First, at the end of his rightly-effusive praise of the Hershey Bears for their Calder Cup Championship run, Leonsis notes that goaltender Freddie Cassivi is "beloved in Hershey, and will be even more so now that he’s the MVP of the AHL playoffs." Sorry to all the Cassivi fans out there, but a regular NHL gig simply is not in this guy's future (as I noted not long ago), so the Caps will need to either re-sign Brent Johnson or find a backup for Olie Kolzig elsewhere.
No real surprise there, but the column gets interesting thereafter. Leonsis notes that the Caps will "have a crop of young draft picks that could include as many as five of the first 50 picks," and that "the No. 4 pick this Saturday should yield an outstanding prospect – which gives us more talent in our system, or gives us value that George McPhee can leverage in trade" [emphasis added].
Am I reading between lines that simply aren't there? Maybe. But these are the facts:
- The final playoff qualifier in one of the NHL's two Conferences may be five hours away from winning the Stanley Cup;
- With Alex Ovechkin in the fold, the Caps are a lot closer to contending for a playoff spot than anyone had thought before this past season started;
- The Caps' top minor league team just won a championship and will graduate a handful of guys to the NHL giving the team, at very least, a ton of depth (which arguably is the greatest strength of both of this year's finalists); and
- Franchise goaltender Kolzig does not have a ton of good years left and there is currently no one of note in the system behind him that is anywhere close to NHL-ready.
Ideally, I'd like to see the Caps make a pick with the #4 pick and then package something to get a second top-10 pick or a young, impact player. Easier said than done, I know, but adding two players that are a year or so (if that) away from the NHL gives the team its best overall chance at being competitive, whether through the contributions of those players or what they will bring in trade. With Ovechkin, Kolzig, the Hershey kids (and Alex Semin), solid checkers, one of the best work ethics in the League, a key free agent or three and two top-10 picks in this year's draft, the Caps could be - dare I say - a playoff team in 2006-07. And from there, who knows? I mean, other than this year's Oilers.