Thursday, June 24, 2010

Number 500 - The Last Week and Free Agency Looms...

Yes that's right, this is the 500th "Mark's Musing" I've posted here. I started this blog on November 21st, 2007. Wow. My first post was made as the Washington Capitals were in the middle of some turmoil as you'll recall. I had been a season ticket holder for a little over a year and I had found "the blogsphere" as a great place to follow and keep up with the Washington Capitals.

My first ever post was on November 21st, 2007 and was titled "My First Blog..." such a unique and creative title, and it was filled with unique and insightful information and analysis - NOT - you can see it here if you don't remember it. I sure didn't and I needed to refresh my memory. Following immediately that same day I made my first substantive blog post: "Caps Tonight (Home Loss To Atlanta)." Of course the blog started as what I thought as going to be a way for one Caps STH to deal with the ongoing frustration, only to be pleasantly surprised and then more than a little pleased with how things proceeded from there. That said those who remember those dark days can truly agree "we've come a long way, baby" in any number of ways. I like to think one of them is with the quality of the content in this blog but I know I shouldn't ever quit my day job. Any way now back to the present day - Free Agency starts tomorrow, what's that mean for the Washington Capitals?

As always DMG over at Japer's Rink has a great analysis and commentary, if you haven't read it yet it's right here.

So here's my view/details/pertinent data, etc.
2010-2011 Salary Cap: $59.8M
Projected Washington Capitals Budget: $59.8M
Current Available Salary Cap Space: ~$13.5M

Current Roster - Total Cap Hit: $46.514M
Current Roster - Forwards (8) - $30.87M
1) Alexander Ovechkin - Cap Hit: $9.5M
2) Nicklas Backstrom - Cap Hit: $6.5M
3) Alexander Semin - Cap Hit: $6.0M
4) Mike Knuble - Cap Hit: $2.8M
5) Brooks Laich - Cap Hit: $2.1M
6) Jason Chimera - Cap Hit: $1.87M
7) David Steckel - Cap Hit: $1.1M
8) Matt Bradley - Cap Hit: $1.0M

Current Roster - Defense (5) - $14.0M
1) Mike Green - Cap Hit: $6.0M
2) Tom Poti - Cap Hit: $3.5M
3) Karl Alzner - Cap Hit: $1.675M
4) John Erskine - Cap Hit: $1.25M
5) John Carlson - Cap Hit: $0.875M
6) Tyler Sloan - Cap Hit: $0.700M

Current Roster - Goaltenders (2) - $1.644M
1a) Semyon Varlamov - Cap Hit: $0.822
1b) Michal Neuvirth - Cap Hit: $0.822M

13 Total Players Currently Under Contract Projected to Be on 2010-2011 Opening Day Roster;
5 Additional Forwards; 1-2 Additional Defensemen
Key Needs: 2nd Line Center; At Least 1 Additional Top 4 Defenseman.

Current Capitals Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) who have been issued qualifying offers:
1) Jeff Schultz
2) Eric Fehr
3) Tomas Fleischmann
4) Boyd Gordon.

Likely salary Cap space if Caps sign all qualified RFAs: $~4.5M.

Likely Approach To Filling Key Needs:

Per today's blog post by the Washington Post's Tarik El-Bashir, Caps GMGM indicated the Caps would likely be involved in the Free Agent talks but he didn't think Caps fans should be too surprised if the organization doesn't make any big splashy signings. McPhee's assessment of this year's UFA crop: "There's not much out there." Who knows what that really means, one thing I've learned following the Caps closely over the last 4+ years is, don't play poker with George McPhee.

The likely approach to filling need #2) Another Top Four Defenseman - Likely solved by the resigning of Jeff Schultz which will happen unless someone puts a "silly/stupid" offer sheet in front of him.

The likely approach to filling need #1 - second line center is harder to guess. McPhee wonders aloud if either Mathieu Perrault or Tomas Fleischman is ready or close enough to ready to go that way. Tarik El-Bashir thinks aloud the Caps will go our and try and get either Saku Koivu or Matt Cullen to be the second line pivot between Laich and Semin. DMG thinks any number of forwards including: Koivu, Cullen, Olli Jokinen, Vinny Prospal, Matthew Lombradi or Mike Modano. Personally I'm thinking the list of possibles the Capitals might be interested in for the right deal is one of the following three players: 1) Saku Koivu; 2) Matt Cullen or 3) Vinny Prospal - if they don't go with Mathieu Perrault. Basis for my feelings on this one pure gut instinct.

Long shot, surprise move, as in what would be the biggest surprise move you'd be happy to see the Capitals make. Sign UFA defenseman Dan Hamhuis or UFA Defenseman Mark Eaton for a reasonable cap hit, 3 year deal.

Okay so is it September yet?

Let's Go Caps!!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Musing About Yesterday's NHL News Items

So yesterday I was busy at work, I mean very busy and focused. To the extent that the things I do to make a living were what I thought about exclusively between about 6AM and really this morning at about 11:30AM. In other words I've been "out of the loop" re: my hobbies and personal life items, including following what's been going on in the NHL. No big deal, it is after all "the off season," in fact as far as the calender and NHL hockey goes, this is really the "off-off season.' I mean the big news should have been the NHL schedules for the regular season were released. In most months of June that's it after the Stanley Cup Parade - you've got the awards show, and the release of next season's schedules, and usually nothing but rumours. Yesterday, apparently that wasn't the case we've got some real news items:

1) Nathan Horton to the Bruins for Dennis Wideman;

2) Nabakov given, as my late father would say, "his walking papers" by the Sharks;

3) Tomas Plekanec signs a 6 year, $30M extension with the Canadiens;

4) Former Capital "Bad Boy" Dino Ciccarelli elected to the HHOF;

5) The Pens sign Matt Cooke to a three year, no word on terms or if he gets extra bonus money for cheap shots;

6) It's not a big money deal, but the Canadiens also agreed to a one year contract with Mathieu Darche who opted to forgo Free Agency this year;

7) Scott Niedermayer announced his retirement; no word if Methuselah who it seems like broke into the league at about the same time as Niedermayer was present to offer his congratulations to the 36 year old, who in addition to leading the Anaheim Ducks also led Team Canada to Gold this past season, at the press conference.

8) The Edmonton Oilers named former Rangers Coach Tom Renney their new head coach.
9) According to his agent Allan Walsh, Capitals' Blue Liner Milan Jurcina is set to become an Unrestricted Free Agent. No real details on what that means other than it probably means there are no meaningful talks/negotiations ongoing between Walsh/Jurcina and the Caps.
10) Mike Green is working out hard and doing yoga this off season. Okay is that really all that news-worthy, no but I found it interesting.

11) Willie Mitchell says he is now symptom free from the concussion he suffered in January and vows to play next season. I'm not that up or down on Willie but I think it's great news to see a guy come back from an injury. So even though this is the sort of story that usually only gets picked up and talked about on a "slow" news day, I'm going to pass it along in case you missed it.

My only real musing on all this is basically - "wow, that's a lot of stuff for ~24 hours in the "off, off season" - what's this all mean?

Is it September yet?


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hey Tomas - Can I Have Some of What You and Your Agent Are Smokin'?

Actually, I'm not into mind altering substances - never really has been my thing. What, you ask am I talking about... Well yesterday Tarik El-Bashir posted on his blog some quotes from Tomas "Flash" Fleischmann's agent about the status of Flash's contract negotiations. Here's the excerpt I found most incredulous:

"We would like to make progress but we're not there yet. Evans (as in Rich, Fleischmann's Vancouver based agent) added. Keep in mind any contract that goes beyond one year takes into account [unrestricted] free agency and trying to value what free agency is worth a year away from it."

So I look at that quote and I think a couple of things as I reflect back to the last year of Flash's performance and also consider that last year a far better European (actually Russian) Wing, with a much longer track record and a much higher value to the team, ended up signing a one year deal rather than try and wrestle about what he might be worth in free agency with GM George McPhee. I also look to guys I might consider in a similar boat to Flash from last summer and the closest I can come to is Maxim Afiniganov, though I'd put Afiniganov as a much more consistent and proven NHL performer than "Flash." Considering that the Capitals gave Fleishmann his league/CBA mandated qualifying offer as an RFA today so that would be a salary of ~$761,250 (a mandated 5% raise) for the streaky, inconsistent, 26 year-old, developing, not very physical, Czech wing; it will be bizarrely interesting to me, as well as a real commentary on the overall thinness of this of season's RFA crop if any other team is willing to make a much better offer sheet and pay the Capitals the compensation picks required to pick up Fleischmann. Last season Fleischmann scored a total of 23 goals and 28 assists for 51 points in 69 games played but was only +/- + 9 and tended to score in a very "streaky" and undependable manner. On the other hand Maxim Afiniganov who was signed as a UFA by a far less talented Atlanta team as a UFA from Buffalo for a a salary and cap hit of $800,000 as a 30 year old, 10 year NHL veteran who ad previously scored over 20 goals a season three other times in his career and had a total of 24 goals and 37 assists in 82 games is again an Unrestricted Free Agent and can be picked up without providing his current team any sort of compensatory draft picks.

So, do I see Fleischmann getting any significantly better, multi-year offers this off season? Short answer, no. For those who feel Flash might get more money because he is the possible answer for the needed second line center on the Capitals, my reaction is two thoughts - 1) I don't think so, and 2) I sincerely hope not. Flash is absolutely NOT a natural center. He's just not defensively responsible enough to be that guy, even as a third line center. There were just too, too many times when he had that spot in the lineup where he lost track of the guy who on the opposing team who either a) ended up with a goal, or b) a primary assist. In the end, if you're going to try and put a guy from the existing group of Capitals' forwards in that spot - the answer is straight forward - his first name starts with Brooks and his last name ends with Laich. There's nothing wrong with "Flash" as a sniper, the issue is that on the Washington Capitals today as a wing - Flash is like the number 8 forward - and yes I know that overall last season he was the 7th most prolific scorer. I can count and read statistics. However would you honestly consider putting Flash in front of: 1) Ovechkin, 2) Semin, 3) Knuble, 4) Laich and 5) Fehr on a list of Wings? I wouldn't. As for a list of last year's centers would you put him in front of 1) Backstrom, 2) Brendan Morrison (before he tired at the end of last season), 3) Eric Belanger or for that matter 4) David Steckel on one of his good nights? I wouldn't.

So where's that leave "Flash"? On the Capitals I think it leaves him as a properly compensated, third line winger at between $750,000 and $800,000 guy. Are there other teams where he's worth more - sure. However, if I'm one of their GM's do I make an offer sheet to him and pay the draft picks in compensation or do I talk to GMGM and see if I can pick him up in a more cost effective fashion? In this market and given that last season was his best season ever, being I'm cheap I will tell you I don't know but the compensatory picks sure seem like a lot for a frugal, cap smart guy to fork over for Fleischmann.

I actually think the Capitals have more options and can shape/form a more durable, stronger, two way team without Fleischmann than with him. So as I've been saying if I'm GMGM I make the Qualifying Offer and then I deal him after I sign him if need be. As far as I'm concerned Rich Evans is being an agent and talking up his client when he says: "In my mind, he was one of their top guys when [Alex Ovechkin] was out [hurt]." Well, okay Rich I understand you have a job to do and you get overpaid to do it so I'll forgive you for the overstatement. However, look at your client's last season objectively and here's the realities as far as offensive numbers go he was seventh on a strong team. As far as being on the ice for defensive situation - that was a rare occurrence for a LOT of reasons. As far as being a dependable go to guy - no value there at all his performance was the same as it's always been streaky and inconsistent. Oh and he did all this while getting WAY TOO MUCH ice time. Personally, it's time to send a massage to the team that even the teacher's pet(s) aren't sacred. Flash has been given every chance and then some to excel. He hasn't been bad but he hasn't been excellent either. It's time to move him to a team that is willing to give the Caps fair value for him as on many other teams he has a chance to be a second line winger. On the 2010 - 2011 Washington Capitals, with the current talent base up front, that should not be the case.

So to Rich Walsh and Tomas Fleischmann, I say here's your Qualifying Offer, now let me get back to negotiating a contract extension with Eric Fehr. NEXT!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Examining the Ryan Parent for Dan Hamhuis Trade ...

So as those of you who regularly read this blog, my feelings have been that if I were Caps GM George McPhee the UFA Defender I'd go after is Dan Hamhuis, formerly of the Nashville Predators. On Saturday the Nashville Predators traded two veterans for lesser talents and draft choices - Dan Hamhuis to the Flyers for Ryan Parent and a 7th round pick and Jason Arnott for Matt Halischuck and a second round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft. Of course the Arnott trade netted the Predators more since he has a full season left on contract while essentially the Preds and the Flyers swapped negotiating rights for Parent who will be a RFA and Hamhuis who will be an UFA on July 1st. That said, if the quotes of Hamhuis are correct and accurate in the TSN article on the trade (preceding link), then it is entirely possible the Flyers traded a 23 year prospect with a shaky back for a true blue chip, proven NHL blue liner. The question I have is does the trade really make sense for Philly? Will they be able to afford to sign Hamhuis and if so how will they fit him under the cap this upcoming season and still address their other issues under the cap.

First let me say, I don't think Philly's blue line is why they lost to Chicago in the finals. As with most others, I find it pretty amazing that the two teams who played in the Stanley Cup Finals this year had solid, but not spectacular goal-tending, though perhaps that is a sign the new/post-lockout NHL is starting to affect the Stanley Cup and the quest for it more than previously felt. I also felt the Flyers could use some more guys up front more like Mike Richards and less like Danny Briere. While Briere had an amazing post-season in the end I felt Chicago was able to overpower him when it counted most - the final two games of the series. Also let's not forget Ville Lieno had a great post season. Blair Betts hasn't had a bad year or post season either. The fact that Lieno is signed this coming season for $800K and Betts for the next two at $700K, along with the fact that Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyke are both still on their entry level contracts helps and probably means the Flyers can afford to sign Hamhuis to a deal as long as he doesn't command a Cap hit of more than ~$4.5M per season, however signing him at that sort of number definitely will likely mean the #5 & #6 defensemen for the Flyers for each of the next two seasons will need to be entry level guys, and it also probably means that Flyers GM Paul Holmgren is counting on picking up a solid number one (#1) netminder at a bit of a bargain thanks to this year's glutted UFA market for goalies.

Color me disappointed - understanding but still disappointed, I had hoped that the Capitals could and would pick up Hamhuis at a reasonable price ($4M or so) now with this move I think it would take between $4.5 and $5M. I'd still rather have Hamhuis at that price than Volchenkov - I think Dan Hamhuis would be a FAR better fit in the Capitals system then Volchenckov ever would. However, at these sorts of numbers you do have to really look around and think through all the options. I feel with Alzner and Carlson ready and coming up, the Caps have a solid ability to strengthen their blue line this year but I do feel upgrading from Shaone Morrisonn to a guy like Dan Hamhuis would be a slam dunk, that said it's clear from the moves made to bring Hamhuis and his rights to Philly, my thoughts as to what price he'll be looking for/commanding was low.

Is it September yet?


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!!!

Happy Father's Day to all you fellow Dads out there .....

Even if sometime our kids think we're "mothers", it's important they always know we still love them and of course at least one day a year it's really nice to know the feelings are reciprocated!

That is all, carry on....

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday Morning Musings ...

Wow, it's Saturday June 19th and it's going to be a hot, humid day here in scenic Bristow, VA. Real hockey news is basically a little slow and of course there's lots of other things to muse about right now. Of course being slightly hockey obsessed means I'll have a few hockey related musings today mixed in with musings about just how much water I have to put out there to keep the cattle pasture type grass we call lawns here in Northern VA from turning all brown and looking and feeling like dried straw. I of course will have intermittent, random musings about wingman's imminent return from being at sea half-way around the world in Singapore and Thailand in a couple of weeks and wondering if it will be in time for our Fourth Of July Bar-B-Que/Soiree. But for the most part putting any more than "that" out there about "that" doesn't seem all too interesting. In fact it's a bit counter-productive with regard to keeping my mind off those things so the time passes faster. So what about that ice hockey stuff anyway.

Well let's take a quick tour around the "blogsphere."

First RLD has their posts up about the three Norris Candidates with three different bloggers explaining why the think each of their choices for the Best Defenseman in the League should win. I found the Doughty related post uncompelling and a bit "Homer McFanboy" of course this could be because I think Doughty is the #3 guy of these three and probably shouldn't be up there as a finalist except for the fact the committee was too embarrassed to nominated 39 YO Nicklas Lidstrom, again, and as far as Mike Green goes, I'm a bit of a Homer McFanboy myself. I found the Duncan Kieth post generally well done, except the tribe sidebar comment as to Mike Green being basically a "forward" since I don't know too many forwards that log his TOI or block 150 shots in a season. Penalizing a guy because: a) the game has changed, b) he's a great skater so he frequently joins the rush and c) as a result of a & b he's been putting up points in addition to being his teams number one defenseman, seems as foolish as saying that Kieth shouldn't be nominated since he's not even the number one defenseman on his own team if you look at current season salaries. Of course I found any minor flaws in the post about Mike Green were significantly overcome by the conclusion of the post.

There's some chatter that the Dallas Stars might do a portion of their training camp up on Prince Edward Island. I'm all for it, I've been meaning to go to PEI since I was fourteen and this would give me yet another thing to see and reason to go in August which is supposed to be the most beautiful time of year up there.

The blogsphere continues to talk about the Halak trade and most folks continue to wonder what Montreal was thinking... at least here's some fodder for Hockey Humour out of it though.

Well the good news is that this coming week the NHL rumour mill ought to really get going as we lead up tothe Draft....

Is it September yet?


Friday, June 18, 2010

TGIF - But Halak to Saint Louis - Seriously?

Well, I'm glad it's Friday - how about you? That said in NHL news I'm slightly concerned about a couple of things.

1) The lack of any discussion or news relative to the extension of Capitals RFA Defenseman Jeff Schultz. Schultz was clearly one of the top four defensemen on the Capitals at the end of last season and is developing well and on pace. There is no doubt in my mind the Capitals need to give him a qualifying offer and resign him, why they haven't done so yet is confusing to me and in the absence of news - I'm worried he and his agent are hoping to get some offer sheets and they indeed get some. At the very least that will increase the price the Caps have to pay him against the Salary Cap at least the next two seasons, and at worst it could mean the Caps would see him playing elsewhere next season and the compensation they'd get under the current CBA could easily not make up for such an event. Now this time last year I would have likely been one of the last Caps Bloggers to say and write such things but I don't think Schultz has even started to reach his potential and I want him clearly in the fold for at least two and preferably 3 or 4 more seasons. I'd be more comfortable on this topic if I wasn't reading about discussions with Shaone Morrisonn - nothing against Sha-Mo, I just want "Sarge" under contract more.

2) Lack of movement in general by the Capitals in issuing their RFA qualifying offers as of this date. I would think that Caps GM George McPhee would have a pretty solid idea as to who he does and doesn't want to issue qualifying offers to now that both teh NHL and AHL playoffs are over. I'm of the same school as Steve Yzerman on this, get those offers out early and started so opposing GMs know who they will have to pay more to target and get. The Capitals have just 9 players who will be/are Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) this summer when you include known, solid prospects in Hershey. I've pretty much gone on record that if I were GMGM I'd make qualifying offers to all of them assuming I could work such a thing under the salary cap. In fact of the nine (it was ten but of course Nicklas Backstrom is "off the street" now): Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, Boyd Gordon, Jay Beagle, Kyle Wilson, Jeff Schultz, Andrew Gordon, Chris Bourque and Patrick McNeill; the only one whose rights I'd be seriously shopping right now if I were GMGM would be Tomas "Flash" Fleischmann's. Of course, I'm also on record that I'd consider parting with any of these nine as part of a deal that could bring Blackhawk Center Patrick Sharp to the Capitals as their number two centerman. All that said, what would stop me from making qualifying offers to any of these nine guys right now - nothing, so why not as they say in Beaverton, OR : "Just Do It?"

In other NHL news - the New Jersey Devils have a new coach and the Saint Louis Blues have a new Number 1 Goaltender (assuming they can sign him).

In the case of the Devils they've finally decided to "give" former player John MacLean a chance at the reigns as the replacement for the legendary Jacques Lemaire. To me this was a far less surprising move than the Canadeans dealing Halak to the Blues. Oh and unlike the move by the Canadeans this one makes nothing but sense to me.

Yesterday's big news was the Montreal - Saint Louis trade of prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz to Montreal for Jaroslav Halak. This just made no sense to me, Halak was Mointreal's "go to guy" through the entire playoffs, yet they hung on to the guy they would trust in the net during this years playoffs. I mean even after Halak go pulled for Carey Price in the playoffs, each time, the Canadeans came back with Halak as the starter in the following game. I understand salary cap management and perhaps nobody wanted to take on Price's all edged locker room baggage, but Price is also currently going to be an RFA so why not keep both or try and see if Price would take a pay cut too? In the case of Saint Louis, the deal seems to make perfect sense. Given the glutted goaltender market this off season they can basically let 34 year old UFA Chris Mason walk, they have backup Ty Conklin signed through next season and now they have a young, solid starter in Jaro Halak who they can develop as their number 1 goaltender added to a team that has an otherwise solid young core as well. To me for STL GM John Davidson this is.was a "no-brainer" but I'm still confused why Pierre Gauthier thinks it's the right move for the Habs. Oh well, maybe it's because NHL Hockey is not my day job and somebody will explain it all to me.

Is it September yet?


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

So... Today's Hockey Musings ... They Are Pretty Random...

1) Has the NHL imposed a salary cap on the pay of the Awards Ceremony/Show Host? If not why in the world have they selected and scheduled Jay Mohr? Just wonderin' - though definitely not surprised that Buttman and Team get this sort of thing - wrong.

2) SBN's FTR (From The Rink) blogger Mike Chen takes exception to the Pittsburgh blog Pensburgh defending Marc-Andre Fluery. Wow, let's hear some trash talk and then after High school they can duke it out across the street from the senior's parking lot. Seriously, siunce when do we go to read FTR and instead of insight and commentary we get a guided tour of the posts in other blogs - of course only ones that are posted elsewhere on SBN. Blatant sellout commercialization of what used to be the pinnacle of Hockey Blogs - Mirtle should speak out on this abuse of his child too. Okay - yes Mike Chen if the dudes over at Pensburgh won't meet you and beat you after school, I'm up for it, but I think they should have first licks.

3) So the rumour mill says that the Bruins are happy with the number two pick. I take that to mean one of four things: 1) They don't care whether they end up with either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, 2) They know who Edmonton is going for and they like the other guy as much or better. 3) They are indeed clueless and ignorance isw bliss. OR 4) They have a deal pre-negotiated with Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs to trade down with the Leafs overpaying, ridiculously for whatever it is Boston choices to give them that includes the number 2 pick. Me, I'm thinking it's likely 85% #1 - Boston could use either Hall or Seguin, 14% could be #4, and even up 1/2 of 1% for either #2 or #3...

4) Who needs an ECHL/AA Level Affiliate anyway... of course how weird would it be if they shared affiliation with the Devils of Trenton, me if I was Glen Sather I'd co-affiliate with Toronto and the Reading Royals if I wanted to keep my affiliate local. That said how likely is it that you bring someone up to either the AHL or the NHL in a rush from your ECHL affiliate? So why not Johnston - to be Greenville - in co-affiliation with Minnesota, like Scotty says? Of course if your okay with co-affiliation and you want to stay close to "home Base" why not the Elmira Jackels whose NHL affiliate is Ottawa?And just because of the double entendre' that goes with their name for me - why not the Wheeling "Nailers" in co-affiliation with Pittsburgh? I mean after all I bet those guys would know what to do with Sean Avery's savory, I mean sloppy, seconds....

5) If you haven't found "Better Living Through Bradley" yet - take a look. It brings some insights I find often bizarre to the table, but it's in my favorites list and I always look. I guess for me it's kind of like that bad thing inside me that drives me to rubber neck long and hard at any car accident that calls for the "Jaws Of Life" as part of its aftermath. Though I do agree that the Caps management should insist or at least incentivize Brooks Laich to grow some hair again.

6) In Tampa Bay, GM Steve Yzerman, made his first signicant move after taking his new job and issued 10 qualifying offers to Tampa Bay's Restricted Free Agents. StevieY and the Lightning gave qualifying offers to: Steve Downie, Blair Jones, Martins Karsums, Teddy Purcell, Jaruj Simek, Paul Szczechura, Nate Thompson, Mike Lundin, Vladamir Mihalik, and Paul Ranger. It was rumored that of the three RFAs that TB let go: Chris Lawrence, Radek Smolenak, and Lauri Tukonen, the only one that gave Yzerman, the guy who didn't think a two time Norris Trophy candidate was good enough to represent his nation as one of six blueliners, pause was Chris Lawrence. It's believed that Yzerman confused Smolenak with another "Radek" who went to the KHL - Radek Bonk formerly of Nashville whose face Yzerman finds ugly and immediately decided he "didn't want none of that" when he got to Tampa. As far as Tukonen, Yzerman opted to let him go because he didn't want the turmoil that would be created by having a guy with "a girl's name" in the same locker room as Steve Downie who is known to have total lapses of self control, along with any sort of judgement at times.

Well I guess it's time for dinner. Like I said just some randomness that is very slightly hockey related for musings today.

Is it October yet?


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

So What Does The Fact The Hershey Bears Repeated As Calder Cup Champs Mean For the Caps and Other Musings....

Last night, the Hershey Bears repeated as AHL Calder Cup Champions. The Bears claimed the 2010 Calder Cup at home with a fairly impressive, and fairly dominating 4-0 victory over the Texas Stars. I watched the majority of the game on NHL Network and had several musings at the time that I've thought some more about this morning and might be worth sharing.

During the game it occurred to me that it's clear there is likely little to be gained through another season in the AHL for the development of the following players: John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mathieu Perrault, and Michael Neuvirth. All four of these guys should be on the Capitals rooster for the entirety of next season - more on that thought later.

Through all of last night's game numerous other Caps prospects were dominant and impressive as well:

a) Chris Bourque - well through this series and watching him, I finally saw why so many folks here in Caps Nation are big proponents/supporters of Bourque. He was dominant, his play making was creative and he seemed to have glue on his stick. Through the entire game when he was on the ice he usually made things happen and all night long, he made just one mistake and then he got back and corrected it. If he can find a way to regularly do 1/2 as much at the NHL level he will never have to play another game in the minors the next time he gets a chance at the NHL level. Given his history and his drive while I'm rooting for him now, I'd still say that's a 50/50 chance.

b) Jay Beagle - I've liked what I've seen of him when he's been given a chance up at the NHL level and it's clear he'll get some more chances and well he should. From what I saw he has a good chance of making it at the NHL level as a regular 3rd or 4th liner. Beagle is an RFA this summer and if I were GMGM, I wouldn't think twice about tending a qualifying offer for this 23 year old who is continuing to develop.

c) Alexandre Giroux - really has nothing left to prove at the AHL level, but I'm not sure there is room for him anywhere besides Hershey right now in the Capitals organization. Giroux is an UFA this off-season, if I were him I'd look to move somewhere else in the NHL/AHL where there is less of a log jam on the parent club's roster for a gifted scoring forward. I'm not saying I want to see him go - I don't. I am saying if I were him, at age 28, I'd be looking for a place where I can get a better shot an an NHL roster spot - now.

d) Kieth Aucoin - another who has nothing left to prove at the AHL level and at age 30 and under contract to the Capitals through the end of the 2012 - 2013 season, you're looking at a guy who will get some more chances to play up at the NHL here in DC and who in the meantime is likely the next Captain of the Hershey Bears when/if Brian Helmer retires.

e) Boyd Kane - After this season, the 31 year old has nothing to prove down here in "The A", that said whether anyone else makes a play for the UFA Left Wing remains to be seen. He may well be back in Hershey next season and I wouldn't mind seeing him so.

f) Patrick McNeill - I mentioned this 23 year old blue liner yesterday before the final Calder Cup Game. I don't know why I did - other than I like him and the way his development is going. Last night then he goes out and nets two goals and has a great game in all facets to boot. McNeill will be a RFA after this season and should be given a qualifying offer as well as a shot to see if he can displace either Carlson, Alzner, Erskine or Jurcina/Sha-Mo for a regular line-up spot with the Capitals in Camp this summer.

g) Other guys worth a contract spot out of the allotted 50 to the Capitals based on this year's efforts in Hershey include: Steve Pinizzotto, Andrew Jourdrey, Braden Holtby, Andrew Gordon, Kyle Wilson, and Francois Bouchard. Also though I don't think he'll get a contract from the Capitals, he should get one from Bears GM Doug Yingst - Gregg Amadio.

The Bears victory shows that there is a very deep and fine talent development pipeline in the Capitals organization these days. It also means, IMO, the Caps need to use that pipeline to their advantage - not just for development but also to trade and get a) either something they need now, or b) get more draft picks in the upcoming 1-3 years. The Capitals now need to make room to continue development the players coming up the line with a similar approach as the US Military takes - up or out. This can and should start this upcoming season in Washington - first on the blue line but up front and in goal. After watching the last couple of Calder Cup final games here's my thoughts for the Capitals 2010-2011 roster going into training camp:

On the Blue Line:
1) Mike Green, 2) Tom Poti, 3) Jeff Schultz, 4) Milan Jurcina, 5) John Carlson, 6) Karl Alzner, 7) either John Erskine or Shoane Morrisonn but not both, 8) Patrick McNeill, 9) Tyler Sloan. If things play out the way I think they will and should I think the 7 Defensemen on the Capitals roster at the end of training camp will and should be: 1) Mike Green, 2) Tom Poti, 3) Jeff Schultz, 4) John Carlson, 5) Milan Jurcina, 6) Karl Alzner and 7) either Erskine or McNeill. I'd assign Sloan to Hershey right at the beginning of the season and see if he'd clear waivers. I like Shoane Morrisonn but not at almost $2M - I think Jurcina is just as good a fit in the role that's needed there and he'll likely cost at least 0.5M less of salary cap per year. I also think Juice has more upside as he could well get better while I think Sha-Mo is pretty topped out. Since he is a UFA the Caps won't get anything for him but over the next 2-3 years having an additional $500K/year of cap space will be useful, especially when Karl Alzner becomes RFA eligible after next season. I also like the grit and size that John Erskine brings to the lineup, but I think the Blue Liners I've listed are all clearly better skaters and the overall group is stronger without him then with him in place of say Alzner. That said if one of the three current Hershey Bears: Alzner, Carlson or McNeill don't show they are ready to play in the NHL, he's the guy I'd keep. All that said If the Capitals can pick up somebody like Don Hamhuis for an average cap hit of around $3.5M, they should do it and he then becomes the #2 man and I'd move everyone from Poti on down down a slot such that the 7 guys I'd have on the roster coming out of camp would be: 1) Green, 2) Hamhuis, 3) Poti, 4) Jeff Schultz, 5) John Carlson, 6) Milan Jurcina, and 7) Karl Alzner. I'd keep Patrick McNeill in Hershey another year and I'd buyout John Erskine's final year. I look at the approach I'm suggesting to bring in Hamhuis as a "zero sum" game on the blue line corps with regard to the salary cap. The moves I'm suggesting clear the room for Hamhuis this season and likely next, after that I haven't looked at it nor do I think GMGM should do so all too closely - a lot can happen in those two seasons.

In goal - after watching Michael Neuvirth in the AHL Playoffs and Semyon Varlamov in the second half of the season, as much as I like Jose Theodore, it's time for the Caps to take a chance and go with the two youngsters in the net this regular season. I don't think they need to bring in a veteran UFA though if they bring in one, I'd go with Dan Ellis for an average Cap Hit of $3M or less. If that happens I'd move either Varly or Neuvey to someone that would give him a chance in the NHL - whoever I could get the most for - sorry it is a business. After Ellis, I really don't like any other UFA goaltender more than Theodore, though I still would be looking for him to resign at a number that yields a Cap Hit of $3M or less and after his last season here, I don't see him doing that. Note my moves here free up between $1.5 and $4.5M of salary cap space that I'd use that space to go get a real, bonafide Second Line Center for at least next season and then in the out years use at least half of it to keep whoever of the two young goaltenders I'm suggesting be on the roster next year for the near term (following 3 or so seasons).

Up front: My list of forwards are: 1) Alexander Ovechkin, 2) Nicklas Backstrom, 3) Alexander Semin, 4) Brooks Laich, 5) Mike Knuble, 6) A true second line center - I'd go after Patrick Sharp if as rumors indicate, he is available to help Chicago manage their Cap issues, 7) Eric Fehr, 8) Jason Chimera, 9) David Steckel, 10) Matt Bradley, 11) Boyd Gordon, 12) Mathieu Perrault, 13) Jay Beagle or Chris Bourque or Andrew Gordon. In other words fill the real need and use the pipeline for at least two of the grinders and to help with Salary Cap management issues. In the meantime I would indeed either give Tomas Fleishmann a qualifying offer but I'd prefer to trade his rights as part of a deal to get draft choices or bring Sharp to Washington. I'd let Belanger go just as the team is not resigning Brendan Morrison unless of course Belanger is willing to go for a very cap friendly 2 or 3 year deal - cap friendly to me is a Cap Hit of approx. $1.5M/year. I'd also look long and hard at Jason Chimera's $1.875M cap hit if he doesn't show up for camp with his "A" game as to my mind Jay Beagle may be ready to assume that sort of role after this past Calder Cup finals. Of course Beagle's 6-3, 200# isn't quite as imposing or intimidate as the way Chimera carries his 6'-2", 216# body on the ice. Though I'd say Beagle has better hands and touch than Chimera, while Chimera has better foot speed/skating wheels than Beagle.

Well like I said, I think it's time for some minor adjustments and judicious use of the "up or out" approach to improve the immediate team and to ensure the pipeline remains full of developing players who are getting the ice time they need at every level: NHL, AHL and ECHL.

So I guess if I wasn't musing/talking aloud here I could have shortened this whole post to read as follows. If I were GMGM this off season I would: a)try to get Patrick Sharp in a trade from Chicago, b)sign Don Hamhuis as a UFA, c)trade away the rights to Tomas Fleishmann for something, just about anything, of value to me I could get; d) resign the following RFA and UFAs: Jeff Schultz, Milan Jurcina (for no more than $1.5M cap hit/season), Eric Fehr, and Boyd Gordon; and e)buy out John Erskine. Just my musings today....

In other profession hockey news today:

Former South Carolina Stingray head coach Jared Bednar was named head coach for the Saint Louis Blue AHL Affiliate Peoria Rivermen earlier today. I guess that's because guys who use and coach the system currently being played in Washington, just don't know how to play hockey "right"...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Coffee Talk - Relatively Random Musings

Well first off, Hockey Season 2009 - 2010 is one game closer o being totally over and the Hershey Bears returned to Central PA with a 3-2 lead in the AHL's Calder Cup Championship. So far in the Calder Cup Finals, the home team has lost every game played - how's that for "History Will Be Made". The Bears now return to Hershey and in order to win their second Calder Cup in as many recent seasons, they need to end that trend as the last two games are on their home ice. For what it's worth Hershey certainly looked like they deserved to win game five most of the time. Though fans of "Da Bears" would have all probably felt less worried at times, if there wasn't the occasional need for goaltender Michal Neuvirth to come up with an amazing, herculean save on the odd man rushes that Texas seems so adept at springing at least two or three times in a period. Game 6 in Hershey's Giant Center is tonight and it will be broadcast on CSN for those of us in the DC area to watch.

Gonchar to the Capitals as a result of this off-season's UFA moves is apparently a rumour that is starting. [Warning this is a link to an article by Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun and for three years I've wondered what is this guy smoking and do I want some. However, it shows how different thoughts are about what the Capitals need to do or are thinking about doing when you get outside our home market.] My reaction is - get serious. The last thing the Capitals need to spend ~$5M of salary cap space on is another puck moving, offensively gifted defenseman. I have nothing against GOnchar, and I can understand the challenges re: "The Cap" with the Penguins resigning the 36 year old, the simple fact is that when he wasn't in the lineup, the Penguin's powerplay wasn't nearly as "scary" or good as it was with him in it. If the Penguins don't resign him what will they do for a "go to" blueliner on their powerplay. Don't get me wrong, any lineup that can put Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby on the ice together when they are on the man advantage is going to score a fair amount of PP goals, but ignoring Gonchar's impact in this special team situation when thinking just how much you can afford for him would, IMO be a mistake, if Ray Shero were to do so. So far from what I've seen Shero's quite savy so I don't think he'll make that mistake. Does that mean Pittsburgh resigns Gonchar, that I don't know.

Scott Niedermayer to the Capitals for one final season is another possibility Garrioch brings up. I haven't seen this one anywhere else, and though I'm not against the idea as a smart way for the Capital's to expend some salary cap space for a year, I don't take serious any discussions of new additions to the Blueline presently, and won't do so until after I see the Caps having settled on the "second line center - #6/#7 forward. I think the idea of Niedermayer makes a lot more sense for the Capitals then any sort of longer term deal for a guy like Volchenkov who the rumours are, the Capitals are not interested in anyway, but who the "blogsphere" had a lot of chatter about previously. Interestingly, watching Karl Alzner the other night in the Caplder Cup game 5, got me thinking he might indeed be the guy who can come up and be that stay at home guy, and I still have hopes and dreams on that note re: Milan Jurcina. I also don't know if Niedermeyer would come to the Capitals for a year, though it's not like he's spent his who career on the West Coast. Personally, I think a year of mentoring by Niedermayer would be great for ALL of the following: Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Milan Jurcina, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner. To make room for him on the roster, if I were GMGM I'd move John Erskine and Shoane Morrison, though I'll miss him. A seven person regular blue line corps of: Mike Green, Tom Poti, Scott Niedermeyer, Milan Jurcina, John Carlson and Karl Alzner would IMO be a solid upgrade from the Blueline corps the Capitals started the 2009-2010 season with. As far as who then comes in after the 2010-2011 season assuming Niedermeyer retires - my pick and hope would be Patrick McNeill. So I'm saying from a Capitals roster management perspective - signing Scott Niedermayer works, does it from a salary cap management perspective though - I haven't thought that one all through. I also haven't seen any clear indications Niedermeyer is interested in playing another season and b) that he's even thought about the idea of finishing his career in DC.

So much for Monday Morning coffee musings, it's time to get to work.

Is it September yet?

Friday, June 11, 2010

So You May Have Noticed and A Few Musings ...

You may have noticed the look around here is changed - I tried to use the new Design features on blogger to freshen things up and experiment with a three column design and well ... I really couldn't get back to where I started so now for the next week or so I will be stuck fixing things until I get to something I like. So if you don't like it, well don't worry too much as right now it's like the weather in Central Florida on a summer afternoon - likely to change frequently and start doing so soon....

Well rumours and discussion are starting about which pieces of the Chicago Blackhawks, management won't be able to get under the Salary Cap and who of the Stanley Cup winning team won't be back next year. Over at "From The Rink: - Mike Chen asks: "Does a Stanley Cup Excuse Bad Contracts?" My short answer would be sure - for the year the Cup was won in, however, just like in our stock markets - where as investors, we North Americans over-value near term, quarterly performance, in sports we over value a current year's results but very quickly ask the following season - "what have they done for us lately?" Such will be the case in Chicago, next year and/or the year after, if management and the parts of the team they can hold together don't find a way to keep winning. Of course in spite of the "bad" contracts, Chicago still will have a lot of solid, young pieces in place for the next couple of years.

Of note to me as a Capitals fan is the fact that Patrick Sharp, in addition to UFA John Madden might be available. While neither Sharp nor Madden are likely available for a price that the Capitals can afford under the Salary Cap without other moves, but who knows. Either would be a great addition and a super fill for the second line center here in DC. Sharp would be, IMO awesome. Of course, bringing in Sharp would likely mean that after next season that Young Gun Alexander Semin won't be affordable so in the planning perspective that might not make sense to GMGM. Here's my thinking - to afford Sharp - remember a trade would be necessary - I'd trade the rights to Tomas Fleischmann and another piece or two of young talent down in Hershey that Chicago might be interested in - they likely need some rookie contracts to compensate for the large contracts they won't be able to shed on Campbell and Huet and the one they want to keep for Hossa. Sharp's contract has a $4M salary and a $3.9M Cap hit for each of the next two years. This year, to afford Sharp's contract under the salary cap you you go with the Young Goaltenders we have in lieu of the $4.5M paid Jose Theodore last season. The following year, if you want to keep Sharp you move somebody else or you don't resign Mike Knuble who at the end of this upcoming season may well be considering retirement as he will be almost 38 at the conclusion of the 2011 playoffs. (Knuble's $2.8M + the $1.5-$2M the Capitals will pay either Brendan Morrison or Eric Belanger to resign would be the $4M needed to afford Sharp under the Cap). Also interestingly and for discussion if somehow picking up Sharp who has two years left on his current contract at a $3.9M salary cap hit, doesn't make more sense than trying to resign Eric Belanger for $1.75 - $2M/year, assuming that as implied in recent reports Belanger is looking for a longer term (3 years) and unwilling to give any sort of discount to the Capitals. Right now for my two cents, if a deal could be worked with the Hawks to pick up sharp without costing too much more than "Flash" and a couple of decent, guys down in Hershey, I'd personally rather have Sharp at $3.9M for the next two seasons. For that matter, if a reasonable deal can't be reached for Belanger or Brendan Morrison, a one year deal to 37 year old UFA John Madden at a number less than $3M looks preferable to me than "Belly" at $2M for 3 years. By going the "Madden" route, there would be more likelihood/room for a fair extension to Semin when he is a UFA after next season and "keeping the Capitals' core" together than if Belanger is making $2M and turns out to be a third line, vice second line center for the Capitals. Well so much for today's musings about prospective second line Centers for the Capitals.

Elsewhere in the "news": earlier this week, Tarik El-Bashir of the WaPo reported on his blog that the Caps had initiated discussions with UFA Eric Belanger, as noted above, and RFA Eric Fehr about resigning/extensions. I have become a believer on Fehr and hope a reasonable deal gets done on his contract soon. I now see Fehr as the Capitals reasonably/fairly priced number 6/7 forward with the others being: a) Ovechkin, b) Backstrom, c) Semin, d) Laich, e) Knuble, and f) - an acknowledged second line center or Fehr. I still haven't forgotten about the idea of Brooks Laich as the possible "right guy" to be the second line center - either way he belongs in the group of top six forwards in Washington - no doubt. Fehr also has the talent, and in my book a clear path to solidifying his place in that group next season. I hope the Caps sign him to at least a two, if not a three year deal now - they may need the discount such a deal would give them if he turns out to be the player I now think he'll be in the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons, if the Caps doesn't rise much between now and then.

Is it September yet? I know elsewhere they are talking about October but, I enjoy Camp and the Pre-Season....


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chicago Wins Lord Stanley's Cup in OT; 2009 - 2010 Hockey Season Almost Over

Well, history was made last night, the Chicago Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup in a victory 49 years in coming. They did so thanks to a goal in overtime off the stick of a young talented hockey player from the blue collar/rust belt town of Buffalo, NY who, thankfully for his family's sake and well being, doesn't have to try and make a living doing something hard, like counting out the right amount of money required to pay for cab fare. In any case, I figured it out, Marian Hossa is NOT a jinx - it's me, the quickest way to have your hockey team lose a playoff series is for "moi" to be rooting for them.

In other big, important NHL news, it was great to see the Chicago Blackhawks in the form of one Adam Burish be so sportmanlike and magnanimous in their victory. You know, showing such respect for their opponents and all - heaping praise on them and their skill, etc. I am of course talking about - this. I am disappointed, I mean I know Pronger may be the most hated guy in the NHL by his fellow players, but I thought Burish was/is classier than he acted here. I mean it's not like he's some sort of overpaid blue-liner tying up over $7M of salary cap and clearly not even being one of the top two defensemen on his own team since he generally isn't trusted by his own coach to be on the ice in tight situations when it really matters. Or a defenseman who clearly plays up the "whinny" "B" angle/card running around saying I got hurt by a cheap shot by Ovie and then going out and laying questionable hits all over the ice himself. Oh wait a minute, I'm talking about the same guy, forget whichever of these two statements you disagree with. Of course if you disagree with both of them, immediately apply for the General Managers job of the New York Rangers as the Blackhawks have a couple of stupid contracts, I mean great players, they'd like to talk to you about before the start of next season. It's also not like he's the most overpaid goaltender in the league who negotiated a sweet deal after the best 20 or so games of his career and then hasn't done squat for his team since he got the deal. No, I thought Burish was one of the guys I liked on the Blackhawks, I still do, but I am finding myself a little more reserved in my feelings about him after that smart PR move. Of course I am glad to see more and more guys around the league start to say what they really think rather than giving us TV viewers the same, bland, canned, perfect meaningless non-insights to NHL hockey that routinely come from guys like Sidney Crosby.

On the other hand, Hockey is still being played in the AHL and the Hershey Bears have come back and regained home ice advantage - wooo whoooo - okay I'm still not into the fact the Caps got eliminated so early this post season. Sue me.

Anyway, we can now all guiltlessly begin thinking and talking about next season, even though it's not September yet. Oh and congratulations to the Blackhawks on a solid series and a solid set of playoffs. I also want to go on record, if Christobel Huet does "the right thing" and donates his Stanley Cup ring to charity so they can auction it off for a good cause, I'll get off his case. I think he should don't you - after all he did play all of 20 minutes in this years playoffs - talk about deserving of glory and accolades ...

On that note - Thank you Jose Theodore, I hope you land somewhere that appreciates you next season.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Chicago Follows Up Philly's Game 4 Message With One of Thier Own - Game 5: Blackhawks 7 - Flyers 4

Chicago follows up Philadelphia's game 4 message with one of their own. Game 5 in Chicago ended with a score of Blackhawks 7 - Flyers 4 and the 'Hawks one game away from their first Stanley Cup since 1961. The result is that today all around the MSM (main stream media) and the majority of the "blogsphere" many "pundits" are intimating they think last night signals the end of the road for the Flyers. To be sure, last night the Blackhawks' adjustments and line-shuffles were totally effective - yes, I said totally not just tremendously but totally. The juggling resulted in three important things for Chicago:

1) first line forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews were both able to find some room to maneuver and were factors in the game, big factors in the game.

2) Chicago's own force of nature, Dustin Byfuglien was able to notch two goals, two assists, AND neutralize Philly's force of nature Chris Pronger when they were on the ice together.

3) All the changes and adjustments that Chicago made were effective and Philly's force of nature Chris Pronger was not able to make his own adjustments to counteract them. The end result, is Pronger had one of, if not, THE worst games of his career. In Pronger's 28:37 TOI and 37 shifts last night - he went +/- -5 and the only Chicago goal he wasn't on the ice for ... he was in the penalty box.

Chicago did all that and still had everything else that was previously working for them, work. Their 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines all were solid and effective. In point of fact the seconds star of the game was Kris Versteeg who finished the night at +3 with a goal and 2 assists. Even the world's most overpaid 3/4 blueliner, Brian Campbell, managed to finish the night at +2 and didn't have even one instance last night where he was made to look totally foolish - though he did have his usual number of close calls on that account. So to be clear, last night Chicago definitely bounced back from their Game 4 loss and put the onus squarely on Philly to respond in kind or head to the showers for the final time after next game. That said even though Brian Boucher finished the game in net for the final two periods, it's still unclear to me who will start game 6 in net for Peter Laviolette's team. It's also clear that no matter what happens in game 6, short of an injury Antti Niemi will start and finish it in net for Chicago - speaking of overpaid players whose cap hit the Blackhawks will again have to deal with/swallow for next season.

Of course, this isn't a situation the Flyers haven't been in before recently - win or go home. My only question this morning is given that it's clear the Flyers now need to make the adjustments and turn things around - given they've done it before this post-season, and given everyone always talks about "bounce-back games" for Goaltenders, why are so many people seemingly so sure this is the end of the road for the Flyers? I said before - I agree the onus is on the Flyers, clearly to respond, and I've been pretty clearly implying I agree they have an uphill battle, but I wouldn't count anybody out quite yet. After all it ain't over till the "fat lady sings" and in Wachovia Center when a fat lady is singing this time of year - it's usually a tape of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" to inspire the City of Brotherly Love's "Broad Street Bullies." I personally don't know or think I know anything at this point. I'm just saying - anything can happen and I think Wednesday Night's Game 6 in Philadelphia will be a great game and a bit of a rough and tumble affair. I'd be surprised to see if Laviolette doesn't make some adjustments and Pronger doesn't have a bit of a bounce back of his own; whether they will be enough to overcome the energy and enthusiasm the talent-laden Blackhawks will have in their steps knowing they can clinch the Cup with a victory remains to be seen.

Just sayin' that's all.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

If You're Not Interested Now, You're Probably Not A Hockey Fan....

Well, four games of the Stanley Cup Finals are in the books and we now have a tied series and basically a best of three series for the championship. All four games to date have been really good ones from my perspective, the best/closest was perhaps game three, if you're a Blackhawks fan your favorite game was probably Game 2 and without much doubt I'd say if your a Flyers fan, last night's game four was probably your favorite. Interestingly, only last nights ended with the margin of victory being more than one goal - does that mean anything? Hard to tell, but I bet Chicago comes out playing with a tremendous surge for the start of game 5 at United Center.

Last night, it seemed the Flyers may have made a statement. After all, they never trailed in the game and at one point they were up by three goals. The final margin of victory was two goals after an empty net goal gave the Flyers some breathing room at the tail end of the Third period after they had weathered a Chicago desperate surge. Clearly though both the Flyers and the Blackhawks have "figured out" the opposing goaltenders. That said the Blackhawks first line continues to be well controlled by the Flyers team defense and ferocious backcheck and forecheck. When those efforts start to give them any breathing room, Defensman Chris Pronger seems to always be there and ready to step-up and hold the Blackhawks' usual "firestarters" Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in check. As a result, Chicago's second line has been forced to step up and shoulder the bulk of the necessary goal-scoring responsibilities. It's a task that the second line has generally responded to. On the other side of the center ice circle, the Flyers have a lot of guys stepping up though perhaps none more so than Ville Leino and Pronger, though the list clearly has others on it as well.

One thing that has surprised me has been the aggressiveness and attempted physical play of the Blackhawks. It hasn't really worked for them in my view and they've taken a tremendous amount of penalties as a result. Penalties that have given the Flyers the ability to step it up on their powerplay unit and cash in ~40% of the time, they are on the man advantage. I would like to point out that after last night's game, I feel Brian Campbell is one of, if not the, biggest hypocrite and "wieney" in the NHL today. After he got injured when he flew into the boards after the hit by Ovechkin earlier this season, I swear I recall numerous sideways statements that basically said he thought Ovie was dirty or at least that particular hit was dirty because we all learn at an early age not to hit someone on their numbers. However take a good look at the hit Campbell threw on Lieno last night in the first period. Yes he used his shoulder and yes Lieno didn't fly into the boards. However, if Lieno was had turned away like a wimp as Campbell did on the Ovechkin hit, it's basically the same hit that Ovie threw and perhaps Lieno would have indeed been hurt more by the hit. Now I'll be the first to say the Campbell hit on Lieno was legal, my point was/is - why would/should anyone in the league have sympathy or consideration for Campbell. He made zero effort to pull up and avoid possibly hurting Lieno on that hit, nor on numerous others last night. There were several hits where Chicago Blackhawks clearly jumped into the hit with their skates leaving the ice - yet no charging or boarding call was made on them - I'm confused, are the rules different in the playoffs? I think not and in this area I think they should be enforced uniformly to the manner they are called and enforced during the regular season. As should obstruction/interference, yet from what I see that's not being done. Of course the most amazing/interesting thing to me is from what I see - it's not "The Broad Street Bullies" who are trying to take the liberties - it's the Blackhawks generally and particularly their most overpaid, defenseman. Sweet. [Reminder: I did say in this series I am rooting for the Flyers.]

Next game tomorrow in Chicago - Game 5, this is probably the most important game of this series, but of course anything can happen.