the NHL this year?

Depending on Kuznetsov's recovery, I think he's pretty close to being ready but probably will opt for another year in Russia. Orlov is probably a year away, I'm told.


As for Sjogren, I don't think they signed him to play in Hershey. I bet he's penciled into the Caps' lineup.

Simply, what's going on with Jagr? Did he just disappear?

Wouldn't be the first time.

Any chance the caps move some money around to sign Stamkos? I know that's a stretch so I'm hoping for Richards.

No way the Lightning lets Stamkos go anywhere. Their new owner has deep pockets -- and he's just going to have to dig deep and pay the young man.

Is this a player at 34 but with solid playoff performances on his resume, a guy the Caps should snag at a low veteran salary?

I know his Rangers' career didn't turn out the way many had hoped, but his health is a major red flag. I think the Caps should stay away.

Did the Big East use the BCS computers to determine their conference matchups? Georgetown and Syracuse only playing once next season is a travesty.

Definitely a travesty. If I'm a Georgetown season ticket holder, I am pretty upset this morning.


It's also a huge blow to Georgetown's bottom line. That's one sell-out at Verizon Center that won't happen now.

Ok, last one: The fourth line ... right now it's Hendricks. I'm assuming the plan isn't for DJ King to be a big contributer after he was put on waivers last year, so ... what are the prospects for guys like A. Gordon, Beagle and Perreault at this point?

I would assume that both Gordons and Beagle would be in the mix for a spot on the fourth line. Perreault ... not so much. He plays with energy, but he's not a fourth-liner. It's going to be interesting to see what the Caps do with the little guy this season.

Hey Tarik -- Where's Varlamov's North American representation in all of this? Sure, we've heard plenty from the lips of his Russian agent, but at this point, doesn't SV1's fate with the Caps hinge more on the negotiations taking place on this continent? Unless he's, you know, being a tactful agent and not negotiating through the (Russian) press. Thanks.

Varly's NA agent is Paul Theofanous. He doesn't talk to the media. I may have had one convo with him -- ever.


Did the Caps overpay for Laich and do you think they will bring back Arnott? You can't go into the tradeline every year giving up assets for leadership and then losing that leadership at seasons end.

On the surface, Laich's new deal may seem like an overpayment. But when you look at his comparables, and consider all he does for the team off the ice, in the dressing room and behind the scenes, he's what basketball folks call a glue-guy.

Who do you think the Caps will target starting tomorrow at noon? Do you think they're in on Richards?

Depending on what happens with Varly, I could certainly see them in the market for a goalie.


As for Richards, man, he would be perfect. But someone is going to back up the Brinks truck and overpay him -- by a lot. And I don't think it will be GMGM behind the wheel.

Are you ok with that? Or should 2C really be someone else?

Laich would not be my No. 1 option at that position. But i would be "ok" with it.

So is the WP sending you to ceover the F1 race in Austin TX if law suits dont stop the race?

I sure hope so. I'm one of those idiots who wakes up at 3 a.m. or 7 a.m. on Sundays to watch F1 on SpeedTv. Acutally, I haven't missed a race this season for the first time in years.


I'm a diehard, I guess.

I'm from here and though I'm not a huge hockey fan I saw may fair share of Rod Langway out at the Cap Center back in the day. I just have to say that it is jaw dropping that a DC sports discussion in JULY deals with anything other than the Redskins! Don't get me wrong, this is a good thing. I love me some Burgundy and Gold but the fact that we even HAVE a baseball team and that our hockey team is worthy of discussion in July is just amazing!

I'd venture to guess that the lockout (which I can't listen to another word about) has something to do with that.


But you're right. It's definitely a welcome change from my perspective.

Surely it's not General Manager General Manager?

General Manager George McPhee. I don't know who coined it, but it fits perfectly.

So which opponent's fans will Georgetown try (and fail) to lock out of the building next season? My money's on Notre Dame or Villanova.

I was just talking about this with a co-worker. My guess is 'Nova because of the proximity.

The Caps need to package these players and get back some draft picks we have lost over the past couple of years in deadline deals that didn't work out that well for us.

I disagree. The Caps have young players and prospects tripping over themselves.  They need to win now.

If the Caps were looking for a vet. goalie to keep Holtby down in Hershey for experience, what are the odds we could end up with a (now) lower paid veteran like Jose Theodore again?

Theodore had a decent season last year, but I just don't see him coming back due to the way things ended here.

Folks, I'd love to sit here and answer the other 20 or so questions you've got for me. But I've got some interviews  I've got to take of this afternoon. Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully we can do it again soon.

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Tarik El-Bashir
Tarik El-Bashir covers the Georgetown University men's basketball team after covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL for five seasons.
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