Capitals Looking at the Long Run; Washington Aims to Avoid Pitfalls That Have Plagued Pittsburgh

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Byline: Corey Masisak, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The prevailing opinion in this area is that the Washington Capitals are built to contend for the next several seasons, that they are impervious to a Pittsburgh Penguins-esque step backward next season.

A season after making the Stanley Cup Finals, the Penguins are trying to scrape their way into the playoffs. Should the Caps make a similarly deep run this postseason, can they maintain that momentum in 2009-10?

We think we're built for the long run and this isn't going to be our only chance to contend, Caps general manager George McPhee said. We hope to do it every year for a while.

There have been several factors in the Penguins' slide from burgeoning dynasty to mediocrity. First, there was an exodus of free agents in the offseason. Teams that make deep playoff runs often have players who become more valuable to other organizations because of their playoff success, and the Penguins saw that firsthand this past summer.

Forwards Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu, Georges Laraque and Adam Hall all signed contracts with other teams that had either too much money or terms too long for Pittsburgh general manger Ray Shero to fit under the salary cap.

Instead of keeping valuable role players, Shero gave long-term contracts to such core players as Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Brooks Orpik (another guy whoearned a bigger contract with his postseason exploits).

While the Caps don't have as many pending free agents, a deep playoff run could drive up the price of players including Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, Donald Brashear and Shaone Morrisonn. McPhee also will have to worry about signing a few core players - notably Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, who will be restricted free agents after next season.

It is unfortunate that you're going to have other teams come in and pay more than you think the player is worth, and it happened to them, McPhee said. Obviously, they had to let some guys go. The numbers didn't make sense, and they still don't make sense. I thought Pittsburgh did the right thing, and now they're restocked and they're going to be fine.

The next problem for the Penguins was injuries. By the time the team left for Europe to open the regular season, they were without their top two defensemen, Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, because of surgeries that required months of recovery.

Whitney was not the same player when he came back and has been traded. …