#91 Sergei Fedorov
When he was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 26, 2008, Fedorov brought a veteran presence to the lineup and served as a mentor for many of the younger players, particularly the Russians. He stabilized the forward lines after the injury to #2 center Michael Nylander and gave Caps coach Bruce Boudreau a second scoring threat at center to relieve the pressure on rookie center Nicklas Backstrom. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, Fedorov had been one of the most dominant centers in the NHL for years, a physical specimen in his prime who scored 483 goals and 1,179 points, not to mention winning the 1994 MVP and 3 Stanley Cups and another 176 points in 183 playoff games. He brought confidence and a swagger to the dressing room, but he was a shell of his former self, and as the 2009 playoffs closed, he was gassed after playing too many minutes.
One of Fedorov's 3 Cup celebrations
George McPhee knew that the teams that have won the Stanley Cup had two or even three scoring centers to take the checking pressure off the top line, or to provide scoring from a line besides the top line. Fedorov in Detroit is a perfect example, and McPhee was banking that Fedorov had something left in the tank. Fedorov didn't score many goals in Washington during his time in DC, but he scored when it mattered most. He provided a second option at center, scoring 13 points in 18 games as the Caps sprinted to the playoffs. The playoffs still not a certainty on the last day of the season, Fedorov buried the game-winning goal in the final game to clinch the Southeast Division title and the first playoff berth since 2003. During the playoffs, he scored a goal and 5 points in a 7 game series against the Philadelphia Flyers. He was moved up to Ovechkin's line after Ovie and #2 goal scoring winger, Alex Semin were both struggling to score and the Capitals fell behind 3-1 in the series. Fedorov clicked with Ovie while Backstrom clicked with Semin. There was really scary good chemistry between Backis and Sasha:
Flyers Hunt For Jockstrap
As a result, the Capitals won two games and forced Game 7 to Overtime before finally falling. It was an adjustment that worked, made possible only because the Capitals had two centers capable of playing on the first line, even if one was aging.
The 2008-09 brought more hope. Fedorov was battling injury problems all season, missing 30 games. In his 52 games, he scored 11 goals and 33 points, not exactly All-Star numbers, but then, they didn't have to be. Fedorov was kept around for the playoffs, and did he ever deliver. During another series they fell behind 3-1, Sergei Fedorov again scored the biggest goal of the season, the one that won Game 7 against the New York Rangers in the first round.
Fedorov makes a prophet of Al Koken
That would be his last goal in a Capitals uniform. Heading into the second round, Alex Semin had a busted wrist and couldn't shoot well, but still racked up 6 assists in 7 games. Boudreau shuffled the lines, and Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom turned in dominant performances. Fedorov picked up 4 assists in 7 games and finished the playoffs with 1 goal and 8 points in 14 games.
Fedorov was the second-line center the Capitals needed to get them to the promised land, and he made Alex Semin a true scoring threat in the playoffs. In the playoffs this year, Semin was left without a scoring center, a playmaker to get him the puck in space, hence him not scoring any goals. Tomas Fleischmann has the creativity and skill set to be a scoring center, but not the defensive play or the faceoff ability. He also has had durability and muscular issues that have led to him more or less disappearing in the playoffs.
With Bruce Boudreau's decision to scratch his only other viable scoring center for losses in Games 1 and 6, Brendan Morrison was mostly a non-factor in the playoffs. Not only was Morrison the most experienced player the Capitals had in terms of playoff experience (58 games) and assists (21), he was also the second most experienced player in the regular season (829 games), only behind his good friend Mike Knuble, and heeasily had the most assists (360) and points (547) of anyone on the roster.
Morrison is not what he used to be, but he is the only other player on the roster with experience as a #1 center. He centered Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund when they were dominating the league in the early 2000s, and helped Naslund win the Lester B. Pearson Award in 2003 as the Most Outstanding Player Award in the NHL. Beginning in 2000-01 Morrison had seasons of 54 points, 67 points, 71 points, 60 points, 56 points, and 51 points while never missing a game. He scored 12 goals and 42 points this season.
#9 Brendan Morrison
Morrison had some success playing with Eric Fehr, who was the Capitals most effective forward not playing on the top line, while assisting on Fehr's second goal of the series and was on the ice for another goal by that line which included Brooks Laich, too.
Alex Semin is the kind of player who can and does make a lot of plays happen by himself. He's had to do that most of his career here, except when he plays on the powerplay or plays with skilled players. In the final game, Semin showed a glimpse of that when, on a three-way passing play, Morrison passed to Brooks Laich who tapped it to Semin who just missed, putting it off the crossbar. It's not coincidence that both of Semin's assists in the series came with Alex Ovechkin as the next person to touch the puck. Playing Semin with a checking center like Eric Belanger was a mistake, and while Semin has chemistry with Fleischmann as a winger, Fleischmann as a center in the playoffs was a disaster. Using Semin as a decoy and having Morrison center the third line worked in Game 3, but for some reason Boudreau went away from it, even after the Laich-Morrison-Fehr line produced two goals.
The bottom line is the Capitals need a viable second scoring center who can scare other teams. Morrison wasn't really that guy, but he was the closest the Capitals had. Eric Belanger definitely isn't that guy, nor are Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, or Tomas Fleischmann. Mathieu Perreault has some promise, but he has yet to prove it consistently in the NHL. Perhaps he can be given that chance next year.
#85 Mathieu Perreault
The best thing the Capitals could do is sign a #2 center in the offseason. Perhaps someone like Olli Jokinen at #2 center could help out the Capitals, though George McPhee has a strange aversion to Finns. The 6'3, 215 lb Jokinen scored 15 goals and 50 points last season split between the offensively challenged Calgary Flames and the offensively challenged New York Rangers. He has scored 252 goals and 568 points in 881 career games, but only has one playoff season under his belt, a 2 goal, 5 point performance in a 6 game set with Calgary last year. Playing on a line with a playmaking winger like Semin, the 31-year old Jokinen is likely to return to his Florida Panthers numbers where he was a regular 35 goal scorer. He would likely cost around $4.5 to $5 million.
A player like Mike Modano would at least give the Capitals a Fedorov-like presence should he decide not to retire and play in DC. He will be 40 when next season starts, but he had 30 points in 59 games in mostly 3rd line duty last season and could potentially produce closer to the 57 points he had 2 years ago if he plays on the second line. The 6'3, 212 lb Modano has 557 goals and 1,359 points in 1,459 NHL games plus another 58 goals and 145 points in 174 playoff games, winning the 1999 Stanley Cup. The longtime Dallas captain would likely cost around $3 to $3.5 million.
The other viable option that would also require George McPhee to sign a Finn is Saku Koivu. Koivu is a class act and was the #1 center and captain in Montreal for a long time. He scored 19 goals and 52 points in 71 games last season in Anaheim. Already 35, Koivu has a history of injury problems, but seems to be relatively healthy now. The 5'10, 178 lb Koivu has 863 games of NHL experience with 210 goals and 693 points. He has another 48 points in 54 playoff games. He is likely to cost around $3 million.