Thursday, June 13, 2019

So...Who's Next?



Last season, the Washington Capitals won their first Stanley Cup in team history in what was their second trip to the Finals.  This season, the St. Louis Blues won their first Cup in what was their fourth trip to the Finals (congrats Blues Nation!).  It leaves ten franchises that have not yet won a Stanley Cup:



  • Buffalo Sabres: (2 finals/0 cups) 
  • Florida Panthers: (1/0) 
  • Nashville Predators: (1/0) 
  • Ottawa Senators: (1/0) 
  • San Jose Sharks: (1/0) 
  • Vegas Golden Knights: (1/0) 
  • Arizona Coyotes: (0/0) 
  • Columbus Blue Jackets: (0/0) 
  • Minnesota Wild: (0/0) 
  • Winnipeg Jets: (0/0)

Will any of these teams break through to make it three-for-three in first time Cup winners next season?  That is, if the Caps don't make it two in three seasons.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Memories of a Night in June


“No memory is ever alone; it's at the end of a trail of memories, 
a dozen trails that each have their own associations.”
-- Louis L'Amour

It was a trail 44 years -- 44 trails -- in the making...

"FINALLY!"

The Cap Recap of Cap Recaps

Luck is What you Make of It

44 Years, 44 Days

For Those Who Delivered on a Promise

Relive the last two minutes… the icings…Nicky winning faceoffs…Nicky missing the open net… the stuck clock… the emotions playing out on Alex’s face… Eller missing the open net with less than five seconds left… “the faceoff of the year”… “the capital of the country is the capital of the hockey playoffs!”



“The words that DC fans have been waiting to hear since 1974…”



And then, the 125th time the Stanley Cup was presented was the best time…




Fond memory brings the light of other days around me.
-- Thomas Moore

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Washington Capitals: 2018-2019 By the Tens -- Goaltenders: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby

"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who'll decide where to go.”
-- Dr. Seuss


Even the most attentive hockey fan might not recognize the names Chet Pickard, Tyler Beskorowany, Peter Delmas, Marco Cousineau, or Jacob DeSerres.  Those are the names of the goaltenders taken in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft ahead of Braden Holtby who have never dressed for an NHL game.  In fact, Holtby (taken in the fourth round, 93rd overall) has appeared in more than half as many games (420) as the rest of the 2008 goaltender draft class (835).

While Holtby had another solid season, it was a bit out of the ordinary in one big respect.  Since he came into the league in 2010-2011 through last season, he was a goalie who thrived on heavy shot volumes.  In games in which he faced more than 35 shots he was 42-16-6, 2.46, .935.  However, in 18 such games this season, Holtby was 8-7-3, 3.28, .916.

On the other hand, there was his ability to keep losses from becoming losing streaks.  Holtby lost 19 times in regulation this season, but his record in his next appearance following a regulation loss was 12-4-2 with one no-decision.  And, he did not suffer a consecutive loss in regulation following such a loss after January 3rd.  His record after a regulation loss after that was 8-0-1 with one no-decision, 2.55, .913.

In spite of some hiccups along the way, Holtby closed his season like a freight train.  Over his first five ten-game segments he had a record of 17-12-3, 3.11, .905, with two shutouts.  However, in his last three segments he was 15-7-2, 2.42, .920, with one shutout.


Fearless’ Take… Braden Holtby won 32 games this season.  That makes five straight seasons having won at least 30 games, tying a team record for career 30-plus win seasons (Olaf Kolzig also has five).  If you think that is not an especially noteworthy accomplishment, only four goaltenders in Caps history have recorded at least one 30-plus win season.  In addition to Holtby and Kolzig, Jose Theodore did it twice (2008-2009 and 2009-2010), and Jim Carey did it once (1995-1996).  And, after failing to record a regular season shutout in 2017-2018, he posted three shutouts this season, tying Kolzig for the career record in franchise history (35).

Cheerless’ Take…  Braden Holtby is the only goaltender in Caps history with “Stanley Cup Champion” after his name, but frankly, he has posted pretty ordinary numbers the last two seasons.  This was his second straight season with a goals against average over 2.80 after posting three straight seasons under 2.25.  It was his second season with a save percentage under .912 after three straight seasons over .920.  Over the last two seasons combined, he is 36th of 49 goalies appearing in 50 or more games in goals against average (2.90), and he is 32nd in that group in save percentage (.909).  He is 30th in even strength save percentage (.919), and his three shutouts are tied for 35th in that group.  And since his record-tying 48-win season in 2015-2016, his win totals have dropped each season (to 42, then 34, and 32 this season).

Odd Holtby Fact… Over the last five seasons, only two of 70 goaltenders appearing in at least 50 games have a higher percentage of starts among their appearances than Braden Holtby.  He started 313 of 315 games in which he appeared (99.4 percent).  That is topped only by Chicago’s Corey Crawford (236 of 237 games/99.6 percent) and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (305 of 306 games/99.7 percent). 

Game to Remember… November 7th vs. Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been a tough nut for Braden Holtby to crack.  There are, of course, the postseason disappointments that finally ended last spring.  But the regular season contests against the Penguins have hardly been a success for the netminder.  Going into the contest at Capital One Arena on November 7th, Holtby had a career regular season record of 8-9-3, 3.10, .906, and that included a three-game run in 2014-2015 in which he stopped 90 of 91 shots and pitched two shutouts.  When Holtby took the ice on this night, he already had a loss to the Penguins on his record this season, allowing seven goals on 41 shots in a 7-6 overtime loss in the Caps’ first road game of the season.

When Sidney Crosby scored a power play goal 12:16 into the first period, it looked as if it might be another tough night for Holtby and the Caps against their chief nemesis.  But when Crosby had a chance to double the Penguin lead late in the period from point blank range on a centering pass from Jake Guentzel, Holtby turned the shot aside and kept the deficit to a goal going into the first intermission.

The big save late in the first period might have provided some momentum for the Caps at both ends of the ice.  Alex Ovechkin tied the game with a power play goal seven minutes into the second period, while at the other end, Holtby stopped all 17 shots he faced in the period.

Holtby was called upon to come up big once more mid-way through third period.  Phil Kessel chased down a loose puck along the right wing wall in the neutral zone and fed it to Garrett Wilson breaking in alone over the Caps’ blue line.  Wilson tried to go high blocker, but Holtby read the play and blocked the shot out of harm’s way.  It set up a wild finish in which John Carlson fed T.J. Oshie circling to the net, and before Crosby could close the distance to tie up Oshie, he snapped a shot past goalie Casey DeSmith for the game-winner with only 74 seconds left in regulation.  Holtby finished the game with 41 saves on 42 shots, the second-highest save total of his career against the Penguins (he stopped 44 of 45 shots in a 4-1 win in Pittsburgh in December 2014).
               
Game to Forget… December 2nd vs. Anaheim

Braden Holtby had games with worse numbers.  Twice this season he had games in which he stopped only seven of 11 shots in barely 20 minutes of work (against Florida and Chicago), but the game he and the Caps might want to forget en masse was when they hosted the Anaheim Ducks in early December.

The Caps raced out to a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes, Holtby stopping eight of the nine Anaheim shots he faced.  The Caps scored two more goals in the first 14 minutes of the second period to take a 5-1 lead and looked as if they could coast home to a win.  Then the wheels came off…fast.  Andrew Cogliano scored a goal a minute after Nic Dowd scored to give the Caps that 5-1 lead.  They got another one less than two minutes later to make the game interesting going into the third period.

In the third, the Caps forgot how to play with a lead, especially the part about discipline.  They took three penalties in the first nine minutes of the frame, and while they did kill off the first of the three Anaheim power plays, the Ducks scored on the next two man advantages to tie the game.  Pontus Aberg completed the comeback with a goal with just over five minutes left to give the Ducks an improbable 6-5 win.

For Holtby, there was that dreadful stretch of 20:24 spanning the second and third periods in which he allowed five goals on ten shots and surrendered the lead.  He finished the game having allowed six goals on 25 shots, his .760 save percentage being his worst for a full game this season.

Postseason…  Two seasons ago, Braden Holtby had an uncharacteristically poor postseason.  After posting a 1.87 goals against average and a .937 save percentage with four shutouts over his first four appearances in the playoffs (a 22-24 win-loss record), he went 7-6, 2.46, .909 in two series in 2017.  Last year, he rebounded in the Caps’ Stanley Cup run, going 16-7, 2.16, .922, with two shutouts (in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay) after sitting in favor of Philipp Grubauer to start the first two games of the postseason.

This year, Holtby slid back to something resembling his record of two years ago, going 3-4, 2.67, .914, with one shutout in the first round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.  His record was the clearest indication of the difficulties the Caps had on the road that they did not suffer last season.  Holtby was 3-1, 1.98, .930, with one shutout on home ice, but he was 0-3, 3.75, .894 in Carolina.  Compare that road record with what he posted on the road in last spring’s postseason: 10-3, 2.15, .922, and one shutout.

Looking ahead… Braden Holtby is heading into the final year of a five-year/$30.5 million contract, after which he will become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.  His current deal holds the seventh-highest cap hit among goaltenders, and when one considers that Anaheim’s John Gibson and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck have larger cap hits on their deals for the coming season (source: capfriendly.com), a former Vezina winner/Stanley Cup champion would be due a raise to at least leap-frog those two players if he has a season typical of his career as a full-time netminder to date.

If the 2020-2021 salary cap goes up at the same rate as the increase from this year to 2019-2020, the cap would be about $86.7 million.  If Holtby merits a raise to lift him above the cap hits of Gibson and Hellebuyck to, say, $6.75 million per year, he would encumber almost eight percent of the cap.  Given the other decisions that the Caps have to make this off-season, plus the looming expiration of Alex Ovechkin (after 2020-2021) and Nicklas Backstrom (after this coming season), a raise from the Caps might be a bridge too far.

In the end…

Braden Holtby had something of a muddled year.  There were times, especially down the stretch, in which he looked every bit the elite goaltender he was in his best seasons.  But there were consistency issues and a vulnerability to heavy shot volumes that he had not displayed earlier in his career.  Whether this was a product of goaltending coach/director of goaltending Mitch Korn departing to Long Island with Barry Trotz after last season (he seemed to have worked magic with Robin Lehner for the Islanders this season), a defense that gave up too many quality chances, or diminished performance on his part, Holtby took quite a while to find his stride, and he could not sustain the momentum he built down the stretch of the regular season into the playoffs, particularly on the road.

It sets up something of a crossroads season ahead for Holtby, who will be looking to duplicate the timing that benefitted John Carlson in his “walk year” – a career year that sets him up for what could be a long-term contract that places him at or near the top of the compensation ladder among goaltenders.  Sadly, if that is how the season unfolds, it could be bittersweet – a successful season for Holtby and the Caps that could end with another deep playoff run followed by his departure as the business side of the sport exerts its influence.  As Dr. Seuss suggested, the player will be the guy who'll decide where to go.

Grade: B

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Washington Capitals: 2018-2019 By the Tens -- Goaltenders: Pheonix Copley

Pheonix Copley

"They also serve who only stand and wait."
-- John Milton


One could make an argument that the most difficult shoes to fill on the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals was backup goaltender.  For three consecutive seasons, Philipp Grubauer filled that role so reliably that he and Braden Holtby were the only goaltenders the Caps employed.  In those three seasons, Grubauer had a 36-25-6 record, a 2.25 goals against average (better than Holtby’s 2.39), a .923 save percentage (better than Holtby’s .918) and six shutouts (half of Holtby’s total despite playing in less than half as many minutes, 4,240 to 10,589).  He was so capable that he was named the starting goaltender to open the Caps’ 2018 postseason.  Grubauer played two games, watched the rest from the bench, and then he was off to Colorado as an unrestricted free agent.

Enter Pheonix Copley.  He is something of a rare breed in Washington.  Since 2005, the Caps have drafted 11 goaltenders, four of whom started 659 of the 838 games played since the first of them (Semyon Varlamov) played his first NHL game in December 2008.  Copley, on the other hand, was an undrafted free agent signed by the Caps in March 2014 after completing his second season with the Michigan Tech Huskies in the NCAA.  Sixteen months later, after 35 regular and postseason games with South Carolina and Hershey in the minor league system, he was traded to the St. Louis Blues with Troy Brouwer and a 2016 third round draft pick for T.J. Oshie.  Playing only two games for the Blues, he made his way back to Washington as part of a blockbuster deal at the 2017 trading deadline with the St. Louis that also snared defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. 

After laboring with the Hershey Bears for the remainder of the 2016-2017 season and for the full 2017-2018 season, he got his chance with the big club when Grubauer left.  It took him three weeks to get his first win with the Caps, in his third appearance, but he still had a solid start, going 9-2-1 (one no-decision), 2.61, .914, and his first NHL shutout over his first 13 games.  He hit a skid at that point, going 1-3-2, 3.82, .877, in six games before finishing his season 6-2-0, 2.74, .908 in his last eight appearances.

Fearless’ Take… Despite the fact that he started fewer games (24) this season than Philipp Grubauer started last season (28) and appeared in fewer games overall (27) than did Grubauer (35), Pheonix Copley finished the season with more wins (16) than Grubauer had last season (15).  Grubauer had better underlying numbers (2.35 goals against average, .923 save percentage) than Copley (2.90, .905), but a backup goalie has to give his team a chance to win when he is spelling the number one netminder.  Copley did that, and his numbers resembled those of Braden Holtby in 2017-2018 (2.99, .907).

Cheerless’ Take…  Those performance numbers are sort of iffy.  Looking at principal backups since 2007-2008, when the Caps reached the playoffs for the first time since the rebuild, Pheonix Copley had the third-worst save percentage (.905, topping onl Michal Neuvirth’s .903 in 2011-2012 and Justin Peters’ .881 in 2014-2015), and his 2.90 goals against average was only better than Peters’ 3.25 in 2014-2015.

Odd Copley Fact… Pheonix Copley is the first goaltender born in Alaska to reach the NHL.  Ty Conklin, who played in 215 games from 2002-2012, was raised in Alaska but was born in Phoenix, Arizona.  Odd irony, that.

Game to Remember… December 22nd at Ottawa

As the schedule moved toward the Christmas break, Pheonix Copley, a native of North Pole, Alaska, was providing good, if not quite outstanding backup work.  In 11 appearances heading into the last game before the break, he was 7-2-1, 2.93, .902, and he had a save percentage over .900 only once in his most recent four appearances.  He got the call in Ottawa against the Senators in that last game before the break, hardly surprising given that eight of his first 11 appearances came in road games, and the Caps were playing the back half of a back-to-back set of games.

The Caps staked Copley to an early lead, Brett Connolly scoring just 92 seconds into the contest.  But Copley did his part to hold that lead, turning aside all 13 shots he faced in the first period, including a flurry of stops late in the period before the Caps added another goal to take a 2-0 lead to the first intermission.  While Jakub Vrana and Matt Niskanen were scoring goals less than five minutes apart mid-way through the second period, Copley was keeping his own net clear of pucks, stopping 12 shots in the middle period.  Washington did not score in the third period, but they did not have to.  Copley stopped all 10 shots he faced to make it 35-for-35 in posting his first NHL shutout in a 4-0 Capitals win.                                                                                                                                                                     
Game to Forget…  October 11th at New Jersey

First game with the new club, you want to make a good impression.  Pheonix Copley did that early on against the New Jersey Devils in the Caps’ fourth game of the season, stopping a point-blank one-timer from Pavel Zacha in the seventh minute of a scoreless game.  It would be the high point of Copley’s game, though.  Peppered with 13 shots in the first period, he allowed two goals, leaving the Caps in a hole out of which they would not dig.  He kept the Caps in at least a hopeful mood in stopping 11 of 12 shots in the second period, but Copley withered under the barrage in the third, giving up three goals on 11 shots in a 6-0 loss.  It was a goal total that the Devils would top only once over the rest of the season, potting eight in an 8-5 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in January.

Postseason…  Copley did not log any minutes in the postseason.

Looking ahead… The Caps thought enough of Pheonix Copley’s performance over his first 19 appearances through the end of January (10-5-3, 2.98, .903) to sign him to a three-year/$3.3 million contract extension in early February that carries through the 2021-2022 season.  No goaltender in the Capitals system is on board for a longer period of time at the moment.  Current number one netminder Braden Holtby is entering the “walk year” of his current contract before unrestricted free agency, and minor leaguer Vitek Vanecek is an unrestricted free agent at the moment.  Prospect and presumed number one goalie in waiting Ilya Samsonov is signed through the 2020-2021 season on his entry level contract.  The Capitals, who have made a habit of having options among their goaltenders in the last decade, have a lot of moving parts at the position, but for the moment they have stability at the backup spot in Copley as Samsonov continues his development.

In the end…

Pheonix Copley was the beneficiary of good goal support; he was 7-4-0 in the 12 starts (one no-decision) in which he allowed three or more goals.  And, the 2018 portion of his season (9-2-1, 2.62, .914, with one shutout) was better than the 2019 portion of his season (7-5-2, 3.17, .896).  He has succeeded, if not replaced Philipp Grubauer as the Caps’ backup goalie.  And, having only one year as the full-time backup, he has not yet demonstrated that he can shoulder an extended load.  His longest streak of consecutive starts this season was four, back in November.  He won two of the first three in that set, posting a .922 save percentage, but he faltered in the fourth start, allowing four goals on 22 shots, the last three of them coming in a span of 75 seconds early in the second period in Montreal on November 19th, ending his evening after 21:35 of work (the Caps came back to win that game in overtime, 5-4). 

While winning does count for something, and Copley did his share of it as a backup, his performance suggests that there are still improvements to be made.  By the same token Copley suffers comparisons with his predecessor in this role, Philipp Grubauer, who might have been the best backup in the league over his last three seasons in Washington.  He was almost certainly that in his last season with the Caps.  Copley has come a long way from being an undrafted free agent who was traded, and then brought back to the club.  But there is still some way to go to provide comfort to the club that he is up to the task over the next three seasons.

Grade: B

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Washington Capitals: 2018-2019 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Jonas Siegenthaler

Jonas Siegenthaler

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression."
-- Oscar Wilde…or Mark Twain…or Will Rogers…or a 1966 clothing ad


Jonas Siegenthaler is the first of his kind in one respect with the Washington Capitals.  He is the first player drafted in team history who was born in Switzerland (Timo Helbling, also born in Switzerland, was obtained by the Caps via trade in 2007 and played two games for Washington).  When he took the ice on November 9th against the Columbus Blue Jackets in what was his first NHL game, he became the 178th defenseman to suit up for the Caps in team history (Tyler Lewington and Nick Jensen would become the 179th and 180th defensemen to dress for the club later in the season).

Siegenthaler appeared in 26 games in this, his rookie season, all but one of them over a 38-game stretch from November 9th through February 5th (he appeared in the regular season finale on April 6th).  And while he posted modest scoring numbers (0-4-4), his four points were one more than Mike Green scored in his first NHL season (1-2-3 in 22 games in 2005-2006) and only two fewer than what John Carlson posted in his inaugural season (1-5-6 in 22 games in 2009-2010).

Not surprisingly, there was a bit of an up-and-down quality to Sigenthaler’s season.  He recorded three of his four points and was plus-7 in a 15-day/seven-game stretch from December 14th through December 29th.  In the 19 games that preceded and followed that stretch, he was 0-1-1, minus-1.

Fearless’ Take… Jonas Siegenthaler made his debut on a defending Stanley Cup champion, so there was a lot of talent and support around him.  Still, he finished the season with the eighth-best plus-minus rating among first year defensemen in team history (plus-6). 

Cheerless’ Take…  Siegenthaler is a work in progress who might contribute in a more meaningful way down the road, but in 2018-2019, the Caps were just 14-9-3 in the 26 games in which he played.  And, he did not age well in this regard.  Washington was 12-4-1 in his first 17 games, 2-5-2 in the last nine games he played.

Odd Siegenthaler Fact… All four points Siegenthaler recorded this season came on the road.  He was also a plus-5 in 12 games away from home.  He was 0-0-0, plus-1, in 14 games at Capital One Arena.

Game to Remember… November 9th vs. Columbus

It is not the best of circumstances in which to make an NHL debut, but it often happens that one player’s good fortune comes, if not at the expense of, than simultaneously with another’s misfortune.  Such was the case in early November, when John Carlson was declared out of the Caps’ game on November 9th against Columbus with a lower-body injury.  With Brooks Orpik already on the shelf, the team called up defensemen Aaron Ness and Jonas Siegenthaler from the Hershey Bears. 

The particulars of Siegenthaler’s debut against the Blue Jackets did not jump off the page – no points, an “even” plus-minus rating, a shot on goal, three hits, two blocked shots, along with three giveaways in 12 minutes of ice time – but it was a solid performance against a playoff-caliber opponent. 
                                                                                                                                                                     
Game to Forget…  December 19th vs. Pittsburgh

Jonas Siegenthaler was baptized into the Capitals-Penguins rivalry in a mid-December game at Capital One Arena.  It took him two shifts to take his first penalty against the Penguins.  He lost track of Sidney Crosby coming around from behind the net to redirect an Evgeni Malkin feed that tied the game at a goal apiece less than three minutes after the Caps took the lead.  He did not skate the last six minutes of the contest with the Caps trying to get the tying goal in a 2-1 game.  Siegenthaler finished his night without a point, no shots on goal (two attempts), two giveaways, and the penalty in 8:24 of ice time, his lowest of the season.

Postseason…  It certainly was not his fault, but after Jonas Siegenthaler took the ice for the first time in Game 4 of the opening round of the playoffs through Game 7, the Caps went 1-3 after taking a 2-1 lead in the first three games of the series.  He did not record a point in any of the four games and did not record a shot on goal in Games 4-6.  He did, however, average more than twice as much ice time (16:00 per game) than the player he replaced, Christian Djoos (7:24), although that number was inflated some by his logging 20:27 in the Caps’ double overtime loss in Game 7 that ended their season.

Looking ahead… Siegenthaler is entering the last year of his entry-level contract that carries a cap hit of $714,116.  He will be a non-arbitration eligible restricted free agent upon its expiration.  The Caps are not an especially deep team in defensive prospects (depending on how one stands on the potential of Alexander Alexeyev or Lucas Johansen), and the Caps could be losing the services of Brooks Orpik and/or Matt Niskanen this off-season.  It leaves a clear path for Siegenthaler to take on a bigger role in his development program.

In the end…

Jonas Siegenthaler, who has (and who seems likely to have with this team) an opportunity for growth, might not have a long resume with the Caps, but he is not inexperienced for one as young as he is (he turned 22 years old this month).  He has played in European hockey, has represented his country multiple times, and has more than 40 games of AHL experience over three seasons, and that is just since his being drafted in 2015. 

If there is a Capital he resembles that fans might recognize, it might be ex-Cap Karl Alzner.  Both were of a quiet demeanor on the ice, both could be physical from time to time but depended more on position and angles, and neither seems to have much of an offensive upside.  Each might be thought of as the modern defensive defenseman, not the more physical species that might be illustrated by Brooks Orpik, a development product of the pre-2004-2005 era of hockey.  

With the potential for significant changes on the Caps’ blue line heading into next season, the team’s success might depend in significant part on just how much more Siegenthaler develops into a dependable night-in, night-out defenseman.  His will be a story to watch as the coming season unfolds, but his first experience in the NHL provides some measure of hope for a successful future.

Grade: B

Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

Monday, May 27, 2019

Washington Capitals: 2018-2019 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Brooks Orpik

Brooks Orpik

“Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.”
-- J. R. R. Tolkien


When the 2017-2018 season came to its happy end, the business side of the sport made its unsentimental presence felt among the Washington Capitals.  Barely two weeks after the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup in team history, the Caps traded Brooks Orpik – “Batya” to some of his teammates --  to the Colorado Avalanche with backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer for a second round pick in the 2018 Entry Draft.  More than the pick (the Caps would take Kody Clark, son of former NHL’er Wendel Clark), the trade freed the Caps from the last season of Orpik’s $5.5 million cap hit.  The Avalanche bought out that final year of Orpik’s contract the following day, making Orpik an unrestricted free agent.  The long and winding path from Washington to Denver had one more turn, bringing Orpik back to Washington one month later on a one-year/$1.5 million contract ($1.0 million cap hit).

When Orpik was signed to a five-year/$27.5 million deal back in 2014, it was the opinion of many that the contract would eventually be one of poor value for the Caps, who would be saddled with that heavy cap hit attached to an aging, hard-playing defenseman with little contribution to make in the offensive end.  But a $1 million contract for a player with more than 1,100 regular and postseason games of experience with two Stanley Cups and three trips to the finals?  There could be value in that.

Orpik’s started his season, at least by his standards, on fire, recording an assist in the Caps’ 7-0 Opening Night win over Boston and following that up the next night with a goal in an overtime loss to Pittsburgh.  He cooled off thereafter, not recording a point in his next eight games and recording a career low 16:18 per game in ice time over his first ten games.  Then, he was out of the lineup.  First it was a maintenance day,  and then it was a lower body injury.  Then it was long term injured reserve.  Eventually, the problem was made public, a knee injury that required surgery. 

Orpik missed 27 games, not returning to the lineup until New Year’s Eve.  He did, however, dress for 43 of the team’s last 45 games and was a respectable 1-6-7, plus-6, in those contests while averaging 15:31 in ice time per game.  Orpik finished especially strong in one area.  He was plus-11 in his last 19 games while posting four assists.  Only three defensemen in the league posted better plus-minus numbers over that span – Boston’s Zdeno Chara (plus-16) and Brandon Carlo (plus-15), and Carolina’s Brett Pesce (plus-13).


Fearless’ Take… Getting points from a defenseman of Brooks Orpik’s sort is a rarity and of a volume not generally counted on for team success.  So, that the Caps would have a good record when he did show up on the score sheet was hardly surprising, since his scoring contribution could be considered gravy.  Washington was 6-1-2 in the nine games in which he posted a point.  What was a bit more surprising was the Caps’ record when he recorded shots on goal.  They were 7-2-2 in the 11 games in which he had at least two shots on goal recorded, while they were 15-8-3 in the 26 games in which he did not record a shot on goal.

Cheerless’ Take…  The Caps were 28-18-7 in the 53 games in which Orpik played, 20-8-1 in the games he missed.  They were 5-2-3 in the games he skated less than 14 minutes.  Even if his underlying numbers were better this season than last, and they were (shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 almost four points better; Corsi-for relative at fives almost three points better (sources: NHL.com, hockey-reference.com)), it did not seem to have a strong relationship with wins and losses.

Odd Orpik Fact… Brooks Orpik did not skate for 20 minutes in any game this season.  It was the first time in his career that he went an entire regular season without logging 20 minutes in any game, including his first NHL season, when he dressed for only six games for the Pittsburgh Penguins (he did have a 23-minute game in that season).

Bonus Odd Orpik Fact… Bad number: “14.”  The Caps did not win a single game in which Orpik skated between 14:00 and 14:59 in ice time, inclusive (0-8-1).

Double Bonus Odd Orpik Fact… Both of Brooks Orpik’s regular season goals this season came in losses, a 7-6 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on October 4th and in an 8-5 loss to Chicago on January 20th.

Game to Remember… January 14th vs. St. Louis

It is rare when a memorable game takes place in a loss, but that was the case for Brooks Orpik when he took the ice against the St. Louis Blues at Capital One Arena in mid-January.  When he did so, he became the 45th player in NHL history born in the United States to dress for 1,000 NHL games and the 18th defenseman to do so.  It was a hard night for Orpik and the Caps, who lost in a 4-1 decision, Orpik contributing four hits and a shot on goal in 14 minutes of ice time.  But he took his place among a select few whose level of play merited being given a place in the lineup 1,000 times in his career.
                                                                                                                                                                     
Game to Forget…  March 16th at Tampa Bay

When the Caps visited Florida on an 8-1-0 run, outscoring opponents by a 37-21 margin, they were no doubt feeling pretty good about themselves.  Brooks Orpik, even as a veteran who has seen the high highs and the low lows, might have felt at least perky after going 0-3-3, plus-5 in those nine games while averaging almost 16 minutes of ice time per game.  “Happy” and “perky” would not be appropriate adjectives to describe Orpik or the Caps in this game.  Tampa Bay had a 2-0 lead less than 11 minutes into the game.  They led, 3-1, at the first intermission.  And while the Caps got within a goal by the time the second intermission rolled around and again in the third period after Tampa Bay restored their two-goal lead, it was as close as they would get, the Lightning scoring a pair of empty net goals in the last minute to take a 6-3 decision and a team record 55th win of the season.

For Orpik, it was a dreadful night.  He was on ice for two of the four non-empty net goals, he had one shot attempt (a missed shot), was without a hit for only the fifth time all season, did not record a blocked shot, and he skated only 11:12, his lowest ice time of the season.  His last three shifts totaled 25 seconds, and he did not take the ice in the final 7:04 of the game.  It was enough for head coach Todd Reirden to sit Orpik as a healthy scratch in the next game for rest purposes. 

Postseason…  If you had Brooks Orpik scoring the only goal by a Capitals defenseman in the postseason, go buy a Powerball ticket.  Not only that, it was the overtime game-winning goal in Game 2 of the opening round series against Carolina.


It was arguably the high point of the series for the Caps and what was Orpik’s third game-winning goal among the four postseason goals he has in his career.  Alas, Orpik did not record another point in the last five games of the series and was minus-3

Looking ahead… On Opening Night of the new season, Brooks Orpik will be 39 years old.  He will have 16 seasons behind him and almost 1,200 regular and postseason games on his resume.  No defenseman in his 2000 draft class has that many games on his ledger.  And it is not as if they have been easy games.  Since he came into the league in 2002-2003, no defenseman has been credited with more hits in regular season games than Orpik (3,148, almost 700 more than Zdeno Chara), and only Dustin Brown among all skaters has more (3,369).

The $1 million cap hit for Orpik was arguably a bargain this season.  The value of his experience on youngsters like Christian Djoos or Jonas Siegenthaler is hard to quantify, and his numbers were more or less consistent with the production he has recorded in the latter half of his career.  However, with the development of Djoos and Siegenthaler, plus the additions of Michal Kempny last season and Nick Jensen this season, it is hard to see how Orpik fits in other than as a depth defenseman, and even that could be complicated by how Matt Niskanen’s status with the club settles out.

In the end…

In the cold calculus of costs and benefits, you could say that Brooks Orpik (and Matt Niskanen, who completed what was something of a free agent package deal in 2014) did what he was brought here to do, to help the Caps win a Stanley Cup.  That has been accomplished.  But more, by his example of preparation and respect for his craft, he has helped in the development of young defensemen that could provide a solid foundation for some years to come.  That might have been part of the deal, too, albeit one not discussed in as much detail as his production numbers.  Nevertheless, as likely as it seems that Brooks Orpik’s stay with the Caps is at an end, he should be appreciated for being “батя” to a generation of Capitals.

Grade: B

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Washington Capitals: 2018-2019 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

“There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.”
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt


When Dmitry Orlov wrapped up his 2018-2018 regular season, he finished with a career high in goals (10) and had his second straight 30-plus point season (31).  He was a double-digit “plus” player for the second straight season (plus-10) and set a career best of more than 23 minutes in ice time per game. 

His 2018-2019 season could be considered, at best, a step sideways.  Orlov did finish the season having played in all 82 games for the fourth straight season, but his three goals were the fewest he had in any of those four seasons, and his 29 points were his fewest since posting 29 points in 82 games of the 2015-2016 season.  He was minus-3, his worst plus-minus rating since he was minus-1 in 54 games of the 2013-2014 season, and his 21:38 of ice time was 90 seconds less per game than last season (23:08).

Orlov was particularly snake-bit shooting the puck.  His three goals on 101 shots made him one of 18 players in the league with three goals or fewer on at least 100 shots on goal.  Worse, he had one goal on 75 shots (1.3 percent) over his last 65 games.  Nevertheless, the Caps were successful when Orlov recorded points, going 16-6-1 in the 23 games in which he did so (just slightly off the 20-6-2 record the Caps posted when he recorded points last season), while going 32-20-7 in the games in which Orlov was shut out on the score sheet.

And back to that fourth-straight 82-game season.  Orlov is one of four defensemen who, over the last four seasons, appeared in every game.  The others are Brent Burns, Drew Doughty, and Keith Yandle.  Since the NHL went to an 82-game schedule in 1995-1996, only John Carlson (five) and Karl Alzner (six) have appeared in all 82 games more times than Orlov (four) among Capitals defensemen.  Only eight defensemen have done it.


Fearless’ Take… Dmitry Orlov might have been in a season-long funk shooting the puck, but his assist total was up over last season, from 21 to 26.  He became just the fourth defenseman to record multiple 25-plus assist seasons with the Caps since 2005-2006.  John Carlson (7), Mike Green (5), and Matt Niskanen (3) are the others.  He and Carlson are the only Caps defensemen to post at least 20 assists in each of the last four seasons.

Cheerless’ Take…  Orlov’s ice time had this strange quality to it this season.  Last year, he skated more than 25 minutes 11 times, and the Caps were 5-4-2 in those games.  This season, he skated at least 25 minutes only four times, and the Caps lost in each instance (0-3-1).  In fact, the Caps had only ten wins in the 20 games in which Orlov logged at least 23 minutes (10-5-5).  On the other end, Orlov logged less than 20 minutes 16 times this season, and the Caps were 10-6-0.  Last year he was under 20 minutes only once, that coming in a 3-2 win over Boston in early November.

Odd Orlov Fact… This season, Dmitry Orlov played in all 82 games and was on ice for 87 goals against.  Last season, Dmitry Orlov played in all 82 games and was on ice for 87 goals against.  Only Sidney Crosby has as much attachment to the number “87,” apparently.

Game to Remember… November 13th at Minnesota

When the goals come so infrequently, the times when they do come are remembered, especially in a win.  And, for Dmitry Orlov, they were especially welcome.  In 16 games through Veterans Day to start the season, Orlov had yet to record a goal, coming up empty on 22 shots.  He had only two assists and was a minus-8 in those 16 games when the Caps hit the road to face the Minnesota Wild.  After dropping the last two games of the home stand they just completed, the Caps were looking to get off to a fast start against the Wild, and Orlov provided the spark.

The scoring play started with Andre Burakovsky feeding the puck from his own blue line to Lars Eller at the red line.  Eller skated down the right side and around the back of the Wild net.  Coming out the other side, Eller skate the puck all the way to the offensive blue line before turning and feeding Orlov coming off the left wing wall.  Orlov stepped up, and from the left wing faceoff dot he ripped a shot that beat goalie Devan Dubnyk high on the far side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 6:33 into the game.  Neither the Caps nor Orlov were done in the first period.  Taking a tip pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov as he was exiting the defensive zone, Orlov got a head of steam as he skated the puck into the Wild end.  He stepped around defenseman Matt Dumba in the left wing circle and sent a pass to the top of the crease where Tom Wilson redirected it in for his first goal of the season with 27.4 seconds left in the period to make it 2-0.

The teams exchanged goals in the second period when Orlov appeared on the score sheet again in the third period.  Joel Eriksson-Ek overskated the puck along the wall in the offensive zone, and Alex Ovechkin took advantage, scooping up the puck and skating down the left side leading a 3-on-2 break.  Entering the offensive zone, he took it to the top of the left wing circle, and as Tom Wilson was heading to the net, Ovechkin slid the puck behind him to Orlov on the right side for a one-timer that beat Dubnyk cleanly on the near side to make it 4-1, 7:23 into the period.  T.J. Oshie scored to make it 5-1 just over two minutes later, and the Caps coasted to a 5-2 win.  For Orlov, it was his only two-goal and only three-point game of the season.                                                                                                                                                                     
Game to Forget…  January 15th at Nashville

Things were going from bad to worse for the Caps as the schedule moved to mid-January.  After beating the Boston Bruins to extend a winning streak to three games, they lost in overtime to Columbus to break the streak, and then they dropped a 4-1 decision to St. Louis before heading to Nashville to face the Predators the following night.  If things could get worse, they did for the Caps, who found themselves trailing, 3-0, barely 21 minutes into the game.  Dmitry Orlov was on the ice for two of those three goals, which pretty much ended the competitive portion of the contest.  The Caps did threaten to make a game of it when Nicklas Backstrom scored on a power play seven minutes into the second period, but Nashville scored shorthanded five minutes later. 

Less than three minutes after that goal, the Caps – Orlov in particular – got caught gambling.  Andre Burakovsky forced a pass in the direction of Orlov, who was pinching in from the left side.  The pass was broken up, and off a 2-on-1 break the other way, Rocco Grimaldi scored on a backhand spinner that made it 5-1 in what would end as a 7-2 Nashville win.  Orlov was on ice for four of the seven Nashville goals and finished a season-worst minus-4, the first time in his career he finished with as low a plus-minus rating.

Postseason…  The odd part of Dmitry Orlov’s postseason was not in failing to record a goal on ten shots in seven games.  That ship sailed in the regular season.  The odd part was that the Caps were 1-3 in the four games in which he recorded points (an assist in each game), 2-1 when he was blanked on the score sheet.  He was a minutes-eater, though.  His 153:33 in even strength ice time was highest on the club, more than a dozen minutes more than recorded by partner Matt Niskanen (140:52).

Looking ahead… Dmitry Orlov will be entering the third season of a six-year/$30.6 million contract (and his first season with a modified no-trade clause) in 2019-2020.  He is one of three Caps defensemen signed through the 2022-2023 season, John Carlson (signed through 2025-2026) and Nick Jensen being the others.  Orlov will be poised to jump into or close to the top ten in a number of franchise statistical categories next season.  His 69th game next season would place him 11th among defensemen in team history (Joe Reekie: 515 games).  With ten goals, he would jump over Robert Picard (42 goals) into tenth place.  With eight assists, he would jump into tenth place among Capitals defensemen all time (Rick Green and Matt Niskanen: 127, depending on how Niskanen’s status with the team shakes out).  With 24 points he would pass Al Iafrate (176) for tenth place among defensemen, again depending on how the status of Niskanen (12th place/156 points) is resolved.  He is already tied for tenth all-time among Caps defensemen in plus-minus (plus-56, with Larry Murphy), and a season of plus-6 would catapult him to sixth-place, ahead of Karl Alzner (plus-61).  Two game-winning goals would allow him to jump over Niskanen and Picard (seven apiece) for tenth place in that category.

In the end…

There appears to be some disconnect between Orlov under the eye test and his numbers this season.  While his numbers did slip some (and his goal scoring a lot), they are not significantly worse overall than last season.  But he looked like an inferior version of himself for much of the season (some of which might be a reflection of playing alongside Matt Niskanen, who has a sub-par season of his own).  Orlov will be 28 years old to open the new season, putting him squarely in his prime productive years.  He has become a lesser-known, if still foundational element of this team, which makes one hope that the 2018-2019 season was merely a “stand still” sort of year rather than the top of his development arc.

Grade: B-