But will that continue? Will they get better? Or will they possible get worse? Those are all questions that will be answered over the next few months.
Here are 5 different things to ask or consider when looking at the remainder of the season. Some of the following items will help Hershey and a couple will hurt. And one is just a simple answer to a common question amongst Bears fans right now.
1. The return of Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle.
Obviously this would help the Bears if it were to happen. Right now the Caps are at 22 players will 3 players on IR (Alex Semin, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti). Semin is expected back as early as tonight. If he returns that would place the Caps at the 23 man ceiling.
Poti could return to practice sometime next week with Fehr returning the following week. Neither would be back in the lineup immediately but they would be close.
So if we assume (and it really is a big assumption based on how the season has gone) that the remaining Caps stay healthy and Poti and Fehr return in say 3 weeks. We COULD see Beagle and/or Perreault back in Hershey by the end of the month.
At one time I thought Perreault could beat out Marcus Johansson for the #2 center spot in Washington but that isn't the case as of now. Perry has only 5 goals and 3 assists in 24 games with the Caps this year. MoJo isn't any better at 6 and 6 over 38 but he is more likely to get the place because of being higher rated by the organization.
So I no longer think Perry will remain in Washington. When Semin returns it will be interesting to see how he produces as they did show some chemistry earlier this season. So we will see.
Beagle is actually more likely to stay but I would say that it is more likely he gets recalled for a playoff push or that he makes the team next year permanently. He isn't going to provide much offense which is what the Caps need. They have Bradley, Gordon, Steckel, King, Hendricks, and Laich already and they all play similar games to Beagle's.
In the playoffs Beags is a more interesting idea but assuming there are no more injuries and the Caps actually get healthy...he should be back in Washington.
But that might only be temporary....
2. The Caps trade for a 2nd line center
There has been speculation since last summer that the Caps would sign or trade for an established 2nd line center. I would say that as of right now...they 100% will do something.
Plenty of bloggers have offered their opinions in the past few weeks on who is available and who the Caps might target. I am not going to do that.
The question for Bears fans is...what will it cost the Caps?
And that depends on what they go after. If you go and get a guy that can fill in for a couple years while the youngsters (Johansson, Eakin, Galiev, Kuznetsov) get ready it will cost you more.
Personally I think there are 3 players that Bears fans should be worried about losing:
- D Patrick McNeill - he is one of the Caps top rated defenseman and could develop into an NHLer but Washington really doesn't need him anytime soon. Plus there are younger guys (Dmitri Orlov, Patrick Wey) who have higher upside.
- RW Francois Bouchard - he has skills, no one can deny that. He might just need a change in scenery. He scored 21 goals with 31 assists last year but has only 6 and 8 this season. He isn't breaking into the Caps lineup anytime soon so he could be trade bait.
- C Mathieu Perreault - I think he had his shot. With the young players the Caps have coming up through the minors and Russia there is lots of talent at the position. He didn't exactly shine with his opportunity and other teams would definitely love to give him a chance.
Personally I think if you packaged the 3 of them together with a middle rounds pick you could probably get yourself a pretty good 2nd line center from a team that is out of the race this season.
I am not going to pretend that I know what teams would ask for or what you would give up but those 3 players look expendable to me.
Pay attention because the trade deadline is coming up...February 28th, 2011 at 3pm. I 100% the Caps to be active at this time and some Bears (or at least future Bears) could be on the move.
3. Cody Eakin and Dmitri Orlov
Could these two players join the Bears later this season? Absolutely. Eakin joined Hershey late last season for 4 games and then played in 5 more during the playoffs. He followed that up with a very impressive training camp for the Capitals where he almost made the team. They decided that he could return to juniors for one more season and see how he improved.
He began the season with Swift Current in the WHL before being traded to Kootenay for 8 different players or picks. Yes 8. If I remember correctly it was 5 players and 3 draft picks. Kootenay is in the playoff hunt and is likely to make it in which will delay Cody joining the Bears.
I expect him to bring energy and depth to the Bears when they need it most. I would say it is unlikely that we will see him before the Bears regular season is over based on where Kootenay sits in the league but if Hershey manages to stay alive for an extended playoff run we should see Eakin in Hershey this spring.
Orlov is a different case. The biggest issue is that he plays and is under contract in the KHL which doesn't exactly have a wonderful working relationship with the NHL. Reportedly he has already said that if he isn't traded to another KHL team for the playoffs he would like to join the Bears for the AHL playoffs.
As of today he has not been traded and currently resides on the last place team in the KHL. But who knows. He is a talented offensive defenseman who will likely start his career in Hershey no matter when he comes over. If it is this season to provide some depth on the blue-line or in the next couple of seasons he will surely develop into a solid player.
During the playoffs it is as much about the depth and effort of the players as it is about the overall skill. Both Eakin and Orlov show a desire to play for the Bears and will be willing participants to do whatever they can to help the team. Surely Yingst and French would welcome the players with open arms should they make the move.
4. Capitals Goalies
Lately the Caps goalies, Varlamov and Neuvirth, have struggled to stay 100% healthy. Each have dealt with minor lower body injuries and have missed time. But that might not be the bigger issue.
At some point the Caps are going to have to pick one goalie and stick with him. That goes for the short term and the long term. You can't have goalies looking over their shoulder every game wondering if they let in a goal will they get to start tomorrow. It is the same with a quarterback in football...if your starting quarterback is constantly worried about getting replaced after a bad pass he will play more cautious and won't be as effective.
The Canadiens were in that position last season. Halak and Price were both playing well and they needed to pick one. They did and it got them to the Eastern finals. Then they traded him.
The Caps are facing the same situation except theirs goes one step further with Holtby in Hershey. They have 3 goalies that could all likely be #1's in the NHL now or in the near future. Eventually they will trade 1 or 2 of them.
Could that be this season? I doubt it. I don't think they have decided which 1 or 2 they would like to keep. Neuvy and Varly have both played extensively at the NHL level but neither has stood out and neither has stayed healthy. Braden has played a few games in the NHL and has stayed healthy but he hasn't been tested enough in the AHL. Surely the organization would like to see him as the #1 during the Calder Cup playoffs to see how he handles the pressure.
While I don't think they move one of the goalies this spring it is possible. Braden has shown that he could be a serviceable goalie right now in the NHL. And trading one of the young goalies would definitely bring a good second line center or more which the Caps definitely need.
We are probably 1 year to early to worry about this but don't be shocked if it happens this year. The goalie remaining in Washington would feel much better about his position and they would have a definitive #1 for the playoffs. Then they could add a veteran backup or bring Braden up to ride the pine for the playoffs (or Dany Sabourin could do that as he would fill both qualities).
5. Can Hershey catch (and pass) Wilkes-Barre?
This is an easy one to answer...yes. BUT they have to win at least 4 of the 5 remaining games between the teams. If they win 4 of those 5 they would pick up 6 points on the Pens overall and would only need to make up an additional 6 points in their remaining games.
They also have 2 games in hand on the Pens so if they win those they would only need to make up 2 points over the remaining 25 or so games to pass them for the division lead.
Can it be done? Absolutely. Will it? Who knows. But does it matter? Not really. Hershey has won the division 3 of the past 5 years and won the cup twice (the last two). But they finished 2nd in 05-06 before winning the Cup that year. Wilkes-Barre won the division that year as well.
As I mentioned yesterday...the Bears currently are the better team stat wise than the Pens in many categories. The standings is the only difference and that is meaningless once the playoffs arrive. Records are forgotten and the regular season becomes an after thought.
The Bears are a veteran team that knows what it takes to win in May and June. 16 players on this team have won a Calder Cup at some point...some played minor roles at the time but they know what it takes to get there and what it takes to win.
They are ready!
LET'S GO BEARS!!!!