You’ve got to feel for a guy like Jakub Klepis: After a stellar performance for the Hershey Bears in the 2006-2007 American Hockey League playoffs, the 23-year-old forward came into this year’s Washington Capitals training camp with no contract and very little hope of cracking the team’s 23-man roster. Klepis’ lackluster performance during the preseason gave the organization very little reason to offer him a new contract, yet it kept him around anyway—right up until it was time to take the team photograph.
At which point, as Tarik El-Bashir mentions in his blog, Klepis was told that he wouldn’t be needed for the photo.
You can only imagine poor Jake moping about in the corner like the fat kid who didn’t get chosen during a pick-up game and wondering “What the hell am I supposed to do now—go back to Europe?” while the rest of the guys who did make the team gathered around and showed their toothless smiles for the camera. I wonder how Klepis’ bosom buddy, winger Tomas Fleischmann—whose preseason performance did earn him a one-year, two-way contract worth just over the league minimum (as well as the opportunity to play alongside all-star left wing Alexander Ovechkin)—tried to console his pal? Perhaps “Flash” was too busy thanking his lucky stars that Ovechkin—instead of shooting the puck—passed it to him for what would become the Caps’ game-winning goal in the team’s 7-5 come-from-behind victory against the Philadelphia Flyers last Friday.
Outside of Fleischmann, center David Steckel was the only other Bears regular to land a job on the Caps’ forward ranks this season. The 6’5”, 215-pound Steckel earned his spot through his strong performance in the faceoff circle, dependable play on the penalty kill, and ability to chip in a couple of goals. Steckel’s presence on the roster will force Caps regulars Brian Sutherby, Matt Bradley, and Brooks Laich—all of whom will be competing with Steckel on a daily basis for fourth line duties—to push themselves a little harder if they want to avoid spending too many game nights in the press box.
The toughest break of the preseason went to Ben Clymer, the seven-year veteran and Stanley Cup-ring-wearing forward who—after signing a three year contract extension in July 2006—was demoted to the minor leagues on Monday. Clymer had a miserable season last year (due to an abdominal injury that plagued him up until the point he opted for a season-ending surgery) and came into this year’s camp questioning his future with the organization. However, he had been performing admirably during the preseason—-arguably outperforming both Laich and Bradley—-and the demotion does come as a bit of a surprise. Perhaps he was unhappy with his diminished role with the club? Or maybe the Caps’ coaching staff saw something in Laich and Bradley that most people didn’t. Unfortunately, either way, it’s likely that Clymer has played his last game with the Caps, for this season at least. If the organization was to call Clymer back up to the big leagues midway through the season, he would be subject to re-entry waivers, meaning any other team could pick him up at half the cost of his current salary (with the Caps responsible for the other half)—which, given his experience, grit, locker room presence, solid work ethic, and discounted price tag, some team would almost assuredly do.
As far as the defense goes, the Caps elected to keep both Mike Green and Jeff “Sarge” Schultz. Green’s outstanding performance during the preseason made it pretty much impossible for the organization to send him back to Hershey; Schultz, on the other hand, looked considerably less confident than he did during his stint with the team last year and still has plenty to learn on the AHL level, but was told to buy a house in town, because he’s staying. Tough guy defenseman John Erskine was also retained to add some toughness to the blueline; armchair GM’s favorite whipping boy and perennial trade candidate Steve Eminger—whose main problem continues to be consistency—will be joining forward prospect Eric Fehr on the injured reserve list due to a nagging injury. Once Eminger has healed, Schutlz will probably be headed back to Chocolatetown to keep the Caps’ roster under the 23-man limit.