Saturday, December 6, 2014

Up or Down? Heads or Tails?

Two weeks ago I mused that the Caps had a busy time ahead and how their play to that point exemplified "life on the bubble".  At that point their 2014-15 season was 23.7% complete and they were playing slightly over 0.550 hockey, well this morning their season is 30.5% complete and they are now playing 0.520 hockey to date.  So they are still exemplifying life on the bubble - it's just that this morning they are on the wrong (as opposed to the right) side of the bubble. why that is the case simply remains a mystery to this fan boy but it is the case.  Why they are 4-5-1 as opposed to something considerably better is a mystery to me as well.  I mean I know its because they can't or won't finish off an opponent, you know get and keep that two goal lead next goal as opposed to letting their one goal down opponent tie the game in the third period, I just can't figure out why that keeps happening.  If I could figure it out, I could probably make a good living as one of Barry Trotz's assistants right now though so I'm not alone in my quandary.

The Caps awaken this morning with 26 standings points in 25 games played, ten (10) of their 11 wins on the season are ROW so that's on a better pace than they had last season (a good thing since last season they didn't make the post season).  Of the four "loser" points they've captured, two (2) are from shootout losses and two are from OT losses.  That's balanced play, unfortunately as I've mentioned before balance that equals 0.500 hockey is for all intents and purposes "mediocrity" at the NHL level.  I'm not ranting, you really cannot disparage being in the middle of the pack when you are talking about playing any professional sport's highest level.  I certainly couldn't do it, and I've seen some good hockey so far this season played by the Capitals.  However let's be clear when a professional athlete is paid to play at a sport's highest level whether it's under an NHL CBA league minimum deal or a deal closer to the  maximum under the salary cap - you know one of those say 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10M/year deal, a team's ownership, management, coaching staff and fan base are all asking when will we see this team raise Lord Stanley's Cup in June of what year? What will it take to make this team better and able to do that? Meanwhile, you can bet if they are playing regularly in the NHL every one of those athletes is saying how can I help my team go deep in the playoffs and ultimately win a Cup?

That's why in many ways "Life On The Bubble" is probably more frustrating than "Life in the Conner McDavid Sweepstakes" for both we fans and for the professionals.  Right now there are 13 of the 30 NHL teams , I'd characterize as "living on the bubble", number 11 in the league overall standings Winnipeg Jets have 32 points (in 27 games played) (0.592) while number 24 Arizona has 23 points in 27 games, though having lost their last two games and with a 3-5-2 record in their last 10 the Coyotes like the Flyers seem to be looking to solidly enter those McDavid Sweepstakes.  In any case the difference between number 11 and number 24 is just 9 standings points that's a pretty tight grouping around the midpoint of the current "bubble" upon which sit the Capitals and the New York Rangers each with 26 points in league overall standings positions 19 and 20 respectively.  Since neither the Capitals nor the Rangers look like teams destined to enter and win the McDavid Sweepstakes, it's likely going to be a year where we Caps fans will continue to frequently be on the edge of our seats and frustrated between now and April and we may not know if we'll need to buy playoff tickets until the last day of the season.  As such I for one wish to implore "my team" to please, please, please STOP playing down to the levels of your opponents on any given night .... PLEASE.  I know a lot of folks seemed to be pleased with Thursday's evening's game in Carolina, I was not.  I thought the Capitals could have easily played a better second period and put the Hurricane's away, I thought they should have never allowed the Cane's to tie the game and after that with just a little more grit and a bounce here or there that they could have/would have manufactured had the first and second lines worked just maybe 1.5% harder would have come, they could have had two more goals so the last 3:00 wouldn't have been a time where the Hurricanes even had a chance of tying the game.  That's what needs to happen - EVERY NIGHT - for this team to be playing 0.600 hockey instead of the 0.450 hockey they've played through their last 10 games.

Let's be clear and put this into perspective the 2014-15 Washington Capitals have the second highest salary payroll against the salary cap of the 30 teams in the NHL for this season as projected by - this team has been assembled and is being paid to win now.  The highest paid team - the Pittsburgh Penguins are doing what they are being paid to do - they are playing 0.720 hockey on the season to date; the top two three teams in the league standings to date, 1)the Tampa Bay Lightning have 39 points in 27 GP (0.722), 2) the Anaheim Ducks have 39 points in 28 GP (0.697)  and 3) New York Islanders have 38 points in 26 GP (0.731) all have payrolls that are $4, 5, and 6 million less than the Capitals so they are definitely doing what they're being paid to do and earning their money. The Caps need to play in a manner and achieve results that make an irrefutable case that they have earned their money for each of the remaining 57 games this season in order to ensure they make the playoffs, it's that straightforward.

My points and thoughts today are simple:

A) Caps Team please play YOUR game, play it "RIGHT" and play it with 110%+ effort from the initial faceoff for ALL 60:00 tonight.  Do NOT, please, play down to the level of your opponent the New Jersey Devils. Do that and you should get a 2+ goal led by the middle of the second period lead and keep it through the end of the game.  Please don't play like you pretty much have most of the other 25 games to date this season and keep us on the edge of our seats to the bitter end of the game - the Devils really aren't good enough this season that this game should be in doubt with less than 10:00 left in regulation. Oh and to make sure that doesn't happen by Corey Schneider stealing a game or a point - crash the net.

B) Once you do that all tonight imprint it in your minds and please repeat it every game for the rest of them until the regular season ends in April and then just turn it all up a couple of notches for the post season.

C) Caps management - the time to start fixing this team or finish doing so, depending on your viewpoint is now.  Step (1) is getting yourself some Salary Cap space now so you can get what you need. I've said it before and I'll say it now - if the Capitals are ever going to win a Stanley Cup there can be nothing off the table.  To me I look at the roster in two directions 1) From the highest paid guys to the lowest and 2) from the goal line out. From either direction the first question I ask is: "Can I see this guy skating around Verizon Center with a Stanley Cup raised above his head blood seeping from a re-opened cut on his head from "doing whatever it took to win" and an ear to ear grin on his face in a Capital's Sweater and here's my answers:

TOP PAID DOWN                                 GOAL LINE OUT
Ovechkin    - YES                                    Holtby - Maybe
Backstrom  - YES                                    Peters - NO
Green          - Probably                            Green -  Probably
Niskanen    - Probably                             Niskanen - Probably
Orpik          - YES                                    Orpik - YES
Laich          - No                                       Carlson - YES
Carlson       - YES                                    Alzner - Probably
Brouwer     - Yes                                      Schmidt - Maybe
Ward          - Yes                                      Orlov - No
Alzner        - Probably                              Erskine - No
Chimera      - Probably                             Hillen - NO
Johannsson - Yes                                      Backstrom - YES
Orlov           - No                                      Johannson - Yes
Erskine        - No                                      Burakovsky - Maybe
Holtby         - Maybe                                Kuznetsov - Maybe
Fehr             - Probably                             Beagle - Probably
Peters          - NO                                       Latta - Maybe
Beagle         - Probably                              Ovechkin - YES
Kuznetsov - Maybe                                    Laich - No                                          
Burakovsky - Maybe                                 Chimera - Probably
Wilson         - Yes                                      O'Brien - Probably
Hillen           - NO                                      Wilson - Yes
Schmidt        - Maybe                                Brouwer - Yes
Volpatti        - NO                                      Fehr - Probably
O'Brien         - Probably                             Ward - Yes
Latta             - Maybe                                 Volpatti - NO

So musing on this list forced me to think about the following in order -

i) If this guy is on the roster and playing in a Stanley Cup Finals do I see the Caps having the requisite talent and drive as a team to be able to win?

ii) If this guy is on the roster and playing in a Stanley Cup Finals do I see him as an individual player as having the requisite talent to be able to be in a position at this time in his career to help win games in a Stanley Cup Finals series?

iii) If this guy finds himself playing in the Stanley Cup Finals in May 2015, hurting or hurt, sucking for air at the end of a shift late in the third period or in the second overtime, do I see him doing whatever it takes to win even if he knows he's going to loose two teeth stopping a shot (in other words at that moment would he play like Bobby Clarke of the Flyers in the 1974 Finals) etc?

iv) Do I think this guy currently durable enough to make it through playing the majority of the season and several seven game playoff series in a way that he can stay healthy enough to be able to play well enough and hard enough to make a difference in a final game of a series if it were to need to go to multiple overtimes to be decided.

Rankings from best to worst are: YES, Yes, Probably, Maybe, No, and NO.

- At this point therefore what I'm saying is that if approached with a reasonable offer Brian MacLellan should consider offers for anyone whose name isn't spelled Ovechkin, Carlson, or Backstrom. Of course if they are a "Yes" need make sure that without a doubt unless you are crazy you'd agree the move makes the Capitals a better team - so it's a fair trade that would make both teams better by a trade of likely equally good players but puts them into positions on teams where they are better fits.

- I'm also saying that all NO, No and most if not all "Maybe" players should be shopped to either provide Cap space for "deadline deals" or to try and ensure this team can and does play 0.600 or better hockey during the rest of this season. So what I'm saying is NOW is the time to move Dmitry Orlov to another team and get something we need, maybe a solid backup goalie who we all would say is a "probably" NOW instead of a No or NO ....

- Probably guys should be closely examined and it needs to be determined how they can be either better utilized on the roster to make the team a more consistent 0.600+ team or moved for value that does. So for example, NOW is the time to make a decision on Mike Green, resign/extend him or trade him.

If management and the coaching staff doesn't do this now, it's likely that at the end of the season this team will still be drowning in a sea of "up or down" and "heads or tails" mediocre play and results.  Also at that time we Caps fans will again likely again in a situation where we can use the money we have in our pockets for a really good vacation at the beach instead of spending it on playoff tickets.

In the meantime a start in the right direction would be kicking the Devil's butts in Newark tonight.


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