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Kozlov, Fedorov Leave Caps Lacking Veteran Leadership; Nylander Could Provide Some


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Sergei Fedorov’s decision to move to the Kontinental Hockey League marks another loss for the Washington Capitals. Victor Kozlov signed with Salavat of the KHL in May, and rumors have linked both Donald Brashear and Michael Nylander to Russian teams as well.

While Brashear denied these claims during the season, he does expect to hit the free agent market come July 1; he has not yet been approached by the Capitals regarding a contact for the 2009-2010 season. The Washington Post’s Tarik El-Bashir reported that while the KHL rumors were indeed false, Brashear has not ruled out a move to Russia in order to play.

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As the Caps lose two, and possibly three of their veteran players, it displays another shift towards the “Young Guns.” These changes could, however, have serious repercussions.

Of the Capitals’ veterans, only five will enter the 2009-2010 season with more than four years of having played forty or more NHL games.

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With the departure of Fedorov, there is no longer a Stanley Cup champion on the team either. His absence will be strongly felt this season, especially if Simeon Varlamov makes the jump to the Capitals, as many expect he will.
During an interview with Sovietsky Sports’s Pavel Lysenkov, Varlamov cited Fedorov as a calming influence during both the regular and post seasons.

"Serega is a really great guy. He really helped before my debut, when we played in Montreal. At that time I really wanted Fedorov to come up to me. That guy has a lot of experience. He's won 3 Stanley Cups."
"We sat together at the dinner table, and Sergei asked how I felt. I admitted that I was really nervous. And then Fedorov said something that burned into my memory. "It's not the Gods who make the clay pots". That was all it took to make the nervousness pass."
"Sergei gave me a lot of attention during the playoffs. It will be very sad if Fedorov leaves Washington. He's a leader on the team, and his help is priceless." (Japer’s Rink )

In another interview with Dinara Kafiskina of Sports Daily, Varlamov said “it is a pity that the two most experienced players have left, the leaders. It is a great loss. I think that it will affect the team. Washington didn't sign them... I can't comment on that. But the guys were very nice and helped us all in the locker room and on the ice,” referring to Kozlov and Fedorov.

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The Capitals’ “Russian Five” is now down to two, potentially three, and the mentors and fathers have left. The two Alex’s (Ovechkin and Semin) who remain to help Varlamov adjust are still young themselves.

The team may now have two post seasons under its belt, but it has also lost at least two of their valuable veterans. The Stanley Cup Playoffs showed this year that it is possible to win with a young team, but some experienced players are indeed necessary for victory. The Penguins had eight players with more than five years of playing at least forty NHL games on their offense alone. They had thirteen total.

Caps fans should also note that with the influx of young Swedes, Nylander might have a role on the team after all. If General Manager George McPhee cannot find a team to take Nylander, his presence will at least provide some mentorship for younger players moving up the roster. He does provide the team with eleven years of experience.

Should Anton Gustafsson play in D.C. this season, Nylander’s presence will have a larger impact. Backstrom said having the fellow Swede around was a huge positive his rookie year. Despite advice from other players, “The biggest help was that Michael Nylander was there, he and his family helped me a lot with everything,” said Backstrom in a July 2008 interview.

The cost for this however, is quite high; Nylander still has two years and $8.5 million on his contract. A trade for a player with immediate impact, such as a center, right-winger, or experienced defenseman, would be preferable.

Another interesting side note is the reflection between the Detroit Redwings and the Capitals. One had an original Russian Five, then the other created a new version; one now consists of many Swedes, the other is building a warehouse full of them. McPhee also mentioned taking “a page out of Detroit’s book” regarding roster decisions. These similarities are not yet a pattern- just some observations.

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