Saturday, July 31, 2010

Christmas in July... sorta

As the month of July comes to a close, we think that it is never too early to start thinking about gifts for that favorite fan on your shopping list.  Or, you can just surprise your favorite fan with a little Christmas in July giving.  If you need some help...

For all you new parents out there, we have the perfect gift to introduce your little mite-in-waiting to the noble sport of hockey... the "I-heart-hockey" pacifier.  Or, maybe if you're a fan of Sidney Crosby...

There is still more than a month left in the summer, and what could be more relaxing on a summer's day than taking a break in your own Adirondack chair fashioned of hockey sticks.  Just make sure they're not composites, or they'll break the first time you sit in it.

Announce to your visitors your allegiance.  Every time they come a'callin' they know just where your hockey loyalties lie with a spiffy door knocker.  We think the doorbell that plays the goal horn would be a bit much.

Guys, are you looking for that perfect gift for your hockey sweetie?  Well, here you go... hockey logo earrings.  And for you ladies, if you are unattached, nothing shouts "puckbunny" louder than these little baubles.

You might think this just a humble bucket, but you would only be scratching the surface.  It is the vessel of the hopes and dreams of your hockey fandom... or something to toss your cookies in when your team goes belly up one more time in the playoffs.

You are going to find this hockey-themed money clip oh-so-handy to hold all that money you're going to need to pay for that latest round of ticket price hikes.  And if you have eight bucks left over, you can buy a luke warm beer.

Hockey and alcohol have a curious relationship, and nowhere does that come together more absurdly than in this hockey player wine bottle holder.  Just the thing when you need a stiff one.  Come to think of it, it does look a little like Zdeno Chara.

What better gift for the Penguin fan on your holiday shopping list than this uncanny replica of a Penguin fan.  And if he doesn't like it, poke him in the ribs with the pointy hat.

And for your Flyer fan favorite, you can't go wrong with a Mr. Chris Pronger Head doll.  It even comes with an "opponent" he just skewered lying on the ice.

Just a few little summer time gift giving ideas from your Uncle Peerless...

...happy holidays.


From the "blowing our own vuvuzela" file... Visits to this little corner of the Internet are up by 14 percent this month over July of last year. 

"No doubt due to our manly sex appeal."

"It sure ain't for the beer."

The cousins and I, not to mention all the other characters who frequent this space, thank each and every one of you...

...but don't expect us to do it by name, we have things to do.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Five Years... It Seems Like Only Yesterday

Five years ago today, we dipped our toe in the Blogospherean Sea with an untitled post about the Caps' 2005 draft and their drafting 13 feet of defensemen (Sasha Pokulok and Joe Finley).  From that humble beginning, we have grown to where a crowd of several reads this crap every day.

"Uh, cuz, is this stuff 'flotsam' or 'jetsam?'"

"Technically, it would be 'jetsam,' Cheerless?'"

I just knew you two would show up if there was a picture of a beer involved.

"C'mon, cuz... you know we love you, even if that first one was really, really bad.  And besides, we thought there would be cake, too."

No cake.

"No cake?"


"Shoot... c'mon cuz, let's head over to that RMNB party.  Hurry up... our ride's here."

I gotta get new cousins.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Blueprint

When the Caps tore out the 2003-2004 team all the way to the studs and began the Great Rebuild in earnest, the ensuing plan had as its core the idea of building through the draft. That’s nice, as far as it goes, but it does not fully describe what unfolded over the next several years as the Caps dragged themselves up from being the functional equivalent of an expansion team to a championship contender (and yes, dear pessimists, you would have to still consider the Caps a “contender”).

If one looks at the current roster and a couple of other guys you might pencil in as possibilities to make the opening night roster, you can peer a little deeper into the method the Caps have employed – and continue to employ – for building a roster. Looking at the skaters first, the 21 players in this group break down roughly into three groups: The Core, The Upper Crust, and The Foot Soldiers.

The Core

These four players have also been known as “The Young Guns” and represent both the most skilled players, and the players in whom the Caps have made the biggest investments. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green all are on contracts of at least five years; and Alexander Semin is being compensated to the tune of $6,000,000 this season. As a group, these four players will encumber $27.5 million of cap space this season, 46.3 percent of the total cap space available. All are first round draft picks; three of them selected in the top 13 picks of their respective drafts.

The Upper Crust

The eight players in this group might be described as skill or critical players that occupy (or are expected to occupy before too long) top-six forward or top-four defenseman slots, but do not command the investment in time or money that The Core enjoys. It is noteworthy that five of these eight players are Caps draft picks, and two others (Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann) played at least 100 games in the Caps’ farm system before sticking with the parent club for good. For all intents and purposes, you could consider them “home grown.” Only Mike Knuble came to the Caps as a fully-developed NHL player from another organization. What separates this group from The Core is the fact that they are comparative short-timers. Four of the eight are not under contract past this coming season. If you had to describe them in one sentence, you might call them “important, but replaceable.”

The Foot Soldiers

If the idea is to draft for skill and fill other needs through other means, then these are the guys who fill other needs and (mostly) have been obtained by other means. Of the nine players in this group, two were obtained by trade, and five were signed as free agents. Only Eric Fehr (who could make the leap to the next level this season; we wrestled with this) and Boyd Gordon were drafted by the club. These are the positions that one might expect to swap in and out over time as players’ contracts expire, and they either move on to another club (or another league) or retire (although sometimes, as in the case of a David Steckel or a Matt Bradley or an Eric Fehr, they get extensions). You will note that Tom Poti is included in this group, which might seem like an anomaly. We decided on placing him here more as a product of the manner he was obtained – as a free agent at a time when the Caps were trying to flesh out a comparatively weak roster. At the time, the Caps were coming off their second consecutive 70-point season, and the prospects of a playoff-caliber season to follow were uncertain. Poti might have been seen as much as a veteran to help bring along players like Mike Green and Jeff Schultz. We will not argue with you about the merits of placing either Poti or Fehr up in the next group. Generally, these are the more or less interchangeable parts of the roster that serve as role players.

Finally, we have the goaltenders. Consider that since the current hockey operations regime took over in 1997, the Caps have drafted 14 goaltenders and have taken at least one in 10 of 14 drafts. Only once (1999, 2000) did the Caps go consecutive drafts without picking at least one goaltender. Eleven of them never played a game in the NHL, mostly a product of Olaf Kolzig being the number one netminder since that asteroid killed off all the other dinosaurs. Rastislav Stana (1998) played in six games, all in that godforsaken 2003-2004 season.

That leaves Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth, both products of the 2006 draft and semi-welded at the leg pads ever since.

Varlamov is further along on the development curve than Neuvirth (51 NHL regular season and playoff games to 22 for Neuvirth – none in the playoffs), but Neuvirth is arguably more accomplished, having backstopped the Hershey Bears to consecutive Calder Cup championships. Both are on entry level contracts, and both are entering the last year of their respective deals. It might be that a decision will have to be made about which of these two to keep after next season, but even if the Caps have a decision to make in that regard, there is yet another drafted goaltender waiting in the wings – Braden Holtby – who will serve his apprenticeship in Hershey this season and perhaps could become a backup goaltender for the Caps in the not-too distant future. The theory here apparently is “volume-volume-volume” when drafting goalies. Now, as was the case in the early 1990’s (when the Caps had Olaf Kolzig, Jim Carey, and Byron Dafoe on the roster), the Caps have what could be the most pleasant hard choice to make, which two of three goalies to keep going forward.

Whether a coincidence, or whether it is a part of The Plan, the Caps have constructed a roster that seems to obey certain rules with respect to how they fill certain roles. Draft for skill, obtain other players by other means. Having gone from 70 points in 2006-2007 to 121 points in 2009-2010, it seems to have been a productive strategy. But, as The Boss is fond of saying, “we still have work to do.”  And in that respect, look at that "Upper Crust" group.  I would argue that it is this group (perhaps with the exception of Perreault and Johansson, who might or might not be on this roster this season) that has to come up big, that has to step up their game in the playoffs if the Caps as a team are really going to be the "Upper Crust" sort of team we hope to see playing in June.

King me!

On the last day of April, we wrote
“Blowing things up based on the Montreal series – what appears to pass for a plan among an awful lot of Caps fans – is an option. It also happens to be a really bad one. One of the things that went wrong early for the Caps in this regime’s tenure was going for the quick fix, then compounding it by trying quick fixes to fix the quick fix (the ‘Snyder Syndrome’).”

Well, the Caps didn’t blow things up. They have not traded Alexander Semin, they resigned Tomas Fleischmann to a one year deal, they have said good things about Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault, both of whom could end up with roster spots by opening night.

And now, from the “tinkering on the margins” file, we have D.J. King, obtained yesterday in trade from the St. Louis Blues for Stefan Della Rovere. King certainly brings a certain “presence” to the ice that the Caps have lacked. Need a hint? OK, look at these numbers…

2006-2007: 27 games, 1 fight
2007-2008: 61 games, 14 fights
2008-2009: 1 game, 0 fights
2009-2010: 12 games, 5 fights

He’s not here to provide scoring support or kill power plays. It is an interesting trade in that the Caps traded a future pest (of uncertain likelihood to reach the NHL roster) for a bruiser who can step into the lineup right now.

Caps fans are probably going to pooh-pooh this trade, that the Caps don’t need an “enforcer.” We think the term is something of an antique, given the state of the game today that places such a premium on skating. But the bottom line here is that the Caps, despite their impressive skill, were entirely too easy to play against, especially on the last two forward lines. David Steckel and Boyd Gordon are very earnest, hard-working players, but making opponents’ lives difficult is not their game. Jason Chimera and Matt Bradley can get their dander up and are the kinds of teammates you would probably want in that foxhole with you. But was either effective at policing opponents’ attitudes?

King, presumably, is the attitude adjuster that the Caps haven’t had. Sure, you could argue that for the three years Donald Brashear was here, he policed the ice effectively for the Caps. But the Caps did not get Brashear in his prime, when he was a passably effective player in addition to his pugilistic exploits. Brashear averaged about eight minutes a game for the Caps over his three seasons.

King might not get many (if any) more minutes with the Caps than did Brashear. In his entire career, spanning 101 games, he has recorded more than ten minutes of ice time in a game only twice. And there is the matter that he has not recorded a point since October 2008 and has not scored a goal since March 2008.

And that brings us to why he might have had such difficulty being productive within the rules. That raises another set of numbers…

2008-2009: 3 games missed to wrist injury
2009-2009: 78 games missed to shoulder surgery
2009-2010: 3 games missed to thumb injury
2009-2010: 39 games missed to right hand surgery

123 games missed to injuries over two seasons is not a confidence-builder if you are expecting someone whose role is to police the ice to actually be on the ice.

The acquisition of King is something of a response move. Look up and down the Eastern Conference, and you can find players who might have felt comfortable taking liberties with the Caps. In Philly, there is Daniel Carcillo and Jody Shelley. In Pittsburgh, Matt Cooke. In New York, Derek Boogaard. On Long Island, Zenon Konopka. In Atlanta, Ben Eager. In Boston, Shawn Thornton. Not that these players are ever going to get any ice time skating against the likes of an Alex Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom, unless they are going off on a line change. But these players might be out there for some time against a second or third line, or might be out there to heap abuse on defensemen, the Caps’ version of which tends more to the skill/skating side than physical. The Caps didn’t have an answer for this kind of player, frankly.

Let's not over-analyze this (he said as he pushes past 800 words).  It isn't a big trade in the larger scope of things.  This isn't the NHL of 30 years ago, or 20, or ten for that matter.  Fighters play a much smaller role in the sport than they did in those days.  But that doesn't justify ignoring certain moves that other teams made that could place some of your players at risk in the liberties taken against them, especially if it doesn't cost much for the "protection."  In a way, the Caps traded an uncertain future (whether Stefan Della Rovere would ever become a regular NHL player) for an uncertain present (whether D.J. King can stay healthy). But at a $637,500 cap hit for two years (according to, the potential reward is worth the risk. When you compare it to the sorts of compensation others in King's player profile will make -- Boogaard getting $1,625,000, Shelley getting $1,100,000 a year, for example, King could end up being a bargain.  He will provide the size and orneriness that the Caps, frankly, lack. And besides, how can you not root for a guy who wasn’t a Cap ten seconds before responding to the news of Max Talbot’s description of Alex Ovechkin as a “douche:”
"Wow. I guess that's not going to be happening too much longer."

Here’s to your health, D.J.

Fleischmann Signed...Is he a Bargain?

Caps Nation breathes a sigh of relief. Tomas Fleischmann has been signed. One year, $2.6 million. Now the usual back-and-forth will begin…

Too much money for a one-dimensional player…

…But he’s a 20-plus goal scorer.

He doesn’t show up for the playoffs…

…but he’s improved in goals scored and points in every single season.

He’s soft…

…he’s skilled.

He can’t win faceoffs…

…he hasn’t played the position regularly in years.

Tomas Fleischmann is “Alexander Semin-lite.” In a number of ways. Flesichmann makes up the Holy Trinity of Caps that fans love to beat on – Alexander Semin, Jeff Schultz, and Flesichmann. The complaints about Fleischmann mirror those made about Semin in many respects. He is a very skilled player, but doesn’t do the dirty work to earn points when the going gets tough. He disappears for long stretches, often when it matters. He has a lot of upside as a player. But does he have the diligence and focus to realize that potential?

Well, now we are going to get a year, if not to answer the questions surrounding Fleischmann, then at least get closer to finding them. With this signing, the Caps appear to have gone all-in on their plan to develop their skill positions from within. The second line center position is now a contest between Fleischmann, Mathieu Perreault, and Marcus Johansson, with Fleischmann the early favorite to emerge as the opening night pick at that position.

But about the deal itself. Is it a value signing? We can now depart the theoretical world of “comparables” and “platform years” and the like that makes for gainful employment among arbitrators. What of the neighborhood in which Fleischmann resides, the collection of players who last year were of similar production? Compared to the contracts those players will play under in 2010-2011, is Fleischmann a “buy?”

First, we have to figure out just what the neighborhood looks like. To do that, we decided to normalize statistics to put everyone on a per-82 game basis. Having done that, we can then find those forwards who are in the ball park in terms of their production last year. We limited the neighborhood to those 10 forwards finishing with more points and those that had fewer points (we included more players for ties at either end). If we do that, the neighborhood looks like this (click on the tables for larger views)…

First of all, one might note that this group of 24 players includes some big names – Scott Gomez, Mike Richards, Brian Gionta, Ray Whitney, Danny Briere among them. Another thing is that Fleischmann is among the youngest in this group. He is in a group of five players at age 26, and only Mike Richards (25), Patrice Bergeron (25), and James Neal (22) are younger.

But we are here to assess value. Looking at how these players rank with respect to cap hit, they look like this…

First, those names at the top of the list – Scott Gomez, Thomas Vanek, and Danny Briere – whatever you might think of them as players, they are no bargain at those levels of production. Fleischmann ranks 18th in this 24-player group in cap hit. He is competitive in this group in term of goal scoring (10th in adjusted goal scoring), power play goal scoring (tied for ninth), and game-winning goals (tied for fifth, although he played on a team with more wins than that of the other players, save for Brooks Laich).

But Fleischmann is projected as a center for next year. Among this group of players, how does he rank among the centers? Well…

Again, he ranks rather low in terms of cap hit (10th among 11 centers). And yet he ranks fourth in goal scoring, tied for fourth in power play goal scoring, and tied for third in game winning goals. But as a center, he has more responsibility, and that faceoff winning percentage of 43.1 stands out (not only because it is highlighted in yellow).. Only Alexander Steen has a weaker success rate.

But there is the matter of age, too. Gomez is, it is alleged at least, in his prime at the age of 30. McDonald is a solid veteran center at 32. Arnott and Koivu are, if not in the twilight of their respective careers, at least in sight of it (both being 35 years old). So if those players are accounted for, how does Fleischmann look in his age cohort of centers?

Flesichmann has the lowest cap hit among this cohort. But Fleischmann’s adjusted goal scoring rate ranks him 5th among these eight players and tied for fourth (with two other players) in power play goal scoring. He has the best plus-minus number, but this is undoubtedly a product of the team he plays with (most wins, most goals scored) and his comparative lack of defensive responsibilities (compared to, say, Mike Richards).

We are not arguing for a moment that Fleischmann is the best player among any of the slices of these data. And there is more to the hockey player than scoring. But in the context of the contract he signed and the role he is expected to play, he might be a bargain for the Caps this coming season, especially if he improves his numbers as he has in each year in the NHL.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Doodling About an "All-UFA Team"

It is the end of July, and good googa-mooga, we are equal parts fried and bored. But in a never-ending effort to bring you, dear reader, with something to take to the rest room during your breaks at work, we took a look at the “all-UFA” team and wondered what it might look like, based on last year’s performances.

First, we had to make some accommodations to the way the team was put together. They named 15 forwards and eight defensemen to their squad. We went with 14 and seven, meaning that a forward and a defenseman had to be dropped. We dropped Arron Asham from among the forwards and Kim Johnsson from among the defensemen. Here is the 23-man team (goaltenders' win-loss records adjusted to their shares of an 82-game schedule):

With the 23-man squad assembled, we note that based on goalie performance this team would be a 44-23-15 level of quality team, which is approximately equivalent to the record with which the Detroit Red Wings finished last season (44-24-14). But this team would get there in an entirely different way. Whereas the Wings finished the year with 223 goals scored and 207 goals allowed (for a plus-16 goal differential), the All-UFA team would finish with 293 goals scored and 261 goals allowed (a plus-32). The 293 goals scored would rank second on last year’s goals-scored rankings, behind only Washington, while the plus-32 goal differential would have ranked this team fifth in the league.

It would be a formidable team on the power play. This group combined for 91 power play goals last year, three of them with at least ten power play goals (Teemu Selanne, Glen Metropolit, and Bill Guerin). The total exceeds, by far, the top mark for the season last year (Washington with 79). What this team would not have, though, is a true power play quarterback on the back line. Marc-Andre Bergeron (if he wasn’t scratched) had seven power play goals for Montreal last year, but even he would not likely be characterized as a true “quarterback” on the power play.

It would not be an especially big hitting team. Alexei Ponikarovsky led this team’s forwards in hits last season (146), which would place him 42nd in the league’s rankings. Lee Stempniak’s 87 hits would rank second among these forwards, but it would place him only in a tie for 147th in last year’s rankings. The defensemen have somewhat more representation in the hits rankings. Andy Sutton’s 197 placed him eighth among all NHL defensemen, while Shaone Morrisonn’s 163 hits placed him 21st.

It isn’t high on blocked shots, either. John Madden, with 58 blocked shots to his credit, ranked 25th last year among forwards. Only Clarke MacArthur (32) would also have ranked in the top-150 in the league. Among defensemen, Andy Sutton’s 204 blocks was second in the league, but no other defensemen in this group ranks in the top 75.

As a group the forwards are reasonably adept at protecting the puck. Maxim Afinogenov had the 15th highest number of giveaways last season, but no other forward ranks in the top-50. The defensemen struggle a bit more in this area. Sutton (64) was tied for 17th last season in giveaways, while Mike Mottau and Marc-Andre Bergeron both ranked in the top-75.

On the other side of that coin, Maxim Afinogenov ranked 11th among forwards in takeaways (65), while Lee Stempniak, John Madden, and Eric Belanger all ranked in the top-100 among forwards in that statistic. Among the defensemen, however, none on this squad ranked among the top-60 in takeaways. Any team on which Andy Sutton leads in this statistic (24) is not likely to be finding too many takeaways happening among the blueliners.

The nature of such a team is that it will not have any top-end scorers – the top goal scorer is Lee Stempniak (28), while the leading point-getter is Maxim Afinogenov (61). But every forward had double-digit goals last season. As prolific as the forwards are on offense as a group, so is that offense lacking among the defensemen. Marc-Andre Bergeron is the only member of this seven-man squad to have recorded at least ten goals last season and is the only one to have recorded at least 20 points. Bergeron also had seven of the eight power play goals scored by that group.

If there is a problem among the goaltenders, it is in the fact that both played for teams that had shots-allowed totals in the bottom half of the league standings. One should not expect that things would be much different on this team. No defenseman had a better than 1:1 takeaway-to-giveaway ratio last year, and only two had a ratio better than 1:2. And this group does not appear especially fleet afoot, either. It is a fairly sizable group though, averaging 6’3”, 212.

And here is the last thing with this team. Last year, it would have been a “cap-friendly” one, with a total cap hit of $54.7 million. This season, frankly, it might not be much (if any) less friendly. There are a sizable number of players who, if signed, are likely to be on their last contract and might be taking a pay cut to get it. Mike Modano, Paul Kariya, John Madden, Bill Guerin, Marty Turco, and Jose Theodore might be in that group. There are players with injury issues – Willie Mitchell and Andreas Lilja come to mind there. The rest are selling services in what looks like a reluctant market, skittish on the idea of giving big raises to anyone not named “Kovalchuk.” It might be a mark of how weak this free agency class is and how depressed the market is that this group – the best of the free agents remaining – can’t seem to yet find a job.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

More on the History of 50-Goal Scorers

The folks at Jewels From The Crown put together a very elegant depiction of the history of 50-goal scorers in the NHL last week. The question for which they were seeking an answer was what that history looked like for players after age 26. The context of the question was whether Ilya Kovalchuk would have been with a $100 million/10 year contract to the Los Angeles Kings. The general conclusion is that goal production declines for elite (i.e., 50-goal) scorers after the age of 26, making Kovalchuk's value at that level of compensation uncertain.

We looked at those data put together by Jewels From The Crown with another question in mind. What is their winning profile?  Do these players win after the age of 26?  Or, are their Stanley Cup victories early-career phenomena?  To look at these questions, there is the matter of the players in this population that have won at least one Stanley Cup. Of the 89 50-goal scorers in the population, 50 of them have won at least one chalice. Now, we can look at the question in a number of dimensions (click on the pictures below for larger versions).

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

So, among these 50 players, what comes first, the 50 goals or the Stanley Cup? 21 players recorded a 50-goal season before they won a Stanley Cup. 18 of them did the trick before the age of 27. Of the 24 who won the Stanley Cup first, 21 won the Cup before the age of 27. Five players hit the 50-goal mark in a Stanley Cup season, and of that group four of them did the double before reaching 27 years of age.

Farm Fresh

34 of these 50 players won a Stanley Cup with the team they broke in with. 28 of them did it before the age of 27. Only ten of those 26 reached the 50 goal mark before their team won a Stanley Cup.

Youth be served

There are 121 Stanley Cups won among these 50 players. 66 of them were won before the age of 27. 31 of them were won after the age of 30, and only 13 of those won by players skating for the team they broke in with. Six of those were recorded by Maurice Richard in Montreal and another three by Steve Yzerman in Detroit. And of those 13 Stanley Cups, only one included a 50-goal season, that by Joe Sakic with Colorado at the age of 31. Of the 33 players on this list who won a Stanley Cup before the age of 27, 19 of them went or have gone so far the 27-and-older portion of their careers without winning another Cup (one player in this group – Sidney Crosby – is still under 27).

Dynastic effects

There are those who say dynasties are a relic, that the salary cap and free agency conspire to keep teams from assembling teams that can win multiple Stanley Cups in a short period of time. The history of 50-goal scorers lends some credence to this idea. Ten 50-goal scorers have won at least four Stanley Cups. Seven of them did it with one team, and all of them won at least four with a single team. The franchises represented here are few – Montreal, Edmonton, and the New York Islanders. Nine of the ten players won at least three Stanley Cups by the age of 26, and nine of them won at least four by the age of 27. Maurice Richard is the outlier here, having won six Stanley Cups after the age of 30.  But the very notion of a dynasty implies being able to keep a team together, not in their achievement in the first year of that run of success.  And in that respect, it bears noting, despite all the purple among the players at the top of the chart above, how many players won their first cup before the age of 27.


Another 21 players have won multiple (two or three) Stanley Cups. This is an interesting group in that 24 of the 47 total Cups won by these players were won after they reached the age of 27. But only 11 of those were won by players skating for the teams they broke in with, and ten of those belong to four players – Steve Yzerman (three), Sergei Fedorov (three), John Bucyk (two), and Phil Esposito (two). The careful reader will note that there are only two teams represented there – the Detroit Red Wings of Yzerman and Fedorov, and the Boston Bruins of Esposito and Bucyk.

The singles

The remaining 19 players on this list have won a single Stanley Cup. Only nine of them won their Cup before the age of 27, eight of them doing with the team they broke in with. On the other end of the spectrum, among the ten players winning a single Stanley Cup four of them had reached the age of 35 or older, all of them with teams other than those they broke in with.

The Curse of Bettman

Only one player among the 89 50-goal scorers in the original list is currently active and has more than one Stanley Cup on his resume – Mark Recchi. He won the second of his Stanley Cups at the age of 37 while playing with Carolina in 2006. That came 15 years after he won his first Cup, at the age of 22 as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Penguins (parenthetically, that rookie year was his career high in playoff goal scoring – ten in 24 games). Five other players currently active have a 50-goal season and a Stanley Cup. One Stanley Cup apiece. And here is something to try on for size. Since Gary Bettman was named Commissioner of the NHL In 1993, only two players have recorded a 50-goal season while winning a Stanley Cup. Adam Graves did it with the New York Rangers (52 goals) in 1994, and Joe Sakic did it twice with the Colorado Avalanche – in 1996 (51 goals) and in 2001 (54 goals).

All of this, as you might suspect, comes around to the Capitals. They have a 50-goal scorer of some note – four times in five seasons, in fact. But will that kind of production by Alex Ovechkin translate into a Stanley Cup for the Capitals? Well, history suggests it had better be sooner than later, given the preponderance of 50-goal scorers who won a Stanley Cup before their 27th birthday, especially with the teams that drafted them. But given the history of the last ten years, he is swimming upstream against that history – no 50-goal scorers on a Stanley Cup winner in the last eight seasons, and only three in the last 17 seasons.

We are not suggesting that Ovechkin go into the tank as far as goal scoring goes, or that the Caps should trade him to achieve more balanced goal scoring. We are suggesting two things, though.  First, when you think about the historic scarcity of 50-goal scorers among players in their 30’s (as depicted by Jewels From The Crown) and the number of players who won Cups in their early years with the teams they broke in with, if you are going to give players long-term/big money contracts, it would seem better to do it when their entry level contracts expire.  There is, of course, a lot of risk in that, what with locking up so much cap room in players not out of their early 20's.  In terms of productivity, the Caps will enjoy the most productive goal scoring years of Ovechkin's career, whose current contract will not expire until he is 35 years old. 

But given the history of high-end goal scorers, there is a flip side to this in the second thing we are suggesting.  The clock is ticking on this window of Caps history. Ovechkin is not likely to be that same high-end goal scorer as he pushes past 30, and not every team ends up with a Steve Yzerman winning his first Cup at age 31, years after his last 50-goal season. The experience of a Tim Kerr (four 50-goal seasons in 13 years), a Marcel Dionne (six 50-goal seasons in 18 seasons), or a Pavel Bure (five 50-goal seasons in 12 seasons) – with not a Stanley Cup among them – is more common.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

17 Years

So, with Ilya Kovalchuk’s gleaming new 17-year contract in limbo at the moment, we stop and ask ourselves, just how long is 17 years? Well, 17 years ago…

-- Martin Brodeur had a grand total of two NHL wins on his resume, getting a late season cup o’ coffee after completing his season at Saint-Hyacinthe Laser of the QMJHL.

-- Sidney Crosby had not yet celebrated his sixth birthday. This did not keep fans from voting him to his (and ESPN’s) first ESPY award as best NHL player.

-- The NHL just completed its last season with real names for divisions – Patrick, Adams, Smythe, and Norris.

-- There was still NHL hockey being played in Winnipeg, Quebec, Minneapolis, and Hartford.

-- The San Jose Sharks won 11 games… total… for the season.

-- The Ottawa Senators won 10 games… total… for the season.

-- Teemu Selanne won the Calder Trophy.

-- No one saw more rubber go into their own net among non-goalies than Kevin Hatcher. He was on the ice for 162 goals against the Washington Capitals.

-- Alex Ovechkin – age 8 – would soon develop his passion for hockey by enrolling in hockey school.

-- Chris Chelios just completed his tenth season in the NHL.

-- Gary Bettman was just months into his tenure as Commissioner of the NHL.

-- “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston was Billboard’s top hit of 1993.

-- “Jurassic Park” was the top grossing film of 1993.

-- The Buffalo Bills still had not lost four Super Bowls (they just lost their third).

-- Cal Ripken still had two more seasons before he would pass Lou Gehrig for first place in consecutive games played in major league baseball history.

-- Apple ended its production of “Apple II” personal computers

17 years can be quite a long time...

Monday, July 19, 2010


On April 28th, the Caps lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the Montreal Canadiens. On October 8th, the 2010-2011 season will begin for the Caps in Atlanta against the Thrashers.

That is 163 days from the end of one season to the beginning of the next. Today is the 82nd day of that hiatus. “Hockquinox,” as it were.

Congratulations, Caps fans. It’s all downhill from here to the start of the season.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Down the road a piece

Going into the 2010-2011 season, the Capitals are likely (absent any further personnel moves) to have some serious issues at center. Nicklas Backstrom might be among the top five centers in the game today, but after that, it becomes something of a roll of the dice for the Caps. No serious option for second line center – Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich – has as many as 100 games at that position (no, we do not include Laich, who has primarily been a winger). This is arguably the most serious problem the Caps have going into the season. You think otherwise? In the Caps’ first round playoff series against Montreal last spring, they recorded no goals from any center not named “Backstrom” (Boyd Gordon had a shorthanded goal in Game 3). They had a total of two points from other full-time centers (assists from Brendan Morrison and Eric Belanger). No points were scored by any center (including Backstrom) in Games 5-7, all Caps losses.

You could call this an area of concern for the Caps.

But this is summer, the season of hope for hockey fans as development camps get underway all across North America, and there was plenty of reason for it this week at the Caps' development camp. Looking at the prospect roster, the Caps have quietly stocked themselves with a lot of options at center down the road. As much as the defense could be a strength in a year or two with Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Jeff Schultz on the blue line, so too could the pivot position a year or two later. Consider the following prospects that might play one of the three center positions behind Nicklas Backstrom…

Matthieu Perreault
Jay Beagle
Cody Eakin
Stanislav Galiev
Anton Gustafsson
Marcus Johansson
Evgeny Kuznetsov

What do these players have in common? All are 24 or younger. Four of them – Johansson, Eakin, Galiev, and Kuznetsov – have not reached their 20th birthday. What’s more, this is a versatile bunch. Any could fill a hole at center, but just as much any could fill a role on the wing.

Will all of them make it in a Caps sweater? Will all of them make it to an NHL roster on a regular basis? Perhaps not. But Perreault showed flashes of quality play in his brief stint with the Caps this past season. Beagle was just rewarded with a two-year deal and might be the sort of grinding forward the Caps need (and have in short supply) to man the third or fourth line. Gustafsson has seen his early career hampered by injury (his scrimmage was cut short yesterday by another one), but has a skill set that suggests at least getting a shot at a roster spot down the road. Eakin, Kuznetsov, and Galiev have skill sets that suggest at least the possibility of challenging for top-six forward spots (Eakin might ultimately be better suited to a third line). Five years out, this is a team that could have a top-three line complement of:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Evgeny Kuznetsov
Alexander Semin – Marcus Johansson – Eric Fehr
Tomas Fleischmann – Cody Eakin – Stanislav Galiev

Five years from now, only Semin among these players will have reached his 30th birthday. And if, say, Semin or Fleischmann are not among the roster players five years from now, Brooks Laich might still be here (he would be 32), and perhaps Anton Gustafsson will have shaken the injury bug and demonstrated why he impressed the Caps enough to use a first round draft pick to get him. And, that group includes a number of players who can play center or wing.

OK, in the summer, just on the heels of development camp, one might be guilty of irrational exuberance. We get that. But the Caps have at least put themselves in a position in which what is now a weakness could become a strength, perhaps sooner than later.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Capitals Development Camp -- Day 6: Getaway Day

Day 6 – Saturday night’s alright for fightin’… get a little action in…

It was “getaway day” at Kettler Capitals Iceplex as the prospects treated a standing-room-only (as in standing outside, in the parking lot) crowd to a full scrimmage this morning.

What the scrimmage -- a 3-2 shootout win for Team White -- lacked in offensive fireworks, it made up for with tenacity (who would want to exit a loser for the week?) and a pair of bouts. Joe Finley and Anthony Pisano reprised their contest from earlier in the week, and after much spinning and many thrown (if unsuccessful) punches, we would have to score the bout a draw.

The second bout, taking place immediately after the first, got off to an odd start. Actually, it almost started before the first one was over. As Finley and Pisano were being separated, Cody Eakin and Trevor Bruess (yea, him again) were shoulder to shoulder, skating toward the bench and looking to be yapping at each oterh. Eakin took a half-hearted slash to Bruess’ ankles, and Bruess returned the favor. Then, Stefan Della Rovere skated toward Bruess and barked at him for a bit. Before the ensuing faceoff, Bruess dropped his gloves and paused as if he had an equipment problem, or he was going to tie his skates. That just gave Della Rovere the chance to ready himself for what was to unfold. This was the more energetic of the two bouts, with more punches thrown (and landing). Uppercuts seemed to be the preferred punch, and Della Rovere connected with one that appeared to bloody Bruess’ nose (we later saw messages that Bruess’ nose was broken, although he did return… hockey players, y’know). We would have to give SDR the nod in this one.

As for the scrimmage itself, it was a very different affair that the other two in that there was a lot less freewheeling (especially among the more gifted Russians – Evgeny Kuznetsov and Stanislav Galiev). This scrimmage featured a good deal moirĂ© in terms of fighting for territorial advantage, and there was a lot more play in the neutral zone. Whereas the ice seemed tilted to the Team Red (Group A) side of the ice, owing to Team White’s (Group B) superior forechecking, in the first two scrimmages, things were much more even this morning. Although, we would still give Team White the edge on that score.

It was a morning for the grinders, in a way. Free agent invitees David deKastrozza (Red), Eric Alexander (White), and Andy Miele (White) each potted goals. Phil DeSimone (a third-round draft pick from 2007) completed the scoring in regulation. The shootout, being the “skills competition,” so to speak, could have ended up being a showcase for the more offensively gifted players. And, in fact, Stanislav Galiev and Cody Eakin, whose skills seem to trend that way, converted their chances. But it was left to Andy Miele one more time to break the tie, and break it he did by faking goalie Braden Holtby to the ice and tucking the puck safely around his right pad for the win.

It was a war of attrition, as it turned out, as several players sustained injuries. There was Bruess’ apparently broken nose, a concussion for Jake Hauswirth, a leg injury for Anton Gustafsson, Eric Alexander going face first into the boards (but did return), as well as Della Rovere (who also returned).

If Miele gets the first star of the game among the skaters, we thought Dan Dunn (White) had a fine game in goal. He played the third period, overtime, and the shootout, and the only puck he allowed to pass was off the stick of Cody Eakin in the Gimmick. He faced much more difficult chances than did his counterpart Braden Holtby in the third, and was adept at controlling rebounds and steering pucks into the corners.

Among the draftees and other players under contract, for the week, we took notice of Stefan Della Rovere and Trevor Bruess for being as advertised – a royal pain to play against. We think Della Rovere is further along the development curve than Bruess, but we could not help but think he is going to have to improve his game within the rules quite a bit to have a legitimate shot at making the big club down the road.

Cody Eakin had what looked to us a good week. He is a tricky little cuss in the offensive end and looks to be a good skater.

Marcus Johansson looked to have a somewhat uneven week to us and for many of the same reasons Nicklas Backstrom had one a few years ago. His unfamiliarity with the smaller ice surface seemed to affect him, as did his uncertain approach to positioning as he gets used to a somewhat different set of responsibilities as a center on this side of he pond.

Evgeni Kuznetsov and Stanislav Galiev both impressed with their skating and stick-handling. We think that overall, Galiev might have had the stronger week in the end. Kuznetsov seemed to lose some focus at the end of the week, and he had a very average scrimmage this morning.

Anton Gusfasson looked better than in any previous camp setting. He looked quicker, and he looked more energized for the most part. But he needs to be a better finisher and disappear less.

We thought Dmitri Orlov took a step back in this camp. He looked a lot more promising last summer. He still demonstrates skill, but he didn’t seem to have the same sense of urgency about his effort this year. We could say the same about Jake Hauswirth. Neither stood out the way they had in the past.

Dustin Stevenson had an interesting week in a “Jeff Schultz” kind of way. He’s a big fellow – 6’5”, 220 – but he played a relatively quiet game, depending on positioning and his reach more than the big hit. We thought he had a nice week all around.

Among the goalies, Braden Hotlby looked alternately tired and off his game. He has, by quite a margin, the best skill set in this camp among the netminders. That is a product of his experience, having played significant minutes in Hershey this season (which probably accounts for the tired part). But he didn’t sparkle the way one might have expected him to in this setting.

We thought Dan Dunn looked very good. He seemed to use his size better than we remember seeing him in previous camps, and his glove hand was very good as well.

Among the free agents in camp, one could not help but see a different kind of effort among them, the sort in which they try to set themselves apart, get noticed, and perhaps end up with a contract of their own. Wade MacLeod, Andy Miele, Eric Alexander, Cameron Burt, Sean Wiles (who missed a breakaway and hit the post twice in today’s scrimmage), Patrick Cullen, and Chris Bond all had their moments.

But in the end, it was quite the entertaining week. And we appreciate the chance to watch such talented young men chasing their ambitions. To all of them, thanks guys and the best of luck to each and every one of you.

Some final pics from today’s festivities…

Friday, July 16, 2010

Capitals Development Camp -- Day 5

Day 5 – “Psychology” Day

Today’s sessions were an object lesson in the psychology of having a lot of competitive young men in the fifth day of working in confined spaces. Break things up with a couple of scrimmages or a paint ball field trip, but it’s still the same guys seeing one another and competing with the aid of sticks. Today, the irritables set in.

First, there was Coach Bruce Boudreau, whose patience appeared to be tested in the first session with the level of intensity being displayed on the ice. When he had a chance to get everyone together at the bench to go over the next drill, he let them know it, too. Not particularly harshly, from what we could hear, but the message was delivered. On Day 5 of drills, testing, scrimmages, more testing, more drills, another scrimmage, paintball in 100-degree weather, well… one might expect the level of intensity to waver, even among healthy young fellows such as these. Shoot, even Evgeny Kuznetsov wasn’t smiling as much as he had been earlier in the week.

Then in the second session, there was that guy again – Trevor Bruess – making things difficult for goalie Taylor Nelson by getting right up in his mask to screen him from the shooter during a drill in the second session. After some jostling, Nelson had enough and let Bruess know it with a shove. Gotta admire the kid’s spunk, especially given that Bruess responded by shoving Nelson off his feet and right back into his own net. It didn’t end there, either. Bruess skated off while barking back at Nelson, and as the players gathered back at the bench to get their instructions for the next drill, Bruess was still barking and casting daggers with his eyes at Nelson. As the players broke out for their next drill, Bruess looked as if he wanted to continue the conversation, but the drills went on.

As for the object of the exercise – conducting drills and teaching the boys the finer points of Caps hockey – today's ice time was very much devoted to running the power play. Positioning, proper separation, rotation, puck movement. It went from 5-on-none drills (to instill a sense of where players should be and where they should go) to 5-on-4 drills. In the second group, Marcus Johansson looked to get some special attention concerning where he should be positioning himself (his first instinct still seems to go out high in a defensive posture).

Each session ended with a staple of D-Camp. Thirteen pucks were lined up and the blue line for each team, and players took their turns in skating in on a penalty shot/breakaway in a scramble format. Rush in, shoot – if you score, the puck comes off the ice; if you miss, you have to collect the puck and bring it back to the blue line before the next shooter takes the ice. And goalies, after making the save, can shoot the puck away from the shooter into one or the other corner. The one thing we took away from this is that Kuznetsov has a future in the Gimmick. Losers had the privilege of doing a bag skate.

If you’re into who played with whom on what lines/pairs, here is what we saw (largely unchanged from the week's norm):

Group A

Red: Kuznetsov/Cullen/Forfar
Green: Della Rovere/Hauswirth/de Kastrozza
Gray: Eakin/DeSimone/Wiles
White: Woods/Gustafsson/de Kastrozza
D-Pairs: Orlov/Finley, Jank/Carrier, Bond/Ruel, Yadlowski/Flemming
Goalies: Holtby/Dunn

Group B

Red: Burke/Hebert/Lefrancois
Green: Mitchell/MacLeod/Bruess
Gray: Galiev/Johansson/Burt
White: Alexander/Miele/Pisano
D-Pairs: Lowery/Stevenson, Spinell/Cullity, Davis/Wey, Sotnieks (rotating)
Goalies: Grubauer/Enzukens/Nelson

And so ends the drills portion of the week, the festivities coming to a close tomorrow with a 10:00 am scrimmage. In the meantime, some more pics (including getting ready for the equipment sale)…