Tuesday, July 27, 2010

So I'm Disgusted ...

If Tarik El Bashir's latest Twitter Tweet is correct and the Capitals just signed Tomas "Flash" Fleischmann to a one year $2.6Million contract, I am shocked, appalled and disgusted. How the Capitals management ever concluded an arbitrator would award Flash close to or more than $2.6 million, I really can't fathom. Also who cares - why in the world would the Capitals be willing to spend that much Salary Cap for their #7 or higher forward? There's no way Flash is the answer to the question "What do the Capitals need right now up front?" They need a bonafide, no kidding second line center. Flash might someday, when he learns to CONSISTENTLY play BOTH ends of the rink, be a top line or second line winger on a Stanley Cup contending team, however IMHO as I chronicled here before he's most definitely NOT a natural center who can adequately and consistently backcheck effectively against any of the other top Eastern or Western Conference first lines. I'll admit he can hurt them, on his good nights, in the offensive zones but he often gives up as many goals, or more, when he's in that role as he takes from then. The issue and why I'm disappointed in this signing is it takes away at least five hundred thousand and as much as a million dollars worth of Cap Space the Capitals really need to go and get somebody who can be that second line center.

Worst of all, and now I'll sound like all these guys who are screaming for the Caps to "beef up on the blue line," if he's not traded sooner, the issue this creates really won't be totally visible until it's too late to do anything about it. That's right, I'll say it - with or without that bona-fide second line center, despite the improvements of the other Southeast Division Teams, the Capitals will probably have little trouble winning the Division again. So you won't see the glaring issue the lack of a truly effective second line center creates until the playoffs.

Well my whine and rant is over - I hope I'm wrong and either way right or wrong, I won't cry in my beer or revisit this subject until the end of the first round of the 2011 playoffs. That said I will say two things here:

1)I'm going to have a hard time being cordial to anyone who thinks "Flash" is worth $2.6M next season, that has issues with Alexander Semin, one of the top 10 ranked forwards in the league last season, making $6M for next season's efforts.

2) I'm really hoping that the Caps give Brooks Laich a chance at the second line center on a second line between Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr. Sorry but putting Fleischmann there first and WASTING over 15:00 TOI per game on his flashy but ineffective, streaky play would have a very high probability of being an EPIC FAIL. If Gabby continues to give "Flash" more ice time then Fehr or anything close to the ice time of either Laich or Semin, I'm sorry but I just can't understand it. Why Monumental Sports and GMGM agree to give Favorites of Bruce (FOB) deals for more than they might otherwise have to pay like the extra $200K/year they're giving Tyler Sloan and now what is likely an extra $500-$1,000K for next year that "Flash" is getting, boggles my mind.

Of course now that I reacted to an unconfirmed "tweet" watch the salary number will get corrected or the Caps will make a trade for that second line center I crave that involves/includes "Flash" going to a team in need for a good scoring winger on their top two lines and it will all make sense to me.... see I'm the eternal optimist.

Is it September yet?


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

NHL Rejects Devil's Kovalchuck Deal - Now What?

Yesterday the NHL rejected Ilya Kovalchuck's 17 year, $102,000,000 contract with the New Jersey Devils, basically on the grounds that it violates those basic tenets of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (Section 26.3) that stipulate no contract should overtly seek to circumvent the CBA. What's that mean - well basically it means the League believes the deal went at least one if not a couple of bridges too far in mitigating the average salary cap hit of the deal by extending it's duration beyond that point which a reasonable person would assume both parties expect to honor it through it's full length. While I think it's fair to say the deal is suspect at best, what happens now should be fun to watch. First Kovalchuck could now ask the NHLPA, his union representation to appeal the decision and take it to an arbitrator.

If Kovalchuck asks the ruling be appealed through the NHLPA it should be interesting to see what the NHLPA does? On the other side, if you're the Devils perhaps you go back and offer Kovy a 15 year deal with the same basic structure and average Cap hit - then what? Many around are touting that this is a good thing for hockey as it puts people on notice of where and when the bounds ought to be set relative to these long term deals, etc. Others cite the inequity these mega - deals create under the escrow requirements of the current CBA for those solid but not superstar players around the league, etc. Me - here's what I think - the whole situation is and will be very problematic for both the NHLPA and the NHL no matter what you feel about this deal. The next set of events regardless of course are not likely to be anything but bad for "hockey" - both owners and players. Here's why - the next steps, either way, are going to lay bare some very real issues - issues that are contentious and ones that will cause discord both between the parties and within their respective groups/leadership during the next CBA. If any of us thought the issues during the next CBA negotiations and leading up to them were going to center on a transfer agreement between the NHL and the KHL; and the NHL's continued participation in the Olympics - I think it will be safe to say after the next two months, we'll all agree that won't be the case at all.

Further if you were hoping the signing would end the discussion of "Kovy-gate" or whatever you want to call it, sorry this will now go on for at least the next 8 or so weeks.

Here's the issues likely to now come into play depending on the courses of action pursued by Kovalchuck and the Devils.

First let's assume Kovy, under the advice of his agent, tells the NHLPA to appeal the ruling and request arbitration. I think that's a fair bet since, it really doesn't cost Kovy anything other than continuing to explore other options besides signing with the Devils - I'd do it wouldn't you? What are the effects and issues, well first lets all realize the NHLPA is currently a headless organization that is run by a committee of player resp from each team - player reps who are largely those solid but not superstar players from each team - also largely Canadian players. As has been chronicled in posts over at SBN - these are the same guys who get hurt by the front end of the Kovalchuck deal, those years that are at or close to league maximum salaries. That said if they don't take up this cause, the farce that is Professional Sports Athletes Unions gets exposed for all to see. Seriously do you think Samuel Gompers and Eugene Debs were thinking about organizing and covering people who under a collective bargaining agreement make 15 - 20 times that of an average wage earner, honestly do they need to organize to ensure they get a fair salary and working conditions? On the other side, does anyone honestly believe the rules and laws governing either the US or Canada's labor force were in any way, shape or form put in place with any sort of considered thought relative to groups such as the NHLPA and the NHL or the NFLPA and the NFL? I don't think so, and in the end do any of us - the fans and citizens of these two nations want professional sports to be anything other than a "pay for performance" meritocracy where in general the average careers are relatively short and the professionals playing the sports on the ice/field, etc. are at the tops of their game? Why do I mention this because it's important to realize all sorts of external considerations that might affect arbitration of other labor disputes, etc. are likely NOT to apply and the basic words of the CBA AND similar prior precedents and how they are playing out would/should very much bear on any arbitration decision. However, before that were to happen all sorts of testimony that would linger and create issues going into the next CBA would have to be brought to the table and argued/discussed. If you think a particular players RFA arbitration ever got ugly, wait till you see this one if it doesn't get settled before then. Because regardless of whether the NHLPA takes up the cause or even more so if they do not, the fireworks would beign on the players side of things between the superstars and everyone else. Not because escrow and these sorts of things hurt one group and not the other - because they hurt both groups significantly but in very different ways.

On the other side, similarly if I'm the Devils, I'm pretty pissed at the league so all I do is go back and fashion a 15 year, $102M deal and submit it. I get Lamoriella and Kovy in front of the media and I say, okay so it was a gimmick, Kovy's number is 17 so we went for the 17 year deal. I mean it's no more stupid/less gimmicky than Sidney Crosby's (#87) $8.7M deal. However, I feel there's plenty of precedent for this deal, after all Chris Pronger has a 7 year deal that has him playing until he is 42;Marian Hossa has a 12 year deal that has him playing through age 42; Rick Di Pietro has a 15 year deal that has him playing and paid by the Islanders until he is age 40; per his current contract Henrik Zetterberg will be playing through age 41; and the list goes on.

Here's what I think I say to the arbitrator if I'm Kovy and the Devils in working to get him to overturn the leagues ruling and compel them to approve the current contract. "Sir, the deal on the table now has Mr. Kovalchuck playing 17 years until he is 44 and it's frankly not without precedent. Further, Mr. Kovalchuck has been a durable player throughout his NHL career so it's not unreasonable for he and the New Jersey Devils to feel confident with proper conditioning and fitness training, which he currently does, he can play to the same/similar age as Chris Cheleos,Rod Brind'Amor, Mike Modano and Ray Whitney. Then let the fireworks begin on the owners side of things. Further he doesn't take near the beating that guys like Pronger take or dish out so we all (team and Kovalchuck) believe he can and will be able to contribute to the organization and want to play for 2 more years than Pronger contributes to the Flyers or Hossa does for the Blackhawks. We believe the most recent and most similar precedents for approval of this deal is the Pronger and Hossa contracts arrived at last season. In both those cases contract terms and structures that are substantially similar when the age of the player both at contract signing and the end of the contract term are considered, were approved with no intervention or issue cited by the NHL. We respectfully submit this agreement is in all ways similar and was indeed negotiated in good faith and with the intention of the entire deal being played out by both parties and ask the Leagues' determination be overturned and the deal be allowed to stand as negotiated in good faith by both parties. Thank you for your due consideration."

Lest we forget that the CBA is basically a series of compromise by all parties that sets in place ground rules that make sure the participants both the Owners/League and the Players don't "kill the goose that lays the golden eggs." Around and within that framework each participant is basically a highly competitive INDIVIDUAL looking to get an edge - a personal edge in virtually every case. Did the Kovalchuck 17 year contract cross the line - probably. Is the league's current action in the best interest of "the game." Despite the overall tone/etc of posts around the blogsphere that it is, I have some serious doubts. Further I think the next two months will provide us the answer. In the meantime, while I think to a fair degree they (the NHL) had little choice if they were to remain relevant in these matters, and in that light their actions were to some degree inevitable; there is no doubt in my mind that the looming expiration of the current CBA just got a whole lot harder for both sides.

On the matter of a transfer agreement - I think the KHL just got more leverage and between now and January, the NHL will really push and get one done. Relative to the Olympics - any change in what's going on just came off the table, unless the owners want to put doing away with the escrow AND removing the reason for it from the next CBA on to the table. That doesn't mean the NHL pushing for other changes in the International Hockey calender, etc won't now become more important to them.

In any case at the end of all this I still see Ilya Kovalchuck wearing a Devils uniform, under a long term contract, with a total value of around $100M and an average salary cap hit of $6.8M or less. There's too many precedents for the NHL to keep that from happening. If I'm Kovy and Lou - I go craft a 14 year deal that's for $95M and pays Kovy $4M between ages 36 and 41 vice $3M between ages 37 and 44 ... and takes another $6M off the earlier years when his likely to loose it to the CBA max salary anyway, then the average Cap hit is ~$6.85M though still very front end loaded so it basically has the same structure both he and the Devils obviously want. In the end he has his blockbuster contract; the Devils have the player they want for as close to the Cap hit they were looking for, and the NHL really would have a hard time saying no to the deal... That or something like it is also how this whole thing could quickly get concluded without creating a total mess for both the League and the NHLPA to have to sort out going into preparations for the next CBA negotiations. Of course if reason always prevailed around the NHL, we'd have someone's names engraved on the Stanley Cup the champions of the 2004-2005 season.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kovalchuck Signed By The Devils for 17 Years; Simon Gagne Traded - Does This Signal The End of the Free Agent "Lockdown"?

Well finally some real hockey news. As had been noted around the blogsphere there's been very little UFA signing activity since July 7th. Now after 2 long weeks, the biggest UFA of 2010 has made a decision - Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the New Jersey Devils yesterday - the deal - it's a "WOW" sort of thing. Kovalchuck's contract is a reported 17 year deal for a total of $102,000,000. That's an average Salary Cap hit of $6M for 17 years; the deal will keep the 27 year old left wing/sniper in a Devils uniform until he's 44 years old. It's been a very active off season for the Devils, aside from loosing UFA defenseman Paul Martin to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Devils named John MacLean head coach, replacing the retiring Jacques Lemaire, they signed UFA defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenckov, as well as veteran Center Jason Arnott, and backup goaltender Johan Hedberg. Besides landing the most notable UFA signing this off season, all the other off season activity ensures a lot of people will be watching the Devils and expecting a lot from them this upcoming season.

Elsewhere another veteran forward whose name was being bandied about as possibly heading to the LA Kings was moved in a different direction as well yesterday. Philadelphia Flyers veteran Left Wing Simon Gagne waived his no trade clause to go to Tampa Bay and join Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Martin St.Louis, Ryan Malone, Steve Downie, Pavel Kubina, Brett Clark, Victor Hedman, and Antero Nittymaki on a team that is likely to be a sleeper that will be looking to, and capable of, surprising other Eastern Conference teams this upcoming season. Tampa Bay, the new and improved Tampa Bay under new owner Jeffery Vinick and new GM Steve Yzerman are very likely to be the most improved team in the NHL next season. They certainly have the possibility of being so. That's good news for the NHL and believe it or not, it's possibly good news for Southeast Division foes such as our own Washington Capitals. It likely means that the Southeast Division in general will be more competitive than it has been in some time. In addition to the moves made by Tampa Bay, Carolina still has a fair amount of salary cap space will should start to get active in filling out their roster with some sorter term, reasonably priced talent from the UFA market that will help them be competitive this season. Atlanta needs to pick up some talent as well as some salary in order to meet the league minimum payroll so you know they will be making some more signings, and Florida has some Cap Space that will enable them to pick up some talent for their few open roster slots. All in all there's no salary cap driven reason why every one of the Southesst Division teams can't improve their roster. Even here in DC if you use the Salary Cap Calculator over at CapGeek.com (go here)try and do this for example - put Michael Nylander into the second line center slot (not because you want him there but because it will show you a way how the Capitals could afford a ~$4m cap hit at that position this coming season) and then just play with putting the higher priced "baby Caps" from Hershey anywhere you'd like to place them to fill out the remaining three roster slots. In the end no matter how you slice it, you'll still have at least $1.4M of salary cap space and you are more likely to have between $2 and $2.5M. I know I'm sounding like a broken record but if that $4.875M of cap hit were really $3.9 for Patrick Sharp to be on the Right Wing of the Second Line with Brooks Laich at Center and Alexander Semin on the Left Wing; I'm thinking the Capitals would be even more powerful offensively this coming season then they were last season. Further they'd have a second line that could stymie most teams in the NHL's scoring lines when they needed to do so. In addition to Chicago New Jersey must now create some Cap Space and Vancouver is also over the Cap so there may be some deals to be made there of course I continue to fixate on Sharp because I loved the way he played in last season's playoffs.

In any case I'm still wondering - is it September yet?


Friday, July 16, 2010

Recap of What All In All Was A Slower Week Than Expected For Capitals Fans

In a week when the Caps had "Development Camp" in session and we heard whether most of the RFAs accepted their qualifying offers, it's actually been a slower hockey news week than I expected. Of course it could also just be that it's been a pretty hectic week for me at work and I haven't been all that engaged or on the edge of my seat about hockey this past week and I'm missing a lot of the more subtle aspects of the summer. However, I don't think so when there are stories about why the off-season UFA market has been slow all around the "blogsphere" and there's as much human interest/background stuff being written as there is "news."

To me the biggest news here in the Land of Washington Capitals fandom was the announcement yesterday that Chris Bourque was NOT signing his Qualifying Offer and would play next season in Russia in the KHL. Interesting choice by C-Bo, though not altogether something that is hard to understand. after the season he had last year, how he finished it off, and taking into account the realities of the world that apply: a) this season would probably start for him here in Hershey/DC in the same manner it did last year; b) he can probably make a lot more in Russia, even if he repatriates the money to the States; and c) after last season he really has nothing left to prove at the AHL level - both the Capitals and other teams all know he can play well and excel in the AHL. To me the interesting thing will be seeing how he does in the KHL - watching C-Bo, as much as or more than any other North American player, will provide the hockey world a good idea how fast the KHL is progressing and if it will ever reach a consistent level of play and competition that is above the AHL's. The whole experience should also give people watching a good idea as to the maturity level the 24 year old has these days both on and off the ice, something I've always wondered about after he left college early. While I'm sure this decision has financial benefits for Bourque, it also has some interesting upsides for the Capitals -a) the Caps retain his NHL rights; b) he isn't under contract so it frees up on of the allotted 50 contracts the Capitals can hold; and c) of course he doesn't count at all against the salary cap.

In other news, yesterday the Capitals announced that five other RFAs accepted their qualifying offers and signed contracts with the organization: Andrew Gordon, Andrew Jourdrey, Patrick McNeill, and Zach Miscovic all signed one year deals, while Jay Beagle was given a two year contact as part of his qualifying offer that he signed yesterday as well. All are good guys to keep around, and I expect all will get a look this summer, though Miscovic left a scrimmage at development camp this past week with a knee injury. I am most pleased we'll get to take another one year look at Patrick McNeill and another two year look at Jay Beagle, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see these two guys end up with a regular lineup spot in the NHL, if not the Capitals than elsewhere in the league. Perhaps GMGM used the contract slot that C-Bo vacated to put Jourdrey, the 249th pick in the 2003 draft under a Washington Capitals contract - last year he played under a contract from Hershey.

In other Hockey "News" in no particular order:

- Ilya Kovalchuck remains an unsigned UFA.
- Alex Ovechkin has a new girlfriend, depending on your taste she's either very hot, looks too young to be considered or is somewhere in between. Oh surprise, she's Russian, and blonde.
- The LA Kings are NOT in the race to sign Kovalchuck.
- The NJ Devils are in the race to sign Kovalchuk.
- Alex Ovechkin and his friends who are Muscovite soccer players know how to have a good time in Ibiza but somehow don't care if they end up in pictures with hot women around them. I mean, come on guys, grow up and be discrete, you are role models, you should be like monks when on holiday in one of Europe's party capitals. After all, you are young, single, professional athletes - what would the Pope think and do - that's what you should ask yourselves when you are out on the town for the evening.
- Ilya Kovalchuck remains an unsigned UFA.
- Evgeni Nabokov, took his game and went to play in Russia in the KHL next season because he _________ (you fill in the blank).
- The LA Kings ARE in the race to sign Kovalchuck.
- Joe Finley is blogging AND getting feisty while at the Capitals Development Camp but this year nobody is talking about trying to make him into a forward, at least not yet.
- The NJ Devils are still in the race to sign Kovalchuck and wouldn't mind being the second choice he settles for.
- The Minnesota Wild signed their captain, Mikko Koivu, to a seven (7) year, $47.25M contract extension - too much or a good deal - you decide. However, all I have to say is once the Devils finish sorting out whether or not Kovalchuk signs with them and for how much and how long, don't you think the Koivu contract will come up in talks with Zach Parisie about an extension other than his basic qualifying offer, especially in what by then will possibly be a post Patrik Elias era for the Devils?
- The Carolina Hurricanes will retire Rod Brind'Amor's number 17 this upcoming season prior to the start of their game against the Philadelphia Flyers at RBC Center on February 18, 2011. During Rod "The Bod's" 20 year NHL career he played for Philadelphia for 8+ seasons - including the only year he was selected to the All-Star Team (1991-1992) and he played for Carolina for the last 10 seasons of his career including the 2005-2006 season when as their Captain he got to lift the Stanley Cup, and the two seasons he was awarded the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL (2005-2006 and 2006-2007.) The 39 year old Brind'Amor announced his retirement on June 30th.
- Ottawa Senator Mike Fisher got married to some singer Carrie somebody, what was her name Undertree, no that's not it, Underwear, nope wrong again, Underwood that's it the one from American Idol....and so now the Nashville Predators were able to capitalize on the event and they sold like 250 more season tickets or something like that, but anyways it passed for "Hockey News" this past week or so, so I figured I'd mention it here.
- Ilya Kovalchuck remains an unsigned UFA.

Notice any sot of repeating theme here? Why on earth would I say it's been a slow week for Hockey "News?"

Maybe I wouldn't feel this way if I had been able to make it over to KCI and see one of the Development Cap Scrimmages, but, is it September yet?


Friday, July 9, 2010

Fehr Is In The Fold and Avoid Arbitration ....

Yesterday the Capitals signed RW RFA Eric Fehr to a reported 2 year, $4.4M contract. Another solid deal, and given Fehr's numbers and productivity that indicates a very efficient use of ice time this past season, I guess I'm okay with the salary/value relationship. Fehr made a believer of me this past season and by signing him to a two year deal if during the next two seasons he doesn't prove as productive or durable as he was in 2009-2010 the world won't come to an end. If he does well I guess he'll be looking for a raise again in two years, but let's jump off one bridge at a time around here.

With Fehr and Schultz signed, I guess it would be nice to reach a reasonable fair deal with "Flash" to avoid arbitration. But if he is listening to his agent and his agent is still pushing the numbers around that he was talking about a couple of weeks ago, then I think arbitration is inevitable. Also with everything else considered from the kids pushing for a chance from Hershey to the fact that Fehr and Shultz's deals put an upper limit on what Flash is likely to be offered by the Capitals, and then some, my feeling is if you're GMGM and you can't get a deal you're happy with for Flash go to arbitration, sign him and then if necessary trade him... As everyone here knows I'm not real high on Fleischmann, especially after the 2010 playoffs. However, I will admit it's just mostly gut on my part and a feeling that for Flash to earn his money he needs 2nd line Ice time and now with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Knuble, Laich and Fehr signed I feel the Capitals have a pretty solid group of top six forwards and if somehow they end up with either John Madden (still an unsigned UFA) or my dream second line center - Patrick Sharp. So as I see it there definitely wouldn't be a lot of room for Flash on the top two lines and do you see him working the defensive side of the puck enough for a steady role on the third line? I don't and doing so means things are still pretty crowded both on the bench and up against the salary Cap - unless the Caps wanted to keep him over Jason Chimera and I don't think that's a good trade out.

Well that's my "quick hit" blog post for today as the rest of today is already shaping up to be busy. I have a couple of things in the works and barring another signing today I'll be finishing them up and posting them this weekend as much as possible. I've put together some thoughts on what I view as wastes of salary cap space in the 2010-2011 NHL, my thoughts on next week's Development Camp, and I've just started to try and figure out when and why I basically soured on Tomas Fleischmann's impact and value to the Capitals.

Is it September yet?


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Capitals Sign Jeff Schultz; Joe Corvo Inks 2-Year Deal With Hurricanes

Well it's not that I'm so smart, it's just that some things are logical and make sense. Earlier this year I said the next most important RFA signing for GMGM to make after the Backstrom deal was done was to get Jeff Schultz under contract for 3-4 years. In the past week or so, I've also suggested I wouldn't be surprised to see Joe Corvo back with the Carolina Hurricanes next season. Well yesterday both things happened.

The Capitals and Jeff Schultz agreed to a multi-year deal, avoiding arbitration. This is a good thing, IMO. As I've pointed out arbitration, while usually ending up with a fair result, also, seems to me, to leave a "bad taste" in both parties' mouths. The 4 year deal is reportedly for $11M so that's a $2.25M salary cap hit for each of the next four years for a guy who at 24 had what I'd consider to be a "breakout" year last season. He's clearly coming into his own and assuming he continues to mature will only get better, especially if he adds a slight bit more physicality and "edge" to his game. He's definitely worth $2.25M/season, especially if anyone with a clue about hockey ever thought Jeff Finger was worth $3.5M/year or Zach Bogosian was worth $3.375M/season.

Down in Raleigh, Joe Corvo was brought back on a two-year $4.5M deal that will pay him $2.0M this coming season and $2.5M for the 2011-2012 season. Prior to coming to the Caps in a trade deadline deal for Oskar Osala and Brian Pothier, Corvo had spent the prior 2 1/2 seasons with the Hurricanes; the 33 year old Oak Park, ILL native was the average TOI/game leader in Carolina last season and has been their blue line anchorman since arriving in Carolina from Ottawa. So basically the Capitals cost for the rental of Corvo for this seasons playoffs was Oskar Osala. Personally, I think that was a fair deal/move though I know in hindsight some will argue otherwise. I also think the resigning by Carolina of Corvo was a smart move for them both.

I'll be doing an update to yesterday's looking ahead at next season sometime over the next couple of days after a few more of the RFA contracts are settled, but I'm curious about reactions to the Schultz signing, I've been surprised at the range being shown in blog comments on it since yesterday. The next signing I'm looking to see an announcement for out of Kettler is Eric Fehr, I'd like to see he and the Caps avoid arbitration as well. Other than that, we all know my improbable wish re: Patrick Sharp - hey, my late old man always used to say "If you're going to wish, you may as well wish big, it doesn't cost any more."

Is it September yet?


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Boyd Gordon Signed; Another Look At How the 2010-2011 Caps Roster is Shaping Up

Yesterday, the Capitals signed 26 year old, RFA Center Boyd Gordon to a one yar, $800,000 contract. With the signing the Capitals now have a projected roster with 23 players, 13 Forwards, 7 Defensemen, and 3 Goaltenders that has a projected hit against the salary cap of $50.1M Million. That leaves them $9.1 M of space against the Salary Cap of $59.4M for the 2010-2011 season. Right now here's what the Capitals Roster looks like (Cap Hits in parentheses, "deep backups" not on the Cap Hit Roster but part of the 50 contract max) this:

Forwards ($34.05M):

A. Ovechkin ($9M) - N. Backstrom ($6.7M) - M. Knuble ($2.8M)

A. Semin ($6M) - M. Perrault ($0.745M) - B. Laich ($2.1M)

J. Chimera ($1.88M) - D. Steckel ($1.1M) - M. Bradley ($1M)

K. Aucouin (0.512M) - B. Gordon (0.8M) - S. Pinizzotto (0.538M)

- Backup: T. Bruess ($0.875M), Deep Backup: M. Johansson ($0.9M)

Defensemen ($14.12M):

M. Green ($5.25M) - K. Alzner ($1.68M)

T. Poti ($3.5M) - J. Carlson ($0.816M)

J. Erskine ($1.25M) - T. Sloan ($0.700M)

Backup: J. Finley ($0.850M); Deep Backup: J. Godfrey ($0.846M)

Goaltenders ($2.368M):

S. Varlamov ($0.865M)

M. Neuvirth ($0.865M)

Backup: B. Holtby ($0.638M), Deep Backup: D. Sabourin ($0.525M).

That's a total hit against the salary cap of approximately $50.1M for a 23 man roster (the "deep backups" aren't counted against the cap or the 23 man limit as this analysis pre-supposes they will reside in the Locker Room in Hershey. I just included them to list who the Capitals have under contract for next year at this point that would be available if necessary. Of course this list doesn't let include the 5 RFAs who have been tendered qualifying offers that remain unsigned (Zach Miskovic, Jay Beagle, Andrew Gordon, Chris Bourque, and Patrick McNeill) or the three RFAs who have filed for Arbitration (Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, and Jeff Schultz). Assuming the Capitals end up with all eight (8) unsigned RFAs under contract, they'll liklely still have some space available under the Cap with which they might find a second line center if they need one, either now or before the trade deadline. However, any significant additions to the Blue Line Corps and/or the Goaltending situation would likely require at least some re-engineering to the lineup that affects the forwards. To be sure the signings of the RFAs will result in the movement of folks around, especially on the lower half of the depth chart.

All of the above said, you can see just how deep the Capitals organization is by looking at this roster which has NONE of those eight RFAs in the line-up. Even without any of the current RFAs you have a lineup which features a mature and seasoned group of young guns that includes a two time Hart Trophy Winner/three time finalist and a two-time Norris Trophy finalist, another guy who scored 100+ points last season, and a fourth guy with 30+ goals, not to mention two other 20+ goal scorers, and an already accomplished young goaltender. My point being is that even if they only end up keeping four of the eight RFAs after they resign them, this team is still going to be loaded with talent.

Is it September yet?


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Another Summer Week In The NHL's Off Season

Well we have once again gone through another week of the NHL off season and with the opening of the free agent signing period, there has been some news around the league, though so far there haven't been too many surprises. On a sadder note, former tough guy and enforcer extraordinaire Bob Probert, died suddenly this past week at age 45. Probert suffered chest pains and collapsed while boating with his family and friends. Here's the lik to a couple of new articles on his passing - here - and here is his Obituary from the New Orleans Times - Picayune.

In the Unrestricted Free Agent signings of the past week, so far only two members of the Washington Capitals 2009-2010 organization has been involved.

On Friday July 2nd, twenty-seven (27) year old defenseman Milan Jurcina, agreed to a one year, $1,000,000 contract with the New York Islanders. The contract is a $375,00 pay cut from the deal Jurcina was awarded last season, after he filed for arbitration. It will be interesting to see what the Capitals do for their 7th and/or 8th defenseman this coming season. Given the way things are around DC right now, this was probably inevitable, however I for one feel that Jurcina at $1M even is a far better deal and use of a roster spot than John Erskine, whose grit and drive as well as personality I lover at $1.25M or Tyler Sloan, who just doesn't seem to have any intimidating, physicality to his game, despite bringing a versatility that neither "Juice" nor Erskine possess, at $700K. That said, if the choice was resigning Juice or not making space for either Karl Alzner or John Carlson on the roster so they get the ice time they'll need early in the season to develop into the players they have the potential to become, I'm okay with this. That said, I think at the end of the day, while he is only signed to a one year contract with the Islanders, Jurcina is likely to be a solid blue liner for Islanders for several years to come, and at an even $1M, they'll likely feel they got a bargain as the season progresses.

On July 3rd, twenty-nine (29) year old forward Alexandre Giroux, a perennial AHL scoring leader for the Hershey Bears signed a 1 year two way deal with the Edmonton Oilers. It's never fun to see a good go leave the organization but given it didn't look like Giroux was likely to get much ice time in DC this coming season, and he's been the leading goal scorer 2 of the past three seasons as well as the overall leading scorer in the AHL the other of the three, here's hoping the Oilers give him a good long look at the NHL level of play this upcoming season, and that he is able to translate that into a 20 goal season. He has toiled at the AHL level for 9 seasons now and has only been able to get a total of 31 games at the NHL level, despite being a prolific scorer with 0.483 goals per game and 0.899 points per game in 636 games in the American Hockey League. In short and IMHO, this guy deserves "his shot" and I hope the Oilers give it to him. If they do and they put him on a second or third line with a decent play maker, he might surprise others with a 20+ goal season but it won't surprise those of us in Caps Nation who've seen his sweet hands from time to time when he's been called up. Personally, he's a guy I wouldn't have been surprised to see give Tomas Fleischmann a run for the money on his roster/contract spot this season had the Capitals opted to resign him and/or vice versa. I don't blame or have any issue with this move on either side though. Like I say, Giroux deserved a shot at the NHL and right now the Caps forwards positions are deep; and as I also said in an earlier post this summer - it needs to be "up or out" so the Bears and the Capitals can make room for some new, and/or younger blood as well. If as it appeared, Giroux wasn't likely to be one of those guys to be fighting for forward # 8-13 on the roster, then both he and the Capitals made the right decision. Good luck Alexandre and here's to the hope that we'll see you in an Oilers Sweater on March 9, 2011 here at Verizon Center.

In other free agent news over the past week, the Capitals also signed Bruins backup goaltender Dany Sabourin, a 29 year old, 10 year pro with 59 games of NHL experience on the second day of free agency. What role and where Sabourin will play (Hershey or Washington) the majority of the 2010-2011 season remains to be seen. That said Sabourin was signed to a one year two-way deal where his 2010-2011 NHL salary is reportedly $525K and his 2010-2011 AHL salary will be $250K. Basically at the NHL level, Sabourin's 2010-2011 salary would be $75K less than it was with the Bruins last season, while his AHL salary would be $25K more than it was last season. Overall, I think this is a good move by both the Capitals and Sabourin. Sabourin is pretty well assured of playing at least at the AHL level next season with a fair amount of ice time. He'll get exposed to some more good coaching from Arturs Irbe and the Capitals/Bears Coaching Staff. The Capitals get another goaltender who could, with enough ice time, prove to be a solid contributor at the NHL level and who though fairly well traveled has 57 games played over 5 seasons in the NHL and has played in a number of good organizations. Further, he's a bit more mature than the other three goalies in the Capitals pipeline and might surprise us all with what he can do. Overall it wasn't a big cost for a good deal of insurance that GMGM was able to obtain.

In other Washington Capitals news, three RFAs have filed for salary arbitration: Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, and Jeff Schultz. At the end of this process an arbitrator will now decide on the salary each is entitled to for the 2010-2011 season. The Capitals then have 48 hours to accept that determination and offer contracts to the player or he is immediately an Unrestricted Free Agent. As readers here can probably surmise, from my perspective, both Fehr and Schultz are likely going to get raises to which they are entitled out of the process. Of course the process itself leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouths and that's not a good thing - take a look at where the Caps are right now with both Shoane Morrison and Milan Jurcina after having gone through this process over the past two years with each of them. However, as we've seen the process may result in a solid salary for the player and a fair deal for the team like it did in both those cases. That said, having a team's management basically put in a position where in front of an arbitrator they have to list every flaw in a players game while the player and his agent have to put together their best case for how valuable the player is despite the fact he probably did not win either the Norris, Hart or Vezina Trophies the prior season if he is in arbitration. In the end it usually leaves some in management with the feeling the player has some unrealistic aspects to their self image, and the player with the feeling that his skills and loyalty to the organization aren't universally valued by management. Oh well for my two cents, I hope that's not how it ends up going for Jeff Schultz or Eric Fehr. If in the end Tomas Fleischmann ends up with a similar contract to last season , or finds himself moving on, I'm okay with that too. In the end I think all three will find themselves back with the Capitals and I'll likely feel about Flash's 2010-2011 contract what I felt about Jurcina's - while a little on the high side nothing that the Capitals shouldn't pay to keep him and see how things play out for the first 20-30 games of the regular season.

Elsewhere around the NHL the biggest deal/free agent signing so far, in terms of size of contract has ended up being former Predators' d-man Dan Hamhuis' 6 year, $27M (avg cap hit: ) deal with Vancouver. Number 2 on the list has been center Matt Cullen's 3 year, $10.5M deal with Ottawa. These were/are two guys I wouldn't have minded seeing in Capitals' sweaters next season, but not at those prices/terms. So I guess I'm just one of those guys with champagne tastes and a beer budget. Others in the "blogsphere" wanted to see Ottawa blueliner Anton Volchenkov in a Capitals sweater next season, instead, we'll see him in a Devils sweater, playing under a 6 year $25.5M deal. While Paul Martin, formerly of New Jersey will patrol the blue line in Pittsburgh's new arena for the Penguins under a 5 year, $25M contract; also going to Pittsburgh is Zbynek Michalek who will be playing for the Pens under a five year $20M deal after having a great season last year in Phoenix. The Pens made some room for these two by letting veteran Sergei Gonchar become an UFA; Gonchar signed with Ottawa on day 1 of Free Agency - 3 years, $16.5M. In the end, it's clear none of the available blue liners who could really help the Capitals immediately were affordable without some major subsequent moves by them, With John Carlson and Karl Alzner likely ready to step up; a healthy Tom Poti going into a contract year, and two time Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green and the NHL's 2009-2010 +/.- leader Jeff Schultz all likely back next season and on the roster, making such a move at this point just doesn't seem to make sense to me. Of course I'm not one who feels the Capitals need to make major changes to the roster on the blue line, I'm thinking the current players just need to work a little more strength training into their physical conditioning regimine, and they just need to look to hit more and use their God given size to better advantage. Speaking of that, righ now, of the remaining available UFA defensemen, Shaone Morrisonn and Joe Corvo look to me to be two of the best available. Morrisonn's 163 hits last season leave him at #4 in hits for the season of the remaining available UFA defensemen. Corvo's 23.29 minutes TOI/game put him at number one on the list of all available UFA skaters based on that statistic for 2009-2010. It wouldn't surprise me to see Sha-Mo back at the Capitals at ~$1.5M per for two or three years and Corvo back in Carolina for a similar salary to what he made last season.

Another possible second line center for the Capitals I've talked about in the past is/was Saku Koivu of Anaheim. He resigned with the Ducks on day one of free agency - 2 years, $5M ($2.5M/year). Too bad for us Capitals fans, but I think that's a fair deal and good contract for both Anaheim and the 35 year old Finn, Koivu.

Of course, the news everyone seems to be waiting for is where will Ilya Kovalchuk end up. Of all the remaining available unrestricted free agents, the 27 year old Russian sniper is the most prolific, proven offensive talent available. He's also likely the most expensive. According to PuckDaddy and other sources, the LA Kings have made their best and final offer for Kovy and have been judged as falling short by him so now the "derby" for his talents next season are down to two teams - the New Jersey Devils, a player in the game from day one; and surprisingly, the New York Islanders. Puck Update explores what Kovalchuck could mean to the Islanders. Here's some details on what went on between Kovy and the LA Kings who many thought had the inside track in the quest for his services. Earlier this week, James Chen over at From the Rink, wondered aloud if Kovy's demands were sabotaging his contract talks. Who knows, I mean he has apparently turned down a 12 year $101M deal and another shorter $70M contract offer this past season, son we know his demands are pretty big and it's not all just about money or a long term commitment to HIM, it also appears he's also looking to end up with a team who has a long term commitment to excellence.... All that said, the latest rumours over at TSN have him getting closer to a deal to stay in New Jersey.

Okay now back to thinking about the Capitals and next season- given Hamhuis, Leopold, Gonchar, Kubina, and Eaton are blue liners that have all been inked to deals, and centers Saku Koivu, Matt Cullen, and Matthew Lombardi are all under contract off the market. Lombardi inked a three year $10.5M deal with normally frugal Nashville after the Predators "lost" Dan Hamuis to Vancouver. Bottom line is looking at who is left on the UFA market as of this morning July 6th, and what the Capitals need, there's only a few guys I'd consider looking at/talking to if I were GMGM.

Defensemen: Andy Sutton, Brian Pothier, Joe Corvo, Jay McKee, Willie Mitchell, and Shoane Morrisonn. I know that doesn't sound all that great and it's not. I'm not talking about offering these guys any sort of big money, long-term deals. I'm just willing to think that offering them each two year deals at basically what they made in 2009-2010 wouldn't be a bad investment/move if you were GMGM.

Centers: John Madden, Jeff Halpren, Lee Stempniak, Rafi Torres, and Mike Comrie. Again looking at these guys as offering them deals at 1-2 years and similar salaries to what they made last season. I say that because if Eric Belanger isn't worth a three year deal to the Capitals right now, and he isn't, then none of these five guys are. Bottom line here is that if I were GMGM, I'd seriously be trying tot talk to Stan Bowman about a deal that could bring Patrick Sharp to the Capitals, give the Blackhawks some solid prospects/young player(s) (Fleischmann, cough, cough, and one or two others) and additional Cap Space, while keeping Semin since the whole reason to get Sharp is to make sure we have two solid, scoring lines.

Other than that, if I'm GMGM - I'm promoting from within and pushing the team to improve throughout the regular season and peak going into the playoffs. The other thing I'm telling these guys this upcoming season, is streak or no streak, everybody is going to be fully fit and well rested throughout the middle of the season when they play in the lineup. If they are not, then they'll be in the pressbox or a scratch for some other reason - even if the Capitals go an win 25 straight at some point during this upcoming REGULAR season. The whole point will be to play solid hockey, have a good seed going into the playoffs and be ready to win 16 games in the post season. I really feel that whole streak thing ended up having a lot of less than fully desirable unintended consequences.

Anyway, is it September yet?