Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tonight - Game 2 - Will Crosby & Maltby Go At It "Mano e' Mano?" and Other Musings

Well the blogsphere and the main stream media are storming to find something to stir interest and even more hype in tonight's Red Wings - Penguins game 2; as if a rematch of last year's finals between two teams loaded with talent isn't enough. Greg Wyshynski aka "Puck Daddy" over at Yahoo Sports and a bevy of commenters over at's story on the game were suitably unimpressed by Sidney the wonderful Crosby's moves and post games comments to post a lot on the matter. Of course the Penguin's faithful just shrugged it off by the rest of hockey fandom for either a) being jealous at not having Mr. Wonderful on their team, b) being jealous that they are not as talented or wonderful as young Mr. Crosby or c) part of the grand conspiracy against the Penguins and a diversion from the fact the biased, poor officiating cost them the game because they didn't get a penalty shot when Henrik Zetterberg almost closed his hand on a puck that was sitting atop Chris Osgood's back in the crease. But the real story is as Red Wing's coach Mike Babcock is noted to point out over at NHL.Com - the battle, the game within the game between Zetterberg and Crosby or at least the game between them last evening.

Interestingly, even can't avoid mentioning that some noted hockey people, including Babcock, aren't too thrilled with Crosby's behaviour and style of play of late. The story over at includes the following verbiage: "And what of Babcock's statement that Crosby was head hunting on his hit on Zetterberg? ... He can say whatever he wants," Crosby said. "I don't think I've been known as a head hunter throughout my career. He's the first one to ever say that, so it's pretty interesting stuff." Well perhaps Crosby's defense is true enough he only had 80 hits this regular season despite his earlier claim that he finishes every check so maybe he's not a head hunter. I sort of think more about his nut seeking fisticuffs moves when I think of Mr. Wonderful and his quest for the Lady Byng Trophy. So when the Penguins fans talk about a conspiracy against their team and Captain, please pardon my rant on their hypocrisy. How can you just shrug off stories and stuff like the ones after his nut punch in the national media just 6 short months ago and make like Sid the Kid is the role model you want every Canadian hockey player to emulate because Ovie did a really silly post #50 goal celebration?

I do confess though I have less an issue with Crosby then the disrespect that Christobel Huet showed the Caps Organization and fan base after we all embraced him last season - that said I am so much happier the Caps have Jose Theodore in the goal tending mix than Huet right now. In fact I can easily think of like 1 million reasons why I feel that way right now and 5.5 million I'll feel that way in 2010, but I digress. Back to Sidney Crosby the fifth or sixth best guy on the ice last night for the Penguins vs. Henrik Zetterberg the Red Wings No. 1 forward. Yes, that should be quite a battle. Latest out of Detroit is that Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper will again be scratched tonight due to injury. Instead the Wings will dress Ville Leino and Justin Abdelkader. The urgency for Datsyuk to get back was alleviated somewhat by the effectiveness of Detroit's fourth line, a unit featuring Kirk Maltby, Leino and Abdelkader. If Crosby's poor form move did anything real last evening it was to add emphasis to the effectiveness on Detroit's fourth line last night, of course so too did the fact Abdelkader got his first playoff goal.

Bottom line is tonight's game should be a great one. Key players for each team's success will be: for Pittsburgh Marc-Andre Fluery; for Detroit whoever Coach Mike Babcock has shadow Sidney Crosby - I don't think that will be Zetterberg, at least not during the first period, I'm thinking it actually might be Maltby. As for other key match ups/players I'm looking for Brian Rafaleski to be on the ice a lot of the time when Malkin is out there. For Pittsburgh Bill Guerin, Maxine Talbot, or Ruslan Fedotenko could be the key "second tier" guy to make or break the game. For Detroit in addition to Rafalski, watch Franzen, Cleary and Helm, as well as Marian Hossa of course, any one of those guys had chances to notch a few more tallies last night and could do so tonight.

Well it's not watching the Capitals but at least it's very, very good ice hockey and the best we're going to see until next October.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Musings During Stanley Cup Finals Game 1

Well I started to watch the beginning of the Red Wings - Penguins game but then NBC started their usual stuff and Doc Emmrich and others started with the Crosby man-love crap in the pregame so I switched over and watched NUMBERS for an hour. So I missed the first period and came back in time for the 1st intermission, and even though the score is tied 1-1 the Crosby coronation/man-love continues. This is just getting sooooo old. I sooo hope that Detroit tunes these guys up so we don't have to continue to listen to how wonderful Crosby is for another year. I really don't have that much against Crosby personally, he seems like a decent guy, but come on he's not the only great player on the ice, especially in this series.

Mike Milbury just said it looks like Evgeni Malkin is following Sidney Crosby's lead and that's why he's getting better. Come on, these guys can't even give Malkin his full due without getting into the Sidney Man-Crush/Love thing. So with less than 30 seconds down in the second period we have excerpts from an interview with Mario the Great who is singing the praises of Sidney the Great. Then we have highlights where they are talking about how great Crosby is on a scoring chance from the first period and instead what they should be talking about with this highlight is the great save by Osgood who denies the Penguins. Next we have a scoring chance by Malkin on a breakaway with ~16:20 left to play in the second period that Osgood denies, and of course the replay shows it was preceded by Malkin tripping up Kronwall and it should have been a penalty. Of course a minute later Brett Ledba slashes Maxime Talbot breaking his stick and giving the Pittsburgh holy Penguins a power play. Wait we'll see how much these NBC commentators can say something great about the Penguins while Marian Hossa does a great job killing the penalty. So as great as Crosby and Malkin are on the power play, Pittsburgh ends up with an icing call against them while they have the man advantage - yet the NBC broadcast team is still talking about the great Penguins - and I am thinking kill me now, I've got to get a big dish so I can get the Canadian feed but wait that might be worse since the Red Wings are "A European Team".

Since Pittsburgh didn't score the referees call a tripping penalty as Stall gets tripped - why is it a trip on Staal but not on Kronwall? At this point of the game, I'm starting to think "I hope the Red Wings score a shortie" and Dan Cleary gets a great scoring chance. So what do the NBC guys start to talk about - how that's only the second shot by the Wings this period - think these guys are a little biased maybe? Nahhh no way, that wouldn't be responsible sports journalism would it now? I mean why would the Wings be a little short on shots on goal now, they've only been short handed ~ 40% of the second period so far. Dan Cleary takes the puck away from Sidney the Great and gets a good shot off but no one points that out for 2 more minutes until Pierre flipping Maguire mentions it in passing as they show the replay. How does a mere mortal like Cleary take the puck away from Crosby - isn't he suppossed to be like a hockey god? Why isn't that a storyline that gets talked about for at least a minute during this 180 minute scheduled Crosby lovefest?

So after the Red Wings successfully killed the second penalty without letting Pittsburgh get too much offense, Dan Bylsma puts out a mixed line of Crosby-Malkin-Cooke and Detroit dominates that shift. Seriously, if not for great back checking by Malkin would have scored. Yet the fact that Crosby didn't look too wonderful that shift seems to pass without much notice, even though Henrik Zetterberg made him look foolish. Maguire asks Bylsma about the mixed lines and Bylsma comes up with the lamest lie in the business indicating he did it to get some guys ice time who didn't get ice time due to the power play. So I'm wondering what are you talking about Coach didn't I just see Crosby and Malkin out for over half the power play that ended, and weren't they only on the bench for one shift before you put them on the ice together at 5 0n 5?.

Next, Detroit blows a line change and Rafalski and Osgood pull Detroit's bacon out of the fire. Rafalski ties up Crosby and what do we talk about. Can you guess - if you said what a great play Rafalski just made, nahhh we'll mention that in passing. Instead we'll talk about how great Sid looked right up till the time Rafelski and Osgood shut him down. Finally the Wings get a power play and I have to admit they don't look too, too great but you have to wonder how Matt Cooke doesn't get a penalty with a very late high hit at the end of that power play. What game were the TWO referees watching on that one? Not the game I was seeing on NBC obviously, I mean Cooke could have gotten 4 minutes for that move and he gets away with a non-call.

So with less than 2 minutes left in the second period, Detroit starts to dominate a shift with Crosby out there. Sidney tries to pull a dive, it doesn't work, the Wings get off three shots before Pittsburgh needs to ice the puck, with a tired team on the ice and less than 1:20 left in the period Pittsburgh calls a timeout. However, Sidney the Great loses the face off and Detroit wins the battle for the puck and scores their second of the night as Johan Franzen does a great play and "buries the biscuit in the basket." The second period ends with Detroit having the momentum and the lead 2-1, I'm left to wonder just how Milbury and Maguire will get their man-love in for Crosby and the Penguins now. Oh wait I'll bet they'll talk about how Pittsburgh out shot the Wings by so much that period. Somehow, they'll rationalize that Sidney the Greats team really should be winning and it's only a matter of time till the scoreboard reflects that reality. [ed note: Let's see how good my prediction on this one is after the commercial break is over.] Well, they started the intermission commentary by showing how great Detroit is playing but wait Milbury just started to talk about how Pittsburgh had chances this period and could be winning. Oh now we have a commercial break again - when they come back how much you want to bet Maguire and Milbury are going to go through it. Maguire is Bylsma and he's talking about that Pittsburgh is down and they need to shoot more and get the puck in deep more. Milbury is saying Detroit has to keep putting thing on net and not let up at all. So I guess I'll relax a little about bias but I still have the feeling they really like Pittsburgh and can't wait to crown Sidney and the Penguins as "hockey gods" - call me jaded. On to period three, LETS GO WINGS!

So the third period starts and Pittsburgh has the momentum for at least the first minute, minute twenty until Marian Hossa puts a nifty outlet pass to Darren Helm who is actually well defended by a great recovery by Hal Gill. However, the next shift Justin Abdelkader has a beautiful move pulling the puck out of the air and puts it into the net top shelf by a stunned Marc-Andre Fluery. Detroit is now up 3-1. At the 15:30 mark, I have to admit the Wings dodged a bullet when the puck somehow ends up right on top of Osgood's back and man is Crosby pissed and lobbying for Zetterberg to get a penalty for closing his hand on the puck. However, the replay seems to show he didn't close his hand on it so that was probably the right call. So somehow I'm not even hearing too much of what Emmrich is saying and even less of what Maguire is saying and I'm thinking: "Thank you, God." Darren Helm just puts in a great shift at ~9:30 left in the period laying out two hits that really get the crowd going. The NBC team is now pointing out how much ice time Detroit's fourth line is getting this period, so maybe before the end of the series they'll realize and acknowledge how deep Detroit is - what do you think? will it happen? So for this period it looks like for the rest of the period it's Zetterberg's job to shut down Crosby and I'm trying to figure out who is being matched up against Malkin. So now with 7:38 left in the period the shifts are getting long for Crosby, Malkin and Guerin and Detroit has to take a timeout because of a nice shift and an icing. Now we're down to ~5:30 left and the clock is definitely NOT Pittsburgh's friend - the NBC broadcast team doesn't mention it though of course instead focusing on what exactly Crosby is doing at this minute - just once I'd like to see this guy pick his nose on national TV wouldn't you.

Now coming off a TV timeout we see Malkin and Crosby out together and "Sid the Great" looses the face off - the broadcast team points out that's bad for the Penguins - finally some objective coverage? Why not it was such an obvious comment I could have made it. At the 3:45 mark Fluery has to come all the way out of the net to break up a break away and the Red Wings almost score again if not for some really nifty acrobatics by the Pens goaltender. With 1:40 left Hossa misses an empty net and somehow the Wings don't score even though they have the puck in the Penguins zone and an empty net for what seemed like an eternity.

It's over. Final score Red Wings 3 - Penguins 1. So now we'll hear how great the Penguins were despite loosing the game. Wow - I hope I'm wrong about tomorrow night and the Red Wings win and end up going to Pittsburgh with a 2-0 lead. It's just so easy to dislike the Penguins since the NBC guys so obviously love them. That said I still think the Penguins will come back, I just hope I'm not right. Finally some love for Osgood - I mean 35 of 36 (a 0.972 Save Percentage). Holy cow - Milbury just said "it wasn't a great day at the office for Sidney Crosby" and now they actually acknowledged he had a dismal 30% win percentage on face offs tonight. Now we even have some love for Darren Helm, wait till next game if Detroit wins, might the NBC guys actually start to root for the Wings?

And So The End (of the NHL season) Begins ...

Tonight the Stanley Cup Finals begin in Detroit, at "The Joe". The Detroit Red Wings, as close to a dynasty that has been recently fielded in professional sports, take on the Pittsburgh Penguins for their league's championship, for the second time in as many years. This should be a great series but it sure seems that Detroit is coming into this series a little more "banged up" than Pittsburgh; and the Penguins are coming into the series with a lot of quiet determination and confidence. Penguins star center Sydney Crosby has been very low key and carefully making sure to acknowledge the fact that while the Penguins are comfortable in their role as challengers and prepared for the finals, they realize they have not yet won Hockey's Greatest Prize as a team yet. That's making for some pretty boring interviews but it is "the smart course of action" by the Commissioner's favorite pet.

There's a lot of great hockey in store before the Cup is raised by it's eventual winner. This weekend they'll play back to back games in Detroit to open the series and then the action will move to the Igloo in Pittsburgh. Personally I don't see Pittsburgh winning more than one game this weekend in Detroit, even considering the injuries to the Red Wings and the roll the Penguins have been on - Detroit just has too many weapons, too much experience and too much pride to let that happen. However, Pittsburgh is too hungry not to win at least one, unless Chris Osgood steals at least one of the two games from them. So I'm thinking Detroit takes tonight's opener and Pittsburgh comes back and takes tomorrow's, especially if the Detroit blue-lines corps continues to be forced to play without or short shift Captain, Nicklas Lidstrom.

The latest news is that Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper will miss game one, if Lidstrom is slowed as well, that will be an impact that even the experienced, talent rich, Red Wings will feel. Given all that is going on the Wings players to watch have to be Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg and Chris Osgood; if they open the series by making a statement, even with Datsyuk and Draper out and Lidstrom slowed, a failure by the Penguins to provide a commensurate response will mean a long night for Pittsburgh fans. For Pittsburgh the keys are pretty straightforward: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, and perhaps most of all Marc-Andre Fluery. Truth be told both these teams are so broad and deep the three stars at the end of each game could end up being 21 unique different guys names and you would still have guys on each bench that folks might be arguing should get recognized. That said here's my predictions for the weekend and the series:

Tonight, Detroit wins 4-2 in regulation, the fourth goal is an empty netter. Detroit has 40 or more shots on goal, tonight.

This weekend ends with the series tied 1-1. Pittsburgh makes all the right adjustments and wins game 2 outright 5-2 in regulation. The fifth goal is an empty netter. Detroit has less than 30 shots on goal in game 2.

The series ends with Pittsburgh taking it in six games. Detroit wins games 1 and 5. The Pens win games 2, 3, 4, and 6. At least 2 games go to OT in games 2-6.

Okay hows that for a set of prognostications? I wonder what Peerless thinks. Oh and let me say making these predictions really hurts since as a Caps fan, I'd rather see Detroit win. Historically Detroit has won back to back Cups three times before so I'm kind of bucking history and a trend with my predictions. Please vote in the Poll on what you think will happen this weekend...

Thanks for reading! I'll post my next in the series "Were They Worth It?" later this weekend or Monday morning.

Can't wait till next season - LETS GO CAPS!!!!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Time Flies...Busy, Busy, Busy ... Penguins-Wings Redaux, etc...

Wow, it's been 12 days since my last blog entry, lots going on at home and work, and with no Caps games to anchor me and my blog entries, the blogging side of life has been aimlessly moving around. This past week's hockey games have prompted me to muse on hockey again though. Last night's Wings-Hawks series closeout was a good game, eh? Though how Puckdaddy can list Christobel Huet at the number one star, I can't fathom. Yes he was solid, very solid in last night's game, but the game before that he was chased out of the net. True it wouldn't have mattered who was in the net given the way the Red Wings were playing, but please stopping 42 of 44 for a 0.954 save percentage is awesome, but to call the stop on Franzen in the final minute of the third as anything but a desperate, lucky save is, to me, a stretch. Yes I'm biased - I hold a grudge from last off-season - but I say if the Blackhawks didn't have Khabibuhlen in the net much of the season and most of the playoffs, they wouldn't have made it to the Conference finals. In any case, by taking the Blackhawks down in 5 games, the Red Wings proved they remain the team to beat in the West. To be sure the Blackhawks gamely made a series of it taking three of the five games to overtime, but in the end Detroit once again proved too much for a playoff opponent. With the Blackhawks young core remaining intact next season, you can be sure they'll be making another run next spring as well.

The Penguins-Hurricane's series you ask - well though it pains me, a Caps Fan, to say it - there sure seemed little doubt about that one, eh? The four game sweep by the Penguins clearly demonstrated, they remain an elite team and probably the elite team in the East. The Caps have something to shoot at next season and it's Pittsburgh. Further, only the first game in Pittsburgh was all that tight, ending with a 3-2 regulation win by Pittsburgh. The other three games saw the Penguins dispatch the Hurricanes by 3, 4, and 3 goal margins.

Now hockey fans can get ready for back to back games this weekend in Detroit before the Stanley Cup Finals move to Pittsburgh next week for games 4 and 5. Back to back games for the finals is drawing lots, and lots of criticism - count me among the fans who think this is a bad idea too. Who will win? The wily Red Wings from Motor City or those pesky flightless birds from Steeltown? Based on how they looked in their conference finals, i wouldn't bet against the Penguins. However, the Red Wings have a history of winning back to back Stanley Cups so i guess we'll have to let the teams play the games on the ice.

I'll resume my recap of the season relative to "Were They Worth It?" soon but work is getting in the way of blogging and that's not a bad thing in this economy, etc. I haven't blogged here about my thoughts on the Kozlov Russia signing or the talk about Federov though i have posted comments to some of the threads on Japer's Rink, etc. I'll just sum it up here re: Federov - I want him back and think for $2.5 or less and a one year deal, it's not much to debate, especially since Kozlov's return to Russia frees up $2.5 and we'd be trading Kozlov at 2.5 for Federov at 2.5 and freeing up $4M of salary cap space which assuming Morisson isn't resigned turns into $5.9M....for that GMGM could sign either an impact RW or a Superstopper DMan or perhaps both...

Well back to work... think 2009-2010 season - LETS GO CAPS!!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Caps 2008/2009 - Were They Worth It - The Forwards

Were They Worth It?

A Review Of This Year's Performances By Each of the Players Who Were A Washington Capitals Uniform In Comparison to Their Salary & Salary Cap Hit - One Uneducated Fan's Opinion

I figured I’d take a shot looking over the full list of players who wore a Capitals Sweater (defined here as incurred at least one day of salary cap cost) this past season. I’m asking the question “Were They Worth It?” “It” being the salary they were paid and the roster slot. This review attempts to acknowledge that there is a salary cap in today’s NHL and that means that not every roster slot can be filled by a superstar, or even the best player in the league in a particular role. The question primarily asks: Given what Caps ownership paid a particular player and the role the coaching staff seemed, from this uneducated individual’s perspective, wanted the particular player to fill, did they meet or exceed expectations? It also then attempts to look forward and say do they deserve a roster slot again next season?

This effort and list is in descending order, by 2008/2009 salary cap hit. I’ve broken out my efforts by Forwards, Defense, and Goaltender, this list is just the Forwards, next I’ll do the others. The salary data is from "". The commentary and links to statistics are provided so you can verify the basis for my commentary, I'm sure not everyone will agree with my grades or even some of the basis for them but that's why this is just one man's opinion. Have at it.

1) Alexander Ovechkin:

2008/2009 Cap Hit#: $9.538M; 2008/2009 Salary: $9.538M

For "The Great Eight" to be worth his league maximum salary cap hit he has to play great all season long on the ice and in the playoffs; he also has to be a great attendance draw. This season, as last, Alex has exceeded those "basic" requirements. He of course has led the league in goals scored in the regular season each of these two past seasons; this seaso he also greatly improved his defensive play and in the playoffs he was clearly a team leader in every sense of the word. That all went along with at least two highlight reel goals this season that will long be included in amazing on ice efforts.

- Overall grade value delivered vs. "cost": Solid A.

- Contract status: Ovechkin is signed to a long term contract with the Capitals for 9-10M per season through 2021. He will be back next season and for many to come.

- Deserving of a roster spot next year?: No question at virtually any price.

2) Michael Nylander:

2008/2009 Cap Hit#: $4.875M; 2008/2009 Salary: $5 0M

The 36 year old “Nyls” had a very disappointing season he played 72 games in the regular season but only 3 in the playoffs. His regular season numbers were significantly off his 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 numbers; the 36 year old finished the regular season with only 9 goals and 24 assists for 33 points. Plus/minus he was even. This despite playing on a higher powered offense on both the first and second line and getting a fair amount of plower play time. It is clear that Nyls doesn't fit with the current "playbook" but his contract, age and the current CBA make it likely he will return again next season. In order for the Capitals to make use of his skills and for him to finish his NHL career in a manner he no doubt wants, contributing in a meaningful fashion, he needs to adjust his style of play and adapt. Whether he will successfully do so or not will determine whether the Caps will ever get any reasonable value out of his considerable cap hit and salary. Such was definitely NOT the case this past season.

- Overall grade value delivered vs. "cost": F.

- Contract status: Nylander is signed with the Capitals through the 2010/2011 season. He will make 5.5M again next season and then 3.0M during the last season of his contract. As has been covered elsewhere and well previously, a buyout really doesn’t make sense or appear likely. He reportedly has a No Movement Clause in his contract, not an unreasonable thing for a nice guy with seven children to have asked for when he was pursued by the Caps as an unrestricted free agent after the 2006/2007 season.

- Deserving of a roster spot next season: NO; but he'll probably get one since we probably can’t deal him and buying him out doesn’t make sense either.

3) Alexander Semin:

2008/2009 Cap Hit#: $4.600M; 2008/2009 Salary: $4.2M

Twenty four year old, Alexander “Sasha” Semin is one of the most talented forwards in the NHL. In 2008/2009 he had a solid season; he finished the regular season tied for 18th league-wide in scoring (points) and 16th for goals scored. He did that despite missing 20 games to injury. His 1.27 points average per game in the regular season was 6th in the league and his 1.0 points per game in the playoffs was 13th. With 8 game winners, he was second on the team only to Ovechkin's 10 GWG as well. From my vantage point in Section 103, Semin has constantly been worth his salary since he received his current contract extension. I know some folks will disagree but I believe the increased emphasis he displayed in tightening up his backchecking this year should quiet them. The only dings anyone can really throw at him are his durability and his occasional lapses in discipline that can result in penalties at inopportune times. Semin seems to have benefited most from the presence of veteran Sergei Fedorov on the Caps, his defensive play has improved dramatically this past season and he led the Caps in +/- in the regular season with a +25. That resulted in his average TOI being up and he also contributed well when asked on the penalty kill unit in addition to lighting the red light 8 of his 34 times on the power play.

- Overall grade value delivered vs. "cost": Solid A.

- Contract status: Sasha will return to the Capitals next season and earn a salary of 5.0 million, at the end of the 2009/2010 season he will be a restricted free agent, if he achieves his potential and has a 40+ goal season in 2009-2010, the Caps will need to worry about someone putting a stupid, high priced offer sheet in front of him.

- Deserving of a roster spot next season: Definitely YES, as well as, hopefully, a contract extension before he starts getting overtures about offer sheets.

4) Sergei Federov:

2008/2009 Cap Hit#: $4.000M; 2008/2009 Salary: $4M

The now 39 year old Fedrov is a future hall of famer and he has played like one since joining the Capitals as a trade deadline pickup during the 2007/2008 season. Despite some injury woes this past regular season he played 52 games during the regular season and all 14 of the Caps playoff games. His influence on the team has been very positive; he is clearly a leader, especially to the young Russians on the team, even Ovechkin. His numbers this past season were solid; his contributions included play at both Center and on Defense. His game winning goal in the seventh game of the rangers series alone was worth well over half his $4M cap hit; then his play through the third period of the game seven against the Penguins on defense when an injured Mike Green was not played, solidified his position as a selfless contributor who wants to win with the Capitals. His faceoff numbers and abilities alone are also worth a lot on this team that sometimes has real lapses in that area. Whether the Capitals can again figure out how to afford him or he can again find the camaraderie of the youthful, Russian superstars energizing enough to return for a 20th NHL season remains to be seen. I for one am hoping the specter of playing for Russia in the 2010 Olympics and possibly winning another Stanley Cup with a Washington Capitals team in 2010 enough to lure him back. If he wants to come back, I'm hoping Caps General manager George McPhee can find a way to pay him enough to make it possible for him to do so.

- Overall value delivered vs. "cost": A.

- Contract status: The 39 year old Federov had a one year contract this past season for $4M and is now an Unrestricted Free Agent. He had been expected to retire after last season but was attracted to playing a 19th NHL season by the prospect of playing with his fellow countrymen on the Capitals. That may once again be a possibility however; once again, the Capitals have some salary cap management challenges that need to be dealt with before that can become a reality.

- Deserving of a roster slot next season? Yes, at a $2 - 3M price tag, Federov's contributions, experience and mentorship of young Russians Ovechkin, Semin and now probably Varlamov is a solid and good investment for the Capitals. Besides, wouldn't it be sweet for him to win a last Stanley Cup in a Capitals uniform and then debate whether he wants to be enshrined in Toronto in either a Capitals uniform or as a Red Wing?

5) Chris Clark:

2008/2009 Cap Hit#: $2.633M; 2008/2009 Salary: $2.75M

The 33 year old captain of the Capitals had a tough season this year. He spent a significant portion of the season on Long term Injured reserve and played only 32 regular season games; he also spent much of it bouncing around on various line assignments. Even in the 32 games he did play in his 9th NHL season Clark struggled but when he got his chance in the 8 playoff games he got in, he seemed to return to form. Bottom line is the jury is still out on where and how Clark will contribute to the 2009/2010 Capitals but he seems determined to do so in a manner fitting of a team captain. Whether that will happen also remains to be seen, his salary cap hit next year will be $2.67M and that may also factor into what happens to him. He is a fan favorite and a team leader. He also has the ability to provide the Capitals some much needed traffic in front of the net though he hasn't been as quick to do so since suffering an injury while doing so during the 2007/2008 season.

- Overall value delivered vs. "cost": D.

- Contract status: The Captain is signed to the Capitals through the end of the 2010/2011 season at which time he will be 35 years old and an unrestricted free agent. His salary next season is $2.65M and his cap hit is $2.633. Despite being a fan favorite and team leader, his salary was negotiated after he scored 30 goals and had 24 assists during the 2006-2007 seasons, the past two seasons haven't been kind to him and it is possible the Caps may need to find some cap space and attempt to trade him or buy him out to do so. That won't be a popular move with the fan base however; the Caps may need to do it to somehow make room to bring in whatever key final pieces they need to go to the next level.

- Deserving of a roster slot next season: Maybe/MaybeNot. I like "The Captain" but being objective and looking at a $2.667M salary cap hit next season, I think you have to call this one a "toss-up" at best. The sentimentalist in me hopes he's back, but if he's not so they can bring in something we all agree they need, I won't be irate. If he does end up back on the Caps he needs to adjust his game like he did in the Penguins’ series and really drive to the net and play inside more.

6) Viktor Kozlov:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $2.500M; 2008/2009 Salary: $2.500M

The 34 year old Kozlov had his most productive playoffs ever in his 11th NHL season including both his first playoff goal during the Ranger series, and a two goal game in game 6 of Pittsburgh series. His regular season statistics were in line with his career averages except for his +/- number of -9. However Kozlov's regular season Corsi rating this past year of 15.4 is one of the better numbers for a player with 50 or more regular season outings. His $2.5M cap hit this past season delivered 1.66 Pts/60 however his GFON/60 was only 2.84 while his GAON/60 was 3.12 despite often playing with both Ovechkin and Backstrom who had significantly better numbers in both regards.

- Overall value vs. "cost": C-.- Contract status: Kozlov is an unrestricted free agent and rumours abound that he will play in Russia next season. However, it's also clear he enjoys playing with his countrymen on the Capitals so that remains to be seen. It is unlikely though he will be offered a contract as rich as the one he is coming off of to return, if the Caps want him back. He is a talented player who at times is dazzling however, he also has times where it is clear he is not playing up to his potential. He is a flexible guy who can play both center or wing and he has the size to crash the net though he has not often done so.

- Deserving of a roster slot next season? Another "toss-up" though he probably won’t be back and that’s understandable. If he insists on as much or more than he got last season, the answer to the question becomes NO. It hurts to say that because like any Caps fan you want to believe the team has what it takes to get further then they did this year with no changes. That’s really not the case and to make the improvements needed the Cap room has to come from somewhere. Truth be told, the only reasons this is even a toss-up to me is because of his solid showing in the playoffs. He had been relatively unremarkable in a contract year putting his status in jeopardy before he had his best playoffs ever.

7) Nicklas Backstrom:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $2.4M; Salary: $850K, Bonus: $1.35M

No sophomore slump this year for this young and rising star. The 21 year old Backstrom had a super sophomore season this year. The Swede's 66 assists led the team and his 88 points overall was second only to "The Great Eight." At times during this season some of them key he played pivot between Ovechkin and Semin on the "SOB" line and they dominated opponents. By the 20th game of this year there was no doubt who the number one center on the Capitals was and is - it's Backstrom, he has very quickly become the present instead of the future of the Capitals. Despite showing up for training camp with a few extra pounds he quickly worked himself into shape and by the playoffs this year he showed an ability to clearly handle the more physical nature of the second season. Backstrom's 15 points in 14 playoff games was second only to OV's 21 points for the Caps; his playoff performance was solid and he never wavered, there were many evenings where his play led the team when the rangers and Penguins focused on Ovechkin. His 66 assists in the regular season was third best in the league and his 88 points put him at 9th overall in league scoring.

- Overall value vs. "cost": Solid A.

- Contract status: Backstrom just completed his second year of his three year entry level contract. He will return to the Capitals next season for a salary of $850K with bonuses of up to $1.65M all of which he will no doubt earn. Hopefully, he will be signed to an extension early next season, if not this summer. If he is not he will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2009/2010 season.

- Deserving of a roster slot next season? Definitely YES; it’s probably no question, even at twice the price as well.

8) Brooks Laich:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $2.067M 2008/2009 Salary: $1.7M

The popular 25 year old forward returned to the Capitals with a multimillion dollar contract extension after a breakout year, and despite no longer being able to fly under opponents' radars had a solid regular season and solid playoffs. His 53 points in 82 games was good for 5th best on the team and his 23 goals were fourth highest on the team. He achieved this moving around on various lines; he was especially effective on the power play where his gritty play in and around the net earned him 9 of his 23 goals. His GFON/60 was 3.06 vs a GAON/60 of 2.67 further reflecting his solid season. Laich is clearly part of the Capitals future plans and they/we need him to further cultivate his "netnose" and play a gritty game creating traffic down low even more next season. He was worth every penny of his $1.7M salary this past season and he will likely be well worth his $2+M salaries the next two seasons before he becomes an unrestricted free agent at age 27.

- Overall value vs. "cost": A.

- Contract status: The popular and talented Laich is signed through the end of the 2010/2011 season.

- Deserving of a roster slot next season? YES. Laich is clearly worth his current salary and contract. He is a solid contributor and top six forward on a very talented team.

9) Donald Brashear:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $1.200M; Salary: $1.2M

In many ways the 37 year old left wing, is the best "enforcer" in the NHL. His productivity is better than his peers and his fighting ability and "intimidation value" is as good as any of his contemporaries. The fact that he can and does contribute more than just intimidation is why he has been able to command a larger salary then most who serve his role. This past season "Brash" earned $1.2M and is now an Unrestricted Free Agent. While at age 37 he has lost a step and he was never the "fleetest of foot", he usually is able to make up for it with determination, smart play and short shifts. This past regular season he over 63 games played he averaged TOI/60 of 8.19 minutes; compare that and his productivity to guys like the Rangers' Colton Orr and Montreal's Georges Laraque and you can and will likely see why he makes twice that of Orr and wonder why Laraque makes more. The only things going against his return are his age, and the fact this last suspension made it clear the NHL's League office really would like to see the end of the enforcer, though that is not likely to happen and a team with as many high profile talented players as the Capitals sure still seems to need a good one.

- Overall value vs. "cost": B-

- Contract status: The fan popular "Brash" is now an Unrestricted Free Agent and rumored to be receiving offers to play in Russia next year for as much or more than he made here last season.

-Deserving of a roster slot next season?: Of the current Capital UFA's calling this one is probably the hardest. Who would the Caps out in this role if they don't resign Brashear, he is without a doubt, in my opinion the best in the NHL in this role but he is 37 and the Capitals need some salary cap room. Resigning him for $1M or more doesn't seem to be a smart move but the Capitals do need a good, relatively talented, big guy who can also serve as a "heavyweight" enforcer, if they can't find one for less than Brashear costs they should resign him. The fact he is also a great guy who is involved in the community and seemingly in all regards a solid citizen is another thing suggesting offering him a one year contract for a fair price as well, but there are other considerations like RFA Boyd Gordon who could get an offer sheet or two that should be settled first.

10) Matt Bradley:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $1.000M; Salary: $1.0M

The 30 year old"Brads" is a versatile and popular member of the Capitals. He is a model, selfless "grinder" with an enthusiasm, energy and demeanor that sure seem to point to the gritty 30 year old right wing finishing his career with the Capitals. This past season Bradley delivered a "solid body of work" both during the regular season and during the playoffs. He played 81 regular season games and 14 playoff games. He stepped up his play in the playoffs and delivered two goals and four assists proving some much needed secondary scoring. In this, his 8th NHL season, the Stittsville, Ontario native, played the Capitals "middleweight" enforcer role and also was a solid contributor to the third and fourth lines notching 5 regular season goals and 11 points. He is a durable and versatile grinder who works every shift to earn his pay.

- Overall value vs. "cost": Solid B (because of his playoffs as well as his shootout skills ;->).

- Contract status: Bradley is under contract through the end of the 2010/2011 season for $1.0 million per season.

- Deserving of a roster slot next season: That's an easy one to answer YES to.

11) Eric Fehr:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $735K; Salary: $735K

The 22 year Fehr has thus far failed to live up to the promise that led to the Capitals drafting him in the first round and 18th overall in the 2003 entry draft. However this past regular season he spent the full season up with the Capitals, played 61 games as well as 9 playoff games. During that time he showed some flashes of the promise that led to his high draft position and his relative performance vs. cap cost were in line. Fehr had 12 goals, 13 assists and 25 points putting him at 10th among Capitals forwards while his $735K cap hit put him at #11. In that vein, Fehr earned his keep and deserved his position and 10.39 minutes TOI/60, his 23.9 CORSI rating was/is also second best on the team so he's still seemingly a keeper, but with the many solid prospects in the Capitals pipeline he probably needs a breakout year next season to still be considered a potential future top six forward in the Capitals organization after the 2009/2010 season. The biggest "ding" on Fehr since he's been drafted has been his durability and he seemed to get over most of that this past season playing a full season with little time lost due to injuries. That said, if he can bulk up a little and get a little gritty so he goes down low more especially late in the season and the playoffs, with his net and puck sense, he'll have that breakout year and his worries will be over and behind him.

- Overall value vs. "cost": B.

- Contract status: Fehr is now a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) but will likely be resigned by the Capitals.

- Deserving of a roster slot?: Fehr is 22 years old and has some great puck handling skills as well as very soft hands and great puck-sense. As long as he doesn't get any ridiculous offer sheets, the Caps should sign him to another two year contract at a similar price to what they paid him this past season to see if he can stay healthy and their faith in him as a first rounder can pay off.

12) Tomas Fleischmann:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $725K; Salary: $725K

"Flash" had a couple of good stints this past regular season and down the stretch he often seemed to be the only Capital forward capable of playing with Michael Nylander without looking frustrated. That said I am of the opinion like many that while "Flash" had his best season yet and earned his keep, he did not earn the large amount of power play ice time he seemed to get the latter part of the season or in the playoffs. Instead, I believe he got that large amount of "prime time" because no other Capital seemed as likely to be able to potentially capitalize on it when the "first unit" guys were available for whatever reason in Coach Boudreau's eyes. Make no mistake with 19 goals, 18 assists and 37 points in 71 regular season games and 3 playoff goals including a game winner in the first game against Pittsburgh, the 25 year old Swede clearly earned his $725K. His regular season production ranks him 7th among all Caps and 6th among forwards while his price puts him at number 12 on cost so clearly that's good value. However, in the long haul to get to the next level and stay a "top six" forward on the Capitals, if the team is to get to the next level as well, the 6'1", 190# Swede needs to get more physical and drive to the net more as well as create more traffic in front of the net. While talented and a solid puck handler on a team with Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom, that role is well filled and the Capitals need Fleischmann to develop a different dimension to his game else they may need to move him to make room to bring in someone else who does that and still provides 20+ goals/season.

- Overall value vs. "cost": C+

- Contract status: Fleischmann is under contract to the Capitals for a fair price of $725K/season through the end of the next (2009/2010) season. With any luck for both he and the Caps next season will be that no question breakout year that this season seemed like might happen.

- Deserving of a roster slot? At his current price, it seems worth giving "Flash" another year to see if he can become a solid top six forward. However, he like Fehr clearly has lots of "Baby Caps" nipping at his heels and he may be traded by Caps GM George McPhee for a good draft pick, to make room for them, or to provide fuel for some draft day moves.

13) Boyd Gordon:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $725K; Salary: $725K

Gordon, a 25 year old Saskatchewan native, is the Caps "shutdown guy." During the playoffs against Pittsburgh he often found himself facing the top line whenever the Caps didn't want to send out Sergei Federov, he is also a top faceoff man on a team where the other one was 39 years old. He, along with Matt Bradley, and David Steckel, is the face of the Capitals' "grinders" and checking line guys. "Gordo's" 2008-2009 performance was solid; he clearly deserved his $725K salary and seemed to deliver everything he was asked to provide the team. Because of his role, Gordon's traditional statistics don't ever seem to properly reflect his value, in my opinion. His value is better understood looking at his FO% both by game and overall for the Pittsburgh playoff series for example: game 1 - 20%, game 2 - 54%, game 3 - 88.9%, game 4 - 87.5%, game 5 - 83/3%, game 6 - 60.0%, game 7 - 77.8%.

- Overall value vs. "cost": A.

-Contract status: Gordon is a restricted free agent (RFA) and may get a few interested parties due to his capabilities as a penalty killer and in the faceoff circle.

- Deserving of a roster slot? Yes at a fair price/as long as no one puts a ridiculous or stupid offer sheet in front of him, he should be back.

14) David Steckel:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $512K; Salary: $525K

The 27 year old Ohio State University product and Milwaukee, WI native is and was probably the best bargain on the Capitals line-up this season. His played in 76 regular season and 14 playoff games to earn his $500K this year. For that he delivered 8 goals and 19 points in the regular season. He scored 3 playoff goals including the Game 6 winner in OT against Pittsburgh and during the regular season his 58.2% faceoff % was fourth best in the league.

- Overall value vs. "cost": A+.

- Contract status: Steckel is signed with the Capitals through the end of next season and will earn $725K for the 2009-2010 campaign.

- Deserving of a roster slot? Definitely YES.

15) Quintin Laing:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $487K; Salary: $475K

The popular "Q" was injured late in the season in Hershey when he suffered a lacerated spleen in late March. He has been out since then. He played 39 games in a Capitals uniform in the 2007-2008 season becoming a fan favorite and developed a reputation as a shot blocker; however, this season he played with Hershey most of the season and only appeared as a Capital one game before he got injured. He is 29 years old and this may be the end of the line for the rugged Left Wing from Rosetown, Saskatchewan.

- Overall value vs. "cost": B.
- Contract status: Laing earned 500K last season and is now an unrestricted free agent (UFA). He would likely be glad to be resigned by the Capitals or any other NHL team to a league minimum contract. He would certainly be a solid contributor for at least another season or two in Hershey and provide the Capitals with an excellent penalty killer if the Caps find Steckel and Boyd Gordon unavailable for a period during that time.
- Deserving of a roster slot? In DC only if both Steckel and Gordon are unavailable, that said he is a relatively cheap insurance policy and he is a positive presence in the locker room. "Q" is likely to find himself the victim of a pipeline full of talented, younger players in the Capitals organization.

16) Kieth Aucoin:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $487K; Salary: $475K

The 29 year old Aucoin was second in AHL scoring this regular season (Caps prospect, and fellow Hershey Bear, Alexandre Giroux was first) and provided spark to the Capitals in the 12 games which he appeared in a Caps "sweater" this regular season. In those 12 games he scored 2 goals and had 4 assists (0.5 ppg). The 29 year old, 5'9", 187# Center has appeared in 65 NHL and 505 AHL games during his 8 year professional hockey career. At this juncture both his age and diminutive size are working against him but his drive, puck sense and quick hands are all pretty impressive and the reason he is a solid playmaker as his AHL leading 71 assists in 70 games proved. In addition to his size and age, another thing working against Aucoin is the strength the Caps have at the Center position right now. That said if Federov opts not to return or the Caps opt not to bring him back, and the Caps can somehow deal Nylander, Aucoin becomes an option to fill a third or fourth line spot assuming Steckel and "Gordo" move up the depth chart.

- Overall value vs. "cost": A.
- Contract status: Aucoin earned $475K and is under contract to the Capitals next season for $500K. After next season he will be a UFA.
- Worth a roster spot? Possibly, he is definitely worth bringing to camp next August. Aucoin earned that during the 12 games he played in a Capitals uniform this past season.

17) Alexandre Giroux:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $475K; Salary: $475K

In addition to being the leading goal scorer in the AHL with 60 goals in 69 games played during the regular season, the 27 year old Center/Left Wing from Quebec also appeared in 12 NHL regular season games with the Caps this campaign and is currently leading the Hershey Bears in Calder Cup scoring as well. During his 12 games with the Caps, Giroux put 20 shots on net, scored a goal and had an assist. Drafted in 1999 the 6'3", 190# Giroux has only appeared in 22 NHL games (21 for the Caps over the past two seasons and 1 during the 2005-2006 season), that said the 2008-2009 AHL MVP might be ready for another shot in a Caps jersey, especially if he is ready to give Eric Fehr a run for his money and stand the punishment it takes to crash the net and camp down low for the rebound in the NHL.

- Overall value vs. "cost": A.
- Contract status: Giroux earned $475K this past year and after this season is an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA). He will likely be signed for a fair price to another league minimum contract and have a chance to earn a place on somebody's NHL roster next season.
- Deserving of a roster slot? Yes if he can be resigned at a fair price, the Caps should do so and invite him to camp.

18) Chris Bourque:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $625K; Salary: $675K

The 23 year old son of Bruin Hall of Famer Ray Bourque was drafted by the Capitals in 2004 in the second round and played 35 games at NCAA powerhouse Boston University before turning pro in 2005. This past season he played in eight games as a Capital and scored his first NHL goal. In Hershey he played in 70 plus games each of the past two seasons proving his durability despite his aggressive style of play and 5'8", 187# size.

- Overall value vs. "cost": B.
- Contract status: Bourque aka “C-Bo” becomes an RFA this summer and should be resigned to a league minimum contract with some incentives.
- Deserving of a roster slot? C-Bo continues to show flashes in Hershey and his short stay in a Caps sweater this season demonstrated promise; he’s close but not there yet for top flight NHL play. He should be brought to camp at Kettler in August but he needs to figure out how to get “scrappier” if he’s going to earn a full time roster slot.

19) Jay Beagle:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $875K; Salary: $688K, Bonus: $188K

The 23 year old had a solid year and performed well when called up to the Caps in the Series against the Penguins.

- Overall value vs. "cost": A.
- Contract status:. Beagle is under contract to the Capitals to an entry level contract through the 2009/2010 season at which time he will become a RFA.
- Deserving of a roster slot? He is a big, gritty, high energy forward and should be invited to the Caps Camp this summer to see if he can win a regular position on the third or fourth line.

20) Oscar Osala:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $850K; Salary: $685K, Bonus: $165K

The 21 year old Finnish rookie had a solid year and performed well in 75 regular season games for the Hershey Bears, scoring 23 goals and notching 14 assists; he also appeared in 2 regular season games for the Capitals. He was second among Bears rookies in scoring.

- Overall value vs. "cost": A.
- Contract status: Osala is under contract to the Capitals to an entry level contract through the 2010/2011 season at which time he will become a RFA.
- Deserving of a roster slot? Osala is another guy who should be invited to both development and possibly regular camp to see if he can give guys like “Flash” and Eric Fehr a run for their money.

20) Graham Mink:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $500K; Salary: $500K,

The 30 year old journeyman appeared in two games for the Capitals and had a very good AHL season for the Bears, so far he’s playoff contests. He scored 32 regular season goals and had 27 assists. He’s one of the team leaders for the Bears both on and off the ice and at 6-3’ 220# he is a rugged forward capable of filling multiple roles.

- Overall value vs. "cost": B.
- Contract status: Mink will be a UFA after this season and at age 30, the Stowe VT native may choose to hang up the skates and pursue his interests in New England rather than scramble and scrape for a roster slot next season if he isn’t picked up again by Hershey or Washington.
- Deserving of a roster slot? Graham Mink is a scrapper but with the pipeline of other players already in the Caps organization and another crop of draft picks to place it’s hard to see him ever getting back to the NHL with the Caps anytime soon.

21) Steve Pinnizotto:

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $715K; Salary: $580K,

Twenty four year old Pinnizotto was called up and shuttled on and off the Capitals roster for 1 day this season, he didn’t appear in any games and he was never assigned a jersey number. He is a 6’-1” 195# Center in his third year with the Hershey Bears. This season he’s had reasonable season with Hershey on their checking lines, he’s appeared 45 regular season and 12 playoff games for the Bears, he also played 11 games with the Capitals ECHL Affiliate South Carolina Stingrays and scored 4 goals this season as well.

- Overall value vs. "cost": C.
- Contract status: The 25 year old was signed to a two year entry level contract by the Caps in 2007 and becomes a RFA this summer.
- Deserving of a roster slot? Probably not, the pipeline is pretty full, but his size and solid defensive skills mean he’s worth considering. Additionally, so far he’s had a solid 2009 Calder Cup notching 3 goals and an assist in 12 games so far, so the Caps or someone else may opt to give him an offer for a league minimum contract.

22) Andrew Gordon

2008/2009 Cap hit#: $607K; Salary: $585K

The 23 year old Gordon is a compact right wing in his second year as a professional after being drafted in the 7th round of the rich 2004 entry draft and playing 3 seasons in the NCAA at Saint Cloud State. He appeared in his first NHL game this season for the Capitals but his only recorded statistic is 1 hit. He’s had a very good AHL season for the Bears, in 80 regular season games, he’s scored 21 regular season goals, had 24 assists and was + 16. In this season’s Calder Cup he’s played 13 games and scored 3 goals.

- Overall value vs. "cost": B.
- Contract status:. Gordon is under an entry level contract to the Capitals through the 2009/2010 Season at which time, he’ll become a RFA.
- Deserving of a roster slot? He deserves an invite to camp but it’s likely if the Caps are going to promote a 5’10” wing it’ll be C-Bo who wins the roster slot. That said Andrew Gordon could yet make it to the NHL the way he’s been playing in Hershey this past season.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Conference Finals Start Today In Detroit - It's The Final Four Showdown

Well the NHL season is roaring to a great finish. To follow up on the "epic" confrontation between Ovechkin and Crosby in the Conference finals, we'll have an epic confrontation between two "Original Six" rivals. To make matters more interesting these two Central Division rivals each went 2-2-2 in their regular season series this year and Detroit is the oldest team in the final four while Chicago is the youngest.

There is also a lot of grist for the league's marketing department to evoke sentiments of a long-standing rivalry. Talk about the Red Wings and you can recall names like Ted Lindsey, Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman, and many, many others. Detroit calls itself "Hockeytown" and has won 11 Stanley Cups including last year's. The Red Wings clearly would like a chance to repeat with back to back Championships, like they've done three (3) times before. Chicago hockey fans can recall names like Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito, and Stan Makita. The Blackhawks are an Original Six team but they have only won three Stanley Cups the last in 1961. The last time they made it to the finals was 1991-92 against the Pittsburgh Penguins - I'm sure they wouldn't mind a rematch.

The other series has the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Carolina Hurricanes. The two Eastern Conference teams who've played the hottest and often best hockey since the All-Star break. Pittsburgh is looking to finish what they started last season when they lost in the finals to Detroit. Pittsburghers would like to see the Pens capture their third Stanley Cup and their first in the post-Lemiux (on the ice) era. Carolina is looking to prove to the world that they, not the Washington Capitals, are still the best team in the Southeast Division AND if they win they will have captured their second Stanley Cup in the 36 years of their existence and the 12 years since they moved to Carolina.

The Capitals have cleaned out their lockers at Kettler and are in their off season but their is still a lot of good hockey to be played before someone drinks from"The Cup", today's game in Detroit should be the first of a number of intense games between the best teams in the NHL. It should be fun, although not as much fun as it could be for Caps fans.

Okay kids, get out there, play hard, have fun and take no prisoners....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Caps Hockey What Is Has Meant and Continues To Mean to Me

Caps Hockey What Is Has Meant and Continues To Mean to Me

Thank You Ted Leonsis & Lincoln Holdings, LLC

[ed note] As regular readers of this blog know of late my postings have been spotty, with the end of Caps hockey for this season and an increased pace at "my day job" - one which I like and tend to work on and think A LOT more than most folks, a con to being a workaholic - that will no doubt continue through the remainder of the playoffs and the NHL off-season. That said these next two series for their respective Conference Championships are fuel to some musings as are several things that occurred to me during the last three games of the Caps - Pens "epic series." As such through the Conference finals I'll probably post those musings as well as my thoughts about the games and series in progress on a relatively regular basis. To spare regular readers from too large of a dose of my own, possibly less interesting musings, I'll not post those sort of things back to back. Today's post might be "a bit sappy" for some, it certainly isn't about old tyme hockey per say - not about how fun watching a Craig MacTavish - Dave "The Hammer" Schultz hockey fight was or anything like that. It's a plain and simple thank you to the ownership of the Caps for providing a vehicle and a forum for a father and teenage son to spend time together and connect better. Something I hope is not unique and in fact know is not so based on some of the other regular STH who co-reside during Capitals games with us in Section 103 of Verizon Center. As always comments and feedback are welcome and encouraged and I hope you don't find my musings too pedantic or even worse mindless drivel, of course if you do that often then I'm probably just "talking/typing into the ether".]

Well Caps Hockey is over for this season, hockey isn't over but since becoming a "real" Caps fan in 2005 and even more so a full season ticket holder in 2006, the emotional investment I make for NHL games wanes when it's not the Washington Capitals versus anybody else. I've loved hockey for 39 plus years. Growing up in Philadelphia, I became a rabid Flyers fan as an adolescent. I played regularly - street, roller and ice - in the "Joe & Mary Six-Pack" Northeast Philly neighborhood I grew up in. I was fortunate to grow up on a block with two other boys who loved hockey and who were only a month older and a month younger than me respectively. We had through our early teenage years we had a bond that was almost that of triplets and a rivalry that was almost as intense as three brothers each a year a part. The end result is we played A LOT of hockey. I was the only defenseman, my idol was Barry Ashbee. Rick was the best athlete and skater of the three of us; his real idol and model was Jean Rattelle, but being from Philadelphia his number was 12 and his overtly professed playing model was Gary Dornhofer. Truth be known, remember that rivalry, Rick was never as "scrappy" or "gritty" as Dorny. Walt was a rebel, he was a power forward, and his playing idol both in reality and self professed overtly was Vic Hadfield - gasp - a New York Ranger. None of us, least of all me, had the innate skills to ever even really think about hockey as a career. That became crystal clear to us at a couple of clinics the Flyers held at the Philadelphia Department of Recreation run Tarken Rec Center Ice Rink we played at. At least it surely did to me when I saw and realized just how awesome the skill level of two of the Broad Street Bullies, who always gave their time to community pursuits and causes - Don Saleski and Bob Kelly, was. My point being I've loved hockey for a long time and have had the pleasure of seeing and supporting two well run NHL organizations - first Ed Snider's Philadelphia Flyers and now Ted Leonsis' Washington Capitals.

Even being a huge hockey fan from way back though is not what drew me to the Washington Capitals or pushed me to become a Caps season ticket holder. What did that is that from July 2005 until the end of September 2006 I basically lived during the week in New York City while my family (wife and then 15/16 year old son) remained here in Bristow, VA. That wasn't the first time I spent a lot of time away from home for work, for most of 2 years from mid-1998 through mid-2000 I spent about 50% of my time in Ankara, Turkey. Both of those stints were very interesting and rewarding professionally, but as the New York stint ended I realized two things: A) I have a great and supportive spouse and B) I wanted/needed to spend more time with my son before his life changed and he went off to college. I needed a bridge to reconnect after being away from home most of his 15th year on this planet. During the prior two years and my year in New York I would take my son to games pretty often. We went to about 20 Caps games and 10 Wizards games in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons. Even when I was commuting to NY, when I would come home I'd often buy either Wizard or Caps tickets. When you are 14 or older you need a reason to spend time with your dad instead of your friends. Realizing this, going to pro sports became that excuse for me/us.

As the summer of 2006 wound down and I knew I'd be home more, I struck up a conversation with my son while we were at the beach in New Jersey for our annual August trip to my sister's, formerly my parent's bungalow and he made it clear he strongly preferred Caps games to Wizard games and like his father he was an Eagles fan and had no desire whatsoever to see a season of Redskin's games. I guess I should have figured as much given my son much prefers playing sports to watching them, played roller hockey and at the time he was playing goalie on his high school lacrosse team. So after I was done with my stint in New York I called the Caps ticket office and it being in the middle of the "so called" rebuild, we were able to get two season tickets in a great location. So began our relationship with the Washington Capitals on a more than casual basis.

That first season, especially the first half of the first season was perfect for what my son and I needed and wanted. Ironically, transition of loyalties from the Flyers to the Capitals was pretty easy for me. As you may recall the Flyers finished 30th in the league standings and the Caps finished 27th. The quality of hockey either team played wasn't as bad as their finishes and records might have otherwise indicated. For my son, a goalie, there was "Olie the Goalie" so we promptly procured a black and gold "#37" jersey for him. For me, the decision as to a number was harder and I opt'ed for a #11 Halpren sweater even though he had gone to Dallas, he was an American, a local guy who got to Captain the NHL team he followed and rooted for as a kid - seemed like a good story to me. We went to 90+% of the remaining games that first season together.

The events were a great catalyst for us to reconnect - it was perfect. What made it so was a lot of things. Not the least of which is/was despite those struggles and the rebuild, the Caps were and are "a classy organization." The NHL doesn't have some of the over the top, poor, or totally unacceptable role models other pro sports who I won't call out here have as marquee stars. The Caps organization and it's players from Olie the Goalie to Alexander Ovechkin to "the grinders" were and remain fairly accessible. Even better is the fact you realize these are good and nice people who just happen to be world-class professional athletes. It's an easy thing to support and celebrate.

Caps fans at the time and for the most part remain folks you don't mind associating with or exposing your kids to. Sure of late with the larger crowds and the specter of more success we've all gotten more "passionate" and shouted the occasional less than totally clean response to something we didn't agree with. However, I've never seen things at Verizon Center like I've seen a lot of other pro sports events like the Redskins game years ago when my son was seven and a group of three drunks shouted for Norv Turner to attempt to do so many anatomically impossible things for over 10 minutes I felt the need to leave. Worse yet was trying to not answer the subsequent questions from a relentlessly inquisitive and persistent seven year old as to what the statements meant. By and large over the past 5 years of going to Caps games I've rarely seen or heard such things. I know when I've slipped the folks around me will politely but disapprovingly point out nearby children in our section, just as I do to others when they slip. For whatever reason, one of those quiet, polite admonitions tends to do the trick and keep us all on levels of acceptable behaviour and decorum. It's something I think most Caps fans want to take pride in - not being jerks - no matter how persecuted and long-suffering we feel we are. That too is certainly a lesson that I never minded my son taking away for our attendance at games.

Our second year as STH's was a little less intense for my son, he was a senior in high school, much more focused on in no particular order: girls, working (having his own money), lacrosse, doing reasonably well in his senior year, and finalizing his college selection and plans. I on the other hand was pretty hooked and had also found several folks who were generally willing to go to Caps games with me when he was working or begged off - which was generally weekend games when he was working or playing Lax and about 1/2 the weeknight games. The result was I traded in a number of games which gave me two weeknight games, one where I took a bunch of guys I went to college with, and a second where I took several guys from the neighborhood for a "guys night out." They were two awesome nights and a lot of fun. I'd love to do this more but two things have happened which are positive that make doing that like I did both those first two seasons unlikely: a) I now have a partner for our tickets so we miss fewer games and b) there aren't as many good seats available when you trade tickets in. In any case more importantly, that second season solidified going to Caps games as a reason to spend time together as father and son. In addition during the 2007 - 2008 season so much happened to be storybook. First and foremost, my son made his college selection and gained admittance to my alma mater - The United States Merchant Marine Academy. (Gotcha didn't I you thought I was going to lapse into the great comeback the Caps made last year to make the playoffs - that was awesome too - but nothing compared to the pride a father feels when the former occurs.) The Caps made the playoffs and won the Southeast Division. Bruce Boudreau won the Jack Adams. Alexander Ovechkin won just about every other possible individual honer available and it became clear the Caps were a talented and deep hockey club ready to take the next step. Also very importantly they were awesomely fun to watch.

When I renewed my seats this season I delayed however because I knew my main reason for going to hockey games was going to be living and going to school on Long Island, New York and since I tend to bellow "LETS GO CAPS" very loudly at least five to ten times a period, my wife prefers other things to going to Caps games with me. Then however, one of my classmates who had been to the game with us the prior February indicated he wanted to split the tickets. We did that, of course being slow to renew I lost my aisle seats in section 103 and had to move to interior seats in the section. Though I'm now on folding seats in the corner, if anything our sight lines are better since we are three rows higher. I'd still like our aisle stadium folding seats back, but I doubt that is going to happen, I noted the young couple who picked them up were at A LOT of games together, at least those seats went to folks who seem to be "real fans". On the plus side, my son and I went to a number of games together over Christmas Break and one during spring break - that was a lot of fun. Tom, my classmate and I had a great time at some of the playoffs together and Capitals Hockey continues to be a catalyst for me to escape from the cares and pressures of everyday life. The Capitals continue to be an organization I feel very, very comfortable supporting top to bottom and a fan base I'm more than happy to be counted among.

So for all those things, as much or more than for the obvious things like putting a world class hockey team on the ice, to Ted Leonsis, the other partners in Lincoln Holdings, LLC, the management, and the players of the Washington Capitals, I just wanted to publicly say -


Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Less Than Auspicious, But Classy End to A Great Season

I'm not here making any excuses, looking for reasons yes, making excuses no. That part of my core values won’t go away but it’s not making excuses so I have to say this next statement first and get it out of the way. No doubt about it - last night the Pens did and the Caps didn’t. The result hurt if you're a Caps fan - when since Boudreau took over as coach have we been down 4-0 let alone in a game that mattered so much? The Caps season is over and I won't go check on what I just stated so it could be wrong, but I can't recall the last time I saw any team score 4 let alone 5 goals before the Caps scored their first.

I also can't recall when the Caps failed to adjust as well to differences and changes between periods at least as well or better since Boudreau arrived. Last night it happened in the second period. The period started with the Caps needing a goal to get things moving, instead the Pens scored two quick ones to go up by four. How they and we as a crowd managed to keep it together and with a little class given the fact that up till then this last series was "nip and tuck" every minute of pretty much every game - before i get a ton of comments I know there were lulls and lapses, the Caps more then the Pens - but it was the first time in the series one team dominated the other for an extended period. However that's the way last night went. If you were a Cap or a Cap fan it wasn't your night, the clock had run out. To make matters worse, Pittsburgh, knowing what was at stake knew they could show no mercy. Until first five minutes of the third period had been played they kept the pedal to the medal and for the subsequent thirteen minutes they kept the pressure full bore on the Caps. The Caps never got going last night and that was the really sad part. I've been a Caps STH for 5 years now and a hockey player and fan for 40 years, it was clear the Pens, Sidney Crosby and ALL the Pens had no intention of letting the Caps recover or get any momentum. They played well, our Caps for whatever reason last night did not.

However, maybe not from last night's game but from these two playoff series several more good things came to light when you look ahead. Dave Steckel came of age. Sergei Federov, showed he's 39 years old but he's still got it if he wants to come back again - I hope he does. John Erskine, totally validated the contract extension he received. Mike Green proved that a hurt Mike Green is still an asset we are more than happy to have around. The "Alexes" awoke this AM tied for 1st and in 9th in playoff scoring so far, unfortunately given they also awoke with their seasons ended they won't be in the lead when the Cup get's raised - not this year, it wasn't to be.

Look I really don’t like Crosby’s style - it’s too … well Canadian for my taste - I’m a brash American… I like Ovie, I think Malkin is as important to the Pens as Crosby, maybe Gonchar and Fluery are too … the only Pen I really don’t like is Orprick - I was also surprised Blysma played Crosby and Malkin till less than 2:30 left - doesn’t that say that maybe for all the trash talk the Pens, including their coach respect the Caps just a little? I mean they were up by four goals, the ice was clearly soft and chippy. Mike Green didn’t take a shift in the third period, yet the Pens felt they needed to keep their bootheel on the Caps neck until the 2:00 mark.
I’m not dissing the Pens, I’m just saying it was a great series between two great teams. The Caps are in pretty good shape re the salary cap and free agency this summer. Our Caps will be back, no doubt from what they showed last night the Pens will be.

I won’t wish them luck, no malice I’m just “adopting” the Blackhawks this next round and hopefully the rest of the way. I feel they are the underdogs, or the biggest underdogs since I can’t bring myself to root for the ‘Canes even though they just knocked the Bruins out of the playoffs in a game 7 OT ... and what was that about the Southeast Division being the weakest in the NHL again?

Oh no... with the quote below from OV last night there could once again be rumours about OV wanting to play in Montreal: "Our fans, right now I think they're better than Montreal. They're just awesome." -- Alex Ovechkin

Just kidding I'll be back intermittently between now and training camp - hopefully between now and then someone will tell me how I get my Federov Jersey autographed so I can place it above the bar in the basement....especially if he decides he doesn't want to come back or for some reason GMGM decides he can't afford him...

Final note - 99.9% of the Caps fans at the game were very classy and the ovation at the end of the game as well as the reaction to the few Penguin fans in attendance seemed very good. Still very, very proud to be a Caps fan...

LETS GO CAPS!!!! 2010 is the year!!!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wow, I Guess I Can Breathe Now - Another Awesome Game, This One Ends Caps 5 - Pens 4 in OT

Wow, I Guess I Can Breathe Now -
Another Awesome Game, This One Ends Caps 5 - Pens 4 in OT

Wow! Finally, the streak of playoff overtime losses is broken. Now it's back to Verizon Center here in DC for ANOTHER game 7. Guess I better hyperventilate so I have a lot of oxygen in my system when I still holding my breath at 7 PM on Wednesday.

What can you say about tonight, it had everything though the Caps did have to dodge a bit of a bullet with a slow start again. The two goals in 29 seconds in the third period to take the lead 4-3 was pretty cool if you are a Caps fan, especially considering both goals were the result of some pretty intense play and the Caps fourth goal was Viktor Kozlov's second of the night. The Caps got solid contributions from pretty much everyone in Red, White and Blue tonight though Chris Clarke and Jay Beagle's skates barely touched the ice (each had four shifts and less than three minutes ice time). The rest of the team all contributed, Boyd Gordon didn't get the ice time he had the prior games this series skating only 18 shifts for 11:10 TOI, however he won 7 of 8 faceoffs including the critical last one in regulation. Everyone else had 20 or more shifts; the Caps also four even strength goals to the Penguins two; and by the end of the night the Caps had won 58% of the faceoffs. Four Capitals scored the five goals none of them with a last name of Ovechkin; though "The Great Eight" was clearly a factor in this game on the scoreboard he had 3 assists (2 primary and 1 secondary) was +3, and won the one faceoff he he took. Additionally, OV made 2 hits, had 5 SOG, had one attempt blocked and one missed shot. Kozlov had two goals, and was +2 on the night. Nicklas Backstrom had one point - a primary assist - and he was + 2 on the night. Alexander Semin may have played his best game of the playoffs, he had a goal on the powerplay, using his wicked fast release and deadly accurate wrist shot, a secondary assist, drew a penalty, and never lost his cool, despite several clearly frustrating situations. Mike Green played a solid game and perhaps to answer all the recent questions led the team, along with Steckel, Morrison, Jurcina, and Bradley, with four (4) hits. Dave Steckel was the Capitals Player of the Game - he scored the game winner in OT, making amends for a slashing penalty he took early in the third period, during which the Pens took a 3-2 lead. He also cleared out any "demons" from his psyche, missing the OT game winner during a scoring chance he had on Saturday evening. The other Caps goal scorer was Tomas Fleischmann who netted a power play goal to put the Caps up 2-1 in the second period.

The Caps finally found a way to win on a night when both Crosby and Malkin had solid outings and the Pens outshot them 42 - 24. The win was a result of excellent goalkeeping by Simeon Varlamov and good team play. The Penguins had a broader distribution of ice time then the Capitals did but the Caps managed to keep up, if not accelerate the pace of play on a "wet track."

No predictions or analysis right now in anticipation of Wednesday night other than to predict another great, Nail-biting game.

I can't wait - I'll be rocking the read in Section 103 - it'll be game 7 - as we all know that means anything can happen.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

What's Left To Say ...

Okay, the Caps lost last night. For Caps fans like me, the game was disappointing. I refuse to whine about the officiating, I admire that so far as I can see no one in the Caps organization is doing so. Sure other bloggers and a few of my own comments on blogs, etc. indicate my real feelings after thinking about it for some time today. It was a great game, the officiating left a lot to be desired on/for both sides, and the game given the quality of play deserved a better ending than the one that occurred. That is not to say that means the team I root for needed to be or necessarily would have been the one to win. Okay so that's all I'll say on that subject.

The Caps have their work cut out for them, who knows these guys seem to thrive when their backs are against the wall. Ovie said it well and I'll paraphrase - the Caps need six periods IN A ROW where they play their best hockey, six periods like the first and second period of last night's game. Oh and don't, I repeat DON'T expect the Penguins to get frustrated, play stupid or just fold up and go home. For the record so far this series there have been 5 games, four out of the five have been one goal games and the other was a two goal game in which the Caps scored the first goal and Sergei Federov had two other good scoring chances before the Pens rattled off three in a row and never looked back. Simple fact, these are two very talented teams who play all out, new style hockey; they match up well to each other and so far the Pens have found a way to win three times, while the Caps have only found a way to win twice.

In the end it really probably is that simple. Speaking of simple, hopefully the Caps will keep it that way. I have no doubt when each of these two teams is eliminated from the playoffs, or if the hockey gods shine on them one of them wins the Cup, we'll learn there were more guys "ding'ed" up than anyone suspected. That said, none of that matters. At the end of the game tomorrow night either the Penguins will advance or both teams will be headed back to Verizon Center for Game 7.

As a Caps fan, I'm hoping to get a chance to see another game 7. I also hope if we get that chance the following things happen in no particular order of precedence:

a) All 18, 277 in attendance listen to the announcement for our National Anthem and indeed join in and sing it respectfully rather than desecrating it with that "O" stuff and even that "RED" stuff.

b) If Sergei Gonchar plays we applaud his return to the ice once and then forget that stupid Larry Murphey "whoop".

c) No matter what the Pens fans do on Monday when Ovie touches the puck, we continue to NOT boo every time Crosby touches the puck.

d) We continue to take advantage of the advantages Caps ownership have given us to pack our building with Caps fans clad in read and we continue to see precious few "baby blue" or "black & gold" sweaters "in our house."

and last but possibly most importantly:
e) No matter how stupid or frustrating the officiating is or isn't to us we do NOT throw things on the playing surface.

Now for Monday night I'm hoping the Caps just play simple, straightforward,GREAT hockey and kick some flightless bird butt. They can do it, they've shown that but they need to turn up and keep up the intensity. There is no doubt the Penguins will want to finish this series at home. Don't kid yourselves no one who has a chance to finish and end a series in Game 6 wants to play Game 7.

So folks we have them right where we want them, they are visible on all sides, our options are simple and obvious in front of us - we shall attack, attack and drive to victory. We shall ask no quarter nor shall we offer such to our opponents. There is no option, it's either victory or the embarrassment and ignominy of digging our golf clubs out of that cobweb ridden corner in our garages. So sharpen your skates, tape your sticks, adjust your pads and leap, leap my loyal band of brothers into the breach screaming that cry that elicits fear from the hearts of your worthy opponents --- "NO PRISONERS!!!!!"


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Back to Back Nights, Chapter 1 Ends, Chapter 2 Begins ...

First off, a pledge other than in these first three sentences, you will not, I repeat NOT, read anything about the Phoenix Coyotes. I am NOT a lawyer or expert in bankruptcy proceedings and I do NOT find them the least bit entertaining. I follow and watch NHL hockey as a diversion from work/business and my real cares in the world; I suspect in this regard I am similar to 99+% of NHL fandom. I refuse to even speculate what all these machinations mean to the NHL in the future until some worthy team captain hoists Lord Stanley's Cup above his head in June and even then I'm much, much more likely to blog about the upcoming NHL Draft. I wish others would do the same, not that I begrudge them the right to write about this junk it's just it diverts them from writing about things I like to read about. I do understand it's news, it's just not news I'm interested in.

Now what about those Washington Capitals? What are we Caps fans to do? I am getting - amused, disgusted, interested, revolted, and frustrated - all together at the same time once in a while at the comments on some of the message boards & blogs that are pondering these questions as well as wondering: a) If Bruce Boudreau is basically well - dumb; b) What's wrong with Mike Green and why he hasn't lit the red light every game in the playoffs; c) Why Alexander Semin hasn't been able to go wild on the Penguins; and a host of other things i regard as well - just plain silly. Folks/dear readers - lets start by acknowledging we are playing in the Conference Semifinals - we are down to arguably, the 8 best teams in the NHL right now first of all. Second of all lets acknowledge, as much as we Caps fans might not like the Penguins, they are a very, very talented hockey team, perhaps one of three or four with as many excellent "skill players" as the Capitals. Third lets acknowledge that over the last two games the Penguins have played their game plan very well AND they have played with more disciplined desperation than the Capitals.
With that out of the way - is it over for the Capitals? I think not, in fact I think no way. On Frozen Blog's pucksandbooks feels that the Caps played "uninspired hockey for prolonged stretches in games 3 and 4 and the key to turning things around are Semin and Green. He states "From my vantage, it's a real simple formula (not necessarily easily achieved) for the Capitals to regain momentum and control of this series in tonight's game 5: two world-class performers who've been anything but in this series, Alexander Semin and Mike Green, need to rise up and re-emerge as game-altering talents. Why don't I identify Simeon Varlamov as key? Obviously the Caps will need a better effort from Simeon in game 5 than he gave in Pittsburgh Friday night, but if Green and Semin go AWOL, the young goalie can stand on his head and it won't much matter. " While I agree that if Mike Green and Alexander Semin can reemerge in game 5 and the rest of the series life will be extremely difficult for the Penguins Defense and Marc-Andre Fluery, others could also have a similar effect on the games. Further while the Caps do indeed need solid outings from Sasha and "Game Over", they also need them to play within themselves and not make any stupid mistakes. Indeed both Semin and Green, along with Federov (who had two excellent scoring chances early in game 4 that could have altered the game), Backstrom, and Laich can all make a big difference in the rest of the series. Just as on the Pittsburgh side of the ice it's more than Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar and MAF; Washington has a TON of talented, skill guys - that's why in a best of three series, which is what we have now, anything can happen. Think about it, in black and gold you have: Malkin, Crosby, MAF, Satan, Guerin, Sykora, Gonchar, Gill, Letang, and Kunitz; in red, white and blue you have: Ovechkin, Semin, Federov, Backstrom, Laich, Varlamov, Green, Poti and Pothier - what a group of talented guys.
Now think about this, whoever wins this series will face a similar set of talented guys in each of the next two rounds - yes, this gut wrenching, indigestion producing, on the edge of your seats stuff is what every game between now and when the Caps hang up their skates for the summer will be like. So when you ponder "why? why? WHY?!?!?" don't even think about dismissing the real root reason - "Because these guys are all good, there is NO low hanging fruit, and besides being really good (like us) these guys really, really want to win too." So what am I saying - its simple - I neither agree or disagree with pucksandbooks - I think from here on out it'll take a team, an entire team, playing 60+ minutes to win every game left in every one of the four series ongoing. Now, let's just do it - no whining, no BS, no distractions let's go out there and kick some flightless bird butt you guys - I'll be the idiot screaming encouraging words in the Federov Jersey in section 103 - how's that for "Rockin the Red."
If you aren't just crying in your beer then you already know that 2 of the other 3 Conference Semifinal series are also tied 2 games apiece and only the Carolina Hurricanes are two games up leading the Boston Bruins 3 games to 1. I feel this further validates my point about no low hanging fruit anywhere in the journey between today and drinking champagne from Lord Stanley's Cup for anybody. Welcome to the new NHL and the parity that salary caps bring to professional sports.