- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2011

The official start of hockey season is a little over three weeks away — when the Washington Capitals face the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center on Oct. 8. There will be many questions about the Caps and the regular season then, but here are five pressing ones heading into training camp:

1. What about Tom Poti?

This is the $2.875 million question. The 34-year-old defenseman hasn’t played since January with nagging groin problems and has been penciled into the Caps’ long-term injured reserve plans. But how healthy is he? And is there a chance he can play? If there is, the team will have to find a place for him and make the cap work out. If there isn’t, Poti goes on LTIR and the cap ceiling is no issue. Poti, when healthy, is a very solid defenseman — and the Caps are so deep on the blue line that something would have to give.

2. Who’s at center?

Nicklas Backstrom is the No.1. Jeff Halpern is the No. 4. But the other two spots in the middle are in flux, based on the versatility of Brooks Laich and the Caps having plenty of options there. Marcus Johansson will get one of the two spots as he hopes to avoid a sophomore slump after a productive rookie season. Laich could get the other – or be on the wing — meaning Mattias Sjogren or Cody Eakin slides into a key role.

3. Who makes it?

Eakin vs. Sjogren was the battle at development camp and again at rookie camp, but main camp makes the battle for the final roster spot or two more like a Royal Rumble. Throw in Mathieu Perreault, Christian Hanson and even guys like Ryan Potulny and Chris Bourque and this competition will be fun to watch. Many roster spots are locks (two goalies, seven defensemen not including Poti and 11 forwards), but then there are guys like D.J. King and Jay Beagle who might be on the bubble. A surprising camp in a bad way by one of those two and a surprising camp in a good way by one of the aforementioned players could mean a few unexpected changes. Troy Brouwer’s shoulder could also play a role, if the winger isn’t healthy by the end of the preseason.

4. How healthy is Mike Green?

By all accounts his head was fine late last season, and a puck to the helmet in the Rangers series didn’t appear to affect the defenseman. But Green missed the final playoff game against Tampa Bay with a hip flexor. If he’s 100 percent and gets back to the Green of a couple seasons ago, he’ll be the best offensive No. 3 defenseman in the league. Why not No. 1 or No. 2? Because Karl Alzner and John Carlson are around, and don’t look to be slowing their progress.

5. What’s this hybrid style?

Coach Bruce Boudreau has mentioned the Caps using something of a hybrid system this season — a step back from the defensive style last year. He has said that strategy had to do with his team not scoring goals, so it seems fair to think he expects a lot more offense if the Caps are moving to a “hybrid” of sorts. With Tomas Vokoun in net, the Caps will be able to experiment a lot more with styles and systems because he makes up for a lot of mistakes.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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