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Are changes coming for Caps?

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Cheers and Jeers,Sports,Brian McNally
Thrust into the offseason sooner than they hoped, the Capitals will conduct their annual breakdown day on Monday. Players will have their exit meetings with coaches, trainers and team executives and then pack their gear for the summer.

Assuming that owner Ted Leonsis makes no changes to his executive team, including general manager George McPhee, the most pressing question is the status of coach Dale Hunter, who signed a one-year contract in November. He is also the co-owner of the London Knights junior hockey team in Ontario, a lucrative venture he shares with his brother, Mark Hunter. So there are options if he finds NHL coaching isn't for him.

McPhee must be careful with his roster construction, however, because any moves this summer will be made without knowing the terms of the next collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players' Association. That expires in September. No one knows whether the salary cap will rise from its current $64.3 million or fall. No one knows whether there will be a lockout or whether training camps will open on time.

Having said that, there are several players whose contracts expire. The big one is Alexander Semin, the talented Russian winger who often frustrates fans, coaches and teammates as his play deviates between brilliant and maddening. He made $6.7 million last season and should have strong demand for his services. Defenseman Dennis Wideman is also an unrestricted free agent. A first-time All-Star this season, the 29-year-old struggled at times in the second half and playoffs. But offensive defensemen are difficult to find, and only nine had more points than Wideman's 46 this season.

It's hard to imagine goalie Tomas Vokoun, signed to a cheap $1.5 million contract when the market for goalies collapsed last summer, will return. A groin injury ended his disappointing season in March. Veterans Jeff Halpern, 36, Mike Knuble, 39, and Keith Aucoin, 33, also have expiring contracts. That's a total of about $15.5 million in salary-cap space cleared if none of those players returns. Defensemen John Carlson and Mike Green are still under team control, but both are restricted free agents.

- Brian McNally

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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