Sunday, February 13, 2011

Yesterday Around The NHL: Musings re: Kings 4 - Caps 1 and "Olde Tyme Hockey" & NHL Justice (Pens/Islanders)

Well I can't let this morning pass without a brief, very brief comment relative to yesterday's Caps - Kings game. There are several very good recaps around, of course my favorite two are from The Peerless Prognosticator and Red Line Station. They have good recaps and also post game analyses after what was, at the end of the day, one of the worst performances of the season by the Capitals, especially the second period. So Peerless started his recap by asking "Didn't that just ... suck?" - short answer: Yes, it did. That's really all I want to say on this other than if you do read Peerless' recap and today's post, don't do it on an empty stomach, I've been hankering donuts ever since reading them this morning.

Well last night Colin Campbell conducted a couple of in person hearings and rendered his decisions relative to the melee that was sort of a hockey game on Long Island Friday night between the Penguins and the Islanders. I won't even begin to try and approach the decision in the context of any sort of comparative thing as some are trying to do by bringing up the recent Canadeans-Bruins game in which Mr. Campbell's son was a participant. I won't for a couple of reasons which I think are valid: a) I didn't see any of the Bruins-Canadeans game so even if I thought there was value in a comparison, and I do not, I couldn't make one. b) Mr. Cambell recuses himself from review and discipline of games in which his son is involved. Whether you or I truly believe that is also really immaterial. c) The real heart of the matter and our feelings about the incident should be considered i) on it's own merits, ii) in the context of this one game, and iii) in the context of the rules on the books today and what is going on around them - not for example on what made sense or was felt to make sense 5, 10, 15, 20 or even 30 years ago, despite any resemblance one might think there was between the game and the movie "Slapshot."

So here's what I think - basically I'm good with all of Colin Campbell's decisions and judgements, save and only in a minor way, one "non-call/penalty" if you will. Please keep in mind I am not one of those people that Don Cherry reviles as being for the "wussification" of the game of hockey, and while I grew up playing the sport in those same 1970's everybody seems to talk about when they talk "Olde Tyme Hockey", by and large I think the game is generally better now both to play and to watch then it was then. So let's go down the list of the calls and "non-calls" I think Colin Campbell made or didn't make and why in general I think they are right:

1) The 10 game suspension of Eric Goddard - easiest call of all to make, like a delay of game call, and rightfully so - unless you are one who wants to routinely see the return of bench clearing brawls to the sport - automatic by the rules. BTW Eric should get some of the ~41K he now is forfeiting returned to him in the form of free meals, etc. by his teammates, especially Brent Johnson, for the rest of the season.

2) The 9 game suspension of Trevor Gilles for his hit and follow-up punches on Eric Tangradi. So again this is easy to me, any defense Gilles might have wanted to try and say was totally pre-empted by the follow-up punches, it was out of line. Islander fans might point to the prior game hit by Talbot on Comeau, but I say two things - missed calls happen all the time and so do inadvertent hockey hits that cause unitended injuries, and second there is no place in the game for targeting someone or even possibly (I say possibly because I'm not omnipotent so I don't know what was in Gilles head when he hit Tangradi - though Colin Campbell does have to make an educated general guess to do his job) intending to hurt someone intentionally.

3) The 4 game suspension of Matt Martin. Martin's "move" was bush league, punching a guy when they aren't looking is like hitting them below the belt - real men don't do it and hockey is qame for and played by real men. Seriously no place for it. If Martin had confronted Talbot, I'm pretty sure Talbot would have gladly fought him like Talbot indicated in post game comments. In fact I'll bet Talbot was pretty much ready to be confronted by anybody, even Zenon Konopka, on the Islanders - and challenged to a fair up front direct hockey fight. I'll also suggest he was likely prepared to be the object of a few extra, legal checks every time he went into the corner, etc. You know - normal up-front "Olde Tyme Hockey" sort of stuff. Martin targeted Talbot and did it in a way that was, I thought, over the line. The suspension is fair from my perspective.

4) The $100K fine to the Islanders for as Colin Campbell stated - "The Islanders also must bear some responsibility for their failure to control their players" You might argue the amount, trust me it's a lot of money but to Mr. Wang it's not a check he cannot write nor as some in the blogsphere have alluded is it anything that might bankrupt the Islanders as a going business concern. I think a fine is certainly fair and I do feel that the NY Islanders should be penalized disproportionately compared to the Penguins because after getting out to a 6-0 lead in the first ~26:30 of regulation play, they used the freedom that lead gave them to target some of the Penguins they clearly felt did not respect them or their organization. The Islanders did that with apparently no effective effort, if one was made at all, by the Islanders coaching staff to "reign things in" or keep them under control throughout the majority of the game. Is $100K fair - certainly doesn't seem to bad or too much considering the fines that were basically levied on the suspended players in the form of forfeited salaries: Goddard - $40.3K; Martin - $41.6K, and Gilles - $24.2K.

5) So the first known non-call/suspension has to do with Zenon Konopka who was summoned to the hearing apparently because there were some questions concerning his involvement in one of the "scrums" after he came onto the ice during a legal line change and joined an ongoing altercation. During the game he received a roughing penalty and a misconduct during the third period. After the hearing he did not receive any further discipline. From what I saw of Konopka's conduct during the game, this was absolutely the right call by Mr. Campbell and the NHL. In fact, after watching the game, I have respect for Konopka, the most penalized player on the Islanders so far this season, that I certainly did not have for him last season when I watched him as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Konopka played a total of 20 shifts for 13:41 TOI and the only two penalties he took all night were the roughing penalty and the 10 minute misconduct that were reviewed. He was 15 for 23 in the face-off circle and did a fair amount of penalty killing for the Islanders, in short, he wasn't anywhere near the goon I thought he'd be in a game like this. I agree with Mr. Campbell, Konopka's conduct warranted no further discipline, in fact I was surprised Campbell felt the need to include him in these proceedings but I guess that's to some degree because he is the team leader in PIM, or at least was before Friday evening's game.

6) No fine to the Penguins as a team, at all. I already indicated that I felt the Islanders deserved a disproportionate amount of blame and attention relative to the supplemental discipline meted out, but will reiterate that before making my point on this one. Mr. Campbell apparently did not feel the Penguins as a team deserved a fine and that his review indicated they did not fail to control their players in a manner similar to how the Islanders failed to control their team. I just cannot reach the same conclusion given the fact the Islanders were given 183 PIM including 5 Game Misconducts and 6 Misconduct penalties, while the Penguins received a total of 5 Game Misconduct and 5 misconduct penalties. Further watching the game's third period it did not seem to me that Penguins head coach Bylsma and Assistant Coach Granato had any more or less control of their players than their Islanders' counterparts had. In short I grew up in a household where we were always taught, and punished on the grounds that "it takes two to Tango" and, while I will agree much of the chaos on Friday evening was rooted in or started by the actions of the Islanders; I just think strongly the NHL missed an opportunity to tell ALL coaches and teams everywhere that participating in things like Friday evening's strange excuse for a hockey game will not be tolerated or allowed to stand when they failed to also issue a fine to the Penguins as a team. If it were me I would have sent that signal with a $50,000 fine to Penguins.

At the end of the day what I lament most about the decisions and the statements made by Mr. Campbell is I look at the whole story in it's entirety and conclude that the instigator penalty is alive and well in the NHL. To some reading this that statement will seem out of "left field" on several fronts so let me explain. I think these sorts of things wouldn't happen so much if players could police the game themselves without the fear of putting their team at a man disadvantage just by attempting to start a hockey fight to send a message to an opponent that they will not tolerate things like, even unintentional, blind-side hits. I also feel the message sent by the $100K fine to the Islanders and no similar penalty to the Penguins says the NHL in general and Colin Campbell in particular feel the instigator should indeed suffer significantly more than anyone else involved in a "hockey fight" or similar activities. To me that's not a good thing. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'd like to see the instigator penalty abolished altogether. I'd also like to see the embellishment penalty be something that a referee cannot call if someone has been actually fouled. Please explain the logic to me of punishing someone for what you think is embellishment in the way they fall to the ice, after you agree they have been tripped, etc.? But I digress, I only think that if say in the first period, before the Islanders got up 6-0, the Islanders felt an appropriate player could go out on the ice and accost Talbot, have a really solid, knock down drag out Hockey Fight and not worry about an instigator penalty, perhaps and just perhaps, this entire game, especially the second and third periods might have been different and NOT have been such a chaotic "Cage Match/Rumble". Either that or maybe the league should forbid ANY player on an NHL roster from watching Ultimate Fighting.

In the meantime, the Caps are in action in Phoenix tomorrow night - LETS GO CAPS!!!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

One Day Shy of Two Weeks Since My Last Post...

Well if you follow this blog you know my "real life" must have been busy lately and it has, so that's meant I haven't had time to be nearly as hockey obsessed as I have in the recent past. I've debated discontinuing blogging altogether and decided not to do that, instead what I will do is return this blog to the roots I planted for it originally. Those roots are embedded in the title - my musings, especially my musings about hockey. As such I want to warn folks that the intermittent nature/periodicity of recent postings will continue for the foreseeable future - sorry, I'm just a guy who blogs as an outlet and fun thing to do - it's nowhere near related to my "day job." With that out of the way as an explanation what about my Musings, especially my hockey musings of late...

So it's been 12 days and 5 Caps games since my last blog post, in that time the Caps have continued to, well I guess the right word for it is, sputter along and have gone 2-2-1 so far in the month of February. The issue is that while the Caps are still barely on pace to get between 99 - 101 points, are they playing well enough and consistently enough - offensively - to go deeper than the first round of the playoffs? Bottom line is either "who the heck knows?" or "well we'll see won't we?" depending whether you are more or less of an optimist. Me I'm an optimist, but I'd sure like to see more games and efforts like the Caps 5-2 win over the Lightning on 2/4 or the 3-0 win over the Penguins on 2/6 and a LOT less of the basic malaise they played with against San Jose on Tuesday evening or the second and third period this afternoon's 4-1 loss to the the Kings. My take is that the more responsible defensive play and system the Caps have been playing is the way to go, the issues it creates and that affect the offense are many, varied and subtle. That said there are two things that are clear - for now it means that when Mike Green is out of the game, the Caps really need John Carlson to play beyond his years and step up and into the offensive play more. I think that's something that so far opposing teams have been able to at worst anticipate and at best take advantage of. One wonders what happens to the situation when Tom Poti comes off Injured Reserve - does he play much? Does the situation get better - does Poti become the "puck mover" on the third defensive pair, etc.? Finally if that's true does that take some pressure of 21 year old "Captain America; as well as a little attention off of Mike Green so he can generally play ~25:00 TOI or LESS a night going into the playoffs so he's well rested and healthy in April? The other big thing it clearly does is it makes it even more important for the Caps to have two solid top lines, each anchored by a very good top six centerman. This post over at Red Line Station today makes that point better than I likely ever could - you can read it here. I firmly believe that one of either Mathieu Perreault or Marcus Johannson is that guy in the future but as the statistics the prior blog post illustrates, they probably aren't ready to be that guy this April. Of course I also agree that right now if you're an NHL GM with a great, accomplished center you are willing to deal, your phone is ringing off the hook. What can be done right now by GM George McPhee and what it might cost to do so, are likely two of the top things on his mind right now.

So what are/will the Capitals likely do, if anything, over the next two weeks before the trade deadline? Their needs right now are, IMO: #1 a good, solid second line center; #2 another solid, puck moving defenseman; #3 maybe an experienced goaltender - emphasis on maybe. Looking at the teams around the league who currently might, and I emphasize the word might, be "sellers" who is possibly available. Well I'd think any GM of a team with less than 50 standings points, regardless of their recent record is likely willing to listen to offers on any but his team's "core" 3-5 "franchise players." Also I'd think any team with 55 or less points who are not currently playing 0.550 or better hockey over the last 10 - 15 games might be willing to consider "selling" at this point. So to me that means the following teams are potential sellers: Edmonton, the New York Islanders, the New Jersey Devils, Ottawa, and I'd also think possibly Colorado, Saint Louis, Toronto, and Florida could be in that group. Looking at those eight rosters and who might be either available for trade or "rent" the list for each of the three needs the Capitals have could include the following players.

Second line center: 1) Jason Arnott - New Jersey Devils. The 36 year old Arnott is in the last year of his current contract with a salary of $4.5M salary. Will the Devils move him, they are on a tear and are at least outwardly saying they are trying for the final playoff spot in the East. They still need to likely make some Cap space to resign RFA Zach Parise this summer and to me that means Arnott may well be lost to Free Agency anyway. Arnott would bring a lot of good things to the Caps both on the ice and off it - in the locker room any guy with 2 All Star game appearances and a Stanley Cup ring has to help in the leadership department. 2) Tim Connolly - Buffalo. I just don't see Buffalo trading the 29 year old Connolly so I'm not analyzing whether that would be a good thing or not. I see Buffalo who is 7-3-0 in their last 10 games with 57 points fighting the whole way for the final two Eastern Conference playoff spots and likely being "buyers" or "traders" much more than sellers and I don't know what the Capitals might have they'd like but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like the price a rental of Connolly would "cost." 3) Alexander Steen - Saint Louis. The 26 year old Blues LW/C is unlikely to be dealt but he is one of the few guys on the rosters of potential "sellers/traders" that might be worth looking at, though my gut says he'd merely be another Tomas Fleischmann - not a bad thing, but not the real answer for that needed second line center and given he'd come with a 4 year contract with a $3.362M salary cap hit is that something GMGM would/should even consider? I haven't the foggiest idea, but I thought Steen was worth putting on the list as we might see Blues GM John Davidson move him for something else he needs/wants if he feels the deal is a good one - even if it's not with the Capitals. 4) Mikael Grabovski - Toronto. The 27 year old German has another year left on his current contract but for the right trade one thinks Toronto GM Brian Burke would deal pretty much anybody. Grabovski's current contract has a $2.9M salary cap hit and he doesn't have any sort of NMC or NTC so it's a pretty "friendly" contract. He's been having a good year and he would basically be in the role that the Capitals had looked at Eric Belanger playing for them last season. 5) Steve Reinprecht - Florida. The 34 year old veteran is really more of a defensive forward at this point of his career and likely not of interest to the Capitals as they have a few of those in Boyd Gordon, David Steckel and Matt Hendricks.

Puck Moving defenseman: 1) Ed Jovanovski - Phoenix. Given this 34 year old's play and value over the past two seasons and his current $6.5M Cap hit, this would be nothing more than a rental for the Capitals and as such I don't see them spending what would be necessary to make it happen. I know I wouldn't. 2) Roman Hamrlik - Montreal. The 36 year old Czech is an UFA following this season, his current salary cap hit is $5.5M though I don't see his next contract being that rich looking at his recent past and the upcoming market. However, is he worth more or less than Tom Poti and if the Caps picked him up they would likely not resign either he or Scott Hannan, or they'd be looking to trade Poti. Personally that's why I don't see GMGM going to the rental market for anther D-Man, though I'm not sure the Hannan rental/trade this season works any better than the Corvo deal did last season for the Capitals. 3) Tomas Kaberle - Toronto. As it seems every one of the last three seasons, the question is will the 36 year old Czech waive his NTC to go to one of the team's interested in talking to him? Second it's also would the Capitals want to give Brian Burke something he wants for what basically will be the rights to talk to Kaberle and his agent first this spring/summer? My feeling? If I could pick him up and he was willing to come, I'd do the deal and look to move Poti and/or even Schultz or maybe Eric Fehr as long as I could resign Kaberle and Hannan at numbers that work for the Caps, but I don't see that happening. 4) Eric Brewer - Saint Louis. The 31 year old 11 year veteran brings a solid shot, good puck handling skills and could be a reasonable pickup, but for the Capitals given his $4.25M cap hit, would he be anything else but a rental and what would John Davidson be looking for from GMGM to do a deal? 5) There's others out there but none are better than having a roster spot for a healthy Tom Poti, IMO.

Experienced Goaltenders: 1) Tomas Vokoun - Florida. I don't see the 34 year old waiving his NTC to come to DC as a rental given the talent pipeline here. 2) JS Giguire - Toronto. Well if for personal reasons 36 year old "Giggy" might be persuaded to waive his NMC to come to Washington - if the Caps guaranteed him, he would "be the man" for the rest of the season and through the playoffs. Do you see GMGM and Boudreau doing that for anybody? Yeah, me neither. 3) Craig Anderson - Colorado. I don't see the Avs tossing the towel in on the season so much they deal the 29 year old Anderson and go with Peter Budaj solo. If the did I don't think the Caps are willing to give them something they's want given the Caps and the Avs have already done one trade this season. I wouldn't be willing to trade someone like say Eric Fehr to rent Craig Anderson would you? 4) Pascal Leclaire - Ottawa. If it were me I'd stick with Varly and Neuvirth and I think the Caps will too. 5) Ilya Bryzgalaov - Phoenix. Me, I'd pick up Bryz, I thought the Caps should have picked him up when the Coyotes claimed him off waivers in 2007, now the 30 year old seems like an even smarter pick-up though I don't consider him available.

So I think it's obvious that I'm thinking it will be a hard road to hoe for GMGM to better the Capitals team before the trade deadline. I also think I'm pretty transparent in showing, I think the only place they might be able to even think about doing so is finding/renting a second line center. Of course I'm not overly optimistic that can or will happen before February 28th. I have to admit that after these past two home losses to LA and San Jose, the Crystal Ball is pretty cloudy. I'll just have to muse on it more.