Monday, December 12, 2011

Establishing A Baseline For The Start Of The Dale Hunter Era Which Is Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night is when I think we'll see the real start of the "Dale Hunter Era" for the Washington Capitals. Tomorrow's game against the Philadelphia Flyers comes as the first game since Dale Hunter took over as coach of the Capitals that they have had a couple of good practices in a row between home games. It will be the first time we'll get to see a Hunter coached Capitals team that may have had adjustments made that take more than an hour to practice. It also will be a game that is against a team that was a rival to the Capitals teams that Hunter played on. So we have an important game against a big rival at home after the Caps have had time to practice a few things and should be well rest. Thus the beginning of the "Dale Hunter Era" says me. mark it on the hockey calendars everywhere December 12, 2011.

So let's take a look and baseline the NHL on this day, the day before the Hunter era begins - December 11, 2011. The Washington Capitals are in second place in the Southeast Division; eighth place in the Eastern Conference; and seventeenth place in the league as we await the dawn of the Dale Hunter Era. How did the Capitals get here you might ask, we could debate the points and issues leading up to Bruce Boudreau's replacement till the cows come home and nothing we'd say really matters. We don't need to talk about or debate those things the only thing we need to do is to baseline where the Capitals are and where the teams that matter to them are around them as regards the NHL standings as of today. That way come April 7, 2012 the last day of the Caps' 2011-2012 regular season we'll be able to judge how far they've come from where they sunk to on November 28, 2011. In this week's NHL power rankings the Capitals rank a lowly 16th - the lowest you can be and still be in the rankings but hey at least over the last 10 games the Capitals are now 5-5-0 and playing 0.500 hockey, the comment in the rankings voices the question all of Cap probably shares with me - "Have they turned the corner?" We'll see, we'll see as we measure the progress against the current baseline.

So where do things stand today with the teams that matter to the Capitals?

The first team that matters to the Capitals this season is the Florida Panthers. Formerly the lowly Florida Panthers and now the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers. The Panthers had been historically one of, if not the worst, teams in the NHL for the past decade. They haven't reached the playoffs since 2000, and haven't won a playoff game since 1997. They haven't even finished higher than third in the Southeast Division since the 2000-01 season. But thanks to a drastic overhaul by GM Dale Tallon, the Panthers have quickly emerged as one of the better and more exciting teams to watch in the League. Today they sit atop the Southeast Division with 37 points, third in the Eastern Conference and tenth in the League. In this week's power ranking the Panthers also rank tenth despite having a record in their last ten outings of just 5-3-2 (0.600 hockey). So far this season the Panthers have proven to me they are real, they have a respectable positive goal differential of +5 and they've played 0.616 hockey over 30 games; 0.667 over 12 home games and 0.556 over 18 away games. These guys are for real. That's really all that matters to us Capitals fans, that and the fact the Capitals really, really should work really hard to NOT loose any more "four point games" to the Panthers. Right now the Capitals are two games ahead of the Capitals and have played 0.554 over the 28 games the Caps have played this season. The Panthers are on track to finish the season with between 94 and 105 points. To catch and pass the Panthers I estimate the Capitals will need to ratchet up their own "game" ~20% and play 0.657 hockey to finish with 102 points; that's a pretty big delta but it could be achievable if the Capitals find their stride now and have a good "run/streak" between now and February 28th. It's also interesting to note that while the Caps and Panthers will face each other three times between now and March 1st, all three of those meetings occur in the month of February and with any luck for we Caps fans will be the most epic and important meetings between the two teams in at least a decade.

The next team that matters to the Capitals is the Eastern Conference lading Philadelphia Flyers - the same Flyers who the Capitals will face off against tomorrow night. If the season ended today, the Capitals would find themselves in the first round of the playoffs facing the Flyers. Over 28 games the Flyers have been playing 0.696 hockey and are on track to finish the season with between 108 and 120 points this regular season. The Flyers are 7-3-0 in their last ten outings and on a 5 game winning streak and they are doing it in spite of average goaltending from their net-minders (2.9 GAA last ten games), and a final and yet is they have a positive goal differential of +20 over 28 games to date (101 GF - 3.607 GF/Game and 81 GA - 2.893 GA/Game). Making up any of the four (4) full games the Flyers are ahead of the Capitals even over the 54 games remaining between now and April looks to be a daunting task. However tomorrow's match up is a four point game in that challenge and all the more reason to look at the game and increase it's importance in the Capitals minds.

The Boston Bruins who are now in first place in the Northeast Division and second place in the Eastern Conference are important to the Capitals. Between now and the end of the season the Caps still have all four of their match ups with the Bruins remaining and if they can manage to pass Florida, they will likely be battling the Bruins for the second seed in the opening round of the playoffs. The Bruins have played 0.661 hockey so far this season and have a whopping and league leading +35 goal differential. The Bruins are on pace to finish the regular season with between 102 and 111 points so it's very likely the Caps will need the Bruins to filter some in order to pass them in the standings even if the Caps can finish with 102 or 103 points. The Bruins are currently ranked atop this week's NHL power rankings.

The fourth place New York Rangers are another team, that even if the Caps have turned things around will still matter and come into play for the Caps this season. the Rangers have played 0.704 hockey over 27 games this season. They are as strong or stronger a team as either the Bruins or the Flyers and have a team goal differential of +23 and a 7-3-0 record in their last 10 games including a 6-1 blowout win over the Florida Panthers in their last outing. The "Rags" are on track to finish the regular season with between 106 and 118 points. They are currently ranked third in the NHL's power rankings.

The fifth place Pittsburgh Penguins are the next team that are highly relevant to the Capitals this season. The Penguins have played 0.633 hockey over thirty games this season despite Sidney Crosby's injury issues which unfortunately for hockey fans everywhere continue with no foreseeable end in sight. The Penguins have a +19 differential and 96 and 106 points. If the Caps have indeed turned things around and can finish with 102 points when they head into the playoffs there is a fair chance their road to Lord Stanley's Promised Land for the Capitals could well once again be through Pittsburgh.

What about the other guys in the East who could make the playoffs you might ask: Toronto, Buffalo, New Jersey, Montreal and Winnipeg.

Well Toronto at 5-4-1 in their last ten games and 13th in this week's NHL Power Rankings looks to be the real deal and could very easily finish the season as high as in 5th place and as low as 7th place with between 88 and 98 points for the season. In other words the Maple Leafs could very easily be the Capitals opponent in the first round of the playoffs, if the Capitals turn things around find a way to either win the Southeast or finish in fourth in the Conference.

The Buffalo Sabres are ranked 15th in this week's NHL Power Rankings, have played 0.552 hockey through 29 games, and have an even team goal differential to date. The Sabres are 3-5-2 in their last ten games and have a less than 0.500 record at home so far this season, while playing 0.727 hockey on the road. This team is an enigma to me but will likely remain battling Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Ottawa "on the bubble" assuming the Capitals can move forward on their current path and get off the bubble themselves. If that happens the Capitals likely won't be seeing anyone who finishes seventh or eighth in the Eastern Conference before the Conference finals, if at all.

So the as far as turning things around in the "Dale Hunter Era" the Florida Panthers may well have caught the spirit of things when they were billing the game between the Panthers and the Capitals as a battle for first place in the division and an important bout between the two.

So next up the Flyers at Verizon Center Tuesday Night - Be There or Be Square.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Are THE Capitals "Back"? and Does Realignment Pave The Way For NHL Expansion?

Well I missed the last two Capitals games - check updates, blogs and recaps of all after getting score alerts while driving northbound on the I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike during the Senators game and southbound back that same route during the Maple Leafs game. So it's hard for me to make any sort of conclusive statements about the Capitals other than "I hope so and I'm an eternal optimist." From going through the statistics and reflecting on the couple of games I did actually watch first hand so far during the "Hunter Era" so far, I will say I like what I see and yes, I am optimistic. I think the Capital's core also does and is responding as well. So are THE Capitals back? Well with a 5-5-0 record in their last ten games it's a little too early to tell, but there is definitely reason for hope again in the neighborhood around 7th and F Streets. Now if the Caps can make up at least 1 of the 2 1/2 games they trail the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead before the end of December, a period when they have 9 games remaining this month and Florida has 10 games remaining and the Caps can finish the month with a 8-4-2 record or better for the month overall (18 or more points), then I'll be convinced they are back on track. So that's pretty much the bottom line, but there are a bunch of promising signs that the Caps are off to a good start at moving back from "bubble team hell" to clear playoff team.

Now about the NHL realignment - first let's get this out of the way - I can't wait for next season, I love the new alignment and the the way it's worked out for the Capitals. The Division games next season will clearly be far more exciting, load and fun than the Southeast Division games this season and the 2013 playoffs assuming the Capitals make them - Whooaa. As @ovi8 would say, SICK. That said I've gotta believe that in a couple of years, no more, there will be two more teams in the NHL, my guess is Quebec and a team out west in the US and that would be either Seattle or Houston, IMO. I also think that would/could work out very well and there is enough talent available world-wide to support 32 great NHL teams. Now if they could have gotten rid of the shootout, or at least made every game a three point game and a win in regulation worth more than one in OT or the shootout .... That too is my bottom line.

Next up for the Capitals- the Flyers at Verizon Center on Tuesday.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tomorrow, Looking Ahead to the Caps - Panthers Matchup In Sunrise, Well Sort Of ...

So tomorrow evening in Sunrise, FL the Washington Capitals who have been struggling mightily of late to regain their confidence and swagger and their "game" play the Florida Panthers who have basically been doing the exact opposite, the Panthers are about 4/10th's of the way into their best NHL season in several years. It'll be the second of six meetings this season between Florida and Washington. The Capitals won the first meeting 3-0, that game was in a different universe, while it was on the same sheet of ice that tomorrow's game will be played on, it was apparently in a different time-space continuim, on October 18th while the Capitals were on a 7-0 tear at the start of the season. That was before the Capitals started looking even less than human while they were still super-heros who it seemed could do whatever they want and still win hockey games. it was before Bruce Boudreau was replaced by Dale Hunter and it was well before the Panthers amassed anything like their current 14-8-4 record and 32 points to take over the Southeast Division lead for the first time in more than a couple years. It was before the Panthers went 7-3-3 during the month of November.

The difference in current mindset and attitude of these two teams might be best ascertained by comparing their records over the past 10 games - Florida: 6-3-1; Washington: 3-7-0. That said, my thoughts might be going in a different direction than you think though. For Florida, their website is building the game up as the "Fight for First Place" as in the fight for the first place in the Southeast Division. That shouldn't even be a fight of course and it is but it's a meaningless one as we Cap's fans well know. Winning the division without winning the conference has gotten the Capitals little to nothing these past few post seasons. In that regard, it's about having home ice advantage and it's about being in position to "go deep" in the playoffs. So from that regard for Panthers it is indeed important. It's also about making sure they don't get shutout 3-0 again like they did last meeting; its about making sure they make Sunrise, FL a hard place for division rivals play against the Panthers.

For the Capitals the game is even more important and it is so for at least three really big, good reasons:

1) It could be the difference between knowing they might still have a season because they can win games against their Division foes on the road, heck right now it's important they beat anybody on the road. The worst loss of the recent face-plant in my book was in some ways, probably when they went up to Uniondale on November 5th and lost 5-3. The Capitals road record is 4-7-0 so far this season, for the Capitals to get their season back on track they need to start playing at least 0.500 hockey on the road and 0.600 hockey at Verizon Center. The time for that to get started is sooner rather than later, so what better time for Dale Hunter to get his second win and first win on the road as coach of the Capitals than tomorrow night at Sunrise, FL?

2) The Capitals need the two points a win against Florida will give them more that the Panthers need them. Right now the Caps are actually "the bubble team"in the Eastern Conference. They sit with a precarious hold on the eighth and final playoff spot with 27 points. the same point total as ninth place Ottawa and tenth place Montreal.

3) A win, especially a win in regulation would be put new Coach Dale Hunter's record at a respectable 2-2-0 and would also be the first win in regulation for the Capitals under Hunter. it would also be another brick in the rebuilding of a wall of confidence in the Capital Team's collective psyche' as regards the "Hunter Era". It could get even better if the Capitals top six forwards hit on all eight cylinders and get their offense as well as the defense in gear.

The other interesting battle that will likely play out tomorrow at Sunrise, FL will be Jose Theodore vs. Tomas Vokoun. Theo wasn't in the net the last time the two teams met, Jacob Markstrom was, as was the Vokoun who stopped 20 shots and was the first star of that game. During the Panthers last ten games Theodore has played in eight games posted a 5-2-1 record and a 0.933 SV%. The recent performances by both Theodore and Vokoun and the importance of the game for both teams make a showdown by the two against their former teams very likely tomorrow night... I'm looking forward to it, I hope you are two. I'm also looking very forward to seeing the Capitals forwards continue their return to the scene and to the job of scoring goals too.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Penguins 2 - Caps 1; Another No Point Night But ...

Okay let's get this out of the way early, the Caps and the Penguins met tonight at Verizon Center and the Penguins beat the Capitals 2-1. The Caps are now 2-7-1 in their last 10 games. That's not good and not what the Caps organization or we Caps fans want or expect from them this season. There's no ifs ands or buts about it things need to get fixed and the sooner the better.

Okay that out of the way, lets admit even though the Caps got outshot 35-17 and out attempted 69 - 42, the game could just as easily, and some (self included) would argue, should have finished regulation in a 3-3 tie. The Caps basically "missed" two wide open nets and penguins missed one. Had those plays been "properly" finished when the third period ends the score is 3-3 instead of 2-1. That said it's hockey, you know that game of inches stuff, and instead you have a no point night for Washington. Also on the bright side, the Caps have found their defense again and in the last two games Tomas Vokoun has delivered a SV% that we expect from a top tier number one goaltender in the NHL. Tonight his SV% was 0.943 - he stopped everything he should have and a few that might have gotten by a lesser goaltender, so you can't blame the Caps goalie for this lack of points. The two missed open nets, well Aex Ovechkin might have only had one SOG tonight but he was part of setting those two plays up. With 19:22 TOI, Ovechkin also led all Caps forwards in TOI and did so with an average shift length of 00:55 but didn't have any really long shifts except for one in third period that I saw. Ovie also led the Caps in hits with 10, all but one of which were good, solid hits that were appropriately timed and without putting him out of position, on one hit Evgeni Malkin got the better of the exchange, but let's all understand that that battle/competition has been going on for at least half of Ovie and Geno's lives.

The defense looked pretty solid, except for the second Pittsburgh goal, Chris Kunitz's game winner, where John Erskine tripped and fell and that sort of stuff can happen. Brooks Laich was a beast in the faceoff circle tonight with a win % against 67% (14 wins 7 losses) many of which came against Sidney Crosby. Laich has had some good games so far this season, but this might have been his best yet. Alexander Semin drew one penalty and got none. His feet were moving all night from what I saw and he was working hard. Had he not missed on a wide open net (one of two by the Caps) he'd have a goal to go with his 1 takeaway and 2 blocked shots.

Of the blue liners I felt Dennis Wideman, John Carlson, Dmitri Orlov and Karl Alzner all had solid outings. John Erskine, everyone trips now and then and even though it resulted in a goal, I'll gladly overlook that misstep to have a guy in the lineup who within the traditions of the game, holds Arron Asham accountable for his "go to sleep" celebration from the last time these two teams met when he knocked out Jay Beagle. Jeff Schultz what can I say, 21 shifts, 16:14 TOI, -1, 1 attempt blocked, 1 miss shot, 1 takeaways, 1 blocked shot, 2 takeaways saw them all including the one of the two takeaways that might have saved a goal. The two hits Schultz is credited with, I truly didn't see them and if I did they didn't seem like hits to me and certainly are not memorable. Let's give credit where credit is due, Schultz is one of the most positionally sound defensemen I've seen play ove rthe past three seasons in the NHL and he has a heckuva "active stick". Further, I know any guy who is at the NHL level, is 6'6" 230#, played his major junior hockey in the Western Hockey League for a team named "The Calgary Hitmen" and who represented his nation in the World juniors has to know how to execute a killer body check and "blow somebody up." he just has to. However in Schultz's five NHL seasons I don't know of one time during his 340 NHL games played that he's done it. Finally it seems to me that he's not being properly respected and he's certainly not in any way feared by opposing forwards these days. Maybe just maybe just a couple of times, he ought to risk not being exactly in position and "blow somebody up", not so we Caps fans know he can do it, but just so the guys who matter in his world - forwards on opposing teams - think twice before tring to skate through him. Now of course if somebody out there can show me a youtube clip of "Sarge" doing that i guess I'll be the one eating some crow around here.

Forwards, the forecheck was going, the Caps won 69% of the faceoffs Laich 67% and pretty solid as the guy required to shutdown Crosby; Backstrom won 88% of his faceoffs; even Marcus Johanson won 4 of the 9 draws he took. The problem pretty straightforward, the Caps only attempted 42 shots on goal and only 17 got through. Against a solid, actually very good, goaltender like Marc-Andre Fleury, unless he's having an anomalously bad night he's stopping 0.900+ of the shots he sees and unless your team's goaltender pitches a shutout, your probably not going to win. The story tonight is pretty much just that.

So it looks like Tomas Vokoun has found his goaltending Mojo again and has his groove back. It seems to me like the Caps re-found their "team defense" allowing just 2 goals in each of the last two games. Now they just need to get their offensive mojo back, a task clearly easier said then done, and we all will likely be happier with the results of the hockey games.

Next up the Ottawa Senators here at Verizon Center.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Capitals 3 - Panthers 0, 10/18/2011 Brief Retrospective

Last night the Capitals hosted the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center and they beat them 3 - 0.




Okay maybe that retrospective was a bit too brief ... but first let's review our top questions before the game:

1) "Will Tomas Fleischmann show up for the game or continue to be nearly invisible?"
"Flash" wasn't totally "invisible" but it wasn't a performance that made it self evident why he is the second highest paid member of the team.

2) "Will Ovi come alive and electrify us with something like a hat trick"
Captain Ovechkin had one assist and 4 hits and turned in an overall solid but unremarkable (for him) performance.

and 3) "Will Vokoun shut out his former team just one game after they put up big numbers?"
Yep, Tomas Vokoun got his first shutout of the season and his first shutout as a Washington Capital at the expense of his former team last night making 20 saves and earning the games first star.

Other quick hits -

* As slow as Ovi's start has been, Sasha Semin, Dennis Wideman, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera have been pretty darn quick. Backstrom has 1 goal and 5 assists for 6 points in 5 games; Semin and Wideman each have 2 goals and 3 assists for 5 points MoJo has 3 goals and an assist and Chimera has 4 goals. Putting in into perspective both MoJo and Chimera are on a 60+ goal pace for the 82 game season. While obviously it's highly unlikely for them to maintain that pace, my point is we wanted/needed secondary scoring and with the three scoring lines the Capitals now have "we've" got it.

* So far this season, ice time is much more equitably managed and in the end that should mean the entire team is likely to stay healthier. Right now the ATOI leader is Mike Green but his ATOI is only 22:31 down from over 25:00 two years ago and 49th in the league so far this season, and "Game Over" is the only Capital in the top 60 in this statistical category. That means the Capitals are a much more "balanced" team and to me that means they are a tougher team to prepare for and play against than they were even just last season.

* This year's Capitals are a much, much more physical team than the Capitals of the last three seasons. Team hit leader Troy Brouwer is second in the league in "hits" with 24, as a team in five games so far this season the Capitals have "dished out" a total of 140 hits that's an average of 28 hits per game vice an average of 24 hits per game last season, that's a 16.7% increase. Also that increase in "toughness" is pretty evenly distributed throughout the entire Capitals' roster - for example, Jeff Schultz had a total of 53 hits in 72 games played last season, an average of 0.73 hits per game, so far this season he's credited with 4 hits in 5 games or .8 hits per game, a ~10% increase. Also anecdotally I think he's hitting people harder - I say that because you notice his hits more, this season I'm surprised he "only" has 4 hits and looking at last season's stats I'm surprised he had more than 40 hits. I think this also says the Capitals are a tougher team to play this season in this regard as well.

* Alexander Semin is indeed one of the biggest and best TWO WAY talents in the NHL today. That's all I'm sayin' and I'm just sayin' He's also really fun to watch play this game they call Ice Hockey. Last night his stat line was 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 16:03 TOI in 18 shifts, 4 shots, 1 giveaway, and two take aways. He's really good; that's especially obvious when you compare his stat line to a less talented, but clearly NHL caliber player in a similar game. Take for example, oh say, somebody like Matt Bradley. Last night's stat line for Matt Bradley reads: 0 goals. 0 assists, 0 points, -1, 13:04 in 18 shifts, 1 attempt blocked, 1 hit and 1 takeaway. Both players earned their salaries last night but Semin clearly played with "heart" and was a far more impactful (is that a word) player on his 18 shifts. Again "just sayin'".

* Marcus Johansson clearly wants to make sure he gets a sweater EVERY night. He also has really shown that the wrap around "stuff" goal is not dead. Watching him score his third goal last night gave me flashbacks to how the Flyers' Bobby Clarke would often score "back in the day." While I'm talking number 90, the 28-90-22 line is "pretty fun" to watch and really good so far this season.

* This Vokoun guy the Caps picked up in the off season - I think he's going to be pretty good for them... actually i think he's a "beast" in a really, really good way.

Next up, the Philadelphia Flyers in Philly, tomorrow night.

LETS GO CAPS!!! Make it "6" okay?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Heading Out to Verizon Center

Well in just a few short minutes I'll be off to Verizon Center to see the Caps vs. Panthers in their first of six contests this season. In their last game the Panther's offense came alive beating Tampa Bay 7-4. The Caps are now 4-0-0 and looking for "one for the thumb" and to take a franchise record for the start of the season. I am intrigued by the sub-plots - yes the rehash of the will Brads really apologize to Sasha or is he just saying that? etc. are NOT what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about Florida has 12 new/different players from last year and the Caps have Dennis Wideman and Tomas Vokoun who last year were Caps. The big question for me on the Florida side of things is "Will Tomas Fleischmann show up for the game or continue to be nearly invisible?" For the Caps I wonder "Will Ovi come alive and electrify us with something like a hat trick and will Vokoun shut out his former team just one game after they put up big numbers?

Tune in later tonight for the answers - same "bat time" same "bat channel"


Monday, September 26, 2011

Preseason Game 4: Caps 3 - Blue Jackets 1: "Quick Hits"

Well tonight the Capitals and the Blue Jackets faced off at Verizon Center for the first game of the Preseason at Verizon Center. The Capitals won the game 3-1 and really controlled the game pretty much all night long. Quick hits/notes from the game:

- The three stars of the game announced were: 1) Mathieu Perreault (1 goal, 1 assist); 2) Chris Bourque (3 Assists) and 3) Cody Eakin (1 goal) but I'd put Michal Neuvirth down for "honorble mention" if for nothing else but a set of four - not, 1, 2, or 3 but 4 consecutive saves during the one flurry he faced.

- The only puck that got by Neuvy was in the third period when Patrick McNeill got out of position and Troy Brouwer gave Vinny Prospel too much time and space with a very "soft" back-check and ended up screening Neuvirth.

- Chris Bourque - sweet game, he showed his skillz in participating in all three goals. It wasn't quite last year's three goal preseason game performance by Matt Hendricks but it's probably enough to keep him around these parts a while longer.

- Both Bourque and Mathieu Perreault really played hard and showed they are both determined to make it hard for the coaching staff to send them "down to the A". They also are setting a great example for Cody Eakin and nipping at the heels of a couple of guys if I had to guess.

- The Capitals' second line of Semin-Johannson-Knuble played well during the first 15:00 or so of the first period but not so much the rest of the game. However if they could stay on track and pace like they were in the first period, they'll score some goals and put up some number.

- The first line of Ovechkin-Backstom-Brouwer looked pretty solid and played well.

- Jeff Schultz has had better games and one begins to wonder "what if........"

It's good to have hockey back, even if it was preseason.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Two Hockey Musings On This Sunday In August ...

It's not all that easy for me to "muse" about hockey on a rainy, humid 80 degree August day in the Washington, DC Metro but hey that's sort of what I do. So today I have two hockey related musings - one about Scott Hannan signing a one year, one million dollar contract with the Calgary Flames and the other about the NHL and the Olympics.

First, I'd expect most readers of this blog know that earlier this week, the Calgary Flames signed Scott Hannan to a one year contract, for a mere $1M salary cap hit. So this got me to "a thinking" if the Capitals had done that, this season Hannan would be the second lowest paid member of their blue-line corps; that's right of the Capitals projected defense corps, only John Carlson with his entry level salary of $845.8K, makes less than Hannan will this coming season. So what do you think? Not that any of these are or would have been viable choices but hey Caps fans, would you rather have Scott Hannan for $1M even Cap Hit or: a) Tom Poti for $2.875M, b)Jeff Schultz for $2.75M, or even c)John Erskine for $1.5M? I'm going to "zero in" on the debate of Hannan vs. Schultz for three reasons:
i)Given Tom Poti is fighting to resume any career whatsoever after his season ending injuries last year, I just don't think debating about him vs. anyone is "good form." My only hope relative to Tom Poti and the 2011-2012 season is that he is well enough to return to play this season and then we can have this debate in October.
ii) John Erskine is well John Erskine and he brings so much more in the way of total grit to the Capitals that contrasting him to either Hannan or Schultz just doesn't seem fair or wise. If it were only about skating or sick-handling abilities, there's no doubt in my mind John Erskine would likely be making about 1/2 what he currently does. That said I'm a convert, to me, John Erskine is worth the $1.5M he makes, or at least he was last season.
iii) Contrasting Jeff Schultz with Scott Hannan just seems to make sense to me.

Sure there's a huge age difference but in terms of roles and styles, they are both stay at home D-Men who aren't out on the ice for hat they bring to the offensive end of the game. However, Schultz is 25 years old, will make $2.5M and have a Cap Hit of $2.75M this year. Last year "Sarge" had a reasonably unremarkable season finishing the regular season at +6 with just 1 goal, 9 assists, 12 PIM, 34 SOG, and just 53 hits in 72 games. In the playoffs, the 25 year old Calgary native played 9 games was +1, had NO offensive contributions, 6 PIM and 9 SOG. On the other hand, Hannan is 32 years old, has 12 NHL seasons under his belt and will make $1M and have a Cap Hit of $1M this year. Last year Hannan played a total of 78 games joining the Washington Capitals at the end of November from the Colorado Avalanche; over the course of the season he had a +4, 1 goal, 11 assists, 34 PIM, 56 SOG, and 84 hits. In the playoffs, he too appeared in all 9 games the Capitals had, was +1, had an assist, 2 PIM and 6 SOG. So when you compare Schultz and Hannan's performances last season, there's just not a lot of difference; and last season Schultz made $2.5M while Hannan made $4.5M. So looking at last season, Jeff Schultz was no doubt "a better buy" than Scott Hannan. Now looking forward to next season, Schultz will make 2.5X what Hannan will make.

One logically asks will Schultz be worth 2.5X what Hannan is this coming season? The simple truth is none of us know the answer to that question, so "ask me in June 2012"; however I will say it's possible. If Jeff Schultz, now age 25 has the same sort of season he had in 2009-2010, and continues that high level of play into and through the 2012 playoff's he will have fully earned his pay and will be worth a $2.75M Cap Hit. I have little doubt that Scott Hannan will be worth the $1M that Calgary will pay him this season, but he's hoping to do a lot more. That said, the bottom line in this debate is at 25 Schultz still has a lot of upside and at 32 Hannan is much more likely to have just a few more years of his playing career and they are likely to look a lot like last season. Schultz's real value lies in his potential. Potential that will be realized if "Mr. Nasty" can and does become a real no-kidding "shut down" defenseman; something that, in my opinion, can and will only happen if he gets more physical. Schultz is 6' 6" and 230#, he's a big guy, with huge reach, Right now he over-relies on his reach and doesn't use his large body enough. If Schultz would do two things: a) muscle up a little (5-12 more pounds of muscle) and b) improve his skating just a wee bit so he wouldn't worry about being out of position after he makes a hit so much; I'm pretty sure he could increase his number of hits by 50-100% (last season 53, 2009-2010: 66, 2008-2009: 53). If Schultz does those things, the $3M he'll make in the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons under his current contract a real deal. If he doesn't then it's likely that Caps GMGM will likely regret giving him such a nice, long term deal. So in the end even though it wasn't an option anyway, I'm saying I'd pick Schultz over Hannan.

Second, over at Red Light District, they brought up the debate "Should the NHL Continue to Participate in the Olympics" again just yesterday. So I'm flabbergasted. Everyone whose been reading this blog for a while pretty much knows, I CANNOT even understand how this is even a debate. My view is simple and straightforward, Garry Bettman and the NHL Board of Governors are idiots if they decide to not allow the players to participate in the Olympics. Further while, I question Bettman's intelligence, often, I think the BOG has some smart guys on it and they are just positioning for a bargaining chip and to get some needed concessions, especially during Olympic Year scheduling. All that said, my bottom line on the matter is this, participation in the Olympics, is something the NHL shouldn't "play politics with." End of story, end of rant.

My countdown shows just 53 days until the Capitals season opener; I'm waiting for my season ticket package delivery of which is just around the corner. I really can't wait.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Shea Weber Gets $7.5M What Does It Mean For Other Arbitrations?

So Shea Weber was awarded $7.5M in arbitration this year and the Nashville predators accepted the award last week. What does it all mean? Well I'm with Puckdaddy and for the rest of this years UFA and RFA class I don't think it means anything much.

Now next year will it matter? Well for Weber who will be UFA eligable it should mean something and it could also mean something for one member of the Washington Capitals - Mike Green. Simply put like Weber and Drew Doughty, Mike Green is one of those elite young defensemen. He's been nominated for two Norris Trophies and has many years and more potential to get even better left in his career. What happens with Weber and Doughty this year could potnetially affect what happens with Mike Green next year. However, what exactly that means is still anybody's guess.

Okay, now talk amoungst yourselves.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Time to Catch Up On Hockey After Another Busy Week At Work...

Well I spent two days in Charleston, SC for work - they were productive for me and the company and I was there when the South Carolina Stingrays announced they need to find a new head coach as theirs is off to the AHL (Abbotsford, surprise,) to become an assistant there. Not much news on the free agent market last week, not much news about the Capitals this week so I really didn't miss much immersing myself in the new job - which is a necessary task at this point, and frankly one I'm enjoying.

Here's an interesting listing of the NHL's top salaried players and whether they are worth it or not - I found it interesting because i agree with all their evaluations. Trade rumors, stupid trade rumors, IMO, apparently persist involving Alexander Semin and this post elsewhere earlier this week on the web, captures my thoughts a bunch better than I likely could ever succinctly many of the reasons I am such a big proponent and fan of "the other Alex." In other Capitals news, it appears the Caps are thinking Tom Poti will likely start the season on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), while Poti and his agent say he is working towards being ready and fit at the start of training camp. In other Capitals related news, the Caps freed up another of their 50 available contract slots when former first-round draft pick Anton Gustafsson (aka "Baby Gus") cleared unconditional waivers Thursday and his contract has been terminated by the Capitals. According to agent J.P. Barry, Gustafsson intends to play in Switzerland this coming season.

My favorite Capitals player quote of the week comes from off-season, veteran pick-up Roman Hamrlik in this blog post over at WaPo by Katie Carrera:

“I think when you’re young, you just play — you don’t think about it, you just work hard,” Hamrlik said when asked about when he became more active as a leader. “Four, five years ago when I signed with Calgary and Montreal you’re at that age when you kind of figure it out and you try to win as a team.”

I like some many things included in what Hamrlik had to say, I could have picked several other quotes from him in the post, but this one - the "you try to win as a team." part just struck a chord with me, even more than a few other statements that he said and I liked.

The time ... the time you ask, Caps Fans. I'm with Peerless - the time is NOW... yep, I too think it's time to "come out of the closet" and declare what I really think. I really think this team is ready now. Will it happen? Well if I knew that, I'd be a rich guy and I'm not so I'm a just saying...

I don't know about y'all but it's been hard for me to think about ice hockey this past week given the heat, and all - ice cube in a nice gin and tonic maybe, but ice hockey has been a stretch... In any case I am still rally pleased where where my favorite team - the Capitals - are right now and I'm sure I'll be really "jazzed" when the start of training camp rolls around.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Week of 7/9 Through 7/15 Recap and Capital Thoughts Going Forward

Wow another busy week for me at my new job and another busy week for Capitals GM George McPhee (GMGM). At the end of this past week though I'd say, I expect GMGM is likely ready for and capable of taking a bit of a summer break whilst I now have an ever growing "to do" list. Looking at the Capitals the reason I say GMGM is capable of taking a bit of a "summer break" now is he has navigated through the UFA frenzy and also the somewhat (this year at least) less frenetic but all the more interesting RFA signing period brilliantly, IMO. When I got back home from my business travels last week and looked to find what had gone on in and around the NHL, the signing of Karl Alzner to a two year, exceptionally "Cap Friendly" (double meaning fully intended) deal brought a smile to my face and a twinkle to my eyes. I confess that right now from what I see the only "better bargain" in the NHL is the one year UFA deal GMGM was able to ink with seasoned Veznia quality goaltender Tomas Vokoun, IMO. So folks here's where I see things being/are with a 22 man roster at the start of the season:

Forward Lines:

Ovechkin - Backstrom - Knuble (Combined Cap Hit: $18.2M)
Semin - Johansson - Brouwer (Combined Cap Hit: $10M)
Chimera - Laich - Ward (Combined Cap Hit: $9.4M)
Beagle - Halpren - Hendricks (Combined Cap Hit: $2.2M)

Defense Pairings:
Green - Hamrlik (Combined Cap Hit: $8.75M)
Alzner - Carlson (Combined Cap Hit: $2.1M)
Wideman - Erskine (Combined Cap Hit: $5.4M)

Goaltenders (Cap Hit: $2.65M)

D.J. King ($0.637M)
Jeff Schultz ($2.75M)

Injured Reserve:
Tom Poti ($2.875M)

That's a line-up. There are a few bargains in the Capitals line-up in my opinion and they speak volumes to a few others in my book. First let's give credit where credit is due, few outside of Washington Capitals "fan-dom", felt the Capitals would have been able to preserve the entire core and improve the team given all the threats and opportunities there were for them to loose key pieces to free-agency and their salary cap situation.

The first coup of the off-season to my mind's eye by GMGM is probably the biggest and that's the way the Capitals "goaltender controversy" was resolved, moving Semyon Varlomov to Colorado and getting something for a guy who could have just as easily ended up in Russia in the KHL "for nothing" was a great move. Then in the "I'd rather be lucky than good" category comes the signing of Tomas Vokoun for a mere $1.5M has to be, arguably, to my thinking the biggest, best signing of this year's UFA period; unarguably it's the best bargain for a team. Prior to the UFA period, many both inside and outside of hockey felt that Vokoun could/would easily have ended up with a "Cup contender" for $5M/year. Yet here he is in DC for $1.5, again I say - Wow. There's no doubt in my mind that the Capitals with Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth is a pretty awesome situation. In addition to having two great goalies, we'll no doubt see even more Czech Republic flags in and around Verizon Center this season. Also I can't think of a better coach to help Braden Holtby develop further and faster than "Olie the Goalie" or to demonstrate to Neuvirth the benefits of being patient with your own development curve. There's no doubt in my mind and no bigger surprise from this off-season to me than how much better I feel about the Capital's goaltending situation with Tomas Vokoun on the team and without the young goalies being #1 and #1A... Kudos to GMGM on the moves that resulted in the line-up in goal the Capitals now have.

In a set of moves that also surprised pretty much everyone in the hockey world, GMGM next turned his sights to re-tooling the Capitals front lines. I mean the Capitals forwards were already formidable, how was GMGM going to make them much better? Well he did and here's how... Signing UFA Joel Ward for $3M/season and trading Eric Fehr ($2.2M) to make Cap room was a good move. Yes, Fehr is/was a fan favorite and will likely be even better in Winnipeg. However, the Capitals needed someone like Ward in their line-up more than they needed another sniper and that's what and where Fehr will really help Winnipeg. Ward is and will continue to be a stalwart 2 way right wing who can and does help shut down the many left wing and centers in the league who are "snipers" that's why he played 80 games last season and averaged 17:01 TOI during the regular season but hey, then in the playoffs he not only continued to shutdown opponents and play 20:25 TOI a game through 12 playoff games but he also led the Predators in offense last post-season with 7 goals and 6 assists. So we trade Fehr who was getting about 12-13:00 TOI and not really fitting in where you'd expect on the roster which I believe is on the second line where he'll probably play in Winnipeg. Great upgrade for the Capitals #1. Next we have the "swap-out" of fourth line center Boyd Gordon for Jeff Halpren saving another $0.5M/year of salary Cap and it didn't really cost the Capitals much of anything. Yes "Gordo" is younger than Halpren (27 vs. 35) but if nothing else Halpren showed he was/is at least as durable, if not more-so than Gordon last season and there's no doubt that the return of the 35-year old Potomac, MD native to the team he once Captained fills some of the leadership that Jason Arnott brought to the Caps at the end of last season. Also in terms of defensive and face-off skills, while Gordon might have slightly better numbers, Halpren is also excellent and he has more offensive skills (11 goals last season vs. 3) and can and does use his body better (42 vs. 33 hits). To me, the fourth line with Halpren as pivot is an upgrade from the fourth line the Capitals put on the ice last season. Next we have the pickup of RFA Troy Brouwer really helps, it give us a great second line right wing to compliment Alexander Semin who can play his natural Left Wing position there and gives a great second finishing piece to young center Marcus Johansson should opposing teams choose to concentrate on Semin. Brouwer had 17 goals and 19 assists in the regular season last year along with 262 hits he's a stud and knows how to dig a puck out of a corner like nobody's business. I think a second line of Semin, MoJo, and Brouwer will be an awesome upgrade for the Capitals and adding Brouwer into the mix of potential Right Wings with Semin and Knuble to finish off the first line pair of Ovie and Backy gives the Capitals another really interesting set of options when it comes to mixing and matching their so called "top six" forwards of which the Capitals now have nine (9) legitimate "top six" forwards IMO: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Laich, Ward, Johannson, Knuble, Chimera and Brouwer, along with a fourth or energy line that can either shake things up or shut opponents down. And that's how GMGM managed to upgrade the Capitals' forward lines.

On the blueline thanks to the young duo of Karl Alzner and John Carlson the Capitals have the salary cap room to upgrade their front-lines without sacrificing anything on defense. Right now the Caps are carrying eight NHL D-Men on their roster, that's because no one know how things will end up with Tom Poti. I'm showing Poti on IR at the start of the season, if he's not, then the Capitals will need to do something to clear Cap space for him but a healthy Poti means an even better blue line corps than what I'm showing right now. Jeff Schultz has to take his game up a notch this season or it's likely the Capitals will look to move him because of his $2.75M salary Cap Hit, however right now having Schultz as an option until the Capitals know at least one of the two guys who finished the playoffs injured - Poti and/or Wideman - are healthy and ready to play a full season is a very sound and fortunate position to be in. The smoothness that Wideman displayed in fitting in the line-up as a trade deadline pick-up was a very pleasant surprise to me and i consider the swap-out of Hannan for Wideman to be an upgrade and a good move as well. Re-signing Alzner for just $1.285M/season is another huge coup for the Capitals to me as well. I really can't believe he didn't get an offer sheet that raised his overall price to at least the $2.75M that jeff Schultz is making this season. Well there you have it, all of the above are why I think the Capitals are an even better team this season than they were last season.


Monday, July 4, 2011

How Much is Karl Alzner Really Worth?

So now that the Washington Capitals are pushing up against the salary cap, at least according to those who look at and do not factor in the idea that Tom Poti is likely to start the season on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) or retire; we Capitals fans turn our attention to the two unsigned Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) who might get offer sheets: Karl Alzner and Troy Brouwer.

There is certainly a lot of speculation about just what sort of offer sheets they might get; here's an interesting blog post from a Montreal Canadiens blog; I hope it's not right, I like Karl Alzner but $4.7M per year, I just can't see another team offering him that much and also being willing to forfeit the draft picks that would cost them. That said if some other GM wants to target the Capitals and make the sort of offers that "Eyes on the Prize" suggests (Alzner 1-4 years for $4.7M/year and Brouwer 1-3 years for $3.1M/year), I'd take them up on it and let both players go to those teams. The Capitals have the bench strength to let that happen without nearly the negative impacts that matching such offers would create in their current plans/roster. Also the draft picks they'd pick up would no doubt only further strengthen the talent pipeline they already have in their system. That's why I think we DON'T see many GMs using the "screw your neighbor" tactic too often. This isn't a parlor game or a card game after all, well maybe it is but it's real high stakes and for real. It's one thing to go target a young, promising talent like Alzner or Brouwer with offer sheets that provide them a 10-15% premium in terms of cap hit or a contract term with a year or two of extra length but quite another to "overpay" by any more given the compensation the acquiring team must also put up to close the deal. So we are back to really trying to gauge what these two players are really worth. Recognize, they both already have qualifying offers in hand from the Capitals so there's really no risk on there part to wait and see if the market offers them something more, especially in Brouwer's case, it's not like he has any reason to have any allegiance to Washington. So let's look at the 22 Year Old British Columbian and locate a few "comparables."

Karl Alzner:
Position: Defense
Age: 22
Height: 6'-2"; Weight: 210 pounds; Shoots: Left

Last season Alzner had a salary cap hit of $1.675M ($875K salary, up to $750K of performance bonuses and then the prorated $87.5K portion of his signing bonus) on the final year of his entry level deal. He was drafted in 2007 by the Capitals in the first round with the fifth pick of the draft. He was a blue chip prospect and his development to this point in his career has tracked and delivered on those expectations. Alzner didn't miss a game for the Capitals last season - he played 82 regular season games and 9 playoff games. He was usually paired with rookie John Carlson and they were, in many games, the Capitals "stoppers." As Alzner generally played the role of "stay at home" defenseman of the two, he is generally seen as the soundest young defender in the Capitals organization when it comes to hockey fundamentals. His ATOI last season was 19:00 minutes and he was a regular on a penalty killing unit that was very good. Because of his partner John Carlson and "young gun" Mike Green's scoring prowess, many often overlook Alzner's excellent abilities when it comes to his slapshoots from the point. In short Karl Alzner is the total package and he had 98 hits during the 82 game regular season and his Corsi On was 3.45 and Corsi Off was 2.45 during 5 on 5 play. In short, he had a solid season and he is definitely a top four defenseman at the NHL level by just about any measure. Is he worth more than a basic qualifying offer for sure and I'd bet he has one in hand. If I were Montreal would I offer Alzner anything like "Eye on the Prize" suggests - No, that price is too high for him, especially when you consider the draft picks you'd have to forfeit. That said if I were Vancouver, Alzner's "hometown team", who have a little bit of Cap Space and who could make more room, I'd offer him $3.5M/year and a four year contract to see if he'd like to "come home." Alzner would be a great fit for Vancouver and they could use another "Steady Eddy" top 4 D-Man to replace the loss of Christian Ehrhoff to Buffalo in free agency. Now that would be decision time for Caps GM George McPhee as I'd expect $3.5M would be on the order of $500K more than the Capitals would prefer to pay Alzner but not so much so that I wouldn't consider strongly matching the offer. What do I think Karl Alzner is worth, based on what I've seen to date I'd say he's a $3+M player...and after giving Roman Hamrlik a two year $3.5M/year deal, I'd say that the Caps Organization wouldn't argue with that. Also looking around the league, there aren't many clearly top four blueliners who have finished their entry level contracts that aren't making $3+M and maybe as much as $4M/year though I think the likely number starts with a "3". The best comparable I think out there for Alzner is the NY Rangers' Marc Staal, though Alzner's body of work isn't quite yet up at the same level of the 24 year old Staal brother.

There are actually quite a few teams who I think could be and should be interested in Alzner. Another team besides Vancouver, that could present Alzner an offer sheet might be Saint Louis, they could really, really use a guy like him and they have a TON of salary cap space, as does Ottawa who like Saint Louis could use another top four defenseman and Alzner would make a great pairing for Sergei Gonchar, IMO. Of course as mentioned there is Montreal, also Minnesota, Florida, Dallas ..and the list could go on, but the one thing that might actually help the Capitals avoid seeing any ridiculous offers made for Karl Alzner, is if you were an NHL GM who was willing to make a run at and possibly overpay for a young RFA D-man, why not "swing for the fences" and take a run at Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators or Drew Doughty of the LA Kings?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rating This Year Free Agent Moves So Far ...

So of this year's Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) signings so far (and as I write this it is Sunday July 3rd at 16:30 EDT) who do you think are the best signings/moves around the NHL so far (from the acquiring/gaining team's perspective)?

Color me surprised to write this but I'd say it's probably Capital's General Manager George McPhee's signing of 35 year old Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun to a one year $1.5M deal. A confluence of factors seem to have fortuitously come together to enable the Capitals and this world-class talent to come together with what can only be extolled as the most Salary Cap friendly deal around for a proven, durable net-minder with a career save percentage of 0.917 and GAA of 2.56 who has played a total of 120 games over the past two seasons and has delivered a GAA of 2.55 and a save percentage of 0.923 and 13 shutouts for a salary of just $1.5M. Vokoun must have a) wanted out of Florida to a team that he felt could go ... A-L-L ... THE - W-A-A-Y-Y as :Boomer" on ESPN says; b) wanted a short term deal so he could be a UFA again after next CBA is in place and he goes to negotiate the last contract of his NHL career; and c) believes the Capitals have the real potential to be the team that delivers him back to the playoffs so he can show everyone what he can do in the Playoffs - a place he has not been since leaving Nashville. The one year, $1.5M deal he signed is truly of note when compared to what Bryzgalov signing by Philadelphia (9 years $51M) or even the 1 year, $3M deal Dwayne Roloson signed with Tampa Bay, the three year deal that Semyon Varlamov just inked with Colorado or even the 2 year $3M deal that Jose Theodore signed back with the Florida club Vokoun is leaving behind.

A good second place deal to McPhee's signing of Vokoun is probably the LA Kings signing of Simon Gagne to a two year $7M deal after they "lost out" on the "Brad Richard's Sweepstakes" to the New York Rangers. Sure Gagne is no Richards but then I'd say the Kings need Richards a lot less than the Rangers and Gagne has proven over the past two seasons he know has and when to "raise his game." Even including his signing the Kings have an average of over $2.5M available for each of their remaining openings and I'd venture a guess they "aren't done yet" when it comes to improving their already formidable line-up.

For third place best moves in free agency I'd give a slight edge to San Jose on the re-signing of Devin Stetoguchi for 3 years at an average salary cap hit of $3M per year.

My fourth place good move goes to Vancouver on their re-signing of Kevin Bieksa for an average salary cap hit of $4.5M for 5 years, that's probably a year more term than I'd have wanted to give him but he was a total stud in this year's playoffs and that's got to be worth something.

Rounding out the top five "good" moves is Dallas' signing of Michael Ryder to a two year $7M deal.

For teams I'd have to think about it some but I've liked all of Caps GMGM's moves so far and not just because I'm a Capitals fan. I've been surprised at how inactive Toronto GM Brian Burke has been this off-season and I think despite giving Brad Richards a big payday these latest moves by the NY Rangers might well work out for them. However i haven't really gone team by team to analyze who I think the "winners" and who I think are the "losers" this off season to date. Also while I wouldn't have given Ilya Bryzgalov the contract he got from the Flyers the last time teams didn't want to pay him and he moved from LA to Phoenix, he proved he could deliver, so I wouldn't make a judgement on that deal until next June. I will say this, as a Caps fan, all these moves by "my team" has gotten my head back "into the game" and that's something I didn't expect to have happen until Rookie Camp opened.

Back to Woman's Beach Volleyball - hey don't laugh, it is an Olympic Sport and well .... you know ... exciting to watch.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I Can Live With This Line-Up For Next Season How About Youse Guys?

Here's the way I now see the Caps Line-up for the start of the 2011-2012 season and I'm liking it a lot.

Ovechkin – Backstrom - Knuble
Semin – Johansson – Brouwer
Chimera – Laich – Fehr
King/Beagle – Halpren – Hendricks

Green – Hamrlik
Wideman – Erskine
Alzner – Carlson
Poti (IR?)


I am totally pleased and shocked or maybe that's shocked but pleased to see the Capitals able to pick up Tomas Vokoun. I've been pleased with Michal Neuvirth's progress and more than a little frustrated with Semyon Varlamov's well with Varly''s whatever it is he had been doing. Now that the situation is resolved, and the organization has two good young goalies in the system and an experienced proven world-class hand in net as well, we can really look at the rest of GM George McPhee's off-season moves so far.

Up front he's preserved the core, avoided having to spend an addition 500K of Cap space for a defensive fourth line center by swapping out Boyd Gordon for Jeff Halpren and may have also picked up some more leadership in the locker room by creating a situation where the Potomac native may be able to finish his NHL Career with the team he grew up rooting for. RFA Troy Brouwer was a good pickup as well. The twenty-five year old Brouwer has a qualifying offer to go with his 2010 Stanley Cup Ring and while he along with Karl Alzner are apparently looking to see if anyone will give them an offer sheet, should the Caps end up with Brouwer he would make a good complimentary wing on a second line with Semin and Johansson. Brouwer's arrival allows the movement of Eric Fehr down to the third line and construction of a third line of Jason Chimera Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr which means the Capitals would have three lines capable of playing and scoring with both speed and power. The presence of Jeff Halpren as the pivot on a fourth line with Matt Hendricks and any number of possible left wings ranging from D. J. King to Jay Beagle or Chris Bourque or Dmitry Kugryshev. So while I'll be said to see the team loose the feistiness and leadership of Matt Bradley and Jason Arnott, I think this team's forward lines have the potential to be even better than the great forward line play we've seen over the past three seasons.

On the blueline I confess at first I looked at the pickup of veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik as perplexing but with Karl Alzner apparently shopping for offer sheets, Jeff Schultz coming off a disappointing season, Tom Poti fighting for his career, and Scott Hannan either looking for more than the Caps want to afford or wanting to leave the Capitals to return to the Western Conference, it all seems to make sense. When you look at these pairings you can't be anything but pleased. Sure Hamrlik is 37 and will be 39 at the end of his contract but last season he averaged over 22 minutes a game and played 79 games. He finished the season with 34 points (5 goals and 29 assists) and was +6; thirty two year old Scott Hannan he played 78 games, had an ATOI of 19:47, 11 points (1 goal and 10 assists) and was +4. Hamrlik's signed for two years with a salary cap hit of $3.5M per while Hannan's cap hit last season was $4.5M. Bottom line is wort case the Hamrlik for Hannan swap out looks like at least an even move on talent and skill and should save $1M against the Cap - money the Capitals needed to pay for Alzner's qualifying offer. Am I ready to throw in the towel on Jeff Schultz - no; but last season was not a good one for the twenty five year old, and hopefully he learned in the second round of the playoffs that sometimes you need to play more physically and use his 6' 6" frame and his 230 pounds instead of trying to stick check a driving forward. Schultz will need to step up his game this coming season, even if someone presents an offer sheet to Alzner the Caps choose not to match; there are more than a couple of guys down in Hershey who I expect will be invited to Camp that could make a statement that they are ready to join the NHL, further should Tom Poti be able to return to play vice retiring, it wouldn't surprise me if GMGM moves Schultz should he find a willing trade partner.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

You gotta wonder...

You have to wonder if the stats aren't a little biased in last night's game - Did Vancouver really outhit Boston 47 - 27 last night? Might be a little bias there ... maybe, no?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Well Two Weeks Since My Last Musings Blog And What A Lot Has/Is Happening

First off what a lovely spring we are having excepting of course all these tornadoes - wow - it's clear "weather watchers" that Jim Cantore, you remember him, well it's clear to me that he must be walking around with a constant case of, well no other "politic" way to say it, a case of serious wood for the last three or more days. Me, my heart and prayers go out to all who are being or have been affected by these natural disasters/severe weather events of the recent few days. Some of these statistics that Cantore and others in the meteorological related media are talking about, are nothing but truly scary. This whole 2011/2012 thing just has to simmer on down - that's all I'd like to see.

Now on to mindless diversions for a few minutes before I actually get some work done and then take a break to watch the #Caps - #Rangers game three (3) from Madison Square Garden (#MSG). Yes it's official, in addition to being very busy lately, another reason for fewer blog posts of late is I've become "one of those" - you know I'm a #tweep - someone who #tweets on #twitter. It's really a lazy man's way to "put yourself" and "your views out there", IMHO. I say this because you really don't have to completely decompose your ideas and thoughts because you can always fall back onto the reason you are limited to 140 characters for each idea/thought you put up on line. It's a good excuse for why your ideas might not be fully distilled or backed up in some cases. However, when you do get a great thought or idea (aka: musing) fully distilled into something totally cogent down into 140 characters or less it's pretty darn powerful. That's why the #twitter form of social media is so seductive to me, well actually that's the biggest of several reasons, another is it's really easy to access and get - sort of like, no not sort of, it is, IMO, the "crack" of social media. It's also very fast and furious, if Blogging is the Baseball game of social media; then Twitter is an Ice Hockey game where the Ref's and Linesmen decided they were putting the whistles away.

So the regular season of the NHL ended on schedule last week and the playoffs started. A few teams, well the New York Rangers and the Chicago Blackhawks, pretty much had to hold their breadth and hope they made it in to the post-season. Others like the Capitals, the Flyers, the Sharks and the Canucks, and actually the rest of the Western Conference playoff teams, didn't know who they'd be playing in the first round until the season's final games were played and over. All in all that made for some interesting things to follow and track the last week of the season. To me that's all good since it kept fan interest up throughout the league pretty much until either the 81st or 82nd game of the season for all thirty teams. Now the playoffs are underway and that's the focus of most of my hockey related musings but I've got one hockey related musing to put out there before I turn to the playoff series in process around North America.

Here it is, another NHL season ends and we once again have a controversy involving should the Phoenix Coyotes stay in Phoenix next season or do they get moved so Winnipeg gets their team back? I say why not do both? You see I agree. I agree with everyone about every aspect of the debate between the NHL, the City of Glendale, the Goldwater Institute, the fans in Phoenix (yes there are NHL fans in Phoenix), the fans in Winnipeg, and even Matthew Hulsizer and Darcy Olsen. Now that I've got you scratching your head, if you care about this issue at all try on these ideas and tell me what you think. Here's the dots I've fashioned and I'll connect: a) Government should NOT take on debt "for the public interest" that doesn't serve truly broad, deeply rooted public need OR doesn't make straight business sense any more lightly than "businessmen" do it in the private sector. b) The basic business deal that surrounds the Coyotes and the Arena in Glendale today has a lot of hair on it - not because it can't be made to work, but because the original deal was poorly thought out and those original numbers probably "never worked." In other words in business terms it's a "turn-around" and/or "work out" situation. To think or say otherwise is in business parlance - doing nothing other than "putting lipstick on a pig". c) Any NHL expansion right now ought to be centered in and around Canada - those are the markets screaming most for teams and with the strength of the Canadian Dollar, and the presence of NAFTA likely to keep the Canadian Dollar strong well PAST the foreseeable future that makes business sense for the NHL in all aspects, except for a National TV Deal here in the US. d) A national TV deal for the NHL here in the US isn't likely to be much better than what the NHL has until all this sort of chaos about team locations, etc. settles down. Further a team in Phoenix is a good thing for such a deal and a league without a team there is even further away from such a deal. So think about this "solution" to make everyone involved with this deal "happy".

1) Expand the NHL by two teams. Locations: Winnipeg and either: Quebec City or Hamilton. Use the proceeds from the sale of the new franchises for the NHL to provide the relief and/or guarantees that Mathew Hulsizer feels he needs to live with the risk of the turn-around of the Coyotes financially, other than the rework of the lease with the City of Glendale. Bottom line for/to the Goldwater Institute (GWI) and the City of Glendale on the lease terms is simple - the real estate market and the economy has cratered in case you haven't heard and all landlords who are over-extended (and you guys in Glendale are) are being compelled to rework your leases, etc and extend the payback of your investments, adversely affecting your Returns On Investment. That's why Darcy Olsen and the GWI are right when they don't want to sink more public monies into that investment and they are wrong if they resist the rework of the lease to the point of driving away a team. It's also why the City of Glendale is willing to rework the lease, they know a property without a marquee tenant is an asset worth even less than the current value of the asset they own. It's simple business. However, the NHL and the ownership old, current (the NHL) and new (Hulsizer) all need to a) bear some responsibility for the current situation, and even more importantly need to have as much if not more "skin in the game" for this deal, "turn-around" to work. Turn-around deals that don't ensure the principles have more skin in the game then the financial institutions/resource sources backing the deals, all too easily, fail with the new principles walking away after the "can has been kicked down the road a while longer." It's pretty simple. So for the NHL and some of the folks who wanted the deal to happen to be pissed about the GWI raising the questions they are just doesn't make sense to me. Surely on both sides of the debate, the people who were backing the deal - basically the public taxpayers - had advocates and foes. If the GWI as a watchdog organization didn't raise questions, there would have been other organizations asking these questions. Here's the situation, in business terms as I see them: a)The NHL doesn't want to own the Coyotes any longer than it has to, makes sense but b) the NHL does own the team, if they didn't want to further participate in this turn-around they've have numerous chances and still do not to continue to do so. c) The City of Glendale was greedy in the original lease, either knowingly or unwittingly setting up part of the reasons for issues. d) The incoming prospective owners (Hulsizer, and others before him) have all looked at the conditions and business side of the situation and felt compelled to either plan on exiting Glendale or getting lease concessions - i don't think that's an idle threat or bad business on their parts.)

The answer is some level of "owner (e.g. NHL) financing" for the deal. Where better to get the monies to back the NHL's part of the deal than from the ready pool of buyers who want to put a team in other viable markets. Also bottom line is a 32 team league works as well or better from a scheduling perspective than a 30 team league. Further whether we American Hockey fans want to admit it or not, Ice Hockey IS the Canadian National Sport for all intents and purposes, so one more team each in Western and Eastern Canada isn't going to do anything but strengthen the league. Further, the reason I personally like Quebec more than Hamilton is the jurisdictional/market area issues with Hamilton's overlap with both Toronto and Buffalo are legally problematic AND the idea of reviving the inherent French-Canadian rivalry between Montreal and Quebec is great from a marketing perspective IMO. Okay now to my musings on the 2011 playoffs.

Well first off on this years Conference Quarter Final match-ups, all I really have to say is: WOW! Great hockey is getting played, eh? The match-ups in both conferences all have drama, rivalries, and feature teams playing well. Starting in the West:

1) Vancouver vs. 8) Chicago:
The President's Trophy winning Canucks against the reigning Stanley Cup Champs who have had their way with Vancouver in recent playoff history. No drama or undercurrents there. Seriously these two teams bring it all to the table, and now two games into the series with the Canucks leading 2-0 heading to Chicago, the stage is set for even more exciting hockey. The games or parts of games/highlights I've seen clearly showcase the Sedin Twins are playing "lights out hockey." For those not familiar with my use of the term - lights out anything - means FLAWLESS execution that is done in a manner that exhibits such flow and confidence you just shake your head in disbelief as you watch but you know the executor of the "lights out" performance has skill and can do what they are doing in their sleep. It's just a total joy to watch. That's what's going on from what I see and that's why I just can't see this series going more than five (5) games right now.

2) San Jose vs. 7) Los Angeles:
"The Battle of California" or at least one of them and the only one being played this round. That's drama in and of itself. Further after last night the series is tied 1-1 as it heads to Los Angeles, so the Kings have done what they needed to do to obviate the Sharks' home ice advantage. Can they hold on? Will the Sharks finally break through and deliver on the promise they seem to show ever regular season of late but fail to deliver on in the post season? Will the Kings break through and ascend to the the throne of West Coast Hockey Excellence and reach the end of the path they have now been on for the past three seasons? Will Batman finally put the Riddler away for good? Will going to Kings games became as much a celebrity spotting event as Laker games? Well only the shadow really knows so tune in to this one folks since in the first two games each of the teams playing has looked very, very different in each of the first two games. After last night's game though and with the Kings having taken one from the Sharks in San Jose, I'm calling this one - Kings in six games.

3) Detroit vs. 6) Phoenix:
Well unfortunately for the Desert Dogs so far this series has almost been entirely the Red Wings. Fortunately for Coyote fans their team did manage to get things together and make a run at game two after falling behind so all isn't lost yet. However, the Red Wings head to Phoenix with a 2-0 series lead, inspiration watching Johan Franzen play through face bashing injuries, and a wealth of playoff experience up and down the lineup, as well as at least a few guys thinking: "It sure would be nice to hoist the Cup one more time before I retire." So I expect that this series will be split 2-2 when it comes back the Joe Louis Arena just in time for the Red Wings to win it in 5 games; of course if for some reason the Coyote's play of the last two periods of game 2 are how they choose to play the rest of the series, I'd say all bets are off.

4) Anaheim vs. 5) Nashville:
This series heads to Nashville for game 3 at 5:00 PM today with the Ducks needing to win at least one in "Smashville" to recoup their home ice advantage as it's now tied 1-1. Full disclosure here - for some reason that I really don't consciously understand for the past three seasons, I really like the Predators and I root for them. I think it's because I feel like they are "the little engine that could." With that said, the Predators won game one of the series in Anaheim 4-1, even though they didn't really play their game that well because Pekka Rinne turned in a 0.964 SV% on the 28 shots he faced. The Predators lost game 2 by a score of 5-3 because a) they continued to be drawn in to playing undisciplined hockey by the Ducks thus took too many penalties and Rinne turned in a lackluster 0.852 SV% on the 27 shots he faced while the Ducks netted 4 goals - two of which came in the first six minutes of the game while the Ducks were on the power play; oh and Ray Emery turned in a 0.912 SV% in his first playoff game "in a while." This series is now too hard to call in my opinion. While the Ducks are the higher seed, I'd like to think that if the Predators play their game they should win it in 6 but I wouldn't bet on this series at all. The only thing I will say is the likely physicality of it makes every one of these games worth watching.

In the East:

1) Caps vs. 8) Rangers:
So I'm superstitious so no predictions here on either today's game or the series. We all know what I want to see and who I'm rooting for. The Caps play today at MSG at 3:00, they left for New York leading the series 2-0; they know they have a lot of hockey and work left to do to win the series. The sooner they do that, the better - I'm sure in their view and in all of we Caps fans views. MSG hasn't been a hospitable place for the Capitals this season so far, but the Caps are playing differently than they were the last time they were in NYC so here it goes:

LETS GO CAPS!!!! How about y'all kick some Ranger Butt today, please.

2) Philadelphia vs. 7) Buffalo:
This series heads to sunny Buffalo for game 3 on Monday evening, tied 1-1 by virtue of a Ryan Miller shutout in game 1 in Philly. Game 2 was to Game 1 as Dr. Jekyll is to Mr. Hyde. Game one was a tightly played, disciplined hockey game, decided by just one missed save by Flyers rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky at 5:56 of the third period. the Flyers played excellent disciplined hockey the entire game taking only 2 minor penalties to the Sabres 6 but they still ended up loosing 1-0 nothing. it was truly a game that Miller stole from them - he can do that, and will probably do it at least once more before this series is over. Game 2 was a melee - all around. The Sabres got out to a 3-2 lead before Flyers coach Peter Laviolette pulled the rookie they call "Bob" in favor of the vetran they call "Boosh" in Philly. That seemed to wake up the Flyers and they decided they needed to return to form and show why, for much of this season, they've been "Beasts of the East." The Flyers in front of Brian Boucher for the next 47:30 played like what they were - a very talented, very determined hockey team and the came back to win the game 5-4 in regulation, evening the series up as they go to Buffalo for games 3 and 4. Based on what i saw during the last 47:30 of game two, the Flyers should win this series, they can and will likely just overpower Buffalo. The wild card is discipline. As wilds as game 2 was - 9 goals and a total of 24 penalties, once again Buffalo took more penalties than Philly. If Philly's power play ever sorts things out and gets more effective this series will be even shorter than my prediction. of course given the Flyers took 11 penalties in game two - if the Sabres get a little more disciplined and also get a little more effective with the man advantage then this is a different series too. I'd take the Flyers in six (6) games in this series right now. regardless of who ends up playing goal for the Orange and Black.

3) Boston vs. 6) Montreal
Well this is nothing but a storied rivalry where right now the "underdogs" are on top two games to zip as they return to their home ice where so far this season, they've been twice as hard to beat as when they are on the road. What is there to say, lots of drama this series the whole Chara hit on Pacioretty controversy from the regular season between these two Original Six Division rivals, then the fact the Habs basically took the Bruins by storm the first two games in Beantown with stellar performances by their Captain Brian Gionta and their own star goaltender Carey Price has only made for even more drama, yet. Now the series goes to Montreal where, from what I saw in game 2, unless Zdeno Chara can come back into the line-up AND the Bruins get more offense from ALL their forwards, it's hard to see this series seeing another game played in Beantown. Since it's the playoffs and "anything can happen" I'll predict this series Montreal in five (5) games.

4) Pittsburgh vs. 5) Tampa Bay
This series is tied 1-1 and in game 2 Pittsburgh finally looked like most have been expecting them to look in light of the injuries they've had to play through the entire second half of the season. Right now, (i.e. following game 2) it's clear that as Marc-Andre Fleury goes this series goes for the Penguins. It also clear from where I sit, that in many ways, the Tampa Bay Lightning could well be the scariest team in the Playoffs in the East, at least when they are "on" like they were in game 2 in Pittsburgh, a 5-1 victory for the Bolts. I'm thinking that after Game 2 Lecavalier, St. Louis, Gagne, Malone, Stamkos, and the rest of Tampa Bay have the depleted lineup of Pittsburgh skaters figured out and should win this series. I'm thinking it will be the Lightning in no more than 6 games.

So now we head on over mentally to the Caps - Rangers game three; again all I have to say is two (2) down - fourteen (14) to go.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Beginning of the Week "Quick Hits" & Other Musings (Hockey & NCAA Final Four)

Well last week was another busy week for me though I did manage to get to the Caps - Blue Jackets game on Thursday Evening at Verizon Center. Other than that brief diversion though I've just been working pretty hard and catching up on Hockey (both NHL and NCAA) and the NCAA Final Four by reading things on line until last evening when I got to watch the Caps - Sabres game and the two NCAA Men's Basketball Semi-Finals on TV from my "usual seat" here in Bristow. So here's my catch-up quick hit musings on the diversion that following sports, especially NHL hockey create for me.

1) Last week I said I wanted to make sure I got to see the Devils - Sabres on 3/26; the Senators - Lightning on 3/29; the Islanders - Rangers on 3/31 and the Senators - Maple Leafs last night because they were going to be good and likely from a standings perspective important games. Well I didn't get to see any of them - am I sorry about that? only a little - I mean hey real life should take precedence and priorities are priorities. In any case though they were basically all pretty good games and important from a standings perspective. Last Saturday, the Sabres shutout the Devils 2-0 continuing a late season run that this morning finds them in 7th place in the Eastern Conference and on track though fighting for a playoff spot with the Canadiens, Rangers, Hurricanes and Maple Leafs. For the Devils, the game was basically "the beginning of the end" of their season. That said the game in Buffalo was a tightly played one with a playoff feel and according to the score sheet the difference was Ryan Miller who won the goalies duel against Martin Brodeaur.

While looking at the scoresheet, the Lightning - Senators game on the 29th wasn't anything to write home about, it was important in that until the last week of the month, the Lightning were not having a good March at all. The Bolts beat the Sens 5-2 that night in Tampa and it was the second win of their current 4 game streak; as I said for the month of March, I don't think the Lightning or their fans were all that thrilled with their 5-6-4 record for March. In Ottawa, between their loss to the Lightning on the 29th and their lost last evening to the Maple Leafs, while they continue to play better hockey than their place in the standings might lead one to expect, they just don't seem to be relishing their role as spoiler nearly as much as they were earlier in the month of March when they beat the Lightning twice, the Devils twice, and the Capitals and Rangers once each.

Speaking of the Rangers, on the 29th they played the Islanders on "The Island" and lost 6-2 in a game that in addition to eight goals including 4 against Henrik Lundqvist, also featured a total of 28 penalties called (17 against the Islanders and 11 against the Rangers) of which eight were fighting majors, four were 10 minute misconducts and the Islanders Zenon Konopka who leads the NHL in PIM managed to in addition to a 5:00 major for fighting, not get a misconduct but still get three (3) minors for Roughing- for a total of 11:00 in the sin bin while only playing 5:50 TOI on 15 shifts. So relative to this game, I'm sorry I missed it since it had to have been "Olde Tyme Hockey" that stirred up memories of Ranger - Islander games at "the Vet", I don't think it won't be re-shown on NHL Network as a classic anytime soon, eh? For the Rangers, the game on the Island ended what has otherwise been a pretty good month of March (8-5-1) on a low note as it was their second loss in a row and it opened the door for Buffalo to pass them in the standings and place them squarely "on the bubble."

Last night for the Senators - Maple Leafs game, the Leafs won 4-2 winning their third game in a row and keeping pace with Carolina so that in the Eastern Conference the real battle is between four teams Buffalo, the Rangers, Carolina and Toronto for two (2) playoff spots though Montreal rally does need to start playing better hockey else they maybe could end up in the melee as well. The Leafs have three games left in their season while the Sabres, Rangers, and Hurricanes all have four; the 7th place Sabres have 88 points and 34 ROW while the 10th place Maple Leafs have 84 points and 32 ROW. For those four teams fans, the next two weeks should feature a few fits of "nail biting."

2) What's going on here in DC? I mean I thought the most dangerous job ever was fishing for crab in the Gulf of Alaska, but so far based on this NHL season, I'd say it might be playing defense for the Washington Capitals. Seriously, the Caps defense is seriously depleted right now. Tom Poti - on injured reserve and out indefinitely with a groin injury; Dennis Wideman out indefinately with a hematoma in his right leg; Mike Green on injured reserve and out indefinitely with a concussion; John Erskine out last game; and Tyler Sloan now also questionable after the last game, the Washington Capitals blue-line certainly isn't an OSHA safe workplace of the year award winner. Even though the Caps aren't the only team heading into the playoffs dealing with injuries in key places and to key players, I have to admit, I'm worried and it's got to be frustrating for all given the great promise things seemed to have after the great deadline pickups by GMGM of Wideman and Arnott. Oh well, we just have to hope somebody (or two) gets healthy and makes it aback and/or everybody else on the blue line plays at or even better above their talent levels and delivers great team defense. All that said, this is the thing I'll be most worried about and watching most closely between now and the end of the season (e.g. playoffs) for the Capitals and I suspect many of the folks who read this blog will be doing the same.

3) RE: NCAA March Madness - I'm in a win-win in the office pool. So even though I was hoping to see the VCU Rams in the championship game - Great Run Rams! - I now have a situation where if UCONN wins, I win the office pool and if Butler wins, well I'll be very happy that they did. Two years in a row in the final game is a great accomplishment for a school that isn't in one of the really "big" basketball conferences like the Big 10 or the Big East. So tonight's game should be a good one to watch, don'tcha think?

4) This past weekend's game really tightened up the races in both NHL Conferences for the playoffs, eh? In the East there's really four teams battling for two spots; though the way Montreal has been playing has also dropped them down "into the fray" and they could end up as low as ninth place and out of things, I don't see that happening. So it's 6th: Montreal - 91 points, 3 games remaining; 7th: Buffalo - 90 points, 3 games remaining; 8th: NY Rangers - 89 points, 3 games remaining; 9th: Carolina - 87 points, 3 games remaining; 10th: Toronto - 84 points, 3 games remaining. In the West it's even tighter only 7 points separate 4th place from 10th place so understanding the likely playoff seedings is pretty impossible; additionally the fact that 9th and 10th place Calgary and Dallas are playing well and winning after struggling the prior two weeks is making for some interesting times as well. In the West it's 4th: Los Angeles - 96 points, 4 games remaining; 5th: Phoenix - 96 points, 3 games remaining; 6th: Nashville - 95 points, 3 games remaining; 7th: Anaheim - 93 points, 3 games remaining; 8th: Chicago - 92 points, 4 games remaining; 9th: Calgary - 91 points, 2 games remaining; 10th: Dallas - 89 points, 4 games remaining.

At the top of each conference theres also a lot of "jockeying for positions" that are possible. The only thing locked up is that Vancouver is the top seed in the West and the President's Trophy winner. In the West second and third place Detroit and San Jose have locked up their Divisions but are separated by only 1 point so the second seeding in that Conference is open to further battle during each of those team's remaining games. In the East third place Boston is the only team to have locked up their division so far with 99 points, 4 games remaining and 42 ROW. The now second place Washington Capitals have 103 points, 3 games remaining and 42 ROW. The Caps next game is tomorrow evening in Toronto; if the Caps win, they will clinch their 4th Southeast Division Title in a row. That win will not likely come easily as it would also eliminate the Maple Leafs from contention for a post-season berth. The first place Philadelphia Flyers are in first place with 103 points, 3 games remaining and 43 ROW. In other words, they are in first only by virtue of their 1 additional ROW. The Caps - Flyers 4 game series this season has been evenly split: 2-2; every one of the four games has been decided in "extra time" with each team winning once in overtime and once in the shootout. If this regular season series results mean anything and both the Flyers and the Capitals get past their earlier round opponents and end up facing each other in the Eastern Conference finals; that series could be a "Battle Royale." Of course hopefully there will be ALOTTA hockey between now and then for both teams. If the season ended today it's likely the Capitals would have to get by both the Sabres and either the Bruins or the winner of the Pittsburgh - Tampa Bay Series; while the Flyers would need to get past the Rangers and either the Canadiens or the winner of the Pittsburgh - Tampa Bay Series. I'm getting "goosebumps" just thinking about how cool any and all of those games/series will likely be.

However, lets not get ahead of ourselves the Caps have three games left to play this regular season: Tuesday in Toronto; the Wednesday night home finale' against the Florida Panthers, and their last game of the regular season in Sunrise Florida on Saturday evening. The first round of the playoffs will start for the league on Wednesday 4/13 and hopefully by then a couple of the currently injured Capitals will be back in the game and no more of their teammates will have "fallen" off the roster.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday Is A Great Day to Muse 'Bout Spoilers & "Headshots" In the NHL

Wow, it's Saturday March 26th already, and in some ways it doesn't seem like we are already almost one quarter of the way through with 2011. I mean, hey here I am in Bristow, VA ten days into the season of spring and The Weather Channel is telling me it's going to snow tomorrow so in that respect it seems more like January or February. However, if you're an NHL player you know that's not the case since the All-Star break is well in the rear-view mirror and the end of the regular season are now no more than nine (9) games away for any team. So of course that means when you think about the NHL you can look at the remaining few games and really understand the impact or potential impact of a few simple things: a) three point games; b) "hot" teams at the bottom of the standings aka "spoilers"; c)injuries to teams who are fighting for playoff spots aka "bubble teams" key/star players; and d) injuries to "playoff" team's key/star players. So because I don't want this post to ramble on infinitely I'll only be musing "aloud" about two of those items this morning, "don'tch ya know."

So at the bottom of the standings, teams who are either mathematically eliminated or nearly so from the playoffs sit teams who are to my thinking eight or more points behind the eighth place team in their conference. That means that in the Eastern Conference I consider: Atlanta, New Jersey, the Islanders, Florida, and Ottawa, and in the Western Conference: Minnesota, Columbus, Saint Louis, Colorado, and Edmonton all teams that may as well be cleaning their golf equipment in preparation for late April vacations. Of course between now and then there is a little matter of the basic traits of competitiveness and personal pride that all professional athletes share for those ten (10) teams. That's what can, and often does, make them the biggest threats to the "bubble" teams or anyone else fighting for points these next two weeks in order to get better playoff seeding. So when you look at those ten teams who's shaping up to be the biggest, most consistent spoilers? To answer that question, you need to look at the play of each of them during the past four (4) weeks or so - basically their performance in games since March 1. Based on looking at the results of those ten (10) teams for the month of March to date, there are three teams I'd now classify as "spoilers" - teams who will not make the playoffs, but who will have affected already and will likely continue affect who makes the playoffs and how they are seeded, unfortunately for the Eastern Conference "bubble teams" they are all the East:

1) Islanders 6-2-4, or 0.667 hockey, basically if the Isles played this way all season, they'd be on track for 109 points.
2) Ottawa: 9-5-0, or 0.643 hockey, a 105+ point season pace.
3) New Jersey: 7-4-1 or 0.625 hockey, a 102+ point season pace.

The other seven (7) are all playing 0.500 hockey or worse so facing them is no different, IMO, then playing any other team in the League, in that they meet the criteria of "On any given night ..." Of course, if you are a Caps fan and watched last night''s 2-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators, you knew they were playing very well of late; and if you're a hockey fan of any type who isn't completely/totally "dead" (not nearly dead) then you know the Devils have been pretty much "on fire" since mid-January; however, the late-season play of the Islanders may have escaped your attention. By the way, that's part of the reason why I think Michael Grabner is likely, and should be this season's NHL Rookie of the Year.

So who do the "spoilers" play that matter in particular (i.e. "bubble teams") over the remainder of the season:

a) The Islanders have eight (8) games remaining, six of which are against "bubble" or playoff teams. "Bubble Team" opponents include: the Rangers on 3/31 and the Carolina Hurricanes on April 2nd, both are home games for the Islanders.

b) Ottawa has seven (7) games remaining, five of which are against "bubble" or playoff teams. "Bubble Team" or opponents whose play could affect their seeding include: Tampa Bay on 3/29, Toronto on 4/2, and Montreal on 4/7. The Tampa Bay game is on the road but the games against Senator rivals Leafs and Habs are in Ottawa.

c) New Jersey has eight (8) games remaining, seven (7) of which are against "bubble" or playoff teams. "Bubble Team" opponents include: Buffalo tonight in Buffalo, Montreal on 4/2, Toronto on 4/6 (both in New Jersey at "The Rock), and the Rangers at MSG on 4/9.

So as long as I can I plan on watching or at least channel flipping between the Caps game and the following, as they should be really good games and I have the NHL Center Ice Package:

Tonight: Devils - Sabres
March 29th: Ottawa - Tampa Bay
March 31st: Islanders - Rangers
April 2nd: Senators - Maple Leafs
April 7th: Senators - Canadiens
April 9th: Devils - Rangers.

Now about "headshots." First there's no question in my mind they are an issue that needs to be addressed by the NHL, there's also no question that it took the injury to Crosby to get the league to do something about it - and that's a bad thing that also should be a subject to ponder by both the NHLPA and the Board of Governors as the CBA approaches. I say this because Mike Green is a star no doubt, at 25 he's been a Norris Trophy finalist twice already; he's been out for a month already with a concussion and outside of the DC blogsphere and MSM there has been little mention of it. Simply put the only other player getting a concussion that might have gotten the NHL's attention to the degree of the Crosby injury has generated would be Ovechkin. I say might because with Ovie's style of play I'm not even sure it would have done so. The issue to me isn't that the Crosby injury is overblown, it's that with 70+ concussions this season, that number alone without an injury to a star or multiple star players should have been enough to get the level of debate going. It wasn't and anyone who says it was, please explain to me the basis for that statement. As for the Matt Cooke suspension, it's a start but frankly, I don't think it was harsh enough - he should have been suspended for the remainder of the season and the entire playoffs, in my opinion. Do I think Cooke can change the way he plays the game as he has indicated he knows he needs to do - I don't have an answer to that other than I think he has the talent and skills to play in the NHL effectively without playing the way he has been these past few seasons that has gotten hi four (4) suspensions since he's joined Pittsburgh. That said, I think two other places the game needs to change to address this and lower the risk to the players, besides stiffer penalties and suspensions are a) The equipment - specifically the shoulder pads, bottom line they are allowed to be too big and too hard; and b) The pace of play - the changes to the rules that have increased the number of interference calls have also increased the speed of the game. The goal was to make the game more exciting and also likely higher scoring. It's more exciting for sure - the increased risk of injury does that; as for higher scoring, the fact that at some point everyone knows defense wins Stanley Cups means that everything is regressing to a norm here and that's not so much the case anyway. The rules re: interference need to be looked at again so when someone does make a hit they have more options that don't result in an interference penalty than hitting them at full speed since the difference between hitting someone who is and isn't able to defend themselves can often be literally a split second. That's just my view but I think the general point that the rules other than just the hit to the head rule need to be considered here. I'm going to end these musings with a final thought - here's hoping both Mike Green and Sidney Crosby a) are out on the ice again soon and b) after the season is over get involved in these discussions and help the NHL come up with some changes that make their workplace a little safer in this regard.

So I'm not doing a recap of the Ottawa game there's several good ones out here in the blogsphere but I will make sure everyone who reads my blog sees that my favorite quote of the evening came from Matt Hendricks when asked about a another particularly bad call by another NHL official - one of the latest of many this season. In this case a blatant 4:00 high sticking call that was waved off was the subject in question. Hendricks response: "My view?” he said. “It was an Easton Synergy in my face.” As for tonight's game in Montreal, as usual I'll be rooting for the Caps from my den here in Bristow and happy that I'll see the game in HD tonight - for some reason my CSN-HD Channel had a poker game on last night, what was that about?