Saturday, June 23, 2007

17 of 116

There are 116 days from the end of the Stanley Cup finals that ended on June 6 to September 30th. Today is day 17 of that calendar.

And yet, we find ourselves grinding our teeth and muttering expletives about the Caps and their performance this past weekend in Columbus.

Where is the help now?

Well, that’s not what the draft is about; it’s about futures…18 year old kids who can contribute when they are 22. If you’re looking for contributors next year, look to other places.

The draft is one leg of the tripod of roster-building – drafting, trading, and free-agency signing (which might include waivers). There is a time for each, both this year, and in the bigger scheme of building a roster.

There is a good portion of the summer calendar to go; the draft is but the first mile marker along the way. Another comes up at the end of next week, and one would expect the Caps to participate in the bazaar (or bizarre) that is usually the unrestricted free agent market. But all summer long there will be the possibility of trades, perhaps more so as the salary cap limits come into sharper focus, and some clubs need to be identifying salary cap casualties.

The point is, this is the “no excuses summer,” but a summer it is, not a fortnight. Let’s wait to see where the club is on September 30th.

The Logic of Proscrastination

George?...What were you doing out there, trading all those picks for a bunch of picks next year? Don't you know the club needs help now??

That seems to be an insistent theme among Caps fans today as the 2007 entry draft concludes. The Caps kept trading down and, ultimately, out of the 2007 draft to accumulate picks in the 2008 draft. Is there a logic in this?

Well, this is precisely what we signed on for in a "draft-centric" strategy for building the club....a sustainable strategy for building and replenishing a roster. And that means parlaying picks now -- in what is almost universally thought to be a weak draft -- for additional picks in next year's draft, thought to be pretty strong at this stage. If a "draft first" strategy is what this franchise is going to employ, that means a multi-year focus, maximizing the potential of this draft and, just as important, drafts to follow.

From a strategic standpoint, I think this is McPhee's strongest draft since he started here. Trouble in saying that, though, is that these kids are flesh-and-blood hockey players. Whether they can actually play at this level is an unknown, and is a matter of scouting ability, not strategy.

Red = Stanley Cup? . . . The Science of Red

Seeing red . . . it conjures a number of visions.

Anger, aggression, blood, a raging bull, and…


Well, yes. Russell A. Hill and Robert A. Barton of the University of Durham took a look at several events in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games with an eye toward establishing whether there wasn't a relationship between a color won by an athlete and outcomes. All of the events involved two-person matches in which the competitors were randomly assigned either competition colors of red or blue. What they found was that athletes wearing red had a small, but statistically significant, advantage and won 60 percent of the time.

Hill and Barton also looked at the team sport aspect of the question by reviewing results from a 2004 international soccer tournament. In this instance teams wore different colored uniforms (i.e., they were not restricted to a single color). When they compared teams that used red as one uniform choice, they found that those teams’ performance was better in red than in other colors.

They attributed the finding to psychological influences. Follow along…it was their conclusion that red, being an indicator of sexual quality among males, and the intensity of the color being a related indicator of the degree of male “dominance” or hormone levels, gave wearers of the color an advantage by instilling feelings of inferiority among opponents (“aw, shucks, we have no chance, look how bright the red is…he must be a real man!”)

But here’s the bad news. Hill and Barton found that the effect was observed only in “symmetrical” contests – those in which the participants were evenly matched. Red won’t make a bad player – or a bad team – good.

But, it can’t hurt.

The article is here (subscription required).

"Cookies" Meets the Press

Caps have a "Muffin" Gordon, now "Cookies" Alzner?...

...thanks to blbean on The Official for pointing the way to this.

The Morning After....

The Peerless notes a fair amount of disgruntlement over on The Official over the selection of Karl Alzner with the fifth overall pick and the dealing of the 28th pick for a lower pick this year and one next year. The Peerless regards the latter as not a big deal. There is a lot of uncertainty among the 50 or so players after the top three (where Esposito and Cherepanov fell is certainly evidence of that). 28 is a higher number than 41 (and that pick has now had four different owners), but the 28th pick isn't likely to be as large a difference in talent or potential than the 41st pick. This draft simply doesn't afford that kind of certainty.

In fact, there is a logic in this if one wants to engage in trying to read minds. If the Caps had a number of roughly equivalent players on their list at 28, then some (if not all) of these players would be available at 34, possibly at 41 (the pick they traded for). For what, perhaps, in their minds was minor tinkering with the order, they got an extra pick in next year's draft. That is not a bad strategy.

On one level, though, the Alzner pick is troubling. Not for the fact that he's a bad player, he's not. He would appear to be the "safest" pick in the first round, the player most likely to play to his pre-draft potential.

It's the "safe" part that is troubling. This franchise is in a fair amount of trouble. Not much success on or off the ice (although I suspect the new jersey will sell that the "Snyder effect"). And what did the Caps do? They went all Hitmen again. From 1999-2003, four of the Caps' five top picks came out of the WHL -- Kris Beech, Brian Sutherby, Nathan Paetsch, and Eric Fehr. Their results have been, well, let's say "mixed." All of them played an NHL game, but none have made a recognizable impact.

None of these guys are a #5 pick (although Beech was a #7), but the Caps appear to have had a "type" in mind, and it was a WHL type. This year, with the franchise in the balance in terms of what the Caps do this summer, they went back to what they know. Was it the right pick? I don't know, I've never seen any of these guys play. Maybe he's a "Keith Carney," dependable, but not spectacular; maybe he's a "Jeff Jillson," a promising start but a disappointing finish.

On the other hand, the Caps are weak down the middle (centers, defensemen), and team sports is about being strong in that area, hockey included. You can’t have too many defensemen. Buffalo won a President’s trophy with depth and balance on their blue line, Ottawa got fine play out of their squad leading up to the Cup final (and a disappointing finish among them – especially Wade Redden – did them in), and Anaheim won the Cup with sturdy blue line play from Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, and the underrated Francois Beauchemin. While the Caps have numbers in this area, they have a lot of unproven talent and question marks, especially in terms of own-end play. Alzner addresses a shallowness in the prospect pool of defensemen. That’s the upside.

This is the first round in a process that will play itself out over the next three months or so. If there is any truth to a rumor that the Caps are in discussions with another club on a trade that has been put off pending the draft, well, that's a part of the process, too. So is today’s round of drafting. The Caps, as Mike Vogel reports this morning, got the man they targeted. If so, then the question that pops into my mind is, “because he was the best player available or the safest pick?”