Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Unique Capital

Thinking about the trade on Sunday of Mathieu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks, if you look back at the history of the Washington Capitals, you could make the argument that Mathieu Perreault is unique.  Perreault is that player who, as the last player the Caps picked in the 2006 NHL entry draft (177th overall)), became “the little player that could.”  Undersized, with all the baggage that goes with that sort of thing in as physically demanding a league as the NHL is, Perreault painstakingly climbed the development ladder, one rung at a time, until he made it. 

After he was drafted, Perreault spent two more seasons with Acadie-Bathurst Titan in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before graduating to the Hershey Bears in the AHL.  His apprenticeship at Hershey reflected slow but steady progress in terms of the number of games he played there and those he played when called up to Washington.  In 2008-2009 he spent the entire season in Hershey, playing in 77 regular season games and another 21 in the playoffs.  The following year his games played in Hershey dropped to 56 in the regular season, while he was brought up for 21 regular season games in Washington.  The scales tipped a bit more the next season – 34 games in Hershey, 35 in Washington.

Finally, in 2011-2012, his apprenticeship was complete.  He spent the entire season in Washington, playing in 64 games and surprising with 16 goals, tied for fifth on the team with Brooks Laich. 

Looking back over the draft history of the team, it is hard to find a parallel to Perreault, a player taken in the sixth round who climbed high enough to play in 159 regular season games for Washington.  Only one player from the 2006 draft drafted lower than Perreault – Derek Dorsett (189th overall) has played in more NHL games than Perreault.

If you go back into the distant past of the franchise, perhaps a parallel could be drawn with Wes Jarvis, a 14th round pick in the 1978 NHL amateur draft, and like Perreault, a somewhat undersized center.  He, like Perreault, split time between Washington and Hershey over a three year period, but in his case, the splits weighted more toward Hershey over time, unlike Perreault.  He would be traded in 1982 with goaltender Rollie Boutin to Minnesota for goalie Robbie Moore and a draft pick.  It was a trade of little consequence for the Caps.  Moore played in one game for Washington, and the draft pick became Anders Huss, who never played in the NHL.  Jarvis went on to play in 93 more games for three different teams but not making much of a mark.

Maybe Andrew Brunette comes to mind.  He was a seventh round pick in 1993 (174th overall) whose perceived disadvantage was not size, but speed.  He climbed through the ECHL (with Hampton Roads) and the AHL (with Portland and Providence) before he got his shot in Washington.  He never could seem to catch on, though.  Over three seasons he played in a total of 62 games, recording 18 goals in the process.  He was lost to the Nashville Predators in the 1998 expansion draft.  He developed a reputation for having great hands and a goal-scoring touch.  After leaving Washington he went on to record 250 more goals in 1,048 games with five different teams.

Perhaps Richard Zednik is an apt comparison.  Zednik was a 10th round pick in 1994 (249th overall).  He spent two years with the Portland Winter Hawks in the Western Hockey League before graduating to the Portland Pirates in the AHL in 1995-1996 (he got one game in Washington that year).  He split time between Portland and Washington the next season and graduated for good in 1997-1998.  Once with the team, “Zed” became a fan favorite.  There was quite an uproar when he was traded (with Jan Bulis and a draft pick) to Montreal in the midst of a stretch run for Trevor Linden, Dainius Zubrus, and a draft pick in March 2001.  After leaving Washington, Zednik went on to score another 137 goals in almost 500 games for four teams (including a brief return to D.C. in the 2006-2007 season).

Perreault, however, seems unique.  Just the optics of it.  A slightly built, mop-haired youngster playing center in the National Hockey League in the land of the giants.  A kid who kept plugging at every stop on the development ladder, always (it seemed) dogged by the perception that he was too small or too offense-oriented, to too something else.

But now, he will play on the left coast, reunited with his coach from Hershey and Washington, Bruce Boudreau.  And the return?  John Mitchell (a minor leaguer two years older than Perreault) and a mid-round draft pick.  Not much, it would seem, for a player who averaged 18 goals per 82 games over his last two seasons.  For the Caps, we suspect it will be a trade of no consequence.  The Ducks will get a guy who, if nothing else is said about him, certainly has the virtues of perseverance.

Good luck, Matty.

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 2

Two elements left.  We have come so far in Fearless’ winding journey through the rows and columns of the periodic table.  And now, we are down to …


It is colorless, tasteless, odorless, non-toxic, and inert.  It exists only as a gas except in very extreme conditions.  It is the second-most abundant element in all the universe.  Its formation dates all the way back to the “big bang” at the dawn of creation of the universe as we have come to know it, although it continues to be produced as a product of nuclear fusion in stars.

Here on earth it was discovered… not on earth.  Pierre Jules César Janssen (known simply as “Jules” to his chemist pals) found evidence of helium in 1868 when he was making observations of the chromosphere of the sun.  Trouble is, Janssen thought what he discovered was actually sodium.  It was up to Norman Lockyer, an English chemist, to figure out that what it really was, was an element not found on earth.  Lockyer and his chemist partner, Edward Frankland, named the element “helium” for the Greek word “helios,” meaning “sun.”

The trick now was to find it on earth.  That would be credited to Luigi Palmieri, a physicist who detected it in analyzing lava of Mount Vesuvius in Italy.  Detecting it was one thing, finding it in volume was another.  Fast forward to 1903 and an oil well in Kansas, near its border with Oklahoma.  While drilling for oil, a gas geyser erupted, but the gas did not burn.  Erasmus Haworth, a geologist, collected and analyzed samples of the gas and found that more than ten percent of the gas was a heretofore unidentified gas (the rest of it being nitrogen, methane, and hydrogen).  Further analysis revealed that much of the unidentified gas was helium. 

Helium has a number of applications… arc welding, wind tunnels, leak detection, solar telescopes.  But it really comes down to two uses.  One, as a gas lighter than air and chemically inert, it can be used in flight applications – balloons, airships, and even in some rocket fuel production processes.  The other is as a party gag, where drunken college students can inhale the gas from party balloons to alter the resonant frequencies voices (that is, make them sound like Donald Duck after smoking marijuana).

So there it is.  A lighter than air element, named by Norman "Lockyer"… analyzed and discovered to exist in large volumes in the American Midwest by Erasmus "Haworth.”  And, perhaps its most widely known use is for occasions such as this…

Sounds like a former Capital with a nickname that sounds like “Lockyer,” who played with a teammate named “Haworth.”  A former player who has become an on-air fixture in Capitals games, but one who has a distinctive “resonance frequency” to his voice all alone.

Helium… the “Craig Laughlin” of the elements of the periodic table.

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 3

We are almost done… well, Fearless is.  Just three more elements of the periodic table to go.  Number 3 is…


Lithium is the lightest and least dense of all the metals.  That does not make it unreactive.  It is quite reactive, in fact.  So much so that it is often stored in mineral oil to keep it from oxidizing in air.  It is so reactive that it does not occur freely in nature, only in compounds.  It possesses a high conductivity character at very low temperatures.

It has a modest history in terms of its discovery.  That is, if your starting point is a mine in island in fact (sounds a bit like the beginning of “Jurassic Park”).  But there it is, a Brazilian chemist, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva by name, discovered a grayish, yellowish crystalline substance on the island of Utö, southeast of Stockholm (I won’t hazard a guess as to how it came to be that a Brazilian chemist was excavating on an island in an archipelago in Sweden in the year 1800).

Seventeen years later, a Swedish chemist (Johan August Arfwedson) working for another Swedish chemist (Jöns Jakob Berzelius...geez, all these Swedes!) took a sample of this crystalline substance – named “petalite” – and discovered that it contained a new element.  The boss – Berzelius – took it upon himself to name it, calling it “lithion,” for the Greek word “lithos,” meaning “stone” (imaginative, eh?).

Now that it was discovered and given a name, it had to be put to use.  And it has quite a variety of uses: ceramics and glass production, batteries, lubricants, welding and soldering processes, fireworks (where it contributes a red color), air purification, polymers, rocket propellants, as a neutron absorber in nuclear fusion (which has military applications), and as a coolant in nuclear reactors.  It might be most widely known as an element used in compounds to treat bipolar disorders.

What you have is an element that is unstable in air, yet reactive.  It was discovered “southeast” of a major city in Scandinavia (you’re pushing it, Fearless…).  It has a wide range of uses, but most of them in common applications or industrial processes.  It is quite conductive at low temperatures.  Sounds something like a player who has had “stability” issues physically, say, with his shoulders.  A player who played with two teams in the Southeast Division, including twice with the Caps.  A player who spent the NHL lockout playing in Scandinavia.  It occasionally can have some pop.

Lithium… the “Eric Fehr” of elements of the periodic table.

Washington Capitals 2013-2014 Previews -- A Six-Pack

The NHL provides that teams may carry 23 players on their rosters.  And as we head into the regular season there are going to be players on the edge who might be sent down to juniors (Tom Wilson), to the AHL (Tyson Strachan, Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek), or…well, we just don’t know (Connor Carrick).  Do we have anything to say about these guys?  You bet we do…

Tom Wilson

It would be hard to think that any player this September gave (and still gives) Washington Capitals management more cause to think than Tom Wilson.  The 16th overall pick in the 2012 entry draft is, even at just 19 years of age, the mix of size, skill, and edginess that has been lacking on the club since, well, a long time.  The problem for the Caps is that Wilson has no AHL option.  It is either a roster spot with the parent club or back to Plymouth in the Ontario Hockey League, in accordance with an agreement between the NHL and the umbrella Canadian Hockey League organization that provides that a player not having reached his 20th birthday or having played in four years in major junior hockey is not eligible to play in minor professional hockey leagues (AHL or ECHL).  Wilson has completed three years with the Plymouth Whalers. 

Scoring three goals and participating in two fights in his five preseason games has made things tougher on the Caps’ front office, but complicating the matter is payroll.  The Caps have $665,705 in cap room at the moment for 22 roster spots (13 forwards, seven defensemen, two goaltenders; source:  Given who would be expected to be retained by the club, if the Caps choose to keep 13 forwards, one would have to be moved to make room for Wilson on the roster.  Even if they were inclined to carry 14 forwards, Wilson’s $1.3 million cap hit would push the club over, making necessary a move in that case.

By the time you read this, the matter might already be settled, since NHL clubs have to get down to rosters of no more than 23 players and under the $64.3 million salary cap by 5:00 p.m. (Eastern) on Monday.  Wilson has been getting a long hard look in preseason, and we suspect that the club is trying to clear a roster space to allow him to stay with the club.  However, with a lot of other clubs in the position of having to trim their rosters to get to the 23-man limit on Monday, it could prove to be a hard chore.  That the Caps have an option with Wilson to return him to juniors means that they could be less inclined to holding what amounts to a “garage sale” sort of deal that does not return value.  We think that come Monday, Wilson will be back in Plymouth.  But we are not very confident about that forecast.

Tomas Kundratek

It was a mild surprise that Tomas Kundratek was placed on waivers on September 25th.  If there was a time to do it, though, that was the time.  With clubs heading into the last weekend of the preseason and having their own waiver decisions to make, their making a waiver claim on a third-pair defenseman was a chance the Caps were willing to take.  It worked.  Kundratek cleared waivers.

That might not be the end of it, though.  Kundratek was 1-6-7 in 25 games last season for the Caps before suffering a leg injury in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 14th that ended his season.  He certainly has a salary cap-friendly hit of only $550,000, but is in a bit of a logjam with the other right-handed defensemen on the roster (Mike Green, John Carlson, Steve Oleksy, Tyson Strachan.

Although he did surprise somewhat with his offense last season, his possession numbers left a bit to be desired.  His 5-on-5 Corsi/on-ice was sixth among eight defensemen playing in at least 20 games for the Caps (only John Erskine and Jeff Schultz were worse), and his Corsi relative (on-ice less off-ice value) was also sixth among the eight defensement. His PDO (sum of team on-ice shooting and save percentages) was second worst among the defensemen (only Jeff Schultz had a lower value).  He compiled these numbers while having the highest share of offensive zone starts (52.0 percent) among the defensemen playing in at least 20 games.

Still, he could serve as one of those guys who is on a short list for call-up in the event of injury or poor play.

Projection: 13 games, 1-3-4, minus-3

Tyson Strachan

Much of what we just wrote about Tomas Kundratek also applies to Tyson Strachan.  He was placed on waivers on September 28th.  At this writing we do not know if he cleared or was claimed.  We suspect, though, that he will go unclaimed and follow Kundratek to Hershey for the same reasons.

There are, however, differences in their situations.  In Strachan’s case, he is not an especially gifted offensive player (he has one goal in 120 career games).  And, he has no history with the Caps, having spent his NHL career in St. Louis and Florida.  Last year with the Panthers, his possession numbers were alright (by Florida standards), ranked in the middle of the pack among Panther defensemen in his Corsi numbers at 5-on-5.  However, despite 54.2 percent offensive zone starts, his PDO value was second worst among seven Florida defensemen playing in at least 20 games.  In fact, only six of 210 defensemen in the league playing in at least 20 games had a lower value at 5-on-5 than his 953.

He is likely to be a fill-in of a different type than Kundratek.  Where Kundratek is more of a “skill” based defenseman, Strachan has more of a physical edge.  He could be an option in the event a John Erskine goes down (and remember, Erskine has played in more than 55 games only once in seven seasons in Washington).  His size (6’3”, 215) and edge (12 fights in 120 NHL games) makes him more suited to that role.

Projection: 12 games, 0-1-1, minus-2

Connor Carrick

Can’t say we saw this one coming.  Two years with the U.S. national development team was enough for the Caps to take a flyer on Connor Carrick in the fifth round of the 2012 entry draft.  Last year he skated in Canadian major junior hockey (Plymouth Whalers) and had a respectable 12-32-44, plus-27 scoring line in 68 games, plus 18 points in 15 post-season games.  He came to Caps development camp last July and impressed.  He was invited to training camp and apparently really impressed.  As of this writing he is still on the roster (he played 22-plus minutes in the Caps 4-3 overtime loss to Chicago on Saturday night).

He almost certainly will not make the parent roster this season, but he has played himself into a tough decision for the front office.  It is not on the order of the decision the Caps have to make concerning Carrick’s junior teammate Tom Wilson, but they have to ponder whether Carrick would be served better by a return to Plymouth or an assignment to Hershey.

In five preseason games he was 1-4-5, plus-1 ( keeps pre-season statistics).  His five points put him in a tie for 13th among Eastern Conference skaters and tied for fifth among defensemen.  Only 20 players in the league have more pre-season ice time at this writing (he leads the Caps in total ice time).  He is getting a long look and doing the most with the opportunity.

Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry is something of the lost prospect.  In 2011-2012 he was among the rookie defenseman leaders in assists and points, and developed a local reputation as being quite fond of the hip check.  Last year his season might have been a victim of the lockout that delayed the start of the season.  Without having had the opportunity to start the season in Washington with the Caps, he was skating with the Hershey Bears in a December 6th game at Verizon Center against the Norfolk Admirals when he suffered a concussion, likely the product of a hit he sustained early in the first period.

Orlov played in only 31 games for the Bears and only five for the Capitals last season, stopping his development in its tracks.  Instead of growing into a second pair role with the club, he is fighting for a roster spot in pre-season 2013.  At the moment he appears to be on the outside looking in, at least in terms of cracking the starting lineup.  John Erskine, Jack Hillen, and Steve Oleksy would appear to have the inside on the last three starting spots on defense.  Hillen and Oleksy have the added bonus of carrying lower salary cap hits than Orlov ($900,000)

The not-too-subtle hint about Orlov is that he needs to develop a more rounded two-way game  The upside for him is that as a left-handed defenseman he faces less congestion for a spot on the ice than he would if he was right-handed.  For the moment Orlov seems to be the odd-man out in the Caps’ blue line plans, but the grind of an 82-game season suggests he will get some time to show he is recovered and back on an upward development path.

Projection:  20 games, 2-4-6, minus-2

Philipp Grubauer

Philipp Grubauer’s march through the Capitals development path has been unremarkable by its consistency and steadiness.  Drafted in 2010 (fourth round, 112th overall), a year in the Ontario Hockey League (Kingston Frontenacs, a year in the ECHL (South Carolina Stingrays), and last year splitting time between the Reading Royals in the ECHL and the Hershey Bears in the AHL.  He even found time for a cup o’ coffee with the Caps last year – two games in which he faced 59 shots in 84 minutes.  That works out to 42 shots per 60 minutes.  Well, he didn’t lack for work in his short stay.

Grubauer got about a game’s worth of total minutes in the pre-season before being sent back down to Hershey (he stopped 19 of 20 shots in his pre-season debut with the Bears, a 6-1 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton).  His 2.57 GAA and .923 save percentage in limited duty seems about where he ought to be, with a full year in Hershey to come as part of his apprenticeship.  There is no rush in bringing Grubauer along, and our expectation is that absent injury, he will not see action for the Caps this season.

Last season the Caps dressed 28 skaters and three goaltenders.  That means that there very well could be players dressing for the Caps this season in addition to those we covered in our previews.  That’s part of what makes each NHL season interesting, to see who gets a chance that you might not have expected when the season started.