Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Dealing from Strength, Filling a Need

The Washington Capitals pulled the trigger on a trade yesterday that sent forward Tomas Fleischmann to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Scott Hannan. On paper, this is one of those win-win sorts of deals. The Avalanche get a forward who can score – not an insignificant matter for a team that has forwards Peter Mueller and Chris Stewart on injured reserve – and the Caps get the stay-at-home defenseman who can eat minutes that they lacked.

First, Fleischmann. Tomas Fleischmann, if not dealt a bad hand in his tenure with the Caps, didn’t exactly have a winning set of cards in his hand. First, he was a natural left wing on a club that employs Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin in that capacity (yes, we know…Semin plays a lot of right wing, too). For Fleischmann that meant playing on the other side or getting fewer minutes on the third or fourth line. Having had some experience as a center in his past, he was given an opportunity to take up the second line center role this season, and in fact auditioned for this role in the second half of last season. It was a position that he was either an ill fit for, or was one that would require quite a bit of time to develop a comfort zone in playing it. His faceoff efficiency and his defense weren’t of the sort that a team needs to compete against the Pittsburghs and Philadelphias of the world – teams that are very deep at the center position.

What Fleischmann did provide was secondary scoring, improving his goal scoring from four (in 29 games) in 2006-2007 to 10 to 19 to 23 last season. He did this despite battling illness in the middle of the 2008-2009 season and missing the first ten games of the 2009-2010 season with the after effects of a blood clot in his leg. He got off to a slow start this season (four goals in 23 games) and was seeing more time on the third and fourth lines. A scoring forward on a team with a lot of them, especially when he was not scoring, became less a luxury than a burden. There was also the fact that Fleischmann was being pressured from below by Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault for a spot on one of the top three lines.

And it is in that respect that the move to Colorado might serve to jump start Fleischmann’s career. He will have competition for time on either of the top two lines, certainly, more when Mueller and Stewart return. But there would appear to be more openings for a player of Fleischmann’s profile with Colorado than there would be in Washington.

For Scott Hannan, it is a chance to fill a specific need on a club that has few of them, but critical ones. The Caps have two distinct weaknesses on this year’s roster – the lack of a second line center and the lack of depth on defense. Hannan addresses the latter in several ways:

-- He was leading the Avalanche in penalty killing ice time per game. His 3:21 in PK time per game exceeds that of all Capitals except for Jeff Schultz (3:40/game). He could provide some relief for the likes of Mike Green in this regard, who is skating 2:57 of his total 25:30 a game on the penalty kill, thus leaving Green a bit fresher.

-- Hannan was skating 18:37 a night for the Avalanche, 15:11 at even strength. It is his lowest average ice time since skating 19:02 a game for San Jose in 2000-2001. Even if Hannan is not a 20-minute a game defenseman a night (and chances are he will not be, given that he won’t see any power play time), he will be assuming the 15 minutes a night John Erskine was getting or the 12 that Tyler Sloan was getting, and perhaps providing a bit of relief for the big minute guys – Mike Green (reducing his PK time), John Carlson, and Jeff Schultz.

-- Adding Hannan allows the Caps to implement a more reasonable rotation of defensemen. We’ve made the point that the Caps, if history is a guide, are likely to dress ten different defensemen over the course of the year. The Caps now have a passable eight in Green, Schultz, Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Poti, Hannan, Erskine, and Sloan. It will allow Bruce Bourdreau more of a luxury in giving a top-six guy a breather in favor of Erskine (who has played quite well so far this season) or Sloan. It is the difference between using Erskine and Sloan in spot duty versus relying on them to assume significant minutes in roles that might be above their respective comfort levels.

-- Hannan provides experience. He has 775 games of regular season experience in the NHL. That is more than the combined games experience of Jeff Schultz, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Mike Green (732 games). Adding someone who has been through it, who knows how to play the game, who can supplement the experience of a Tom Poti (795 games of experience) should not be discounted.

-- Little things. Hannan might be 6’1”, 225, but he is not a big hitter (he has three more than Jeff Schultz, for example, and two fewer than Mike Green). But he does block shots (second on the Avalanche), a commodity that is more and more important with the quality of shooters in the NHL these days.

-- It might be a bit early to look at a statistic such as this, but in Hannan’s last 54 playoff games he is 1-9-10, plus-14. Not spectacular, but then again, spectacular for a stay-at-home defenseman usually means spectacularly bad things. We’ll take that sort of steady performance.

The Caps dealt from a position of strength (scoring forward) to fill a specific need. This is what good teams do as part of their personnel management strategy (and why drafting for need isn’t often a good idea – you wait too long to fill that need as the player develops) and, just as important, what teams that have drafted and developed well can afford to do. The proof will be in the playing, but at the moment this is a trade that looks quite good for both teams.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Blues, December 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Caps take to the road to open the month of December with a visit to St. Louis. There, they will find…..


Uh, yeah, that’s right. Jaroslav Halak will probably be starting for the Blues in goal, given that he has appeared in 18 of the 22 games the Blues have played thus far (and Ty Conklin played last night). But there is more to the Blues than…


Yes, they have quite a promising defensive corps playing behind…


I beg your pardon, but is all that “Halak-ing” really necessary? It’s not as if the Caps haven’t seen…


Now cut that out! St. Louis has won 12 games so far with more than just…


Alright, that cuts it. I’ve had about enough of this shouting “Halak” and the creepy laughter. Who in blazes are you, anyway?

Well, I guess “HALAK!” sounds more intimidating than “CAREY!” but still, there is more to the Blues than their new goaltender. Here are the overall numbers (before last night's games)...

Truth be told, there isn't much to the Blues' offensive statistics. Andy McDonald leads the Blues in scoring (8-9-17), but his point total would be good only for a tie for fourth on the Caps. Statistically, his career scoring line per 82 games (21-36-57) looks a lot like ex-Cap Brendan Morrison (18-36-54), the difference being that McDonald still seems to have gas in the tank at age 33. Last season McDonald finished 24-33-57 in 79 games. So far this season he has been something of a jack-of-all-trades, logging more than a minute a game on the penalty kill, almost four minutes on the power play, and 15 minutes a night to take up the remainder of his 20 minutes a night. He has been productive of late (6-6-12, plus-3) in his last ten games. What he does not have is much experience against the Caps. Since the lockout McDonald has faced the Caps only three times (1-2-3, plus-2).

While McDonald centers the top line, the second line features three players, all of whom have played in the pivot this season. Patrik Berglund is the nominal center of this group, and he goes into tonight’s action as the Blues’ second leading scorer, behind McDonald. Berglund had a fine rookie campaign two years ago (21-26-47 in 76 games) but suffered something of a sophomore slump last season (13-13-26 in 71 games. Through 22 games this season he is on a pace closer to that of his rookie year, having put up five goals and nine assists so far. But with T.J. Oshie on the shelf for perhaps the rest of the season with a broken ankle, more production out of Berglund is needed to take some of the pressure off the defense and…


Yeah, Halak. Flanking Berglund on Tuesday against the Blackhawks and perhaps Wednesday against the Caps are Vladimir Sobotka and David Backes. Sobotka is in his first season with the Blues after spending parts of three seasons in Boston. Offense is not, at least not yet, a featured part of his game (6-16-22 in 134 games with the Bruins). He has yet to record a point against the Caps (three games). On the other side, Backes is 3-10-13 through 22 games and has not registered a goal in his last seven contests. A second line of Backlund, Sobotka, and Backes with a line of 9-22-31 leaves much to be desired in terms of offensive production.

The defense is a mix of youth (Alex Pietrangelo, Erik Johnson, Nikita Nikitin) and veterans (Erik Brewer, Barret Jackman). Of the ten defensemen dressing for the Blues so far this season, only Brewer is older than 30, and he is only 31. It is not a group that will contribute much in the way of offense (only eight of the 54 goals scored by the Blues so far), but given the Blues’ defensive success so far (seventh in goals allowed per game, lowest shots allowed per game), it has been an effective group in its own end. Alex Pietrangelo leads the group in scoring (1-11-12) and is logging almost 21 minutes a night in his first full season as a 20-year old.

Which brings us to…


Yeah, Halak. Jaroslav Halak has been the anchor in net that the Blues hoped he would be when he was obtained from Montreal for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz last June…sorta. Tied for eighth in wins (10), ninth in goals against average, Halak has been effective, but as far as efficiency his .911 save percentage (tied for 14th in the league) might be more a product of the Blues’ ability to keep shots from getting to the net than Halak’s ability to stop them once they get there. The odd part about Halak’s performance so far is that in games in which he faced fewer than 25 shots he is 2-5-0. In games in which he faced at least 25 shots he is 8-1-2. Caps fans might not be surprised by that contrarian trend, remembering as they will that he stopped 131 of 134 shots (a .978 save percentage facing almost 45 shots a game) in winning the last three games of last spring’s playoff series with Montreal against the Caps.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

St. Louis: Brad Boyes

In the 2007-2008 season Boyes put up 43 goals, and it looked as if the then 25-year old had a bright future as a high-end goal scorer. Well, since then he has scored 33 and 14 the past two seasons, and he is on a pace for 19 this season. Not bad, perhaps, but well short of his promise. He did have a four game goal scoring streak from November 11-19, but followed that up with a four game streak without a goal that continues into Tuesday’s game against Chicago (note: he did have a goal last night). That 2007-2008 season was the last time he potted a goal against the Caps – two, in fact, in a 4-3 St. Louis win. In two games since, he is without a point.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

With Tomas Fleischmann relocating to Denver, Johansson might be relocating to the second line. He is on a mini-run (1-2-3, plus 3 in his last two games). This will be only his second game against a Western Conference team (he was scoreless against Nashville in the Caps’ 3-2 overtime win on October 16th), and he has yet to register a point in three games played on the road so far.


1. Discipline. On November 19th the Blues converted two of seven power play opportunities against Ottawa. In five games since, St. Louis has only one power play goal in only 13 opportunities and no power play goals in the last four games. The Blues have only 11 goals in those five games overall, five of them coming last night. Stay out of the box, and the Blues might have trouble scoring otherwise.

2. Avoid the eight ball. In two of the last three road games the Caps allowed three goals in the first period. They were shutout in both of those games by 5-0 scores. In the one game they got out of the first period without a blemish, they won, 3-2.

3. Closing out. The Caps are 11-0-0 when leading after two periods. To keep that mark in this game they have to do a good job in closing St. Louis down in the third period. The Blues are tied for 20th in third period goals scored; the Caps are tied for the ninth fewest number of third period goals allowed.

In the end, the game might be as much mental as anything else. Jaroslav Halak is the latest “hot” goaltender to snuff out Capital playoff hopes, and there is the possibility that the memories linger. Getting off to a good start is always a good thing, but would be especially helpful tonight. None of the Caps have especially big career numbers against the Blues, but then again, there aren’t a lot of games played against the Blues to build that kind of resume. Mike Green does have two goals in three career games against the Blues but has only one goal in his past nine games (none in his last five). Maybe it’s his night.

Caps 3 – Blues 2