Friday, March 4, 2016

2015-16 Washington Caps: Just How Good Is 98 Points in 63 Games, and What Do The Caps Need to Do Now To Reach Their Goal?

Wow, ... just wow.  That's how good 98 points in 63 games is - the Capitals have played 0.7778 hockey over the course of the season thus far; in the 77% of the season completed to date, the Capitals have basically amassed enough points so that they would have qualified for the playoffs in either conference last season.  That's pretty good in itself.  Then consider these items, the Caps:
  • Current Goal Differential (+63) is already better than last season's awesome +60 goal differential by the 2015 President's Trophy winning NY Rangers.
  • The Caps current GF/Game and GA/Game numbers are right up there with last season's league leaders numbers as well.
  • The Caps current record over the last 10 games 7-3-0 is the third best in the league behind only Anaheim's perfect 10-0-0 and Tampa Bay's 8-2-0 numbers despite the fact the league leading Capitals are 7 1/2 games ahead of the second place (for the league) Black Hawks and 9 1/2 games ahead of the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference.  Both the Ducks and the Lightning on the other hand are now in dogfights to win their division after relatively slow starts to their seasons.  To be clear the Caps have shown basically slow starts to their games over the last 10 plus games but have responded over the course of those games and shown their talent and compete levels are there and able to find ways to take control of most games and win against anyone and play in "heavy style and games."
Basically from a general perspective, the challenges now for the Caps between no and April 15th is integrating their trade deadline pickups to the lineup, which shouldn't be overly difficult since GMBM's pickups were for depth vice addressing any key position needs.  The other thing they need to do is to stay interested and get or stay healthy. That means continuing to play the right way and make sure they don't develop any bad habits over the last 19 games of the season.

What do the Caps need to do to reach their goal - which is to still be playing and winning in June? That's a harder question, if the season ended today I think their road to that goal would be through: Pittsburgh; Madison Square Garden (NYR); Tampa Bay; and either Chicago, LA, or Anaheim.  Think about that and you can clearly see why the Stanley Cup really is the most difficult Professional Sports Championship to win.  Despite likely winning the league regular season by 5 or more games, to win the Championship the Caps will have to win 16 of what will likely be 22+ games against other teams who now have average records of 0.620 and are all very solid, accomplished teams of prideful, professionals.  That's a long row to hoe for anyone who wants to win "The Cup."  To do so will, as with prior years, take complete teams playing complete 200' hockey for sixty or sixty plus minutes per game.  Thankfully the Capitals are a deeper and stronger on the puck hockey team then they've been, possibly ever, but certainly for any time over the past decade.  They now have eight (8) NHL quality defensemen capable of playing in basically any situation - yes I'm assuming that John Carlson will end the regular season back in the lineup and in awesome playing shape for the start of the playoffs.  They have two (2) NHL quality goalies, on having a season clearly worthy of Vezina Trophy consideration, and I predict assuming they have a deep playoff run the way he's been playing Holtby is likely to be in consideration for the Conn Smythe as well.  Then there's the Caps depth on the forward lines, the Caps are clearly a four line team with threats on all four lines from Rocket Richard leading Alex Ovechkin to late season pickup fourth line Center Mike Richards.  As long as they continue to play the right way and play a 200' game generating their scoring chances from sound defense and solid breakouts from their own zone, the Caps at times appear unstoppable.  That said the road to Lord Stanley's Cup will be through four other teams whose fans and Bloggers will likely be justifiably writing similar comments and accolades.  One things for sure, the next two months we Capital's fans will be again treated to some excellent hockey contests and I am as optimistic as I've ever been that will continue into June.


- starting with tonight's game against the Rangers at Verizon Center.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year - Farewell 2015 and "How 'bout 'dem Washington Capitals!?!

Well fellow Capitals fans it's been a couple of months since September when I last posted here about our favorite NHL team, the Washington Capitals.  To say they've been good months for us and the Caps would, frankly, be an understatement.  Right now, as of this AM, the Capitals are running away in the standings from 28 other teams in the league.  The only team that the Caps are close with are the Dallas Stars who are also having a great season so far.  I'm writing this blog post in such a positive tone right after a Caps underwhelming loss to the Carolina Hurricanes last evening for two main reasons.  The Capitals 58 points in 37 games is truly an amazing 0.784 pace through the season to date and that's a pace that would see them end the season with 128 points which would likely mean another President's Trophy for them.  That's pretty good stuff, though we know now a great regular season is no guarantee of post season success, so I suspect none of us Capitals fans are all that excited about the simple standings point total, I know I'm not.  What I am excited about is the way the Capitals are playing and winning so far - look at the league standings and you can quickly see despite being an offensively potent team (the Capitals 117 GF and 3.162 GF/G is second best (to Dallas) in the league,) the Caps are creating scoring chances by taking care of things in their own end and playing defense first (their 78 GA and 2.11 GA/G) is best in the league.  The Capitals goal differential of +39 ties them with Dallas for the best in league on that score, so you can see with a goal differential of +1.05 the Caps are a worthy opponent for any team in the NHL to measure themselves against.  The other thing that has been noted by several on air and MSM print analysts of late is this Capitals team is basically strong and deep across the board at every position.  That's why both they and the Dallas Stars are basically 4+ games ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and 6 1/2+ games ahead of anybody else in the league as they skate through the New Year toward the 2016 NHL All Star Break.

So as we look towards April 2016 and the start of the NHL post season, what's the season to date portend about what it will take to for sure make the playoffs? Well lets start with saying it's likely going to take 97+ points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and 94+ points to make it in the Western Conference with the possible exception of the third place  spot in the Pacific Division.  This is a bit of an anomaly compared to recent years when the Western Conference has been clearly the stronger of the two Conferences however the strongest division (and hardest to get into the playoffs from) still is in the West - the Central Division could easily end up with five (5) teams in the playoffs and the number seven and eight seeds in the Western Conference will likely be as likely to get past the first round as not by any odds maker's book. At this point the teams in the West I consider long shots at best (odds of 25-1) of making the playoffs is really just Edmonton, with just 33 points in 39 games and a goal differential -22, even though Edmonton is in the Pacific Division and only 4 games behind the third place San Jose Sharks, I don't think you can give them better than 25-1 odds against making the playoffs at this time.  Calgary, Anaheim, and Vancouver are all only 1 1/2 games or less behind San Jose so that means the Pacific Division will be a battle ground for the second and third place post season spots the rest of the way this season and from an odds perspective until somebody breaks away from the pack of Arizona, San Jose, Vancouver, Anaheim and Calgary in either direction the odds of any of two of those five teams making the post season will be pretty much equal.  In the Central Division, those teams records and play to date - all seven of them - has been better than all of the Pacific division, with the clear exception of the LA Kings, however right now things aren't looking good for Winnipeg who is in seventh place in the Division with just 36 points in 37 games and a - 10 goal differential.  Winnipeg needs to get more consistent on defense and keep the puck out of their own end and net more if they are going to turn things around and begin the climb to a playoff spot.  Right now they are 3 games out of a Wild Card spot and with a 6-14-0 record against Western Conference opponents so far this season, their 109 GA and 2.95 GA/G (vs a GF/G of just 2.68) giving them a 20-1 chance of making the playoffs is probably being kind.  Other than that in the West we probably have to wait till the end of January to start to draw any conclusions or make any real projections.

In the East, unless the injury bug hits hard or some other thing causes anomalous behavior to start soon and continue for some time the Caps will be the number 1 seed and seeds 2 through 8 will likely finish within 6 points of each other.  Truth be known based on the NHL season to date, in the East any one of 12 or even 13 teams besides the Capitals could find themselves in the post season as likely as any of the other teams in that group.  The only teams I'd put at greater than 25-1 odds of making the playoffs in the East right now are Columbus and Buffalo, and that's as much because of their goal differential and either their abysmal GF (Buffalo) or GA (Columbus) totals to date.  Similarly for like reasons I consider Philadelphia and Carolina longer shots at getting into the post season then the rest of the conference, including Toronto.

What's it all mean - it means that the Leagues quest for parity in the interest of keeping things interesting longer through the NHL Regular season is basically working.  To me that's a good thing, it means more games will matter longer into the season.  If you look at the rule change to the three man OT it also means that's working as there are fewer and fewer "shoot outs" (45 to date this season) and that's a good thing too, but to me it still means that now more than ever, every game should be worth three points - I'd love to see it where if a team wins in regulation they get three points while a win in OT or via shoot out is worth only two points.  That would mean the only real "tie breaker" that might matter is how you do versus Conference and Division opponents and everything else could be seen right up front throughout the season by your overall point total. 

In the meantime next up for our Washington Capitals will be tomorrow in Columbus against the Blue Jackets now coached by John Torterella - anyone heading to Columbus for the game please make sure to bring a big water bottle to the game in case the former Ranger's coach gets out of hand, okay.  Just kidding sort of.  That should be a good game except for the inevitable Ryan Johannson TOI tracker that inevitably will be some pre and post game discussion given the current media and rumor mill chatter.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Thirteen Days and Then It's Hockey Time Again - Lets Go Caps!!!!

Well fellow Caps fans, just two weeks until the Capitals open their 2015-2016 NHL season.  In the next day or two the staff will pare down the roster so it is substantially closer to the final slate of 23 players who will be on the roster for opening night's game.  By and large most of those spots are clear, in fact there's at least 15 players in my opinion who are a "lock" for that roster.  By "sweater number they are: 2) Matt Niskanen; 8) Alexander Ovechkin; 9) Dmitry Orlov; 14) Justin Williams; 25) Jason Chimera; 27) Karl Alzner; 43) Tom Wilson; 44) Brooks Orpik; 65) Andre Burakovsky; 70) Braden Holtby; 74) John Carlson; 77) T. J. Oshie; 88) Nate Schnmidt; 90) Marcus Johansson; and 92) Evgeny Kuznetsov. Add 19) Nicklas Backstrom if he's healthy enough and you have 16 spots spoken for/allocated but I suspect he will not be .  That leaves 7 spots to be assigned that are currently being "fought for," It remains unclear wether either Justin Peters or Philipp Grubaurr will be the backup for Holtby but that takes us down to 6 open spots on the roster.  Then one of the remaining guys, I'm guessing Taylor Chorney because of his size will be the seventh D-Man and also assuming that Brooks Orpik will be healthy on opening night and you are down to five (5) open spots on the roster.  Now,  if you assume that 21) Brooks Laich is currently un-tradeable and we are down to 4 open spots, unless he's traded to free up Cap space, etc.

So here's where we are so far on opening night:  Forward Lines:
Line 1:    8 -  92 - 77
Line 2:  65 -  ?? - 14
Line 3:  90 -  21/83 - 43
Line 4:  25 -  83/21 - ??
13th Forward:  ???
14th Forward:  19 (Scratched on Opening Night)

Defense Pairings:
First Pairing:      74 - 44
Second Pairing:    2 - 27
Third Pairing:       9 - 88
7th Defenseman:  4

Goaltenders:  70 & 31 or 35.

I believe the last roster spots on opening night will be: 1 - 10) Center Derek Roy who I think will be signed to a single year contract by the Capitals later this week. 2 - 49) W Stanislav Galiev and 3 - 46)  Center Michael Latta. I project the opening night 2nd line center will be Roy  and Galiev and Latta will round out the final two roster slots on opening night and Backstrom will be a scratch or on IR.

What do you think?  Are you looking forward to this season as much as I am?


Monday, August 31, 2015

Still Quite Happy to Be A Caps Fan!!!

Well fellow Caps fans it's a little more than four months and then some since my last blog post.  The Caps exited the playoffs in mid-May, before they, you and  I 'd have liked, but once again I find myself optimistic about the upcoming season thanks to the moves the Caps have made since mid-June.  Once again Capitals GM Brian McClellan (GMBM) has seemingly filled the upcoming season with promise.  The Caps Free Agent signings, especially Justin Williams, as well as what I think will be a great "hockey" trade the Capitals:  TJ Oshie from Saint Louis for Troy Brouwer, Phoenix Copley and a third round draft pick.  Overall while I am very sad to see the departure of Mike Green from the Capitals I understand it and I like the way the 2015-2016 Washington Capitals team roster is looking as far as which UFAs they are signing and which UFAs they opted not to resign. The Capital's roster as it's shaped up is pretty interesting.

The resigning of both RFA's Braden Holtby and Marcus Johannson are things I like as well, I think having both those talented guys back and in the fold are solid things. 

Then we have the UFA departures/not resigning of Mike Green, Joel Ward, John Erskine, Tim Gleason or Curtis Glencross and Eric Fehr. I'll miss Mike Green and I think the Capitals will as well however, for the role that Barry Trotz and GMBM envisioned for Green, in the salary cap era and with the cap not going up much this season, the Capitals just couldn't afford to keep him at $6+M per season.  Notice I'm not commenting on other aspects of this, as one of my biggest fears for the next couple of seasons is meeting the Red Wings in the playoffs and having Mike Green, in Norris Trophy finalist form, scoring game 7 game winners against us.  So yes, I'm a Mike Green fan and will remain so and I really wish him well.  All I will say is to make sure that doesn't happen a guy who now wears the number 2 on a Capitals sweater needs to step up his game, despite have a pretty solid season in his first year as a Washington Capital last year.

I'll also miss Joel Ward and I think if Ward had indicated a clear willingness to sign a 3 year deal in the neighborhood he ended up with in San Jose, he would likely still be a Washington Capital. Alas, I think the Capitals were smart to say a clear no to a four year term deal for the 33 year old Ward, and I think the change out of Wardo and Troy Brouwer for TJ Oshie and Justin Williams is overall a step forward and might be a big part of what the Capitals need to make further into the playoffs in 2016.

Another lesser discussed signing I like is Dan Ellis, to say that last season Justin Peters underwhelmed is understatement, now how the three/four goalie situation gets handled remains to be seen but I'm betting Peters is on waivers on his way to Hersehey at the end of training camp assuming Ellis is healthy and ready to go as Holtby's primary backup.  In fact I'm betting that Peters is Grubauer's backup in Central PA when the season starts and asking for a trade, any trade to any NHL team that will give him a shot. 

These signings and the Oshie trade all mean to me that the team that takes the ice for the season opener will be different, in a positive sense, then the one that left the ice on May 15th.  The add of Oshie and  Williams mean the Right Wing side of the Caps Forward Lines are looking  much, much different than when the Caps left the ice this spring; and that young Andre Burakovsky as well as young Tom Wilson and Marcus Johanson can all be rotated through the second and third lines so they are fresh, healthy and productive well they continue to develop their offensive and two way games, all season long.  Then on lines one and two, the Caps go from having really no clear 1RW to having ... well no clear 1RW but for an entirely different reason then this spring - because they have two guys who could/will compliment 19 and 8 on the first line.

Then we have the 180 degree change for the Caps at the 2C positing, 2C IMO has been pretty much a no mans land since the Caps opted not to resign Mike Ribero and he went to Nashville.  But now?   Well, to me the 2015 playoffs confirmed Evgeny Kuznetsov in the number 92 car as the Capitals 2C and  McClellan has now signed  him to an entirely reasonable 2 year $6M extension.  Also, I'll go out on a limb here and assume that Marcus Johansson will play 3C and that line will be faster and more skillful and productive than it has been since the 2009-2010 season. So, I believe that will leave the Capitals with a top six of: Ovechkin - Backstrom - Williams  and Burakovsky or Johannson - Kuznetsov - Oshie; then for the third and fourth lines I see Laich -Joahnsson- Wilson and Chimera - Beagle - Latta.   This team has forward depth, size, talent and grit top to bottom in my view.

At the end of the day the guy who really doesn't fit in terms of productivity and salary cap hit vs. role though now is Brooks Laich.  A guy struggling to fit into the lineup on the third or fourth line and whose main talent, right now is on the PK,  should not be a guy with a salary cap hit forward of  $4.5M.  Look around the league and what do you see for that kind of money?  I'll tell you 20 foot, two way players who are clearly on the top 6 forward, a clear cut second liners who put pucks in the net as well as they keep other teams from scoring.  Brooks Laich used to be one of those but that day passed when he missed most of two seasons with injury.  As yourself for his current $4.5M Brooks Laich or Brad Marchand?  Brooks Laich or Matt Belesky?  Brooks Laich or Louie Erikson?  Brooks Laich or Scott Hartnell?  Brooks Laich or Matt Stajan?  Brooks Laich or Bryan Bickell?  Brooks Laich or Johan Franzen?  Brooks Laich or Milan Lucic?  Brooks Laich or Marian Gaboriak?  Brooks Laich or Max Pacioretty?  Brooks Laich or David Desharnais?  Brooks Laich of Lars Eller?  Brooks Laich or Mike Fisher? Brooks Laich or Kyle Okposo? Oh and if you said Kyle put  $1M in your pocket?  Brooks Laich or Mats Zucarello? Brooks Laich or Wayne Simmonds?  Oh and if you said Simmonds put $500K in your pocket.  Brooks Laich or Patric Hornquist?  How about this one - Brooks Laich or Joel Ward and if you said Wardo put $1.25M in your pocket.   Brooks Laich or David Backes?  Brooks Laich or James Van Riemsdyk?  Brooks Laich or Tyler Bozak?  Brooks Laich or Bryan Little?  Brooks Laich or Andrew Ladd?  I think the above illustrates my point going through the contracts and Cap hits of comparably compensated players I just named 20+ players I consider better values for ~$4.5M of salary cap hit (or less) than the player Brooks Laich is today.  Geroge McPhee made some good deals and signings, in retrospect and with another season (the 2016-17 season) to go on it, the contract Laich was signed to in 2011 was not one of them.  Hopefully he can get to be 80+% of the player/contributor that deserved that contract in the 2010-11 season.  Unless he does though he will be significantly overpaid versus his "comps" around the NHL.  I'll work hard this season not to bring this item up again and hopefully Brooks returns to the form that earned him his current contract so I won't be tempted to mention it ever again.

Now on to other items of interest - only forty days  till the 2015-16 season opens ... though before that we'll have training camp and get to once again watch heart and soul guys like Liam O'Brien, Sean Collins, and Nate Schmidt fight for a roster spot.  All while we get a chance to see how talented youngsters like Stan Galiev, Madison Bowey, Nathan Walker, Jakab Vrana, and Conner Carrick are developing and getting ready to challenge for a spot here in the NHL ... will it be now?  From what I see the Caps cupboards are stocked, the system in place and the time may even be now.  What time you ask?  The time we've all been waiting for....