Friday, August 22, 2014

Washington Capitals: All-Franchise Teams by the Alphabet -- Team O

Here we are up to Team O in the Washington Capitals All-Alphabet Franchise Teams. What does the “O” stand for? Ohhhhhhhh, my God, it’s early."

Well, not really (sorry, Robin), but it is time to look at what is a team abundant in vowels.

Left Wing: Oskar Osala

Regular Season (with Capitals): 1 seasons, 2 games, 0-0-0, minus-1
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Seriously. Why? Because there are only five skaters in Washington Capitals history whose last name starts with the letter “O.” Curiously, it you look at them in an odd sort of way (and we’ll get to that, although you can probably figure out what it is already), there is one “O” player for each position.

Oskar Osala gets the left wing position. Why? Well, he serves to make a point. Osala was drafted in the fourth round by the Capitals (97th overall) in the 2006 entry draft, the sixth player taken by the Capitals in that draft. At 6’4”, 217 pounds, Osala might have been that power forward that the Caps seem to lack from time to time (at least not named “Ovechkin”). He sounded like the whole package at the time from the scouting reports

Central Scouting Bureau Scouting Report:
Is a good skater with a long stride, good straight away speed and balance … a hard and accurate shot and has been used on the point for Mississauga’s power play … he goes to the net and is tough to move … showed some good playmaking ability during the season … sees the ice well and with his good passing ability can move the puck effectively … responsible defensively … a big guy with a good physical presence although not to be considered a punishing type of player … has the ability to separate opponents from the puck … gives a hard working up and down effort … has shown a significant improvement over the course of his 1st OHL season …

International Scouting Service Scouting Report:
Osala entered his rookie season this year with Mississauga of the OHL with high expectations. He had a slow start, which was expected, due to his transition from Europe to the North American game and culture. Surprisingly Osala finished strong, putting up great offensive numbers and finished his rookie OHL season with 27 points in the last 30 games. With his quick release and cannon of a shot, he managed close to a point a game in the second half of the season. He has the offensive tools to be dangerous on a nightly basis, but consistency is the biggest question for this player.

Red Line Report:
Liked him last year as an underager with the Finnish U-18 Team and thought he’d be a strong two-way player and physical center in Mississauga this year. Started coming on in January after disappointing start and even picked up at the offensive end, where he began to pot some goals and create chances for linemates with strong board work and by using his overwhelming size/strength advantage down in the crease area. Two late season viewings showed RLR he’s definitely moved his game ahead after slow transition to North America and is back to being a legitimate prospect. At 6-4/220 pounds, he has a huge frame and will play it rough in the trenches. Can also be a dominant force on faceoffs, and while he will never have great hands, he does have a very hard/heavy shot that he was able to get away more often and with a quicker release as the season progressed. Projection: 4th line shutdown checking center; PK duty.

Sounded pretty good for a fourth-rounder, but that last line in the Red Line Report was ominous. Fourth line as a projection? Then there was his progress. Osala spent another season with the Mississauga IceDogs, but then went back to Finland to skate with Blues Espoo for the 2007-2008 season (he was not under contract to the Capitals). He signed a three-year deal with the Caps in June 2008 and came back to play the 2008-2009 season with Hershey, also getting his two games of playing time with Washington (17 minutes and change, two shots on goal, no points).

He appeared to plateau, not the best thing to say about a 20-year old. The following season, with his numbers not improving appreciably in Hershey, he was traded in March 2010 to Carolina with Brian Pothier and a second round pick in the 2011 entry draft for defenseman Joe Corvo. Osala played in one game for the Hurricanes late that season (oddly enough, against Washington – no points in six minutes of ice time), and that would be it for his NHL career.

The point? Oh yeah, the point. Drafting is an inexact science (or maybe it really was just a thing about Finnish players with this team).  To this day, Oskar Osala is the last player drafted by the Capitals from Finland since 2006. But he gets a jersey for Team O.

Center: Adam Oates

Regular Season (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 387 games, 73-290-363, plus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 32 games, 6-14-20, plus-4

Pity that most fans these days will remember Adam Oates as an unsuccessful head coach in his rookie turn behind an NHL bench with the Capitals. They might not know (or long-time fans might not remember) that Oates played more regular season games with the Caps (387) than he did for any of the other six teams he skated with in his 19-season career.

He did not arrive in Washington until he reached his mid-30’s, having played 11-plus seasons with three other teams – the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, and Boston Bruins. And that was after he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Red Wings after three seasons at Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute.

Oates came to the Capitals from Boston in March 2007 with Bill Ranford and Rick Tocchet for Jim Carey, Anson Carter, Jason Allison and Washington's third round choice in the 1997 Entry Draft. He arrived in D.C. with more than 800 games of experience, more than 250 goals, and almost 1,000 points.

He arrived far too late to salvage any part of the 1996-1997 season, but in his first full season with the Caps he finished second on total scoring (76 points) to Peter Bondra (78 points) and finished tied for fifth in the league with 58 assists. In the post-season he tied with Joe Juneau for the team lead in points (17) as the Caps advanced to their only Stanley Cup final in team history.

The next season was a difficult one for Oates and the injury-riddled Caps. He played in only 59 games but still averaged almost a point per game (54). He came back from that season to post his two top years with the club. In 1999-2000, having assumed the duties of captain after Dale Hunter was traded the previous spring, Oates finished 13-69-82 in 81 games, and then followed it up with a 14-64-78 year in 80 games in 2001-2002. In both seasons he led the NHL in assists.  The playoffs were another matter.  In 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 he could not repeat his solid production from the 1998 Stanley Cup run.  Over those two post-seasons Oates was 0-3-3, minus-4 in 11 games as the Caps were eliminated in the first round in both years.

That 2001-2002 season would prove to be another difficult one for Oates and the Capitals. The team traded for Pittsburgh Penguin winger Jaromir Jagr the previous summer, and much was expected of the 2001-2002 squad.  It did not deliver.  The Caps stumbled out of the gate, going 5-6-1 in October and had only one winning month over the first four months of the season, barely at that (5-4-4).  It was too big a hole out of which to climb.

Even though the Caps made a run at a playoff spot, the damage to the season was done, and on March 19th the Caps traded Oates to the Philadelphia Flyers for goalie Maxime Ouellet and the Flyers’ first, second, and third round picks in the 2002 entry draft.  

Jagr would be gone a year later, and thus ended one of the more confounding periods in Capitals history, something former teammate of both, Chris Simon, later alluded to: “For whatever reason, he and Adam Oates just didn't jell together.”  

It seems incomprehensible that Oates, who meshed quite well with a mercurial personality such as Brett Hull in St. Louis (158 goals over two full seasons playing with Oates) and with a power forward such as Cam Neely in Boston (50 goals in 1993-1994) could not jell with Jaromir Jagr, but the record stands for itself.

Oates wrapped up the 2001-2002 season in Philadelphia, and then spent a season in each of Anaheim with the Mighty Ducks and Edmonton with the Oilers.  Those would be his last NHL seasons, completing a 19-year career with the 2003-2004 season.

Adam Oates had one of the more complicated relationships to Capitals hockey, an immensely skilled center who made others around him better.  He could not, however, find the combination to unlock the potential of the club in his later years in Washington when he put up his best personal numbers with the Caps. Nevertheless, among Capitals playing in at least 250 games for the team Oates is the franchise leader in career assists per game (0.75) and is fifth in points per game (0.94).  That is why he is the center on Team O.

Right Wing: Alex Ovechkin

Regular Season (with Capitals): 9 seasons, 679 games, 422-392-814, plus-47
Playoffs (with Capitals): 6 seasons, 58 games, 31-30-61, plus-9

The “headline” numbers for Alex Ovechkin’s career are well known by fans of the Washington Capitals: five 50 goal seasons, four 100-point seasons, six times named to the first team NHL all-star team, a four-time Richard Trophy winner (most goals), a three-time Pearson Award winner (outstanding player), a Calder Trophy winner (top rookie), a Ross Trophy winner (most points), and a three-time Hart Trophy winner (most valuable player).

However, that only scratches the surface of Ovechkin’s accomplishments over his nine-year career.  In addition to the three Hart Trophy wins, he had received votes for the award in eight of his nine seasons.  In addition to being a six-time first team NHL all-star, he has been named to the second team three times, including one year in which he was named first team all-star at a different position (in 2012-2013 he was first team at right wing, second team at left wing).  Three times he has received votes for the Selke Award as top defensive forward (that is not a misprint: 2007-2008, 2008-2009, and 2009-2010, in the last of which he received a first place vote).

Three times he was named a monthly three-star selection by the league (twice as first star); ten times a weekly three star selection (seven times a first star).  No player has more hat tricks since his rookie season than Ovechkin (13).  He is the only player to have scored four goals in a game three times over that span of seasons.  Only two players – Evgeni Malkin (7) and Sidney Crosby (5) – scored five or more points in a game more times than Ovechkin (4). 

That he is the dominant goal scorer of his era is in little doubt.  Since he came into the league in 2005 Ovechkin has more than 100 more goals (422) than the second place goal scorer (Jarome Iginla: 310).  And, while Steven Stamkos is his stiffest challenge to goal scoring dominance at the moment, Ovechkin leads him in goals scored per game since Stamkos came into the league (0.60 to 0.57) and has a better goals-per-game mark over his first six seasons (0.63) than Stamkos’ six seasons to date (0.57).

Ovechkin has four of the league’s 26 100-point seasons since he came into the league in 2005.  Only Sidney Crosby has more (5), and those four seasons rank in the top-14 point totals (no player has as many).

However, there are two pieces of NHL hardware still looking for a place on his mantle – a Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the post-season and the Stanley Cup.  Ovechkin’s performance in the playoffs is testimony to how much of a team game hockey is, and how difficult it is, perhaps especially for a winger, to bend the post-season to his will. 

Since Ovechkin made his first appearance in the playoffs in 2008 he is tenth in total goals scored (31).  He did that in 58 games, by far the lowest total among the top ten goal scorers.  On a goals-per game basis he has a substantial lead over second place Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings (0.53 to 0.48 goals per game).  His 61 points in the post season ranks tied for 16th, but on a per-game basis he is fifth (1.05).  And for those who remember with crystal clarity his minus-35 from last year’s regular season, his career plus-9 in the post season puts him in the top-50 since 2008, tied with Evgeni Malkin (okay, tied with Daniel Carcillo, too…chalk one up for the plus-minus haters).

In Capitals history Ovechkin almost stands alone as an offensive force, despite his having only completed nine seasons.  Each of his nine seasons rank in the top-50 in single season goals scored, and that includes a pair of 32-goal seasons, one of them in an abbreviated 48-game schedule.  He has six of the top 15 goal-scoring seasons in Caps history.  Peter Bondra and Mike Gartner are next with three apiece.  He has five of the 11 50-goal seasons in Caps history (Bondra and Dennis Maruk each have two).  He has four of the seven 100-point seasons in Capitals history, those four years ranking in the top-five.  Only Dennis Maruk, who holds the single season franchise points record (136 in 1981-1982), holds another top-five slot.

Many of his goals were of a highlight quality.  There was his stickhandling through three New York Rangers in Game 5 of the opening round of the 2009 playoffs:

His “selfie” assist off the side board against the Montreal Canadiens on February 8, 2009:

And there is “The Goal” on January 15, 2006

If Alexander Ovechkin scores goals in 2014-2015 at his career pace and plays in every game, he will surpass Peter Bondra (472) as the franchise leader in goals on the last night of the season against the New York Rangers.  If he records points at his career pace he will surpass Bondra (825) in all-time franchise points (825) in the tenth game of the season, at Tampa Bay on November 1st.  But if Ovechkin was spirited away by aliens and was not to play another game for the Caps, he would arguably be the best player in franchise history.  Oh, the right wing thing.  Now you know why Oskar Osala is the left wing on this team.  Even though most of Ovechkin’s achievements were realized as a left wing, he has continued to dominate from the right side and skates on the right side of Team O.

Defense: Steve Oleksy

Regular Season (with Capitals): 2 seasons, 61 games, 3-16-19, plus-16
Playoffs (with Capitals): 1 season, 7 games, 0-1-1, minus-1

There is a slogan, “join the Navy, and see the world.”  Well, for some, take up a career in hockey, and see North America.  Such has been the case for Steve Oleksy who, at the young age of 28, has seen his share of it in his hockey career.  Undrafted when he became eligible, he took up with the Traverse City North Stars of the North American Hockey League, where he recorded 11 goals and 30 points in 57 games of the 2005-2006 season.

His hockey life took on a semblance of stability when he moved on to Lake Superior State University of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in 2006-2007.  Oleksy spent three years with the Lakers, but no sooner did his 2008-2009 season end, and he was on the road again, this time to join the Las Vega Wranglers of the ECHL. 

Two games in the Nevada desert was all Olesky would get, though.  In 2009-2010 he headed back to his native Michigan (born in Chesterfield Township, Michigan) to play for the Port Huron IceHawks in the IHL.  Just 28 games later it was off to play for the Toledo Walleye.  He probably didn’t even unpack in Ohio, because after three games he headed to Boise to play for the Idaho Steelheads.  Three teams and 72 games (including eight playoff games), his 2009-2010 season came to an end.

In 2010-2011 it was more frequent flyer miles.  Oleksy started with the Steelheads, but late in the season he moved cross country, settling with the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL.  He lasted 17 games there to end the season, and then it was back to Idaho to start the 2011-2012 season.  After 14 games he moved cross country again, this time to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in Connecticut.  Oleksy finished the season with the Sound Tigers, but he would move again.

On July 2, 2012 Oleksy signed as a free agent with the Hershey Bears.  If there was one player who benefitted from the 2012 lockout and the Capitals and Bears deciding to have new head coach Adam Oates and assistant Calle Johansson work in Hershey during the hiatus, it was Oleksy.  His energy and feistiness, plus the fact that he was a right-handed defensemen, caught the eye of the coaches.  

In early March, the Capitals signed Oleksy to his first NHL contract and called him up from the Bears.  On March 5th, in his NHL debut, Oleksy recorded an assist in a 4-3 overtime win over the Boston Bruins.  He went on to play 28 games for the Caps and finished tied for third in points (9) and plus-minus (plus-9) among Caps defensemen in the regular season.  He skated in all seven games of the Caps’ first round loss to the New York Rangers in the playoffs, getting 15 minutes of ice time a night.

With the Caps deep in right-handed defensemen in 2013-2014 and head coach Adam Oates preference to play defensemen on their “handed” side, Oleksy fought for ice time.  He played in only 33 games yet still ranked fifth among defensemen in points (10) and led them in plus-minus (plus-7).  Part of that might have been puck luck.  Oleksy’s PDO of 1042 at 5-on-5 was highest among Capitals defensemen playing in at least 20 games, but his Corsi-on ice per 60 minutes of -7.55 was sixth among nine defensemen in that group.

Yes, there might be some puck luck in Oleksy’s game, but hard work and perseverance are big parts of it, too.  Eight seasons, nine teams, five leagues, 441 games, and he finally made to the NHL.  The map of Oleksy paints a picture of determination…

…and that is more than enough to earn him a spot on Team O.

Defense: Dmitry Orlov

Regular Season (with Capitals): 3 seasons, 119 games, 6-25-31, plus-5
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

Seventy defensemen were taken in the2009 entry draft.  Dmitry Orlov of Metallurg Novokuznetsk in the KHL was the 20th of those defensemen taken.  Since then, though, Orlov has done rather well for himself.  Only seven defensemen taken in that 2009 draft have played in more NHL games to date that Orlov (for the record: Victor Hedman, Dmitry Kulikov, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Nick Leddy, John Morre, Jared Cowen, and Ryan Ellis). No defenseman taken after Orlov (second round, 55th overall) has appeared in as many games (119).

Not that it has been a smooth ride for the 23-year old.  After he was drafted, Orlov played another two seasons in Novokuznetsk, and after the second of those seasons he played in 25 games for the Hershey Bears of the AHL (six of them being post-season games).  That part of his development looked rather ordinary. 

The plan might have continued that way, with Orlov getting a full season or two in Hershey, but he lasted only 15 games with the Bears in the 2011-2012 season.  He ended up dressing for 60 games with the Caps, finishing fourth among rookie defensemen in scoring (19 points) and second in assists (16). 

Then the 2012-2013 season came around.  Or more precisely, it didn’t.  When the NHL went on lockout to start the season, youngsters such as Orlov could continue their development in the minors.  Orlov did just that.  But on December 6th, with the Hershey Bears playing the Norfolk Admirals at Verizon Center in the AHL Showcase, Orlov took a two-fer hit from Emerson Etem and Chris Wagner that might have concussed him.  In any case something in that game left Orlov with a concussion that limited him to 31 games with the Bears for the season and, more important, only five games with the Capitals.  The hoped for development building on his strong rookie year was stopped cold. 

Orlov came back to appear in 54 games for the Caps last season, although his scoring numbers (3-8-11) did not measure up to his rookie campaign (3-16-19).  This might have been the case of development arrested by iffy coaching as much as any lingering effects of his concussion. 

His bumpy ride over the last two seasons makes Orlov a tantalizing subject on defense.  Certainly, his rookie season suggested the potential to be a top-four defenseman.  The question is whether that progress will resume or if it has been stunted by the events of the last two seasons.   Still, Orlov has shown himself a capable performer in his young career and gets the jersey as second defenseman on Team O.

Goaltender: Maxime Ouellet

Regular Season (with Capitals): 1 season, 6 games, 2-3-1, 3.12, .910, 1 shutout
Playoffs (with Capitals): none

When the Capitals traded Adam Oates to the Philadelphia Flyers in March 2002, the return was a first, second, and third round pick in the 2002 entry draft and a young prospect in goal, Maxime Ouellet.  At the time, it looked like a steal for the Caps in return for an aging star on an expiring contract.  The “steal” part of it was largely due to Ouellet’s presence in the return package.  Ouellet was, after all, the second-ranked goalie by NHL Central Scouting in the 1999 entry draft and was being compared in some quarters to Martin Brodeur.

Making comparisons like that is often a fool’s errand, and it ended up being one in this case.  He was fine in the minors.  In 146 games over three-plus seasons with the Portland Pirates affiliate in the AHL, Ouellet had a so-so win-loss record (55-68-18), but his goals against average (2.40) and save percentage (.924) were very good, not to mention his 17 shutouts.

The NHL was a different matter.  Ouellet had the misfortune to arrive in Washington about the time that they became historically bad.  In the 2003-2004 season, that of the Great Selloff, he appeared in six games and had decent numbers, given the cards he was dealt: 2-3-1, 3.12, .910, including a shutout in his first appearance of the season, a 5-0 whitewashing of the Atlanta Thrashers in December.

Those would be his only games with the Capitals. In a way, it was a missed opportunity.  When the NHL went into its 2004-2005 lockout, Ouellet tended goal for Portland.  Instead of continuing he progress as perhaps the eventual successor to Olaf Kolzig in goal for Washington, his numbers took a dive.  His goals against average with the Pirates went from 1.99 in the 2003-2004 season to 2.89, and his save percentage dropped from .930 to .911.  After recording 20 shutouts in the 2003-2004 season with Portland, he had none for the Pirates in 2004-2005. 

By the end of 2005, Ouellet was out of the organization.  In December the Caps traded him to the Vancouver Canucks for a fifth round pick in the 2006 entry draft.  He played in four games with the Canucks in 2005-2006, going winless in three decisions.  They were his last in the NHL, and he was out of hockey entirely after the 2007-2008 season at the age of 26.

Maxime Ouellet was something like Jim Carey without the Vezina.  Promise early and a quick and quiet exit from the game.  The trade that seemed like a steal at the time on paper seemed a good deal less so with the passage of time.  Ouellet did not fulfill his promise, and neither the second round pick (Maxime Daigneault) nor third round pick (Derek Krestanovich) ever played for the Caps.  The first round pick would yield some results later. It was traded to the Dallas Stars as part of a trade made to improve the Caps’ position in the first round of that 2002 draft.  Moving from 26th to 13th, the Caps took Alexander Semin.

Something came out of the trade that brought Maxime Ouellet to Washington, but one might ask, what is a goalie with six appearances in one season for the Caps doing on Team O?  Well, he’s the only goalie in Caps history whose name starts with the letter “O.”

There is Team O, a collection of two legends (Oates and Ovechkin), two youngsters (Oleksy and Orlov), and two duds (Osala and Ouellet).  At least it’s balanced.