Good morning Caps fans. Peerless is downstairs giving Cheerless what for, for playing with the computer last night. I thought I'd take a moment and clear the air here on these moves the Caps made over the weekend.
Cheerless is, as anyone who reads this thing knows, a bit of a pessimist, not to mention a bit slow. OK, he’s an idiot. If you read what he wrote, you would think the Caps signed free agents Larry, Moe, and Curly; then traded Georges Vezina for a pack of twinkies.
Well folks, think about it. What did the Caps get this weekend? Well, first, they probably got a bit tougher. Not in fighting, mind you. Matt Bradley, God bless him, he’d stand up for his teammates and drop ‘em with anybody. But Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward are probably going to be tougher to play all over the ice than Bradley and Boyd Gordon. Halpern was a terrier of a player when he was here the first time, and we’re going to bet that hasn’t changed much, even if he has a few years on him. Ward might provide a bit more grit in the offensive zone in going to the net; he sure seemed to have that potential in last spring’s playoffs.
But if you think back to the Caps, like Peerless likes to say, a number comes to mind. Zero. The Caps got no points from either Bradley or Gordon in the playoffs. They weren’t even a threat to shoot. Nineteen shots on goal between them in the nine games. OK, Halpern had only one goal and nine shots in only four playoff games last spring, but we saw what Ward could do – seven goals in 12 games, and he has nine in 18 career playoff games. Maybe he just likes that time of year.
The real changes here are Halpern for Gordon and Ward for Bradley. Halpern is a more offensively-potent version of Gordon, who will (if history is a guide) provide similar faceoff production. Ward is a younger (30) version of Bradley (33) who might be sturdier. Bradley missed 21 games last season as a result of three different injuries (facial, lower body, broken finger). He was at a point when one might be concerned over more physical breakdowns, given his style of play. Ward has missed only 13 games over the past three years combined. And even though his goal production dropped from 17 to 13 to ten in those years, the 40 goals is more than twice as many as Bradley recorded in the same period (19).
Now, Roman Hamrlik. He is replaces Scott Hannan. Maybe, like Peerless suggested, his signing is a result of the term of contract Hannan might have been seeking. Hamrlik’s two year deal looks like it might be something of a bridge to get to a Dmitry Orlov in a couple of years. And in the meantime, he can provide experience (more than 1,300 games worth) and some punch from the blue line (624 points in his career). We would like to think he could turn that playoff production around, though (2-34-36, minus-36 in 97 career playoff games). But more important perhaps, Hamrlik might be a pretty good mentor for guys like John Carlson and Karl Alzner. And even Orlov might have something rub off if or when they do some skating together in training camp. Some folks seem to think he has this ability.
In goal, you might have thought that the Caps would get a veteran backup to play with Michal Neuvirth, but who would have thought it would be Tomas Vokoun? For $1.5 million? That qualifies as highway robbery. Think about it. The Caps get a goalie with a save percentage of .919 or better in each of the six years since the lockout, one who has played fewer than 57 games only once over that span (Michal Neuvirth has a total of 70 regular season games of NHL experience). Even if Vokoun turned 35 yesterday, which Cheerless seems to think is quite the concern, Neuvirth’s having obtained a full season’s worth of experience means that Vokoun isn’t likely to have to bear a 60-plus game burden as a number one goalie (he topped 60 in three of the last six seasons). And Braden Holtby doesn’t sit for 60 games in Washington. He plays 60 games in Hershey. It would hardly be the worst thing to happen to a goalie who will have just turned 22 when opening night rolls around. Just look at Olaf Kolzig's experience in paying one’s dues to make the big club.
So there you have it. The Caps get stronger on the bottom half of the forward lines in terms of production; they get a sense of continuity of experience and a sturdy example for their young defensemen. Did they overpay for those contributions? Yes, perhaps. But the Caps probably got a bargain on their new 1/1A goaltender. If the Caps can turn this weekend’s work into a Stanley Cup next spring, we guarantee no one will be sad at the price paid.
Now, I’d better go see what those two cousins are up to…