Monday, October 09, 2006

The Peerless' Look At the Season Ahead

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! (Well, it's about freakin' time!)

It’s time . . . well, past time, actually . . . for The Peerless’ Profound Prognostication on the season for Our Washington Capitals. It promises to be an exciting year, an interesting year . . . an “Ovechkinacious” year! So, let’s get to the particulars . . .

Kris Beech –

Nickname: “Beechie”

Code Name: “Faceoff Man”

Beech is the last vestige of the Jagr trade, several times removed. The prodigal center was all but handed the second line center job, which he didn’t exactly grab by the throat in training camp. Still, circumstances conspired to allow him to dress opening night. One must think he’s on a first name basis with the Devil for some bargain he made.

Projected finish: 11-24-35, -9

“The Issue:” Will he play more than 50 games? He’s only played 30 – total – since the 2001-2002 season.

Matt Bradley –

Nickname: “Brads”

Code Name: “Fighting Vehicle”

Has a certain “Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robot” quality to his play. Third line is where he appears ticketed. Plays with a certain brio that reflects the attitude of the team. Unfortunately, like too much of the team, his effort isn’t matched by his skill. If he can do the little things and be an agitator of sorts, he has value.

Projected Finish: 8-14-22, -6

“The Issue:” Durability. The last two full seasons, he missed a total of eight games. But, does his style lead to nicks and dents? He’s starting the year on the day-to-day injury report.

Donald Brashear –

Nickname: yeah, right . . . YOU give him a nickname.

Code Name: “Pain”

He’s here for one reason – to make sure anyone with designs on touching Alex Ovechkin for purposes other than shaking hands is dealt with swiftly and surely. It’s a hard way to make a living, but the pay is good.

Projected Finish: 4-10-14, -6

The Issue: “Productivity” – Last year he had a dropoff, even for his low expectations in that regard. The way the league is set up, even enforcers have to be able to contribute something within the rules.

Chris Clark –

Nickname: “Captain”

Code Name: “Captain Capital”

Last year was a “Christmas Morning” kind of year . . . he got to wake up every morning knowing he’s be on Alex Ovechkin’s right side. And he made the most of it with a career goal-scoring year. This year, his linemates might not be as cut and dried as was the case last year. He could end up on any of the top three lines, but he has the work attitude and a measure of the skill to contribute in any of those roles.

Projected Finish: 18-21-39, +11

The Issue: “Career Year,” as in, was last year his career year? He might not reach the 20 goal mark this year, but he should not be any less productive as an all-around player or presence on the ice and in the locker room.

Ben Clymer –

Nickname: “Hey!”

Code Name: “Lon Chaney” . . . man of 1,000 disguises – defenseman, forward . . . ok, well, two disguises

One of the big experiments here; Clymer goes back to the blue line. This is one of those “New NHL” things not unlike bringing Jamie Heward back into the NHL last year. You wouldn’t do this in the “old” clutch, grab, gouge, scratch NHL. But in this version? His skating will correct a lot of problems.

Projected Finish: 7-16-23, -7

The Issue: “Eureka,” as in, Eureka, we’ve found a defenseman. We should have a good idea about the truth of that statement by New Years.

Steve Eminger –

Nickname: Em

Code Name: “M” – what’s it stand for? Hey, if I told you, it wouldn’t be much of a code, then, would it?

OK, it’s time. Last year might be written off as a product of the injury he suffered in January that shelved him for several weeks and left him without his best tool – skating – for much of the rest of the year. But it’s time to step up and be a solid top-four defender. Absent injury, the Caps will know what they have in this guy for the long term this year.

Projected Finish: 8-18-26, -3

The Issue: “Perseverance” . . . Is he going to be there – night in and night out – putting forth the effort his position and the responsibility he’s being given demand?

John Erskine—

Nickname: “Erskie”

Code Name: “Sir”

He’s one of the most accomplished tough guys in the league. That will be his role. Given that he isn’t the shiftiest of skaters, it would seem likely that he will dress only in selected situations.

Projected Finish:

0-2-2, -4

Issue: “Liability” . . . he might provide protection, but does it come at the expense of defensive skill on a team already challenged in that regard?

Rico Fata –

Nickname: “Suave”

Code Name: “Blink” – as in, he’s past you in the blink of an eye

He’s a tease. Skates like the wind blows, and shoots like he’s trying to play darts with a meatball (no, I have no idea what that means). Hands of some sort of igneous rock. He’ll scream down the wing, take a pass right on his stick, lean in, and . . . fire the puck into the high netting.

Projected Finish: 3 (all by accident)-6-9, -1

The Issue: “Health,” as in, when Pettinger gets well, does Fata get moved?

Boyd Gordon –

Nickname: “Gordo”

Code Name: “PK”

He won’t be 23 for a little while yet, but already he seems a bit of an enigma. In junior, his goal scoring went 10-12-22-32. In the AHL in the last two years he had 17 goals, then 16 in only 58 games last year. But, he shows little so far at this level in terms of offensive instincts. He has a reputation as a competent penalty killer, and that will be the key to his value for the time being.

Projected Finish: 6-9-15, -2

Issue: "Progress" as in "will he make any progress in his offensive game?"

Mike Green --

Nickname: "Greenie"
Code Name: "The Guy The Peerless Left Out First Time Around"

Shows remarkable maturity for a guy turning 21 on October 12. He has as complete a game -- made to order for this NHL -- as any young defenseman the Caps have. And therin lies the problem this year. He will get a lot of minutes in a lot of key situations. And, he's still very "green," so to speak. Mistakes will be made. But more often than not, he should give a clear indication why he might have been the steal of the first round in the 2004 draft.

Projected Finish: 7-12-19, -8.

Issue: "Patience" . . . as in, "have patience, Caps fans." He'll make mistakes, but that's part of learning this difficult position as a youngster.

Jamie Heward –

Nickname: “Huey”

Code Name: “Eyebrow”

Had a nice season last year for a guy who hadn’t played an NHL game since 2001-2002. He plays a very inconspicuous game – last year had a very quiet 28 points. Is another of the “New NHL” kind of players.

Projected Finish: 5-17-22, -3

Issue: “Minutes” – if he’s getting the minutes he did last year, it is a hint that the kids – Eminger and Green in particular – aren’t having the years Caps fans hope they’ll have.

Brent Johnson –

Nickname: “Johnny”

Code Name: “Baseball Cap”

Finished rather well last year . . . I think it was the new duds. Now that he’s broken them in, he should have a fabulous year. By the end of last year, he gave clues that he could stand in for Kolzig if the need arose, at least for the short term.

Projected Finish: 8-10-3, 3.13, .902

Issue: “Focus” . . . the backup goalie, especially one playing behind a minutes-eater like Kolzig, is always going to have to be creative to stay sharp, but Johnson seems to have acclimated himself to this role pretty well.

Jakub Klepis –

Nickname: “Klepie”

Code Name: “38 caliber”

If one Hershey guy would have made a breakthrough in camp, I don’t think Klepis would have been the pick of most. But he had a solid camp and looks a good deal more comfortable at this level. Now, that’s a lot different from saying he’ll be an impact player. In fact, he might yet spend time in Hershey this year, but he has made strides.

Projected Finish: 6-11-17, -4

Issue: “Comfort” . . . he clearly had skill; it’s just a matter of his reaching a comfort level with the pace of the game at this level, a comfort level with his teammates (he would seem to be in a position of playing with various combinations, especially early).

Olaf Kolzig –

Nickname: “Godzilla”

Code Name: “Broken Stick”

Faced more shots on a per-game basis than any other goalie in the NHL. That’s a lot of work for a veteran of such years. So, he came in lighter – a signal that he’s not taking this losing or rebuilding stuff lying down . . . or flopping around. Ovechkin might be the most valuable player on the Caps, but Kolzig is the straw who stirs the drink. As he goes, so go the Caps.

Projected Finish: 28-26-7, 3.11, .904

Issue: “Minutes” . . . he’s spent a lot of seasons eating up more than 4,000 minutes. Last year he had over 3,500. Chances are he’ll be in that neighborhood again.

Brooks Laich –

Nickname: “Brooksie”

Code Name: “Trout”

Decent numbers for a rookie getting third/fourth line minutes, and not a bad faceoff percentage (a shade under 50 percent). He’ll be one of those guys who will bear watching to see if he gets more responsibility; it’s players like him that are just about as important to the rebuild as the stars.

Projected Finish: 10-21-31, -5

Issue: “SRO” . . . there are a lot of checking forwards on this team; it’s a crowded category. His versatility should put him ahead of most for ice time.

Shaone Morrisonn –

Nickname: “Shoney”

Codename: N (for the extra one he carries)

For now, and perhaps for the future, the designated shut-down defenseman. He doesn’t have the build to suggest such a role, lanky as he is, but his reach and smarts serve him well in defending the top opponents. He might not go almost a whole season without a goal – as he did last year – but it will hardly matter if he can keep the other side off the score sheet.

Projected Finish: 3-13-16, +9

Issue: “zzzz” Morrisonn plays a very composed game; if you don’t remember him, chances are he’s done well.

Bryan Muir –

Nickname: “Muirie”

Code Name: “Ivan” . . . hey, someone has to assume the Majesky Chair of Advanced Griping

I never saw what the problem was with Muir last year, except for perhaps playing in a pairing too high on most nights. He had more than 21 minutes, 26 points, and was -9 which wasn’t particularly good, but on last year’s team could have been a lot worse. This year, he’ll probably get fewer minutes, but he’ll be more effective in them.

Projected Finish: 3-10-13, -3

Issue: “Time, please” . . . if he’s getting more than 14-16 minutes a night this year, something unpleasant is happening elsewhere on the Caps’ blue line.

Alexander Ovechkin –

Nickname: “Ovie”

Code Name: “Cruise Missle”

What does one do for an encore? 52-54-106 is a bit much to improve upon, but Ovechkin is playing with more offensive weapons than last year, which could take some of the attention away from him, at least part of the time. Asking for improvement is a bit like telling DaVinci . . . “uh, shouldn’t there be a few more brush strokes on that Mona Lisa?”

Projected Finish: 51-58-109, +6

Issue: “No” . . . the biggest problem he might deal with, given the notoriety he enjoys after last year, could be claims on his time. He seems accommodating to a fault; he might need a designated “no-sayer” to run interference for him.

Matt Pettinger –

Nickname: “Princess”

Code Name: “Pinball”

Even though he still plays like a pinball careening around the ice, he had a career year last year with 20 goals, including five of the shorthanded variety. It will be difficult to improve upon that, but if he keeps a certain manic aspect to his game, he will continue to be valuable.

Projected Finish: 14-18-32, even

Issue: “Ouch” . . . he plays a smash-mouth kind of style, one which could leave him missing time (he is injured as The Peerless writes this).

Brian Pothier –

Nickname: “Potsie”

Code Name: “Chachi”

He was given a big contract, and the temptation – for both him and fans – is to think of him as a top or top-pair defenseman. He wasn’t that in Ottawa, and while he will be that in Washington for a time, it really isn’t his long-term role here, either. If he can play within that, he will be a fine addition. If he tries to play outside of himself, it could be a struggle.

Projected Finish: 7-24-31, -3

Issue: “Spotlight” . . . he’s the big signing this year for the Caps. What folks need to understand is that this is different from being a big signing. Zdeno Chara was a big signing. The Caps added a player. There’s a difference.

Alexander Semin –

Nickname: [unprintable]

Code Name: “Stealth”

Here is the under the radar addition, perhaps of the entire league. He has the skill to be a 35-goal scorer – right now. He won’t get there, but eventually, he will. He is noticeably bigger and stronger on his skates. It does not appear to have cost him speed. Whether he’s made any strides in terms of defensive responsibility is an open question that only time will answer.

Projected Finish: 26-25-51, -4

Issue: “Blending” . . . as in “blending in.” He had a deer-in-headlights look for much of his first year in Washington. If he can gain some command of the language and rise to a level of comfort in these surroundings, it will be two things he need concern himself with less than what is happening on the ice.

Brian Sutherby –

Nickname: “Suts”

Code Name: “@#&$”

Sutherby has an edge to his game, and it seems this has been lost in folks looking at his offensive numbers (or lack of them heading into last year). Last year, he added some offense to his game, and he might be poised for the same breakout this year on offense that Matt Pettinger had last year.

Projected Finish: 20-23-43, -2

Issue: “Expectations” . . . Sutherby is a first round draft choice – 26th overall in 2000. With that might have come some unrealistic expectations as far as his offense is concerned. He can be an 18-22 goal player, but his value is more in stopping the other guy and getting under his skin.

Richard Zednik –

Nickname: “Zed”

Code Name: “Nik”

So, can you go “home” again? Trading for Zednik was more of a “placeholder” move, waiting for Eric Fehr to take over as the scoring right winger on this club. Zednik is not an especially good passer and can be a liability in his own zone. His value is a product of how many goals he will score. But since tallying 31 in 2002-2003, he has slipped to 26 and 15 the next two years.

Projected Finish: 16-22-38, -5

Issue: “Fit” He and Semin are primarily goal scorers. How they will fit on a second line is an open question. Given the questions surrounding the Caps’ situation at center on that line, this – along with the Caps’ ability to play any defense -- is perhaps the most important story line in the season.

Dainius Zubrus –

Nickname: “Zubie”

Code Name: “Lucky” (as in “to be centering Ovechkin”)

Long expected to have a breakout season to justify his being a 15th overall draft pick in 1996, he has a nice season last year on the ice (23-34-57, +3) while mentoring Ovechkin. Whether he can take another step up is the next question. He might be at the top his offensive game; to expect more is at this point probably unrealistic.

Projected Finish: 20-33-53, +4

Issue: “Time” . . . In every full year with Washington, he has missed at least 11 games for a variety of reasons. This year he comes into the year recovering from a knee injury. It is not an encouraging sign.

Others . . .

Tomas Fleischmann . . . should get a look from time to time; he suffers from their being much more depth on the left side on this team. Maybe 15 or so games, 3-3-6, -2.

Alexandre Giroux . . . described in some places as potentially a “late bloomer;” likely to be an injury call up at some point. Maybe 6-8 games, 0-2-2, -2

Jeff Schultz . . . an outside shot at a call up this year; this is a development year for him.

Dave Steckel . . . a hard working sort, could be an injury call-up from time to time.

Chad Wiseman . . . is probably in the same situation as Steckel.

Special Teams . . .

The Caps finished 26th on the power play, 28th on the penalty kill. Only Los Angeles was lower in the combined Index of Special Teams Woe (28th/30th). This year will be better – it can’t be worse. The key will be taking fewer penalties and not wearing out penalty killers on a nightly basis. If they could crawl into the top 20 in penalty kill, they could challenge for a playoff spot. On the other side of the ledger, the power play should benefit from teams not being able to load up on an Ovechkin first unit. If Semin plays on that unit, teams must pay attention to him, as well as Ovechkin. If he plays on the second unit, it should mean more opportunities to take advantage of lesser penalty kill units. This group could be a top 15 unit if things go well, but they lack a proven power play quarterback with a big shot from the blueline to make that seem likely.

At the end of the day . . .

The Caps will be better – better than last year, better than most think they will be this year. They could make a run at a playoff spot, but that presumes two things – first, and most important, no injuries. It is still not a team with much depth in terms of skill or experience. An injury to a front line player would be a problem; one to Kolzig or Ovechkin would be a catastrophe. Second, players who had career years – Zubrus, Clark, Pettinger, Sutherby – must match or improve on those records.

It says here that there will be glimpses of what could be in the near future, but that future is not yet here.

Final record: 36-36-10, 12th in the East.