Welcome back to "Capital Letters," a sporadic feature where I answer any and all questions relating to the local professional hockey team.
Summer, summer, summertime. Time to sit back and unwind...and watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs from home. Your questions.
For those of you hoping to unburden yourself of forward Brooks Laich's onerous contract this summer, I'm afraid I've got some BAD NEWS.
The oft-injured forward did not pass his exit physical, leaving his compliance buyout status in question.(Apparently, the Capitals may ask Laich to undergo another physical prior to the buyout period before making a decision. I have not confirmed that personally.)
Washington has one use-it-or-lose-it buyout available in June, so if Laich is exempt there are not many available alternatives. (Only contracts entered into before or on Sept. 15, 2012, are eligible.)
Then there is defenseman Mike Green, who signed a three-year, $18.25 million contract on July 16, 2012 (which is before Sept. 15, 2012). He has one year remaining on that deal with a $6,083,333 salary cap charge. That is a lot of scratch for a player who is no longer the faux-hawked dynamo he used to be.
Here is the question you have to ask yourself though: If [insert Capitals general manager here] buys out Green, where does that leave your already thin defensive corps? Thinner. Famished even.
Sure, Green was at times a skating turnover machine that was supplanted by John Carlson as Washington's most relied-upon defenseman and even called an "enigma" by coach Adam Oates on Monday, proving that non-Russians can be described in such a way. (More on that last point Friday.)
But Green drove possession better than anybody else on his team and compared to past injury-plagued seasons, he remained relatively healthy, missing just 12 games (though he missed the last four of the season with fractured ribs).
Without bogging you down with the particulars, Green still has value. How much is unknown, but at least the Capitals will receive tangible assets to go along with cap relief if they do in fact trade him.
That being said, I believe that if Green is traded, it will have less to do with the Capitals salvaging whatever value they can get for him and more to do with shaking up a core that is in dire need of a retooling. It is obvious that the Capitals' current roster has gone stale and Green's departure would certainly put the rest of the team on notice.
Let me preface this answer by saying that Monday was a weird day. General manager George McPhee did not speak to reporters after meeting with owner Ted Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick. That is unlike McPhee, who usually entertains our questions for upwards of 30 minutes on breakdown day.
Oates did address the media though and he sounded like a man whose job status is in serious limbo. Oates' fate is intertwined with McPhee's, so until the front office situation is settled, the coaching staff will remain in the dark.
Questionable personnel decisions seemed to speak to a difference of opinion between Oates and McPhee, and now both of their heads are being called for by a disillusioned fan base that is prepared to march on Kettler Capitals Iceplex with torches and pitchforks. (DISCLAIMER: Please do not march on Kettler Capitals Iceplex with torches and pitchforks.)
It seems very unlikely that Oates and McPhee will return to their respective posts next season, but what if they did? We know that Leonsis is a patient man. For as long as he has owned the Capitals (and before), McPhee has been the chief architect.
Knowing that (and you can throw in a requisite Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld mention as well), I would not be completely shocked if the Capitals stick to the status quo.
Leonsis will conduct a "comprehensive review of what transpired this year" and the most logical conclusion should point towards cleaning house because missing the playoffs should not sit well with a man who claimed that his team would make the playoffs "10 to 15 years in a row."
In an attempt to assuage your fears, I believe that neither McPhee nor Oates will return next season. I also have a hard time imagining a scenario in which Oates stays and McPhee goes, though there is more of a chance (albeit an incredibly slim one) that McPhee stays and Oates goes. Leonsis' unpredictability makes any outcome seem plausible.
Either way, a decision needs to be made as soon as possible. The organization is only digging itself a deeper hole by lollygagging.
There were three rookies in the NHL who appeared in all 82 games this season: Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon, Tampa Bay's Tyler Johnson and Washington's Tom Wilson. One of these things is not like the other.
Two are Calder Trophy frontrunners who played integral roles on their respective clubs. One punched faces.
Wilson finished the season averaging 7:56 of ice time per game. Only two rookie forwards who appeared in at least 50 games -- Edmonton's Luke Gazdic and Winnipeg's Anthony Peluso, both of whom are also face-punchers -- saw less ice time nightly.
Wilson never saw time above the fourth line, primarily as a result of a logjam on the right side. Oates acknowleged on multiple occasions that Wilson would not overtake Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer or Joel Ward on the depth chart barring injury.
All three had impressive individual seasons; Ovechkin led the league in goals for the fourth time, while both Brouwer and Ward each set career-highs in that category. It would take removing one of them to give Wilson a chance to play in a more offensive role.
So who I would "pull the trigger on" between Brouwer and Ward? Neither. And here is why.
As I stated in my answer to the second question, it is unlikely that Oates will return, meaning that his preference for placing players on their strong sides that, for lack of a better term, handcuffed the Capitals will be gone as well.
If that is the case, then Wilson could potentially see more ice time in more pivotal situations and in turn develop into the multifaceted player that Washington hoped he would be upon drafting him.
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