Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Blogger Training Camp 2010 -- Day 2

Day 2 of Blogger Camp 2010, and in getting familiar with the tools of the trade, it’s “Social Networking Day.” The day when the cousins go through their paces in navigating the ins and outs of working online and social networking. Today’s session starts with some basic drills…


The ability to find information at the click of a mouse quickly and efficiently is the life’s blood of the blogger. Whether it is statistics, records, quotes, the latest trade rumor, or just a feature on their favorite club, being quick on the click is one of the most important tools in the blogger’s arsenal. Cheerless is in the midst of the daily Google drill…

“Hey cuz, look what I get when I type in ‘hot hockey babes…’ would ya look at the Koho’s on that one!”

A prodigy, ain’t he?...

“Cousin, if you google 'Google,' do you go into an infinite loop?”

Fearless, I think YOU are an infinite loop.

“Hey, cuz! What does it mean when this Norton screen comes up and says you’ve been attacked by a virus? Is that one of those computer games I keep hearing about?”

I think we’re going to need two-a-days…


If you took a message board and mashed it up with instant messaging, then concentrated it into a 140-character nugget, you’d have Twitter. In barely four years of existence, it has become one of the most important tools for the advanced blogger. Blogger training camp is the time for the denizens of the keyboard to master the hash mark and the “at” sign, to keep their #’s and @’s straight. Cheerless has been having trouble getting the knack of it…


Not what we had in mind, cuz…Now, let’s go over the terms. Cheerless, can you tell me what a “tweet” is.

“Something folks give you on Hallowe’en, or you play a twick on them.”

C’mon, it’s in the “Bloggers Playbook.”



“A ‘tweet’ is a message posted via Twitter containing 140 characters or fewer.”

Very good…

“suck up”

Cheerless, can you give me a definition for “twitterer?”

“Uh, cuz, I think you mean ‘twit.’”

OK, let’s try this…what does “FF” stand for?

“I heard of MF, and that stands for mother-fu…”


I see three-a-days in our future.


At last count 5.8 billion people were registered to this, allowing them to add people as friends, send them messages, and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves. Additionally, users can join networks organized by workplace, school, or college.

“There aren’t 5.8 billion people on Facebook, cuz…”

No, it only seems that way.

“There are 5.8 billion Capitals blogs.”

No there aren’t…now let’s keep our focus. Fearless, can you tell me what a “friend” is in Facebook?

“A person who has joined a profile, usually by invitation.”

Very good, and Cheerless, what is a “profile?”

“It’s how they made me stand to get my picture took when I crashed the truck into Old Man Grabowski’s front porch and the sheriff hauled me in to the hooskow.”

OK, forget that… what’s a “mini-feed?”

"Ooh! I know!!"

OK, Cheerless…

“It’s the small bag o’ food for chickens.”

“Hey, cousin, did you know that you can Facebook on Twitter?”

Is it too early for waivers?

Message Boards

They might seem passé in the age of Twitter and Facebook, but message boards still command a lot of time and attention from the die-hard hockey fan. Bloggers ignore them at their peril. They also post there at their peril.

“You do it…”

“He drinks heavily, too. Think that’s a coincidence?”

Anyway… message boards give the everyday fan the forum to opine on any number of subjects. For the Caps, you might find any number of “discussions” going on covering a plethora of subjects.

“I loved Godzilla vs. Plethora.”

“Plethora!”… Not “Mothra,” you twit!

“Did we cover that in Twitter?”

UGH! Anyway, you might find such subjects as these on Capitals message boards giving the blogger an opportunity to take the pulse of the fan…

“George McPhee Sucks”
“Bruce Boudreau Sucks”
“Ted Leonsis Sucks”
“Trade Tyler Sloan and a draft pick for Sidney Crosby.”
“Beer Costs Too Much at Verizon Center.”

“Is that it?”

Yup, pretty much.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cheerless Has An Idea

Blogger Camp 2010 must have shaken a brain cell free in the head of the slow-on-the-uptick cousin of mine, because Cheerless has an idea.  Oh heck, let's just let him explain it...

"You know what we need, cuz? We need a TV show. Maybe we can get that Bravo TV to produce it. We could have Caps bloggers sitting around talking about Corsi and GVT and getting all snarky with one another.  And we can go on field trips and such.  Not that hoity-toity citified go-out-to-the-country-and-drink-chardonnay stuff you see on that housewives show, either.  We could sit around horkin' down brats and drinkin' beer talking about how misunderstood Jeff Schultz is, or how Mike Green does so play defense.

And instead of dressing up in those real fine clothes those reality babes always seem to have falling out of their closets, the bloogers..."

That's "bloggers," cuz...

"Bloogers, bloggers, whatever.  Y'all could dress up in Caps jerseys of your favorite players.  You could pull out that Mike Eagles jersey you've been dyin' to wear.  You could visit celebrities at their houses.  You know, drop in on Brooks Laich or Bruce Boudreau or Alex Ovechkin."

It's a fine line between "dropping in " and "stalking," cuz...

"Well, maybe if you took along a six-pack to break the ice.  Oh, and instead of talking about shoes like those bimbos prattle on and on about, you could talk about sticks and skates and stuff.  And you could give the folks watchin' the inside stuff about blogging, like, why do you guys always write stuff at four in the morning, anyway?"

Seems like you've thought a lot about this.

"Well, someone's got to do the thinkin' around here.  I even got a name for the show."

Well, don't keep it a secret.

"The Real Caps Bloggers of DC."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blogger Training Camp 2010

It’s that time of the year. In the NFL, clubs are winding down their respective training camps and settling into their weekly routines that will carry them into and through the regular season. But for hockey fans, it’s just beginning. In less than a month clubs will be gathering at their own respective training sites for training camp and the preseason that announces a return of NHL hockey to the sports landscape.

It is no different for those among us who scribble about hockey. And just like the on-ice warriors who will be going through their drills and routines next month, so shall we. In fact, the cousins and yours truly are embarking on Blogger Camp 2010 this very week…


Before taking the ice or sitting behind the keyboard, we have to make sure that we have the physical wherewithal to tackle the rigors of the season ahead. First up…a visit to the team doctor.

“Team doctor?”

Fearless signed up for one of those online schools.

“Turn your head and cough”

Oh damn...

Reflex Testing

Then there is the testing of reflexes. No, we don’t mean that nonsense doctors engage in by applying a hammer to your kneecap. We mean the instant reflex bloggers need to have when waxing with righteous (as if there is any other kind) indignation. Fearless is taking his tests right now…

"Gary Bettman…"

“A pox on the game, a know-nothing Commissioner who has presided over an era when hockey has seen its status as a top-four sport diminish, whose biggest accomplishment is putting teams in south Florida that no one bothers to show up to watch…”

Too slow, not enough indignation. How about you, Cheerless. "Gary Bettman…"



Speed Typing

They say you can’t teach speed. In football training camp, players are timed in the 40-yard dash. Bloggers have to be quick off the mark, too, for they are not unlike mainstream media types in one important respect, and that means getting the story out as fast and as accurately as possible... well, fast anyhow.  And that means having fast fingers. Cheerless, however is having trouble with the drill…


Quick he is, but he’s about as accurate as a Willie Mitchell slap shot.

“Hey! Couldn’t you at least say ‘Milan Jurcina slap shot?’”

Weight training

A large part of football is the ability to move large men with malice in their hearts to places they don’t want to go. Strength is a key ingredient for the successful football player. It isn’t much different with blogging. The modern blogger (as opposed to the one, say, a year ago) has to be proficient on any number of devices – laptop, netbook, smart phone, iPad, you name it. It could be a lot of equipment to haul around, and the blogger needs to be in tip-top shape to be at the top of his game during the season. Cheerless is trying his hand at managing his gear…


You don’t have your laptop?


Your iPhone?

"My yourPhone?”


“Why would I have your phone? Don’t you have your phone?”

It’s not a yourPhone, it’s an iPhone. I-I-I-I...

"I am the Frito Bandito..."

Can we get serious for a moment?...now, the iPhone...

“You mean like what you see with?”

No, “I” as in “me.”

“Then why don’t you call a “mePhone?”

Because it’s an iPhone.

“Can’t I just use a pencil and paper?”

It’s going to be an interesting training camp…

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Well, that's that

So… he stayed out west after all.

Willie Mitchell signed with Los Angeles. A two year deal for $7 million (capgeek.com). Think that’s a price the Caps should have paid? That’s a tough one. And it isn’t even the second year that’s the issue (that essentially replaces Tom Poti’s cap hit). It’s the first year. A $3.5 million cap hit in the first year puts the Caps at $58.45 million with one roster spot to fill (using capgeek.com’s cap calculator, including Mathieu Perreault, and taking off Tyler Sloan).

If Marcus Johansson makes the squad, the Caps are less than $100,000 from the cap, and this does not include the compensation for Eric Belanger, widely reported to have signed a $1.875 million deal. You could then argue that the Caps would make another move (they would have to make some move), perhaps Tomas Fleischmann’s $2.6 million contract. Making those moves puts the Caps at $58.62 million, about $777,000 under the cap (note: Karl Alzner has $850,000 in bonuses included in these calculations), and this does not account for whatever return might come for Fleischmann.  And this doesn't include whatever premium the Caps might have had to pay above $3.5 million a year to convince Mitchell to come east.

Now ask yourself, is $777,000 enough flexibility for the club going forward this year? It’s just hard to make that first year’s set of numbers work for Mitchell, given the deal he accepted, not to mention the risk the club assumes in light of Mitchell's coming off a serious injury. You could say, “well just move John Erskine ($1.25 million)…or just move David Steckel ($1.1 million).” We’re leery of any sentence involving a personnel move that includes the word “just,” as if one could snap one’s fingers and rid themselves of a problematic contract. Professional managers in sports franchises are paid to make these kinds of moves, but we don’t think for a moment that it is as easy as all that, given that there are two parties to every transaction.

There will be a lot of wailing about how the Caps (again!) were asleep at the switch as another club improved itself with a player that would have been a good fit (on paper) with the Capitals. And to tell the truth, there is a little voice in our head saying just that. But as much as we like the idea of adding a veteran defenseman (and Mitchell brings elements lacking on the Caps’ blueline), every deal has to be looked at in the context of the salary cap.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Today's the Day!


An announcement of where Willie Mitchell is signing?  Book it.

A press conference to announce the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk by the Devils?  Bet on it.

A notice in the transactions sections of sports sites that Sheldon Souray, Kevin Bieksa, and fill-in-the-name-of-rumored-to-be-traded-player here?  Today is the day.

How do we know this?  Because on this date in 1921, Monte Halperin was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  Who is Monte Halperin, you ask?  Well, he happens to be the holder of the Order of Canada and the Order of Manitoba. 

He also is the namesake of a famous problem in probability.

Still stumped?  OK, you know him as the long-time host of "Let's Make a Deal," Monty Hall.  Happy Birthday, Monty, and may all the doors you pick be the right ones.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

AHL Schedule To Be Released

Tomorrow, according to the league.  Let the road to the threepeat begin for the Bears.

Hockey - Golf - Tiger

Hockey and golf have a long and binding relationship. Caps fans are especially knowledgeable about this. So, it isn't entirely unrelated to hockey (well, yeah, it is), but we offer this in light of the latest off ice news concerning one of golf's most famous players...

Remorse from divorce, of course, of course,
And no one can talk to the source, of course
That is, of course, unless the source is the famous Tiger Woods.

Go right to the source out on the course
He'll give you the answer that he'll endorse.
He's always on a steady course.
Talk to Tiger Woods.

Sports talk yakkity yaks a streak and wastes your time of day,
But Tiger Woods will never speak unless he has nothing to say.

Remorse from divorce, of course, of course,
And Tiger won’t talk on or off the course.
You never heard of a silent source?

Well listen to this.

"I am Tiger Woods...no comment."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Making the Most of the "Southleast"

Last week, James O’Brien at Pro Hockey Talk wrote the following…
“One of the easiest questions for most hockey people - aside from the least objective Washington Capitals fans, perhaps - was "which division is the weakest in the NHL?" Any puckhead worth his or her salt would swiftly choose the Southeast Division as the league's worst.”

The context of this statement was that the other teams in the Southeast were improving enough to battle the Capitals for divisional supremacy. But the statement itself reflects a widely held belief in hockey circles, that the five teams of the division constitute the “Southleast” Division of the NHL. It is a label that has stuck hard and fast to the division since its current configuration was established in the 1999-2000 season.

The question is, does it fit? Well, let’s take a look at the five teams and their overall win-loss records outside the division in the ten seasons they’ve been playing as “Southleasters:”

Over the entire ten-year period, only the Capitals have compiled a winning record against a majority of the other divisions (4-1). Only Carolina and Tampa Bay have a winning record over as many as two of the other five divisions. The other two teams – Atlanta and Florida – have losing records against each of the other five divisions over the last ten years. Overall, the Southeast Division has a 1,147-1,292-442 record against the other five NHL divisions, a .475 winning percentage in terms of standings points.

But those records since the lockout are interesting. Things do change. Since the teams retured from their 2004-2005 hiatus, the Southeast Division has compiled a 606-553-171 record, a .520 winning percentage.

You could say that the change of fortunes since the lockout is a product of the success of the Capitals, and to a degree, you would be right. But remember, too, that the Caps struggled quite a bit out of the gate following the lockout. They posted back to back 70-point seasons in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 before winning the Southeast Division in each of the past three years. If you take the Caps out of the mix, the Southeast has earned its “Southleast” label in terms of its overall record, but since the lockout has been quite something else. The 893-1,053-352 overall record (not counting he Caps) includes a 477-453-134 record since the lockout, a .511 winning percentage.

What you will find in the performance of the Southeast Division is a considerable difference in their performance against Western Conference teams versus that against Eastern Conference teams…

Overall, the Southeast has a losing record against each conference, but it has had considerable success against the Eastern Conference since the lockout. The 464-406-130 record works out to a .529 winning percentage. Yes, the Caps influence this result with their 96-75-29 record against the East over the past five seasons, but even without the Caps in the mix, a 368-331-101 record translates to a .523 winning percentage.

Where the Southeast has come up short is in its performance against the West. The Caps have a turned a losing record against those clubs before the lockout (36-54-17) into a winning one since the lockout (33-25-8). However, the other teams of the Southeast have an overall losing record both before the lockout (137-202-90) and after (109-122-33).

What is perhaps most striking about the record of the Southeast Division over the course of its history is its record against the Atlantic Division. Although it struggled early on, with a 112-160-49 record (.425 winning percentage), it has played at .500 or better against the Atlantic in six of the past seven seasons and has compiled a post-lockout record of 240-192-68 (.548 winning percentage).

So what contributes to this notion that the Southeast remains the door mat division it was in its early years? Well, here are some unfortunate facts for fans of the Southeast…

-- In ten seasons, four times the Southeast qualified only a single club for the playoffs

-- In those same ten seasons, the Southeast has never qualified more than two teams for the playoffs

-- Three times, the Southeast had the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference; once they had the three worst clubs (2001-2002).

-- Of 50 possible “lottery pick” finishes (bottom-five finishes), the Southeast has 18 of them. They have never had a season without at least one team in the lottery mix.

-- Four times, a team from the Southeast finished the regular season with the fewest standings points in the league.

What can we conclude? Is the Southeast Division really as bad as all that?

-- Well, first of all, that the Southeast Division is no longer the push over it was in past years, as a whole. Its overall winning records in a variety of depictions indicate that.

-- There is also usually quite a gap between the best clubs in the division in any one year and the worst. Teams that are bad in the Southeast are really, really bad. But they spread it around; three different teams have occupied last place in the league at season’s end at one time or another – Atlanta, Carolina, and Tampa Bay. Every club at one time or another finished in the bottom three.

On the other hand, when they are good, they can be really, really good. Of the ten Stanley Cups won since the Southeast came into being, only the Atlantic and Central divisions have won more than the two won by the Southeast (Carolina and Tampa Bay). Only those two divisions have more Stanley Cup finals appearances than the three made by Southeast Division teams.

The Southeast has improved quite a bit since its early days, although the success is very uneven (very good and very bad clubs) and inconsistent (the misfortune has been spread around). More recently, the division has been competitive playing against teams outside its own division, and it has had particular success against the often-assumed-stronger Atlantic Division.

Right now, the Caps carry the Southeast Division banner, and likely will be the class of the division for the next few years. But the gap is closing. On paper, Tampa Bay has improved, and Atlanta could make another step forward after improving their standings points total last year. Their improvement won’t ensure a playoff berth, but it could make things more difficult for the rest of the league as it might for the Capitals. The Southeast Division might not be the best division in the NHL going into the 2010-2011 season, but “Southleast” might not be the appropriate adjective, either.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Isn’t Ilya Kovalchuk signed yet?

Isn’t Eric Belanger a Capital (again) yet?

Isn’t Antti Niemi a Capital yet?

Hasn't Cristobal Huet gotten one of these yet?

Isn’t Carey Price signed yet?

Isn’t Marc Staal signed yet?

Isn’t Tomas Kaberle an ex-Leaf yet (or will he ever be)?

Isn’t Willie Mitchell an ex-Canuck yet…

…or Kevin Bieksa?

Isn’t Peter Forsberg an ex-hockey player yet?

Isn’t it September yet?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Today in Caps History and the Other Side of a Trade

We were flipping through the Caps’ media guide this morning, curious to see what, if anything, occurred on this date in Caps history. Now that the Tomas Kaberle episode has run its course (for the moment), this is what passes for excitement on the hockey front.

What we learned was that on this date 31 years ago, the Capitals traded a third-round pick in the 1981 draft to the Philadelphia Flyers for goaltender Wayne Stephenson, who passed away earlier this summer. But what caught our eye was the player the Flyers chose with that pick – Barry Tabobondung. Hockey has more than its share of interesting names, and this one seems to be among the more interesting, so we looked it up. And what we found at the hockeydraftcentral.com web site was quite a story.

First, there was the matter of his feistiness. Playing for Oshawa in the OMJHL in 1980-1981 leading up to the 1981 draft (he was eligible in 1980 but was not selected), he amassed 320 minutes in penalties in 61 games after moving from defense to left wing. Yet, he still managed 18 goals. It was a combination that led the Flyers to take him with the 47th overall pick in the 1981 draft (only seven picks after Chris Chelios as it turns out). But being picked did not appear to be enough for the young Mr. Tabobondung. Hockey Draft Central picks it up from here…
“Tabobondung attended the 1981 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal, marking only the second year that junior players had attended the draft in large numbers beyond those likely to be taken in the first round. Tabobondung was so excited to be chosen in the third round that he jumped over the front row of seats at the Montreal Forum in order to greet Flyers officials at their draft table. Unfortunately, in one of the draft's most embarrassing moments ever, Tabobondung's foot got stuck in a folding seat, and arena attendants, along with Flyers special-assignments coach Joe Watson, needed at least five minutes in order to get Tabobondung out of the seat. One of the arena attendants had to unscrew a portion of the folding seat to free the player.

“As Tabobondung was being extracted from the seat, NHL executive vice-president Brian O'Neill, who was running the draft from the main podium, joked the Flyers could at least be sure that Tabobondung would be available for all of their games in Montreal. Flyers coach Pat Quinn responded to O'Neill's joke by saying "We gotta play the kid. Obviously, we can't afford to have him sit." Asked about the incident, Tabobondung jokingly told Jay Greenburg of The Hockey News that he wasn't even embarrassed and was glad he was able to "do something to get the attention off the first-rounders."

Hard to imagine something like that taking place at a draft these days. Unfortunately, that was likely his high-water mark as an NHL prospect. Tabobondung bounced around after that, playing for the Maine Mariners of the AHL, the Peoria Prancers of the IHL, and doing stints with two teams in Erie – the Golden Blades of the ACHL (he was the league’s most valuable player in 1984-1985) and the Panthers of the ECHL. He never played a game in the NHL.

He returned to his hometown of Parry Sound, Ontario (hometown to another player a bit more famous – Bobby Orr), where he coached hockey for kids and was active in the First Nations community (Tabobondung was a full-blooded Ojibway). Unfortunately, though, his life would come to an untimely end in July 2000. Again, from Hockey Draft Central…
“[He] died in a vehicular accident at age 39 in native Wasausking First Nation neighborhood. The accident happened when Tabobondung and his 8-year-old son, Thomas, were riding in the cab of a road grader in which Tabobondung was working. Tommy Tabobondung fell out of the vehicle, and Barry jumped out of the cab to try to save his son from being run over. Barry and Thomas both got caught under the road grader's rear tires. Barry Tabobondung was taken to the West Parry Sound Health Center, where he was pronounced dead. His death wasn't in vain. Police on the scene said there was no doubt Barry Tabobodung managed to save his son's life, and the young boy came through the accident with only a broken leg.”

He seems to have been quite a fellow.

The Perfect Kaberle

The clouds part on the no trade clause, a sliver of sunlight peeks through. But then…

Bobby Kaberle: Skip, we're gonna make it before the trading window closes.

Captain Billy Burke: She's not gonna let us out.

BK: No.

BB: Come on, you bitch!

BK: Come on!

BB: Come on!

BK: How do we do this, skip?

BB: No school for it. Never was.

BK: Skip, we made the right call.

BB: We had to try.

BK: We were so close.

BB: It was a hell of a fight, though, huh?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Caps Fan Moment

Capitals fans are a curious bunch. Not so much the fans of more recent vintage, but those of us who have been around since they used horse hair in the goalie pads. And if there is one thing that binds us, it is our unshakeable belief, cured in the furnace of years of disappointment, that whatever happens to the Caps, it will probably end up being bad. Game winning goals against the Caps in a fourth playoff game overtime… twiceat home! Losing in the first round of the playoffs… 13 times in the last 27 years (the number “13” seems especially fitting). Esa Tikkanen. You folks know the drill.

But you know something? August, on top of being the deadest month of the hockey year, is also the month where hope can take root. And for Caps fans, that might mean, “it could always be worse” as much as dreams of a Stanley Cup. So with that, we went leafing through the NHL record book to see just how things could be (but likely won’t be soon) worse, like the team records of regular season futility (minimum 70 game schedule)…

-- Fewest points: Washington Capitals, 21 points in 1974-1975
-- Worst points percentage: Washington Capitals, .131 in 1974-1975
-- Fewest wins: Washington Capitals, 8 in 1974-1975
-- Fewest home wins: Washington Capitals, 6 in 1974-1975 (tied with Chicago, 1954-1955)
-- Fewest road wins: Washington Capitals, 1 in 1974-1975 (tied with Ottawa, 1992-1993)
-- Longest losing streak: Washington Capitals, 17 games (February 16 – March 26, 1975)
-- Most goals against: Washington Capitals, 446, 1974-1975
-- Highest goals against average: Washington Capitals, 5.58, 1974-1975
-- Longest road losing streak: Ottawa Senators, 38 games (October 10, 1992 – April 3, 1993)… ah, but that didn’t include “neutral site” games that season. Next in line? Uh, yeah… Washington Capitals, 37 (October 9, 1974 – March 26, 1975)
-- Most scoring points, one team, one game: Buffalo Sabres, 40 points (14 goals/26 assists) in a 14-2 win over Washington, December 21, 1975.
-- Most scoring points, one team, one period: Buffalo Sabres, 23 points (8 goals/15 assists), third period, December 21, 1975, in that 14-2 win (not a very merry Christmas for the Caps, eh?)

Then there are the land…er, ice speed records…

-- Fastest six goals scored, both teams: Quebec at Washington, February 22, 1981, 3:00 in game elapsed time. Quebec had five of them.

And the tag team records…

-- Most points, one road game, individual: Tie, Peter (4 goals/4 assists) and Anton (3 goals/5 assists) Stastny, in an 11-7 Quebec win over Washington, February 22, 1981 (nice way to celebrate Washington’s Birthday… the president, not the hockey team)

-- Most points by a player in his first NHL season, one game: The Stastny’s in that February 1981 game.

And of course, the obligatory Wayne Gretzky reference …

-- Most assists, one game: Wayne Gretzky, 7 assists against Washington, February 15, 1980, in an 8-2 Oilers win.
-- Most assists by a player in his first NHL season, one game: Gretzky (tied with Billy Taylor and himself on two other occasions)… he was a first-year NHLer in that Washington game.

So, dear Caps fans, not signing this guy or trading that guy to add another piece to or subtract one from a loaded team might be annoying, but there was once a time when the Capitals were not merely bad, they were record-setting, record-enabling, eight-day old yogurt on the counter bad.

Smile, Caps fans. Only four weeks or so to training camp.

Searching for a Theme

Here we are in the middle of August, when the only ice people think about is that cooling down their favorite adult beverage. But behind the scenes, deep in the bowels of NHL team offices, the marketing types have been in full creative mode coming up with their themes for the 2010-2011 season. And nowhere is that theme more clearly stated than on the banners of those NHL teams on their respective web sites. Some, though, scream, “GO BACK AND DO IT AGAIN!” The cousins and yours truly have been perusing the sites and have some thoughts…

At the top of the list, we have the Chicago Blackhawks, the Stanley Cup Champions?

"The what?"

"The Stanley Cup Champions, you ignoramus."

Fearless, leave him be.  It's an honest mistake.

"Well, how can ya tell they're the champs? They have that squiggly little picture…"

“…it’s an ‘icon,’ Cheerless.”

“OK…EYE-con over there on the right. You’d think they wuz embarrassed to be the champs. And what’s with putting AT&T up in front before the championship EYE-con?”

“Because AT&T is putting up the money?”

And then we have the other contestants, those who didn’t win this time, but aren’t shy about telling us how often they did win…

“Isn’t that like a middle age lady telling us she was the prom queen way back when?”

“Don’t be a chauvinist.”

“And what’s with the phone companies… there’s Bell, and there’s AT&T again.”

There does seem to be a theme emerging. But while we have champions past and present pushing their Stanley Cup success, we have the runner-up…

"That’s like Pat bragging that he’s got the ‘second best cheesesteak in Philadelphia.’”

“Or Geno…”

“There is no ‘Geno’…the guy who founded it is named ‘Joey’”

“So then why aren’t they the ‘Altoona Flyers?’”

Guys?... OK, so then we have the simple, “thank the fans” message from one team…

“I’d have thought it would have said, ‘home of Sidney Crosby.’”

Well, when you don’t have anything else, thank the fans…the ones who are paying for that new arena.

“Did you know ‘Consol Energy Center’ is really an anagram for ‘Reelect Sonny Conger?’”

“Maybe he should have his name up there.”

Then there are the loud and the proud, teams that are, well, their teams…

“Who’d brag about being ‘Jersey’s Team?’”

Is there another team in Jersey?

“There are the Nets…”

The defense rests.

“Hey cuz, there’s that ‘Bell’ thing again. I wonder if they get charged by the minute it’s up on that banner.”

And that Ottawa theme sounds rather defiant... MY town, MY team.

"Uh, cuz?"


"Who else would want 'em?"

Yeah, well, at least that makes a little more sense than some of these other themes…

“That’s the Hockey Way?” I half expect Stompin’ Tom Connors to be the coach here.

"Yeah, and then they start singin’…

“Hello out there, we're on the air, it's 'Hockey Night' tonight.
Tension grows, the whistle blows, and the puck goes down the ice.
The goalie jumps, and the players bump, and the fans all go insane.
Someone roars, "Thrashers Suck!", and the other fan tells him to pipe down.”

And what’s up with this whole, “It’s All About the ‘A’” thing?

“Maybe it stands for ‘also-ran?’”


April golf?

And what about the Wild’s “tradition” theme?

“Uh, yeah… nine years, six of them out of the playoffs, two other times losing in the first round. If tradition is in their blood, it’s got a blood-alcohol level of about a point-three-oh.”

"And you'd know all about that whole blood-alcohol thing, eh?"

"Everyone needs a hobby..."

We only have one team going with the tried-and-true alliterative theme, the Kings and the “Pride=Passion=Power” theme.

“Yeah, nice touch with the equals signs.”

“Wonder if all o’ that equals a ‘playoff’ round win… they’ve had one in the last 16 seasons.”

Then there is this study in minimalism by the Canucks. Logo on the left, Web address on the right, all that empty space in the middle.

“Yeah, kinda like Roberto Luongo’s five hole.”

Not the thing we think they were looking for.

“Like the others were?”

Good point.

Friday, August 13, 2010

...so you don't have to.

"...while I do believe [Eric] Belanger has signed a deal, I am now fairly confident it's not with Toronto. Possibly Edmonton."

-- Dwayne, on Wednesday

"Of course if Mirtle is right [about Belanger being signed by the Caps] this means the major trade being done is Alexander Semin being dealt."

-- Bleacher Report, yesterday

...I do this so you don't have to. I think I'll go take a shower now.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"D" Stands for Experience

Another day, and another day of no decision on the matter of free agent defenseman Willie Mitchell. The Caps? The Sharks? The Red Wings? The Canucks? Choices, choices. And why wouldn’t Mitchell be in demand? He is a ten-year veteran, and in only one of those years was he a “minus” player (2001-2002 with the Minnesota Wild, when he was minus-16). In fact, in five of the last seven years – all of which he was a “plus” player – he did not finish lower than plus-12. Although he is coming off a year in which he suffered a season-ending concussion, he has been given a clean bill of health. And at the age of 32, the veteran of 586 regular season games in the NHL can still be considered in his prime.

And it is that 586 regular season games number that brings us to the subject of defensemen. The Caps are often said to have a young defense. If you look at the seven roster defensemen at the moment, only Tom Poti has more than four full seasons’ worth of regular season game experience. Only Mike Green has more than 250 games worth of experience as a member of the Caps. As we inch toward the beginning of the 2010-2011 regular season, we might ask, “do the Caps have enough experience on their blue line to be a champion without adding a veteran like Willie Mitchell?”

We took a look at the defensemen who dressed during the playoffs for the last ten Stanley Cup champions. In doing so, we looked at their individual experience coming into the season in which the team they dressed for won the Cup, both in terms of the total game experience they brought into that season and the number of games they had played with their championship team before that season. We look at it from that perspective because: a) that is where we are on the calendar, and b) we are looking at this in terms of the value of adding a veteran defenseman to add experience to the blue line.

Let us first look at the ten sets of championship defensemen…

The first thing you notice is that no one gets by with a top-six and a top-six alone. All ten dressed at least seven defensemen, and four of them dressed eight over the course of their respective championship runs. Even a Bryan Muir gets to dress for the odd three games or so (as he did in Colorado’s Stanley Cup run in 2001). But digging deeper, there are other things to note…

-- Only the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning had fewer than two defensemen with less than 500 games of regular season experience heading into their championship season. Darryl Sydor – who was obtained by the Lightning in a January trade that season – had more than 500 regular season games of experience entering the year. Jassen Cullimore would play 79 games that season to pass the 500-game mark before the playoffs. Eight teams had at least three players with more than 500 games of experience, and two had five players above the 500-game threshold. If you’re comparing Capitals, only Tom Poti has more than 500 games of NHL regular season experience heading into this season (787). No current Capital will pass the 500-game mark this season, nor will any of them pass the 400 game mark (Green could hit 399 if he plays in all 82 games).

-- Three teams had two players with more than 1,000 games of NHL experience before the Cup-winning season (and the New Jersey Devils of 2000 had one, with another defenseman – Ken Daneyko – only eight games short).

-- Experience with a team is nice, but it does not constitute a requirement. Look at those 2007 Anaheim Ducks. None of their defensemen had more than 100 games of experience as a Duck prior to their Cup-winning season. Four played no games with the Ducks prior to that season. But three of that group did have more than 500 regular season games of NHL experience. That is an extreme case, but not unique. In 2009, for example, five of the Penguins’ eight defensemen dressing for the playoffs had fewer than 100 games of experience as a Penguin previous to that season. Ditto for last year’s champs, the Chicago Blackhawks. In 2002, the Red Wings – despite their reputation for experience – had six of seven defensemen with fewer than 200 regular season wearing the winged wheel before their Cup-winning year. By way of comparison, five of the seven current roster defensemen for the Caps have fewer than 200 regular season games worth of experience with the Caps.

-- Sprinkled through these defenseman rosters are a fair number of Hall of Famers or near locks for enshrinement. Three of the last ten Stanley Cup winners include at least one defenseman now in the Hall:

2000: Scott Stevens
2001: Ray Bourque
2003: Scott Stevens

Six include players who would seem to be sure bets to win a place in the Hall:

2000: Scott Niedermayer
2001: Rob Blake
2002: Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios
2003: Scott Niedermayer
2007: Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer
2008: Chris Chelios

Yes, Chelios dressed for only 14 playoff games for the Red Wings in 2008, but for the most part these guys were the foundation of their respective blue line corps.

-- None of the ten Stanley Cup champions over the last ten years had combined careers’ worth of experience of fewer than 2,000 games among its defensemen before the Stanley Cup winning season. In fact, only three teams – Tampa Bay in 2004, Anaheim in 2007, and Chicago in 2010 – had fewer than 3,000 games of combined experience among its playoff defensemen when they entered those seasons. Two teams had more than 5,000 games of combined experience – the 2002 Red Wings and the 2003 Devils. The Caps? At the moment, the seven roster defensemen have a total of 1,813 games of NHL regular season experience.

What can we conclude? Well, here are the Caps' seven roster defensemen currently available...

Recent history points to experience being a common element of Stanley Cup winners, at least among their defensemen. It isn’t so much that those teams had defensemen who had a lot of games played with the club, but they brought a lot of experience to the table – they had learned how to play the game, wherever they might have come from. And, from the representation of future Hall of Famers (or Hall of Famers-in –waiting) on these clubs, there is the ingredient of greatness that adds to the element of experience.

If you are looking at the Caps in this context, you might ask first if there is that element of greatness on this roster. It is far too early to render a judgment on someone like John Carlson. He has many games to play before he can even be entertained in the conversation. The only player on the Caps you can look at in this context at this point in his career is Mike Green. And the parallel – experience-wise, at least – is the Scott Niedermayer of 2000. Going into the 2000 season, Niedermayer had played 526 regular season games, all with the Devils. Green has 317 games going into the 2010-2011 season, all with the Caps. But what Niedermayer had, and what Green does not, is Scott Stevens. There is no veteran ahead of Green that is nearly of Stevens’ stature in 2000.

And this leads us to the second question we might ask, do the Caps have sufficient experience up and down their blue line to be considered a Cup favorite this coming season? The Caps are loaded at the forward position, which might take some heat off of this group. But the fact remains that the Caps have less NHL game experience as a group than any of the past ten Stanley Cup champions, including last year’s champion, the Chicago Blackhawks, which is thought to be a comparatively young team. This argues strongly for the acquisition of a veteran defenseman, either now or at the trading deadline.

The defense might not be the Caps’ most pressing problem. There is the matter of who will slide into the second line center slot. But absent adding a veteran, the last decade of experience among Stanley Cup winners suggests that if the Caps are to win a Cup, the defense will be carried by their forwards and goaltending (and that’s hard to say, given that the Caps have two goalies with a combined 54 games of NHL regular season experience). While building from within is nice – arguably the best way of building a lasting contender – it does not address the matter of experience or a lack thereof among this defenseman corps. Gaining experience from within is not something that can be rushed. It develops with the calendar. And if the Caps are to add that element to their defense to bolster their chances for a Stanley Cup in 2010-2011, it will have to come from the outside.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Last Time... the difference between trophies and Cups

Hockey – at least as much as its major sports brethren – is a “team” sport. And part of that is its lack of tolerance for gaudy statistics among its champions. At least lately. For example, the last time…

…a 50-goal scorer played on a Stanley Cup winner was in 2001. Joe Sakic netted 54 goals in leading the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup. Only four times in the past 20 years has a Stanley Cup winner featured a 50-goal scorer (Sakic turning the trick twice), once in the last 13 seasons. In fact, no Richard Trophy winner has added a Stanley Cup to his resume in the year he led the league in goals over the past 20 seasons (and yes, that includes the goal-scoring leaders pre-dating the introduction of the Richard Trophy in 1999). Only 11 times in that span did the goal-scoring leader on the Stanley Cup winner rank in the top-ten in goals scored.

…a 100-point scorer won a Stanley Cup was in 2009. That would be when Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby each crossed the 100-point threshold in leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a title. But don’t get the idea that it is a regular occurrence. While a Stanley Cup winner has featured a 100-point scorer in seven of the past 20 seasons, only four Cup winners had such a scorer in the last 17 seasons. On only four other occasions did the team-leading scorer on a Stanley Cup winner finish with more than 90 points. In fact, in the past 20 seasons there are only three Ross Trophy winners who added the Stanley Cup to their hardware take. Nine of the 20 Stanley Cup champions featured top scorers who did not place in the top ten among the league’s top point-getters.

We are not arguing that any player (cough-Ovechkin-cough…. cough-Backstrom-cough) should tank the last two weeks of the season to keep from getting to 50 goals or 100 points in an effort to improve his chances to win a Cup. We are just saying is that they are not particularly valuable benchmarks with respect to team success. But you knew that already… Hockey is, after all, a team sport.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Team Under Construction

A little while ago, we took a look at the Caps’ blueprint – how one might think of their roster and how it was built. Think of this as the companion piece to that; what it means in terms of experience and turnover. How much experience and turnover? Well, there are a number of ways to look at this. First, we might ask when the players on this roster were acquired…

Interesting to note here that of the 23 players currently on the parent roster (or who might end up there on opening night), only three (those shaded in green) were acquired by the Caps before the lockout (we assume the 2004 draft is “post-lockout” in that it was conducted after the last game was played before the hiatus). All of them are draft picks – an early sign of building via the draft.

As for when players on this roster dressed for the first time in a Caps sweater, the results are simliar…

One thing we see in these first two examples is that of what we called the Caps “core” – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, cnd Nicklas Backstrom – only Semin’s acquisition and appearance for the Caps predates the lockout

Which leads us to the matter of tenure. As a group, this result is interesting…

Only two Caps – Ovechkin and Matt Bradley – have as many as four full years of game experience as a Capital. In fact, Ovechkin is now the “old man” of the Caps in terms of games played in the red sweater. However, thinking of the “core” again you see that all four of that group have logged more than 300 games in a Caps jersey. That is, of course, the group around which the rest of the team is built, and it is the rest of teh team that is likely to show signs of turnover over time.

In fact, ten of the 23 players have fewer than 100 games in a Caps sweater, and of that group four of them – Mike Knuble, Tyler Sloan, Jason Chimera, and D.J. King – come to Washington from other organizations. Two of the other three who have less than 200 games in a Caps jersey – Tom Poti and John Erskine – came from elsewhere.

What can we conclude? As we noted, this is something of the companion to the “blueprint” we wrote about. There is the core that we might expect will be here for a while (certainly in the case of Ovechkin and Backstrom). There are other players here, largely in that 200-300 games played range, who are important to the Caps’ success, but who might end up somewhere else before too long as their contracts expire and their price tags become too high.

But there is something else in the overall that we should not lose sight of. Alex Ovechkin has not yet reached his 25th birthday, and he is the longest tenured Capital in games played for the club. This is first, still a young team that just hasn’t been together that long, and second, one for which you might say the ingredients are still mixing. That they have come so far, so fast, from those back-to-back 70-point seasons coming out of the lockout is testimony to the sheer talent on the top end of the roster. But they are now at the point where the rest of the roster is catching up to it in terms of gaining the game experience as a group to be successful.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Niemi as a Cap?... No

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi was awarded $2.75 million in an arbitration ruling last week. He is now former Chicago goaltender Antti Niemi. And since the Blackhawks walked away from that decision, casting Niemi into the unrestricted free agent pool, there has been no shortage of words linking Niemi with the Caps…

“Niemi is out of work for now, and with so few teams in need of a netminder, isn't likely to command all that much. Three interesting potential destinations are Philadelphia, Washington and San Jose…”
-- James Mirtle, Globe and Mail

"The San Jose Sharks are looking for a replacement for veteran Evgeni Nabokov, while the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals also need help in net. All three will likely look at Niemi, who was 16-6 in the playoffs with a 2.63 GAA and .910 save percentage.

-- Bruce Garrioch, QMI Agnecy

"For now, it appears [Michal] Neuvirth and [Semyon] Varlamov are the guys in D.C., but things do change. If Niemi comes around seeking a one-year deal, he could be a great fit with the Capitals."

-- Bruce Ciskie, AOL Fanhouse

“The Capitals are on the record as saying they are content to go with their young goaltenders this season. But that was before Niemi became available… Niemi could be the difference between another postseason disappointment and a deep run in the playoffs in 2011.”

-- Dave Lozo, NHL.com

Call us nuts, but we don’t see it. And it is precisely because of Niemi’s playoff performance that we think he is: a) overrated by a lot of observers, and as a result is: b) a bad fit for the Caps.

Let’s start with a number… four. Four would be the total number of games in which Semyon Varlamov allowed more than three goals in his 19 career playoff appearances. None of those instances came in what has been characterized as a disappointing performance last spring against the Montreal Canadiens, when the Caps were eliminated in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs. On the other hand, Niemi surrendered four or more goals in one series last spring, that being the finals (in six games) against Philadelphia.

Let’s dig a little further. Niemi compiled a fine 16-6 record in the playoffs last year. Points for winning. But along with that win-loss record, he compiled a 2.63 GAA, which was good for ninth among playoff goalies (of 16 playing in at least five games), and a save percentage of .910, good for eighth among those same 16 goalies. He is squarely in the middle of the pack here. On this alone, he was not – and is not – a playoff savior.

But let’s decompose those numbers into the respective series:

Western Conference Quarterfinals (vs. Nashville); 4-2, 2.17, .921

Niemi had a fine series overall, but keep in mind that in Games 5 and 6 (both Blackhawk wins), he allowed seven goals, including four on only 21 shots in Game 5. When he was good, he was very good (shutouts in Games 2 and 4), but when he was bad, he was awful. And that is a theme to which we will return.

Western Conference Semifinals (vs. Vancouver): 4-2, 3.04, .898

During the regular season, Vancouver scored 51 more goals than did Nashville (the difference between finishing second in scoring and finishing 18th). But Niemi wasn’t so much exposed by the superior offensive team in this series as much as he displayed inconsistency, just at a higher level of scoring. His goals allowed progression over the six games went: 5, 2, 2, 4, 4, 1. Again, very good or very bad. And Chicago torched the Canucks for 22 goals in the last six games of the series. Niemi was not the difference as much as he was the fortunate recipient of a lot of offensive support.

Western Conference Finals (vs. San Jose): 4-0, 1.67, .949

Niemi shined here and did it against a top-notch team (albeit one with its own playoff issues). What is more, he did it facing a lot of shots (average of 34/game, the highest of any series in which he played). Even more impressive about his performance in this series is that he allowed only two third period goals. He kept his team in games and shut the door.

Stanley Cup Finals (vs. Philadelphia): 4-2, 3.43, .882

If you’re looking for a key to Chicago’s success in the finals, you would go a long way before settling on “Antti Niemi.” He allowed four or more goals in three of the six games and held the Flyers under three goals only once. He won two games when allowing four or more goals. Five times he let leads slip away, and he allowed 11 goals 81 shots in the last three games of the series (.864 save percentage).

Sometimes a team wins a Stanley Cup because of their goaltender. Sometimes they win it in spite of him. And sometimes, they win it when the goalie is a passenger on a loaded team that hits its stride when it counts. Count us as putting Niemi in that last category. And for a team like the Capitals, whose success will be measured precisely by how well they do in the playoffs, we like the idea of giving the kids a chance to use the regular season to hone their games in preparation for that tournament more than we like the idea of Niemi in a Caps uniform. And even if that doesn’t work out, chances are there will be better goaltenders available at the trading deadline to help the Caps achieve the success in the playoffs that eluded them last spring.