Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What do two Russians and Detroit have in common?

OK, so it’s spreading. Thanks to the tip at Japers’ Rink, we see that Ovechkin Flu has spread from Manhattan to Detroit…

Today’s contestant in the “Who Can Cook Up the Dopiest Ovechkin Scenario” sweepstakes is Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News. In his entry, he asks the question, “Will Ovechkin follow Hanlon out of Washington?” Of course, there should be something between the word “Washington” and the question mark, and that is…

“…to Detroit”

If there is a town that understands the pitfalls of restricted free agency and offer sheets, it is Detroit, and here is where there might be some concern for fans of the red-white-and-blue…

Let’s roll back the clock. It is the 1997-1998 season, and in Detroit there is a holdout of some note. As negotiations stalled, another team stepped up to offer Sergei Fedorov the sun, the moon, and the stars. A six-year, $38 million deal was put on the table that would have averaged $6.33 million a year. The trouble for the Red Wings was, that wasn’t how the deal was structured. The deal included a $14 million signing bonus and a second $12 million accelerated bonus that would pay off July 1 if the team made the finals. For Carolina, the chance of making the finals in 1998 was about what it is for the Caps right now – slim, to be charitable. But for the Red Wings, coming off a Stanley Cup victory, that possibility loomed rather large. 26 million front-loaded dollars if the team that signed Fedorov made the finals.

Why is that relevant to Ted Kulfan’s column and the unresolved contract status of Alexander Ovechkin? Simple…dollars and years are only a part of the equation. As we’ve seen with the contracts signed by Scott Gomez, Daniel Briere, and even Sidney Crosby, structure matters. Alex Ovechkin might command an eight-year, $80.48 million (in 2008 cap dollars) contract – the max amount (on an annual basis) permitted. But the devil is in the structure. What might make the Capitals choke on an offer sheet? It is something to think about as the days pass with no announcement of a deal.

The Wings matched that Carolina offer sheet, and they were rewarded with a Stanley Cup that year – coincidentally, defeating the Capitals in the process. But let’s not assume out of hand that the Caps are going follow history’s guide and match a “max” offer. How it is structured will go a long way toward answering that question.

But why are we asking this question? Are the Caps dawdling? Does Ovechkin have cold feet about re-upping? As long as Ovechkin’s status is unresolved, we’ll be seeing columns like this, and we’ll be seeing Caps fans get more nervous.

Is it really necessary?

edit...FYI, according to Spector, the Russian paper Sports-Express is reporting that the Capitals are about to make a contract offer to Ovechkin that would be worth $10.3 million/year. Then again, as Spector notes, "Considering this is coming from a Russian paper and the Russian sports media doesn't have a good track record with reports like this, take this report with a grain of salt." Until there is a signed dotted line, there isn't.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Panthers, November 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s a mid-week tilt this evening between the Capitals and the Florida Panthers, who – if you’re keeping score – are pretty much the 1978 Canadiens when it comes to opponents. Over the past three-plus seasons, the Caps are 5-12-2-5 against the Cats. That winning percentage of .354 is, coincidentally, precisely where the Caps stand this morning with their 8-15-1 record.

Eerie, ain’t it? And speaking of eerie, we have with us a special guest…Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, himself, Leonard Nimoy…

“I’m not here for a Star Trek convention.”

Well, then what does bring you here?

“We’re shooting a very special edition of ‘In Search of…’”

Of course, the old show from the late-‘70’s…what are you in search of in Washington?

“Matt Pettinger…”

Really?...what makes that subject so fascinating?

“He has one goal in 23 games, he hasn’t had a point in his last dozen…it’s as if…”

…he was abducted by…


What makes you think it was aliens?

“Didn’t you ever watch our show?...Everything was about UFOs.”

Sorry, I musta missed those episodes.

“All the signs are there…don’t you think this is the face of an alien posing as Matt Pettinger?”

You have a point…uh, but that was last year’s jersey, Leonard.

“Ah, but the aliens are trying to make you think that…and what about this unretouched photo of the alien Matt Pettinger – at his real 14-foot size – trying to skate over an opponent?”

Uh, Leonard?...that’s from a skate session back in 2004.

“You think so, do you…maybe the aliens have gotten to you, too…or maybe you’re an alien…”

OK, well…we have a game, tonight, and it is against the second-place…that’s right, the second-place Florida Panthers. Well, in the Southeast Division, that is…where it really counts – in the Eastern Conference standings – they’re 10th, which means they’d be sharing tee times with the Caps if the season ended today.

But the season doesn’t end today (which is a good thing, because The Peerless still has all these season tickets to use up), and the Panthers are on something of a roll. Having won four of their last five – two of them against the Caps – Florida has done it with defense. They have yielded only 10 goals in those five games, and that puts the emphasis on goaltender Tomas Vokoun. He’s played in all five of those games, going 4-1-0, 1.97, .936. If there is a measure of hope in that, it is that the Caps have scored the most goals in a game against Vokoun in this stretch (three).

The Panthers have really spread it around on offense, too. Ten different players have the 14 goals, four players with two apiece (Olli Jokinen, David Booth, Kamil Kreps, and Rostislav Olesz). They’ve also been quite effective on the power play, going 5-for-18 in these last five games (27.8 percent).

If there is one thing about the Panthers, though, it is that no lead is safe…comparatively speaking. It is not a team that is especially adept at playing with a lead. They rank 22nd in winning percentage when leading after one period, and they are 23rd when leading after two. That’s a comparative measure, in that the Panthers still win more than half of their games in each situation.

Conversely, they are among the better teams when finding themselves trailing…they are ninth in the league in winning percentage when trailing after one period, and they are sixth when trailing after two. Again, though, it is a comparative measure – the Panthers still have losing records in both situations. But it does make for a better chance at a 60-minute game, which has been the case in their two wins against Washington so far – both were one-goal games.

If you’re looking for comparisons, Washington is a 40-minute team. That is, you can predict almost to a betting certainty what will happen on the basis of where the team stands after 40 minutes. If the Caps lead, they win (7-0-0). If they trail, they lose (0-14-1).

But what about Pettinger? Having scored 16 goals in 64 games last year and 20 in 71 games in 2005-2006, it was reasonable to think he’d score perhaps 20 or so this year. He’s on a pace for four. If anything, he’s getting more chances, or at least shots on goal. Thus far he has 47 shots on goal, whereas he had 33 last year and 37 in 2005-2006 in a comparable number of games to start the year. It has all the makings of a horrific slump…and actually, that’s the good news. Slumps are – by their very definition – temporary. Pettinger scoring only four goals this year is not something upon which to place a wager.

The Peerless has a feeling about this game, tonight – that it will be the break-out game for Pettinger that fans have been looking for. Maybe getting some garbage on a line with Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Semin will be just what the doctor ordered. Some Pettinger, another goal from Alexander Ovechkin…maybe something off the stick of Alexander Semin would be nice (hey, he has only one goal, too)…and an empty netter…

Caps 4 – Panthers 2