- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008

With as much moving around as Bruce Boudreau has done during his hockey life, he probably should be better at house shopping by now.

When the Washington Capitals convened yesterday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for the final time this season after being eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs Tuesday in Philadelphia, general manager George McPhee confirmed that Boudreau can start the home hunting process in this area.

“He’s our coach,” McPhee said. “It never seems to benefit anybody to discuss contracts about management or coaches. But he is our coach for a while.”

McPhee would not say when the deal was done or the length of it, but after some more prodding he did say, “He’s our coach. He’s under contract — for a long time.”

For Boudreau, it is a reward for what he accomplished after being named as Glen Hanlon’s replacement on Thanksgiving. He was put in charge of a last-place team that, after a 37-17-7 run, delivered a Southeast Division championship and the franchise’s first playoff berth in five years.

“I think I am going to be here coaching the Caps for a while,” Boudreau said. “I don’t know what we are doing [about a house]. I am going to talk to my wife about that. I don’t have any clue how to do this because it is such a big city.”

While the contract is a major item crossed off of McPhee’s offseason to-do list, the Caps GM has plenty of work left to keep the franchise at this level. He has a young core of players like Hart Trophy favorite Alex Ovechkin and Calder Trophy finalist Nicklas Backstrom to build around that makes most of his competitors envious, but filling in the other pieces could be tricky.

It starts in goal, where both Cristobal Huet and Olie Kolzig are unrestricted free agents. The Caps have exclusive negotiating rights with both until July 1, but the goaltending market is very thin beyond those two and Colorado’s Jose Theodore.

“I can’t say much. We have to talk and see what happens,” said Huet, who made $2.75 million this season and could double that after his strong play helped carry the Caps into the postseason.

Kolzig was at Kettler earlier in the day, but a teammate said he did not stay for the team’s final meeting at noon. He declined to talk to the media and told a club spokesman he “needed some time.”

After being the face of the franchise for the past decade, Kolzig was hurt by criticism of his play this season and then was forced to sit and watch while Boudreau played the hot hand in Huet down the stretch and in all seven postseason games.

Kolzig took down his nameplate from the team’s dressing room and left before reporters were allowed in the dressing room Tuesday night. Was that a sign of his future intentions?

“Maybe not, but until we talk to him, I don’t know,” McPhee said of Kolzig’s absence yesterday.

Additions Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke are also pending unrestricted free agents, along with Matt Bradley. Fedorov said he would consider all of his options — including retirement and playing in his native Russia — shortly after he was traded.

He did seem to be rejuvenated by playing in Boudreau’s more aggressive style and with young phenoms Ovechkin and Backstrom.

There are also several restricted free agents to deal with, including budding superstar Mike Green. After leading all defensemen with 18 goals in the regular season and adding three more in the series with Philadelphia, Green will be due a hefty raise to an annual salary likely exceeding $4 million.

Should the Caps not sign him between now and July 1, another team could sign Green to an offer sheet that Washington would have the right to match. But McPhee does not want other teams starting a bidding war for Green’s services.

Of getting a deal done quickly, Green said, “I hope so. We’ll see, though. It was put off because of the situation we were in, but I hope so.”

McPhee also will have to monitor the health of injured Michael Nylander, Chris Clark and Brian Pothier. Nylander said he was 10-14 days from being able to play had the Caps advanced, but McPhee said Pothier’s concussion problems could be career threatening. Clark hopes to see the same groin specialist former Caps forward Brian Sutherby went to in Vancouver when he had a similar injury.

For the first time since the lockout, McPhee will have to be mindful of the salary cap, which is expected to rise to the $53 million to $56 million range for next season, while also trying to improve his club.

“We didn’t spend a lot the past few years because we knew it wasn’t going to make a difference with the way our team was coming along,” McPhee said. “This year when we saw it was a team that could do something, we spent the money to add to it.

“Whether it is this practice facility or the uniforms or the scoreboard downtown, it has to be done right. We did a lot of things right this year. It was one [heck] of a fun team to work with and watch.”

A BUSY SUMMER TO PONDER

General manager George McPhee deserves plenty of credit for engineering a worst-to-first turnaround, but he has plenty of issues to deal with in coming months before the Caps can assure themselves of returning to the playoffs next season.

1. THE GOALTENDER(S)

Adding Cristobal Huet at the trade deadline for a 2009 second-round pick provided an incredible return, but now what? Huet and the man he replaced, Olie Kolzig, are free agents. Brent Johnson is a capable backup, but can he be handed the starting job for a playoff contender? Do the Caps ante up with a long-term deal for Huet, who is the top netminder in a thin market? Would Kolzig even consider a return? Do they search for a place holder until one or both of the kids (Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth) are ready?

2. GIVE HIM THE GREEN

While getting Huet signed before July 1 would be a boon for the Caps, signing restricted free agent Mike Green before that day is an absolute must. Green will cash in after evolving into one of the top young defensemen in the league. Yes, the Caps would have the right to match any offer sheet, but Edmonton”s Kevin Lowe has changed the RFA landscape, and a bidding war could ruin McPhee”s budget.

3. THE INJURIES

It is a safe bet that Michael Nylander will be ready to play next season after major shoulder surgery, but what about captain Chris Clark and defenseman Brian Pothier? McPhee has acknowledged that Pothier’s concussion problems could put his career in jeopardy. How sure the Caps are about their availability in 2008-09 could drastically alter the offseason shopping list.

4. THE “OTHER GUYS”

Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke were great additions at the trade deadline, but do they fit in the Caps” future? Part of the appeal was their pending unrestricted free agency. Sure, Fedorov would look great centering the third line, but would he come back at a reduced rate? Sure, the Caps need players with Cooke”s type of grit, but he also might be a bit pricey. There is also unrestricted free agent Matt Bradley, who was sneaky good for the Caps and should be welcomed back. Also, restricted free agents such as Brooks Laich, Shaone Morrisonn, Steve Eminger (his saga just missed its own spot on this list) and Boyd Gordon must be re-signed.

5. THE DRAFT

Because the Caps won the Southeast but had the fewest points of any division winner, they will pick 22nd, 23rd or 24th (hint: root for nondivision winners to reach the Cup finals) in the first round. Because it is considered a deep and talented pool, these picks could carry a pretty currency and the Caps also have three second-rounders — their own at 52, 53 or 54 as well as San Jose”s and Philadelphia”s. McPhee could add four more prospects, package some picks together to move up or use some picks in a deal to land an NHL player.

Corey Masisak

CAP(S) RISING

The Washington Capitals were one of the NHL’s success stories this season, but they did so with one of the lowest payrolls in the league. Though there are some uncertainties for next season, the Caps won’t be in the low-rent district. Before general manager George McPhee (right) can consider adding new players, several current ones are due raises or have already received them. Also remember, unless Jaromir Jagr wins the Conn Smythe Trophy, the Caps will no longer owe him $3.46 million next season.

Player2007-08 salary2008-09 salary

Alex Ovechkin$3,834,000*$9,000,000

Michael Nylander$5,500,000$5,500,000

Alexander Semin$1,200,000$4,200,000

Tom Poti$3,500,000$3,500,000

Chris Clark$1,100,000$2,750,000

Nicklas Backstrom$2,400,000*$2,700,000*

Brian Pothier$2,500,000$2,500,000

Viktor Kozlov$2,500,000$2,500,000

Donald Brashear$1,100,000$1,200,000

Ben Clymer$1,000,000$1,100,000

Milan Jurcina$850,000$912,000

Brent Johnson$800,000$825,000

Tomas Fleischmann$495,000$725,000

Jeff Schultz$775,000$650,000

John Erskine$525,000$550,000

David Steckel$525,000$500,000

Sergei Fedorov$6,080,000UFA

Olie Kolzig$5,450,000UFA

Cristobal Huet$2,750,000UFA

Matt Cooke$1,525,000UFA

Matt Bradley$700,000UFA

Quintin Laing$450,000UFA

Steve Eminger$1,000,000RFA

Shaone Morrisonn$900,000RFA

Mike Green$850,000RFA

Eric Fehr$800,000RFA

Brooks Laich$725,000RFA

Boyd Gordon$650,000RFA

*Estimate with performance bonuses

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