Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- The Player Breakdown

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Yes, friends, we’re back with another year or prognosticatory fun, and we start it with a look at where our boys in red are coming from and where they’ll end up. It is the last prognostication you’ll ever need, and no doubt want. So, let’s get to the players…

Nicklas Backstrom

Career Composite (82-game average): 0-0-0, even
Last year: 42 games, 12-28-40, -1 (Brynas IF, SEL)

If this was another era – one without helmets -- he’d be The Swedish Duguay. For now, he’s “not the Minnesota goalie.” Expectations aside, The Peerless thinks he’s not going to start fast. But it’s not where you start, it’s where you end up. And Backstrom is going to be turning heads by April.

Projected: 18-46-64, -2

Matt Bradley

Career composite: 7-12-19, -5
Last year: 57 games, 4-9-13, -5

Ponder this…Bradley was once the William Hanley Trophy winner in the OHL. For those of you unfamiliar with this esteemed prize, it is roughly equivalent to the Lady Byng. We are not making this up.

Projected: 3-10-13, even

Donald Brashear

Career composite: 8-11-19, -7
Last year: 77 games, 4-9-13, -1

As Dan Steinberg notes, Brashear builds houses. He even participates in building at home site, driving nails and cutting boards. We’re betting he doesn’t need a tool for either.

Projected: 3-7-10, +1

Chris Clark

Career composite: 16-15-31, -6
Last year: 74 games, 30-24-54, -10

If you were to order up a hard-nosed hockey player out of Central Casting, chances are you’d find Clark showing up for work, right down to the gaps in his dental architecture.

Projected: 23-24-47, +3

Eric Fehr

Career composite: 2-1-3, +3 (25 games)
Last year: 14 games, 2-1-3, +3

Fehr will start the year on injured reserve. That the Caps actually reported this fact should be brought to the attention of national security authorities.

Projected: upright by the end of the season

Tomas Fleischmann

Career composite: 4-6-10, -13 (43 games)
Last year: 29 games, 4-4-8, -6

One man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. Fehr’s injury provided an opening for Fleischmann…he skated through it smartly. He was reported to have signed a contract days ago, and it was just reported as a fact on Tuesday. Maybe the contract was injured.

Projected: 14-38-52, even

Boyd Gordon

Career composite: 5-17-22, -2
Last year: 71 games, 7-22-29, +10

“Muffin” might not be the most hockeyesque of nicknames, but really…would you rather his baked-goods nickname be “turnover?”

Projected: 14-24-38, +8

Viktor Kozlov

Career composite: 19-30-49, -2
Last year: 81 games, 25-26-51, +12

Politics has “The Daily Kos”…the Caps would like to have “The Daily Koz,” as in a point a game. Matched with Alexander Ovechkin, that is a possibility.

Projected: 31-43-74, +3

Brooks Laich

Career composite: 8-14-22, -7
Last year: 73 games, 8-10-18, -2

“Brooks Laich” is an anagram for “Silk Coho Bra”. No word on if he has the thing for fish lingerie. In the meantime, he’ll have to make a name on the “CAB” Line (“crash-and-bang”).

Projected: 8-11-19, -2

Michael Nylander

Career composite: 19-43-62, +10
Last year: 79 games, 26-57-83, +12

He set career highs in goals, assists, points, and loop-de-loops last year. It says here that without having to wait for Jagr to give someone else a chance to play with the puck, he will set new career highs in all of those categories this year.

Projected: 28-62-90, +7

Alexander Ovechkin

Career composite: 49-50-99, -9
Last year: 82 games, 46-46-92, -19

Here is your Ovechkin number to ponder. In 163 career games, he scored a goal in 78 of them. That’s a 47.9 percent chance that on any given night he’s going to get at least one goal. Even money? For goal scoring? Without a top-end playmaker? Note to NHL…be afraid, be very afraid.

Projected: 58-52-110, +5

Matt Pettinger

Career composite: 15-12-27, -10
Last year: 64 games, 16-16-32, -13

“Princess Die, You Gravy Sucking Dog” has developed into a mini-goal scorer, and he was third on the team in shooting percentage. But he’s going to be on a checking line. He’s going to have to defend, too.

Projected: 22-20-42, even

Alexander Semin

Career composite: 31-30-61, -6
Last year: 77 games, 38-35-73, -7

His name is an anagram for “relaxed means in.” Words to live by. With a couple of Russians on the team and a couple of guys who can get him the puck, he should be plenty relaxed.

Projected: 41-36-77, even

David Steckel

Career composite: 0-0-0, -1 (12 games)
Last year: 5 games, 0-0-0, -2

Is it me, or does have Matt Bradley where Steckel’s photo should be? Where’s the love? Where’s the respect? Where are we going with this?

Projected: 2-3-5, -4

Brian Sutherby

Career composite: 8-11-19, -9
Last year: 7-10-17, -9

He was making nice progress there with a 14-goal season in 2005-2006. Then…seven last year. His name is an anagram for “babysit her urn.” Hey, forget the urn. Score more, and stop others from scoring more.

Projected: 9-16-25, -2

Steve Eminger

Career composite: 3-15-18, -17
Last year: 68 games, 1-16-17, -14

Ever since he injured a foot in January 2006, his performance has been in free-fall, although he didn’t play badly after New Years last year. He’ll start the year on injured-reserve. Rumor is that it’s the same injury Al Czervik suffered at Bushwood.

Projected: 3-14-17, -2

John Erskine

Career composite: 2-4-6, -21
Last year: 29 games, 1-6-7, -13

A plus-minus in his career composite (that’s “per-82 games”) of three touchdowns is not a comforting number. The Caps are likely to have to pick their spots in terms of what teams he dresses against.

Projected: 1-4-5, -6

Mike Green

Career composite: 3-11-14, -16
Last year: 70 games, 2-10-12, -10

And that two touchdowns and a safety aren’t a whole lot more comforting, but Green is on a different career arc. We expect that number to improve. Maybe he needs more mohawkishness.

Projected: 5-15-20, even

Milan Jurcina

Career composite: 7-9-16, +2
Last year: 70 games, 4-8-12, even

He might have been the Caps’ best defenseman at the end of last year. If he’s the best defenseman this year, that’s probably not a good thing. Let’s just say, “he’ll be better.”

Projected: 6-13-19, +4

Shaone Morrisonn

Career composite: 2-12-14, +8
Last year: 78 games, 3-10-13, +3

Besides being a real Wheel of Fortune payday (can I have an “N,” Pat?), he emerged as the closest thing to a stopper the Caps have had the last couple of years.

Projected: 4-12-16, +8

Brian Pothier

Career composite: 5-23-28, +6
Last Year: 72 games, 3-25-28, -11

Wasn’t exactly Ottawa, was it? Well, you won’t be asked to do everything on every shift on the blue line, either. And maybe folks will learn to pronounce your name right this year, too.

Projected: 5-24-29, +1

Tom Poti

Career composite: 8-27-35, +2
Last year: 78 games, 6-38-44, -1

After spending five-plus seasons in New York (for two different teams), he’s likely to be glad to be in a city that’s, well…sane. We’ll see what that does for his game.

Projected: 8-40-48, +2

Jeff Schultz

Career composite: 0-3-3, +5 (38 games)
Last year: 38 games, 0-3-3, +5

Sarge played pretty good hockey in a few dozen games. He gets grief for not being physical enough, but The Peerless doesn't see a column, "H" (for "hits") next to the "W" and "L" columns, either. If he keeps guys from scoring?...fine by me. I don't really care how.

Projected: 0-7-7, even

Brent Johnson

Career record: 92-80-21, 2.61, .902
Last year: 6-15-7, 3.61, .889

Last year was a step backward from a year that was decent year (despite the won-loss record of 9-12-1). The Caps need quality minutes from Johnson. That description of him at as “settling into backup role nicely” is perhaps not quite the kind of thing one wants to hear in the world of wins and losses.

Projected: 9-8-3, 2.88, .903

Olaf Kolzig

Career totals: 276-272-80, 2.69, .907
Last year: 22-24-6, 3.00, .910

Please…please… just a couple more years, and there might be a Cup at the end of it. This year, Kolzig if the key to the season. More than Ovechkin, more than Semin, more than Nylankozpoti…Kolzig.

Projected: 33-24-5, 2.52, .912

So...that's it. And, as always, if you use these for any cash wagers, seek professional help.

The Peerless' Preview -- Part V

This is the last of the installments of the Caps preview, so let's take a look at five more of the red-white-and-blue...

"Do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?"

-- Hamlet (III, ii)

Last year, Mike Green played 70 games as a green (naturally), 21-year old novice who got next to no penalty killing time and at times could be pushed around. He showed signs of having offensive skills from the blue line, but his spots were picked, and he looked at times like the kid he was.

Well, no more. Green has added some weight, not to mention experience gained in a deep playoff run in Hershey last spring, and he looks different – sturdier on his skates, grittier in the corners, and carrying himself with the confidence as if he’d aged three years instead of one.

Good thing, too. Much is expected of him, both this year and in the years to come. One would think it likely that his responsibilities will be expanded this year, even with Tom Poti taking up a lot of the slack on the offensive end of the blue line. But if he’s going to contribute more on offense, It has to be scoring at least one goal after October 25th….he didn’t last year. And, he was -11 in 16 games after the all-star break.

This year, he shouldn’t be nearly as easy to play against.

"Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges"

-- Taming of the Shrew (V, i)

Last year, Boston traded Milan Jurcina to Washington on February 1st for an eighth-round draft. As if the writing on the wall that “we don’t want you here” wasn’t clear enough, Jurcina’s $500,000 salary didn’t even clear much cap room for the Bruins, which was part of the exercise in moving players.

Boy, that worked, didn’t it? In 40 games in Boston, Jurcina was 2-1-3, -5, while stuck with only 10:42 in ice time a night. In Washington, he was 2-7-9, +5, in 30 games, getting more than 23 minutes a night on the ice. And, Jurcina’s cap hit on his new contract ($881,250) pales in comparison to the big defenseman the Bruins are stuck with have for the next four years – Zdeno Chara – who will encumber $7.5 million a year.

Jurcina is a big rig, and when he plasters a skater along the boards, it conjures the image of a bug on a windshield. And, he’s got a heavy shot that he can get to the net (42 shots in 30 games). He could open on the top pairing for a club that has a decent chance at the playoffs. It’s a far cry from being stuck on the bench in Boston with the belief that he wasn’t mobile enough for the NHL. Time brings its revenges.

"These words are razors to my wounded heart"

-- Titus Andronicus

Brian Pothier signed a four-year, $10 million contract as a free agent. The problem after that was living up to it as the Capitals’ big free agent signing last year. That was a stiff challenge, and one that wasn’t suited to Pothier’s game. Of course, Caps fans wanted him to hit, score, check, run the power play, cure the sick, and heal the lame. Maybe divine a winning Powerball number or two on the way. Not a reasonable job description.

He did what he could, playing perhaps 6-8 minutes a game more than would have been an appropriate amount (24 minutes a game, more than seven minutes more than he logged the previous year). If he plays 16-18 minutes on, say, the second pair, he is likely to be fresher and more effective than he was with more minutes and more responsibilities.

And, he’s likely to hear less about his perceived shortcomings from fans.

"The better part of valour is discretion"

-- Henry IV, Part I (V, iv)

Two defenseman…one stand 6’6”, weighs 213 pounds. The other is 6’6, 215 pounds. The first one is Chris Pronger, the second one is not. It’s Jeff Schultz. And that seems to be the problem for some fans. Schultz is a big guy, and big guys are supposed to hit…a lot. Schultz doesn’t. Maybe he should be more physical than he has displayed so far, but it’s not as if his style hasn’t worked for him. He has solid numbers from junior, through the AHL, and into his brief (38 game) stint with the Caps last year. Plus-minus can be done to death, but he is +60 in 344 games in the regular season in three leagues, including +3 for the Caps last year. Better things seem to happen when he’s on the ice. Maybe it’s coincidence; we’re betting it’s not.

Schultz seemed to have the ability in the games he played for Washington last year to have a knack for slowing the game down and keeping things simple. Not a bad trait in one as young as Schultz. He’s going to be most effective, we think, by being one of those guys who plays an anonymous game. If you don’t notice him, he’s probably doing a fine job. Well, as much as you don’t notice a guy who’s 6’6”.

"Wisely and slow; they stumble who run fast"

-- Romeo and Juliet (II, iii)

There was the possibility this year that there would be a rookie on the right side of the top line. But it seemed more likely that the right wing would be Eric Fehr, not Tomas Fleischmann. However, Fehr sustained an injury last March. It might have been his back, it might have been his hip, it might have been the fifth metacarpal bone (pinky). Disclosure of injuries in the NHL is treated as a state secret.

It is particularly unfortunate for Fehr, because it would have been interesting to see how he – a guy with a knack for finding the back of the net – would have meshed with Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov, or Nicklas Backstrom. Here is a youngster who scored 193 goals in 389 games in junior and the AHL. That’s pretty much a 40-goal scorer. While projecting that kind of output to the NHL is never a certainty, what made (and still makes) Fehr so intriguing is his progression. In junior, he went 11-26-50-59 in goal scoring over four years. In the AHL he scored 25 goals in 70 games, then 22 in only 40 games.

He hasn’t yet made that kind of a mark with the Caps (two goals in 25 games over two seasons), but in his cup-o’-coffee with the club showed a willingness to do other things – forecheck, work hard in his own end, that could make him a more complete forward than just a goal scoring savant.

For now, we wait. There is no rushing these things, especially for a youngster with his potential. The club will take this slow, and hopefully wisely.