As I'm sure you know by now - you had Saturday night/Sunday to forget about it - the Washington Capitals' season ended Saturday in a 2-1 Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, their third second-round exit in four years.
The off-season is just over one day old, but that isn't stopping us - well, me - from looking ahead to next season. The Caps will address the media for the final time this season Monday and there will be plenty of questions regarding the team's future. Here are some of those burning questions to mull over.
Will Dale Hunter return?
Hunter's first season as a NHL head coach was not without its drama (inconsistency, injuries, system changes, personnel decisions), but he was able to take a collection of individuals who happened to be playing together for several years and turn them into a team.
Yet, reports surfaced shortly after Hunter joined the Caps in late November that his contract was only through the end of the season, which of course, has now come. His former club, the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, just won the league's championship and he might be tempted to return to the powerhouse he built from scratch.
Hunter refused to answer questions regarding his contract status Saturday, but several players have voiced their support for their coach and Hunter himself enjoyed his first season - albeit a partial one - as a NHL head coach.
“Coaching’s the next best thing to playing,” Hunter said Saturday. “And to be involved in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s a privilege to try to take a run at it again.”
Will London (Ontario) come calling? I'm not sure, but I just wanted an excuse to make that pun.
Free Agency - who stays and who goes?
The Caps have 10 pending free agents this summer. There are six unrestricted free agents (Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Jeff Halpern, Keith Aucoin, Dennis Wideman and Tomas Vokoun) and four restricted (Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, Mike Green and John Carlson).
The restricted free agents are all likely to stay, while most of the unrestricted free agents are not likely to return. Halpern may retire, Knuble will probably finish his career elsewhere and Vokoun's season in Washington was not what anyone expected.
The wild cards are Semin and Wideman. Semin, who just wrapped up a $6.7 million contract, disappeared in the postseason again (four points in 14 games). Recent news regarding Russia's Kontinental Hockey League might coax Semin away from D.C. - let alone America - but the question remains the same: is Semin worth the trouble and money?
Meanwhile, Wideman was an All-Star, but by name only. He scored just two goals after returning from the All-Star Game January 31 and was arguably one of the Caps' worst defensemen in the postseason. With Green healthy and Carlson demanding more money, Wideman's short stay in D.C. might be coming to an end.
Will there even be a season?
The league's Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire this summer, so important things - like the salary cap, for example - will need to be renegotiated (the salary cap directly affects the above question regarding free agency).
A disagreement regarding the CBA in 2004 led to the entire 2004-05 season being cancelled, so let's hope that that is not repeated.
So many questions but hopefully just as many answers. The off-season will be long, but it sure will be entertaining.