Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Two deals that will bite their teams in the caboose...

1. Ryan Smyth traded from Edmonton to the New York Islanders for a first-round draft pick and prospects Ryan O'Marra and Robert Nilsson

The Peerless really likes Smyth, but he has been a fixture in Edmonton since he was drafted sixth overall by the Oilers in 1994. It says here that he is going to experience a bit of culture shock getting out of the gate, and even though it's Long Island, the greater New York metropolitan area is not the place to be making slow starts. More to the point, the Islanders gave up a substantial amount of the near term future to rent him.

2. Gary Roberts traded from Florida to Pittsburgh for Noah Welch

This is a trade a club makes when the veteran is the last piece of the puzzle, a trade for a club that has legitimate Stanley Cup dreams. Pittsburgh is not that team. And they gave up perhaps their best prospect defenseman in a thin group of that specie. If Marc-Andre Fleury doesn't come out of his eight-game funk, this is going to look like a really, really bad deal in May.

After-Math . . . Caps vs. Panthers

It was a one point night . . .

Day 1 of the post-trading deadline season. No Zubrus, no Zednik, no Heward. Alex Ovechkin’s first shift on the night was spent alongside Brian Sutherby and Donald Brashear. He also spent time being centered by Brooks Laich and Kris Beech.

Such is the state of things now. The Caps will spend a lot of the remaining 19 games, including the 6-5 shootout loss to Florida, figuring out what works with the parts they still have on hand. And if that means seeing if Brooks Laich or Kris Beech can provide an accompaniment to Ovechkin on the top line, so be it.

Things started bad for the Caps – they gave up a goal less than two minutes in on the second shot they allowed. Then, they got worse. Florida went on to score three goals on their first ten shots covering less than eight minutes of game time. Looked like it would be another one of those kinds of nights. The Caps looked for all the world like a club in a state of mourning for having lost the trio of teammates during the afternoon. That they were wearing black seemed curiously appropriate.

Then, the strange happened . . . Alex Ovechkin scored a goal. Not just a goal, but one on a move Caps fans have come to recognize in his short tenure here – a speed move to the outside and with the defenseman beaten, a shot far top corner. That was followed by something even stranger . . . Brian Sutherby scored a goal. Well, maybe not so strange – it was his third goal in five games, doubling his season output. All of a sudden, we’re watching the Saturday game from Mystery, Alaska. Back and forth and up and down and in and out. It was like watching a long rally at a tennis match. Florida scored again . . . then the Caps got it back.

Then Freddy came in.

Frederic Cassivi relieve Johnson to start the second, and it seemed more to shake up the club than a result of any particular problems in Johnson’s play (it appeared that two Panther goals were scored off Capitals’ sticks or at least the result of really good screens by Caps’ defensemen – John Erskine, we’re looking at you). Freddy played very, very well, precisely because he was calm and didn’t overplay shooters. He more or less let the game come to him. He did make a couple of fine pad saves but otherwise made saves look quite routine. It was enough to give the Caps the backstopping they needed to get back into the game (he would finish by yielding only one goal on 18 shots). It would be hard to argue with Ovechkin getting the first star, or even Olli Jokinen getting the second one. Sutherby had his goal, added an assist, and won a ridiculous 10 of 12 draws, so one could see him getting the third star. But Freddy gets the slice o’ pie tonight.

Some other observations . . .

- Coach Glen Hanlon was double-shifting, down-shifting, red-shifting, and shape-shifting Ovechkin and Alexander Semin all over the place. Ovechkin finished with 26:33 in ice time, Semin 24:33.

- Milan Jurcina hits hard…very hard.

- Brooks Laich might have played his best game as a Cap.

- Ben Clymer – who wasn’t traded to Pittsburgh – hasn’t had a minus game in more than a month (he was +1 this evening). Steve Eminger hasn’t had one in more than a month, either (he was +1, too). They had some healthy scratches in there, but these two guys – each of whom had some major plus-minus problems for much of the year – have a combined 17 games between them without a minus. Small victories, folks . . . small victories.

- Did we mention, Milan Jurcina hits very hard?

- Gosh . . . the power play was 3-for-5. It matched their high in power play goals in a game this year (December 23rd -- a 3-2 win at Toronto). They haven’t had more in a game since the 2003-2004 season (March 18, 2004 – four power play goals in a 4-3 overtime win against the New York Rangers).

- It’s clear that the Caps trust Milan Jurcina and Shaone Morrisonn in tight situations. A look at the shift chart for the game shows that over the last nine minutes of the game (including overtime), they were on the ice for every other shift. On the other hand, Bryan Muir had a seat for the last 14 minutes (including overtime). We do not know if he was injured or just gassed.

- Rob Globke isn’t a name, it’s a condition . . . “hey Rob, you got a little globke on your lip…”

The Caps got a point no one thought possible at about 7:30 this evening. The shootout is a lost cause this year (so is it for Florida, so it goes to show how much a lost cause Washington’s shootout effort is), so we're going to call this a “good” point considering the Caps never led in the game.

The Peerless Thinks Out Loud on Trades

Well, it's over. The great philosopher Donald Rumsfeld once opined that, "as you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want." Well, this is the hockey team we have. Zednik out...Nycholat out...Helbling out...Zubrus out. Andy Hedlund in...Jiri Novotny in...and a few picks.

Fans will wail and knash teeth . . . "why, oh why McPhee, did you not get us a real live player?! Where is our center? Where is our defenseman?" Fans need to look past the end of February. You take advantage of the opportunities provided and the nature of the market in which you're dealing. The trade deadline is about buyers who want a proven asset to get them over the hump, while sellers are looking to move assets to stockpile picks and prospects from those teams willing to give up a part of their future for a present value return. Folks, the summer will be about finding that higher-end center or defenseman via trade or free agency. This wasn't the market for that.

Now, on to the trades:

OUT: Richard Zednik to NY Islanders
IN: 2007 second round pick

Right now, that pick looks to fall into the 40th-45th pick overall range. We've beaten to death the fact that the Caps do not have on their roster but one pick past the first round of their own picks over the last decade. On paper, this is a fine deal, a steal in fact -- Zednik should not have commanded a pick this high, and where he cost a third to Montreal he brought a second back -- but if the Caps are now a "build through the draft" team, they have to draft well, and that includes this pick. Trouble is, the likely yield won't make itself known until 2010 or so, at the earliest.

OUT: Lawrence Nycholat to Ottawa
IN: Andy Hedlund, 6th round pick (2007)

Well, this seems to have be the premonition of the Zubrus trade that would be made later. Hedlund is the defenseman that permitted the Caps to include Helbling in that later deal. Not that Helbling was key to that deal, but it the kind of attention to detail -- getting a depth defenseman for Hershey in advance of moving another -- that one might expect from George McPhee. Since Nycholat was almost certainly never going to play again for Hershey this year, given the waiver environment, the Caps literally got something for nothing (that is not a disparagement of Nycholat, for his fans reading this...The Peerless hopes he has a successful run in Ottawa). As for the sixth round pick coming back -- Kyle Clark, Zbynek Novak, Marian Havel...we won't hold our breath.

OUT: Jamie Heward to Los Angeles
IN: 5th round pick (2008, conditional)

This one is perplexing until you look at the log jam on the blue line: Heward, Eminger, Erskine, Pothier, Jurcina, Morrisonn, Schultz, Muir...and Green down there in Hershey. Heward would be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and likely did not fit into the 2007/2008 plans. But there is the distant rumble of thunder with this trade. There is still a log jam at the position, even if one does not expect Bryan Muir to come back. If one expects the Caps to try to add a veteran defenseman, one of these guys very well might not be a Cap come next training camp (and yeah, this is part of the "we'll get to that" that we're getting to).

OUT: Dainius Zubrus, Timo Helbling to Buffalo
IN: Jiri Novotny, 1st round pick (2007)

This is an interesting deal on several levels, not least with respect to its aftermath. We'll get to that. As for the deal itself, Novotny is now the early favorite to start next year as the second line center . . . maybe (that's part of the "we'll get to that," too). Novotny led the Buffalo AHL affiliate Rochester Americans in scoring last year (17-37-54 in 66 games. Ten of his 17 goals were power play tallies). He was 6-7-13 in 50 games this season with the big club, but hasn't scored a goal since December 9th (23 games). As for the first round draft pick, that could be a trading asset. Right now, the Caps own what would be the 6th and 29th picks in the first round in what is thought to be a middling draft. If the Caps were inclined to trade a pick for a player, a sixth overall in this draft might not be enough to get anyone to bite. Add another first round pick?...

OK, let's get to the "let's get to that" with respect to the aftermath. First, the comments by George McPhee after the deal was made were, to The Peerless, of the "read between the lines" variety. He was quick to commend Zubrus and his agent for being professional in the negotiations, for liking the way he dealt with the situation since negotiations began in November, and was generally effusive in his praise of Zubrus. It had all the tone of "keep us in mind in July." Trouble is, I think Zubrus just lost $1.5 million or so. He was not an especially productive scorer before being matched with Alex Ovechkin, and it appears more than a mere possibility that a return to that disappointing production will manifest itself once more. That will cost him -- you don't get top line dollars or term for what might end up being third line production, which was his history before the last couple of years. He might already have seen the best offer he's going to get.

Second, this move telegraphs the Capitals' thinking leading into the off season. Having Novotny and Backstrom as the top two centers is a stretch. One will take about 80 games of NHL experience into camp next fall; the other will be a rookie in his first year in North America. The Capitals have to add a free agent center and almost certainly one who can slide into the top line, giving Backstrom and Novotny time to grow into their roles (perhaps Novotny getting time on the right side). If the Caps fill that need -- with a center who is a center (perhaps by dangling a defenseman or looking to go the free agency route), replacing a winger conversion better suited for second or third line duty (who can't be entirely ruled out from coming back), and still have a draft pick to use or trade as a result of this trade -- the Caps not only will have a major plus out of this deal, it could be seen in retrospect as a defining moment in the rebuild.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Panthers, February 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

A special Deadline Day edition of the prognosto . . .

At this writing the Caps have dealt Richard Zednik to the Islanders for a 2007 second round pick and Lawrence Nycholat to Ottawa for a 2007 sixth round pick and defenseman Andy Hedlund, who looks thrilled to be a Cap.

By the time the Caps take the ice against Florida this evening, the club might have said its farewells to Dainius Zubrus and Jamie Heward as well. It promises to be a busy day, or not.

As for tonight’s opponent, the Florida Panthers are what begin and end the month for the Caps. Since losing to the Panthers on February 1st by a 6-3 margin, the Panthers have been treading water, going 4-3-3. While the Panthers have outscored opponents by a thin 27-25 margin over those ten games, they have had problems on special teams . . .

- fewer power play opportunities than opponents: 41 for, 53 against

- fewer power play goals: 5 for, 12 against

- lower power play conversion rate: 12.2 percent for, 22.6 percent against (77.4 percent penalty kill)

More than one-fourth of the goal scoring has come from a single player in this stretch, but it’s not who you might think. Olli Jokinen has been held comparatively quiet at 3-5-8, +2 over the last ten games. Nathan Horton, though, has been on quite a streak. He is 7-4-11, +3 over these last ten games. The Peerless wonders if a new Panther line is going to be formed.

If the Panthers have been treading water, the Caps have been thrashing in the deep end of the pool. They are 3-5-3 since last they saw the Panthers, and only a 4-2 win against the Devils last Saturday can qualify as a “quality” win. It is a team in disarray at the moment – Alex Ovechkin is 2-2-4, -4 in 11 games since the last meeting against the Panthers, Alexander Semin was benched in his last game for lackadaisical play (he’s 3-2-5, over the same stretch), Chris Clark was injured (shoulder) in the San Jose contest (he was 2-1-3, -4 in this stretch up to that point), and Dainius Zubrus has “trade me” stenciled to his forehead (2-3-5, -5). So much for the “big four.”

If there has been a bright spot, it’s been the play of goalie Brent Johnson in relief of the injured Olaf Kolzig. He has a 1-3-2 record since taking over the top spot, but he is also 2.61, .911 in those games. That the Caps have scored only 24 goals in the 11 games since playing Florida (only 15 in six games since Johnson took over) goes a long way to explaining the win-loss record. So does special teams play . . . four power play goals in 39 chances (10.3 percent) and giving up 12 in 48 shorthanded situations (75.0 percent penalty kill) isn’t a recipe for winning.

All of that said, The Peerless thinks this game will be ugly. Re-e-e-e-eal ugly. And, bad as the special teams have been for both teams, none of them will be a factor. Brent Johnson will be . . .

Caps 1 – Panthers 0.