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.


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