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THN.com Blog: Washington’s winning window a small one

The Washington Capitals sit second in the East with a 38-18-5 record. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)

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The Washington Capitals sit second in the East with a 38-18-5 record. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)

Success can be a fickle beast. Just ask followers of the Penguins, Senators, Lightning and Ducks.

Deep playoff runs ignited by overachieving performances result in higher, and often unrealistic, salary demands from players in both starting and supporting roles.

Take the Steeltown’s Flightless Birds. After a somewhat surprise run to the Cup final last season, Pittsburgh was, among other examples, unable to re-sign key cog Ryan Malone, who wound up with $31.5 million over seven years ($4.5 million per season) in Tampa, and then overpaid impending unrestricted free agent defenseman Brooks Orpik to the tune of $22.5 million over six ($3.75 million per).

With so much cap space tied up in so few players (Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Whitney), the Pens were and are forced to fill their roster with “affordable” (a nice word for less-skilled) skaters, which has ultimately led to their current non-playoff position.

And the Capitals are destined to end up in the same sinking boat.

Assuming Chris Clark remains on long-term IR, Washington has approximately $29 million in cap space dedicated to just eight players (four forwards, four blueliners) heading into 2010-11. The assumption is the cap will drop following next season, but let’s be extra generous and say the ceiling only falls to $55 million, leaving the Caps $26 million to fill in the minimum 12 roster spots.

Both Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom will be restricted free agents looking for enormous raises, let’s charitably say they’ll get $6 million each, and the Capitals will need to find a No. 1 goalie, which at the low end will run you $4 million.

Add it up and you get $10 million left over for six forwards, two blueliners and a backup goalie. D’oh.

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Even if Washington is able to rid itself of Michael Nylander and his near $5 million and Simeon Varlamov, with a salary just less than $1 million, establishes himself as No. 1 netminder, that still only provides $18 million for 10 players, or an average of $1.8 million each.

If you pencil in prospects John Carlson and Anton Gustafsson as roster players for 2010, it still doesn’t leave you with enough resources to fill out a lineup with quality players. Keep in mind these cap and salary projections are generous, too.

But enough with the suppositions. The thesis behind this exercise is simple: Washington’s time is now.

If the Capitals aren’t already among the league’s top contenders, they’re on the precipice of joining the Elite Three of Boston, San Jose and Detroit and GM George McPhee should make moves based on that assumption.

If he and coach Bruce Boudreau aren’t completely confident with Jose Theodore as a goalie who can lead them to the Promised Land, go out and make a pitch for a new top ‘tender. If any high-end or depth forward or blueliner becomes available, McPhee should pounce. Even if the asking price is a first round pick, a prized prospect like Karl Alzner, or a combination of the two, McPhee should lean toward the here-and-now side of the equation.

Because as the Penguins are proving this season, the window for winning can shut awfully quickly.

Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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