Monday, August 23, 2010

Another Slow Week For Hockey News ... When Will This Drought End?

Well so far it's been another pretty slow news week for NHL fans. The UFA signings since my last blog post on 8/15 - a total of five (5) - Nick Boyton resigned with the Blackhawks on the 16th; Sean Bergenheim signed with Tampa Bay on the 17th; Ben Guite signed with Columbus on the 18th; Fernando Pisani signed with Chicago on the 18th; and Arron Asham signed with Pittsburgh on the 19th. All signed one year deals and Bergenheim and Asham got the bigger paydays - $700K per season. Yep - earht shattering deals. Like other NHL fans I continue to await the renegotiation and signing of Ilya Kovalchuck by the Devils. Like all Caps fans I'm thankful the scare with Alexender Semin's car accident in Siberia was basically nothing. From the video on Youtube I noted two things - little to no damage to Sema's Mercedes and he seems to be in fairly good physical shape for being home for the off season.

In other news there were several RFA signings this past week, for example just today, the Red Wings resigned Justin Abdelkader, but all in all things continue to move slowly.

I'm still trying to figure out if I'd like to see Willie Mitchell in a Caps Sweater come the start of Training Camp (September 18th) - actually the answer to that is - it depends on how much the Capitals have to give up so we Caps fans can see that. I'm still basically feeling as comforting Mitchell on the Caps Blue Line might be, I'd be more confident if we knew who the Caps had a hands down, solid Second Line Pivot between Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich at the start of the season. My feelings were only further solidified by two blog posts over at Red Line Station this past week: "Just How Good Is Alexander Semin" and "Complete Semin WOWY". I will repeat one of the botom line statements based on the statistics that RedArmyLineCaps did on last year's data though to highlight why I think this is an important item that needs to be addressed: "It looks like Flash and Semin have anti-chemistry. Clearly, the Caps need someone else to play with Alexander Semin." So at least based on that analysis my own gut feel is confirmed and it indicates that "Flash" is NOT the answer for Centering the second line. Interestingly, from the data at the end of last season and the playoffs, the jury is still out as to whether Eric Belanger is the answer. Of course if you accept that "Flash" isn't the answer that means that between Jason Chimera and Tomas Fleischmann, if the roster stays the way it is - with both of them on it - the Caps will be paying their #7 & #8 forwards $4.8M for third line minutes. That's basically 8.1% of the available salary cap space and IMO at least $1M too much ... So that's why I'm waiting to see a deal that addresses that issue, and I hope it's one that also "fixes" the 2nd line center issue....

Well I'm going to try and start posting more regularly, I actually have a few thoughts of Washington Capital related topics I want to explore and I am doing the analyses now to see if they are worth sharing with others. I am definitely starting to think about hockey and miss it. That started yesterday when I paid for my Winter Classic Tix and started wondering when my Tix for the 2010-2011 season would be sent out to me... Of course next week we go to the Beack - actually the Jersey Shore for the week before Labor Day so I don't know if my posts will be easy to make or not - it depends on whether the Internet coverage for the house has been turned off or not...

Is it September 18th yet?


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Another Quiet Hockey News Week Passes This Summer But...

Well Caps Fans, another quiet hockey news week is in the books as I write this post, but at least the Capitals are starting to be mentioned in the rumor mill. The rumor is of course that Eric Belanger will be back and there is some other trade in the works so the Capitals have held off filing "Belli's" contract and asked he and his agent to delay making any statement until they complete the trade and do so. While I am neutral on the return of Belanger, (I can see many ways it could/would make sense and a few where it would not) I am quite happy, almost giddy with the other part of the rumor. The other part being that the trade involves sending Tomas Fleischmann to another team; as readers of this blog know, while I really have no ax to grind with "Flash" or his latest contract, I just don't think he is the right fit here and now for the Capitals. That along with the fact, I think it's time for the Capitals to totally live in the here and now, especially come March 2011, is why I would be delighted if they were to deal "Flash" and get something in return that the vast majority of folks think the Capitals need. I'm not going to say what that is or should be at this point. However I think everyone can think of two or even three things that despite ongoing debate we'd all be able to agree would be more critical to the Capitals ability to make a run at the Stanly Cup, than another 20+ goal scorer on top of the other members of the Capitals high octane corps of forwards. However, I still haven't seen or heard anything with the trade deadline right here and now except Brian Burke says Tomas Kaberle will still be with the Maple Leafs at the start of the season, if the offers he's seen so far are all he can get for him. SO when will GMGM and some other club's GM be making an announcement we all will be happy to hear?

In any case it appears "Belli" is coming back, he was a trade deadline pickup who seemed to work out. I say seemed because at times because he seemed fantastic and he sure showed a ton of grit in the playoffs, though at other times he was just average. I think the jury is still out whether he will/can be the second or third line pivot for the Capitals but there is no question in my mind that when it comes to "grit" and at the very least displaying/leading in that manner in the locker room, at least through example, Belanger is a solid addition to the Capitals. I liked what Brendan Morrison showed during the first half of last season and I'm optimistic that Belanger can deliver it all season long.

The big question still remains if there is no deal that brings any clear choice for second line center to Washington before the start of Camp and the season who will it be? Right now assuming the Belanger rumors are true, I'm thinking that right now the second line is Semin - Belanger - Laich and the third line ought to be Fleischmann - Steckel - Fehr while the first line stays Ovechkin - Backstrom - Knuble and the usual fourth line is Gordon - Perrault/Beagle - Bradley. That's a nice/good lineup however, I don't see where it upgrades anything from the end of last season. So are the changes/new blood on the blue line going to be what the Capitals need? Right now those changes basically involve promoting John Carlson and Karl Alzner up from the AHL - I'm comfortable both are ready to do so, but are they enough and ready to follow the leadership of Tom Poti and Mike Green to the Stanley Cup Finals? Especially given that right now we'll have them all backstopped by two inexperienced, young goaltenders?

Well this will be only my seventh season as a declared, "out", 100% Washington Capitals fan - as most readers know I grew up in Philly and was one of those Flyers fans you've always hated. It will be our sixth season as Season Ticket holders and I'm still very excited about the Capitals prospects in 2010-2011. I just have no idea how they will do this year. I'm pretty sure, actually comfortable, they will once again make the playoffs, though I expect both Carolina and Tampa Bay to be much stronger in the regular season this year compared to last. I'm just struggling to see what adjustments relative to personnel they are making to improve the team and change the results from last year's playoffs. Now maybe they've concluded what they need to change isn't related to personnel but rather in the style, strategy and tactics they will have the personnel employ in 2010-2011. Who knows, I just hope it continues to be as fun to watch them as it has been these last 3 seasons. However, if it's a little less fun during the regular season and I'm still watching them play in May 2011, I'm okay with that - "hey, that's just how I roll".

Well is it September yet?


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Some May Say ....

Some may say that comparing John Madden to Tomas Fleischmann is a waste of time. They are truly apples and oranges. I will agree they are apples and oranges, at least when you look at age, long term potential, and the roles they play on an NHL team or are likely to play during the 2010 -2001 season, and the 2011 playoffs. John Madden is a proven, 37 year old veteran, center, who is NOT a "sniper." No Madden isn't the guy you look to pass the puck to when you are setting up that clutch goal, after all last season his shooting percentage was a less than stellar 7.87 in the regular season and a mere 4.17% in the playoffs. In 11 NHL seasons, Madden has scored more than 20 goals only twice. Physically, Madden is listed at 5'11"; 190# - so while he's not a large, physically imposing player; neither is he a "featherweight, or pesky, speedy, little guy of the Brian Gionta type. Tomas Fleischmann is 26 years old and already has a 19 goal and 23 goal season (his last two) on his 5 NHL season resume. Last season he was second among Capitals "regulars" in shooting percentage with a gaudy 19.01% trailing only Mike Knuble (one of the league's best ever "garbage men" who logged a 19.21% shooting percentage on the way to his 29 goal season). Fleischmann's nickname "Flash" is well deserved, he is a speedy, excellent skater with a laser for a wrist shot. In his five NHL seasons so far, "Flash" has played in 260 regular season games during which he has amassed 128 points including 56 goals. That's 0.4923 points per game and 0.2154 goals per game. Last season "Flash's" points and goals per game numbers were: 07391 points per game and 0.3333 goals/game. Over the coarse of the regular season the numbers he put up in the 69 games he ended up tied for 90th in points (51) and tied for 71st in goals (23).

The most notable thing about "Flash" though isn't the fact he was tied at the end of the regular season in the points standings with Marian Hossa, it's that each of the last two seasons, he's done nothing but just get better. In this regard, there is indeed certainly no comparison between he and the 37 year old Madden whose career pinnacle relative to personal achievements was 2000-2001 when he received the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL. Yep it's been nothing but "downhill" for Madden since that season, except of course winning his second Stanley Cup in 2003 and his third Stanley Cup this past June. So, sure there's no comparison between Madden and "Flash". Madden is 37 years old, he'll only make $1M playing for the Minnesota Wild next season. "Flash" is 26 years old, he'll make $2.6M next season. Madden has three (3) Stanley Cup rings, and is a stand-out as a responsible two-way forward, something no team can have enough of going into a long playoff run, and something it wouldn't hurt the Capitals to have more of on their roster, IMO. "Flash" has a Calder Cup (AHL Championship) on his resume and despite being +/- +9 over the course of the entire 2009-2010 regular season, will likely never be considered for the Selke Trophy.

So why would I look over the news and NHL UFA signings upon my return from a lovely couple of days up in Shenandoah National Park and key in on what a great deal I think the Minnesota Wild got when they signed John Madden for a 1 year, $1 million contract this past week? Why would I then compare that to the $2.6M the Washington Capitals signed Fleischmann for earlier in the signing period and right before he would have gone to arbitration? Well simply because I look and see in both talented hockey players. However, in Madden, I see one who could probably have fit on the Capitals and filled a needed, though less heralded role on the third or fourth line for the same or nearly the same salary cap hit anybody who is likely to be in that position will get. While in Flash, I see a guy who is now the 8th highest paid Capital and the fifth highest paid forward on the team; yet I don't see Flash earning that kind of position on HIS team. No he's not irresponsible, defensively and yes he can score, though despite some with a contrary opinion I don't think an Arbitrator's Award decision would have been all that much more than what he will make next season. The truth of the matter is though last season, Flash was the 6th highest goal scorer on the team. He scored just two more goals than the most "efficient" forward on the team - Eric Fehr, despite averaging almost 4 full minutes TOI/game than Fehr and getting "oodles" (that's a technical term) more time on the power play unit.

So what's the bottom line? What's this seemingly aimless ramble through some hockey numbers really mean? Bottom line - to me it's simple - when guys like John Madden and Dominic Moore are signing cap friendly, flexible or short term deals all around for about a $1M per season; that's really the most a team should or needs to pay for solid, proven third and fourth line forwards in the league today. So as a Washington Capitals fan it means that guys like Tomas Fleischmann and Jason Chimera need to step it up right out of the gates and prove they are worth nearly $2M or more a season and they can and will be logging second line minutes. The problem for me, is I don't see it and I think giving Jason Chimera and Tomas Fleischmann even similar minutes, let alone more minutes, of ice time per game than Brooks Laich, Alexander Semin, Eric Fehr, Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, or Mike Knuble would be a mistake and make the Capitals a weaker, vice stronger team than they were last season. So to me it sure looks like in "Flash" the Capitals will be paying $2.6M next season for a third or fourth line forward; while in Chimera they will be paying $1.875M for one. I don't have a problem with this as long as they use the majority of currently available salary cap space to go out and get a legitimate, proven second line center, if they aren't going to give Brooks Laich a shot at that job. I've said it before and I'll end my ramble here with it. The number one reason why I don't see Tomas Fleeishmann ever growing into the role of second line center on the Capitals is, while he's not defensively irresponsible, is from what I've seen he's just not that into what the Capitals need from a second line center - two way play. It seems to me that "Flash" wants to be a sniper, and he's often shown that he probably could be, though not here, not now. In DC we already have our "young guns" and two of the four Ovechkin and Semin are two of the best in the world. Flash isn't at that level yet. He either has to re-engineer his game, which likely includes muscling up his 6'-1" frame from 190# to 200-205# and using it to CONSISTENTLY provide net presence, while not sloowing down his skating, and improving his "hockey sense" when setting up plays entering the offensive zone; or he's likely not going to end up being the guy the Capitals need on the second line, at either wing or center. I don't dislike "Flash", I just like what I've seen over the last season from Eric Fehr and over the past three seasons from Brooks Laich more; and I've always like what I've seen from Alexander Semin. (I know others would shake their head at Semin's miscues and "brain farts" but the fact he's one of the 20 most talented forwards in the world today is, while a subject of debate, not all that controversial.)

So bottom line these sorts of deals, we'll see more and more of over the next couple of weeks, do nothing but shine a brighter spotlight and put more pressure on guys like Fleischmann and Chimera.

Is it September yet?


Monday, August 2, 2010

What Now - Does Chicago's Signing of Marty Turco Mean That Anti Niemmi Has Joined Ilya Kovalchuck In Hockey Limbo?

What now? Does Chicago's signing of Marty Turco mean that Antti Niemi has joined Ilya Kovalchuck in hockey limbo? Or, does it mean that Christobel Huet will be part of the next shoe to drop in the Windy City? According to the news around the blogsphere and the MSM - it "appears" that's the exact words on right now. According to info on, the Blackhawks havemoved on from Niemi and he is now an unrestricted free agent, so I don't really understand the "apparently" qualifier on but whatever - probably just an earlier article that needs an edit. As a fan though,you have to wonder, is it more heartbreaking if you are a fan: a) whose team has not won a Stanley Cup in 50 seasons, or b) to have to watch your team having to be blown up after winning their first Stanley Cup in 49 seasons because they have to manage their salary cap issues? Sorry about the run-on sentence, but up to this point I clearly would have said a), however if it's true that Chicago now finds they cannot sign Niemi after what seems like an arbitration award that's fair for both sides, you have to feel at least a little for Chicago fans no matter who "your" team is. We won't know the end decision or way forward by Chicago until their press conference in a short while but all I can say now is wow...

As for what other teams/GMs are likely to take a run at signing Niemmi for $2.75M+ next season, well I think the first one on the list could well be the team he beat in the finals for the Stanley Cup. Wouldn't it be ironic if after all this Niemi ends up in Flyers Black and Ornge playing for GM Paul Holmgren next season? Also if Chicago walks away the interesting part I think will be how long a contract term the team that signs the 26 year old Finn goes in for with him. Of course thats if the "wunderkind" GM down in Tampa Bay doesn't nab Niemi first... in which case I think then we Capitals fans might have to admit that there would be at least one team, other than the Capitals, who might win the division this coming season.

The good news for Hockey fans who got depressed thinking the only thing we'd have to talk about all summer was going to be "As Kovalchuck Turns" - is - that was a very wrong assmuption. Of course none of this helps us Capitals fans, at least those of us who think "our" team still needs bonafide, no kidding, second line center. A second line center, who, as much or more than a shut down blue liner, will propel "our team" aloing with the other high octane, hig talent players already on the roster to our team's first Stanley Cup victory in June 2011.

Is it Spetember yet?