Friday, February 29, 2008

Hey!...Don't You People Have Your Own Hockey Team?

The Montreal Gazette -- perhaps still doing a slow burn over Alex Ovechkin not wanting to play in Montreal -- is out with another stink bomb, this time on the matter of Olaf Kolzig. In yesterday's Gazette, there is a story published by Zachary Ingraham (under the breathless headline, "Huet Deal has Kolzig Steaming"), that Kolzig is displeased with the situation that now exists in Washington:

"What I'm shocked about is that there are three goalies here. That's probably the thing I'm shocked about. We've got a world-class goaltender coming in...I guess I'll talk with my wife about what we want to do next year or the year after..."

Yes, Ingraham writes for Sports Ticker, but I read it in the Gazette...details, details.

Hey, guys?...don't you have your own goaltending drama to watch unfold, "And a Babe Shall lead Them?"

Sometimes, we think The Caps get more coverage in Montreal than they get in DC.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Devils, Leap Day

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, after the guilty pleasure for fans that is the trading deadline, we are back to playing actual games with a return engagement this evening against the New Jersey Devils. First, we would be remiss without sending out a big thank you to the New York Rangers (I’ll take a shower later) for knocking off the Carolina Hurricanes last night, 4-2. The Carolina loss puts the Caps back on the “good” side with respect to games-in-hand…a five point deficit with three games in hand (and the chance to pick up six points).

“I could help you with that…”

Well, if it isn’t the Devil himself. Lucifer, Satan, Mephistopheles, Beelzebub…can I call you “Bub?”

“Only if you want to spend a couple of millennia in a heated room.”

OK…well, it’s good to have you here. But legend had you all in red, with horns and a long tail. In reality, you look sort of like…Monty Hall.

“It’s a common misconception…”

So, I take it you’re a hockey fan…

“What, are you kidding?...With guys like Sean Avery and Jarkko Ruutu and Steve Downie making mischief every night? It’s like heaven…oops, I didn’t really say that.”

Do you actually inhabit their souls and cause them to wreak havoc?

“no comment”

I see…there’s something I always wanted to ask you…That whole “Faust” thing. I know, it was just a story and all, but have you ever really made a deal like that?...where you agree to allow someone to attain the pinnacle of happiness, then claim their soul?

“You ever hear of Gary Bettman?”


“I owe the little twerp a visit.”

As for the game, we’ve just been here with the Devils, and we covered their recent history in that game’s prognosto. Not much has happened in the meantime, except the Devils failing to give the Caps an assist in a 2-1 overtime loss to Carolina on Sunday.

There’s no doubt that the Caps will be seeing their nemesis, Martin Brodeur, in net tonight. Marty’s had a nice February:


Games giving up more than three goals?...none. He’s only had three games where he’s given up as many as three goals. This is called “being in a zone.” Or maybe he's made one of those pacts with the Devil.

And it’s a good thing for the Devils, too, as their offense has been a bit sluggish. The do have 44 goals in February for a 3.14 average, but this number is somewhat misleading. They have 16 of those goals in three blowouts against Los Angeles and Carolina (twice). In the other 11 games, they’ve averaged about two-and-a-half a game. Nine of their games have been of the one-goal variety (including overtime/shootout contests). Marty’s held on to that margin of error, though, with a 5-1-3 record in those one-goal games (including last Sunday’s 2-1 win over Washington). Clearly, solving Brodeur is going to be Job 1 for the Caps tonight.

Job 2 is getting Alex Ovechkin of the six-goal slide he is on in the goal-scoring department. This matches the longest goal-scoring drought of his career, which occurred twice in his rookie season. On each of the other occasions, Ovechkin scored a goal in a Caps win to break the skein (a 1-3-4 effort as the Caps beat the Rangers on December 3, 2005; and the game-winner in a 1-0-1 effort as the Caps beat Boston, 2-1, on April 10, 2006 -- Ovechkin was the first star in both games).

Job 3 is getting Cristobal Huet settled in. He left Montreal in something of a slump, losing three of his last four games there, while giving up 13 goals in the process. Getting him out of the gate fast will be important to the Caps’ chances over the last 18 games.

Oh, and you single guys?’s a tip from your Uncle Peerless. Today is leap day, where legend has it that a woman may propose to a man, and in the distant past, a refusal on the part of the man was punishable by a fine. Maybe some damsel will propose to her guy on the big screen at Prudential Center this evening.

In the end, whether the guy says “yes” or not, the Caps build on their Tuesday win over Minnesota and put some heat on Carolina…

Caps 2 – Devils 1

Tonight -- Caps Fans Gather for Wilson High School Hockey

Tonight, Caps fans will gather at Clyde's of Gallery Place for a great cause -- supporting Wilson High School Hockey. The fine folks at On Frozen Blog have done a great job in getting out in front of this effort and enlisting the assistance of a number of bloggers and contributions from the larger Caps community.

It is sure to be a great night of hockey, as the Caps take on the New Jersey Devils, and community in support of Wilson High. If you can attend, the event starts at 7:00 pm. For the modest price of ten bucks, you can help local hockey and get a great night out with fellow hockey fans as part of the deal.

For more information, check with On Frozen Blog often, as they will be updating their site with information on the event.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rentals -- the game of risk and reward

The Peerless doesn’t have much use for the concept of “rentals.” We’ve mentioned that in the past. The problem is risk and return. A team sends off players, prospects, and or high draft picks for a player who might play no more than 20-or-so games for his new team before cashing in on his big payday (elsewhere, it usually seems) as an unrestricted free agent.

But there are those occasions when “rentals” can be done right, where the risk is small. Such was the case with what George McPhee did on Tuesday in securing the services of Cristobal Huet, Sergei Fedorov, and Matt Cooke – all set to become unrestricted free agents absent signing contract extensions – for the remainder of the season.

Here is what McPhee gave up from what he started the season with…

Brian Sutherby (traded for the second round pick that became Cristobal Huet)
Matt Pettinger
Ted Ruth

Sutherby, once thought of as a potential captain for the Capitals, struggled through injuries early in his career and never could elevate the offensive portion of his game to get consistently high game minutes. Left to primarily third and fourth line duty, he finished his career with the Caps 26-35-61, -29, in 259 games. And keep in mind that the pick secured in the Sutherby trade that was turned for Huet is in 2009, not the expected deep draft this June.

As we noted in a previous entry, Pettinger’s fall from grace was as stunning as it was swift. Although he hinted at a rift with head coach Bruce Boudreau, the seeds of this trade were planted before Boudreau arrived. Pettinger was 1-2-3, -3 in 21 games under Glen Hanlon this year. He was 1-3-4, -9 in 36 games under Boudreau.

But what made Pettinger expendable can be summed up in two words, “Brooks Laich.” Laich is this year’s Pettinger of 2005-2006. Last year, the 24-year old forward had his best season (really, his first full one in the NHL), going 7-14-21, -9 in 71 games. This year, he is 13-10-23, -1 in 64 games. He is more versatile than Pettinger in that he can play any of the forward positions. Laich – a fellow who had to play himself onto the roster in camp – did just that, while building on that achievement with a solid year. Pettinger, who one might have thought would be entrenched on the left side of a checking line that would also provide some offensive pop, played himself off the roster.

Ted Ruth was the 46th overall pick in the 2007 draft and is currently a freshman at Notre Dame. Ruth described himself this way: “I’m more of a defensive defenseman… I’m a strong skater and I move the puck well. I play a lot like Scott Stevens." Certainly, the Caps could use that sort of a defenseman. However, lead times for developing defensemen being what they are, it would have been unlikely that Ruth would be defending the Capitals’ end until perhaps the 2009-2010 or 2010-2011 season. And let’s also remember, the 2007 draft was not thought of as being especially deep. If you go back and look at defensemen drafted in the vicinity of the 46th overall spot 5-10 years ago, you find names such as: Tomas Linhart, Kirill Koltsov, Tomas Slovak, Doug Lynch, Libor Ustrnul, Tero Maatta, Gerard Dicaire, Andrei Shefer, Maxim Linnik, or Jason Beckett. You’ll also find a Matt Greene or a Trevor Daley or a Jordan Leopold or a Mike Commodore or an Ossi Vaananen – capable pros, all. But the point is that at this level of the draft the likelihood of finding that capable pro diminishes. It is why the second round comes after the first.

And in the meantime, McPhee addressed specific needs – a second line center, goaltending insurance, and some attitude (with more scoring upside than Pettinger was demonstrating). Whether he will have successfully addressed them we’ll know at the end of the year, but if he has not, what he risked in finding out wasn’t as much as what other teams risked, and it is in those deals where we have our problems with the concept.

Pittsburgh – a team already in the hunt to win the Atlantic Division, if not the Eastern Conference top seed, will be getting Sidney Crosby back (presumably). However, Ray Shero made (and won) a play for the nominal prize of the deadline – Marian Hossa. And what did the Penguins give up for this, plus Pascal Dupuis?

Colby Armstrong
Erik Christensen
Angelo Esposito
2008 1st round draft pick

They gave up assets from their current roster, a prospect who was a 20th overall pick (albeit one with a sinking reputation in a relatively weak draft) and their top pick in what is expected to be a deep draft. Christensen was the odd man out, given that he is a natural center, but not only are the Penguins taking risks with current team chemistry (Armstrong is characterized as a heart-and-soul type), but they are gambling some of their future, too. And chances are, they will fail. It is the nature of the game – only one team wins a Stanley Cup – and Pittsburgh has pushed all their chips to the center of the table, betting that they are that team this year. If they do not succeed, the gamble will have been a failure. Less so if they can sign Hossa to an extension, but even if that comes to pass, it would be hard to spin this deal as a success.

Pittsburgh risked much in a gamble on winning the Stanley Cup now. Fail, and the gamble will have been lost, to the detriment of their future. The Caps risked little on the chance that they can make the playoffs (itself sitting in the realm of “possible,” as opposed to “likely”). If they fail to make the playoffs, the gamble -- such as it is -- will have been lost, but their future will remain largely intact. Frankly, we think the Caps version of the game of “rental” makes a lot more sense than what Pittsburgh did. If the Penguins win the Cup, we will be glad to admit our error.

But it would not be the way to bet.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Hey, it was just a thought...

Maybe it's the name...


Seems a couple of hockey players sharing that name had -- or at least are reported to have had -- less than sugary relationships with the coaches they left behind in being traded for one another.

On the one hand, we have Matt Cooke, late of the Vancouver Canucks and now wearing (well, soon to be wearing) the red, white, and blue of the Caps. Cooke is reported to have not quite seen eye-to-eye with his coach in Vancouver -- Alain Vigneault -- and traces this to two years ago. This is Vigneault's second season behind the Canucks' bench. There is at least a suggestion that Cooke did not fight well enough or often enough to suit management.

Then there is the matter of Matt Pettinger, who left Washington in the Cooke trade. Pettinger, who worked his way up the ranks of the organization as a high-energy "crash-and-bang" style of player, had his coming out year of sorts in 2005-2006, when he scored 20 goals in 71 games. He followed that up with a 16-goal effort in the 2006-2007 campaign. It appeared he was poised to provide oomph and offense from the left side of the checking line for the Caps.

Instead of "oomph," the Caps ended up with "oops." Pettinger, for reasons that will probably remain a mystery until the sun goes dark, started this season slowly (1-2-3, +3 in his first 11 games), then got slower (1-1-2, -9 in his next 21 games), before coming to a halt (0-2-2, -5 in his last 24 games). Upon arriving in Vancouver, he commented that "[He and head coach Bruce Boudreau] sort of butted heads a little bit and my ice time wasn't where it was the last few years. Some coaches get along with players and some coaches don't." He did go on to say that his performance was something for which he must accept the blame, but it doesn't sound like he was a happy camper leaving town, either.

We are reminded of the wise words of Mark Twain...

"When angry, count four...when very angry, swear."

Leave your coaches out of it.

It's expected...

OK, so the Caps trade a pick, a prospect, and a Pettinger for a goalie, a great (from the past), and a grinder.

Folks will be spending the next few days chewing on the particulars of the deals and asking if they were worth it…if Huet really is a #1 or #1A goalie, or if he is heading into a spring swoon…if Fedorov has anything left in the tank…if Cooke merely had a relationship-gone-sour with his coach or is just not the annoyance-slash-pest he’s been in years past.

Forget all that for the moment…let’s turn our focus away from the players obtained and onto the players still in the room.

A message has been sent…playoffs? It’s expected…

George McPhee did what horse-traders do at this time of year. He went out and filled needs for a stretch run, and he did it without giving up a lot (we’ll probably have more to say later about why it wasn’t a lot). Whether in fact these moves were the right ones will have a proper airing another time (like after the season). But right now, the deals have – or perhaps should have – the effect of delivering a message to the rest of the team…the lollygagging around .500 over the last 15 games is not what is expected from this point forward.

The team for the stretch run has been assembled. It would be nice to get Chris Clark and/or Brian Pothier back, but we shouldn’t count on that happening at this point. But if the club, “liked what they had” in the days leading up to the trade deadline, they should be thrilled with what they have now. And with that you’d have to think that the message is…

Playoffs?’s expected.

A TWO point night: Caps 4 - Wild 1


Websters defines it as “readiness to fight or continue against odds; dogged resolution.”

As the Caps entered last night’s action five points behind Carolina with 19 games to play, “pluck” was what was called for. They got it in the form of Brooks Laich, who led the Caps to a 4-1 win over the Minneosta Wild. Laich figured in all the scoring – two goals of his own and assists on goals by Shaone Morrisonn (his first goal of the year) and Eric Fehr (also his first of the year).

If the Caps are to win anything this year, they have to get that kind of performance from the whole roster, especially when A. Ovechkin is in what for him is a swoon (0-4-4, -5 in his last six games).

It was a pleasant way to end a hectic day, and the win served to inch the Caps to within three points of eighth-place Philadelphia in the East.

Laich’s first four-point game in the NHL wasn’t the only bright spot for the Caps last night...

- Tomas Fleischmann chipped in the primary assists on both Laich goals and matched Laich’s plus-4.

- Milan Jurcina, whose season has been a series of hills and valleys of inconsistency, was on the hill last night with a plus-2, three hits, and three blocked shots in 18 solid minutes.

- Olaf Kolzig’s play was a big shout of “hey! I’m still here,” with 34 saves on the 35 shots he faced. He held the Wild to one goal in the second period (it could have been much worse) when the Caps energy level dropped a notch, while Minnesota was ringing up 12 shots.

- Eric Fehr’s goal was of the sort one would expect from a guy who is said to have “soft hands.” His pass attempt from behind the goal line to Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom’s right was blocked, the puck bouncing back in his direction. He cradled the puck, pivoted and roofed it from inside of ten feet. Caps fans would like to see a dozen of so years of that kind of play.

And while we’re spreading the kudos, let’s hear it for the Hershey Alumni Association…Eric Fehr, David Steckel, Tomas Fleischmann, Quintin Laing, Chris Bourque, Jeff Schultz. All of these guys spent at least half of the season last year with the Bears, with Laing, Fehr, and Bourque being in-season call-ups this year. Add the “call-up” pacing behind the bench, and one might say that the returns from Hershey have been rather substantial this year.

The big number, though might not have been achieved on the ice. A weeknight game in Feburary against a Western Conference opponent has been a recipe for “empty seat night” at Verizon Center. But last night, the Caps drew 17,391. It was Family Night, as well as Hockey Is for Everyone and Autism Awareness Night, but over the past few years this was the sort of game you’d usually you’d have to bribe folks with trinkets to get them to the rink, and even then it would be a struggle to top 15,000.

Oh, by the way…Websters also defines “pluck” as “the heart, liver, lungs, and trachea of a slaughtered animal.” That might have described the Wild at the end of 60 minutes last night.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Last Cap to leave...turn out the lights

In a trade of Matts...Pettinger to Vancouver for Cooke.

We're guessing there will be a lot of talk about the Caps among the pundits the next day or two.

Now...Sergei Fedorov?'s still not clear for what/whom, but is reporting Fedorov to the Caps on its trade ticker.

What did George McPhee sprinkle on his Wheaties this morning?

edit: the price is defenseman prospect Ted Ruth

Huet Makes Caps Goalie Duet

Goaltender Crisotbal Huet was traded by Montreal to Washington this morning for a second round pick in the 2009 draft.

This qualifies as a shocker on several levels...

- Montreal, with legitimate Eastern Conference championship -- if not Stanley Cup -- ambitions, have now turned over the keys to the car to a 20-year old rookie, Carey Price, who at this time last year was moving up from Tri-City in the Canadian junior leagues to Hamilton in the AHL. Yes, he backstopped the Bulldogs over Hershey for the Calder Cup champsionship, but this is quit a leap of faith for the Canadiens, who seem to be trying to catch lightning in a bottle once more (Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy) with a youngster.

- Olaf Kolzig is no longer the unchallenged number one goaltender for the Caps. Put another way, the club is not satisfed with the goaltending it's getting. Huet comes to Washington with a 21-12-6 record, 2.56 GAA, and .916 save percentage. He'll get action quickly.

- Huet is a rental (unless there is more to this breaking story). This is something we (meaning, well...I) would not have expected George McPhee to do. True, the price was rather modest -- a second round draft pick, but to pull the plug here, at this position, is a stunner. Huet is a UFA after this season, although Washington could be a good fit for him...he's 32, he could be the "bridge"goaltender between Kolzig and Macheslamovirth.

- Whither Brent Johnson? The Caps might be inclined to carry three goaltenders, but Johnson seems to be the odd man out, at worst. At best, he might be fighting Kolzig for time.

- Is there another shoe to drop?...Is there a Kolzig move yet to be made here? We would think not, given Huet's contract situation (although Kolzig is in the same one...), but today we're not going to say "not."

Halpern Returns?

No, not to DC, but he is included in a rumor of a trade between Dallas and Tampa Bay...

"[A] source said Dallas is expected to package veteran checking center Jeff Halpern, backup goalie Mike Smith and young defenseman Mark Fistric to the Lightning [for Brad Richards]."

We can be entertained once more by linesmen throwing Halpern out of the face-off circle...

edit: Substitute winger Jussi Jokinen for defenseman Mark Fistric, and that's the deal...Halpern returns to the SE.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Wild, February 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s trading day in the NHL, and by the time the puck drops tonight, there will be a lot of players filling out change-of-address cards at the post office.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane as far as Caps deadline deals in the 21st century. Sit back and be astounded...


Washington acquired Dean Melanson for Matt Herr.

The is the kind of deal that agate type was invented for (look it up, it’s a print media thing). Combined, they played ten games in the NHL after this trade.

Washington acquired Jason Marshall from Anaheim for Alexei Tezikov and a 2001 4th round pick.

This was the last chapter of a trade gone bad. Not just bad, but fish wrapped in newspaper and left under the radiator for three days bad. Tezikov was obtained from Buffalo for Joe Juneau and the Caps third round pick in 1999...this was as much an effort to get the fishy smell out of the rink as anything. Marshall played nine games for the Caps before departing in free agency, which is more than Anaheim got out of Tezikov, who would play two more games in the NHL – with Vancouver.

Washington acquired Trevor Linden, Dainius Zubrus, and a 2001 second round draft pick for Richard Zednik, Jan Bulis, and a 1st round pick in the 2001 draft.

This isn’t the biggest draft in Caps history, but it might be the most discussed. Zednik was never so loved by a team until the trade. Trouble was, it was Caps fans expressing their love by wailing about how dumb it was to move Zednik. It was made worse by the Caps finishing the year 4-7-2 and getting eliminated by Pittsburgh in the opening round of the playoffs. Then, Linden ended up playing 28 thoroughly forgettable games for the Caps (4-3-7-, even) before being moved to Vancouver...which ultimately resulted in Boyd Gordon.


The Caps obtained Benoit Hogue on waivers from Boston.

“Benoit Hogue” is an anagram for “be no toughie.” Well, it was tough finding Hogue...he was here for only nine games before leaving in free agency.

Washington obtained Maxime Ouellet, and 1st, second, and 3rd round draft picks in the 2002 draft from Philadelphia for Adam Oates.

At the time – and for a while there after – this looked like grand larceny. Ouellet did not become the next goaltender for the Caps, and the draft picks yielded only Alexander Semin currently on the roster.


Washington obtained Sergei Berezin from Chicago for a 2004 4th round draft pick.

Berezin certainly closed with a rush: 5-4-9, +10 in nine games after the trade. But, he was quiet in the playoffs (0-1-1 in six games), and he would not play in the NHL again.


Washington obtained Jakub Klepis from Buffalo for Mike Grier.

This was the only deadline day trade for the Caps in 2004, because everyone else had already been moved...Steve Konowalchuk, Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Sergei Gonchar, Michael Nylander, Robert Lang. It was such a frenzy that the Caps had already moved the very guy they got in the Jagr trade – Anson Carter. If you want to see more about these trades, go here. Klepis for Grier was merely an aftershock.

...oh, and the Caps picked up Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre on waivers from Atlanta.


- no deals...anywhere.


Washington obtained a 2006 second round draft pick for Jeff Friesen.

To say Friesen was a disappointment for the Caps would be the very picture of understatement. He spent much of his stay with the Caps injured, and when he left he was 3-4-7, -11 in 33 games. The Caps took Keith Seabrook with the draft pick.

Washington obtained Kris Beech and a 2006 1st round pick from Nashville for Brendan Witt.

This was hardly a surprise. Witt had been seeking a trade roughly since the Harding Administration. He spent enough time in Nashville to catch a show at the Grand Ol’ Opry (17 games), then left for Long Island. The Caps selected goalie Simeon Varlamov with the draft pick.

...oh, and the Caps picked up Rico Fata from Atlanta on waivers.


Washington obtained Jiri Novotny and a 2007 1st round pick from Buffalo for Dainius Zubrus and Timo Helbling.

Zubrus, a perennial tease (“is this the year he breaks out” might have been his middle name) went off to Buffalo and found out about life without Alex Ovechkin. He did actually play some playoff games, which Ovechkin has yet to do. Novotny lasted long enough to take the tour on the Tourmobile, then went to Columbus. The Caps used the draft pick to trade down, eventually settling for a third round pick in 2032.

Washington obtained a conditional 2008 draft pick from Los Angeles for Jamie Heward.

And so it ended, not with a bang, but with a “are we done here?”

With respect to being sellers, we hope so...

As for the game, the Minnesota Wild come into this one looking to regain the top spot they just relinquished to Calgary in the Northwest Division. The Wild have stubbed their collective toe lately to fall behind the Flames to sixth in the Western Conference. They’ve had a dry stretch of six games:

Record: 2-3-1
Goals for/against: 14/20
Power play: 5/24 (20.8%)
Penalty killing: 13/17 (76.5%)

The Wild is (are?) a rather average offensive team (16th in the league with 2.69 goals/game), but they have been above average on defense (11th at 2.66 goals/game). The defense has been what slipped lately, giving up 3.33 goals/game. The goaltending, which has been very good for the Wild this year, especially Niklas “No-C” Backstrom, has slipped some of late. Backstrom is 2-1-1 in this mini-slump for the Wild, 3.09, .885 (compared to season numbers of 23-11-4, 2.50, .913). His backup – Josh Harding – lost both of his decisions (0-2-0), 3.86, .881 in 77 minutes covering two games.

Minnesota will never be considered an offensive juggernaut, but they do have assets. Marian Gaborik (4-2-6, even), Mark Parrish (2-2-4, -1), and Pavol Demitra (1-3-4 (-3) have half of the 14 goals the Wild have scored over these last six games.

This is the first visit by the Wild to Washington since November 2002. On that night, Minnesota got goals from Antti Laaksonen, Stephane Veilleux, Andrew Brunette, and Pascal Dupuis, and a 21-save performance from Dwayne Roloson in beating the Caps, 4-3. Only Veilleux is still with the team. Of the Caps that took the ice that night, only Olaf Kolzig remains (Michael Nylander played in that game, but as we know, he took a journey that would bring him back to Washington for this season, although he is lost for the year to injury).

For the Caps, it is another game against a club whose style frustrates and bottles up “skill” teams such as the Caps. In many ways, it will be like looking at their last opponent, the New Jersey Devils (why not?...head coach Jacques Lemaire coached in Jersey from 1993-1998, winning a Stanley Cup there in 1995). And, Alex Ovechkin will be looking to get off the five-game schneid in goal scoring in his hunt for 60 on the season (even I’m tired of that Versus ad).

It’s another home game for the Caps. They are dwindling to a precious few – ten are left – and the Caps need to take advantage of them with two-point games…not one-point frustrations or no-point disappointments. Letting points bleed away here and there isn’t an option any longer, which is why they need to get nasty. There is a quote that comes to mind that shows up often on NFL films…it is Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor on the New York Giants’ bench exhorting his teammates…”Lets go out there like a bunch of crazed dogs and have some fun!”

That’s what the Caps are going to do…

Caps 3 – Wild 2

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Some other things to think about...

Washington trails Carolina by five points with 19 games, two of them against the Hurricanes and with two games in hand. Seeing how they are sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, we still think winning the Southeast Division is the path of least resistance to the playoffs. But the plot, as they say...thickens:

- Philadelphia, which currently resides in ninth place and is a team the Caps must jump to reach the eighth spot, has lost center Mike Richards for at least three weeks with a torn hamstring suffered in last night's 2-1 overtime loss to Florida. The Flyers are 0-8-2 in their last ten games.

- Buffalo, which currently sits in eighth place, is still deciding what to do about defenseman Brian Campbell. He is an unrestricted free agent at year's end, and he will command a hefty raise above the $1.75 million he's earning this year. Buffalo lost Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to free agency last summer...will they risk doing the same with Campbell if they cannot re-sign him by Tuesday? If they move him, what does that do to the Sabres' tenuous hold on eighth place?

- Atlanta, which has lost three in a row and is falling out of contention, is reported to be resigned to losing Marian Hossa. Is this one competitor the Caps can check off the list?

- The Islanders -- sitting in tenth place -- have lost center Mike Sillinger for the rest of the season to hip surgery, and there are rumors that Mike Comrie and/or Miroslav Satan could be traded. Think that's a formula conducive to a successful stretch run?

- Florida, which is in 12th place -- one point behind Washington -- is 3-5-2 in its last ten games, including a 5-0 loss to the Rangers this evening. And they're still the subject of speculation with respect to the fate of Olli Jokinen.

What works against the Capitals is that two teams in the bottom half of the playoff draw -- the Rangers and Boston, in sixth and seventh place, respectively -- are in the midst of pretty good fortune of late. Boston is 14-7-2 since New Year's Eve, and the Rangers are 10-3-2 in their last 15 games (including the 5-0 shutout of Florida tonight).

But that's sixth and seventh place, and it only takes getting into eighth to make the playoffs. It's an uphill climb, and the Caps are struggling. But a lot of teams are in that boat...the season isn't over. And there is more than one way to get a ticket to the dance.

Just some other things to think about in the days ahead.

A one-point night: Devils 2 - Caps 1 (OT)

Too much Marty.

There really isn’t anything else that mattered in the Caps’ 2-1 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils this afternoon. It was too much Martin Brodeur, who stopped 37 of 38 shots – many of those stops being of the “holy crap, how did he stop that one” variety.

The Caps out-shot, out-chanced, out-hit, out-blocked, out-just-about-everything’ed the Devils. They just didn’t out-score them, and in the end, that’s all that matters. The Devils know how to win those games; the Caps do not yet apparently have that knowledge at this level.

As is often the case this time of year, it was a game of inches – Matt Bradley and Eric Fehr had chances to put the Devils on the ropes early but found nothing but iron on shots that got past Brodeur. Travis Zajac fired a shot through Brent Johnson in the third period that squirted between Johnson’s pads and rolled on edge just past the post. And John Madden found a couple of inches of space under Brent Johnson’s left pad for the game-winner with 50 seconds left in overtime.

Lost in Brodeur’s superb performance was a fine effort by Johnson in the Capitals’ net. Johnson turned away 29 of 31 shots, 21 of which he faced in the third period and overtime.

The Caps played a much better game this afternoon than the one they played yesterday; there was a more consistent effort from top to bottom of the roster. 15 of the 18 skaters registered shots on goal, and the Caps got 18 shots from the players who have to take them – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, and Viktor Kozlov. There was a higher level of feistiness among the Caps as well, as 11 different players were credited with hits – Ovechkin leading with five and Donald Brashear getting four in less than seven minutes of ice time.

The trouble is, again, the Caps aren’t getting much balance in their scoring. Today, it was Semin scoring off assists from Ovechkin and Backstrom (the latter’s 50th point of the season). Last night, the Alexes had four of the eight points, and Ovechkin figured in each of the goals (primary assists on all three tallies). And, Semin has five of the Caps’ 13 goals in this 1-2-3 six-game stretch of frustration. Other Caps have more or less dried up in the goal-scoring department…

- Nicklas Backstrom has no goals in this six-game stretch (none in his last 17 games)
- Boyd Gordon…none (one goal in his last 20 games)
- Viktor Kozlov…one (that’s one in his last eight games after netting six in nine games)

And the bottom half of the forward lines (Matt Pettinger, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, David Steckel, Quintin Laing, Donald Brashear)…a total of three.

All this makes Alex Ovechkin’s five-game (and counting) goal-scoring drought all the more important.

The defense hasn’t been awful in this stretch…they’ve allowed 18 goals in the six games, but six of those came in the stinker yesterday in Carolina. What the Caps have had with respect to their defense and goaltending lately is an awful sense of timing. Whenever they make a mistake, it ends up in the back of the net…what you might expect at this time of year, though. Today’s split-second moment came when Shaone Morrisonn got turned around on a shot from Patrik Elias that snuck through and hit the post to Johnson’s left. While Morrisonn was looking to find position, John Madden pounced and slid the puck under Johnson for the winner.

That’s not meant to single out Morrisonn for bad play, only a bad moment. Morrisonn logged more than 24 minutes of pretty solid play and led the club with five blocked shots. But that’s the story this time of year…blink, and you lose.

Also part of the Caps story in recent weeks is losing a point here, a point there…since beating Pittsburgh in a shootout on January 21st, they are 6-6-3. A pair of shootout losses to teams they are fighting with for playoff spots – Atlanta and the Islanders…losses to teams they should have beaten in Toronto and Florida…getting shutout 2-0 at home against the Thrashers, the second goal being an empty-netter. If they’d picked up at least an extra point in each of those games, they would be tied with Carolina tonight with two games in hand. That’s the slow bleeding that can end a season before the 82nd game.

And despite the fine effort put forth by the Caps this afternoon, another point got away. Someday – perhaps not this year – this team will learn how to gobble up those points instead of frittering them away. But this is the price one pays to young guys to learn. Part of it is learning to win close and win late. The Caps have yet learned those lessons.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Devils, February 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It doesn’t get any easier for the Caps this afternoon as the men in red host the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center. With last night’s 6-3 loss to Carolina, the Caps’ backs might not be quite up against the wall, but they’re casting shadows on it.

The Caps now have 20 games to make up six points…not necessarily desperation time, but it does put them squarely in the unpleasant role of…

“…there’s no need to fear…Underdog is here.”

Underdog…what brings you downtown?

“After watching Olie Kolzig give up six goals last night, I remembered, when Olie's in trouble, I am not slow, so it's hip! hip! hip! and away I go.”

Well, that’s a nice sentiment and all, but there is more wrong with the Caps’ performance these days than goaltending…and it’s likely Brent Johnson will get the start this afternoon.

“Oh…well, I am a hero who never fails, I can't be bothered with such details.”

Let’s just hope the Caps pay attention to details, because we know New Jersey is the kind of team that does…

“The Devils effort is always there, so the Caps will have to hound them everywhere.”

Is it tough coming up with rhymes like that?

“Oh, my friend, you have no idea, I just wish I could buy them at IKEA.”

Back to the game…the Caps have had trouble putting consecutive good games together lately and sometimes haven’t been able to give a full 60-minute effort…when you’re doing your Underdog schtick, how do you handle those kinds of situations?

“The secret compartment of my ring I fill, with an Underdog super energy pill.”

I don’t think that sort of thing is allowed…

As for the game, the Devils come to town 6-0-1 in their last seven games. That pretty much makes the Caps underdogs in their own building. Here is how the Devils got there…

Record: 6-0-1
Goals for/against: 27/13
Power play: 6/27 (22.2%)
Penalty killing: 21/23 (91.3%)

You want balance? 15 Devils share the 27 goals scored over their last six games. Patrick Elias leads New Jersey in scoring over this points-earned streak (1-8-9, +8), while the mighty mites Zach Parise (5-2-7, +6) and Brian Gionta (3-4-7, -2) are right behind. Even Martin Brodeur got into the act, registering an assist yesterday in the 4-2 win against the Islanders.

Speaking of Brodeur, one would think he’d be wearing the baseball cap this afternoon. He’s played in 57 of the Devils’ 62 games this year. His backup – Kevin Weekes – has made only one appearance in almost 11 weeks (a 4-3 loss to Boston on January 5th). Weekes doesn’t have a win since beating Pittsburgh on November 12th.

The Devils would be doing the Caps a favor in sitting Brodeur. He is 31-11-4, 2.09, .913 in 47 career games against the Caps; he is 11-1-1 in his last 13 decisions against the Caps.

If Weekes gets the call, he is the anti-Brodeur in his success against the Caps…2-14-1, 3.24, .892 are his career numbers in 18 games. He lost a 3-2 decision to Washington on December 10th.

A lot has been made – justifiably so – of the Caps’ record since Thanksgiving (22-13-6 at the moment). However, New Jersey has been even better (27-11-3). This is a team that knows how to win, and more to the point, knows how to win when the winter gives way to spring. Although the names change (well, except for “Brodeur”), they’ve been doing it for years. The Caps are searching for that formula.

That makes this test this afternoon perhaps a stiffer one, even if Brodeur sits it out, especially since the Devils are locked in a duel with Pittsburgh, Montreal and Ottawa for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Sometimes, though, a team has that game that defines its season. Caps fans would hate for that game to have been last night’s. Perhaps it will be today’s, and that’s why we’re thinking…

Caps 3 – Devils 2

A no-point night: Hurricanes 6 - Caps 3

It’s gone.

Whatever margin of error the Caps had entering the weekend was blown away in a force-5 onslaught of power play goals, courtesy of the Carolina Hurricanes in a 6-3 thumping in Raleigh.

The Hurricanes now enjoy a six-point lead on the Caps, while the Caps have three games in hand. The Caps also have two games left with Carolina to be played in the last half-dozen contests of the year. After tonight, you’d have to wonder if it those games will matter. Washington is now 6-6-2 in their last 14 games with the loss tonight (including only one win in their last five), and while they still have yet to lose consecutive games in regulation under coach Bruce Boudreau, they have won consecutive games only once in the last month.

Let’s boil it down. The Caps have five games that matter – the three games in hand and the two remaining against Carolina. They have to win them all. If they win only four of them, they can do no better than tie Carolina for wins, unless Carolina helps out by having a worse record than Washington over the “non-Caps” portion of its remaining schedule. It is unlikely there will be a second Southeast Division team making the playoffs.

As for the game tonight, there just isn’t much to say about it that’s good. Alex Ovechkin registered three points (all assists, part of a 15 shots-attempted, five hit effort), Mike Green added to his league-leading goal total among defensemen, and…well, that’s it.

The bad?...let’s start with playing stupid…three hooking calls taken in a space of less than four minutes spanning the end of the first and the beginning of the second period. Whatever momentum the Caps might have had going into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead was pretty much stomped flat with that march to the box, Carolina finally cashing in on the last of the three penalties to tie the game. After that, Carolina took over the game, outscoring Washington 4-1.

Then there was this…four goals scored by Carolina were scored within 10 feet of the net (ok, 12 feet, according to the NHL play-by-play sheet). All were pucks lying open off rebounds that defensemen were not able to clear away. Another – the first Hurricane goal by Matt Cullen – was scored on a slap shot with two Carolina players screening goalie Olaf Kolzig. The defense had a ghastly night playing defense.

And that’s pretty much the story of the game – the extra whacks at the puck Carolina was allowed to have that explains their 42-34 shot advantage and 6-3 goals advantage. The Hurricane power play – or rather, the Caps giving up seven power plays – served as an added ingredient to allow Carolina to roam around the Caps’ net with little resistance.

There was a fair amount of puck-flicking and stick-banging by Kolzig after Hurricane goals. It might have been less frustration and more a realization that in this, the “biggest game of the year,” things were beginning to slip away. Unless the Caps turn things around in a hurry (as in, say, tomorrow, when they play one of those “games in hand”), that’s exactly what will be happening.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, February 23rd

"Everybody understands the magnitude of the game. We need to be ready."

-- Capitals goaltender, Olaf Kolzig, on the importance of tonight's game against Carolina

And sometimes, it's big enough to let the general get the troops ready...

Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a hockey game by taking a penalty for his team. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard take a penalty for his team. Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about the Caps not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the contest, is a lot of horse dung. Caps traditionally love to fight. All real Caps love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball player, the toughest boxer. Caps fans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Caps play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Caps have never lost and will never lose a game. Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Capitals.

Now, a hockey club is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, checks as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for ESPN don’t know anything more about real hockey games than they do about fornicating.

We have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit and the best men in the world. You know, by God I actually pity those poor bastards we’re going up against. By God, I do. We’re not just going to check the bastards, we’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to tape the blades of our sticks. We’re going to hit those lousy Hurricane bastards by the bushel.

Now, some of you boys, I know, are wondering whether or not you'll chicken out under fire. Don't worry about it. I can assure you that you will all do your duty. The Hurricanes are the enemy.

Wade into them.

Spill their blood.

Check them into the boards.

When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend's face, you'll know what to do.

Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We’re not holding anything. Let Carolina do that. We are advancing constantly and we’re not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy. We're going to hold onto him by the nose and we're going to kick him in the ass. We're going to kick the hell out of him all the time and we're gonna go through him like crap through a goose.

There’s one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home. And you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what did you do in the great National Hockey League, you won’t have to say, "Well, I shoveled shit in DC."

Alright now, you sons-of-bitches, you know how I feel. Oh, and I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle – anytime, anywhere.

That’s all.

When midnight falls, the Caps will still have three games in hand on Carolina. They could find themselves within two points of Carolina or as far back as six points behind.

This is, as Kolzig put it, the "biggest game of the year." It is the biggest game for the Caps since the double-overtime loss to Tampa Bay in Game 6 of the first round of the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs.

While every game will be big from here on out, this is the first really big test for the young Capitals in their march back to competitiveness. And, they will be taking on a team that has hit its stride. Carolina is 9-5-1 in its last 15 games, 4-1-1 in its last six. In these last six games...

Goals for/against: 20/18
Power play: 3/25 (12.0%)
Penalty killing: 12/18 (66.7%)
Record when scoring first: 4-0-0
Record when trailing first: 0-1-1

Carolina has gotten off to fast starts in the games they've won over this short stretch of games. Oddly enough, it's been at around the three minute mark of the opening period that has spelled trouble for opponents. In the first three of the four wins in these last six games, Carolina scored at 3:01, 3:13, and 3:21 of the opening frame. And, even in the games they lost, their opponent got off fast -- New Jersey scored 2:02 into the game in a 5-1 win, and Boston scored with 4:50 gone in the first in a 3-2 shootout win.

When you look at Carolina's overall stats for the season, you wonder, "how does this team lead its division?"

Goal/game differential: -0.24 goals/game
Power play: 19th (17.0%)
Penalty killing: 30th (76.6%)
Winning pct. after two periods: 23rd (.808)

The goaltending they're getting out of number one netminder Cam Ward isn't a lot better:

GAA: 36th (2.89)
SV: 37th (.900)

OK, both rankings are higher than that of Caps number one goalie, Olaf Kolzig, but Ward is younger, presumably playing on a team that was supposed to be a contender this year. He is only recently a Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP in the Stanley Cup playoffs. His numbers this year are roughly what he finished the year with last year (2.93, .897), and last year was not thought to be an especially good one.

What Carolina does reasonably well is play five-on-five. They are 11th in the league in five-on-five goals for/goals against ratio. They are also front-runners -- seventh in the league in winning percentage when scoring first.

What Carolina lacks these days is their captain, Rod Brind'Amour, who suffered torn ligaments in his knee on Valentine's day. Three days before that, they moved veteran forward Cory Stillman and defenseman Mike Commodore to Ottawa for forward Patrick Eaves and defenseman Joe Corvo. Eaves is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, and Corvo is not generally thought of as an impact defenseman. What this means is that a larger share of the burden falls to the shoulders of Eric Staal and Ray Whitney to generate offense. It's early to tell about these two, but in three games since Brind'Amour's injury, Whitney is 3-1-4, +4; while Staal is 0-3-3, +1.

One wonders if Carolina can sustain their recent good fortune over the season's last six weeks. The loss of Brind'Amour is, to use an overused term, "huge." Even absent, he remains high on the Hurricane stats lists:

Goals: 3rd (19)
Assists: T-1st (32)
Points: 3rd (51)
Power play goals: T-2nd (6)
Power play assists: T-3rd (12)
Power play points: T-3rd (18)
Game-winning goals: T-2nd (4)
Ice time: 1st (22:27/game)
Blocked shots: 1st among forwards (38)
Takeaways: 3rd (31)

Add to this that he is one of, if not the, best faceoff men in the league (3rd among players taking 500+ draws -- 58.3 percent), and use of the term "huge" with respect to the effect of his absence is not an overstatement.

For the Caps, this boils down to the prototypical road game. Do not let the 'Canes start fast...take the crowd out of the game by controlling the for a lead, then play smart (without resorting to a prevent defense)...get good goaltending.

On this last matter, Olaf Kolzig is 26-13-8-1 against Carolina in his career. He is the veteran among veterans on this, a young Caps team. It's a big burden to bear, but this game rests largely on his broad shoulders. If the Caps are to overtake the Hurricanes, Kolzig has to play large, and this is precisely the game in which he has to do it.

Another great movie leader of sorts, Herb Brooks, had what is perhaps the most relevant take on what this game is for the Caps in their effort to replace Carolina at the top of the division...
"This is your time. Their time is done. It's over."

Carolina is yesterday...tomorrow, the Caps will wake up two points behind the Hurricanes.

Capitals 4 - Hurricanes 1

Deadline Day -- Looking Back a Year Ago

Trading day is like Christmas morning for hockey pundits, fans, media, and…well, everyone connected to the sport except players and GMs, we suspect. The thrill of who will be dealt next for what will have folks trolling every media site and rumor mill they can click on for the latest move.

Does it matter in the end? Last time, we looked at deals in the week leading up to Deadline Day last year. Now, we look at a handful of the pile of deals made on Deadline Day itself – February 27, 2007…

Atlanta acquires Pascal Dupuis and a 2007 third round pick from New York Rangers for Alex Bourret

The irony here is that these two teams would meet in the playoffs in the opening round, and this deal nudged the two clubs in entirely different directions, the Rangers looking at the future and Atlanta looking for help in the present. Atlanta (32-23-10 at the time of the trade) was struggling to secure a playoff spot and ended up with an unspectacular, if capable forward in Dupuis. It would be his third team in 2006-2007 (Minnesota being the team he started the year with). He would finish the season 3-2-5, -6, in 17 games as the Thrashers finished 11-5-1 and in the top spot in the Southeast. As much as anyone on the Thrashers, he had a decent playoff (given his role), going 1-2-3, +2 in the four-game one-and-done against the Rangers. Meanwhile…Bourret is 8-23-31, -1 in 46 games at Hartford in the AHL.

Pittsburgh acquires Gary Roberts from Florida for Noah Welch

The Penguins wanted a character guy to help the kids on their first foray into the NHL playoffs. They got the genuine article in Roberts, who pretty much is the NHL poster guy for “the guy I’d want in the foxhole with me.” Old school, grizzled, chippy at times (ok, a lot)…he was what the doctor ordered for the rosy-cheeked Penguins. Pittsburgh was 33-19-9 when the deal was made and finished 14-4-2 after. Roberts contributed a 7-6-13, -5, line in his 19 games to finish up the regular season and chipped in a pair of goals and assists in the five-game opening round playoff loss to Ottawa. His contributions, though, are as much those that don’t show up on the score sheet. The Penguins thought so…they resigned him for 2007-2008, but he sustained a broken leg on December 29th. Meanwhile…Welch played four games this season for the Panthers, injured his shoulder in a fight in a game against Montreal, and after having surgery in November is out indefinitely.

San Jose
acquires Bill Guerin from St. Louis for Ville Nieminen, Jay Barriball, and a 2007 or 2008 conditional first-round pick

Another rental…San Jose had use for some scoring punch with an edge, and Guerin is just that kind of player…or so you would think. San Jose was 38-24-1 at the time of the trade and finished the year 13-2-3 after the deal. When Guerin contributed eight goals in 16 games for the Sharks, this looked like a rental that worked. Then, Guerin picked the worst time to go cold. The Sharks managed to get past Nashville in the first round, but they were knocked out by Detroit in the second round. Guerin was 0-2-2 in nine games, missing the last two in the Detroit series after he was cut in the face by a deflected puck. Meanwhile…Nieminen has not played in the NHL this year (he signed a contract to play in Sweden). Barriball is 3-13-16, -11 in 31 games with the University of Minnesota, although last year he was the Golden Gophers’ leading scorer on a team that included Blake Wheeler and Kyle Okposo.

acquires Brad May from Colorado for Michael Wall

You’d think a club like Anaheim – one that won as much through intimidation (at least what passes for it in the post-lockout NHL) as skill – would not be looking to add more of that particular specie of player at the deadline, especially when the story line goes that in the playoffs teams play a little closer to the vest. You’d have thought wrong. The Ducks were 37-17-10 at the time of the trade, 11-3-4 thereafter. May chipped in only an assist in 14 games, but he wasn’t added to be a Gretzky knock-off. What he did bring to the table was displayed in living color in the waning moments of Game 4 of the opening round series against Minnesota when he punched Wild defenseman Kim Johnsson from behind (part of a larger scrap between the teams). May was issued a match penalty and game misconduct, and was subsequently suspended for the next three playoff games. Anaheim kicked Minnesota to the curb in Game 5 and went on, of course, to win the Cup. Meanwhile…Wall is 7-11-4 , 2.75, .910 in 23 games tending goal for Lake Erie in the AHL.

acquires George Laraque for Daniel Carcillo and a 2008 third-round draft pick

On paper, this looks a lot like the previous deal described. That’s where the similarity ends. Laraque – a feared pugilist – played in 17 regular season games for the Penguins and registered two assists and two fights. In the first round five-game playoff loss to Ottawa, Laraque dressed only for the first and last game, logging less than nine minutes of ice time total for the series. Meanwhile…Carcillo, who is a one-man crusade to refine the term “pest,” has 236 penalty minutes this season and is on a pace for 356. Those are positively 1970’s-ish in volume. His current volume of PIMs exceeds that which led the league last year (Ben Eager: 233). He is on a pace to have more PIMs than anyone since Peter Worrell’s 354 in 2001-2002.

acquires Dainius Zubrus and Timo Helbling from Washington for Jiri Novotny and a 2007 first round pick

Buffalo was looking for depth and some physical forward play; the Caps were looking at the future and hoping Novotny could improve the skill level in the short term. Neither club got everything they wanted. Buffalo was 41-16-5 at the time of the trade and finished 12-6-2 thereafter. What Zubrus gave the Sabres (4-4-8, -3, in 19 games) was about what he gave the Capitals…and the Canadiens…and the Flyers – glimpses of skill dotting long stretches of ordinary play. It was more of the same in the playoffs, where Zubrus was 0-8-8, +1, as Buffalo reached the conference final, where they dropped a five-game series to Ottawa. Meanwhile…Novotny didn’t light up Washington, either. He was allowed to pursue free agency, where he was signed by Columbus. As for that 2007 pick, it was moved to San Jose for a second rounder in 2007 and another one in 2008. Washington then sent the second rounder in 2007 to Philadelphia for a third in 2007 and a second in 2008. The Caps used the third rounder (originally a Nashville pick) to pick Phil Desimone.

New York Rangers acquire Paul Mara from Boston for Aaron Ward

The Rangers got younger and bigger in this deal. They also got some solid play from Mara, who was 2-3-5, +6, in 19 games after arriving in Manhattan. He contributed another pair of goals and assists in the playoffs, but the Rangers struggled at the other end in the second round series against Buffalo, scoring only 13 goals in six game (four of those in the 5-4 final-game loss). Meanwhile…Ward has had a decent year in Boston (4-5-9, +8, in 47 games) but lost 13 games to a variety of injuries (concussion, ankle, broken foot).

acquires Todd Bertuzzi from Florida for Shawn Matthias, a 2007 conditional draft pick, and a 2008 conditional draft pick

It seems as if every year, the Red Wings – despite lighting up teams in the regular season – are in need of getting bigger, grittier, and nastier for the playoffs. Bertuzzi would quality as bigger, grittier, and nastier. But for the Wings, such a player has to contribute, too. Bertuzzi had 46-goal season on his resume, so there was the possibility of getting production in a surlier package. The trouble was, Bertuzzi was injured goods when the trade was made – a herniated disk would ultimately cost him 66 games of the 2006-2007 season. When he returned, he notched a pair of goals and assists in eight games – not especially productive, but not unexpected given all the time lost. Things didn’t improve much in the playoffs, though, as he was 3-4-7, -2 in 16 games. He was signed by Anaheim as an unrestricted free agent in the off season. Meanwhile…Matthias is 26-43-69, +20, in 43 games with Belleville in the OHL.

acquires Mattias Norstrom, Konstantin Pushkarev, a 2007 third-round pick, and a 2007 fourth-round pick from Los Angeles for Jaroslav Modry, Johan Fransson, a 2008 first-round pick, a 2007 second-round pick, and a 2007 third-round pick

This was the biggest deal at the deadline, at least in terms of volume. The defenseman Norstrom was the key to the deal for the Stars in the short term. He was to provide some additional stay-at-home protection. However, Dallas was a team that was considerably challenged in the offensive end (they finished tied for 21st in the league in goals-per-game). The deal for defense didn’t hurt Dallas over the rest of the regular season (they finished 13-4-4 after the deal), but in the first round of the playoffs against Vancouver (with whom the Stars tied for that 21st spot in goals-per-game), the Stars could manage only 12 goals and scored more than two only once (in a 5-4- overtime loss in Game 1). Meanwhile…Modry played a total of 80 games for the Kings over last season and this, before being moved to the Flyers for a 2008 third-round pick. Fransson – a defenseman prospect – is playing for Linkoping of the Swedish Elite League.

New York Islanders acquire Ryan Smyth from Edmonton for Ryan O'Marra, Robert Nilsson, and a 2007 first-round pick

Smyth – a sixth-overall draft pick by the Oilers who played all of his 838 NHL regular season and playoff games with Edmonton – was brought in by the Islanders to add some scoring punch with a style consistent with its gritty, in-your-face style. But, while Smyth did give the Islanders a spark (5-10-15, even, in 18 games to finish the regular season), this ended up a big deal with a big price for a team that had too many other holes. Smyth chipped in a goal and three assists in the opening round of the playoffs, but the Islanders weren’t a match for Buffalo, who moved past the Islanders in a five-game series. Smyth headed back west to Colorado as an unrestricted free agent last summer, but has lost 18 games this season to a fractured ankle. The deal probably had more of a negative effect on Edmonton last season than a positive one for New York. The Oilers went 2-16-1 after the trade. Meanwhile…O’Marra has split time between Springfield in the AHL and Stockton of the ECHL this year, going 2-5-7, even, in 25 games with the AHL Falcons. Nilsson began the season in Springfield, but he was called up in late October to the Oilers. He’s 7-18-25, +2, in 50 games for Edmonton.

This year, there are arguably more-talented players available at the trading deadline – Marian Hossa, Brad Richards, Dan Boyle, Mats Sundin, and even Jaromir Jagr have been mentioned with some frequency as potential trade candidates. They’d fetch considerable returns, should any of them be moved. But will they help their new teams? At best, the results were mixed from last year. Good teams that rented players were still good, but it isn’t clear that the players acquired made them that much better. And the prices were steep.

If you look at the two teams that made it to the Stanley Cup finals last year – Anaheim and Ottawa – they made a total of four deals between them in the last week of trading. None of them involved a marquee player. Here are each of those deals:

Anaheim received Brad May – Colorado received Michael Hall

Anaheim received Doug O’Brien – Tampa Bay received Joe Rullier

Anaheim received Gerald Coleman – Tampa Bay received Shane O’Brien

Ottawa received Lawrence Nycholat – Washington received Andy Hedlund/2007 6th round draft pick (Justin Taylor was selected)

Sure, these were teams that were largely set, but there is the temptation to find that last piece. There were other teams motivated to pursue rentals by other factors – Atlanta was looking to ensure its first trip to the playoffs in franchise history, for example. But looking back over the deals made last year in the last week, it doesn’t seem to The Peerless that the help these teams acquired was worth the long-term hits to their respective clubs, for the most part. One wonders especially about the Thrashers’ behavior in giving up a solid prospect defenseman (Braydon Coburn), a depth forward (Glen Metropolit), and three draft picks for a rental (Keith Tkachuk, who re-signed with his old team) and a defenseman who is now on the far side of 35 (Alexei Zhitnik).

There is occasionally the odd deal that really results in a tectonic shift for one or both of the teams. But it seems that more often than not, the deal that looks really good on paper doesn’t really have much – or at least the intended – effect on the ice.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The deadline it worth all the trouble?

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

-- Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

We have only a few shopping days until the trading deadline, and the Internet will be cracking with rumors, speculations, and Eklundized fantasies about who is going where for what. GM's will be working the phones and faxes to get to that handshake that supplies them with another asset for a playoff run or draft picks/prospects for the future.

Today, I'll be the idiot telling the tale of trading dealine past...last year, in fact. So, kids, let’s step back a year and look at some of the more noteworthy deals in the last week of the trading window leading up to deadline day to get some perspective on whether all this excitement is justified…

February 23, 2007…

Carolina acquires Anson Carter from Columbus for a 2008 fifth round draft pick.

Carolina was 31-25-7 on February 23rd last year when they made this deal, which by appearances was an effort to add some scoring depth at a low price as the Hurricanes were trying to scrape their way into the playoffs. Good thing Carter came at a low price…in ten games he mustered a single point (one goal) and was a minus-3. The Hurricanes finished the season 9-11-1 after this trade and out of the playoffs in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Carter has not played a game in the NHL this season.

February 24th

Atlanta acquires Alexei Zhitnik from Philadelphia for Braydon Coburn.

Pretty much a classic case of swapping futures for a veteran boost now. Zhitnik, who had a solid resume in his stints in Buffalo and Long Island, struggled with a weak Flyers team when the Islanders traded him there earlier in the year (31 games, 3-10-13, -16). The Thrashers, though, were 31-22-10 and were fighting with Carolina in an effort to catch Tampa Bay for the Southeast Division championship. They had already moved defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski to Nashville earlier in the month (for center Eric Belanger) and perhaps thought themselves a bit thin on the blue line as the stretch run began. Zhitnik did give the Thrashers some veteran help on the blue line (18 games, 2-12-14, +4) to close the regular season, but like the rest of his club had a gruesome opening round series in the playoffs against the Rangers (four games, no points, -4). Meanwhile…Coburn is logging more than 20 minutes a night in Philadelphia and is 5-21-26, +12, as part of the Flyers’ resurgence from a dismal 2006-2007 year.

February 25th

Atlanta acquires Keith Tkachuk from St. Louis for (let’s see if we can do this in one breath…) Glen Metropolit, a 2007 first-round pick, a 2007 third-round pick, a 2008 second-round pick, and a conditional 2008 first-round pick (activated if Atlanta was to re-sign Tkachuk)

This is the definition of “rental.” You might even categorize it as “desperate rental,” mortgaging the future on a roll of the dice with a veteran who might have been closing in on 500 career goals (he had 466 at the time of the trade), but who hadn’t put up much in the way of quality numbers post-lockout (102 games, 35-44-77, -12). Tkachuk actually put up some decent numbers in 18 games with the Thrashers to finish the year 7-8-15, +8. But really…was it worth it? He was 1-2-3, +2 in the playoff sweep at the hands of the Rangers, then re-signed with St. Louis. Meanwhile, St. Louis packaged the 24th pick in the 2007 draft with the 70th overall pick and traded them to Calgary for the 18th pick, where they selected defenseman Ian Cole. Cole is a freshman at Notre Dame, where he is 4-5-9, -5 in 30 games. Meanwhile…a relatively weak Thrasher prospect pool isn’t going to get any stronger with draft picks missing.

San Jose acquires Craig Rivet and a 2008 fifth-round pick from Montreal for Josh Gorges and a 2007 first round pick.

This is one of those “tweaking” kind of moves…San Jose was 38-23-1 at the time of the trade and wanted to reinforce its blue line to prepare for the playoffs. Can’t say it hurt the Sharks, as they finished the regular season 13-2-4. Rivet was solid, if not spectacular (1-7-8, +8 in 17 games). San Jose disposed of Nashville in five games in the opening playoff round, but dropped a disappointing series to Detroit in six games in the second round (Rivet was 2-3-5, -5 in 11 games). Meanwhile…Gorges is logging 15 minutes a game for Canadiens team fighting for the top spot in the East, and the 22nd overall pick from the 2007 draft – forward Max Pacioretty – is a freshman at the University of Michigan, where he is 10-17-27, +18, in 27 games.

February 26th

New York Islanders acquire Richard Zednik from Washington for a 2007 second-round pick.

Another of the “rental” variety – it wouldn’t be the Islanders’ last. This one did not go well for New York. The Islanders were 31-23-8 at the time of the trade and trying to claw into the bottom half of the draw for the playoffs. Zednik played ten games for his new club, went 1-2-3, -2, in those, then left the club for personal reasons (the Islanders finished the year 9-7-4 after the trade). He returned to the ice for the opening round playoff series against Buffalo, but was held scoreless in the five-game loss. Zednik signed with Florida in the off-season. Meanwhile…the Capitals used the 46th overall pick to draft defenseman Ted Ruth. Ruth is a freshman at Notre Dame, where the stay-at-home defenseman is 1-2-3, +13, in 29 games).

Vancouver acquires Brent Sopel from Los Angeles for a 2007 or 2008 second-round pick, and a 2008 fourth-round pick

Another rental…and a somewhat risky one at that. Sopel had missed 13 games earlier in the year with a broken ankle, part of a history of leg problems. Vancouver was 36-21-5 at the time of the trade and was on a seven game points-earned streak (6-0-1). They hardly missed a beat the rest of the year, going 13-5-2. Sopel was 1-4-5, even, in his 20 games for the Canucks. The Canucks escaped a seven-game series against Dallas in the opening round and lost a six-game series to eventual Cup-winner Anaheim in the second round. In 11 games, Sopel was scoreless and plus-1. He then signed with Chicago as an unrestricted free agent for a one-year deal in the off-season. Meanwhile…The Kings used the second-round pick to select Wayne Simmonds

Vancouver acquires Bryan Smolinski from Chicago for a conditional second-round draft pick

Last year, Vancouver was an offense-challenged team (they are this year, too). This was a case of hoping for a bargain to fill a void among the forwards. Again, Vancouver had a fast finish last season and stretched their season into the second round of the playoffs. But they remained an offense-challenged team – Smolinski contributed a 4-3-7, -2 line in 20 regular season games and 2-2-4, +2 in 12 playoff games. He went on to sign with Montreal in a one-year deal as an unrestricted free agent. Meanwhile…Chicago exercised its option to use the pick in 2007 (this got caught up in the Sopel deal above, believe it or not, as Chicago’s option was contingent on Los Angeles exercising its right to use Vancouver’s pick at #61 overall, which came from Anaheim as a result of the Ducks hiring coach Randy Carlyle…got all that?) and picked Akim Aliu.

This was all prelude to a rather hectic deadline day in which no fewer than 25 separate deals were made. We’ll look at those separately in an entry to follow…

In the meantime, look at the deals above and think about the days ahead, and ask yourself if there is a deal in the making that will spark a long playoff run?...or merely a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing?