Friday, May 28, 2010

It's Official

The Washington Capitals will visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Years Day in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which will be played at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed the long-rumored matchup this afternoon.

In addition to confirming the teams and venue for this year's Winter Classic, the Commissioner provided what might have been unexpected news that Washington will host a Winter Classic in the next two to three years.  This should provide Caps fans with no end to speculation on where the game might be held -- FedEx Field, Nationals Stadium, the National Mall, the Dulles Greenway -- and which team might serve as the guest to the event.

So make your hotel reservations, Caps fans.  New Years Eve in Pittsburgh.  Bring your own noisemakers.

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Goaltenders: Semyon Varlamov

Semyon Varlamov

Theme: “We love to expect, and when expectation is either disappointed or gratified, we want to be again expecting.”
-- Samuel Johnson

Semyon Varlamov gives teasing glimpses of what he can be. In 51 NHL games (regular season and playoffs), he is 29-13-7, 2.51, .913, with four shutouts. Not bad for a goaltender who just turned 22. This year, Varlamov finished the regular season 15-4-6, 2.55, .909, and two shutouts, a performance that would appear to position him to permanently take over the number one goaltending job for the Capitals next season.

That’s the good news. But look at the ten-game splits a little more closely, and you can start to see the blemishes…

First, there is the matter of his missing the entirety of the fourth, fifth, and sixth segments of the season. Varlamov went down to an injury in early December, going on the shelf with a groin injury right after shutting out the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 on December 7th. He would end up missing two months of the season, returning on February 11th against Ottawa.

By that time, Jose Theodore was in the midst of his 20-0-3 finish to the season (he was 10-0-1 at the time). Varlamov appeared in only ten of the last 22 games of the season and did not thrive with the uneven work. He finished the regular season 3-3-4, 3.08, .885. What is worse, he did so facing weak competition. In those ten appearances he faced what would be playoff teams only three times (Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Boston). He was 1-1-1, 3.91, .874 against those teams.

In fact, Varlamov had a comparatively weak record against playoff teams in the East overall. He was 3-2-2, 3.40, .891, and one shutout in seven decisions. He also had a more difficult time away from home, going 6-2-4, 3.05, .894, with one shutout.

Varlamov was a very good goaltender when defending his net at even strength. Of 46 goaltenders appearing in at least 25 games, he finished tied for sixth overall – with the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist – in save percentage (.929). His performance deteriorated some when the Capitals were on the power play, finishing 24th among those same 46 goaltenders in save percentage (.909). However, he was among the worst goaltenders in the league when the Caps were shorthanded. Only Vesa Toskala had a worse save percentage (.788) than did Varlamov (.802).

In the playoffs, Varlamov reprised his role of last season, coming to the rescue in relief of a shaky Jose Theodore. He did not have as scorchingly brilliant a performance against Montreal that he had against the Rangers in his first tour in the role, going 3-3, 2.41, .908. But comparing his playoff performance with, say, the goaltenders facing one another in the finals, one can see where he has to elevate his game. His save percentage in the six games at even strength of .924 is comparable to that of Chicago’s Antti Niemi (.927), although both trail Michael Leighton’s .951. But when shorthanded, while Leighton (.923) and Niemi (.913) have seen little drop-off in performance, Varlamov trailed badly at .828. Penalty killing was a problem for the Caps all season, but as the saying goes, your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer. Varlamov was not that for the Caps.

The injury to Varlamov denied the young goalie any sense of continuity to his season. He was injured in the midst of perhaps his best stretch of goaltending for the year, and he did not get enough steady work upon his return to get into any sort of rhythm. In the playoffs, his play certainly was not the primary cause of the Caps’ disappointing loss to the Canadiens, but he did not have an especially impressive series, especially against Montreal’s power play. He and the Caps are going to have to improve in this area to become a more difficult team to play against.

Next year, Varlamov is the prohibitive favorite to start the year as the number one goaltender, although given Michal Neuvirth’s performance last year and this, especially in the AHL playoffs, Varlamov will be pushed for that job. What is sometimes easy to forget is that goaltenders often take a while to mature. For example, of the 26 goaltenders selected in his 2006 draft class, Varlamov is second in regular season games played so far in the NHL (32). Only Steve Mason (112) has more. In fact, he has more games played than the other five goalies with NHL experience combined (note that Michal Neuvirth is third on this list with 22 games played). None of the goalies in the 2006 draft class has had Varlamov’s amount of playoff experience.

Varlamov can be spectacular when he’s on. He can look lost when he’s not. Taking over the number one goaltender job will give him the added responsibility of being more consistent, of being able to carry his team for stretches. He certainly seems to have the talent. Now he has to add the maturity and experience to reach that level of play. But for this year…

Grade: B

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sittin' at the end of the bar...

It's Hershey and Texas in the Calder Cup finals.  It's a little known fact...

-- This is the Stars' first year in the league in their current incarnation.  They were the Iowa Stars, then the Iowa Chops, then they were chopped out of the AHL for a year, then the Texas Stars acquired the franchise and began skating in the 2009-2010 season.

-- Caps connection... Travis Morin.  A former ninth-round draft pick of the Caps (2004... you might have forgotten that as you started your Alex Ovechkin merchandise collection).  He was 21-31-52, plus-10 in 80 games during the regular season and is 3-10-13, plus-2 in 18 games so far in the post-season.

-- Leading scorer... Jamie Benn.  A fifth-round pick of the Dallas Stars (2007), he is a ringer.  He played in all 82 games for the parent club this season, finishing 22-19-41, minus-1.  In 18 games in the AHL post-season he is 14-10-24, plus-10.  He's coming into this series hot.  He had six goals in the seven-game series against Hamilton.  Benn is the playoffs' leading scorer at the moment.

-- Andrew Hutchinson is eighth among all playoff scorers so far (4-11-15, plus-9).  Caps fans might remember him; he has stops with Carolina and Tampa Bay on his resume.

-- Brent Krahn started the playoffs as the Stars' number one goaltender.  He is currently fifth in goals against average (2.32) and third in save percentage (.928) to go with a 7-3 record.  He is also currently suffering the after-effects of a concussion he sustained in the Chicago series.  In his place, Matt Climie has compiled a 5-2 record, 2.62 GAA, and .922 save percentage.  He allowed only eight goals in the last four games of the Calder semifinal against Hamilton, going 3-1 in the process.

-- The Stars and Bears did not meet in the regular season.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Goaltenders: Jose Theodore

Jose Theodore

Theme: “Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve.”
-- Leonardo DaVinci

Hockey is a game. That’s why you say that teams “play” hockey. Fans spend a lot of time forgetting that simple fact. This year Caps fans were witness to the living embodiment of that sentiment, the implied idea being that hockey isn’t life.

Jose Theodore had a year that by any standard was as heart-wrenching as one could ever imagine. Having to embark on a year engaged in his profession – a very public one at that – after having endured a private tragedy that would have many retreating away from a public life had to be in a realm of difficulty that most could only dimly imagine.

That Theodore could perform at such a high level for long stretches this season speaks highly of his fortitude and resolve – 30-7-7, 2.81, .911, one shutout, a club record season winning percentage (.761), a club record for longest winning streak by a goaltender (ten games), club record for career winning percentage (.694). Much of it was the product of finishing the season going 20-0-3 (another club record – consecutive games in which a standing points was earned), 2.59, .922. It made for a remarkable set of ten-game segments as the season wore on…

On the ice, Theodore began the season fighting the prospect of losing his number one goaltender position to Semyon Varlamov. It was an extremely, if not altogether surprisingly, uneven start. Theodore got things off on the right foot with a 19-save performance on opening night against the Boston Bruins. In fact, he would allow two or fewer goals in seven of his 14 appearances in the Caps’s first 20 games. But he also allowed four or more in five of those appearances, which led to a shaky 5-3-4, 3.24, .893 record. Giving up five unanswered goals in the last 41 minutes of a 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils appeared to be the last straw that would crack Theodore’s resolve. He left the club temporarily for personal reasons.

It might have been the passing of the responsibility as number one netminder to Semyon Varlamov. In fact, Varlamov would appear in seven of the next ten games, going 5-0-2, 1.67, .940. But Varlamov would go on the shelf with a groin injury, opening the door for Theodore to return. Once more he was a bit shaky to start, going 2-3-0, 3.01, .875 in his five December appearances.

But with the new year came an entirely new Theodore, and he rocketed through the remaining schedule. He did not lose a game in regulation in which he started in the 2010 portion of the season (his only loss in regulation coming in relief of Michal Neuvirth in 7-4 loss to Tampa Bay on January 12th).

If anything, Theodore was slightly better in his performance against playoff teams than he was against the league overall. He finished 14-3-4, 2.68, .916 against the 12 teams he faced that would make the playoffs.

There were 34 goaltenders who played in at least half of their team’s games. Of that group, Theodore finished 26th in goals-against average and 21st in save percentage. No number one goaltender on a playoff team playing in at least half of their team’s games had a higher goals-against average than did Theodore, and only two goaltenders on teams making the playoffs (Brian Elliott of Ottawa and Marc-Andre Fleury of Pittsburgh) had a lower save percentage (not counting Cristobal Huet of Chicago, who did not get the call to take the ice for the playoffs).  But he won, and that is the bottom line.

Which brings us to the playoffs. For the second consecutive year, Theodore’s stay between the pipes was short. In Game 1 of the first round series against Montreal, Theodore surrendered the game’s first goal, then could not hold a lead when the Caps came back with a pair of goals, and finally gave up the game-winning goal in overtime in a 3-2 loss.

It got worse.

In Game 2, Montreal scored on its first shot of the game – a goal by Brian Gionta at the 1:00 mark. The Canadiens were held without a shot for almost seven minutes after the score, but struck again when they finally did get a puck to the net, a goal by Andrei Kostitsyn at the 7:58 mark. It would be the end of Theodore’s night and Theodore’s season, giving way to Semyon Varlamov for the remainder of the series.

It was an unfortunate end to a difficult season for Theodore. In two years in Washington he would set those records in the regular season noted above, but as a playoff goaltender would finish 0-2-0, 3.70, .849 in four appearances. For a team whose performance is now to be measured by what it does in April, May and June – not January, February, and March – it raises doubts about his renewal as a member of the Caps as his contract expires.

Still, one cannot help but respect the season he did have in winning 30 games (tied for 13th in wins, despite appearing in only 47 games) after the difficult summer he and his family had to endure. In addition to his performance on the ice, he made contributions to the community through his “Saves for Kids” fundraising program for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s National Medical Center. His nomination for both the Masterton Trophy, for the NHL player who "best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey," and for the King Clancy Trophy, for the NHL player who “best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community,” is very much deserved.

Grade: B

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Goaltenders' Series

Antti Niemi… Michael Leighton

One an undrafted free agent consigned to the end of the bench for much of the season as his team tried to wring some – any – value out of their big-money free agent goaltender.

The other a sixth-round draft pick by the team he will play against in the Stanley Cup final, a backup that a gawd-awful team so badly did not want that they put him through waivers on his way to the minors, then put on re-entry waivers in the apparent hope that some team would take him off their hands. One team did.

Niemi and Leighton… your Stanley Cup finals goaltenders… a combined 161 regular season games of NHL experience.

Makes you wonder if this is the year when goalies don’t matter. The odds of having picked Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton as the starting goaltenders in the Stanley Cup finals might have had longer odds than winning the grand prize in Powerball.

But here we are, and there might even be a parallel to this in terms of the relative obscurity and lack of NHL experience of the goaltenders – one from not too long ago. Hearken back to 2006, when the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers met. The finals that year was to be a matchup of a rookie netminder who spent most of the regular season on the bench, getting into 28 games and not making much of an impression – 14-8-2, 3.68, .882; and a veteran goalie. But the veteran – Dwayne Roloson – was injured early in the finals and gave way to an unknown netminder who bounced around a bit (Finland, Edmonton, the Rangers, before returning to Edmonton), earning 106 appearances in the NHL regular season in his career before finding himself starting in a Stanley Cup final – Jussi Markkanen.

The rookie for Carolina was expected to get baseball cap duty for the post-season, but the trouble was that the number one goalie – Martin Gerber – was lit up for nine goals on 34 shots in less than 75 minutes of work in the first two games of the playoffs, both losses at home to the Montreal Canadiens. Enter Cam Ward.

It wasn’t the smoothest of rides, but Ward provided enough stability and played with a maturity far beyond his years to make his regular season just a dim memory. He went 15-8, 2.14, .920, with two shutouts (one in the finals) to lead the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup and win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the post-season.

At the other end of the ice, the unexpected presence of Markkanen might have left Oiler fans with a feeling of dread, especially after he allowed five goals in his first appearance – a 5-0 pasting at the hands of the Hurricanes. But Markkanen lifted his game from there and allowed only eight goals on the next 111 shots he faced over five games, winning three times. Unfortunately for Markkanen and the Oilers, eight ended up being one too many goals, as the Hurricanes won the Cup in a 3-1 Game 7 (the third goal being an empty-netter).

The parallels are not perfect between 2006 and 2010. But Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton, despite having just 161 games of combined NHL regular season game experience between them, have played at a level that makes each of their teams a deserving contestant in the Stanley Cup finals.

It might be a goaltenders’ series after all.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


The Hershey Bears are about to participate in their fourth Calder Cup final in the last five seasons. Winning the trophy would be the 11th time in Bears history that the Chocolate and White ended the season as AHL champions.

This year’s path to the finals has not been an easy one. In winning 12 games through three series thus far, the Bears captured seven of those 12 wins in overtime, an AHL playoff record for overtime wins in a playoff season.

One of the interesting things about the Bears and their seven playoff wins is that the seven overtime game-winning goals have come from the sticks of seven different players. Not only that, but the identity of the seven players suggests that the experience gained in a playoff setting can’t be underestimated as a factor dealing with the high-pressure situations that overtimes bring.

The seven players have combined for 385 career playoff games in the AHL and have a combined scoring line of 59-133-192, plus-53 in those games. For the record, here they are with their AHL playoff records…

And in case you have not noticed, goalie Michal Neuvirth is 7-2 in overtime playoff games over the last two post-seasons.

Nothing beats experience at this time of year. As disappointing as the end of this season was for the Capitals, one hopes that the 28 games of playoff experience earned over the past three seasons will be the platform from which the big club can launch a more successful Stanley Cup run next season.

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Defensemen: John Erskine

John Erskine

Theme: “Do not worry about holding high position; worry rather about playing your proper role.”
-- Confucius

If you are going to look for John Erskine in the statistical tables at the NHL Web site, you are not going to find him very highly ranked in the summary tables – tied for 20th in total scoring for the Caps, tied for 24th in goals, tied for 19th in assists, no power play goals, no game-winning goals, and he finished with 50 shots on goal in 50 games played.

Head over to the “real time stats,” and you’ll see where the value of a player such as Erskine lies. He finished fifth on the team in hits (third in hits per game), fifth in blocked shots. And on a team that lacked a true bruiser to keep the peace, Erskine was part of enforcement-by-committee, finishing second on the club in fighting major penalties. And he hardly took on any shrinking violets in his four bouts. The opponents he faced – Chris Thorburn, David Koci, Georges Laraque, and Shawn Thornton – combined for 45 fights among them.

Erskine’s was a tough role to play, one that does not necessarily show up in his 10-game segments…

His numbers are somewhat lopsided in this respect – Erskine finished 0-1-1, plus-4 in 24 games against playoff teams. On the other hand, he was 1-4-5, plus-12 in 26 games against the teams failing to get a ticket to the dance. In fact, he was 1-4-5, plus-8 against the five teams he played against that finished with a winning percentage below .500 (Tampa Bay, Carolina, the Islanders, Florida, and Toronto). He was 0-0-0, minus-3 against Montreal in four regular season games, which might explain why he did not get the call during the playoffs.

Peering a little further into his numbers, Erskine (perhaps surprisingly) had the second best goals against/on ice-per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 of all Caps’ defensemen playing in at least 40 games (Jeff Schultz led the club). He also had the second best differential of goals against (on ice/off ice) per 60 minutes. But with that comes the fact that Erskine also faced the lowest quality of competition among that same group of defensemen.

Erskine had a particularly rough time on the penalty kill. Among those Caps defensemen playing in at least 40 games, Erskine had the second worst goals against/on ice per 60 minutes. However, he had the worst goals against differential (on ice/off ice) per 60 minutes and the worst plus/minus differential (on ice/off ice) per 60 minutes.

Erskine is as close as the Caps have to a physical defenseman. As such, he is expected to walk a fine line along the edge of the rules from time to time. This year he showed a considerable amount of discipline when it came to taking minor penalties. The 18 minors he took in 50 games is half the number he took (38) in 51 games two seasons ago, and it was six fewer than he took in 52 games in 2008-2009. The difference is a reduction in the number of “obstruction” penalties (holding, holding the stick, hooking, tripping, interference). In 2007-2009 Erskine committed 19 such penalties among the 36 minors he recorded. This past season, that number was reduced to ten. The more physical infrations (roughing, boarding, slashing, instigating, elbowing, cross checking, high sticking, kneeing) went from 14 in 2007-2008 to eight this past season.

Erskine is entering the last year of a contract that will pay him $1,275,000 next season. Assuming that John Carlson and Karl Alzner make the big club next season, and Jeff Schultz is re-signed, Erskine is one of seven defensemen under contract for next season (this number does not include free agents Shaone Morrisonn, Milan Jurcina, or Joe Corvo). He has played 51, 52, and 50 games for the Caps over the past three seasons, missing 48 games to injury and the rest to other scratches. That would seem to be where his best mix of games lies – somewhere in the 50 game range as a 6/7 defenseman, either filling in for injury, playing against teams where a physical presence is needed, or taking the ice where the shortcomings he has cannot be taken advantage of effectively by opponents. It isn’t a role likely to be much heralded, but it is one that Erskine can play adequately for this team moving forward.

Grade: C+

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Defensemen: Tyler Sloan

Tyler Sloan

Theme: “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

Tyler Sloan is the sort of player who might be said to put the “journey” in journeyman. Over the past ten years he has pulled on a sweater for the Kamloops Blazers, Syracuse Crunch, Dayton Bombers, Las Vegas Wranglers, Hershey Bears, and finally, the Washington Capitals. He saw his first NHL action last in 2008-2009 at age 27, getting into 26 games before the NHL portion of his season ended in early January 2009.

This year, he dressed for 40 games, but the odd part of it was that while he did get into more games, he did so with a lower average ice time (14:14, compared to 16:38 the previous year). His ten-game splits do not show much…

…but then again, his appearances in the lineup were spotty –no fewer than three games in any ten-game split, no more than eight.

Delving a little deeper into his five-on-five numbers, despite the fact that Sloan faced rather meager competition (only John Erskine, among Caps defensemen playing in at least 40 games, played against lesser competition), he had the second highest goals against/on ice-per 60 minutes (Caps who played the entire year in DC). He also had the second worst plus/minus differential) on ice/off ice) per 60 minutes.

Sloan was similarly situated in 4-on-5 situations among Caps defensemen. He had the worst goals against/on ice-per 60 minutes and had the second worst plus/minus differential (on ice/off ice) per 60 minutes. That he had only 1:01 in average penalty killing time (seventh among Caps spending the entire year with the team) was perhaps a good thing.

Sloan’s season beaks down rather cleanly into the 2009 and 2010 portions of the season. In the 2009 portion of the season he played in 18 games and was 2-2-4, minus-2 with 14 penalty minutes in just short of 13 minutes a night. In the 2010 portion of the season he appeared in 22 games, while going 0-2-2, plus-1, with eight penalty minutes in just over 16 minutes of ice time a night. He had more in terms of “numbers” in the first half (good and bad) in less ice time than in the second portion of the season, when his numbers were quieter with more ice time.

Sloan got a taste of playoff action in Games 4 and 5 of the Montreal series when Shaone Morrisonn went out with an injury. The Caps split the games with Sloan averaging just over 13 minutes of ice time. He was on the ice for two of the five goals scored against the Caps in the two games.

Sloan is probably not a 70-game, 15 minute a night defenseman. He is, however, useful as a player who can plug a hole for a week or so at a time in the event of injury. Although he skated only two games in Hershey this season, the role he plays is somewhat typical of how the Caps have used the Bears. There are a lot of guys up the road who have come down the road to fill a role in a pinch. For example, last night’s Hershey lineup in their AHL Eastern Conference-clinching win over Manchester featured 12 players (of 20 who dressed) who played in DC over the past two seasons. And that does not include Steve Pinizzotto or Braden Holtby, both of whom were recalled to Washington but did not dress, nor Andrew Gordon, who is injured for Hershey and did not dress last night.

With the advancement of John Carlson on a permanent basis next season (unless the sun stops in the sky) and the likely advancement of Karl Alzner, it could be very difficult for Sloan to find any minutes on this club except in a pinch, even though he does have two more years under contract with the Caps. For this year, however…

Grade: C

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Defensemen: Shaone Morrisonn

Shaone Morrisonn

Theme: “Consistency is the foundation of virtue.”
-- Francis Bacon

We have remarked from time to time about the amazing consistency of Alex Ovechkin. That is the manic consistency of scoring goals at a lofty pace. Shaone Morrisonn might be said to express a consistency of his own, that of a more understated sort. In five full seasons with the Caps, Morrisonn has been almost a metronome played at the pace of a slow stroll. Here is how his seasons have played out…

His ten-game segments show a similar modest consistency in offense…

…but there is the matter of his being minus-7 in his last 13 games. It was not an expected result on a team that was 9-1-3 in those 13 games. Then again, of the 35 goals scored against the Caps in those 13 games, Morrisonn was on the ice for 17 of them, 15 of those at even strength.

Morrisonn led Caps defensemen in penalty minutes this season (68). Of the 18 minor penalties he took, 12 of them were of the obstruction sort (holding the stick, hooking, interference, tripping, holding).

Morrisonn did perform well overall against those teams that made the playoffs this spring. In 31 games against the other 15 teams that made the playoffs, he finished 0-5-5, plus-7. However, it is worth noting that he was plus-5 against the Flyers and “even” against the other playoff teams from the Eastern Conference.

Morrison has been consistent over the years, but has he improved? Consider these 5-on-5 numbers (all from…

-- Over the last three seasons his goals against/on ice-per 60 minutes increased from 2.35 in 2007-2008 to 2.39 in 2008-2009 to 2.96 in 2009-2010.

-- His plus/minus differential (on ice/off ice) per 60 minutes has gone from -0.34 in 2007-2008 to -0.13 in 2008-2009 to -1.98 in 2009-2010.

-- The quality of competition he faced went from 0.033 in 2007-2008 to -0.019 in 2008-2009 to -0.001 in 2009-2010.

And looking at the same numbers at 4-on-5…

-- Over the last three seasons his goals against/on ice-per 60 minutes decreased from 7.04 in 2007-2008 to 7.01 in 2008-2009 to 6.19 in 2009-2010.

-- His plus/minus differential (on ice/off ice) per 60 minutes has gone from -4.22 in 2007-2008 to -4.80 in 2008-2009 to -6.45 in 2009-2010.

-- The quality of competition he faced went from -0.239 in 2007-2008 to +0.055 in 2008-2009 to -0.054 in 2009-2010.

The progress of his performance has been somewhat uneven – somewhat better in penalty killing, somewhat off at 5-on-5.

The playoffs were a bit of a lost cause for Morrisonn, who missed two games to an injury in the seven-game set. One thing of particular note was that he had his minutes limited, more than a minute and a half less average ice time (15:54) than he averaged during the regular season (17:34), although his average number of shifts per game was almost unchanged (22.8 to 22.4). Some of that ice time might have been the effect of the emergence of John Carlson. Only two Caps defensemen averaged more than 20 minutes a night in the regular season – Mike Green and Tom Poti. Carlson’s getting more than 20 minutes a game in the Montreal series, in addition to that of Green and Poti, likely chopped a bit into Morrisonn’s time.

This is a crossroads summer for Morrisonn. In his five seasons (plus three games) with the Caps, he signed four contracts as a restricted free agent (August 2005, July 2006, July 2008, and July 2009), once as a product of arbitration. Now, he is an unrestricted free agent, and he is being pushed on the roster by youngsters Carlson and Karl Alzner. At 27, Morrisonn is entering what should be the prime of his career, but his consistency over the past several years suggests that has reached his niche as a stay-at-home defenseman who has a certain amount of grit to him (he played through a broken jaw and separated shoulder in the 2008 playoffs). Whether that is going to persuade the Caps to be the team to give him a raise is just one more contract issue Caps fans might be watching this summer. But for this year, it is a grade consistent with last year’s performance

Grade: B-

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Defensemen: Jeff Schultz

Jeff Schultz

Theme: “Truth is generally the best vindication against slander”
-- Abraham Lincoln

"Hit somebody!" "Hit him with yer purse, Schultz!!" "Get off the ice, Schultz!!!" It has been a continuing refrain heard at Verizon Center almost since defenseman Jeff Schultz entered the NHL. Such is the price a player pays, one supposes, for being almost precisely the same size as Chris Pronger, but not being the physical player Pronger is. It would be like a seven-footer playing 25-feet from the basket in basketball or a six-two, 220-pound running back having happy feet in football.

Well, consider this year “Schultzie’s Revenge.”

We all know that the plus-minus statistic is worth less than a plugged nickel, but try this on. Since the plus/minus statistic was first officially recorded in 1968, 16 different defensemen have won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. Of those 16 defensemen, only five of them had better plus/minus number in any of their first four seasons than the plus-50 Schultz put up this season (his fourth) to lead the league. And what a who’s who that short list is:

Rod Langway
Denis Potvin
Larry Robinson
Paul Coffey
Raymond Bourque

That’s it. That’s the whole list. And the most recent of these was Paul Coffey’s plus-52 in 1983-1984, in his fourth season. It was an entirely different era of hockey.

Did Schultz have a Norris-worthy season? Is he a hall of famer in waiting? Let’s just hold off on those campaigns for the time being. What Schultz had was a very nice, very solid season. The offensive numbers certainly do not compare to a Mike Green, as his ten-game splits plainly show…

…but he did rank highly in a number of other measures. Among 152 defensemen appearing in at least 60 games and skating at 5-on-5 (numbers according to, Schultz finished:

-- second in plus/minus differential (plus/minus on and off ice per 60 minutes)
-- sixth in goals against-on ice/60 minutes
-- ahead of Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Dennis Seidenberg, Dan Boyle, and Tomas Kaberle, among others, in quality of competition faced.

But before getting all carried away here, all of this is at 5-on-5. And Schultz, having the role of being a more defensive defenseman, did not perform as well in a penalty killing role. Looking at the same sorts of rankings as at 5-on-5 for the 91 defensemen skating at least 60 games and two minutes a game on the penalty kill, Schultz finished:

-- fifth in plus/minus differential (plus/minus on and off ice per 60 minutes)
-- 45th in goals against-on ice/60 minutes.
-- behind Hamhuis, Boyle, Duncan Keith, Christian Ehrhoff, and Tyler Myers, among others, in quality of competition faced.

Schultz’ splits have an odd quality to them. In 26 games against teams in the Eastern Conference that made the playoffs, he was 1-8-9, plus-24. In fact, he cleaned up against the East overall. He was 3-16-19, plus-51 in 57 games against the other 14 teams in the Eastern Conference. But against the West, he was 0-4-4, minus-1 in 16 games.

What he does not do, at least enough to satisfy a large contingent of Caps fans, is play a physical game. His 66 hits on the year ranked tied for 118th among defensemen in the NHL. Well, gee, guess what. He is right in the hits neighborhood of Scott Hannan (67), Erik Johnson (70), Derek Morris (65), Nick Boynton (64), and Victor Hedman (59), all rather sturdily built defensemen themselves.

Where Schultz might improve is in the area of blocking shots. His total of 129 ranked him 45th among defensemen, but you might expect more from a defenseman whose role is being more active in his own end. One might chalk this up to inexperience (Schultz still has less than 250 games of experience in the NHL), but he might use his size and frame better to block shots.

The playoffs were not especially kind to Schultz. He was on the ice for nine of the 20 goals the Canadiens scored in the series. Being on the ice for 45 percent of the goals scored by the opposition in this series is about twice the share of opponents goals he was on the ice for during the regular season (23.8). If your calling card is defense and that big plus/minus number, this is not a happy result.

Schultz is very much a work in progress. At 24, he now has 247 games on NHL experience and just completed his first playoff series that he did not have cut short due to injury. In a sense, he is the Caps defense in microcosm – young (four of next year’s top-four will start the year still under age 25: Green, Schultz, Alzner, Carlson), short on experience (those four have a combined 637 games of NHL regular season experience). But the time is arriving (read: next season) when that will cease to be a reason for lack of performance and more of an excuse.

Still, Schultz’ progress was significant this year, despite the opinions of the peanut gallery commentariat. He is never likely to be a Chris Pronger – a defenseman who seems to harbor dreams of biting the head off of an opposing forward and consuming it at center ice. But this season was a huge leap for Schultz in being effective at what the object of the exercise is – preventing goals.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Defensemen: Tom Poti

Tom Poti

Theme: “People never notice anything.”
-- J.D. Salinger

In case you hadn’t noticed, Tom Poti had a pretty solid season for the Caps. And on a team that had the high-wattage offensive performance of a Mike Green, chances are that a lot of folks didn’t notice. If you look at Poti’s ten-game splits, there isn’t much of anything that leaps off the page, but that’s the point…

At 33 years of age, Poti is now the grand old man of the blue line for the Caps. And in this, his eleventh season in the league, he has settled into a role as a defenseman who provides a measure of stability among the 20-somethings who scurry about the blue line around him. This year, the word that might have come to mind with respect to Poti’s performance is “second.” Among Capitals defensemen he finished second in goals, second in assists, second in points, second in power play goals, second in average ice time, second in blocked shots, second in takeaways, second in shots on goal.

Not that you would have noticed.

Poti had a solid season against playoff clubs – 0-15-15, +8 in 33 games against all teams making the post-season. He also provided the kind of production on the road – 2-11-13, plus-19 in 34 games – that one would like to get from a veteran. That road performance was actually better than his Verizon Center performance (2-9-11, plus-7 in 36 games).

Contrary to the reputation he earned earlier in his career for being somewhat (ok, very) suspect in his own end of the ice, Poti displayed a solid character in his own end. Among defensemen appearing in at least 60 games this year, Poti finished 19th in goals-against/on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (according to, which was second on the team (there’s that word again). And he did it facing superior quality of competition to any of the 18 defensemen ahead of him.

There was, however, this problem – penalty killing. On a team that struggled quite a bit on the penalty kill, Poti was no exception. At 4-on-5, Poti ranked 80th in goals against/on ice per 60 minutes among defensemen who played in at least 60 games and averaged at least two minutes of penalty killing time a game. And only three of the 11 defensemen ranked lower did it against lesser quality of competition than Poti faced.

Poti spent much of his career as a playoff no show. In his first six appearances in the post season he was 0-8-8, minus-9, in 31 games, and none of his teams made it out of the first round. The last two years, though, he has improved some in this regard (2-9-11, plus-17 in 20 games, although getting out of the first round remains elusive). This year, he had four assists and was plus-9 in six games. But more important, in the six games he played he was on the ice for only three of the 18 goals scored by the Canadiens and only one in the last three games he played in the series.

The operative term in that last sentence is “last three games he played.” Poti did not play in Game 7, having suffered a gruesome injury in Game 6 that threatened more than his capacity to play in a hockey game. Given that the Caps allowed only two goals in the decisive seventh game of the Montreal series, you can’t say that Poti’s absence was the deciding factor, but it certainly would not have hurt to have him out there. In three other Games 7 with the Caps, he was on the ice for only two goals, both in the 6-2 blowout against the Penguins last year and one of those a late garbage goal (although there was that whole overtime penalty thing against the Flyers a couple of years ago).

Poti is entering the last year of a four-year deal that pays him $3.5 million a year. Given that he will turn 34 by the end of the regular season, he will be auditioning for what could be his last big contract. He has changed his game from that of an almost exclusively offensive defenseman to a more understated two-way sort of game. He probably occupies the slot that John Carlson will someday assume (and Carlson is likely to chip in more offense when he does take over that role), so in that respect he is likely to have role-model duties in addition to his auditioning for his next contract. He could see his way clear to make it the sort of season that folks might notice. But for this one…

Grade: B

Monday, May 17, 2010

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Defensemen: Mike Green

Mike Green

Theme: “Success and failure are greatly overrated. But failure gives you a whole lot more to talk about.”

Hildegard Knef probably never played hockey – she was a German actress – but she might have described Mike Green’s 2009-2010 season many years before the fact. Green had what, by the usual statistical measures, was one of the most impressive seasons – not counting his own the previous season – in recent memory. He became the first defenseman to lead all defensemen in points in consecutive years since Brian Leetch did it in the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 seasons, and he had the most combined points in consecutive years in almost two decades. And, he had generally solid ten-game segments…

Green actually improved on a year in which he set an all-time record for goals scored in consecutive games by a defenseman. He played in more games (75 to 68), had more assists (57 to 42), more points (76 to 73), a better plus/minus (+39 to +24), fewer penalty minutes (54 to 68), more hits (133 to 86), fewer giveaways (73 to 95). And just like last season, Green finished high in the rankings among defensemen in a variety of statistics:

Goals: 19 (1st)
Assists: 57 (1st)
Points : 76 (1st)
Plus/Minus: +39 (2nd)
Power Play Goals: 10 (1st)
Power Play Assists: 25 (1st)
Power Play Points: 35 (1st)
Game-Winning Goals: 4 (T-2nd)
Time-on-Ice/Game: 25:28 (9th)

In spite of all of that, Green might as well have been a dead carp left on the counter for a week. He was toxic as a potential member of the Canadian men’s hockey Olympic team – “There are parts of his game that we’d need to see improved upon before he’s ready to play in the Olympics” was the way Steve Yzerman tried to put it diplomatically.  He would be pooh-pooh’ed as a potential Norris Trophy winner. Can’t play defense. He’s a fourth forward. What’s with the hair? It was a rather consistent, mind-numbing, head-pounding narrative, and not an entirely unfair one.

But what Green had was a reasonably consistent – if not record-settting – season in terms of goal scoring. What inconsistency he had in the offensive end had to do with his production on the power play, as his ten-game splits suggest.

This is something of a classic era in terms of young defensemen with bright futures. Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn, Erik Johnson, Victor Hedman, Zach Bogosian, to name just a few. Green, at the age of 24, is certainly in that group. And this season cemented Green' status as the top offensive defenseman of this era. He was ridiculously productive against Eastern Conference teams that made the playoffs. In 24 games against the other seven teams making the post-season, he was 8-20-28, plus-32.

Defensively, to put the best spin on it, Green is a work in progress. Consider that as recently as the 2006-2007 season, Green was averaging only twenty seconds a night on the penalty kill on a team that was bad in that respect. OK, it isn’t really any better (actually it’s worse – 78.8 percent for the regular season versus 80.2 percent in that season), but Green is assuming a larger role in penalty killing – 2:09 in PK ice time a night this past season.

One could not say, however, that the increase in shorthanded ice time came with an increase in effectiveness at 4-on-5 play. Of the 92 defensemen who played at least 60 games this season and averaged at least two minutes of shorthanded ice time per game, only 24 defensemen had a worse goals-against/on-ice per 60 minutes than Green (according to Even though you will find some names of note below Green on that list (Dan Hamhuis, Dennis Seidenberg, Scott Niedermayer, and Rob Scuderi among them), penalty killing is still very much an area that could use improvement for Green.

It does get better – somewhat – for Green at even strength. Among defensemen playing in at least 60 games with at least 15 minutes a game at 5-on-5, Green ranked 37th among 110 defensemen in goals-against/on-ice per 60 minutes of ice time this past season. He still has a way to go to catch the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara, Chris Pronger, Rob Scuderi, and Rob Blake, to name a few who ranked better, to join the top rank of defensemen who are effective in their own zone.

What is something of a festering problem for Green is one alluded to by Steve Yzerman in explaining his decision to select Drew Doughty over Green for a spot on the Canadian men’s ice hockey Olympic team… “We feel [Doughty] can handle pressure situations,” the clear inference being that Green cannot. It is hard to avoid noticing that including this year’s post season performance against Montreal, Green is 1-14-15, minus-5 in his last 25 playoff games. Against the Canadiens in the opening round of this year’s playoffs, Green was 0-3-3, plus-1. He also was on the ice for 10 of the 20 goals Montreal scored in the playoffs. Even with the heavy ice time Green got – he led all Caps with 26:01 in average ice time for the series – that is a high percentage of on-ice goals against.

In the wake of the disappointing playoff exit against Montreal, Green declined to speak to the press. The press being, well, the press, they seemed to take offense at the slight, but Green did speak to reporters a few days later. Parsing any athlete’s commentary isn’t always a productive exercise, but a point was made, then returned to by Green in his remarks…

“The tough part for me is that it takes 82 more games to get another opportunity. That's a long time… Now we have to play 82 games to prepare ourselves to play like a playoff team for next season.”

It is, in a sense, the right thing to say in that it ackowledges that for the Caps, they will now be judged on playoff performance, not posting big numbers in the regular season. But concerning the regular season, this comment caught our attention…

“I think mentally I was preparing myself for the playoffs to play strong defensively. When all season you're an offensive-minded player, and you get criticized about your defensive play, you try to adjust to become that complete player. Going into the playoffs, I wanted to play strong defensively. And maybe that [affected] my offense."

Intuitively, it makes little sense to think that a player can magically shift from one style to another merely as a product of starting the playoffs. Developing those skills is a task for that regular season, part of the preparation for the post season. Green has become a better defensive defenseman in his five seasons in the NHL. Next season he is going to have to display similar improvement in those 82 games leading to the playoffs if he is to be a more complete, not to mention successful, defenseman heading into the post-season.  And maybe we'll have less to talk about.

Grade: B+


The Capitals announced this morning the signing of a pair of centers from Sweden. Nicklas Backstrom was inked to a 10-year, $67 million contract. Marcus Johansson -- a 2009 first round draft pick -- was signed to a three-year entry-level deal.  Backstrom's deal keeps him in DC until he is 32 years old, and Johansson, who is coming off a season in which his Farjestads BK team won the Swedish Elite League championship, will wear sweater number "90," worn only by Joe Juneau and Steve Pinizzotto in Caps history.

Congratulations* to both Nicklas and Marcus, the Caps organization, and fans of the Red Fury.

We hope we got it right above; our apologies to the Swedes who might read this if we did not.

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Quintin Laing

Quintin Laing

Theme: “A good sacrifice is one that is not necessarily sound but leaves your opponent dazed and confused”

Quintin Laing – once upon a time a fourth round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings (1997) – will turn 31 years old in a few weeks. As this season draws to a close, Laing has not yet compiled a season’s worth of NHL game experience (79 games). While Laing might be the sort of player whose career is spent on the margins of the NHL and AHL, his having played as few games as this (76 games with the Caps over the past three seasons) is as much a product of ghastly luck as it has been his talent.

In 2009 he was called up to the Caps from Hershey, only to see his NHL season begin and end in the only game for which he would dress, sustaining a lacerated spleen when blocking a shot in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. This past season he started the campaign with the Caps on opening night in Boston and played in ten games before sitting out the next three with the flu. He returned to play in eight more games. In that eighth game, however, Laing blocked a shot by New York Ranger defenseman Michal Roszival… with his face. Laing suffered a broken jaw. But perhaps typically, the pain Laing was feeling was less in his jaw and more in the realization that he would miss time

“I was more angry because I knew it was broken, I knew I was gonna have to miss some games, and the thought of that hurt more than the jaw. Just the fact that I knew something was bad, I knew it was probably broken, I knew I'd have to miss some time--that makes me upset more than anything. That's the first thought that came into my mind."

We suspect that only hockey players think this way. But even if it is a common sentiment among players injured in hockey games, the sacrifice did not go unnoticed. As Brooks Laich put it after that game

"I don't know what to say other than I haven't seen stuff like that in a long time. I mean, it's humbling. Guys are blown away in the locker room. The Ovechkins, the Backstroms and the Greens are the backbone of this team, but the Bradleys (note: Matt Bradley engaged Aaron Voros in a bout in that game) and the Laings, those guys are the guts -- and that's why we win."

Even Bradley was impressed…

"To most people, what he does is crazy, but crazy in a good way. I mean, crazy in a way that everyone wishes they were that brave, you know?"

Laing would have to have his jaw wired shut and would have to be sustained by a variety of liquefied foods until his damage healed. Still, despite all of that, he missed only a total of 14 games before returning to the ice on December 19th against Edmonton.

One wishes that there was a happy ending to this, that Laing came back and lit up the scoreboard or played 15 minutes a night of gritty defense. But after the injury Laing played in only 18 more games over the rest of the season, registering only a pair of assists in that span and playing as many as ten minutes in a game only twice. His overall ten-game segments reflect a somewhat sparse presence in the lineup…

It is hardly surprising that the thing for which Laing is best known (and what was the cause of his injuries) – blocking shots – diminished this past season. Having blocked 53 shots in 40 games as a Cap over the previous two seasons, he recorded 20 blocks in 36 games this year. One should hardly be surprised – we would be whimpering in a corner merely at the sight of an opponent winding up to take a shot, as far as possible from the prospect of hurling ourselves at the puck.

With the end of the season, Laing is now an unrestricted free agent. It would not be surprising if he was to remain in the Capitals’ organization, but it is hard to imagine that he will begin next season in the same place he found himself on opening night this season – in the starting lineup.

Still, one could do much worse than have a player of Laing’s character and selflessness in their employ. When such a player has teammates in awe of his capacity for physical sacrifice, one can only think that in fact that sacrifice must leave opponents dazed and confused… this guy is crazy!

Grade: B-

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Jason Chimera

Jason Chimera

Theme: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
-- George Eliot

Jason Chimera spent parts of nine seasons toiling in relative obscurity, starting his career in Edmonton in the 2000-2001 season (when he played in one game), then moving to Columbus after the lockout, departing just in time to miss out on the Oilers going to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006. Over that span of time, Chimera enjoyed modest success for teams that enjoyed, well, modest success.

Then, just before New Years this past season, he was traded to the Capitals for forward and team captain Chris Clark, and defenseman Milan Jurcina. At the time, Chimera was leaving a team wallowing among the Western Conference also-rans at 14-18-7 and in the midst of a nine-game losing streak (0-7-2), while the team he was joining was 24-8-6 and sprinting toward a President’s Trophy.

Chimera brought two things the Caps needed – an edge to his game and speed off the edge. He provided both right out of the gate. In his first 13 games with the Caps he was 3-6-9, plus-3, and he amassed 28 minutes in penalties, including fights in consecutive games against Florida on January 13th and Toronto on January 15th. It was certainly consistent with the player against whom the Caps played when Washington hosted Columbus on November 1st. It was in that game – a 5-4 overtime win for the Blue Jackets – in which Alex Ovechkin was injured, possibly the result of a scrum at the players’ bench with Chimera. Ovechkin missed six games as a result.

Overall, Chimera displayed a reasonably consistent level of performance, as reflected in his ten-game segments…

It was one that he sustained upon joining the Caps, with one noteworthy exception. Chimera had 28 minutes in penalties in that fourth ten-game segment, then went all squooshy, relatively speaking, getting sent to the penalty box once in his next two segments, covering 16 games, and that one was a delay-of-game penalty for clearing the puck over the glass against the Rangers. He was plenty ornery in the last segment, though, picking up 21 minutes in penalties, including 14 in the regular season finale (a pair of minors and a ten-minute misconduct), largely a product of a game-long feud with Bruin goalie Tim Thomas.

But Chimera didn’t only pick up penalty minutes. He provided something that the Caps were not getting, unfortunately, from the player Chimera replaced – Chris Clark. Chimera did have those seven goals and ten assists over his 39-game stint with the Caps and showed a consistent ability to use speed to put defensemen back on their heels. The shortcoming, however, was that Chimera did not produce against playoff teams the way he did against the also-rans. In 17 games against playoff teams while with the Caps, he was 1-3-4, minus-1. He was 6-7-13, plus-7 in 22 games against non-playoff teams.

In the playoffs, Chimera chipped in a bit of offense – his only goal would be the Caps’ last game-winning goal of the season, coming in Game 4 (it was his first playoff goal in his career) – and managed to get more shots on goal (15) in the seven games than Tomas Fleischmann and Brendan Morrison, combined (14), while getting less ice time than either of them. What he did not do, perhaps surprisingly, was provide a physical edge. In the seven games, his seven total hits was fewer than Boyd Gordon, Nicklas Backstrom, and Jeff Schultz, none of whom are generally regarded as physical players.

Chimera was an upgrade over Chris Clark, who was not able to return to the level of production he enjoyed before a series of injuries struck. Whether Chimera is a bargain at his $1.875 million a year compensation for the next two years is an open question. Comparing him to other players at his position, can he be an overachiever, such as an Alex Burrows ($2.0 million this past season while putting up 35 goals and 67 points), or might he be a disappointment, such as a Ruslan Fedotenko (11 goals and minus-17 for a defending Stanley Cup champion while pulling down $1.8 million)?

Chimera has averaged 15-19-34 per 82 games since the lockout. He will now get the chance to improve upon that with a better cast of teammates around him. If he can be a 15-plus goal, 35-plus point player for the Caps next season – including doing some damage against stiffer opposition – and do it with a bit of an attitude, it will be an important ingredient for the Caps to incorporate into what one hopes will not be another season ending in disappointment. It’s not too late to be what he has not yet been in a nine-year career – an important cog in a Stanley Cup winner.

Grade: B-

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Matt Bradley

Matt Bradley

Theme: “The unforgivable crime is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.”

-- Theodore Roosevelt

Matt Bradley might not be the greatest fighter in the NHL; he might not be the biggest hitter. But if you’ve ever watched “Band of Brothers” or “Saving Private Ryan” or “The Pacific,” he’s the guy in the foxhole or the beachhead the other guys want by their side, because he’s going to be the guy who will lay all he has on the line for his teammates.

The bonus for Bradley this year is not that he won a fight, if was that he set a personal best for goals scored (ten), assists (14), points (24), and game-winning goals (five). In fact, the game-winning goal total put Bradley in the top 25 in the league in that measure and was a greater number than such as: Marian Gaborik, Ilya Kovalchuk, Mike Cammalleri, Pavel Datsyuk, Bobby Ryan, Mike Richards, and Jonathan Toews, among others. In fact, five of the last seven goals Bradley scored this season were of the game-winning variety.

Bradley’s tens suggested he was going to have a sluggish finish, but he did ramp it up over his last five games with a pair of goals (both game-winners) to get that career high…

Bradley wasn’t saving himself for the tamata cans of the league, either. In 37 games against teams that would make the playoffs, he was 6-7-13, plus-5. The mystery was how he came to be 0-0-0, minus-6 in 11 games against the Islanders, Maple Leafs, and Lightning.

Bradley also had a strange split in this regard – he was 5-7-12 in 39 home games and 5-7-12 in 38 road games. He difference was that while he was a plus-9 on the road, he finished a minus-3 at Verizon Center. And, he was an “every other day” sort of player… 10-10-20, plus-13 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and 0-4-4, minus-7 on the other four days of the week.

Perhaps the oddest number in Bradley’s season is this –12. Although Bradley had a respectable 47 minutes in penalties this season, only 12 were earned as minor penalties, and one of those infractions was an instigator penalty that he earned when he stepped between Alex Ovechkin and Steve Downie in a game against Tampa Bay on January 12th. Otherwise, his minor penalty rap sheet looks like this: holding, high-sticking, slashing, and a pair of tripping calls. When he took two minors in a three-game stretch in mid-March, it was the Bradley equivalent of a crime spree. Certainly an unexpected result for one whose game is predicated on creating a certain level of havoc. That is, until one realizes that it is not out of the ordinary… Bradley took seven minors in 2008-2009, 12 in 2007-2008, and six in 2006-2007.

One of the things that got some play on Twitter this season among Caps fans was the whole #needsmorebradley theme. Well, maybe there was something to that, at least in the playoffs. Game 1-3, Bradley averaged 12:14 of ice time and was 1-2-3. The Caps were up 3-1 in games. In Games 5-7 Bradley averaged 8:24 in ice time, went without a point, and the Caps lost all three games. Just sayin’…

Bradley is one of only seven roster forwards under contract for next season (although that likely becomes eight when the Backstrom deal is announced later today). He and Jason Chimera are probably the only roster forwards coming back next season who can provide a measure of grit to their game that will make opponents uncomfortable. Bradley plays physically (fifth on the club in hits despite barely 11 minutes a game), plays within the rules, plays responsibly (a takeaway/giveaway ratio of 3.4:1), and pots the timely goal. His $1.0 million deal looks like something of a bargain heading into next year. He might need the money after losing this gig…

Grade: B

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Eric Fehr

Eric Fehr

Theme: “Loyal and efficient work in a great cause, even though it may not be immediately recognized, ultimately bears fruit.”

-- Jawaharlal Nehru

There is, perhaps, no more efficient goal scorer in all the NHL than Eric Fehr. Fehr finished the season with 21 goals. Of the 86 players who finished ahead of him in the goal-scoring standings, none had less average time-on-ice than Fehr (12:07), and the closest to him in that regard – Tampa’s Steve Downie and Dallas’ Jamie Benn – skated an average of 14:42 a game.

All in all, not bad for a player who had both shoulders operated on over the off-season (he missed the first four games of the season while completing his rehab), then missed time early on when he sustained a rib injury. He ended up missing ten of the season’s first 16 games. But after that he had a solid season, at least by looking at his ten-game segments…

Fehr’s problem was not so much production as much as it was getting time to produce. Only once in his first ten games – his tenth game – did he get as much as 15 minutes of ice time. It did not get better. Only five times in 69 games did he skate more than 15 minutes, only once in his last 50 games.  He had three goals in the five games.

He had a slightly higher goal-scoring pace against Eastern Conference playoff teams than he had against the rest of the league, potting eight pucks in 23 games against the other top-eight teams in the East. Perhaps ironically, Fehr managed to score goals in three of the four games he played against Montreal, four goals in all (he actually played fewer minutes against the Canadiens – 11:24 a game – than his season average).

Despite the limited minutes, Fehr did find himself in the rarified air of the elite rankings in one respect. At 5-on-5, on a goals scored per 60 minute basis, he trailed only Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Sidney Crosby among NHL forwards who played in at least 60 games. And here is an odd statistic – Fehr averaged more assists per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (1.25) than did Pavel Datsyuk (1.23), Ray Whitney (1.23), and Saku Koivu (1.17). And, he had a better plus/minus differential, on ice to off ice (+0.47), than Danny Briere (+0.44), Patrick Kane (+0.42), Anze Kopitar (+0.42), and Dany Heatley (+0.27), among others (according to

Fehr did find himself atop the rankings of all Caps in one area, though, regardless of games played or time on ice received (at least among those who were with the club all season). His ratio of takeaways-to-giveaways (4.33:1) was better than any Cap in 2009-2010. He was seventh on the club in takeaways (39) and had fewer giveaways (nine) than 19 other Caps.

Fehr also had an ability to get shots to the net accurately. Of the nine Caps who recorded at least 100 shots on goal, Fehr had the third best (lowest) percentage of missed shots to shots on goal (37 percent; only Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich were better).

There was one think Fehr was not called upon to do, and that was to kill penalties. No Cap skater who played more than 21 games recorded less overall time on ice on the penalty kill (a total of 34 seconds for the season in 69 games). It really isn’t even close – Alex Ovechkin recorded the next lowest figure, 4:14 of total PK time.

The playoffs were the bitter and the sweet for Fehr. Despite recording only 11:24 a game in ice time, he finished third in total goals scored. Unfortunately, third-best on the Caps this year would be three goals in seven games (Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom each had five). It is arguable that only one of the three goals he scored was consequential. One came in a Game 6 loss (in which the Caps launched 54 shots at goalie Jaroslav Halak and had only Fehr’s goal to show for it with 4:50 left in the game and the Habs with a 3-0 lead), another came as a goal that gave the Caps a 3-0 lead on their way to a 5-1 win in Game 3. He did notch the first Caps goal in the 6-5 overtime win in Game 2. After skating 18 minutes in the series opener, he averaged barely ten minutes of ice time per game for the rest of the series.

Fehr is another of those restricted free agents this summer – the Caps have six in all in addition to seven unrestricted free agents. He, like Tomas Fleischmann, is coming off a cap-friendly contract ($771,750 in cap hit this past season). Fehr and Fleischmann have been fighting for more or less the same roster spot – scoring winger on one of the top two lines – ever since they joined the organization. Given how the Caps seem likely to deploy next season, with the Alexes on the left side of the top two lines and Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich on the other side of those lines, they will be fighting for what might be ice time on a third line that would be another scoring line. Fleischmann has been afforded every opportunity to secure that position, dating back to when he was given a top line assignment in the season opener in the 2007-2008 season under coach Glen Hanlon. Fehr has had a more difficult time getting meaningful minutes and dealing with the occasional gaffe that puts him in the coaches’ doghouse.

But Fehr remains an extremely efficient goal scorer who can play passable defense at 5-on-5. One wonders what he could do with, say, 16-18 minutes a game instead of 12. Were he to remain as efficient a goal scorer (not to mention getting the opportunity to play with better teammates), he could become a reliable 30-goal scorer. It certainly would not be inconsistent with his past – twice a 50-goal scorer in Canadian juniors and 47 goals in 110 games (a 34-goals-per-season pace) in Hershey. Whether his efficiency ultimately bears fruit in Washington or with another team is one of the things to be watching as the summer unfolds and training camp begins next season.

Grade: B