Wednesday, June 30, 2010

An Unforseen Problem When Buying a New Team

The Boss posted a blog entry earlier today titled, "I Can't Comment."  In it, he states...

"Team owners and officials can’t comment on free agency or free agents.

This is a good article. I thought it was pretty spot on.

We have articulated our plan. We are in control of our own destiny as a franchise. We have a lot of work to do to rebuild a foundation around young players — to heal, and to create a new winning culture. We have to do the work. We have to create our own upside. There is no easy magic wand to wave to make us a great team. I will have to be honest and authentic to our fan base on these matters.

But we will be in control of our destiny, and it won’t be a random plan. It won’t be filled with empty promises, and with “the best laid plans” built around unknown and third parties.

We just executed a trade that fits into our plan. We received a young player — a player with size, skill, and upside."
A young player with size?  Skill?  Upside?  I almost made a mad dash for the exits to hop over to the Caps web site to see for whom the club traded.  Good thing I didn't, for here is the rest of the entry...

"A player who can shoot, and run the floor for a big man. A player with unique potential. A player who is working hard this off season to improve. Another small piece has been added to rebuild our team to be a better and more competitive team for next season. A good day’s work. Real. Authentic. Honest."
Had I not known that "run the floor for a big man" was a basketball reference, I might have spent the rest of the day searching for who it was the Caps traded for, and for whom. 

Uh, Boss?  Might want to let your readers know up front it's basketball you're talking about.  You're going to give us Caps fans heart attacks doing that.

Speaking "McPhee"

In barely 24 hours, the clock will start on the signing period for unrestricted free agents. Fans of the Washington Capitals might have visions of an Ilya Kovalchuk or a Anton Volchenkov pulling on a Caps red sweater come October, but it is unlikely in the extreme that such will ever happen. George McPhee splashed cold water on that in remarks in Tarik El-Bashir’s “Capitals Insider” this morning.

While it is always good to get the scoop straight from the horse’s (or in this case, GM’s) mouth, it helps to speak “McPhee,” too. Fortunately, we have completed the Rosetta Stone CD lessons in “General Manager” (after “French” and before “German” in the index of titles, but you have to look hard), so as a bonus for our readers, let’s see what he really meant in his comments…

What he said… "We'll be involved but I don't expect to do a whole lot. We're in a great position right now where we have a good team. So rather than getting seduced into signing three- or four-year deals, we believe we have young people who are ready to go."

What he meant… “Two year deals, $5 million… max.”

What he said… "We think we have centers that are ready to go. There's Mathieu Perreault who's fairly close, if not ready to go. We like what we've seen from [Marcus] Johansson. A year from now [first-round draft pick Evgeny] Kuznetsov might be ready to play. Cody Eakin might be ready to go in a year. So we want to be really careful not get drawn into any long-term deals at that position. The issue is, are they ready this year or next?”

What he meant… Two year deals, $5 million… max.

What he said… "Rather than do a deal we don't like and come to regret it six months from now, we would probably be more inclined to go with our drafted players. And, in fact, they look a lot better than what's out there right now. Why wouldn't you play Perreault? He's a really talented young player."

What he meant… “Any takers for Perreault?”

What he said… "If they're not better than Perreault or [Tomas] Fleischmann, why do it?"

What he meant… “Any takers for Fleischmann?”

What he said… "We don't have to spend [the remaining cap room]. You don't ever want to go into the season right up against the cap. Ideally, you put a good team on the ice and you have room."

What he meant… “Two years, $5 million… max.”

What he said… “There's not much out there [in this year’s free agent class]."

What he meant… “…maybe $4.5 million… max.”

What he said… "We're going with our young goaltenders. They're both 22 years old now and they've got a couple of years of pro under their belts. Varly's played two years at the NHL level and Neuvirth has won two Calder Cups and got an MVP. They're blue-chip prospects. It could become a real strength of our team and our organization.”

What he meant… “Nashville took Kostitsyn instead of Fleischmann.”

What he said… "We actually think this is going to be good for both of them because there isn't going to be the pressure on either one of them to play 65 games. It's an opportunity for both of them to play more games at the NHL level without the pressure of trying to carry the team. We think it's a great situation to be able to platoon a couple of very good young goaltenders."

What he meant… “They’d better not suck.”

What he said… “We probably won't make any changes to our defense. We've got seven guys ready to go."

What he meant… “To the Islanders, to the Blue Jackets, to freakin’ Edmonton if they pull another one-and-done in April.”

What he said… "I don't think any deals are imminent [with any of the important RFAs]"

What he meant… “I don’t think any deals are imminent.”

What he said… “[We expect to talk to Eric Belanger’s representatives] in the next 24 hours."

What he meant… “ hey-ey-ey... go-o-o-od-bye...”

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It's almost July, and that means...

In the United States, Independence Day is July 4th. In the NHL, it is July 1st, the day on which a lot of players will have the freedom to sign with whomever they choose among the 30 teams in the NHL. What might the Capitals do when it strikes noon Eastern time on July 1st? Will they bid for Ilya Kovalchuk? Well, of course not – the salary cap does have its limitations. But there are a lot of potential free agents out there that might fit the Caps’ budget. Will they fit the Caps’ grand design, though?

You might get a feeling for what the Caps might do by looking at their history. Specifically, their history in signing unrestricted free agents in the early-signing period, which for our purposes means July. Beginning with 2000, the Caps have signed 31 free agents in the month of July, as follows…

shaded: currently on Caps roster ( is Nylander, but he's not going to be playing any games at Verizon Center with the Caps)

See any patterns in here?  The 2000-2009 period breaks into three distinct periods. The first looks an awful lot like a “marking time” signing group associated with the three signings in 2000. Both Sylvain Cote and Craig Berube were returning for their second tours with the Caps; both were 34 years old when signed this time around. In that first year after signing, Cote finished third in scoring among defensemen, but far behind Sergei Gonchar (57 points) and Calle Johansson (36) in that department. It’s more than Berube accomplished, as the burly winger was traded to the New York Islanders at mid-season to Vancouver for a ninth-round draft pick. Berube dressed for only 22 games before moving on. Todd Rohloff spent that entire year following his signing in Portland of the AHL, then had a difficult 2001-2002 season, one limited to 16 games with the Caps due to an ankle injury. It was not a memorable free agency class.

The second major group might be called, “The Jagr Group” covering the next two seasons. After trading for Pittsburgh’s Jaromir Jagr in July 2001, then signing him to a long-term contract extension, the first group of free agency signings that followed appeared to have been with surrounding him with help in mind. Robert Lang was signed as a scoring center; Kip Miller was inked as more or less Jagr’s designated linemate. Both Lang and Miller played reasonably well in that first year, but the 2002-2003 season was an excruciatingly disappointing one, ending with a six-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round of the playoffs.

The second part of that “Jagr” era of free agent signings – those of July 2003 – was as clear an indicator one could imagine that the Caps knew this whole Jagr thing wasn’t working. Andrej Podkonicky, Garret Stroshien, and John Gruden are not names that any but the most obsessed Caps fan will recognize (at least not without prodding such as our just having typed their names). Their combined 16 games, one point, and minus-3 are a stark reminder that the Caps were: a) in the process of being reduced to the functional equivalent of an expansion team, and b) were beginning to act on that (they would blow up the parent roster over the course of the 2003-2004 season). If the first group of free agency signings was not memorable, this group might be noteworthy, not necessarily for the names, but for the turbulent history in which the signings were executed.

The third group – the post lockout group – gives an inkling of what one might expect when the clock starts on 2010 free agency on Thursday. Eight signings in 2006 had the look of a two-pronged strategy. First, signing Brian Pothier wasn’t especially newsworthy in the larger context of the league’s big signings (it was the summer of Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard, to name two bigger signings). But it provided at least a measure of credibility after the rookie season of Alex Ovechkin that the Capitals were serious about building a competitive roster.

Caps fans will no doubt argue that Pothier was not an impact signing, but it helps to look at this as a process. The Caps just introduced Alex Ovechkin to the NHL, but the team on which he was playing was a weak one. A high-end signing, if it ever makes sense, would not make sense here. There were simply too many holes in the lineup for the Caps to invest top money to a free agent. It might be the difference between 70 standings points (their finish in 2005-2006, arguably a pleasantly overachieving one at the time) and 80 points in that next season. Better, but not enough to make the playoffs. The Brashear signing had the look of having Ovechkin – and his protection – in mind. In that respect, Brashear was as advertised in terms of his pugnaciousness, but given the changes in the game coming out of the lockout, the role of the enforcer was being called into question.

It is in the other six signings that the other part of the strategy was revealed. The Caps came out of the lockout with a newly minted number one overall draft pick on the parent roster, and they were also going forth with a new relationship with an AHL farm club. The Caps switched their affiliation from that with the Portland Pirates to one with the Hershey Bears in 2005. Alexandre Giroux, Chad Wiseman, and Quintin Laing all would be top-ten scorers for the Bears in the 2006-2007 season, and Dean Arsene would return to the Bears (where he played since 2004) and become such a fixture with the Bears that he earned the nickname “Mayor of Chocolatetown.” These signings served to cement a relationship between the NHL and AHL ends of a partnership.

2007 – crank things up a notch in terms of the quality of free agency signings and the objective in doing it. The outlook for the 2007-2008 Caps team was one of, well, they might challenge for a playoff spot, but they are probably at least a year away from that. One of the reasons for that was that they had some rather serious holes remaining both up front and on the blue line. Among the forwards, they had a known (if still green) commodity in Alex Ovechkin, but then a rookie (Nicklas Backstrom), a player still something of an unknown (Alexander Semin), and a young guys in roles of growing responsibility (Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann). Viktor Kozlov was not a high end signing (this was the Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Daniel Briere summer), but he filled a role – providing a measure of stability on the scoring lines. Ditto Michael Nylander, who could also provide something of a mentoring role for Backstrom.

On the back line, the Caps were even greener than at forward. Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Milan Jurcina. These three, with Brian Pothier, might have been thrown into top-four roles on a 70-point team of the sort the Caps were coming out of the lockout, but the club had progressed past that point. Even Brian Pothier had only two full seasons as an NHL starter. The signing of a free agent to fill a role and provide some veteran perspective made sense here. That defenseman would be Tom Poti. He was not the top-end sort of free agent that was available (like, say, Brian Rafalski), but he had eight full years of experience and could provide solid minutes for a blue-line corps that needed experience as much as anything else.

Having made the playoffs in 2007-2008, expectations were raised for the next edition of the Caps. Add to that the fact that the clock was running on the contracts of Alex Ovechkin and other youngsters, and one might have felt a bit more pressure in the 2008 off-season to fill what holes remained on the roster – and there still were holes. None, perhaps, were bigger than the hole at goaltender. The Caps had a somewhat messy divorce with long-time netminder Olaf Kolzig the previous spring, and Cristobal Huet – the hero of the 2008 stretch run – ended up taking an offer with the Chicago Blackhawks shortly after the free agency signing period began. That necessitated a “Plan B,” and that plan was executed in the signing of Jose Theodore. The former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner had a resume, but also something of a damaged reputation. His performance with the Montreal Canadiens after winning his pair of trophies was disappointing, and he was shipped to Colorado, where he was quite inconsistent. His role in signing with Washington was to win games, sure. But it also was to hold the number one goaltending job until such time as the pair of 2006 draft picks – Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth – were ready to take over. Theodore provided largely solid goaltending in both of his years in Washington. Unfortunately, he also displayed some of the inconsistency he displayed in his later tenure in Montreal and in Colorado and the playoff problems he had with the Avalanche.

Which brings us to the 2009 signings – Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison. Again, there were top end free agents available (such as Marian Hossa), but each of Knuble and Morrison addressed a specific weakness. Knuble would address the lack of ability on the part of the Caps to score goals from in close. He built a solid resume as being just the sort of large-frame, hard-working player who would go into traffic, plant himself in front of the net, and score the ugliest goals imaginable. He could host hockey’s version of “Dirty Jobs.” Morrison was taken as a “low-risk/high-reward” sort of signing, a player with a recent history of injuries that depressed his value, but who did have a history of being able to center a first or second line. With Nicklas Backstrom solidly entrenched as the Caps number one center, Morrison would fill the void created by Sergei Fedorov, who signed with the KHL after his contract expired with the Caps.

Especially in the post-lockout period, you can see a pattern to the Caps’ free agency signings. They do not sign (make offers?... that’s another issue) high-end free agents. If a club is going to rely on the draft and draft players with the expectation that they be cornerstones for a decade or more, then that team cannot sign the high end free agent. They could never fill a roster that way. Having Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green all on their second contracts next season and in the fold for the rest of the decade in the case of Ovechkin and Backstrom makes “value” free agents signed to play a role on comparatively short contracts the pattern that has emerged.

And, the Caps will take risks in their signings. Morrison was signed with injury issues. Theodore was signed with consistency issues. Kozlov had the label of “underachiever.” And here is where a blemish appears in the Caps recent free agency signing history. Kozlov had one good season and one poor one, and then left for Russia. Morrison started hot, faded badly, and was almost an afterthought by the end of his one season in Washington. Theodore never really did shake either his penchant for inconsistency or his playoff problems (pulled as number one goaltender twice in two playoff seasons).

The Caps might very well go after a player of mid-range value with some risk attached – a Willie Mitchell, for instance, to shore up the blue line. They could go for a player to fill a specific role – a Matthew Lombardi, perhaps, to assume the number two center duties. But if Caps fans are thinking, hoping, praying that they will sign an Ilya Kovalchuk? Far beyond the Caps’ ability to pay. An Anton Volchenkov? Perhaps too much money to commit to a single free agent? A Dan Hamhuis? Given how the Caps approach free agency, we have doubts Hamhuis would be in the market for a three-year deal.

According to, the Caps have about $15.5 million in cap room and nine roster spots to fill. Some of those spots will be filled by re-signing their own restricted free agents (some of whom, such as Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz, and Tomas Fleischmann, could get substantial raises). As a practical matter, one might expect that between those re-signings and some promotions from Hershey, there are three or four roster spots available (a second line center, a defenseman or two, perhaps a backup goaltender). There simply isn’t enough money available, or inclination for that matter, for the Caps to sign a high-end free agent in this class. They seem once more likely to go after the role player on a short-term (three years or fewer) contract that is consistent with building from the core out with players that are more or less interchangeable in those roles.

It might not be exciting, but if it ends in a Stanley Cup, no one will be complaining. However, that rumble of thunder in the background is that the Caps have implemented this strategy over the past several years with rather mixed results. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

She Did It Again!

Every time Lucy puts that football down, and every time she yanks it away just as Charlie Brown is going to kick it. So it is with trades and the NHL draft. Every year, it is the year when we are going to see a lot of trades around draft time, and every year it fails to materialize to any degree approaching what folks anticipate.

This year, from Monday through Saturday, there were a total of nine deals that involved players for players or players for picks (collected from the transactions posted at

- Minnesota acquired right wing Brad Staubitz from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

- Boston acquired forwards Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell from the Florida Panthers in exchange for defenseman Dennis Wideman, a first-round pick in the 2010 Draft and a third-round pick in 2011.

- Edmonton acquired forward Colin Fraser from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

- St. Louis acquired the 16th pick in the 2010 draft from the Ottawa Senators for defenseman David Rundblad.

- Chicago acquired forward Jimmy Hayes from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for the 43rd pick in the 2010 draft.

- Carolina acquired forward Riley Nash from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for the 46th pick in the 2010 draft.

- Carolina acquired defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti from the New York Rangers in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft and Washington's second-round draft pick in 2011.

- Carolina acquired forward Jonathan Matsumoto from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Washington's seventh-round pick in the 2010 draft.

- Boston acquired defenseman David Warsofsky from the St. Louis Blues for center Vladimir Sobotka.

Good thing Carolina did more than its share (and that Washington Capitals picks found a home).  Combined, these deals might register a 2.5 on the NHL Richter scale (no, not Mike Richter) – generally not felt, but recorded. And, if not for the Boston-Florida deal, seismometers would have a hard time recording the effect of these trades.

Everyone seems to have short memories in this regard – journalists, fans, and those of us who scribble at keyboards (in a manner of speaking) in our spare time. When will we learn?

Well, at least we have the week ahead, when teams will sign that one free agent that will put them over the top and…

Damn! Fell for it again!!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Every Draft a Snowflake

Every draft is like a snowflake, each different and special in its own way. And that tempers our remarks here, which address a component of the Caps governing philosophy concerning personnel. The draft is an important, if not the most important, part of stocking and re-stocking talent on the parent roster. It is the engine that will make them a perennial contender for the Stanley Cup, according to the game plan.

The flip side of that is the fact that if successful, the Caps will find themselves having their first draft pick coming in the 25-30 range every year (absent trades). It’s next to impossible to find a franchise player at that point of the draft. Finding a contributor in this range (a top-four defenseman, a top-six forward, a sturdy grinder who does all the detail things well) is a hit-or-miss proposition.

Starting with 2000, when the NHL had its first 30-team rounds in the draft, let’s look at the nine drafts that followed (we leave out 2009, since none of those players have yet to dress in an NHL game). All-in-all, 54 players were selected in those nine drafts in the 25-30 range (data from

Of this group, 19 are defensemen, 16 are centers, 12 are forward/wingers, and seven are goaltenders. Looking at the centers, it is plain that finding a top-six level of player in this draft range is rare, at least in the post-2000 period. Steve Ott and Brian Sutherby have played the most games of this group (owing to their being drafted earliest in this sample), and neither is a first or second line center. In a curious twist of fate, both find themselves on the same team, Sutherby having moved from Washington to Anaheim to the Stars. Ott has done some moving of his own, having been moved out of the center spot to primarily winger responsibility. Both might be better described at this stage of their careers as grinders. In fact, “grinders” seems to be the path for centers drafted in this range – Jim Slater and David Steckel have logged more than 200 games apiece in this role.

After that, disappointment (or at least delayed success) seems to be the thing that jumps to mind here regarding centers. Adrian Foster, a 2001 draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, has never played a game in the NHL and spent the last two seasons in Europe. Rob Schremp was drafted as a player of considerable individual skill, but has never crashed through to become an NHL regular. He has bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL, compiling 51 games of NHL experience over three different seasons. He did dress for 44 games with the Islanders last year, however. At age 23, it certainly isn’t impossible that Schremp could find himself getting top-six minutes at some point, but he’s got something of a road ahead of him to get there. Patrick White, originally drafted by Vancouver in 2007, was traded to San Jose in 2009. He just completed his junior year at the University of Minnesota, where he finished 9-8-17 (seventh in team scoring) in 39 games. He does not appear to project higher than a third liner in the NHL, which is not to say this is a bad way to make a living, only that it reinforces the idea that finding top end talent in this range is an iffy proposition.

Among the forwards/wingers, there seem to exist a few more players who have put together solid careers. No player among the 54 at all positions in this group has played more games than the 552 logged by Justin Williams. The flip side of that, however, is that he has done it with three different teams (Philadelphia, Carolina, and Los Angeles), suggesting that he is a player of talent, but not so much that he can’t be used as a trading asset (he was traded twice in his career, the primary returns being Danny Markov and Patrick O’Sullivan). Injuries have no doubt limited his contributions as well.

Then there is a Corey Perry – a 2003 draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks. Perry has carved out quite a niche for himself with the Ducks, netting 118 goals in 368 career games (averaging almost 30 a season over the past three years) and getting a reputation for being a player who is very difficult to play against.

At the other end of the spectrum are Martin Samuelsson and Jonas Johansson. Samuelsson – a 27th overall pick for the Bruins in 2000 – played only 14 games in the NHL, none since 2004. After the 2004-2005 season, which he spent with the Providence Bruins, he returned to Europe to play in Sweden, his career ending in 2008. Johansson – a 28th overall pick of the Avalanche in 2002 – played only one game in the NHL, that coming with Washington in the 2005-2006 season. His NHL career lasted barely four minutes (in a 4-1 win over Tampa Bay on April 18, 2006), the only note on his scoresheet being an interference penalty he took. After spending the 2006-2007 season in the AHL (with Hershey and Grand Rapids) he signed with HV71 Jonkoping in Sweden.

Defensemen present an interesting case, especially for those drafted before the NHL returned from the 2004-2005 lockout. There are 12 defensemen in that group, four of whom have played in at least 200 games. And this group is not an also-ran group of defensemen. They include: Niklas Kronwall (29th overall to Detroit in 2000), Jeff Schultz (27th overall to Washington in 2004), Mike Green (29th overall to Washington in 2004), and Matt Niskanen (28th overall to Dallas in 2005). And, all four are still with the teams that drafted them.

By the same token, there are some disappointments here and others you have to start to wonder about. Martin Vagner was drafted 26th overall by Dallas in 2002 and never played a game of professional hockey in North America. After being drafted by the Stars, he played another three seasons in the QMJHL (with three different teams, it might be noted), during which re-entered the NHL draft in 2004 (selected by Carolina), then went to Europe to play in the Czech league. He played for three different teams in three years there as well. There is probably something in that.

Of more recent vintage is Andy Rogers, a 30th overall pick of the Lightning in 2004. He has built quite an AHL resume since being drafted – 119 games with three different teams. But he was released from his contract with the Toronto Marlies in December 2009 and signed with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL in January 2010. He has yet to appear in an NHL game and does not appear close to doing so. A year later, the Caps would draft Joe Finley as a big, ornery, shutdown defenseman. But changes to the game since the lockout have made defensemen with the dimensions (6’7", 245 pounds) and style of Finley something of an endangered species. Finley has struggled to make progress up the organizational ladder, having played only a handful of games as a pro since his completing his amateur career at the University of North Dakota. The Capitals have almost admitted as much, trying to convert Finley to a forward in training camp this past season. His career hit another road block after he sustained a hand injury last fall that cut short his season with South Carolina in the ECHL. A 27th overall pick in 2005, he probably doesn’t crack the top half-dozen defenseman prospects in the Caps’ system, the likelihood of his becoming an NHL player (certainly a regular NHL player) now something of a longshot.

The ups and downs among defensemen, coupled with the sometimes longer lead times to get them to the NHL, makes assessing the post-2005 draftees a difficult exercise. There were seven defensemen drafted in the 25-30 range in 2006-2008. Of that group, only three have dressed in the NHL so far, none playing in more games than Washington’s John Carlson. The 20-year old also happens to be the most recent of that seven-player group to be selected and seems to have the inside track at becoming the quickest (if not the only one) to top-four status. He had a memorable year by any standard – the game-winning goal at the world juniors championship, 39 points in only 48 games at Hershey, a central role in the Caps’ playoff series against Montreal (1-3-4, plus-6 in seven games), and a Calder Cup championship in Hershey to cap the year.

The other six defensemen are a mystery. Chris Summers, Brendan Smith, Nick Petrecki, and Nick Ross have yet to appear in an NHL game. In fact, they have barely 150 games combined in the AHL (Smith is the only one yet to appear in the AHL). Given the pattern of success among defensemen drafted at 25-30 before the lockout ended, trying to predict where these youngsters will find themselves in a few years is next to impossible.

Goalies, as one might expect, are a special case unto themselves. Seven goalies were selected in the 25-30 range from 2000 through 2008, and only one of them – Cam Ward – can be considered to be an impact goalie. In fact, Ward is the only one who could even be called an “NHL goaltender” to date. Four other netminders have a total of 126 games of NHL experience among them. And there are some real disappointments in this group. None more, perhaps, than Hannu Toivonen (a 29th overall pick for Boston in 2002). Toivonen played very well in two years in Providence before getting a look in Boston in 2005-2006. He was 9-5-4, 2.63, .914 in 20 appearances with the Bruins in that audition. That would be his high point in the NHL, though. He went 9-19-6 with Boston and St. Louis after that and has not appeared in the NHL since the 2007-2008 season. He played for Peoria and Rockford in the AHL last year, going 12-15-3 in the process.

Then there are the goalies who suffer the fact that you can only have one number one goalie, and there is a line to wait on before getting a chance. Meet Cory Schneider, a 2004 pick of the Vancouver Canucks. Schneider has torn up the AHL – 84-45-5, 2.31, .919, and 12 shutouts. He has nothing to prove at that level of play, but with Roberto Luongo occupying the top spot (and signed through the 2021-2022 season), Schneider is almost a certainty never to dress as a number one goalie in Vancouver. He is not a disappointment in having played in only ten NHL games, he’s stuck.

So what does this history in the 25-30th draft pick range mean for the Caps? Well, they have Evgeni Kuznetsov at number 26 in this year’s draft. Boom or bust? We won’t know that for perhaps five years or so. The good news is that the Caps have found value in this draft range recently. Only Dallas has more picks in this range in the 2000-2008 period (six) than the Caps (five), and three of the Caps’ four picks in this range since 2004 are solid, contributing performers. Two of them could be elite at their position for years to come.

The flip side of that coin is that all four of the Caps’ picks in this range since 2004 are defensemen. While true that Mike Green and John Carlson could be elite players for the Caps, it does not follow that similar luck with a forward will ensue. The Caps, however, appear very happy with Kuznetsov falling to them at 26 in this draft. Whether he will become a more productive version of, say, Andrew Cogliano (a center picked 25th overall by Edmonton in 2005) or the next Adrian Foster is part of what makes this time of year interesting, as much to look back as to predict things to come.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Peerless Prognosticator Brings You the Mockiest Draft You Ever Did See

It is that time once more Caps fans. Shortly after 7:00, Eastern Daylight Time, Shorty – uh, Commissioner Gary Bettman – will scamper to the stage on his little commissioner feet, clamber up onto the stack of Los Angeles area Yellow Pages set behind the podium, adjust the microphones, take a sip of Commissioner Juice, clear his throat, waste our time by telling us how happy he is that everyone is here and that the Chicago Blackhawks finally won a Stanley Cup, and then announce in clear, squeaky voice…

“Ladies and gentlemen, with the first pick in the 2010 entry draft, the Edmonton Oilers select…

Taylor Hall (LW), Windsor Spitfires (57 GMS, 40-56-106)”

What do the Oilers need?... Wayne Gretzky. The Oilers will have to settle for Taylor Hall. No, not the one who played 41 games in the NHL with Vancouver and Boston from 1983 through 1988, either. That Taylor Hall had career totals of 7-9-16, minus-18. Over/under on how long it takes this Taylor Hall to hit 16 points? 25 games. Over/under on how long it takes for Hall to get to minus-18? 25 games. It’s Edmonton. The Oilers are picking first for a reason.

2. Boston Bruins: Tyler Seguin (C), Plymouth Whalers (63 GMS, 48-58-106)

What do the Bruins need?... Clones of Phil Kessel with which to make more deals with Toronto. Fun fact: “Tyler Seguin” is an anagram for “Sultry Genie.” The Bruins can only hope.

3. Florida Panthers: Erik Gudbranson (D), Kingston Frontenacs (41 GMS, 2-21-23)

What do the Panthers need?... Mr. Peabody and Sherman to show up with their Wayback Machine to transport the club back to 1996. “Gudbranson” does not mean “Good Fiber” in Swedish. I think Nicklas Backstrom taught me that.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets: Cam Fowler (D), Windsor Spitfires (71 GMS, 25-44, 69)

What do the Blue Jackets need?... Jim Tressel as head coach? Bob McKenzie at TSN describes Fowler thusly, “Cam Fowler has some star qualities in terms of offensive ability and how he's able to use his world class skating ability to take pucks up the ice and get his team out of trouble.” He will certainly have opportunities to show that “getting out of trouble” talent.

5. New York Islanders: Brandon Gormley (D), Moncton Wildcats (58 GMS, 9-34-43)

What do the Islanders need?... 2021 to get here as fast as possible (it’s a Rick DiPietro thing). Gormley can’t help with that, but he is described as a “safe” pick. Got another Bob McKenzie comment here… “He's not big, but he's not small. He's not overly physical but he's not uninvolved. He's not a pure offensive point producer but he's not a one-dimensional defensive guy either.” I’m going to bet his nickname will not be “Gorms,” but rather “Goldilocks.”

6. Tampa Bay Lightning: Nino Niederreiter (LW), Portland Winterhawks (65 GMS, 36-24-60)

What do the Lightning need?... We don't have enough space for that.  Niederreiter has the chance to be the greatest left wing from Switzerland since Reto Von Arx.  Playing with Steven Stamkos should make that pretty much a lock.

7. Carolina Hurricanes: Brett Connolly (RW), Prince George Cougars (16 GMS, 10-9-19)

What do the Hurricanes need?... Someone to move the Caps to the Atlantic Division so they’ll have a shot? Seems Connolly has had some hip problems. Hey, people my age are supposed to have hip problems, not a teenager.

8. Atlanta Thrashers: Ryan Johansen (C), Portland Winterhawks (71 GMS, 25-44-69)

What do the Thrashers need?... Name tags for all the new players.  Johansen is described as a big, rangy, "Joe Thornton" type of center.  Does that mean he'll spend a few years in the East, get traded to a West coast team and spend the rest of his career in a wilderness of disappointment?

9. Minnesota Wild: Jeff Skinner (C), Kitchener Rangers (64 GMS, 50-40-90)

What do the Wild need?...A team as wild as the crowds that stuff Xcel Energy Center.  Skinner scored 50 goals at Kitchener.  The Wild have never had a 50-goal scorer.  The irresistable force of the draftee meets the immovable object of "Wild" offense.

10. New York Rangers: Alex Burmistrov (C), Barrie Colts (62 GMS, 22-43-65)

What do the Rangers need?... Less obnoxious fans? Larry Brooks and John Tortorella in a pay-per-view death match? A clue? Let’s just say, “a lot.”  Russians are described as "enigmatic."  Burmistrov will fit right in on a team that has Wade Redden.

11. Dallas Stars Derek Forbort (D), USNTDP (26 GMA, 4-10-14)

What do the Stars need?... Someone to tell me why they drafted for Kari Lehtonen. We’re still trying to figure that one out. As for this pick, go ahead, say “Forbort” five times fast.

12. Anaheim Ducks: Mikael Granlund (LW), HIFK Helsinki (43 GMS, 13-27-40)

What do the Ducks need?... Give us a moment, we’ll think of it. Mikael Granlund is an anagram for “Urge All Mankind.” Sounds like he has big things ahead of him.

13. Phoenix Coyotes: Jack Campbell (G), USNTDP (11 GMS, 2.21, .917)

What do the Coyotes need?... A freakin’ break. It didn’t take as long to wait for Godot as it has to figure out where this team will call “home.” In the meantime, they are getting the latest franchise goalie to go high in the first round, like that’s been a way to go (see: Blackburn, Dan; Montoya, Al; DiPietro, Rick; Price, Carey; Lehtonen, Kari; Leclaire, Pascal; Krahn, Brent; Finley, Brian; Storr, Jamie… you get the point).

14. St. Louis Blues: Austin Watson (RW), Peterborough Petes (52 GMS, 20-34-54)

What do the Blues need?... Someone to convince Ilya Kovalchuk that St. Louis is the St. Petersburg of the Midwest. As for Austin Watson, I have but one question. What IS a “Pete,” anyway?

15. Florida Panthers: Mark Pysyk (D), Edmonton Oil Kings (48 GMS, 7-17-24)

What do the Panthers need?... Uh, didn’t we already do this? We are so disappointed that the Panthers are picking here instead of Boston.  The Bruins would HAVE to have drafted this guy, if only to hear Beantown fans walking out of a game saying tone another, “That Pysyk was a Pyssah tonight…hey, wehd I pahk the cah?”

16. Ottawa Senators: Dylan McIlrath (D), Moose Jaw Warriors (65 GMS, 7-17-24)

What do the Senators need?... Someone who is nasty. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this kid will be nicknamed “Khan.” The McIl”wrath” of Khan… get it? Huh? Ah, forget it.

17. Colorado Avalanche: Tyler Pitlick (C ), Minnesota State (38 GMS, 11-8-19)

What do the Avalanche need?... Someone to redesign those uniforms; that isn’t an avalanche on the logo, it’s a swirl cone from Dairy Queen. What are the odds Avs fans hope this kid’s nickname is “Hat Trick.”

18. Nashville Predators: Emerson Etem (C ), Medicine Hat Tigers (72 GMS, 37-28-65)

What do the Predators need? A bunch of forwards to match the talent of their young defensemen. We’re thinking this guy has to be drafted in this spot, just because we want to hear some announcer go “Etem from Erat.”

19. Los Angeles Kings: Quinton Howden (LW), Moose Jaw Warriors (65 GMS, 28-37-65)

What do the Kings need?... Uh, they play in a land where six-foot blondes grow on trees, and you ask “what do they need?” As for this pick, it is a reality show in waiting… Boy from Moose Jaw lands in L.A., sort of like "Northern Exposure" in reverse.

20. Pittsburgh Penguins: Nick Bjugstad (C ), Blaine/MS-HS (25 GMS 25 GMS, 29-31-60)

What do the Penguins need?... The earth to open up and swallow Consol Energy Center into its bowels just as the puck drops on opening night against the Flyers. The whole “two birds with one stone thing.” As for this selection… he’s accelerating his class load and taking classes at a community college to be able to play for the University of Minnesota a year ahead of schedule. I HATE kids like this… smart AND they can play hockey. You know he’s dating the prom queen.

21. Detroit Red Wings: Jon Merrill (D), USNTDP (22 GMS, 1-8-9)

What do the Red Wings need?... Nothing, damn it. They’ve won enough. Jon Merrill has that fresh-scrubbed look that you would expect a high-schooler who played for Team USA at the U-18 championships to have. Won’t have that fresh-scrubbed look for long in Detroit.

22. Phoenix Coyotes: Vladimir Tarasenko (RW), Novosibirsk (42 GMS, 13-11-24)

What do the Coyotes need?... See above. “Vladimir Tarasenko” is an anagram for “Risk a Violent Drama.” Oh, that doesn’t sound good.

23. Buffalo Sabres: Jaden Schwartz (C), Tri-City Americans (60 GMS, 33-50-83)

What do the Sabres need?... garlic and melted butter (it’s a snail thing). I keep reading the name “Jaden Schwartz,” and I can’t help but thinking he should be the hero in the remake of “Spaceballs.”

24. Chicago Blackhawks: Riley Sheahan (C), Notre Dame (37 GMS, 6-11-17)

What do the Blackhawks need?... A jar of silver polisher. Riley Sheahan from Notre Dame. I half expect Pat O’Brien to rise from the grave dressed as a priest to make the selection.

25. Vancouver Canucks: Jarred Tinordi (D), USNTDP (26 GMS, 4-5-9)

What do the Canucks need?... An exemption from the NHL from any road trips of more than three games for the next five years. Everyone in North America with a keyboard and a desire to have a mock draft has this kid going in this space. Who are we to argue?

26. Washington Capitals: Brock Nelson (C ), Warroad HS (25 GMS, 39-34-73)

What do the Caps need?... Someone to sponge away the memory of last April? I used to wrestle in high school, and I think one of the first things our coach did was school us in the fine art of the Brock Nelson. Hopefully this kid can tie up opponents in a similar manner and pot a few goals.

27. Montreal Canadiens: John McFarland (C), Sudbury Wolves (64 GMS, 20-30-50)

What do the Canadiens need?... Someone to light a fire under Carey Price’s improbably big pants! As for this pick, love those sports figures he does.

28. San Jose Sharks: Evgeni Kuznetsov (LW), Chelyabinsk (35 GMS, 2-7-9)

What do the Sharks need?... One last kick in the ass. Maxim Kuznetsov played in 136 NHL games for two NHL teams over four seasons. The Sharks hope Evgeni plays a few more.  This pick also satisfies the Sharks' minimum season requirements for players named "Evgeni," since they dumped Nabokov.

29. Anaheim Ducks: Alexander Petrovic (D), Red Deer Rebels (57 GMS, 8-19-27)

What do the Ducks need?... Nope, still haven’t thought of it. Alexander Petrovic of Red Deer. Sounds like the sort of guy who could fight Conan the Barbarian.

30. Chicago Blackhawks: Beau Bennett (RW), Penticton Vees (56 GMS, 41-79-120)

What to the Blackhawks need?... Another jar of silver polisher. Wasn’t Beau Bennett the second cousin of Ashley Wilkes in “Gone With the Wind?”

Thanks, everybody... drive safely!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sittin' at the end of the bar...

Well, we didn’t do too badly in our prognostos for the awards presented last night, but looking at the vote totals, we saw some interesting nuggets…

The Hart came out pretty much as we figured it would – Sedin, Ovechkin, Crosby – with some separation between the top two and Crosby. Even the Miller/Bryzgalov a four and five made sense. After that…

- Four goalies in the top nine. And it would be hard to argue with any of them, especially Martin Brodeur and Craig Anderson. Those two seem to have received votes out of the spirit and the letter of the award citation. Brodeur might have lost a half-step, but he is still the fuel that runs the Jersey system, and Anderson was the rock upon which the Avalanche somewhat surprising season (especially early) was founded.

- Three Caps in the top 14 – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green – and we find it interesting that Mike Green received more Hart voting points than any other defenseman.

Was a bit surprised at the margin of victory for Duncan Keith in the Norris. And it seems that the media echo chamber in the run up to the end of the season for Doughty was a lot of hot air. He’ll be a winner some day, but he had some holes in his game this year that really should have kept him from being a favorite.

And speaking of Norris, we noted that Christian Ehrhoff finished ninth. Anthony SanFilippo must be drowning himself in cheesesteaks this morning.

Who needs Anton Volchenkov, Caps fans? Jeff Schultz – a fourth place vote (three points), Volchenkov – a fifth place vote (one point).

Has Dion Phaneuf reached bottom? One fourth place vote… that’s it (tied with Jeff Schultz, kids). And he probably didn’t deserve that much. This from a guy who a couple of years ago was being thought of as a perennial finalist in this category. Maybe Toronto will be what he needs.

Looking at that Selke voting, I see an awful lot of guys I’d want on my hockey team. Never mind the finalists… Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Mike Richards, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Backstrom… and that’s just in the top ten. Those guys are the guts of their teams.

It just seems so strange to see Evgeni Nabokov finishing fourth for the Vezina and being cut loose by the San Jose Sharks.

Two goalies, one with a record of 35-28-10, 2.31, .920, and eight shutouts, the other with a record of 35-27-10, 2.38, .921, and four shoutouts. The first one finished tied for eighth in the voting for the Vezina, the second one finished sixth. That would be Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers, respectively. And Jimmy Howard had more wins, fewer losses, a better GAA and a better save percentage than both… he finished tied for eighth.

Roberto Luongo got a third place vote for the Vezina. We’d just like to know which of the finalists that voter dropped out of the top three.

Jamie Benn, who didn’t do squat against John Carlson and Karl Alzner in the Calder Cup finals, finished sixth in Calder Trophy voting (ahead of more heralded prospects such as Victor Hedman and Evander Kane, by the way). How are you liking that defensive pair, Caps fans?

Does anyone really know what sort of criteria there are to be selected for the Lady Byng Trophy? The voters don’t seem to know. 66 players received votes. And apparently, the Caps are not very sportsmanlike. Nicklas Backstrom was the only Cap to get a vote (he finished tied for 54th).

About those NHL all-star selections..

- Ovechkin notched his fifth consecutive selection as first team all star at left wing. Alexander Semin finished sixth, ahead of such as Dany Heatley, Patrick Kane, and Rick Nash. In the odd part about this voting, Evgeni Malkin (nominally a center) received one vote at left wing.

- Jeff Schultz finished 12th on defense, ahead of Ryan Suter, Brian Rafalski, and Sergei Gonchar, among others

- Christian Ehrhoff finished one spot ahead of Schultz on defense. Someone go talk SanFilippo off the ledge.

- Now, here’s the weird part of the NHL all star voting for you Caps fans… Ovechkin and Semin finished ninth and tenth at RIGHT wing. Ovechkin even got a first-place vote.

Alex Ovechkin finished 28th in the voting for the Selke Trophy. There are wags out there who would claim Ovechkin couldn’t finish 28th on the Caps in Selke voting. Oh, and that 28th place finish? Ahead of Sidney Crosby (31st). Take THAT, IC Light swillers!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Awards -- Our Other Prognostos

We have the four big players awards up on the board. What about the others?

Ted Lindsay Award (formerly the Lester B. Pearson Award)

“The Ted Lindsay Award is presented annually to the "most outstanding player" in the NHL as voted by fellow members of the National Hockey League Players' Association.”


Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

“Outstanding” and “valuable” are not synonyms. Neither is this a “best player in the game” award. It is an award for that player who had the most outstanding season in the NHL. So that eliminates the Olympics, too. And by that measure, consider this: 57-66-123, +51, 15 power play goals, seven game-winning goals, 211 hits, 75 takeaways. Those are Alex Ovechkin’s numbers for this season at an 82-game pace. You cannot discount the fact that he did miss those ten games, in part due to two suspensions. But then there is this: 30-4-7. His team’s record after his having been named captain. The 82-game pace for that is pretty simple arithmetic: 60-8-14. Sidney Crosby had a memorable year as a hockey player, Henrik Sedin announced himself as having joined the elite in the game. But Alex Ovechkin was the NHL’s outstanding player.

Frank J. Selke Trophy

“The Frank J. Selke Trophy is an annual award given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.”


Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins

On a team that is more known for its offense and that has more renowned centers, Jordan Staal has carved out a niche for himself as a talented two-way center. He also plays on a team that has an underrated penalty kill, and Staal logged more average shorthanded ice time than all NHL forwards except Jay McClement and Todd Marchant. Datsyuk remains one of the elite two-way centers in the game, but this year did not seem to measure up to his standard on either side of the ice. Kesler had a fine season and would seem to be now a perennial contender for this award. But overall, the winner here for this season should be Jordan Staal.

Jack Adams Award

“The Jack Adams Award is an annual award presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters' Association to the NHL coach judged to have contributed the most to his team's success. The winner is selected in a poll among members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association at the end of the regular season.”

The Finalists:

Joe Sacco, Colorado Avalanche
Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes
Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators

This race is perhaps the easiest to handicap. If this was the equivalent of the Irving G. Thalberg Award for a film producer’s body of work, Barry Trotz wins in a walk. If it was awarded based on the season’s first half, Joe Sacco is your winner. But for working around all the controversy and distraction swirling about the Phoenix Coyotes, for all the disrespect he endured concerning the Coyote’s chances to make the playoffs, for shepherding a roster that lacked the high-end talent of the competition in the Western Conference; to still finish fourth in the conference with more than 100 points, Dave Tippett is the clear choice to win the Adams Award this season.

…oh, you were wondering about the Lady Byng? OK, look, Pavel Datsyuk, Brad Richards, and Martin St. Louis are fine players. And combined they had only 44 minutes in penalties. But for our money? 72 games, 21 goals, 40 points… two minutes in penalties. Two!

Brandon Sutter, Carolina Hurricanes

Thank you, and drive safely.

Awards -- The Hart Trophy

The citation for the Vezina Trophy states…

"The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season."

The Finalists…

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

The Case for Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby just keeps adding to the resume. Fourth year in five in which he finished with at least 100 points (his 109 points tied for second in the league), tied for the league lead in goals, eighth in assists, tied for sixth in power play goals, eighth in power play points, tied for tenth in game-winning goals, 11th in faceoff winning percentage. Against the other seven teams in the Eastern Conference making the playoffs, Crsoby finished 17-22-39, plus-2 in 32 games. After enduring a five-game streak early in the season in which he did not record a point (and went minus-6), he did not go more than two consecutive games without a point for the rest of the season, and he did that only three times. Perhaps more important than his own numbers is the fact that Crosby assumed more of a responsibility for finishing on offense than he had in his previous seasons. Pittsburgh’s weakness on the wing is no secret. In fact, no Penguin winger finished with more than 45 points, and only one finished with as many as 20 goals. As if he did not already have a bulls-eye on his back, he drew more attention by virtue of teams’ ability to lay off the wingers and focus their attention even more on Crosby. Add to this the fact that Crosby took other, comparatively weak parts of his game (goal scoring, up 42 percent over his previous career high; and faceoffs, where he led the league in draws taken and finished ninth in winning percentage) and made them not only strengths, but a weapons, and you have a Hart Trophy finalist.

The Case for Alex Ovechkin

No other argument can begin until this number is tossed out – ten. None of the top-ten scorers missed more than six games. None of the top 20 goal scorers missed as many games. Ovechkin still managed to finish tied for second in total points, third in goals, sixth in assists (Crosby – the playmaker – finished one spot behind Ovechkin), second in plus/minus, tied for sixth in power play goals, sixth in total power play points, and tied for fourth in game-winning goals. Among forwards, he finished 19th in hits and tenth in takeaways. Against the other seven teams in the top-eight in the Eastern Conference, Ovechkin finished 20-22-42 and a whopping plus-31 in 25 games. For those thinking he padded his numbers in the weak Southeast, think again. Then there is that whole matter of the remarkable consistency he has displayed over his still young career. Only twice this season did Ovechkin go consecutive games without registering a point, and never more than two in a row. To this add the object of the exercise – to win games. After being elevated to captain, the Caps finished the regular season 30-4-7.

The Case for Henrik Sedin

If ever there is or would be a victim of “east-coast bias,” it might be Henrik Sedin. Did anyone stay up to watch him average more than an assist a game? Or score 112 points overall? Sedin led the league in both categories. He also finished fifth in plus/minus, and was one of only three players in the league to average more than an even-strength point a game (minimum 40 games). But this being a “most valuable” player award, Sedin’s value was never greater than when his brother Daniel went down to a broken foot early in the season and missed 18 games. Henrik picked up the slack, scoring 18 points in the 18 games, but it was as much the manner in which he did it. Primarily known as a set-up man at center, he recorded ten goals in those 18 games and allowed the Canucks to do better than tread water in Daniel’s absence, going 11-7-0 over that span. Then there was the whole road trip from Hell thing as Vancouver was being readied for the Olympic games. In the 13-game road trip that straddled the Olympic break, Sedin was 2-10-12, plus-7 as the Canucks escaped with an 8-5-0 record. Sedin showed his mettle in some difficult situations this season, demonstrating that he was more than just another European with a deft passing touch.

In the end, it would seem that this award is going to be decided in the midst of a subtext that should have no bearing on the outcome – the Olympics. And the narrative lurking under the surface here is that Sidney Crosby succeeded, and Alex Ovechkin failed. Also swirling around in this mix is the notion that Ovechkin displayed a much darker side to his game this season, earning two suspensions for physical fouls on opponents. We would like to point out that Crosby is no shrinking violet in this regard, either. Of the 33 minor fouls Crosby was whistled for (tenth in the league among forwards, compared to the 22 that left Ovechkin 66th in the league), 19 were for physical fouls (slashing, roughing, cross-checking, and high-sticking), and 11 of those were for slashing. It always seems to come down to Ovechkin and Crosby. Pity, because the most valuable player to his team this year was…

Henrik Sedin

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Awards -- The Norris Trophy

The citation for the Vezina Trophy states…

"The James Norris Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season."

The Finalists…

Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

Mike Green, Washington Capitals

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks


The Case for Drew Doughty

20-year olds are not supposed to play this position this well. 30-year olds generally don’t. On the offensive end of the spectrum, Doughty finished second among defensemen in goals, third in points, 11th in plus-minus, tied for second in power play goals, and first in game-winning goals. But Doughty also finished 25th,in hits, more than Anton Volchenkov and Zdeno Chara. He scored seven of his 16 goals in 32 games (of 82 total) against the other seven teams making the playoffs out of the Western Conference and 25 of his total of 59 points. He was very consistent, home or away, compiling an 8-22-30 line at home and an 8-21-29 line away from Staples Center. He also became quite a workhorse as the season wore on. In 41 games in the 2010 portion of the season, he logged fewer than 25 minutes of ice time only 13 times. And it is rare to find a defenseman this young given such heavy power play responsibility – only six defensemen in the league logged more average power play time than did Doughty.

The Case for Mike Green

Mike Green established a record for goals scored in consecutive games by a defenseman in the 2008-2009 season and finished with 31 goals, establishing himself as the top offensive defenseman in the NHL and earning himself a nomination as a Norris Trophy finalist. This year, Green might have had a better all around year. He didn’t have the consecutive goal streak (not that such things happen regularly for any player), but he still finished with 19 goals to lead all NHL defensemen. He also led in assists, total points, power play goals, power play assists, and total power play points. “Game Over Green” tied for second in game-winning goals, was second in plus/minus, and was in the top-ten in average ice time. Not generally thought of as a big hitter, he did finish in the top-40 in that statistic, ahead of Robyn Regehr, Ed Jovanovski, and Chris Pronger, to name three defensemen you might not think would finish behind Green. He also finished among the top dozen defensemen in takeaways. And he was more than solid against playoff-caliber competition, going 8-19-27, plus-29 in 24 games against the other seven teams in the East making the playoffs.

The Case for Duncan Keith

When you are tops in ice time on the team that allowed the fewest shots on goal in the league, you might be thought to have had a part in that. Add to that the fact that you finished sixth among NHL defensemen in goals, second in assists and points, and ninth in plus/minus, you are contributing in the offensive end of the ice as well. That’s the season Duncan Keith had for the Chicago Blackhawks. On top of that, Keith finished in the top-25 in blocked shots and in the top-ten in takeaways. His takeaway-to-giveaway ratio of 0.76 was the best among the three finalists for the Norris. Keith had a fine record among playoff-eligible teams in the West, finishing 7-23-30, plus-6 in 32 games. He had a remarkable consistent season, too. If you discount the months of February and April for the small number of games played in each, he recorded 13 or 14 points in each of the other four months of the season.

The citation states that this award goes to the best “all-around” defenseman. In that respect, Green probably gets less credit than he is due, but some of his statistics (his assist and plus/minus numbers) are also undoubtedly a product of a very prolific offense playing with him. Doughty could be said to have a balanced game, but it also was one with some holes in it, too. He had by far the worst takaway-to-giveaway ratio among the finalists, and he also had a distinct propensity to commit obstruction types of penalties (16 of his 27 minors were for hooking, holding, and tripping; the comparable numbers were 12 of 27 for Green and 12 of 23 for Keith). These are the equivalent of picking nits – as finalists, Green and Doughty had excellent years. But in the end, the best “all around” performance by a defenseman was that of…

Duncan Keith

Awards -- The Vezina Trophy

The citation for the Vezina Trophy states…

"The Vezina Trophy is an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs."

The Finalists…


Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils

Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres

The Case for Martin Brodeur

Four thousand, four hundred, ninety-nine minutes. A year after being limited to 31 games due to injury, at a time when some might be entertaining thoughts that Brodeur was winding down or should be getting his minutes pared back, he stood once more at the top of the heap in minutes played among goaltenders (more than 400 minutes ahead of second place Bryzgalov), not to mention winning more than 40 games for the eighth time in his career. He also led the league in wins and shutouts. And, on a team that finished 19th in goals scored per game, having him playing at a high level was instrumental in the Devils finishing on top in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference. Brodeur also raised his game against top competition. In games he played against teams from the Eastern Conference that would make the playoffs, Brodeur was 20-8-3, 1.93, .932, with three shutouts. He did not allow more than three goals in consecutive games, thus avoiding the slumps in goal that would have put more pressure on an offensive of somewhat limited effectiveness. And, this being a regular season award, it is worth noting that he finished very strong. He allowed one or no goals in six of his last seven games (4-1-2, 0.98, .946, and two shutouts). Brodeur remains at the top of his game.

The Case for Ilya Bryzgalov

It would be convenient to dismiss Bryzgalov’s performance, relative to the other finalists, as his being the product of a very structured system or that this was something of a fluke year, given his career to date. Nevertheless, Bryzgalov finished third among NHL goaltenders in wins, sixth in goals against average, ninth save percentage, second in shutouts, and did so for a team that few picked to finish in the top-eight of the Western Conference, let alone challenge for the top spot in the conference into the final week of the season. And Bryzgalov had a much smaller window of error (Phoenix was plus-0.16 in goals scored/goals allowed per game) than his fellow finalists (New Jersey was plus-0.36, Buffalo plus-0.37). He also came up large against tough competition, finishing 14-8-5, 2.28, .924, with two shutouts against the other seven teams to make the playoffs in the West. Only once in 2009-2010 did he lose more than two consecutive games in regulation – a three-game losing streak wrapped around the Olympic break. But he followed this up by finishing the season 10-2-2, 2.01, .930, and two shutouts. Phoenix surprised a lot of people this year, and no player was more important in that result than Bryzgalov.

The Case for Ryan Miller

Ryan Miller is no stranger to individual awards as a goaltender, dating back to his days in college – three times CCHA goaltender of the year, twice CCHA player of the year, Hober Baker Award winner, Baz Bastien Memorial Trophy winner as the AHL’s top goaltender, NHL All-Star, starting goaltender for Team USA in the 2010 Winter Olympics. But in four seasons since the lockout, Miller more or less lurked on the edges of “elite” status as an NHL goaltender, perhaps a second tier goalie compared to a Brodeur or a Luongo. This year, Miller stepped to the top rung of the ladder for the Buffalo Sabres. Fourth in wins, second in goals-against average, second in save percentage, seventh in shutouts, and among goaltenders playing in at least half of his club’s games, the best save percentage while shorthanded. Here is a subtle indication of Miller’s excellence this year and his ability to keep his club in games – in the 26 losses he sustained this year (regulation and extra time), he still had a save percentage of .900. Miller did not have as good a win-loss record against playoff teams against his competitors (13-10-4 against top-eight teams in the East), but his 2.29 goals-against average and .929 save percentage were consistent with his numbers against the rest of the league. If there is a blemish on Miller’s record, it is a five-game stretch in mid-February when he went 0-3-2, 3.56, .919. That constituted the run-up to the Olympics, which might have been a distraction for the Team USDA number one goaltender. Otherwise, he lost consecutive games in regulation only twice all season. From start to finish, and the distractions that might have taken him off his game, Miller was the foundation upon which the Sabres won a Northeast Division title and secured a third place finish.

For each of these goalies it might be said that in their absence their teams would have difficulty making the playoffs. But this is likely less true for two of them than the other. Bryzgalov’s Coyotes and Brodeur’s Devils did play on teams that had a defensive focus that Buffalo did not have. And along these lines, the Sabres had a few defensemen who were starting to look the part of being on the far side of 30 while trying to break in another (albeit gifted one) in his first pro season. There is little to clearly rate one ahead of another, but given his situation and the greater responsibility he had to keep his own net clean, the winner is…

Ryan Miller


Well, to be more accurate, I'm not going to get all bent out of shape about it...

The schedule that is.

The full schedule for the NHL regular season has been released.  As fans pour over the details, you'll probably read in other places concerning other teams (maybe even the Caps, too) that there are too many long road trips, too many back-to-back games, games too close together against arch-rivals, a first meeting against a tough opponent coming too late or too early...



The Caps play 41 at home, 41 on the road, so all I care about concerning the schedule are that the Caps:

1.  Play an entertaining and effective game over the 82-game season;
2.  Suffer no debilitating injuries over the course of it; and
3.  Finish in the top-three at the end of it (i.e., win the Southeast)

The real season -- the one you should really care about, Caps fans -- starts around April 10th.

Awards -- The Calder Trophy

The citation for the Calder Trophy states…

"The Calder Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season."

The Finalists…

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche

Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres

Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings

The Case for Matt Duchene

The third-overall pick in the 2009 draft finished atop the rookie leader board in goals and points, and he was third among all rookie forwards in average ice time. Except for a seven-game drought to start the month of November, Duchene did not go more than three consecutive games without registering a point. Duchene was also quite the road warrior, finishing the 2009-2010 season 16-15-31 in 41 road contests. In fact, he led the Avalanche in goals scored on the road. He also had a knack for putting up numbers against playoff teams – three goals against Vancouver (tied for his high against a single team), going 1-3-4 against San Jose, three points in four games against Phoenix. He also finished among the top-20 rookie forwards in hits, blocked shots, and takeaways. He was a consistently high performer for an overachieving team.

The Case for Tyler Myers

It is said by many that defensemen take the longest to learn their trade among any of the positions in hockey. If that is the case, the 12th-overall pick from the 2008 draft is among the fastest learners in his sport. Myers made the jump straight from juniors (Kelowna of the WHL) in 2008-2009 to the Sabres this season, where he played in all 82 games and led all rookie defensemen in average ice time (minimum 40 games). He also led all rookie defensemen in goals, assists, and points. He finished second in plus/minus and power play points. He showed a grittier edge, too, finishing the season fourth among rookie defensemen in hits, first in blocked shots, and third in takeaways. He managed to record points against 12 of the other 14 teams in the Eastern Conference. On a club that emphasized holding opponents in check (fourth best goals allowed per game), Myers led the Sabres’ defense in average ice time, shorthanded and even-strength ice time. Myers suffered a bit of a slump in February (1-0-1, minus-3) in seven games, but he came out of the Olympic break with a rush, ending March 3-11-14, plus-11 in 16 games as the Sabres were going 10-5-1 and cementing a place in the playoffs. In his first year, he was the cornerstone defenseman that made goalie Ryan Miller’s job just a little bit easier.

The Case for Jimmy Howard

“Number one goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings.” It isn’t exactly a position with no pressure attached to it. The Wings ice enough talent to make the goaltender’s job a bit easier than in might be in other cities, but the expectations of the club and by their fans negates whatever relief a goalie might enjoy from the talent in front of him. There is no hiding in Detroit from bad performances. Howard did not take the reins of the number one spot right away – he appeared in only five of the first 15 games the Red Wings played. Chris Osgood held the top job, going 6-2-3, 2.77, .902 in his 12 appearances over that stretch. But Osgood allowed five goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 5-1 loss on November 7th. Howard got the call in the next game, and he allowed only a Rick Nash goal in a 9-1 win. Starting with that game, Howard did not go consecutive games on the bench over the remainder of the season. He would finish the year topping all rookie goalies in games and wins, and finish second among rookie goalies in goals against average, save percentage, and shutouts. He was amazing down the stretch, not losing a game in regulation after March 9th and going 13-0-2, 1.89, .926, with two shutouts to end the season. Instead of following the lead of the talented skaters in front of him, he was leading them to their tenth straight 100-point season, precisely what the Wings and their fans expect.

Trying to pick the “best” from among players that play different positions – forward, defenseman, goaltender – adds another layer of subjectivity to what is always a very subjective process. Duchene played for a team that struggled down the stretch (8-10-3 after the Olympic break). Howard played for a team that found its offensive game late (3.25 goals a game over their last 16 contest). Myers played in front of an elite goaltender who was maintaining his high performance level late in the season (Ryan Miller did not allow more than three goals in any game after the Olympic break). But in the end, it would seem as though Myers was more an integral part of his team’s success than were the others, even given Howard’s excellent numbers. And, he plays what might be the most difficult position to master. That is why, if we had a pick for the Calder Trophy, we would pick…

Tyler Myers