Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Washington Capitals: All-Franchise Teams by the Alphabet -- Team B

We kicked off our look at the Washington Capitals all-time franchise teams through the alphabet with Team A. Now it’s time to look at the next team in line…Team B

Left Wing: Craig Berube

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 419 games, 26-38-64, minus-32
Playoffs (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 38 games, 1-0-1, minus-5

This was the toughest position to fill on Team B. There was quite a mix from which to pick – scorers (Andrew Brunette, Randy Burridge), grinders (James Black), guys who toiled hard and well for bad teams (Garnet “Ace” Bailey), bruisers (Donald Brashear). In the end we took the player who logged the most games as a Cap at the position.

That’s right, Craig Berube logged more games at left wing than any other player eligible for Team B. In fact, Berube dressed for almost twice as many games with the Caps (419 regular season games) as the next two players ranked in games played with the club (Bailey and Brashear, 427 combined games). Although he is most often associated with the Philadelphia Flyers (the team he now serves as head coach), Berube played in more games with the Caps than he did with any other NHL club (323 games with Philadelphia).

Not an especially gifted offensive player, Berube certainly made his presence felt in other ways. After being obtained from the Calgary Flames in 1992 in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick, Berube would go on to lead the club six times in his seven seasons with the club in penalty minutes, and he ranks third all-time with the club in career penalty minutes with 1,220; trailing only Dale Hunter (2,003) and Scott Stevens (1,630). His 305 penalty minutes in 1993-1994 ranks second in penalty minutes in a season in team history (Alan May: 339 PIMs in 1989-1990).

Berube recorded only one goal in the post-season with the Caps, but it was one of the more important goals scored in team playoff history. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Buffalo Sabres in 1998. The Caps and Sabres fought to a scoreless draw through two periods in Buffalo, the Caps exhausting themselves by having to kill off seven Sabre power plays in the process. Just 2:34 into the final period, Berube broke the tie, firing a slap shot past goalie Dominik Hasek off a face-off to give the Caps the lead. It was his first career playoff goal. Joe Juneau scored later in the period for insurance, and the Caps had a 3-1 lead in games in a series they would go on to win in six games to reach their only Stanley Cup final in team history.

The following season, the 1998-1999 campaign being one that was disastrous for the club overall, Berube was traded for cash to Philadelphia in March. It was not his last appearance with the Caps, though. Berube was signed as a free agent by the Capitals in July 2000. He played in only 22 games of the 2000-2001 season (0-1-1, minus-3) before being traded to the New York Islanders in January 2001 for a ninth-round draft pick with which the Capitals selected a goaltender, the late Robert Müller.

Center: Nicklas Backstrom

Regular Season (with Capitals): 7 seasons, 495 games, 127-367-494, plus-74
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 57 games, 15-28-43, plus-13

As difficult as it was to select a left winger for Team B, picking the center was a no-brainer. Leaving behind the fact that Niclas Backstrom has played in almost as many games with the Caps (495 regular season games) as the rest of the Team B eligible centers combined (511), Backstrom is already all over the Capitals record book:

  • Games Played (career): 495 (24th)
  • Seasons with 82-games played: 4th (T-1st)
  • Goals (career): 127 (19th)
  • Assists (career): 367 (5th)
  • Assists-per-game (career): 0.74 (2nd/minimum: 100 games)
  • Points (career): 494 (8th)
  • Points-per-game (career): 1.00 (5th/minimum: 100 games)
  • Plus-Minus (season): plus-37 (4th)
  • Plus-Minus (career): plus-74 (T-6th)
  • Multi-point games (career): 134 (3rd)
  • 2-point games (career): 90 (4th)
  • 3-point games (career): 30 (3rd)
  • 4-point games (career): 10 (3rd)
  • 5-point games (career): 4 (T-2nd)
  • 3-assist game (career)s: 17 (1st)
  • 4-assist games (career): 9 (1st)

Since Backstrom came into the league in 2007-2008, only a dozen players have averaged more points per game.  Only four players active in all seven of those seasons averaged more assists per game: Sidney Crosby, Henrik Sedin, Joe Thornton, and Evgeni Malkin.

One could make a case that Backstrom is already the best pure center drafted by the Caps in franchise history (Michal Pivonka and Bengt Gustafsson each played wing intermittently in their respective careers).  If there is a smudge on his sparkling record to date with the club it is his recent post-season performance.  In his first three post-season appearances Backstrom was 12-18-30, plus-13 in 28 games.  However, in his three most recent appearances in the playoffs he is 3-10-13, even, in 29 games.

However, even with that blemish, Backstrom compares favorably overall against forwards in the post-expansion era.  His points per game over his first seven years (1.00) is right in the neighborhood of such as Mark Messier (1.07), Mats Sundin (1.05), Mike Modano (1.02), Doug Gilmour (0.99), Pavel Datsyuk (0.99), Bill Barber (0.98), and Lanny MacDonald (0.96) in each of those players first seven seasons in the NHL.  Backstrom is the clear choice as center on the Capitals’ “Team B,” and is on an arc to become one of the best players of his era in the NHL.

Right Wing: Peter Bondra

Regular Season (with Capitals): 14 seasons, 961 games, 472-353-825, plus-74
Playoffs (with Capitals): 10 seasons, 73 games, 30-26-56, plus-9

This was an easy pick, too.  Bondra played more games for the Capitals (961) that the other six eligible right wingers combined (815).  He is among the most accomplished offensive performer in franchise history to date.  He is the franchise leader in goals (472) and points (825).  He is eighth in club history in assists (353), despite the fact that in each of his last 11 seasons with the club he recorded more goals than assists.  He holds a number of other club records:

  • Most All-Star Game selections: 5
  • Fastest three goals in game: 2:06 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Fastest four goals in game: 4:12 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Fastest five goals in game: 24:46 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Most shorthanded goals (career): 32
  • Most game-winning goals (career): 71
  • Most hat tricks: 19
  • Most shorthanded goals (season): 6 (1994-1995), tied with Mike Gartner
  • Most game-winning goals (season): 13 (1997-1998)
  • Most goals (game): 5 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994), tied with Bengt Gustafsson
  • Most goals (period): 4 (vs. Tampa Bay; February 5, 1994)
  • Most 20-goal seasons: 13
  • Most consecutive 20-goal seasons: 13
  • Most 30-goals seasons: 9, tied with Mike Gartner and Alex Ovechkin

Much of Bondra’s career was spent in the “dead puck era” between 1994-1995 and 2003-2004, which makes those records even more impressive.  From his rookie season (1990-1991) through 2002-2003 (Bondra’s last full season with the club), only Brett Hull (570), Jaromir Jagr (506), and Brendan Shanahan (474) scored more goals than did Bondra (451).  In his prime years – 1994-1995 through 1997-1998 – no one recorded more goals than the 184 on Bondra’s ledger.

Until this past season, Bondra was the franchise record holder in power play goals (137).  For Caps fans who recognize Mike Green laying out passes for Alex Ovechkin to wire one-timers from the left wing circle into the back of the net, Bondra was the trigger man for similar plays from the right wing circle, one-timing passes from Sergei Gonchar.

What set Bondra apart as a goal scorer in franchise history, though, was his ability to score shorthanded.  He recorded at least one shorthanded goal in nine seasons with the club and twice had five or more.  In both of those seasons he led the NHL in goals scored.  In fact, his six shorthanded goals in the 1994-1995 campaign was a singularly amazing achievement, coming as it did in an abbreviated season of just 48 games.  On an 82-game basis that would be 10 shorthanded goals, and only two players in NHL history recorded more than 10 shorthanded goals in a season (Wayne Gretzky twice, and Mario Lemieux).

Bondra was a victim of the selloff of 2004, when the Capitals jettisoned a number of veterans in favor of prospects and draft picks.  Bondra was to Ottawa for Brooks Laich and a 2005 second round draft pick .  That second round pick was later traded to Colorado along with Washington’s own second round draft pick for the Avalanche’s  first round pick in 2005.  With that pick, the 27th overall in 2005, the Caps selected Joe Finley (parenthetically, the Dallas Stars selected new Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen with the next pick, but we digress).

Peter Bondra is one of the iconic figures in Capitals franchise history.  He and current Capital Alex Ovechkin are the two purest goal scorers in the Caps’ record book, the only two players to have recorded more than 400 goals for the club (you might argue Mike Gartner belongs; he had 397 goals with the Caps).  Bondra is the clear choice to man the right side on Team B.

Defense: Timo Blomqvist

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 223 games, 4-51-55, plus-26
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 13 games, 0-0-0, minus-6

Timo Blomqvist was a fifth-round draft pick by the Caps in 1980, the 89th overall selection.  It was a particularly fruitful round, as fifth rounds go, with six of the 21 players selected recording more than 200 NHL games played.  In his four seasons with the club (1981-1982 through 1984-1985) only Rod Langway (239) and Scott Stevens (235) played in more games than did Blomqvist (223), only five of the 18 defensemen who played for the Caps in those years had more points than the 55 recorded by Blomqvist, and only Stevens (617) and Randy Holt (525) recorded more penalty minutes than Blomqvist (264). 

Blomqvist was a transitional player for the Caps, having been part of those early years when the team struggled (for example, 26-41-13 in his rookie year) and then being a part of what would be the Caps’ first playoff club (1982-1983).  It might be a moment from his last year with the Caps (1983-1984), though, that is most memorable…


After that 1983-1984 season Blomqvist played a year with the Binghamton Whalers of the AHL, then signed with the New Jersey Devils as a free agent where he played the 1986-1987 season, his last in the NHL.  He returned to Europe after that, catching on with MoDo HK Ornskoldsvik.  He continued playing in Europe until 1998.  While he might be remembered only in the dim recesses of old Caps fans’ memories, he merits a spot on Team B.

Defense: Pierre Bouchard

Regular Season (with Capitals): 4 seasons, 106 games, 8-16-24, minus-26
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

So there you are, an eight-year veteran with the most storied franchise in NHL history.  Almost 500 regular season games played, and you played for five Stanley Cup winners.  Then, at the start of your ninth season in the league, you are exposed in the waiver draft.  You are claimed by a team that has yet to post a winning percentage as high as .400 in any of its first four seasons, a team that has as many franchise wins (60) as your club had in the 1976-1977 season alone.

That was the lot of defenseman Pierre Bouchard, who went from the penthouse, through the outhouse, and right to what is under the outhouse, in a manner of speaking.  It was a case of being too clever by half on the part of the Montreal Canadiens.  The Canadiens tried to game the process and enter into an arrangement with the Caps to reclaim Bouchard after the waiver draft, but league president John Ziegler intervened, nixing the transaction and leaving Bouchard wearing the American shades of red, white, and blue.

Bouchard was not happy with the turn of events and sat out almost the entire 1978-1979 season.  He did return to play for Washington in 1979-1980, in which he played 54 games and recorded 14 points.  After appearing in 50 games in the 1980-1981 season, he appeared in only one game in 1981-1982, spending 62 games in Hershey with the AHL Bears.  He retired after the 1981-1982 season.

In his two full seasons with the Caps, Bouchard was third among defensemen in total games played (remember, these were the lean years; 19 different defensemen played for the Caps in those two seasons).  His best years might have been behind him, but he provided a bit of stability to an unsettled defense (ok, a bad one), and it is enough to get him a spot on Team B.  Think of it as a consolation prize for the unhappy waiver ending.

Goaltender: Don Beaupre

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 269 games, 128-96-27, 3.05 GAA, .887 SV, 12 SO
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 36 games, 18-15, 2.98 GAA, .896 SV, 2 SO

Don Beaupre was a second round draft pick of the Minnesota North Stars in 1980.  After playing one game in his ninth season with the North Stars, Beaupre was traded to the Caps in November 1988 for the rights to Claudio Scremin, a tenth-round draft pick of the Caps in 1988.  Beaupre made his first appearance for the Caps on November 12, 1988, serving mop-up duty in relief of Clint Malarchuk in the third period of a 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils.  He would spend the next several months toiling for the Baltimore Skipjacks in the AHL, not getting another shot with the big club until February 20, 1989, another stint in relief of Malarchuk, this time getting the third period of a 6-2 loss to the Calgary Flames.  It was a significant game in one respect.  It would be Malarchuk’s last appearance with the Caps; two weeks later he would be traded to the Buffalo Sabres as part of a deal that brought defenseman Calle Johansson to the Caps.

Meanwhile, Beaupre was getting more regular action.  And, he was taking advantage of it.  Beginning with a 7-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on February 22nd, Beaupre went on a 5-2-0 run in which he had a GAA of 2.15 and a save percentage of .919.  The late season run gave enough of an impression for the Caps to allow Pete Peeters, the other goaltender on the parent club blocking Beaupre’s way, to depart as a free agent to Philadelphia the following June.

Over the next five seasons Beaupre got most of the work and posted a regular season record of 128-96-27, 3.05, .887, very respectable numbers for the period.  His post-season numbers were not much different: 36 games played with an 18-15 record, a 2.98 GAA, and a .896 save percentage.  But those post-season numbers had an odd aspect to them.  Take the 1990 run in which the Caps advanced to the Wales Conference final for the first time in team history.  Beaupre, who appeared in 48 games in the regular season, appeared in only eight games in the post-season (4-3 record), splitting time with Mike Liut (nine appearances, 4-4 record).

In a way, Beaupre was representative of a problem the Caps had in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  They were a hard working team that got respectable goaltending on their way to regular season success.  But they – and most notably their goaltending – just never could seem to rise that last extra measure to propel the Caps deep into the playoffs, save for that 1990 run.

Nevertheless, Don Beaupre is the second ranked goaltender in team history in games played (269) and wins (128).  Until Jim Carey joined the club in 1994, only Pat Riggin had a career goals against average lower than Beaupre’s in team history.  He merits a place on the Capitals’ “Team B” as its goaltender.

Team B… it will score a lot of goals, and it will allow a lot.  Make sure the lights on the scoreboard work.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Washington Capitals: All-Franchise Teams by the Alphabet -- Team A

We are now officially in hockey’s off-season, that time between the first week of the unrestricted free agent period, when the best offerings on the buffet are picked over, and the first week of training camp, generally devoted to rookie development. 

In other words, we are going to be stuck for subject matter for the next couple of months.  You might recall that we tortured your senses last summer with a look at which Capitals fit in what spaces in the periodic table of the elements.  In this summer's slow spot in the calendar we are going to look at something a bit more hockey-related, the best of the Capitals through the alphabet.  First up, Team “A”…


Left Wing: Greg Adams

Regular Season (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 331 games, 55-98-153, plus-39
Playoffs (with Capitals): 5 seasons, 36 games, 2-11-13, minus-1

The National Hockey League has had two players named “Greg Adams” dress for games, both of whom were left wingers.  One played in 17 seasons covering more than 1,000 regular season games with five teams, plus another 81 playoff games over ten post-seasons, including a Stanley Cup final run.  The other one played for the Capitals. 

Not that the Greg Adams who played for the Caps had a bad run.  An undrafted player out of Canadian juniors (Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League), Adams was signed as a free agent by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1979.  After being traded to the Hartford Whalers in 1982, he came to the Caps in October 1983 in a trade for Torrie Robertson.  

In his first two seasons in Washington he played intermittently, dressing for 108 of 160 games, posting eight goals and 26 points.  In 1985-1986, though, Adams was matched with Alan Haworth and Craig Laughlin in what would become perhaps the most famous line in Capitals history, ‘The Plumbers Line,” a name given to them for their hard working, grinding style of play and also as a play on the term “plumbers,” which had relevance to Washington, a reference to the “plumbers” of the Nixon administration of the early 1970’s.  Adams played in 78 games that season, recording a scoring line of 18-38-56, plus-24, all career highs.

Adams followed that 1985-1986 career year with a solid 14-goal, 44-point season over 67 games in 1986-1987, but slipped to just 27 points in 1987-1988.  He was traded after that season to Edmonton for the rights to left winger Geoff Courtnall.  Adams played only 49 games in Edmonton before being traded to Vancouver late in the 1988-1989 season.  He was waived by the Canucks after that season and was picked up by the Quebec Nordiques to start the 1989-1990 season.  Playing just seven games with the Nordiques, Adams was traded in December to the Detroit Red Wings, with whom he finished the season in what would be the last of his career.

Center: Jason Arnott

Regular Season: 1 season, 11 games, 4-3-7, plus-3
Playoffs: 1 season, 9 games, 1-5-6, plus-4

This came down to a battle of the Jason’s – Allison and Arnott.  We took Arnott on the basis of his late-season contributions in the 2010-2011 season after being acquired by the Caps at the trading deadline from the New Jersey Devils.

Arnott’s arrival in Washington had been widely rumored in the run-up to the 2011 trading deadline.  The Devils were falling out of playoff contention, and the Caps had the perennial problem of filling a second line center role.  When the Devils agreed to a deal that included center David Steckel and a second round 2012 draft pick, the Caps had their man.

Having the reputation as a leader and as a big-game performer, Arnott displayed both early with the Caps.  In his first game with Washington, it was his feed from the corner to Brooks Laich to the top of the crease that led to a game-tying goal against the New York Islanders in the final minute.  The Caps won, 2-1, in the overtime session.  Two nights later, in his second game, it was Arnott’s goal with less than five minutes remaining in regulation that broke a 2-2 tie against the St. Louis Blues in a 3-2 Caps win.

As to his leadership abilities, he was given the nickname the “Semin Whisperer” for his perceived ability to bring out the more skilled, less “enigmatic” attributes of then Capitals winger Alexander Semin.  While this might have been more perception than reality, perception has its place from time to time. 

In nine playoff games with the Caps in 2010-2011 Arnott recorded points in five contests and was "even" or better in all nine games. It helped the Caps dismiss the New York Rangers in five games in the opening round (Arnott was 1-2-3, plus-2), but it could not keep the Caps from being swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning (0-3-3, plus-2 in four games).  Following the 2010-2011 season Arnott signed as an unrestricted free agent with the St. Louis Blues.

Right Wing: Steve Atkinson

Regular Season: 1 season, 46 games, 11-4-15, minus-26
Playoffs: none

As you can tell, the letter “A” is not especially kind in the historical record of right wingers in the Capitals organization.  Only three such players skated on the right side in franchise history, all of them in those difficult early seasons in the 1970’s.

Atkinson had the best numbers of any of the three right wingers eligible for our “Team ‘A’” squad, 11th among forwards in scoring and tied for fifth in goals in his lone season with the Caps during the inaugural 1974-1975 campaign despite playing in only 46 games.  Getting to Washington was a long and winding road for Atkinson.  He was drafted sixth overall by Detroit in the 1966 amateur draft, but was shortly thereafter traded to Boston.  Boston sold his rights to Hershey in 1970 but was then claimed by St. Louis immediately thereafter in the intra-league draft.  That December he was waived by St. Louis and claimed by Buffalo.  Failing to cement a place there, he was taken by Dayton-Houston in the general player draft of the World Hockey Association in February 1972.  He remained with the Sabres, though, but he was left exposed in the 1974 expansion draft and was claimed by the Capitals.

That season with the Capitals was noteworthy for two things for Atkinson.  First, he was called a “snail” by general manager Milt Schmidt after one game, upon which he was demoted to the Richmond Robins.  By the time he was recalled, Schmidt was gone (replaced by Max McNab), but the Caps were still struggling.  Atkinson finished the season with the club, but in the other noteworthy thing with respect to that season, it was Atkinson’s last in the NHL.  He played one more season of professional hockey, that with the Toronto Toros of the WHA.

Defense: Peter Andersson

Regular Season: 3 seasons, 160 games, 9-33-42, plus-9
Playoffs: 2 seasons, 5 games, 0-1-1, minus-2

There were four defensemen eligible to be named to “Team A,” and three of them were named “Andersson” (or a variation thereof).  Peter Andersson was the most accomplished of the three.  Andersson’s story is one of overachievement in a way.  He was drafted in the ninth round out of Sweden – 173rd overall in the 1980 NHL draft – although his draft class was quite deep (Andy Brickley, drafted dead last and 210th overall, played in 385 NHL games).

Andersson made the jump from Sweden to the Caps in 1983.  He skated in 42 games in his rookie season and finished seventh in points among Caps defensemen (10).  He followed that up with another ten-point season in 1984-1985 in 57 games on a squad that finished with its second consecutive 100-point season.  His third season was perhaps his best with the Caps, 6-16-22 in 61 games in 1985-1986.  However, on a team that would finish with its best franchise record to date (50-23-7), he was second worst in plus-minus, suggesting he was something of a defensive liability (this was long before Corsi or Fenwick measures).  He was traded late in that season to Quebec for the Nordiques’ third round draft pick in the 1986 draft, used to select goalie Shawn Simpson. 

Andersson finished up that 1985-1986 season with the Nordiques, but it would be his last in the NHL.  He returned to Sweden after that season and continued to play in European leagues and represent Sweden in international competition (including the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics) through the 1994-1995 season.

Defense: Karl Alzner

Regular Season: 6 seasons, 345 games, 7-55-62, plus-10
Playoffs: 4 seasons, 31 games, 1-4-5, minus-2

Karl Alzner is the only current Capital to make “Team A.”  He happens to be the only player eligible for Team A who is still playing in the NHL (Keith Aucoin remains an unrestricted free agent).  Alzner has more games logged as a Capital than any other member of Team A, despite being only 25 years old.  Part of what is viewed as Washington’s top defensive pair, the “defensive” defenseman to partner John Carlson’s more two-way game, Alzner is third among current Capitals defenseman in total games played with the franchise (behind Mike Green and John Erskine).

Alzner is one of only nine players (four defensemen) to have played in all 294 games of the past four seasons.  He has done so averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time a night over each of those four seasons.  Given the nature of his game as a “defensive” defenseman, his offensive numbers might not shine, but he did finish third in assists among defensemen in three of those four seasons, suggesting that he does get involved in the offensive end of the ice from time to time.

With Alzner being a player of recent vintage, he has a history in the emerging “fancystat” era.  As such, his recent 5-on-5 possession metrics are not especially impressive (below 50 percent Corsi-for in his last three seasons), and in terms of performance he has regressed.  In the latter respect his goals-for percentage at 5-on-5 is well below 50 percent in his last two seasons, and his goals for percentage relative to the team’s percentage when he is not on ice is in negative territory.   

By objective measure, he has slipped in the last couple of seasons.  In a way, his progress has mirrored that of the Caps, a team that has teetered on the edge of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.  However, he was a top-five draft pick, has played in almost 400 regular season and playoff games, much of it on the top pair of a playoff-worthy team.  He is worthy of a spot on our hypothetical “Team A” in Capitals team history.

Goalie: John Adams

Regular Season: 1 season, 8 games, 0-7-0, 6.90 GAA
Playoffs: none

Team A had better score goals, because its goalie is both inexperienced and had his struggles with the Caps.  Okay, so John Adams is the only goalie in Caps history who would qualify for “Team A.”  Adams was an undrafted goaltender who played with the Port Arthur North Stars of the Thunder Bay Junior A Hockey League, the Dayton Gems of the International Hockey League, and the Oklahoma City Blazers of the Central Hockey League before seeing NHL action.  There was an odd detour along the way, though.  In 1970, while with the Dayton Gems, he was recalled to the Boston Bruins, who held his rights.  He did not play a game during his recall, but the Bruins happened to win the Stanley Cup that season.  The Bruins chose to have Adams’ name engraved on the Cup despite his having yet to appear in an NHL game.

That first NHL appearance would not come until the 1972-1973 season when Adams made 14 appearances for the Bruins, going 9-3-1 with a 3.00 goals against average.  That would do it for Adams’ career with in Boston; he was traded to the San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League the following summer.  After spending a year in California, Adams was purchased by the Caps in July 1974, just in time for the Caps’ inaugural season.  He ended up with two more sweater numbers worn (30 and 32) than wins (zero) with Washington.  Not that this was especially unusual for that season.  The Caps suited up three goalies in 1974-1975, two of them (Michel Belhumeur being the other) failed to get a win.  For Adams it was his one and only season with the Caps, and it was his last year in the NHL. 

Adams did have that one season with the Caps, though, which is good enough for him to get the call for “Team A” in Caps franchise history.

And there you have it… “Team A” in our first look at all-franchise teams by the alphabet for the Washington Capitals.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Washington Capitals -- Development Camp 2014: Day Five

The second scrimmage of Development Camp 2014 for the Washington Capitals held on Friday was a rout.  Team Red scored a touchdown and added a two-point conversion, while Team White managed only a field goal in an 8-3 win for the Redsters.

They are not yet Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, but Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana did a passable impression of the prolific pair on the parent club.  This week might be remembered as being Burakovsky’s in large part.  In his second straight day playing at center – a new position for the drafted winger – he looked entirely comfortable distributing the puck when he wasn’t firing it himself. He would finish this scrimmage with a goal and two assists.

We did not have a chance to see all eight goals for Team Red (the sick bug consumed us after Team Red went up, 5-1, mid-way in the second period), but what we saw was impressive enough.  Burakovsky had two assists in the first period, and Vrana picked a top corner with a one timer (from Burakovsky), and one could see this pair being a productive second line partnership (ok, probably in 2016 or 2017).

Team White had their moments, but they were of the “coulda woulda shoulda” variety.  For instance, Austin Wuthrich hit a pipe early on in the first period, the puck staying out.  Red scored the game’s first goal on the ensuring rush.  It was not the only pipe that Team White hit in the first period, getting another chance when the game was still 1-0.

That, and a nice finish by Chandler Stephenson of a spin-a-rama pass from Riley Barber, would pretty much do it for the Team White highlights, the deeper offensive skill of Team Red taking over in the first half of the game we had a chance to see.  We did get some pics, though…

 Gentlemen...start your engines.

waiting waiting waiting

skating skating skating

Three Amigos

"let's score eight on two....ready...BREAK!"

Garrett Haar in the shootout interlude

 The jury renders the verdict.... 8-3

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Washington Capitals -- Development Camp 2014: Day Three

If there was a word that captured the morning session of Day Three of Washington Capitals Development Camp 2014, it was “pace.”  Wednesday was very much an up-tempo day as the prospects tackled situational scenarios – one-on-one, two-on-one, two-on-two-and three-on-two set-ups.  There was a lot more contact in today’s session, and little time to catch one’s breath between repetitions. 

It seems part of a progression that began Monday to get the guys’ skating legs under them, and then structured drills on Tuesday.  Today’s situational drills is just the next step before intrasquad scrimmages on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to close the week.  As this was going on a few things caught our eye.

  • Riley Barber might have had the nickname “H.G.” early on.  It seemed every shooting opportunity was one for him to go high glove.  He picked a few, too.
  • Andre Burakowsky is, as one might expect, bigger than he was at last year’s D-camp, but he looks quicker, too.  He covers a lot of ground...uh, ice quickly while not seeming to expend a lot of effort doing it.
  • Burakovsky and Michal Cajkovsky had a few of battles of the big guys.  The latter held his own in most situations against the former.  Cajkovsky really seemed to use his body well to keep Burakovsky from generating or maintaining any momentum, especially when dueling along the wall.
  • Want to learn how to skate backwards?  Try this drill… You are the defenseman at the top of the offensive zone faceoff circle.  Your opposite number is at the far hash marks of the circle along the wall.  At the whistle the offensive player takes off down the wall with the puck, the defenseman skating backward and tracking the offensive player until they approach the blue line (if he doesn’t get an opening to poke the puck away or body the opponent off the puck first).  Then the defender can turn and press forward to try to angle the offensive player off his line to the net or otherwise prevent him from getting off a shot.  It puts the defender in an uncomfortable position from the start of the play, but one he’s going to see any number of times going forward.  Some guys could keep up; others struggled to keep the offensive player from gaining advantage or a breakaway.
  • Jakub Vrana has a nasty snap shot.  Gets on a goalie quickly.  From time to time we were thinking the same thing of Miles Koules and Braden Pimm.
  • Sounds of hockey… puck hitting crossbar: PING!  Shot going wide and hitting glass: CRACK!  Player being run into the boards: RUM-M-M-M-M-BLE.  Then there was the odd sound coming from time to time when goalie Vitek Vanecek was in goal, sort of like a really loud egg cracking.  Seems he is not averse to using his mask as another blocker, not unlike Henrik Lundqvist.  Or maybe his head was just in the way.  Either way, it was effective.
  • How fast was the pace?  They weren’t even waiting for the ice resurfacer to clean the ice.  In each of the morning groups, the guys started on the public rink, then when that ice was sufficiently chewed up, and it was time for a natural break, they took a breath at center ice and marched across the hall to the Capitals rink for the second half of the session.
  • Connor Carrick pulled on a white jersey and skated with the first group in the morning session. 
  • It seemed like a bigger crowd at Kettler this morning than either of the first two days.  Here are some pics of what they saw…
Caphenge

 He SHOOTS!!!

Turned aside by Taran Kozun...

 At this point, fans would be screaming SHOOOOOOOOT!!!

 "Earned...Never Given"


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Washington Capitals -- Development Camp 2014: Day Two

Day Two at Washington Capitals D-Camp 2014 was busy.  So busy they had to get work in before the scheduled activities began.  It started with goalie Philipp Grubauer getting some early alone time with coaches Olaf Kolzig and Scott Murray, who were snapping pucks at him from opposite faceoff circles as Coach Micth Korn looked on from the side. 



That was merely prelude to a busy morning session.  “Three-ring circus” busy, in fact.  Really.  After a false start on the Capitals rink, the coaches and players headed across the hallway to the public rink to begin the day.  At one end of the ice goalie coach Mitch Korn was working with goalies Rasmus Tirronen and Phoenix Copley, while at the other end of the ice the skaters were split into two groups, both working on different aspects of skating to start.  One looked to be repeating the exercises of Day One as the other was working on maneuvering among cones set up on the ice.

Insofar as Coach Korn and his goalies were working just beneath our perch in the balcony, we paid most attention to those drills.  It started with the goalies facing one another, about a stick length apart.  The object of the exercise was for one goalie to shuffle back and forth and to step forward and back, his opposite number trying to mirror his every move as quickly as possible.  After 10-12 seconds of this, the goalies switched roles, the other being the “initiator,” while his partner took on the role of the “mirror.”

Then it was to the front of the cage and another excuse to get the goalies working together in an odd sort of way (this would be a theme).  Goalie A stepped to the front of the crease where Coach Korn faced him.  Here, the object was for the goalie to track Korn’s movements with three quick shuffles to one side, then push hard in the opposite direction to the far post.  These nets being only loosely anchored, the other goalie was standing on the skirt of the net to keep the rig from shifting when the goalie performing the exercise jammed his skate hard to the post.

Working in pairs with the goalies was the common thread here, but the best was saved for last.  Coach Korn had the nets set up facing each other below the goal line, about 15 feet apart.  Each goalie took a net, and coach stood between them.  At the top of the crease stood another coach.  The object was this.  The coach at the top of the crease would start play by either shooting the puck at one or the other goalie, or passing it to the other coach standing between the netminders.  If the coach starting the play passed the puck down to the other coach, Coach 2 could shoot on either of the goalies, or he could pass it back up to Coach 1.  Ah, but here is the diabolical part.  Coach B, standing between the goalies, could shoot the puck by banking it off the end boards to try and slip it behind one or the other goalie.  The object appeared to be using familiar skills in unfamiliar ways with an emphasis on quickness and recovery…


Tomorrow is the last day of drill sessions, Thursday through Saturday limited to intrasquad scrimmages, according to the published schedule.  If you have a chance to visit, watch Korn and the goalies.  It really is quite entertaining.  And he hasn’t even broken out the toys yet.  We can’t wait to see what he has in store for Braden Holtby, Justin Peters, and Philipp Grubauer for training camp.

Other snippets…

Nathan Walker got to wear the helmet cam for the morning session...


Young Mr. Walker appears to prefer wearing the back of his jersey tucked into his pants.  It makes it difficult to see the entire number of his jersey (79), he being somewhat on the short side.
At the other end of the height scale is defenseman Eliot Antionetti who, at six-feet, six inches, towers over many of his teammates.  He also looks to have a playoff-ready beard going on, too.

The CSN folks were in to do some media type stuff.  No, we were not asked to do an interview segment.  We think they had their hearts set on Cheerless.

And, some more pics…

 Glee club is now in session

Working on D-to-D reversing the puck breakouts

One...step...in...front...of...the...oth...er

Student to teacher ratio is pretty good here

 
It's the same everywhere... Hurry up and wait

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Washington Capitals -- Development Camp 2014: Day One

It was Day One of Development Camp 2014 for the Washington Capitals, the first of what one hopes will be many steps forward for a group of young men striving for a spot on a National Hockey League roster.  “Steps” would be the theme of the morning session of Day One.

After what might have been a lengthy hiatus for some from the rigors of skating since their respective seasons ended, the guys took to the ice for what looked like an advanced class in skating.  Two groups of ten split the morning session going through a series of skating drills that had the look of Coach Norman Dale’s first day of practice with his Hickory Huskers in the movie, “Hoosiers.”  No pucks, no nets, and sticks used only either as props or for the players to carry as they went through their drills.

It was a level of instruction that seemed a bit unusual, even for a development camp, but if you are going to be good at the basics, then drill in the basics, and nothing is more basic than skating (said the guy who hasn’t been on skates in twenty years).

That being the case, there wasn’t much by way of excitement, although there were some moments.  There was the occasional stumble, and what looked like some quizzical looks as drills were being laid out.   Did anyone stand out?  We're sure the coaches have an idea after consulting their tablets with which they were taking pictures and making notes.  Us?  Not so much.   

Meanwhile, as class was being held on the ice, there was head coach Barry Trotz holding forth with fans near the press area.  And there was Barry Trotz on the bench watching as class was being held on the ice.  And there was Barry Trotz at the other side of the ice manning the door for skaters coming to and from the locker room.  And there was Barry Trotz posing for pictures with a couple of young fans.  Barry Trotz might have put in as many miles as did the skaters on the ice.

As for the morning session, here are some pics…

30 minutes before D-Camp opens... it's quiet... very quiet...



 It's almost time...


 Nathan Walker is the first to step onto the ice for D-Camp 2014


 You, too, can "Learn to Skate" like an NHLer... well, they can. You probably can't.


  Advanced technology meets basic skating.


 And... GO!


Good job


Friday, July 04, 2014

Washington Capitals: Taking a Deep Breath After Week One of Free Agency


For the second time in less than a week the National Hockey League reached a milestone on its annual calendar. Last weekend was the nod to hopes and dreams, the annual entry draft. At noon on Tuesday the NHL embarked on its equivalent of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, the opening of the signing period for unrestricted free agents.

This year’s edition had a twist, variously referred to as a “meeting” period, or a “courting” period,” or a “let’s chat” period that began on June 25th, during which teams could meet with prospective free agents but could not offer a contract.

Just like the Land Rush of 1889 that started at high noon and produced settlements before the day was out, free agents were signed in a flurry of activity over the first six hours of the signing period. The Washington Capitals staked their claim with the signing of three unrestricted free agents – goaltender Justin Peters, defenseman Brooks Orpik, and defenseman Matt Niskanen.

The Capitwittisphere was hardly without opinion on the deals as they unfolded, but now, with a few days having passed, if you are looking for a more reasoned, measured, thoughtful take on the signings, stop reading now and go somewhere else.

No, really… the cousins have had time to digest what transpired and have their own unique views on the new Capitals.

First, let’s look at Justin Peters. He has only 68 games of NHL experience on his resume, about half of that of Braden Holtby (126 games, including playoffs). Given that there were more experienced goalies available – Al Montoya (91 games), Ray Emery (295 games), Scott Clemmensen (192 games), Jason LaBarbera (182 games), and Tomas Vokoun (722 games) – was going for a young goalie the right move here?

Fearless… Two things argue for a young goalie in this spot. First, and what appears to be the Capitals’ thinking, the team “wanted to send a message to Holtby that he’s [the] number one guy.”  This has been in doubt over the past few seasons. Look back. In his first season, 2010-2001, Holtby got a taste of action (14 games’ worth), but he was third man in, behind Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. The following season he had less regular season action (seven games), but was a playoff warrior after both Tomas Vokoun and Neuvirth went down to injury late in the season.

That might have been the signal that he was the number one guy, and in 2012-2013 he seemed to cement that role, appearing in 36 of 48 regular season games and all seven post-season contests. In 2013-2014, though, a combination of tinkering with his style and iffy play on his part reduced his workload to 48 of 82 games. Neuvirth and Philipp Grubauer were that “number one guy” for a while, and the team even brought in Jaroslav Halak via trade to take over that spot. Holtby’ status was murky, to say the least, especially when you consider that in each year in the NHL his goals against average and save percentage got progressively worse.

With Peters signed, there is no Vokoun or Halak peering over his shoulder. Roles are clear. But what of Peters himself? That brings us to the second thing that argues in his favor. With those 68 games on his resume and about to turn 28 years old (August 30th), he has enough experience that the club might find him dependable in his role (a .919 save percentage last year on a poor Carolina team would seem to support that view). Also, he might be at that “hungry” stage of his career where he can prove himself capable of taking on a bigger role if circumstances dictate he plays more minutes, without posing a threat to Holtby as the number one goalie early.

Cheerless… OK, I ain’t no math whiz, and I broke a couple o’ pencils figgerin’ this stuff out, but here goes. Peters is 4-3-0, with a 1.67 goals against average and a .938 save percentage with two shutouts against the Caps in his career. Against everybody else?  18-28-8, 3.21, .900.  Shoot, he’s 2-4-2, 4.18, .880 against Pittsburgh.  One way to look at this is his performance compared to his partner.  He’s the backup, so you might expect his performance would be worse than the number one guy in front of him.  And so, Caps fans might be left wondering what they’ve got here.  Two years ago, Peters had a 3.46 GAA/.891 save percentage for Carolina compared to 2.84/.908 for Cam Ward.  OK, that Hurricane team was hit hard by injuries, not least to Ward himself in early March when his season ended.  Last year, Peters was 2.50/.919 compared to Ward’s 3.06/.898, which looks pretty good.  That is, until you compare it to the goalie who played the most games for Carolina, Anton Khudobin.  He was 2.30/.926.  Maybe Khudobin was that good.  Or maybe Peters is an average backup.  With only 68 games of experience, it’s hard to tell.

Peerless… Peters is cheap, young, has performed passably well, is in position to make a statement that would enable him to seek a bigger payday when he approaches his 30th birthday in two years.  If you look at a backup with the idea that he can step in on a moment’s notice and assume the number one responsibilities for a length of time, Peters might not be your guy.  At least there is not much on his resume to indicate that; it’s too thin.  The flip side of that is that his signing is a statement of the club’s confidence in Braden Holtby to be the uncontested number one goaltender, and that is something the club really has not had since before the Caps traded for Cristobal Huet late in the 2007-2008 season to take over for long-time number one goalie Olaf Kolzig.  And remember when Kolzig, himself a victim of some goalie jockeying early in his career, assumed the number one duties for good as a 27-year old in 1997-1998.  The Caps went to the Stanley Cup final.

Justin Peters was pretty much the warm-up act for the drama that played out later on Day One of the free agent signing period.  The Caps’ next move was to sign Pittsburgh Penguin defenseman Brooks Orpik.  The deal was for five years and $27.5 million.  Good deal or bad one, guys?

Cheerless… It would be one thing to pay that much for that long to that defenseman if you were getting this…



The Caps are not getting that defenseman.  They are getting a guy who will be 34 years old on opening night and have his services until he is 38 years old (or is traded or bought out before that).  Since the 2005-2006 lockout, 42 defensemen have played 60 or more games having reached the age of 36, which would be the third year of Orpik’s deal in this case.  Know how many defensemen went on to play three seasons of at least 60 games after reaching that age?  Eight: Adrian Aucoin, Rob Blake, Chris Chelios, Sergei Gonchar, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sean O’Donnell, Mathieu Schneider, and Glen Wesley.  A few others could do it in next year or the years to come – Zdeno Chara, Dan Boyle, Sami Salo, Willie Mitchell among them.  Who knows, perhaps Orpik will be one of them.  But he has played hard minutes, and the guys on that list are not generally of the “hard minute” kind of defenseman (although you might include Blake or Chelios, for example, in that category).  The back end of that contract does not look promising.

Fearless… Consider this list…

  • Steve Oleksy
  • Nate Schmidt
  • Connor Carrick
  • Patrick Wey
  • Julien Brouillette
  • Cameron Schilling

That’s probably not a bad defense for the Hershey Bears.  Last year, however, they combined to play 119 games on defense for the Caps.  As a group they have 145 games of NHL experience in total.  It was a lot to think that any two of them would make a third defensive pair for the Caps that was anything but vulnerable.  Ah, but what about John Erskine and Jack Hillen, two guys with experience?  Erskine played in 37 games last year, only 95 of a possible 212 games over the last three seasons.  Hillen dressed for 13 games, the second straight season in which he lost more than half the season to injury.  Whatever you think of Orpik’s ability to sustain a level of play over the life of his new contract, he has never played less than 75 percent of a season’s games in his ten full seasons in the NHL.

Peerless…  You might sleep better about the Orpik deal if you treat it as two separate issues.  There is the matter of the contract.  It is hard to put lipstick on that pig and call it a prom queen.  Five years at $5.5 million for a defenseman in his mid-30’s is probably generous (ok, it is...very) and will probably look pretty bad over the last half of the deal.  Then there is the player piece.  Here the trade-off is durability and experience with performance.  Orpik is no longer that player in what might be described as “The Shift” in Game 3 of the 2008 Stanley Cup final.  He does, however, have a wealth of experience that is a product of 703 games of NHL experience.  Think of it this way.  Fearless compared him to the youngsters who played for the Caps last season.  With 795 games of regular season and playoff experience Orpik has more than 200 more games of experience than Mike Green (560) and almost as many as John Carlson (353), Karl Alzner (376) and Dmitry Orlov (119) combined.  Brooks Orpik, in a purely “hockey” sense, could be the defense’s version of Mike Knuble, when the latter was brought in as a 37-year old in 2009 to provide experience, stability, and production for the young forwards.

The Caps ended the first day of the free agent signing period by getting another Pittsburgh defenseman, Matt Niskanen, to put his signature on a seven-year, $40.25 million contract.  Good deal or not, guys?

Fearless… Looking at “comparables” can be a bit dicey given that players of different ages are signed at different points on the calendar and often under different circumstances.  That said, Niskanen’s $5.75 million salary is nestled between Tobias Enstrom and Matt Carle (thank you, capgeek.com), players of comparable ages (both 29 years old).  His cap hit isn’t quite as attractive, settling in between Enstrom and Andrei Markov on the high side (equal, actually) and Duncan Keith on the low side ($5.54 million).  It is worth noting that Keith signed his deal to start with the 2010-2011 season; he would certainly command more today had he been a new free agent. 

There is the contract, and there is the player.  With the Penguins the past three seasons he put up good possession numbers – each regular season with a 5-on-5 Corsi-for surpassing 50 percent.  This for a team with declining Corsi-for numbers at 5-on-5 over the past three seasons (54.2 percent in 2011-2012, 49.0 on 2012-2013, and 48.6 last season).   His Corsi-for relative has been on the plus side in each of those three regular seasons.  The goals-for percentages he put up were substantially higher than his Corsi values in the regular season, which would appear to be the product of the skill set the rest of the team (one with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) provides.   

Still, he has been an efficient player.  As far as effectiveness goes, let’s start with the 2008-2009 season.  That was Niskanen’s sophomore season in the league, and he put up 35 points in 80 games for the Dallas Stars.  Things looked good.  Then he saw his points cut more than half the following season (15 in 74 games; 0.20 points per game) followed by another drop in 2010-2011 (10 points in 63 games; 0.16 points per game).  Since then, however, his points per game have been on a constant upward trend: 0.28 in 2011-2012, 0.35 in 2012-2013, and 0.57 in 2013-2014.  That might be playing with better offensive players in Pittsburgh than he played with in Dallas, but then again, the Caps will have talented players with whom Niskanen will play, too.

Cheerless… You’re thinking Niskanen is a deal, aren’t you, cuz?  Well, that might be a bit premature.  He has one 40-point season over seven years and had more points last season (46 in 81 games) than in his previous three seasons combined (45 in 178 games).  It’s those “three seasons combined” that sticks a bit in my throat.  Just remember, only three players so far in this free agent signing period have signed for bigger cap hits than Niskanen’s $5.75 million hit – goalie Ryan Miller ($6.0 million), and forwards Thomas Vanek ($6.5 million) and Paul Stastny ($7.0 million), players with more robust resumes.  No player has yet been signed to as long a term (seven years).  He is one of only seven free agents so far (out of the latest 150 current as of the morning of July 4, according to capgeek.com) to have been signed to terms longer than four years. 

It has been a while since the Caps committed this kind of dollars and term to an unrestricted free agent from another organization.  In the salary cap era, never.  The closest might be Michael Nylander, who was signed to a contract with a $4.875 million cap hit in 2007 (and it was his second tour with Washington).  Guess they really like this guy.

Peerless… Of the under-30 years of age defensemen in this years unrestricted free agent class, Niskanen and Anton Stralman might have been at the top of the most-wanted list (although the analytics-inclined might have included New Jersey’s Mark Fayne in that group).  Niskanen came in at a cap hit $1.25 million more than what Stralman signed for with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Whether that is a deal or not might hinge on whether Niskanen is that defenseman who had fine years in his rookie and sophomore seasons, and revisited that level of production last year, or if he is the defenseman that struggled somewhat over a four-year period in the middle of his still young career. 

What his career suggests so far is that with good teams he has rather good results.  With teams less successful (as was the case in his last year and change in Dallas) his numbers were not as good.  He is not, yet anyway, a defenseman who can dominate with his presence, but he is a contributor and appears to be on an improving arc in his career development.  He would be an improvement over what the Caps have had as their “4” in a top-four defense.  Whether he is an improvement to the point of being as, or more productive than others in his salary cap neighborhood – Matt Carle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Andrei Markov, Brent Burns, among others  -- the Caps will have seven years to figure that out.

In the end…

Week 1 in the 2014 unrestricted free agent signing period was something of a roller-coaster for Caps fans.  The Justin Peters signing was reasonable.  He is a decent young goalie who will have a clear role with this club, keeping the seat warm for a year or two (or so the play goes) until Philipp Grubauer is ready to move up.  The Brooks Orpik signing looked bad at first examination, given the length and value of the deal.  A few days having passed does not change that view, at least as to length and value of the contract.  As it is, Orpik’s is the second largest cap hit deal so far among free agent defensemen (to Niskanen) and the second longest term (to Niskanen, tied with Stralman).  But the tradeoff here is value and performance in the long term (it will not likely be good) for experience and leadership in the near term.  He has those 700-plus games of experience, and he has played for two Stanley Cup finalists, winning one in 2009 with the Penguins.  Keep the hockey and contract pieces separate in your mind (not to mention for whom he played), and Orpik has the potential to be a net positive in the short term.

Niskanen, despite being arguably the gem of this free agent class among defensemen, is something of a mystery.  He does not have a long or sustained history of superior performance, and what he does have is largely based on last season’s results with an offensively-talented team. 

Orpik and Niskanen are two pieces of a set here.  Looking at last season, each had roughly the same even strength ice time per game (Orpik: 18:08, Niskanen: 17:35, the difference being about one shift per game).  One can anticipate the Orpik will get (and hopefully provide more effective) penalty killing time, having skated 2:56 a game to lead the Penguins’ fifth-rated penalty killing squad last season.  Niskanen, on the other hand, has more influence on the power play.  He skated 2:59 a game last year with Pittsburgh and logged more time in the absence of Kris Letang after Letang suffered a stroke.  Niskanen is not likely to get that kind of power play time with Washington, what with Mike Green still on the roster and John Carlson having emerged as a power play quarterback last season, but it is an attribute that will be available.

The signings on defense are the noteworthy ones here.  Signing Orpik and Niskanen gives the Caps what might be their best top-six of the post-2004-2005 lockout era and arguably their best since the 2000-2001 season when their top-six in average ice time included Calle Johansson, Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt, Joe Reekie, Sylvain Cote, and Ken Klee.  It will be balanced, too.  A top six of Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov, with Orpik and Niskanen added, would have three lefties (Alzner, Orlov, and Orpik) with three righties (Green, Carlson, and Niskanen).  They could pair offensive defensemen (Green, Orlov) with defensive defensemen (Orpik, Alzner), or mix and match with two-way defensemen (Carlson, Niskanen).  Head coach Barry Trotz will have options to the point of pairing defensemen with certain opponents in mind, if he so chooses.  These are luxuries no Capitals coach has had in quite some time.  But it could have a short shelf life if Orpik goes into decline swiftly.

And that brings us to evaluating the week.  Playing in the market for unrestricted free agents means overpaying for uncertain success.  The Caps have not been in the deep end of this pool in some time, and from that perspective the signings of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen (especially Orpik) to big dollars and long term looks iffy at best, poor at worst (again, especially Orpik).  But from a purely hockey point of view, the Caps’ defense is better than it has been, on paper at least, in years.  It is, as Rob Parker so deftly laid it out here, “a deep and talented D corps, one that you could actually see playing for a team in the Stanley Cup finals.”  

In that respect, the dollar impacts will fade among fans in short order, or at least until next spring and the Caps are trying to fit a trade under the limited cap room they might have as a result of these signings.  That is no small consideration here, especially since the Caps overpaid for a defenseman who might be on the third pair when the season is winding down.  As for the long term ramifications of the signings, they might be pushed off in the minds of fans into that long term (and yes, they could be grim).  If you look at the span of five years in which Orpik and Niskanen are committed to the Caps, the grade might be at best an incomplete and at worst a “C-minus” or a “D.”  In the here and now, though, the grade is not so bad as that.  Perhaps give it a “B-minus.” Of course, if there is a Stanley Cup at the end of this...


Photos: 

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images North America
Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images