Friday, July 31, 2009
Well, it got us to thinking, what if the ping pong ball had gone another way in 2004? What if, instead of coming up “Capitals,” it came up “Blackhawks,” or worse…”Penguins?” With respect to the latter we, too, will have recurring nightmares of a number “8” jersey in black and Vegas gold. But for our purposes here, we’ll take a stroll through Bedford Falls and contemplate life with the Capitals had Alex Ovechkin not been drafted.
The Capitals would have drafted third in that 2004 draft, by virtue of their having finished with the third worst record in the league, regardless of whether the Blackhawks or Penguins won the lottery. Assuming that both Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin would have gone 1-2 in that draft, just as they did in the real-life version of the story, the Capitals would have been left with a second-tier selection of talented, but not generational franchise players.
Given the fact that in five of the previous six drafts the Capitals selected their first pick from the Western Hockey League in Canadian juniors, you would have to think it likely, if not a certainty, that the Caps would go out west once more. The consensus third-ranked prospect in that draft was Cam Barker, a defenseman with the Medicine Hat Tigers. However, the Caps had indifferent success in picking defensemen in years leading up to the 2004 draft. In the previous five drafts, the Caps selected 13 defensemen, only one of whom – Steve Eminger – gave much hope, at least to Caps fans, of one day being a contributing NHL player (Johnny Oduya, selected in the seventh round in 2001 went on to skate a regular turn for the New Jersey Devils). Two of those 13 defensemen – Nolan Yonkman and Ross Lupsachuk – had already been traded away in the Jaromir Jagr deal in 2001. Picking Barker would have made sense and would have been consistent with the Caps’ behavior to date.
So… Cam Barker is the number three pick selected. Where does the club go from there? Well, there was still the 2004-2005 lockout, but there a 2005 draft, too. To remind folks, the rules set forth for the lottery to assign the draft order were simple (if their logic wasn’t). First, each team started with three ping pong balls and lost one for each playoff appearance in the previous three years but only to a maximum of two, assuring each team will have at least one ball. Under this rule, the Caps would have lost one ball, having participated in the 2003 playoffs. Second, teams that had the first overall pick in each of the last four drafts also lost a ball. Since the Caps didn’t have a first overall pick (remember, they didn’t win the 2004 lottery in this tale), they would have had two balls (neat how that works out).
There were 10 clubs that had two balls in the 2005 draft lottery. Pittsburgh could have lost one to be left with two had they won the 2004 lottery. Had Chicago won the lottery, they would have lost one to be left with one ball. But let’s not complicate things any further. Of the ten teams with two balls, Anaheim managed to end up selecting second, Carolina third, and Minnesota fourth, so despite the rather long odds of a two-ball club getting the first overall pick (4.17 percent chance), there were still the opportunities to select early (even though the grand prize – Sidney Crosby – would be gone).
For the sake of argument, let’s assume the Caps had the best possible luck – yes, we know…that never happens for the Caps, but humor me. They would get the second pick. When the Ducks picked second, they selected Bobby Ryan (of the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League), but he was not the consensus number two prospect. Both Central Scouting and ISS, for example, had Benoit Pouliot (Sudbury, OHL) as their number two-ranked prospect.
From the Caps perspective, would they go for an OHL forward (the Caps hadn’t drafted an OHL forward since picking Charlie Stephens in the second round in 1999)? Would they go for defenseman Jack Johnson (NTDP Under-18)? Would they go west again and draft Gilbert Brule (Vancouver, WHL)? The Caps had that whole WHL history and hadn’t yet shown an inclination to draft out of US programs by that time, at least with high picks. But was Johnson too good to pass up? Would they fall back on what they knew and pick Brule? Would they go off the board? While the Caps did, in fact go off the board in 2005 – off the reservation, in fact – selecting Sasha Pokulok at 14, we have a suspicion they would have played safe – “safe” meaning repeating their past behavior – and picked Brule.
Keep in mind, though, this was the best possible outcome based on the Caps picking second, instead of the club that did, the Anaheim Ducks. Of the ten teams that had two ping pong balls in the 2005 draft, the team with the lowest pick was Calgary, picking 26th. If you’re wondering who they picked, it was Matt Pelech.
So, as we come out of the lockout year into the light of the 2005-2006 season, the Capitals would not have Alex Ovechkin and Sasha Pokulok to show for their top draft picks in 2004 and 2005, but rather Cam Barker and Gilbert Brule. It is there where we will pick up the story in the next installment.
So said Allan Walsh, agent for Caps defenseman Milan Jurcina, about the arbitration award given to Jurcina.
According to the Washington Times, a league source confirmed that the award is just under $1.4 million. As it is below the $1.57 million threshold that would permit the club from walking away from the deal, the result is binding.
So now, we have the defense more or less in place:
There is not room for both Karl Alzner and John Carlson in this mix. There might not be room for either, if the Caps carry seven defensemen...
...unless a move is made.
That would seem to be almost a betting certainty at this point.
Edit... The Jurcina award appears to put the Caps less than $150,000 under the 2009-2010 salary cap for 22 roster players most likely to appear on the opening night roster (absent any trades) and buyout money. One would have to think there will be more tinkering done.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Four years ago on this date, we authored our first, untitled, toe-in-the-water post in this space, and somehow, despite all common sense, we're still at it.
Thanks to everyone for reading, and...
Cheerless. And if you're here, that must mean...
"So, where's the cake?"
Fearless. Thanks for stopping by, boys. Isn't it a little early for cake?
"Uh, is it too early for beer?"
Guess not... guess it's time to start the party.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
...I can do better.
I can do anything
Better than you.
No, you can't.
Yes, I can. No, you can't.
Yes, I can. No, you can't.
Yes, I can,
Yes, I can!
After four years, that seems to be the theme song in the ongoing “Ovie vs. Sid” battle. They’ve had four rounds so far, and things look just about as even as can be as the two trade their best shots…
2005-2006: Round 1
There wasn’t a lot of distance separating the two. Ovechkin narrowly won the scoring competition; Crosby won the head-to-head matchup. Crosby was getting busy busy setting a number of “youngest” records – youngest NHL player to record 100 points in a season, youngest to 100 points and 100 penalty minutes. Ovechkin was authoring signature moments – planting an opponent through the glass on his first shift in the NHL, scoring what is still (almost four years later) referred to as “The Goal.” In the end, though, Ovechkin was the landslide pick as the Calder Trophy winner, capturing 124 of 129 first-place votes. Ovechkin is the narrow, but clear winner of Round 1.
2006-2007: Round 2
2007-2008: Round 3
2008-2009: Round 4
All that was prelude, though, to their playoff production. Ovechkin would finish the Stanley Cup playoffs as the fifth leading overall scorer, even though the four players ahead of him played in at least nine more games than did Ovechkin. Crosby – one of those players finishing ahead of Ovechkin – would finish the Stanley Cup playoffs as the leading goal scorer. The two would meet for the first time in the playoffs in the second round, and they put on quite a show in Game 2. Ovechkin would score the go-ahead and the ultimate game-winning goal on his way to a hat-trick, while Crosby opened the scoring in the game and scored all three Penguin goals, getting his own hat trick in a 4-3 Capitals win. Ovechkin and Crosby played more or less to a standoff, but Evgeni Malkin came alive late in the series, and the Penguins won in seven games. It was just the springboard the Penguins needed to propel them to the Stanley Cup. In the end, Ovechkin won the trophies (a Hart and Pearson to go with his Richard), but Crosby won the Cup. Winning the big prize certainly counts for something. Crosby gets the nod in Round 4.
These two have been the leads in a four-act production of “Can You Top This?” Each has used the other’s accomplishments as the next bar to clear, and with apologies to Evgeni Malkin, they stand alone as the top two players in the league. The question for Act V is, “Can Ovechkin trade places with Crosby once more and take his turn around the ice, the Stanley Cup in one arm, the Conn Smythe in the other?”
"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."
And that brings us to... Eklund. Caps fans have no doubt indulged in the click that dare not speak its name and seen him predict (in the same manner Jeane Dixon or Kreskin might "predict") that every hockey player whose name ended in "ov" would find their way to the Capitals (it's a Russian thing). Well, he's outdone himself this time.
In today's entry, The Bard of Bovine Excrement opines that the Caps are in the mix for no fewer than four of the remaining free agents:
Sergei Zubov (there's that "ov" thing)
Maxim Afinogenov (again with the "ov)
Does this boob even click on his own page? Is he clueless as to his own "Cap Central" tab (actually something worth clicking on)? Can he not see that the Caps are hard and fast against the salary cap? In a fit of message board logic, we suppose, here is (one supposes) how this works...
George McPhee trades Michael Nylander to the New York Rangers (we'll assume Nylander would want to play there) for tickets to "Superior Donuts" at the Music Box Theatre this fall. There goes $4,875,000 in cap hit.
Then, McPhee trades Jose Theodore to Boston for tickets to the Winter Classic in January (shoot, there ought to be one Cap there). $4,500,000 in cap hit just went -poof-.
Now... just a million for Skoula, a couple mil for Shanahan (hey, he's a hall of famer in waiting), and a million each for the "ov's"...
Hey, it could work!
But hey, I clicked on it.
* Thanks to The Official for a push to this breaking news.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sasha Pokulok, defenseman (1st round/16th overall; Central Scouting ranking – 39th NA skater)
On the day he was selected, folks in Caps Nation could be forgiven for asking, “Sasha who?” To call Pokulok a “reach” would be classic understatement. Pokulok was the 39th-ranked North American skater in the final Central Scouting Service rankings. Pokulok would go on to play one more season at Cornell University, then he turned pro. It was a disaster. He sustained a concussion in his first game with the Hershey Bears, then missed four months before returning to action as a member of the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL. He played less than 20 games before suffering a second concussion. They were injuries from which he would not really recover. Even if he was in perfect health, he lost too much developmental time. Through the 2008-2009 season, Pokulok played in only 97 regular season games over three seasons in the AHL and NHL, and another 29 playoff games (all with South Carolina). The Capitals declined to retain rights to Pokulok this past June, his never having appeared in an NHL game.
Joe Finley, defenseman (1/27; CSS 32nd ranked NA skater)
The other first round pick, Finley had the size at the draft (6’7”, 229) and reputation for a mean streak that fans would likely have enjoyed seeing displayed on Verizon Center ice. After that draft he joined the University of North Dakota program – one of the finest in the NCAA. He served all four years of his eligibility, but not without incident. Deciding to return to UND for his senior season, he suffered a concussion of his own in the season’s second week. He missed two months before returning to the ice and played in only 27 games for the Fighting Sioux. He was signed by the Caps after completing his eligibility at UND and played in one game for Hershey this past spring. At the recently completed development camp, Finley started the week on defense but finished it playing left wing. Where his future lies appears to be an open question. He has not, as of yet, made an appearance with the Capitals.
Andrew Thomas, defenseman (4/109; CSS 80th ranked NA skater)
Thomas had completed his first year of college hockey when the Caps drafted him. He would spend another three years at the University of Denver. Unlike Finley, however, he would not join the Capitals or an affiliate upon completing his college eligibility. In 2008-2009 he split time with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL and the Iowa Chops of the AHL in the Anaheim Ducks’ system. Games played with the Caps: zero.
Patrick McNeill, defenseman (4/118; CSS 75th NA skater)
McNeill was the fourth defenseman taken by the Caps in the 2005 draft but the first player selected by the Caps in 2005 out of Canadian juniors, his having completed two years with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. McNeill played two more years with the Spirit before making the jump to the pro ranks under an entry-level contract with the Caps in time for the 2007-2008 season. He’s had some difficulty getting traction in the pro ranks. After surpassing the 20-goal mark in each of his last two years with the Spirit, he has netted only nine in 113 games as a pro with South Carolina and Hershey. Last year, he appeared in only 46 of 80 regular season games for Hershey and in 10 playoff games in the Bears’ march to the Calder Cup. He will begin his final year of his entry deal as a member of the Bears, and it does not appear as though he will make his NHL debut soon.
Daren Machesney, goaltender (5/143; CSS 5th ranked NA goaltender)
Machesney was the 16th of 23 goaltenders taken in the 2005 draft, and it is worth noting that only three goalies out of that 23-member class have played as many as 10 games in the NHL (Carey Price, Jonathan Quick, and Ondrej Pavelec). The other four members of that class who have seen NHL action have played in a combined 14 games. Machesney would be part of a habit in Caps drafting behavior in that his selection was the second in a five consecutive year run in which the Caps selected at least one goaltender. His selection looked promising after he followed up his selection by the Caps with a 12-win improvement in Brampton in the OHL. He made the leap to the pros in the following year, struggling a bit – as might be expected – posting a GAA on the north side of 3.00 and a save percentage south of .900 with both South Carolina and Hershey. In the 2007-2008 year, though, he improved his numbers dramatically, going 22-10-2, 2.55, .916 with the Bears. However, he was being pushed from below by 2006 draftees Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. Of the five goalies who would dress for the Bears in the 2008-2009 season, he would lead them in games (36) and tie for the lead in wins (19, with Varlamov). But his other numbers were shaky – a 3.24 GAA and a .876 save percentage. He struggled late in the season in particular, getting pulled in consecutive games in late February and losing his last three regular season decisions. He did not make an appearance in the playoffs as Michal Neuvirth led the Bears to the Calder Cup. The Caps cut their ties with Machesney in June. Oddly enough Macheney was signed by the Manitoba Moose, the team that the Bears defeated in the Calder Cup final.
Tim Kennedy, left wing (6/181; 162nd NA skater)
Kennedy was drafted while skating for the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL and entered Michigan State University after his being drafted by the Caps. Kennedy showed a flair for the dramatic at MSU, scoring the game winning goal against Notre Dame in the 2007 NCAA regional final that sent the Spartans to the Frozen Four, then getting the primary assist on Justin Abdelkader’s national championship-winning goal with only 18.9 seconds left in the final against Boston College. The thing is, though, by the time Kennedy was helping the Spartans to a national title, he was property of the Buffalo Sabres. He was traded to the Sabres in 2006 for a 6th round draft pick. That pick became Mathieu Perreault.
Viktor Dovgan, defenseman (7/209; unranked by CSS)
Dovgan was not ranked among European skaters in the 2005 CSS amateur rankings, and it is part of what made Dovgan the most intriguing pick of the seven players selected by the Caps. The league claimed that Dovgan was ineligible for the 2005 draft, the issue being his date of birth. The Capitals won the battle over determining Dovgan’s eligibility, but it might have been something of a Pyrrhic victory. Dovgan played a season for Samara in Russia after being drafted, then came across to play in 56 games at South Carolina in 2006-2007 (with one game in Hershey). Dovgan decided against playing in North America the following year, citing the fact that it would be easier to remain in Russia with his wife and infant child than to bring them to the States. Dovgan played that season for CSKA-Moscow, then returned to the U.S., playing 53 games in South Carolina last year and a pair in Hershey. It isn’t clear whether Dovgan will find himself playing in South Carolina or in Hershey next year. Whatever the result, any opportunity he might have to play for the Caps is perhaps years away.
So now we get to the “one” part of this exercise. Of this collection of draftees, only one – Tim Kennedy – has dressed for an NHL game. And one game is precisely what he has played… as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. In 11 minutes of action, he had one shot, one shot blocked, one hit, and lost one faceoff in a 4-3 win over the Islanders on December 27th of last year.
Although it might be premature, even now, to call the 2005 draft a “bust” (as we await the future of Joe Finley), no team in the NHL has gotten less to date out of the 2005 draft year than have the Caps. The one NHL game that the 2005 class of Caps draft picks has to show for itself ties the Islanders for the fewest NHL appearances from this class (and Masi Marjamaki at least played his game as a member of the Islanders).
To be fair, the Caps have had some fine draft years in the last decade. The 2004 draft would have been a good one without Alex Ovechkin at the top of the class. Based on the early returns from Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, one might like the prospects of the 2006 class (and that doesn’t include what Nicklas Backstrom has already contributed). But the fact remains as well that the Caps haven’t had a player selected after the second round play as many as 20 games with the Capitals in his career since Sebastien Charpentier (a goaltender at that) and Benoit Gratton, both of whom were selected in the 1995 entry draft (Charpentier in the fourth round, Gratton in the fifth).
As much as we might see a productive NHL future – with the Capitals, hopefully – for draft picks of more recent vintage such as Cody Eakin, Braden Holtby, Stefan Della Rovere, or even Oskar Osala, they are swimming upstream against the Capitals’ history of drafting in mid to late rounds. Like all Caps fans, we hope that with time has come improvement in this area. Time, as they say, will tell.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
It was the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Free State of Maryland battling for the Boot in the Third Annual Dave Fay Memorial Hockey Game, and it was a contest for the ages.
It did not take long for the scoring to start, and as often happens in such things, it started with a big save. Virginia had an opportunity early, but Steve “The Ice Man” Kolbe saved Maryland’s crabs with a classic “stack the pads” save that was positively “Brodeuresque”… or maybe “Pang-like.” Maryland took advantage of their good fortune by hot-footing it the other way and firing the puck off the pipe and behind Virginia’s celebrity goaltender, Tara “The Ice Queen” Wheeler. Miss Virginia would keep the home team in the game, though, as Maryland owned the territorial advantage early and had several scoring chances that Wheeler foiled (with the occasional aid of the posts behind her).
Virginia would tie the game at 1-1, and they seemed to get their skates under them at that point, but Maryland answered when ringer Gary Rissling deked and dipsy-do-ed down the ice to solve Wheeler and give the Free Staters the lead once more. Maryland would score again to make it 3-1, but Virginia’s own ringer – Ken Sabourin – would pot the puck to get Virginia within one at the first intermission. The Ice Man would end his period of work with a 3-2 “win within the game” over the Ice Queen.
Just as they did in the first period, Maryland would open the scoring in the second, but it was a harbinger of things that would be fairly reminiscent of last year’s classic. Virginia roared back with five unanswered goals, the pipes being more forgiving to the hosts, with pucks hitting iron and going in, than they were to the visitors in the first frame of the contest. When the second period was over, it was Virginia holding a 7-4 lead. Things looked bleak for the Marylanders.
In the third, Virginia stretched their lead by scoring the first goal, then played to protect their lead. Maryland would get one back to close the gap to three once more. With more than four minutes to go in the contest, Maryland pulled out all the stops – or at least their goalie – in a desperate attempt to catch the Virginians (they’d already played almost a minute with seven men on the ice). The Virginians, however, potted an empty net goal to restore the four-goal advantage, but Maryland wasn’t done. They called time with 1:21 left to, as announcer Wes Johnson put it, “ponder how they could score four goals in the last minute and 21 seconds.”
The Marylanders would make a dent in that deficit, scoring in the last minute to draw within 9-6. Then, they pulled their goalie to get the extra man – or 15 – over the bench. With the Maryland bench emptied of skaters, the Virginians did likewise, and the scene on the ice reminded this observer of the battle of Antietam… or Fredricksburg… or maybe last call at the Rock Bottom Brewery.
Through the maze of bodies, Maryland would score one last goal in the dying seconds, but the visitors would come up short. The Virginian’s defended their title, winning the contest 9-7 and once more holding Lord Brown’s Boot aloft in victory.
It was an amazing contest, with a hat trick for each team and a record-setting performance, as Gary Rissling was credited with 47 assists, most of them coming from the friendly confines of his own bench. As for the “three stars” of the game, shoot… they were all stars – both teams – skating for a good cause. Here are a few pictures of the action…
Saturday, July 25, 2009
"Let's call him the best European player in the League right now, although Washington's Alex Ovechkin quickly is closing the gap."
"Him" refers to Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Look, we love Lidstrom. If we had a vote for the Hockey Hall of Fame, we'd cast it right now...enthusiastically. We wouldn't bother to wait for a technicality like retirement or a waiting period. But is Lidstrom the best European in the game today?
Lisdstrom has dominated his position for almost two decades. In 16 seasons not shortened by labor trouble, he has scored fewer than ten goals only twice, has scored fewer than 50 points only twice, and has been worse than plus-10 only twice. His per-82 game career average of 14-47-61, +25, would have left him third in total scoring and fifth in plus-minus last year among NHL defensemen.
And he's barely missed a beat in his history of playoff performances. On a per-82 game basis, he's averaged 16-41-57, +16. Four times he's skated for a Stanley Cup winning team, and in the 85 games he played in those four years, he was a remarkable +38.
He could very well go down in NHL history as the greatest defenseman not named "Orr."
But that speaks to a body of work, which isn't the same as being the best player in his category (this being "European") right now. It isnt clear that he is the best European at his position at this point in his career. This is no dig at Lidstrom, only an acknwledgment time passes and there will be those -- there are those -- who will come along to eclipse him. Zdeno Chara (Slovakia) might already have done that in terms of being the best European defenseman. He is at least in the conversation.
As for the best European player in the NHL right now, it would be hard to argue with the two-time defending Hart Trophy winner, the two-time defending Pearson Trophy winner, the fifth-fastest player in league history to 200 goals, a player who has averaged 55-51-106 in his four seasons, whose 15 goals in 21 career playoff games is equal to a 59-goal pace over 82 games, whose 30 points in 21 playoff games equals a 117-point scoring pace.
They all happen to be the same person.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Saturday, July 25th
The Third Annual Dave Fay Memorial
A titanic struggle of wills, an historic contest of grit and determination, a desperate struggle to figure out who buys first round after the game...
With a silent auction of one-of-a-kind items, the dulcet tones of Caps in-game announcer Wes Johnson, the flappery of Slapshot, an appearance by Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier, Miss Virginia -- Tara Wheeler -- tending goal at one end, Caps radio play-by-play announcer Steve Kolbe manning the pipes at the other end, Caps alumni, a good cause to be supported... good heavens, you can't miss this!
It might not mean much to you, unless you are a fan of fish and chips (the birthday of Arthur Treacher), or a fan of odd sidekicks (the birthday of Calvin DeForest, aka "Larry "Bud" Melman"), or a fan of obnoxious radio hosts (the birthday of Don Imus).
It might not mean that much to you, unless you are a baseball fan (the anniversary of the establishment of the Cincinnati Reds baseball club), a lover of ice cream (the anniversary of the creation of the ice cream cone), or a Beatles fan (the anniversary of "Help" being released in the UK).
But there is meaning in yesterday's passing. With it, we have crossed the half-way point from the Game 7 loss to the Penguins to close the 2008-2009 season and Opening Night in Boston to open the 2009-2010 campaign.
Chins up, campers... it won't be long now.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Regular season: 433 games, 199-162-45 (.546), 2.59, .912, 25 SO
Playoffs: 23 games, 11-12, 2.87, .908, 2 SO
Regular season: 247 games, 111-94-25 (.538), 2.63, .903, 13 SO
Playoffs: 12 games, 5-6, 1.84, .931, 3 SO
Goalie 1: 1-year/$1.4 million
Goalie 2: 1-year/$525 thousand
One goalie plays for a Stanley Cup champion, the other doesn't.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Well, it might help to take a look at the last 20 seasons’ worth of Stanley Cup winners and their goaltenders to get a hint.
Over those 20 seasons, 12 different goaltenders won their first (or only) Stanley Cup as the number one netminder for their teams as they marched to the prize:
That experience extends – to a point – to playoffs as well. Of the 12 goaltenders who won their first Cup over the last 20 seasons, only two had fewer than 15 games of Stanley Cup playoff experience before the year in which they won that first Cup (Bill Ranford in 1990 (four games) and Cam Ward in 2006 (no games)). The 12 averaged 31 games of playoff experience before beginning that playoff season in which they won their first Cup.
One would expect that these goalies, in addition to being experienced, would be successful as well. And it is true, at least with respect to their regular season experience. Nine of the 12 had won at least 100 regular season games before winning their first Cup. Three – Nikolai Khabibulin, Dominik Hasek, and Ed Belfour – won at least 200 games before winning that first Cup. None of the 12 had a below-.500 record (defined as the number of standings points earned among those standing points available in all of the decisions they earned). Eight of them had winning percentages of .550 or better, and three (Chris Osgood in 1998 (.665), Martin Brodeur in 1995 (.604), and Mike Vernon in 1989 (.644) had winning percentages over .600. These 12 goaltenders had an average regular season record of 141-96-35 before winning their first Cup.
Playoff success is a bit more complicated. Overall, the dozen goalies described here had middling success in the playoffs before embarking on their first successful run to a Stanley Cup. Their average record in games was 16-14 in 31 appearances. The thing, though, is the appearances. Only three of the 12 appeared in fewer than 20 playoff games before their first successful Cup run, and only one of the last ten (Cam Ward) appeared in fewer than 18 games. The last half dozen goalies to win their first Cup – including Ward – averaged 55 games.
What doesn’t seem to be much of a factor is having already appeared in a Stanley Cup final (and losing) before winning the Cup. Only four of the 12 appeared in a final before winning one, and none of them appeared in more than one before coming out on top.
The NHL has increasingly become a young man’s game. But experience counts at one position in particular, and it speaks to the odds on whether the Capitals can make a serious run at the Stanley Cup this coming season. The experience gained by Semyon Varlamov last spring was invaluable in his development as a playoff goaltender, but in light of recent history one has to wonder if it was enough. Jose Theodore certainly has the experience (501 regular season games, 49 playoff games), but his performance hasn’t inspired the greatest of confidence. For instance, he has never won more than six playoff games in any of the seven seasons in which he appeared in the playoffs and hasn’t won that many since 2002. Having mentioned both Caps netminders, it is worth noting that in three of the last four playoff years, the Cup-winning club got wins from both goaltenders along the way (Martin Gerber and Cam Ward in 2006, J-S Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov in 2007, Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek in 2008).
This isn’t to say that the Capitals are doomed in their Stanley Cup hopes this year, but it does suggest that the path will be difficult. If Jose Theodore is going to be the guy backstopping the Caps to a title, he will have to reverse a history cluttered with a lack of playoff success. If it is to be Varlamov, he is going to have to grow up in a hurry.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Were we happier when the Caps sucked?
We pondered these weighty matters (there being no hockey in these parts to speak of this week, now that the kids have gone home) while reading a blog in the New York Times entitled, aptly enough, “Happy Days.”
In it, Eric Weiner today looks at “lowered expectations” and why those rascally Danes are so damned happy (according to, and we kid you not, a “Eurobarometer Survey”). Weiner posits that the Danes might be happy because of a sense of lowered expectations and then leaps to a couple of studies of happiness, one of which was authored by University of Chicago sociologist, Yang Yang.
In “Social Inequalities in Happiness in the United States, 1972 to 2004: An Age-Period-Cohort Analysis (American Sociological Review; April 2008),” Professor Yang concludes that “with age comes happiness. That is, overall levels of happiness increase with age, net of other factors. This supports the ‘age as maturity’ hypothesis suggested by the role theory of aging. The age effects are strong and independent of the time period and cohort effects…”
We get happier as we age, even as other factors are considered.
What does this have to do with hockey, you ask? Well, glad you did. It seems that message boards and blogs – provinces of Capitals Nation that seem to have an edge in the best of times, and can be positively abusive in the worst of them – fairly teem with negative sentiment toward this player (Jeff Schultz) or that prospect (Anton Gustafsson), with invective hurled at management (why did McPhee sign –insert player name here-) or ownership.
And then we realize, it’s probably because those who post entries on message boards or who author blogs are younger than most sports fans. They haven’t hit their “happy age” yet.
They don’t remember the Caps going 8-134-5 in their first season (ok, it was 8-67-5… it just seemed worse, but we were young then). They don't remember the four-overtime games that the Caps lost in the playoffs (one to their nemesis of old, the Islanders, and one to their nemesis of the present, the Penguins). They don’t remember the more than five thousand – or was it five hundred – man games lost to injury in the 1998-1999 season that included no post-season. They have quickly forgotten (attention span apparently a product of age as well) the valley of suck that was the 2003-2004 to 2006-2007 era.
On the other hand, fans of a certain age and experience, like… well, yours truly… have seen it all, have seen their hopes and dreams shattered into a thousand shards like an Alex Ovechkin stick as he’s firing at an open net. We’ve seen our expectations driven back into our skulls like a railroad spike. We’ve been tortured by the scene – replayed endlessly – of Sidney Crosby kissing the Stanley Cup while Mike Green takes abuse on message boards and in blogs for his “less than expectations” playoff performance. With age has come acceptance, tolerance of the foibles of young men on thin blades of steel who, but for a bounce here or a deflection there, can hoist the Cup in victory or hoist a beer in anguish of defeat.
Caps Nation – or a substantial chunk of it – is the very embodiment of Weiner’s observation that “we’d rather stew in our misery than trim our expectations. Lowering our sights smacks us as a cop out, un-American. Better a nation of morose overachievers, we reason, than a land of happy slackers.”
Maybe we should be more like those Danes, who (as Weiner reports it) see happiness in low expectations met easily. Instead of ratcheting up our expectations from year to year (playoffs last year, a playoff round win this year, a Stanley Cup next year), we should enjoy what we achieve without thought of what we “expect” down the road. We can lower our expectations and be happy when they are met. In fact, I’ll do that right now…
The Caps will finish 2009-2010 with a better record than 8-67-5.
Ahh… I’m happy already.
-- Neil Armstrong, Mission Commander, Apollo 11, 10:56 pm (EDT), July 20, 1969
Happy 40th anniversary.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Today was graduation day of a sort as the Caps’ prospects wrapped up a fun filled week in Arlington, Virginia, with a spirited scrimmage that was the best of the three held this week. And they did so in front of the largest crowd of the week, most of which appeared to get the news that the opening faceoff would come at 10 am, not 10:30, as previously published by the club.
The Aardvarks of Group A (in white) won the final scrimmage, 4-2, over the Banshees of Group B (in blue) to take the week’s series, 3-0. There were a couple of roster changes, though. Joe Finley dressed for the Banshees and skated on the wing for this one, and the clubs traded goalies, Dan Dunn heading to the Banshees and Dustin Carlson skating for the Aardvarks.
To probably no one’s surprise, Michael Dubuc opened the scoring in the first period for the Aardvarks. It was his sixth goal of the week, although one of the questions not of folks’ minds this week was “Can Dubuc find the net?”
One guy who did find the net in what had to be the highlight goal of the week was Eric Katellus for the Group B Banshees, who while being hauled down from behind, still managed to keep one hand on his stick and flip the puck over Braden Holtby’s pad to tie the game at a goal apiece.
It was that guy again, though – Dubuc – who would net his second of the game and seventh of the week to restore the one goal margin for the Group A Aardvarks. And then, late in the first period, the puck was shot in behind goalie Dan Dunn. The puck caromed hard off the end boards, and Everett Sheen was Johnny-on-the-spot to stuff the puck behind Dunn and give the Aardvarks a 3-1 lead at the first intermission.
In the second, the teams looked a bit ragged, with few scoring opportunities presenting themselves. However, Benjamin Casavant did get his blade on a puck to tap it in to cut the lead to one at the second intermission, 3-2.
In the third period, the competitive attitudes of the guys took over – not unexpected; it’s part of what got them here. The Banshees played some of their best hockey of the week among the scrimmages and pressed hard for the equalizer on Aardvark goalie Dustin Carlson (the subplot here being how Carlson would respond to the seven-goal period he endured in the third period of Scrimmage II). It was Andrew Glass for the Aardvarks, though, who would break through with a tally off a rebound late in the period to give the boys in Group A a 4-2 lead.
The Banshees weren’t done, though, and pulled out all the stops in the last minutes of the contest, maintaining possession in the offensive zone for almost the entire final two minutes and rifling shots at Carlson. The Banshees were unable to solve Carlson in those last two minutes, and the week ended with the 4-2 score in Scrimmage III.
Joe Finley had some moments when he looked indecisive or hesitant in his role as a winger, but that certainly isn’t surprising. He did lay a few monster checks on opponents, including one on Brett Flemming that knocked his microphone loose (Finley was apparently mic’ed for this contest). The remains of the equipment lay on the ice like some remnant of a Joe Louis Arena octopus until the next stoppage of play.
There are always going to be teams looking for little guys with skill who are unafraid to get their noses dirty in traffic and, more to the point, can survive in doing so. Mathieu Perreault is one of those kinds of guys. Clearly, he has skill. There were occasions today – and during the week for that matter – when it was clear he had the best stick-handling skills in this camp. The best passing skills, too. And he was not shy about pushing himself into scoring zones or in getting scruffy along the boards in his own end. But frankly, he’s expected to put on a bit of a show in this sort of environment. He would appear to have the skill to do it when the competition moves up a weight class or two, too. Does he have the staying power to do that? Guess we’ll see in September.
And what’s up with that little sumo hop Braden Holtby does before a faceoff in his end? Is he evicting the evil spirits from his crease?
Today’s Three Stars:
1. Dustin Carlson, Aardvarks
2. Michael Dubuc, Aardvarks
3. Eric Katellus, Banshees
Three Stars for the Week:
1. John Carlson – the most consistently good performer over the duration of the week
2. Michael Dubuc – cemented the perception that he has a knack for scoring, looked better in other aspects
3. Braden Holtby – solid all around all week, made some superb saves in Scrimmage III, impressive glove hand
If we had a "3A" star, it would go to Mathieu Perreault. He displayed his skill set on many occasions over the course of the week. We'd go so far as to say that he had the most impressive skill set of anyone at this camp (including Carlson). But on the other hand, one could argue that he should dominate in this setting. There is no quibbling with the fact, however, that he's got those skills that he'll need to get to the next level.
And here, one last time, are some pics from today’s action (including one of John Carlson taking a high stick in the chops)…
Friday, July 17, 2009
Not today, not no way
A forward to borrow.
And actually, the “borrowing” of a forward began today. Joe Finley was given a red jersey and skated as a forward in the Group B session today. Maybe it was part of the plan all along, since there had been talk of trying the defenseman at a forward position. Or maybe it was the absence of Gustafsson, who is becoming the Hard Luck Kid after what transpired yesterday – a gash needing 10 stitches to close and a mild concussion. Looks like he’s out for the duration.
But it was the Group A cohort that took the ice first this morning, and the word of the day for these guys was…
It was an iron works behind goalie Dan Dunn, as it seemed that every other shot banged a post. Goalie’s best friend, even in drills.
Meanwhile, there was a certain “Hershey” sort of air in the morning proceedings, as they were led by Coaches Woods (just promoted from of Hershey), French (promoted to replace Woods at Hershey), and Mann (brought in to serve as an assistant at Hershey).
As it has been for most of the week, the emphasis seemed to be on skating. There were a lot of end to end five-on-five drills that had the guys sprinting back and forth. Mixed in was a treat for the defensemen, a skating drill to test their agility in negotiating pylons (no, Jeff Schultz was not in attendance… that one’s for the Schultz-bashers) while skating backwards, then sending a pass to a teammate heading up ice.
One could get the feeling that it’s getting late in the week in this respect – there were a few occasions when the coaches had to hustle the guys into position, shouting at them to keep it moving. The guys in both sessions looked a bit slow.
In the Group B session, Finley was wearing the red sweater with Hauswirth and Meyer.
Dmitry Kugryshev was doing double duty in the second session, skating on a forward line and acting as translator of John Carlson’s instruction to Dmitri Orlov.
As for the other Carlson, Dustin looked as if he had shaken off the blitz he endured in yesterday’s scrimmage, but he was beaten on a few occasions – enough to do a passable impersonation of Olaf Kolzig… “F%$#!!!”
And there was Coach Bruce Boudreau, tucked away in the far end of the party balcony taking things in and engaged in conversation. He was found by some fans, though.
We’re down to it, now. One last scrimmage, scheduled for tomorrow at 10:00 am (not 10:30, as had been advertised). Even though some of the guys look a little worse for wear, and though there will be a few missing bodies, it should be a great show to end the week.
And here are some pics from today’s sessions…
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Well… that was the plan.
And it looked like a great plan early, as the Banshees at least stood their ground in a scoreless first period (we’re back to 20-20-20 minutes). But the score, or lack of it, was a bit deceptive. The period was played almost entirely in the Banshee end of the rink, and goalie Garrett Zemlak was peppered early and often. He was called up on early as the Aardvarks mounted a challenge, crashing the net, where the puck eventually lay near the goal line. Zemlak dove on it barely 80 seconds into the scrimmage to keep the Aardvarks off the board. It was a fine imitation of Dominik Hasek, as Zemlak rolled over on his back and threw his arm out to smother the puck.
Dmitri Orlov would get a chance for the Banshees later in the period as the puck was sent across to him with some open ice in which to shoot. But Orlov couldn’t get good composite on the one timer (once upon a time, that phrase would have been “good wood”), and goalie Dan Dunn turned it aside.
The first period ended scoreless, but the Aardvarks held a 12-4 advantage in shots.
Luck would smile on the Banshees in the second period, despite the lopsided edge in shots for their opponents. Eric Kattelus got the Banshees on the board early to give the blue squad a 1-0 lead. The game was tied not long after, though, as Michael Dubuc did the honors for the Aardvarks. The Banshees regained the lead, though, with a pair of tallies to take a 3-1 lead to the second intermission. One of them was a sweet goal by June draftee Cody Eakin, who took a nice feed from John Carlson and cleanly snapped the puck home.
The best laid plans, as they say, often go astray, and they really jumped the shark in the third period. Andrew Glass, Everett Sheen, Joel Broda, Garrett Mitchell, Mathieu Perreault, Perreault again, and Dubuc put a hurtin’ on Dustin Carlson, who fought the puck but also suffered some indifferent play in front of him as Aardvarks were winning races to the net.
There was quite a scare in the third period as several players got tangled up in front of Aardvarks goalie Braden Hotlby. Anton Gustafsson appeared to bang the crossbar with the side of his head, opening a gash and leaving him on all fours on the ice for several moments as medical personnel trotted onto the ice to provide assistance. The play unfolded right in front of us, and Gustafsson looked very woozy as he was being administered aid. It was a nasty gash that left some blood on the ice that had to be cleaned up as Gustafsson was helped off, a towel applied to the side of his head. He was taken to the locker room and did not return to the bench.
Although it was Banshees carrying the play early, the Aardvarks kept rooting around for pucks until they could open the floodgates on Carlson. Aardvarks 8 – Banshees 3 (Aardvarks lead, 2-0 in scrimmages).
Here are a few pics of the action…
- Five of the 19 games were against playoff-bound teams.
- They played playoff-bound teams in consecutive games only once (Philadelphia and Carolina on March 12th and March 14th).
- They played a playoff-bound team only once after March 14th (Carolina on March 21st), none in their last eight games.
- Of the five games played against playoff-bound teams, three of them were against Carolina. The other teams faced were Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
- The Caps were 2-2-1 against those five playoff-bound teams.
- Of their last 12 games, the Caps played lottery teams (bottom five in the league) seven times.
It wasn’t the highest caliber competition for the Caps heading into the post season. Did it play a role in what some might consider an early exit? We can’t say for sure, but what we can say is that it should not be a factor this season. The Caps will play 20 games from March 1st through the end of the regular season. Of that number…
- 11 will be played against playoff teams from 2008-2009.
- Twice they will play three playoff teams from last year in succession (Pittsburgh/Carolina/Calgary from March 24th-28th and Columbus/Boston/Pittsburgh from April 3rd-6th).
- In their last ten games, the Caps will play playoff teams from a year ago seven times.
- Of the 11 games against playoff teams, the Caps will play Carolina three times. The other eight are against teams outside the Southeast and include the Stanley Cup champion Penguins twice and Eastern Conference regular season leader Boston twice.
- The Caps will have five games against lottery teams, but two are against Atlanta (which gave the Caps problems last year), and the other three are against Tampa Bay.
It is a schedule made for preparing the Capitals for a playoff run…
… or for elimination from the playoffs.
It won’t lack for interest.
...and mark your calendars.
Celebrities (Brian Pothier, Slapshot!), silent auction, hockey, a good cause... hey, what could be better in July?
And if you need a reminder of the hard-fought tilt last year, then check this out.
Here is the press release on the event...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PUT CANCER ON ICE to hold
Third Annual Dave Fay Charity Hockey Game
and Silent Auction
July 2009 - Washington, DC -- Put Cancer On Ice™ (PCOI) will hold the Third Annual Dave Fay Memorial Hockey game Saturday July 25, 2009 at 4:30 p.m. at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Virginia. Sponsored in part by The Front Page restaurant and Sports Page deli, together with annual PCOI sponsor Mirant Mid-Atlantic, this year’s event will include scheduled appearances by Capitals defenseman, Brian Pothier, and Capitals mascot, Slapshot.
Members of the professional hockey community, Yvon Labre, Granny Grant, Gord Lane, Blair Stewart and Gary & Jaynen Rissling will join players from across Maryland and Virginia as they compete for annual bragging rights and Lord Brown’s Boot in the charity hockey game. The first period will feature an in-goal duel between celebrity guest goalies, The Ice Queen, Miss Virginia Tara Wheeler and Iceman, Steve Kolbe, Capitals radio play announcer.
PCOI will again hold a silent auction for sought after NHL and Capitals team items including a Capitals jersey signed by the entire ’08-’09 team, Alex Ovechkin signed collectible, Mike Gartner tribute signed collectibles, and an NHL game puck signed by Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Charra, among others.
“We have received amazing support from the Capitals organization, Hockey Fights Cancer and the entire community,” declared Rob Keaton, PCOI co-chair. ”The players are thrilled to take the ice alongside some of the Caps greats and look forward to hearing their names called by Caps game announcer, Wes Johnson who will be on hand to call the game.”
“What started out a few years ago as a casual, monthly pickup hockey game among Caps fans has developed into a charity that we all are excited to be a part of,” explains PCOI co-chair, Gavin Toner. “We are honored and excited to hold this event in recognition of Dave Fay. His support of our sport and unbiased, reliable reporting of the Washington Capitals made him a favorite of players and fans alike. Dave’s untimely passing from cancer was a loss for so many and we are pleased to again donate all proceeds from this event to Hockey Fights Cancer.”
There is no admission fee to watch the game, but donations are always appreciated.
For a list of auction items and event information, visit the organization’s website at http://www.putcanceronice.org/.
If you haven’t been paying attention these last few days and weeks, there is a “grass roots” building of coverage infrastructure that has fairly exploded across Caps Nation. Start anywhere you like…
OK, start with the usual suspects. We’ve had “Capitals Insider” and “In the Room” for a while now, but although they are “blogs” in the more traditional sense of the term (we’re already using the term “traditional” with respect to blogs?... my, but the world moves fast these days), they already have the vague sense of being somewhat quaint. That isn’t any dig at Tarik El-Bashir, Corey Masisak, or any of their colleagues. They do really fine work. And beat reporting is still the first, consistently best source of information on the team. But…
We have all these other blogs… Japers, OFB, Capitals Kremlin, A View from the Cheap Seats, and others (check over there on the right margin for some of them). These folks have been working at their craft for a little while now, and all have carved for themselves a healthy niche in Caps Nation, providing new and unique perspectives on the team. But…
Here is where things get interesting. In a short time, we’ve seen fans jumping into the fray with impromptu video (some of the stuff being posted on the Caps “unofficial” message boards is interesting, as well as what Reed-CK is doing over at Capitals Kremlin – real-time posting of the what’s and the who’s from Kettler during development camp). And…
There is “Twitter.” We’re not entirely sold on the concept as revolutionary, but it has been a tool used by many to “real-time” their thoughts and observations of what is going on, either at camp or with respect to the latest moves the Caps are making (tweets on the Jeff Schultz contract situation have become a cottage industry in a matter of hours).
We want to reserve a special comment for some really fine work, too. If you haven’t taken a look through the photographic work being done by Jimmy Jazz over at Tic-Tac-Toe Hockey and TTT Photo, do yourself a favor and page through his work. Today’s images of Braden Holtby and the "search and destroy" look in Joe Finley's eye are just examples of the fine imagery you’ll find. He certainly has a knack and a keen eye.
What seems like a long time ago (August 30, 2006 it turns out), a “Guidelines for Granting Press Credentials to Bloggers and Other Online Media Representatives” was published at Off Wing Opinion. Today, however valuable they are or might have been, they seem like the Articles of Confederation of 1781. Fans have taken their own paths to covering the team they follow, “guidelines” be damned. And those paths have trampled on some traditional methods of covering teams that yesterday were considered cutting edge. We feel positively ancient writing this blog in the shadow of embedded video and Twitter. And we’ve been at this for less than four years.
We have no idea where things are headed. It would be a fool’s errand to try and predict or anticipate such things. One thing we’ve learned in doing this over the last four years – it won’t be “managed.” Twitter is barely three years old, although as a phenomenon its life might be measured more in weeks or months. A year ago, no one ever heard of SB Nation; today, it is as close to a media colossus as there is in the blogosphere.
When Albert Einstein was but a teenager, he pondered the idea of what a beam of light might look like if you rode a bicycle next to it. Well, take a look… things seem to be changing that fast.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
WAY WRONG ANSWER!!!
The answer lies in what happened at 3:30 this afternoon in Arlington, Virginia. A standing room only crowd packed into Kettler Capitals Iceplex to watch a few dozen kids, most of whom they couldn’t pick out of a lineup with a program, and watched them put on a quite entertaining show…
… on a weekday afternoon…
… in the middle of summer.
Now that says much more about the state of the team than the frills and thrills stuff. It speaks to a fan base that just appreciates the state of the Capitals’ brand of hockey.
As for the scrimmage, the Aardvarks (Group “A,” but we prefer to give them a name) faced off in white against the Banshees (Group “B”) in blue. As one might expect, there wasn’t much in the way of tic-tac-toe hockey or sweet feeds for tap-ins, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Despite the somewhat odd format (20 minutes, 10 minutes, intermission, 20 minutes, 10 minutes), the guys skated hard and got their noses dirty.
Trevor Bruess got the show started in the first, uh… period… for the Aardvarks when he carried the puck down the right side. With a teammate on his left occupying the defense, Bruess held the puck and waited for Banshee goalie Dustin Carlson to commit. Bruess snuck the puck through an opening (although we suspect Carlson might want to have that opportunity over again). Bruess would also make his presence known with some fine work along the boards in that first frame.
Michael Dubuc staked the Aardvarks to a 2-0 lead when he worked his way in deep and roofed the puck over Carlson, just under the crossbar. Dubuc was another of the youngsters who was contributing in ways other than just getting the puck on net, although he would have a number of other scoring chances in this scrimmage.
Sean Backman put the Aardvarks up 3-0 in the second frame with a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Carlson low on the far side. At that point, it looked like a rout was unfolding.
But the Banshees got back in it when Dmitri Kugryshev banged a slapper in from the right wing circle that rang the iron on the far side.
Bruess almost got that one back for the Aardvarks with a nifty curl and drag that open for a moment, but he could not convert from in close.
The Banshees made the Aardvarks pay as John Carlson pounced on a rebound from low in the left wing circle to get the men in blue back to within one at 3-2. Dan Dunn, who made a fine save on the initial shot, just wasn’t able to recover in time as Carlson left no doubt.
The teams traded runs up and down the ice for most of the remaining time until Dubuc scored into an empty net to make it 4-2. Greg Burke finished the scoring moments later with a goal that left Garrett Zemlak staring into the rafters wondering how he let the puck get through (edit...it appears Dubuc got that one to complete the hat trick... chalk it up to being at the other end of the ice.
That covers the scoring, but it wasn’t the only entertainment. Brett Flemming, the Caps’ fifth round pick in June’s entry draft, had a pretty good first half of the contest. He also seems to us to bear more than a casual resemblance to former Cap Richard Zednik (although Flemming is a defenseman).
Stefan Della Rovere displayed some of the style that will endear him to Caps fans should he skate on the Verizon Center surface in years to come. He wasn’t shy about using his body, connecting on a number of hits, including a couple on Joe Finley that were impressive. Finley had a somewhat difficult game. He was whistled for a penalty 16 seconds into the game (tripping) and was the culprit in the only other penalty called (high-sticking).
Dmitry Orlov – a second round pick in the June draft – also had a fine day, although he didn’t show up in the score sheet. He showed some talent for playing larger than it says in the program (6’0”, 197), planting a couple of hits of his own, including a nice open ice hip check.
It was interesting to see Francois Bouchard and Anton Gustafsson paired on one line for the Banshees. Unfortunately, no chemistry seemed to ensue.
Our Three Stars:
Trevor Bruess, Aardvarks
Michael Dubuc, Aardvarks
Stefan Della Rovere, Banshees
Here are some pics of the action…