Friday, June 14, 2013

Washington Capitals: 2012-2013 By the Tens -- Burnt Ends

In some places in the world, “burnt ends” are a delicacy, the smoky edges of brisket that barbecue aficionados take care to prepare and love to eat.

This is not one of those parts of the world (although they are delicious).  No, burnt ends here in Peerless World are merely those ingredients in the summary of players whose seasons, for whatever reason, are merely “burnt,” and they come at the “end” of this journey that is the player portion of the recap of the 2013 season for the Washington Capitals.

Martin Erat

A lot of Caps fans will not even tell you that this was a good idea gone bad.  When Filip Forsberg was taken with the 11th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, he was thought of – by the club – as being a prospect worth watching, one that the Caps did not even think would be available at the 11-spot in the first round

Fast forward to early-April, and Forsberg had become an expendable commodity.  For whom?  Martin Erat.  A player who toiled for 723 regular season and 46 post-season games with the Nashville Predators, Erat compiled a solid, if unspectacular resume. His career per-82 game scoring line of 18-36-54 was certainly that of a scoring line winger, and one that might have room for more production, given the rather conservative philosophy employed by the Nashville Predators over his tenure there.  One could fathom the rationale for such a trade, moving value for value, trading an uncertain future prospect for a known commodity who could contribute now.  But an 11th overall pick for a good, if not elite, winger and a minor league forward (Michael Latta)?

As far as Erat’s 2013 season with the Caps is concerned, it did not work out as hoped.  Erat is more than a scorer, but his three points in nine regular season games (1-2-3, plus-1) was disappointing, skating almost exclusively on the second line with Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer.  Part of the problem was recording only nine shots on goal in nine games.  It is a small data set, but only Joey Crabb and Aaron Volpatti recorded fewer shots on goal per game.

He was taken for what amounted to a shakedown cruise on special teams, averaging a little more than a minute per game on both the power play and penalty killing units.  Not much of consequence happened in those special teams assignments, Erat being on ice for one power play goal against in nine games, no goals on the Caps’ power play.

If Erat was a “win now” acquisition, that meant he needed to be heard from in the post-season.  He was not, at least on the offensive side of the puck, where he finished without a point in four games.  However, he did play responsibly in his own end.  The New York Rangers scored no goals against the Caps when he was on the ice, and he had only two recorded giveaways in those four games.

However, the key phrase in that last paragraph is “four games.”  Erat suffered a freakish injury – later revealed to be a dislocated elbow – in the first period of Game 4 against the Rangers when he got tangled up with New York’s Derek Stepan and the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin.  Who knows what might have happened had there been a healthy Erat for the remainder of that game, one the Caps lost 4-3 after being tied, 2-2, after two periods?  Or what might have happened in Game 6, when the Caps could not score against Henrik Lundqvist in a 1-0 Ranger win?

That said, Erat comes to the Caps at a discount.  He will be a $4.5 million cap hit in each of the next two seasons, but he will cost the club only $6.0 million in total salary.  It remains to be seen if there is value in that deal, or it is merely penny-wise and pound foolish – a discount paid for with what was thought to be a large chunk of the team’s future.

Philipp Grubauer

Hey, this NHL goalie thing can’t be too hard, can it?  Come into a game in relief, stop all 14 shots you see in 25 minutes of action.  OK, so it was a lost cause, a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.  Still, that is a team with some weapons – Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds. 

Oh, those three had no third period shots in that game?  Well then, let’s see what you do with a full game’s worth of work against a team that is going to make the playoffs.  Five goals in 59 minutes.  Yeah, it would have been nice if the guys in front could have done something about those 45 shots you had to face in that game against the New York Islanders, but think of it as baptism under fire. 

You did have a pretty nice rookie year in Hershey, though… 15-9-2, 2.25, .919, and two shutouts.  The playoffs, not as much (2-3, 3.79, .901).  Still, not a bad rookie year, kid.

Roman Hamrlik

Down the stretch of the 2011-2012 season and into the playoffs, Roman Hamrlik was a solid defenseman for the Caps, at times arguably their best.  In his last 41 regular season games in 2011-2012 he was 1-11-12, plus-21.  In the playoffs he was 1-3-4, plus-8, and was on ice for only five even strength goals against in 14 games.

Then The Great Lockout of 2012-2013 happened.  First, there were the comments in November in which he said he was “disgusted” with the lockout and wanted the union to put the matter of the league’s proposal to end it to a vote.  That did not sit well with many of his colleagues, but hey, it was the third lockout Hamrlik experienced in his career.  Folks get edgy.

Then Hamrlik got his wish…the season started.  Well, beware what you wish for.  He dressed for the Caps’ first three games of the season, recording an assist and a minus-1 while averaging over 15 minutes a game.  He dressed only once more for the Caps, though, getting 16 minutes of playing time in a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 7th.  Four weeks later, he was waived and claimed by the New York Rangers.  Final line with the Caps: four games, 0-1-1, minus-1.  Not that it got any better with the Rangers:  0-0-0, minus-3 in 12 games, and he dressed for only two post-season games, recording an assist.  After 20 seasons, he would appear to be done.

Brooks Laich

Over a five-year stretch that ended with the 2011-2012 season, Brooks Laich missed a total of four games out of 461 possible games played, regular season and playoffs. 

Then The Great Lockout of 2012-2013 happened.  Laich, like many of his brother players, decided to head off to Europe to play hockey while the league and the union debated the next labor agreement.  Perhaps with no small sense of irony, he hooked up in September with the Kloten Flyers of the Swiss National A League.  That might have been a little too much irony.  Although the whole matter is cloaked in mystery, it seems, Laich suffered some sort of injury during the lockout, probably when he was playing for Kloten, likely in an 8-0 Flyers win over Lugano in November (the word “senseless” comes to mind). 

He returned to North America a few days later, but when the NHL season started in January, Laich could not answer the call.  He would miss two months of the season before making his first appearance on March 19th against Pittsburgh.  He managed to gut it out for nine games before going on the shelf for the rest of the regular season.  During that hiatus he did or did not have sports hernia surgery.

Laich might have been ready to go in the second round of the post-season, but the Capitals did not make it that far, losing in seven games to the New York Rangers in the first round.  It was a lost season for the veteran completing his ninth year in the NHL.  Nine games, 1-3-4, plus-2, and more penalty minutes (six) than points (four).  A lost season indeed.

Cameron Schilling

It was not as if Cameron Schilling was a complete stranger to Verizon Center ice.  After all, he did play on that ice surface in 2009 when his Miami Redhawks advanced to the NCAA title game, losing in overtime to Boston University.  On March 12th, Schilling – called up from the Hershey Bears two days earlier – made his NHL debut for the Caps against the Carolina Hurricanes.  For the Caps it was a brutal night, a 4-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Hurricanes.  But for Schilling – in his only appearance for the Caps in the 2013 season – it was 11:58 of time well spent on an ice sheet he hopes he will see a lot more of in 2013-2014 and the years ahead.

Aaron Volpatti

We’re betting Vancouver Canuck fans thought that Roberto Luongo would be heading out of town before Aaron Volpatti would.  If they thought that, they were wrong, for Luongo is still a Canuck, and Volpatti was claimed by the Caps on waivers in late February.  It was hardly a risky move for the Caps, Volpatti being a negligible cap hit.  And, he presumably would add a dimension that the Caps seemed to lack.  Need a hint?  In parts of three NHL seasons covering 54 games with Vancouver, he scored a total of three goals.  On the other hand, he had 11 fights.

And so it came to pass that in his first game with the Caps, Volpatti took on Winnipeg’s Anthony Peluso, a relative newcomer to the NHL (he was playing in only his fifth NHL game), but a player with a long fighting resume in the AHL (27 fights in his previous two seasons).  Volpatti, who gave away three inches and 20 pounds, was handled rather decisively by Peluso.  But it was a Pyrrhic victory for Peluso, for not only did his Jets get shutout, 3-0, but Peluso broke his hand in the process.  It was his last game of the season. 

It also was Volpatti’s last fight of the season.  But it was not his last game.  Caps fans might be hard-pressed to remember, but he did dress for 16 more games, going 0-1-1, minus-2 in those contests.

There are Caps fans who look upon Volpatti as a potential replacement for Matt Hendricks.  Sure, he comes with a lower price tag ($575,000 cap hit for the next two seasons), no small consideration for this team.  But he is not all that much younger (28) than Hendricks (32), and if one problem the Caps have is getting very little out of their fourth line at the offensive end of the rink, Volpatti does not appear to address that issue.

And there you have it, 2013’s version of “burnt ends.”  Unlike the barbecue variety, we hope there are fewer of them next season and much more savory tales to tell.

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