Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sittin' at the end of the bar... Brooks Laich Edition

We might have harbored a thought that Brooks Laich would be re-signed by the Washington Capitals, but we thought that: a) he would have to give the home team a pretty deep discount relative to what other teams might pay on the unrestricted free agency market, and b) that the chances of that were pretty dim.

A lot we knew. Laich agreed to a six-year/$27 million contract that will keep him in Capitals red through the 2016-2017 season. He can now be considered among the “core” Capitals – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin. The “Young Guns” have become the “Five Card Studs.” If you add in John Carlson and Karl Alzner (Alzner still having to be signed), they might be “The Magnificent Seven.”

But for the moment, what does that do to the salary chart with the unrestricted free agent signing period due to begin at noon on Friday? Well, based on our take of who is signed and who encumbers a roster spot at the moment, it might look like this:

There would still be some signings to accommodate…

If Troy Brouwer should end up with, say, Brooks Laich’s old contract (a $2.067 million cap hit), the Caps would look to have three roster spots and about $8.9 million in cap room.

Add in Karl Alzner at about the same hit, and we’re down to two roster spots and about $6.8 million in cap room.

Boyd Gordon? Maybe he gets Matt Bradley’s old contract at a million per. Now it’s one roster spot and about $5.8 million.

Which brings us to three remaining question marks. First, whither Semyon Varlamov? Does he take the KHL money and run? Do the Caps pony up $3 million or so to keep him? Let’s pencil that in. Net of Braden Holtby’s reduction as he is assigned to Hershey, the Caps would have one roster spot and about $3.4 million in cap room. If Varlamov does not re-sign, the Caps are going to find themselves with considerable cap room to sign a veteran backup (if the idea is to give Holtby a lot of work in Hershey).

The second question mark is whether any roster players are going to be traded. The big ticket players that have been the subject of some discussion (the credibility of which we leave to you, dear reader) are Alexander Semin and Mike Green. One line of thinking would be that moving either of them for picks and/or prospects would free up cap space to pursue a high-end free agent (at this point, that population is probably down to one – Brad Richards; it’s a thin free agent class). Another line of thinking is that the Caps might move either of them to adjust the personality of the team, bringing back equal value (or as equal as they can obtain) but a different type of player. Supposedly lending credence to this view is the timing of the announcement of the Laich deal, coming after the trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter from Philadelphia. The logic here is that the Caps were pursuing either of these players, but having failed to complete a deal (Richards going to Los Angeles, Carter to Columbus), they could sign Laich to a $4.5 million cap hit.

We are not convinced as to the latter logic, because the arithmetic didn’t demand that the former (a trade) preclude the latter (Laich’s signing). Even with Laich back in the mix, the Caps are still more than $3 million under the cap after all our machinations. If Semin or Green was to be traded for a $5 million a year player, it would be more or less a wash in terms of salary cap burden. Not even if one is worried about locking up John Carlson after the 2011-2012 season (when he becomes a restricted free agent) does the arithmetic look all that bad. Dennis Wideman could come off the books at that point, Mike Knuble’s contract will have expired, as would Eric Fehr’s and Jason Chimera’s (although all would have to be replaced, but presumably at lower cost). The point being that the Caps would have flexibility under the cap in 2012-2013 so as not to unduly hamstring the 2011-2012 cap.

But we are left with the third question, and that is the future of Tom Poti. In its own way, the money associated with his contract is perhaps more important than the deal Laich just agreed to. Poti carries a $2.875 million cap hit over the next two seasons. He also played in only 21 games last season, none after January 12th due to recurring groin problems. Whether he returns to the ice at all is a question mark, and whether he does or does not poses different problems.

If Poti does return, but is either a diminished player or still subject to intermittent absence due to recurrence of injuries, it is a $2.875 million cap hit without perhaps the level of performance hoped for when that contract was signed. If he does not return to the ice, the cap relief provided (and reflected in our scribbling) presents the problem of trying to shore up the lack of depth on the blue line that would result. Having Mike Green, John Carlson, Dennis Wideman, Jeff Schultz, and (presumably) Karl Alzner is nice, but would John Erskine really be the permanent answer in that sixth spot on defense? And after that, who are those 7-8-9 defensemen that might see games for the Caps over the course of the season? That could mean a re-signing of Scott Hannan, but even if Hannan takes a pay cut from the $4.5 million cap hit he had on his previous deal, it seems unlikely it would come down by $1.6 million to play with the Caps.

In the end, it might be Poti’s situation more than Laich’s that governs the Caps strategy this summer, the logic here being that Laich was in the Caps plans, and Poti is and will remain an uncertainty. That the Caps would sign Laich to such a big number and long term suggests that they were focused on him not going to free agency and probably had him in their planning as a result. Poti is more of a wild card, a player for whom meaningful planning seems difficult at the moment, at least from the fan’s chair. It is really because of this uncertainty that we think another trade is in the works. The Caps might want to offload salary to make room for a Scott Hannan re-sign or to accommodate Poti’s cap hit with some flexibility remaining under the cap, because either the Hannan (or other defenseman) or Poti option does put pressure on the salary cap that the Caps would have to deal with.

Just goes to show, with this many moving parts, so many contracts, deals, and such that have to be managed over time, it ain’t easy being a general manager these days.

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Goaltenders: Semyon Varlamov

Semyon Varlamov

Theme: “Most art is fragile and some should be placed and never moved away.”
-- Donald Judd

Donald Judd was an artist described as a “minimalist,” but that particular style is one that cannot be applied to Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov. And therein might be the problem. The adjectives that attach to Varlamov might more appropriately be: “athletic,” “acrobatic,” “dazzling,” or “explosive.” Whatever adjective you choose, Varlamov’s style in goal and the achievements he has attained as a result have come at a price. In the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons Varlamov played in 26 and 27 games, respectively. Twenty goaltenders played in more minutes this past season than Varlamov played in the last two (3,087). The problem takes the form of a list (from

10/16/2010: Missed 4 games (undisclosed).
11/10/2010: Missed 13 games (groin).
01/22/2011: Missed 1 game (lower body injury).
03/22/2011: Missed 11 games (knee injury).

It has become an unfortunate recurring theme in the early stages of Varlamov’s career – a susceptibility to groin and leg injuries. It is hard for him, or any goaltender, to achieve a sense of rhythm and continuity when he is in the lineup briefly, then out of the lineup for significant stretches. And it is especially unfortunate in the case of Varlamov, given that he rarely fails to perform at a high level in those instances in which he is in the lineup.

Varlamov missed the opening of the 2010-2011 season, then appeared in two games (both against Boston); in neither of which did he play well, perhaps an artifact of his early season injury. That he had lingering effects when he came back was evident when he missed 13 games after his second game appearance, not seeing his third game of action until Game 23 of the season. It would end up being a continuing theme all season. Varlamov had five instances in which he appeared in consecutive games in the 2010-2011 season: a four-game stretch from November 24 through December 1st, two games on December 12th and 15th, five games from December 26th through January 8th, two games on January 12th and 15th, and three games from January 26th through February 4th (that one broken up by the All-Star Game break).

But when he performed, he did so quite well. If you discount those first two appearances, when he might have still be suffering an injury, in none of his other five ten-game splits in which he played at least one game did he have a goals against average above 2.41, nor did he have a save percentage lower than .912. Those “worst” numbers are important in this respect; they are approximately the season averages for the Caps’ other primary goaltender, Michal Neuvirth (2.45, .914).

We spoke of rhythm and continuity above. Here is an example of the problem Varlamov had in establishing it. In baseball, one speaks often of a pitcher being a “stopper,” of being able to take the mound after a loss and “stopping” a losing streak or preventing a streak from getting started. The rough analogy here is the goaltender who appears after sitting out in a loss. Varlamov did that on ten occasions in 2010-2011, compiling a record of 3-6-0 (one “no decision”), 3.12, .896. Take away those “first games back” after losses, and his record was 8-3-5, 1.73, .939. If Varlamov had been able to establish any continuity by playing in, say, the 57 games that Tim Thomas played in, it is not impossible to think that Varlamov might have been a Vezina finalist. As it is, his ten-game splits look like this:

While his numbers improved in 2010-2011, we are left with the fact that Varlamov appeared in only one more game in 2010-2011 than he did in 2009-2010. In the former, he had to split time with Jose Theodore, although he did have his bouts with injury. In 2010-2011, the Caps held what amounted to a season-long audition to find out who their number one netminder would be heading into the playoffs, and Varlamov’s health became an issue, if not a determinant in that decision. His 2010-2011 numbers compare to his 2009-2010 numbers as follows:

Odd Varlamov Fact… Varlamov’s GAA in losses of 2.74 was still better than the total GAA of Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson, and Steve Mason. His save percentage of .907 in losses was still better than Miikka Kiprusoff’s total save percentage (.906), Martin Brodeur (.903), and Steve Mason (.901).

Game to Remember… January 1, 2011. In the league’s marquee regular season game -- the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh against the Penguins -- Varlamov was named the game’s first star for stopping 32 of 33 shots, including all 16 that he faced in a first period that featured a lot of back and forth action. Despite an intermittent rain that played havoc with the puck, Varlamov reminded a national television audience of his remarkable skills that were first put on display in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Game to Forget… December 12, 2010. It started harmlessly enough – one goal allowed on eight shots faced in the first period at the hands of the New York Rangers. But Artem Anisimov scored for the Blueshirts 59 seconds into the second period. Marian Gaborik scored barely two minutes later, and the rout was on. By the time the Rangers finished their scoring at the 13:31 mark of the third period, Varlamov had allowed seven goals on 20 shots (the Rangers would not have another shot on goal in the last 6:29). The save percentage of .650 for the game was, by far, the worst of his brief career to date.

Post Season… He did not have a chance to change his baseball cap for a mask, recording no minutes in any of the nine Caps playoff games.

In the end, there really isn’t much mystery to Varlamov’s season or his career to date, for that matter. He is a remarkable talent who simply hasn’t been able to stay in the lineup long enough to cement his status as the go-to number one goaltender. His absence in the second round of the playoffs against Tampa Bay (despite a season mark of 2-1-1, 1.49, .949, and one shutout) was testimony to a lack of confidence – however misplaced it might have been, given the nature of a playoff series – in his ability to play at a high level for a sustained period of time.

And now Varlamov’s career in Washington is at a crossroads. There are persistent rumors of his having an offer to jump to the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia for the opportunity to be that number one goaltender at a salary far above what he made with the Caps in 2010-2011. Whether that offer is for the rumored $4 million or not, one can only assume that the offer is substantial – Varlamov is a goalie of considerable gifts who has not yet reached his prime. Whether the Caps would be willing to push his compensation past, say, $3 million or so (especially in light of: a) Michal Neuvirth's $1.150 million cap hit, and b) the Caps’ re-signing of Brooks Laich for $4.5 million per year in salary cap hit) is uncertain, to say the least.

For Varlamov to justify such a bump in compensation, he has to prove something that he hasn’t yet proved and that has little to do with his skill. It is whether he can shake the idea that he is fragile, so that he can be placed as the number one goaltender and never moved away to the end of the bench in a baseball cap.

Grade: B

Monday, June 27, 2011

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Forwards: Alexander Semin

Alexander Semin

Theme: “I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”
--Umberto Eco

After almost 400 regular season games and another three dozen or so playoff games in the NHL, if you have Alexander Semin figured out, we doff our cap to you. Semin might not be the most enigmatic of players ever to play in the NHL, but he’s on a short list. Few players have been described in the contemporary game of hockey as having more skill than Semin, but by the same token, few players with that skill set have seemed to have such an air of mystery surrounding that skill.

This year was a new chapter in Semin’s book of work, and it might be titled, “Before and After.” Thanksgiving weekend, that is. Semin’s season breaks down all too cleanly into his production before Thanksgiving weekend and his production after:

Through November 28th, Semin had the kind of production from which Hart Trophies might be built. He was on a pace to go 59-39-98, plus-26. He recorded three hat tricks. He had seven multi-point games, including a five-point game.

Then came December. Starting with the December 1st game against St. Louis, Semin would go more than two months until his next goal (perhaps fittingly, given his mercurial ways in his performance, he had a hat trick when he broke the streak). He played in only 17 of 32 games between those goal-scoring performances, missing three games to the flu and a dozen more to a hip injury. He recorded a grand total of two power play points in those 17 games, both assists.

And it was not as if the rest of his season was especially productive. Starting with the game in which he broke his goal-scoring drought with a hat trick against Anaheim, he played in 23 of the last 25 games, going 10-8-18. He was a plus-14, so good things were happening when he was on the ice, a fact that should not be discounted. In all, his ten-game splits look like this:

The result was that Semin was down in every category worth noting for the season from the numbers he posted in 2009-2010. His goals scored were close to a career low in terms of goals scored per game. His point total was the second lowest for a full season in his career. His power play points dropped by a third, a result exacerbated by the fact that he did not record a power play goal after November 26th. The season to season changes look like this:

But true to his enigmatic style, there were teasers in Semin’s game. He had by far the best goals for/on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (3.32) among Caps forwards playing in at least 20 games (numbers from His plus/minus-on ice per 60 minutes (1.59) was, again, by far the best among Caps forwards. His differential between plus/minus on ice and plus/minus off ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (+1.86) was more than half a goal better than the next best Caps forward, Nicklas Bacxkstrom (+1.33). He was on ice for the sixth fewest number of goals against of any Caps forward playing in at least 20 games and who was with the club all season, although he did not generally face the stiffest of competition (tied for third lowest among Caps forwards playing in at least 20 games). It was an odd season, to say the least.

Odd Semin Fact…The Caps were 19-0-1 in games in which Semin scored a goal. In the 25 losses in which he played, Semin recorded only one goal.

Game to Remember… November 11, 2010. Semin was relatively quiet over the first two periods of a Veterans Day contest with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had an assist on the Caps’ first goal as the Caps took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission. But after Ryan Malone tied the game for the Lightning early in the third, Semin took off. He answered Malone’s goal less than two minutes later with a power play goal, then scored again at the 10:46 mark to give the Caps a 4-2 lead. After Tampa Bay tightened things up less than two minutes after Semin’s second goal, he assisted on a goal by Alex Ovechkin with less than five minutes remaining. He capped the night with an empty net goal to finish the hat trick, chipped in three takeaways, and recorded a five-point game, his second as a Cap.

Game to Forget… December 11, 2010. OK, so your team is on a four game losing streak. You’re going into your next game having had five players miss the last practice with the flu. On top of that, you’re missing teammates and defensemen Mike Green and Jeff Schultz. So what do you do? Well, after your team falls behind, 2-1, at the first intermission, you come out and take a cross-checking major and a game misconduct six minutes into the second period. The opponent cashes in for an insurance goal that ended up being the game winner when the Caps made things close in a 3-2 loss to Colorado. Your night ends with ten shifts, eight minutes and change of ice time, and no points. It was an outcome made worse by coming out in the next game and recording only one shot on goal, while being on the ice for three against in a 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers.

Post Season… Another season in a nutshell. Semin came out like gangbusters with four goals on 22 shots in his first six playoff games, a far cry from his no goals on 44 shots in the seven game playoff series against Montreal in 2010. But in his last three games, no goals on six shots as the Caps went quick and quiet to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 2.

In the end, there is probably no subject in Caps Nation that gets more thought than what to make of Alexander Semin. Talent? As much as just about anyone in the NHL. Production? He is capable of lighting up the scoreboard like a pinball machine? Will he make you want to rip your hair out? More often than not as his episodes of highlight reel play are interspersed with stretches of inconsistency or invisibility.

For a couple of moments over the last few years, one got a peek of what Semin could do alongside a player who could inspire him to a little more consistency. Such was the case with Sergei Fedorov in 2008 and with Jason Arnott in 2011. But those episodes seem too fleeting, Semin’s performance otherwise characterized by high highs and low lows, of big starts and iffy finishes. Maybe the problem is with us as Caps fans, in our own mad attempts to interpret these episodes as though they had an underlying truth, when the truth might just be as simple as this is who he is, for better or worse.

Grade: B-

Sunday, June 26, 2011

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Forwards: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin

Theme: “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
-- Dr. Seuss

In retrospect, you might have seen it coming. In his first five seasons, Alex Ovechkin was skating in the express lane on his way to the Hockey Hall of Fame. On a per-82 game basis his line looked like this: 56-54-110, plus-13. And in 2009-2010, the fifth of those five seasons, Ovechkin finished 50-59-109, plus 45, despite missing ten games (an 82-game pace of 57-67-124, plus-51).

But despite the fine numbers over five seasons, and the excellent numbers of the 2009-2010 season, that 2009-2010 season held the tell-tale signs of what might be a letdown. Behind the numbers were the pair of suspensions for overly aggressive play, the Olympic Games disappointment, the Stanley Cup playoff debacle, and generally a hit to Ovechkin’s reputation as the happy-go-lucky world-class talent with the gap-toothed smile.

Even in the numbers was the fact that despite 50 goals he would relinquish the Richard Trophy as top goal scorer to Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby – a product of scoring only eight goals in his last 21 games – and his Hart Trophy streak as league MVP would end at two. Ovechkin would win the Ted Lindsay Award for the third straight time and would be named to the first NHL All-Star team for the fifth consecutive year at left wing, but it was clear that he slipped a rung on his career ladder.

Which brings us to 2010-2011. From the looks of the start of the season, Ovechkin had put his 2009-2010 problems behind him. Ten goals – three of them game-winners – 25 points (ten coming on the power play), and plus-5 in his first 18 games. Another 100-point season seemed in the offing. And given that the Caps were 13-4-1 in those first 18 games, it looked like the team had set aside its disappointing finish of the previous spring.

But then the goals stopped coming. In his next 19 games Ovechkin managed only a pair of goals, 14 total points, and was “only” plus-2. The Caps were a lackluster 7-8-4 over that stretch, including the 0-6-2 streak that received such attention from HBO in the series running up to the Winter Classic.

The Caps broke out of that 0-6-2 stretch and righted their season with a new style of play that emphasized defense. But Ovechkin’s offensive output remained somewhat depressed, if not to the extent of that 19-game stretch in which he was only 2-12-14, plus-2. What was especially noteworthy was the absence of any production on the power play. After scoring two power play goals in Calgary in a 7-2- win on October 30th, Ovechkin would go 41 games without one, recording ten power play assists along the way.

Ovechkin recovered to go 13-21-34, plus-10 in his last 27 games, including five power play goals, but the mid-season valley in production left him with a season that by mortal standards was still productive. His ten-game splits look like this:

However, 85-points is not something fans have come to expect from Ovechkin, and the seven power play goals was barely half of his previous career low (ominously, a number he posted in the previous season). Given his own standard of production over his first five years, a tick better than a point-a-game season could only be considered disappointing. Here is how he compared to last season:

For a player with a history of big offensive numbers, a drop in production might be more palatable if, when the team he plays for adopts a more defensive style, that his other numbers reflect that. Well, at 5-on-5, Ovechkin averaged 2.03 goals against per 60 minutes (numbers from At first blush, not bad. But that was good only for seventh among 13 Caps forwards who played in at least 20 games. And he was ninth in quality of completion faced in such situations. Couple that with the fact that he: a) skated with the third highest quality of teammates, and b) took 51.6 percent of his 5-on-5 starts in the offensive zone, and his defense could be fairly said to be “improved,” but not so much that he became a “two-way” forward on a team that had broader defensive improvement.

Odd Ovechkin Fact… In 2009-2010, Ovechkin racked up three major penalties (kneeing, two boarding) and three game misconducts on his way to his highest career penalty minute total (89 minutes). This past season, he would have finished under his lowest career penalty minute total (40, in 2007-2008), if not for his lone fight of the season (also his only major penalty), against the Rangers’ Brandon Dubinsky in a 7-0 loss on December 12th. He finished with 41 minutes.

Game to Remember… February 4, 2011. Having gone 41 games without a power play goal, Ovechkin finally recorded one at the 8:25 mark of the second period in a 5-2 win over Tampa Bay. In addition to the power play goal – the game-winner as it turned out – he had three assists, ten shots on goal (17 attempts) and four hits in 22:22 of ice time.

Game to Forget… December 12, 2010. In a 7-0 pasting at the hand of the New York Rangers, Ovechkin was the picture of frustration. Not only did a Caps losing streak hit six games, but Ovechkin failed to convert on ten shot attempts (four on goal) and tried – without success – to light a fire under his teammates with seven hits and by fighting Brandon Dubinsky after delivering a hip check to a Ranger. Things got so out of hand that he skated less than three minutes of the last period in the loss.

Post Season… Hard to see an obvious problem in terms of production. Ovechkin was 5-5-10, minus-1 in nine games. Even the minus-1 is a bit deceptive. He was on the ice for only seven of the 24 goals scored by the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, and he was on the ice for only three of the 16 goals scored by the Lightning in the second round Tampa Bay sweep. One could say he needed to produce more at even strength (he was 4-1-5 in the nine games at even strength), but in the larger scheme of things, he was down the list of problems the Caps had.

In the end, despite decent numbers, another Eastern Conference top-seed, and another point-plus-per-game performance in the playoffs, the season was another one of disappointment. And when you are the captain, not to mention one of the top players in the sport, disappointment is the way you can become defined, even if hockey is a team sport, win or lose. It will still make things interesting to see how Ovechkin’s game evolves so that the label of “disappointing” doesn’t become “truer than true.”

Grade: B

(Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images North America)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Depth Chart

Just horsin' around...

(click for larger version)

We assume, for the moment, that Tom Poti would be unavailable.  Still, there do appear to be roster spots available.  And you might want to ponder whether this team merits inclusion in any discussion of a Stanley Cup contender in 2011-2012.  We suspect there is work yet to be done on building this roster, even if you assume that RFAs such as Karl Alzner, or even Semyon Varlamov are to be signed.

Why Troy Brouwer Is As Important As Alex Ovechkin

As we were watching the draft last evening and saw the Edmonton Oilers pick first for the second consecutive season, we were caught up in the hope and optimism such an evening engenders. Young men taking the first step on their professional journey in the NHL, their families sharing the joy that comes as the culmination of so many early mornings and long miles supporting their sons and brothers, Pierre McGuire gushing on television about every single one of the 30 picks in the first round of the draft. How, as a hockey fan, could you help not be caught up in it?

Until reality sinks in. And that brings us to a number – nine. Consider the following roster of players:

Patrick Kane
Sidney Crosby
Marc-Andre Fleury
Vincent Lecavalier
Mike Modano
Mario Lemieux
Denis Potvin
Guy Lafleur
Rejean Houle

Since the NHL Amateur Draft was established in 1963 (and which became the NHL Entry Draft in 1979), these nine players represent the number one overall draft picks who won a Stanley Cup for the teams that drafted them. Nine players among 48 number one overall draft picks. A number one overall pick is no guarantee of Stanley Cup success.

And that brings us to a trade the Capitals made last night, sending the 26th overall pick in the 2011 draft to Chicago for Troy Brouwer. The former Blackhawk isn’t going to be making anyone’s short list of the best players in the NHL. He is a forward with some size (6’2”, 215), a physical edge (his 262 hits last season led the Blackhawks by a wide margin), a willingness to pay a price (he was second among Chicago forwards in blocked shots), and a bit of a scoring touch (49 goals over the last three seasons).

Two things might be more important than the numbers, though. First, he has a Stanley Cup on his resume. And it is not as if he was merely a bit player in the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup drama in 2010. He started slowly enough, not recording a point in any of his first eight games, with a minus-five to go along with it. He was scratched for Games 3-5 in the second round series against Vancouver, a message delivered and apparently taken to heart. Beginning with the series-clinching Game 6 against Vancouver in the second round, Brouwer played in 11 playoff games, went 4-4-8, plus-4. He has big-game experience at the highest level of competition and showed an ability to compete.

Second, he is 25 years old. This is not a trivial consideration. The Caps have tried procuring leadership, playoff experience, and intangibles at the trading deadline. The trades for Sergei Fedorov and Jason Arnott are reflections of that. But each of those players was far on the back side of their respective careers. Not that either was running on empty as players, but they served more to address the intangibles of leadership and Cup experience that was lacking on this team. Brouwer will never be the high end skill player of a Fedorov, or an Arnott for that matter, but he has impressed the Caps as having the potential for leadership, and there is that ring on his finger – at age 25. The Caps might have a longer window for what Brouwer brings to the rink than for what Fedorov or Arnott brought.

So, about that trade. The practical effect of the trade the Caps made is Troy Brouwer for Phillip Danault, the player the Blackhawks selected with that 26th overall pick. Danault might become a fine NHL player. All of the descriptions you would hope to see in a first round pick attach to him – “tremendous worker,” “work ethic,” “leadership,” “pride.” But he is also two or three years away from reaching the NHL, that itself not being a certainty. For the Caps, Brouwer has a body of work, has experience, and can contribute now.

And that brings us to the here and now, and the plan. We’ve made a point persistently that the trick isn’t drafting an Alex Ovechkin. That’s not a “plan,” unless you think financial planning is buying a Powerball ticket. The history of first round picks that win a Cup with the team that drafted them is testimony to what it takes – and how hard it is – to build a roster around that top pick capable of winning a Stanley Cup. For the Caps, it’s in what a team builds around a pick like Ovechkin – or what a team builds around a Crosby, a Lecavalier, a Modano, a Lemieux.

While a draft-centric approach might suffice as a governing principle for how you build a roster, it can’t be the only means used to do so. Deals like this are part of building a roster around that cornerstone player and why Troy Brouwer might, in his own way, be as important as Alex Ovechkin to the Caps. Not so much for Brouwer himself, but in that trading for him, we will get another glimpse as to how well the Caps are doing in building that roster around their cornerstone.

Friday, June 24, 2011

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Forwards: Brooks Laich

Brooks Laich

Theme: “What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.”
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

Power is something of a recurring theme in Brooks Laich’s 2010-2011 season. First, if you look at this season compared to last, the results are almost duplicates of one another with one very important exception:

Power play goals. Add back those power play goals he recorded in 2009-2010 that he didn’t get in 2010-2011, and the goals, assists, points, plus/minus – just about everything – looks like his 2009-2010 season. And just how did that happen? Well, you can see it in the ten-game splits...

No power play goals scored after his third ten-game segment (Game 26, the first goal in a 4-1 win over St. Louis that happened to be the last game the Caps won before their eight-game losing streak). This is not a trivial consideration in Laich’s season when looked at in the context of the three seasons that came before. Because looking at those seasons, he is not an especially prolific scorer at even strength:

2009-2010: 78 games/11-20-31
2008-2009: 82 games/12-24-36
2007-2008: 82 games/13-14-27

Another way of looking at Laich’s drop in power play production is that among seven forwards who averaged at least 1:00 power play time per 60 minutes, Laich finished last among Caps forwards in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-4 (those who played the entire season with the club and appeared in at least 20 games). He dropped from 2.77 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-4 in 2009-2010 to 0.53 in 2010-2011. He went 52 consecutive games without so much as a power play point. And here is the stunning fact accompanying those numbers. Laich faced the worst competition of any Caps forward at 5-on-4 (and it wasn’t close: Laich, according to – the source of all the numbers in this paragraph – had a QUALCOMP value of -0.461, Mike Knuble was nest at +0.246).

The even strength and power play numbers end up married to another summary number – 7.7. That was Laich’s shooting percentage for the season and by far his lowest since 2006-2007. An appropriate benchmark here is Mike Knuble. One might expect (or perhaps more precisely, “hope”) that Laich would assume much of the role a Knuble fills – a forward with size who can contribute by scoring goals in close and on the power play. Except that Knuble – in what was his worst year in some time in this regard – had a shooting percentage of 11.8 percent. Had Laich converted his 207 shots on goal with the same frequency he accomplished the feat in 2009-2010 (itself not close to a career best), he would have finished with 23 goals, almost what he recorded in 2009-2010 (25).

On the other side of special teams, Laich averaged more shorthanded ice time in 2010-2011 than any other Capitals forward (2:18/game). And among Caps forwards that averaged more than 1:00 ice time per 60 minutes, Laich had the second best differential of goals against/on ice to goals against/off ice per 60 minutes at 4-on-5: 1.50 (Marcus Johansson’s differential was higher: 1.70). He also faced the second highest quality of competition when on ice at 4-on-5.

Odd Laich Fact… Laich was an even or better player on every day of the week in 2010-2011.

Game to Remember… March 15, 2011. At the 13:23 mark of the first period, Laich broke a 1-1 tie against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. It was Laich’s 100th goal in the NHL, and it came in a 4-2 win for the Caps.

Game to Forget… November 22, 2010. It was the last in a string of utterly forgettable games for the Caps. After having dropped a 5-0 shutout in Atlanta and a 5-4 Gimmick loss to the Flyers at home, Laich and the Caps lost a 5-0 shutout in New Jersey. Laich was for two of the goals in this one and was on the ice for five of the 13 goals scored in that three game stretch (one other goal coming on a penalty shot, the other the difference in the Gimmick).

Post Season… A post-season of 1-6-7, even, is not exactly the worst of outcomes, but it served as a microcosm of Laich’s season, too. No power play goals, one power play assist. And even though he finished 1-2-3 in the four game sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay, he recorded only eight shots on goal in the four games, five of them coming in Game 2 in which he scored his only goal of the series.

In the end, there seems to be less to Laich’s season than meets the eye. Although he finished fourth in total scoring, he was fifth in goals, and his power play goals total decreased significantly from his previous season. He was second on the Caps in playoff scoring, but his 4.8 percent shooting percentage was far from what the Caps needed (one goal).

Moving forward, Laich is about to test the unrestricted free agency waters (if he does not re-sign before July 1 with the Caps). Some might look at his numbers and think he is potentially a top-six forward. But looking at his numbers, we see something different. A reliable third line forward who can kill penalties and who can (when on top of his game) provide some additional power play punch. If a team thinks that is worth $4.5 million a year, more power to them and to Laich. But at the moment, as the free agent signing period approaches, Laich has power…even if there wasn’t as much as fans might have liked on the power play.

Grade: B-

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Forwards: Mike Knuble

Mike Knuble

Theme: “Hard work is the yeast that raises the dough “
-- Unknown

Mike Knuble’s career is a study in the virtues of perseverance and hard work. He did not play his first game in the NHL until 1997 the age of 24 after having been drafted in the fourth round by Detroit in 1991. He did not play in more than 60 games until he was 26 and after he was traded by the Red Wings to the Rangers for the 1998-1999 season. He didn’t surpass 20 goals for a season until he reached the age of 30 and was playing for Boston. But since that 2002-2003 season – one in which he recorded 30 goals – he has posted eight consecutive 20-plus goal seasons, including the 24 he put up in the 2010-2011 season with Washington. And we would wager than most of the 218 goals he scored over the past eight seasons were achieved within 15 feet of the net. Not a place for the faint of heart or those who are allergic to hard work.

Not that 2010-2011 started all that well for Knuble. He recorded only three goals in his first 20 games, and in the 20th game took a puck to the face midway through a 5-0 loss to Atlanta that knocked him out of the lineup for three games (the only three he would miss in the regular season). Things didn’t get a lot better on his return. He recorded two goals in his third ten-game split, but he was starting to come around in his fourth ten-game split. He had three goals in nine games heading into the last game of that segment – Game 40 of the season, which happened to be the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh.

In that January 1st game, Knuble got the Caps on the board after Evgeni Malkin gave the Penguins the first lead early in the second period. The Caps would go on to win the game, and the goal scored by Knuble propelled him to 16 goals in his last 43 games (a 31-goal pace per 82 games). He scored nine goals in his last 13 games to close the season with a rush. Not bad for a 38-year old geezer. His overall ten-game splis looked like this:

Despite the slow start, Knuble finished third on the team in goals, fifth in total points, and tied for the team lead in power play goals. He was rather responsible with the puck, recording 45 takeaways and only 18 giveaways, the 2.50 ratio being second best among forwards on the club who played in at least 50 games (of course, Knuble’s not being called upon to do a lot of puck-handling no doubt contributed to that result).

If there is anything remarkable in Knuble’s drill-down numbers it is their “unremarkableness.” Fifth among forwards in goals for/on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (20 games with Caps minimum); fifth best goals against in those situations; fifth best plus/minus in those situations (numbers from He faced the sixth highest quality of completion among Caps forwards, and (as befits someone who skated primarily on the top line) had the highest quality of teammates at 5-on-5. He had the second highest Corsi value relative to his teammates (grouped with his usual linemates Nicklas Backstrom (first) and Alex Ovechkin (third) in that measure).

One number stands out from the others, though – 11.8. That was Knuble’s shooting percentage for the season, and it was the lowest he recorded for any season since he shot 10.9 percent with Boston in 2003-2004. It was still good for fourth on the team in shooting percentage, but for someone who generally doesn’t shoot from the outside, it was a bit of an unexpected result. Here is how his numbers compared to last season:

Odd Knuble Fact… Mike Knuble has never stopped playing against the Atlantic Division, it would seem. In 18 games against the Atlantic, he was 10-6-16, plus-7. In 61 games against everyone else, he was 14-10-24, plus-3.

Game to Remember… March 18, 2001. Knuble had a hand in all three Capitals goals in a 3-0 decision in New Jersey over the Devils. He assisted on a goal by Jeff Schultz to open the scoring, then scored two of his own in putting up what would be the first of consecutive three-point games. He repeated the three-peat four days later in Philadelphia with a goal and two assists, the second assist coming on a game-tying goal with 3:19 to play. The Caps won the game in a Gimmick, 5-4 over the Flyers.

Game to Forget… October 19, 2010. Knuble has done well against one former team – the Flyers. But not so well against another on this night. He was on the ice for the first two Boston Bruin goals – scored in the first 12 minutes of the game – while he went without a point (minus-2). He would go until April before he would be as bad as a minus-2 again.

Post Season… In a way, he would probably like to forget this, too. After being held off the score sheet in the first two games of the opening round series against the Rangers, he scored a goal in Game 3. However, he suffered a hand injury, and the Rangers won that game, 3-2. He missed the next three playoff games – the last two against New York and Game 1 against Tampa Bay. He did manage a goal over the last three games against the Lightning, but the Caps fell in a sweep.

In the end, Knuble had a solid season. Perhaps not up to his 2009-2010 numbers, but what Cap did? He is a very good fit for this team – a counterweight to the flash and dash of an Alex Ovechkin or the playmaking wizardry of a Nicklas Backstrom. He’s the anchor who can clean up messes left around the opponent’s net, and he does so without much by way of peaks and valleys in his production. Going forward, the issue will be whether the one-year, $2.0 million contract extension he signed in April will be worth the investment. He has some motivation for next season in that he is 32 games short of appearing in 1,000 games in his career, and he is 32 goals short of 300. Not out of the question, if his finish this year is an indicator that he still has gas in the tank. But his hallmark has been a consistency and a steadiness, his hard work being that yeast that helps let the top line rise.

Grade: B

Thursday, June 23, 2011

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Forwards: D.J. King

D.J. King

Theme: “Judicious absence is a weapon.”
-- Charles Reade

When Stefan Della Rovere was traded to the St. Louis Blues 11 months ago for D.J. King, the lede in the news report in the Washington Post was as follows:

“The Washington Capitals added a significant amount of toughness to their lineup Wednesday by acquiring rugged right wing D.J. King in a trade with the St. Louis Blues.”

King had a reputation for being a rugged (27 fights in 101 career games) if somewhat brittle (played a total of 74 of 246 games in his last three years in St. Louis) player. On his second shift as a Capital during a pre-season matchup he took on Boston’s Shawn Thornton, which elicited this response from head coach Bruce Boudreau:

"I told him earlier on: ‘You don't have to fight in training camp'... but he wanted to show his new teammates and the fans that he's not bad at his craft. It made the guys feel better on the bench knowing they had a big brother out there...that's the feeling I got. We never really had that tough, physical presence last year."

Well, that was the plan. By the time the 2010-2011 season was over, King dressed for a total of 16 regular season games, was waived once (in February), had as many fights as shots on goal for the season (six), and did not dress for more than four consecutive games at any point in the season. He did not top ten minutes of ice time in any of the 16 games in which he played and topped eight minutes only once. In fact, his 90 minutes of total ice time was about a week’s worth of ice time for the likes of Mike Green. He was 859th among 891 skaters in average ice time per game.

And to the extent you put value in such assessments, the polls at did not have him winning any of his six fights for the season (0-4-2). The Caps had a record of 2-2-2 in games in which King recorded a fighting major. He finished his scoring line at 0-2-2, minus-3 for the season. There was, however, a fitting symmetry to his regular season. He had a fight on his first shift in his first game of the season, and he had a fight on his first shift of his last game of the season.

There just aren’t enough games to look at ten-game splits, except to look at his games played per segment:

1st: 3
2nd: 3
3rd: 2
4th: 0
5th: 4
6th: 1
7th: 1
Last: 2

If the object was to “[make] the guys feel better on the bench knowing they had a big brother out there,” then the guys weren’t feeling better too often, except to the extent Matt Hendricks (14 fights) or Matt Bradley (10) were picking up the slack. And neither of those players could be considered heavyweights as the term is generally understood in the NHL.

The Caps took on King to be more than a fighter. As general manager George McPhee put it:

"What we see in this player is someone who brings grit but looks like he could be a reliable player. I remember Joe Kocur late in his career was a far better player because he gave himself a chance to play and actually held down a fourth line role with Detroit when they won a Cup. If we could add a player to the club who is gritty and can play, that makes us a better team. We think if we get working with this player, he can become a reliable player who can play a little bit more." 

Things did not seem to work out that way, and this isn’t King’s fault. When called upon, he answered the bell, and by appearances looked to be giving an honest effort as a player -- not merely a fighter -- in those instances in which he was called upon. It is not as if he was an unknown commodity before he came to Washington. And what’s more, he agreed to a two-year contract extension ($637,500 per season) before the trade that brought him to Washington. Perhaps it was more about moving Stefan Della Rovere. Perhaps it really was an effort to get nastier than the Caps have been. But whatever the reason, the acquisition of King looks to have had almost no benefit to the club, at least in the first year of his contract. One hopes Year Two works out better. Otherwise, one wonders if the Caps are employing judicious absence of a player with King’s skills, or they just badly misread the benefits of the trade.

Grade: C

(Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images North America)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Forwards: Eric Fehr

Eric Fehr

Theme: “Promises are like the full moon, if they are not kept at once they diminish day by day”
-- German Proverb

Eric Fehr was drafted in 2003, famously one spot ahead of Ryan Getzlaf (famous among Caps fans, at least), and before he would post two consecutive seasons with Brandon in the WHL in which he scored at least 50 goals. Since then, Fehr’s career has been a battle – to overcome injury, to escape the occasional sentences to the coach’s dog house, to find the scoring touch he had in junior hockey. The Caps have had glimpses of the latter from time to time, including once on a famous stage (to which we will return).

But the facts are these – Fehr has not yet played 70 games in a season. He has topped the 20 goal plateau only once, and he has suffered repeated injuries to his shoulders that have cast doubt over his future as a productive professional hockey player (he had post-season surgery on his right shoulder that could render him unready to start training camp in September).

Last season, largely due to injury (he missed 23 games to shoulder injuries and two other for “upper body” injuries), he regressed from his 2009-2010 numbers. And when he was in the lineup, he was not approaching his 2009-2010 scoring rate. In fact, except for a brief spike in production around the New Year – a six game stretch from December 19th through January 8th in which he was 4-3-7, plus-5 – he had a dismal season (6-7-13, minus-5 in his other 46 games).

Again, though, there were glimpses. When he was healthy or fresh, he could produce. Consider this; Fehr began the season with two goals in his first three games. When he returned from his 22-game injury hiatus on March 9th, he recorded a pair of goals in his first game back. He had three goals and five points over four games after missing two of three games (for personal reasons) at the end of December. Those three instances account for 7-6-13 of his total production for the year, covering only eight games of his 52-game season. His overall ten-game splits look like this:

Even with his diminished capacity and limited production, there were glimpses. Among forwards playing in at least half the Caps’ season, Fehr finished fourth in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (numbers from And he did that largely by being the only goal scorer on what line he played on – he was next to last among that same group of forwards in goals for/on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Comparing the two sets of numbers, he looks to have done much of the scoring on his line.

He did benefit, however, from the fact that he faced the weakest competition of any Caps forward that played at least half the season with the team (although the quality of competition he faced was comparatively weak as well – fourth weakest among those 11 Caps forwards). Still, he could not muster a level of production level to match what he did last year, in what is now his career year in the NHL:

Odd Fehr Fact… If Fehr could have duplicated his home production on the road, he would have had a nice season. On an 82-game basis, Fehr produced at a 20-23-43 pace at home, 11-6-17 pace on the road.

Game to Remember… January 1, 2011. On the game’s biggest regular season stage, Fehr had what might have been his best game as a Cap. In the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he had his second two-goal game with Washington (first of two in the 2010-2011 season) – one of them the game-winner, the other a third-period insurance goal (the two goals being scored in a four-shift span for Fehr). He added two blocked shots and was plus-2 for the night, all while playing in less than ten minutes in the Caps’ 3-1 win.

Game to Forget… March 15, 2011. Fehr played in a grand total of 5:16 in a 4-2 win in Montreal. He skated nine shifts , recording only a single shot on goal and one takeaway before departing with an “upper body” injury that would keep him out of four of the next seven games. Starting with that game, Fehr would record no goals and only nine shots on goal in the last eight games in which he played. His season was done, but he didn’t know it yet.

Post Season… Fehr did manage to play in five games and gamely recorded ten shots in the effort (one goal), but by that time his shoulder was likely keeping him from making anything close to a meaningful contribution. And the longer it takes for Fehr to accomplish that feat, the more it seems the chances diminish day by day.

In the end, Fehr had to endure another frustrating season, and Caps fans must wait until the fall to see if his surgically-repaired shoulder (the second time on his right one) will permit him to edge a little closer to the goal-scoring promise he had when drafted. What makes things doubly frustrating is that the Caps have had opportunities on the wing for someone of Fehr’s potential – someone who can finish, either with a nasty wrist shot or swatting home loose pucks from in front. That he hasn’t cashed in on those opportunities seems to be as much a circumstance of injuries interrupting his progress as any deficiencies in Fehr’s game.

Going forward, the Caps will have Alex Ovechkin, Mike Knuble, and Alexander Semin on the wings (well, probably Semin). With Brooks Laich’s future with the team in considerable doubt, the door is nudged open once again for a player with Fehr’s skills. Whether his shoulders are strong enough to push it open the rest of the way is the unsettled question.

Grade: C+

The Peerless Prognosticator Presents: Your 2011 Peerless Draft Prog-"Mock"-tications

Well, here we are. The 2010-2011 season has been put to bed, the awards are getting dusted off to be handed out, and the draft is upon us. This year, the brain trusts of 30 NHL teams will descend on Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to ponder just which 18-year old their fans will want traded as a 23-year old. Teams have been going over combine results, talking with amateur coaches, and consulting tarot cards in an effort to find that perfect fit, that one key element that will propel them to a Stanley Cup. Guys, all you had to do was come visit The Peerless, who brings you the most mocktastic of mock drafts.

Cousin, is “mocktastic” even a word?

Hey, Fearless…it’s one of those bloggy kinds of words one uses to put some oomph in the narrative.

I see…like Faulkner.

“Faulk who?”

And of course, where there is Fearless, there is Cheerless…you guys here for the draft?

“Yes, cousin, and I was just wondering. Have you even seen any of these fine young men play hockey?”


“Why should that matter, cuz? He seen the Caps play hockey and his prognosteecations ain’t worth pig spit, neither.”

“You are wise, Cheerless.”

Shall we begin?...

1. Edmonton: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C (Red Deer/WHL)

What do the Oilers need?... To stop picking first! Two years ago, the Oilers selected Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson with the tenth overall pick. Edmonton goes the hyphenate route again by taking the consensus number one pick in 2011. No Nugent has ever played in the NHL, but Dean Hopkins played in one game for the Oilers in the 1985-86 season; Larry Hopkins played in 60 games in the NHL for Toronto and Winnipeg. Nugent-Hopkins seems to be a lock to be the greatest Nugent or Hopkins ever to play in the NHL. His profile says that he “was named the 2008 BC Minor Hockey Player of the Year, an honor handed out annually to a BC Amateur Hockey Association player who best exemplifies sportsmanship, leadership, and hockey skill.” Sort of like the Lindsay, Messier, and Lady Byng rolled into one. The Lady Byngsayier?

2. Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog, LW (Kitchener/OHL)

What does Colorado need?... Sakic, Forsberg, Roy. Sorry, none of those available in this draft. The last time the Avalanche drafted this high or higher, they were the Quebec Nordiques. That was back in 1991, when Quebec selected Eric Lindros with the first overall pick. Ah, those were the days… Lindros was the last of three consecutive number one overall picks (Owen Nolan and Mats Sundin being the others). We tried to find an anagram for “Gabriel Landeskog.” It broke the machine.

3. Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau, C (Saint John/QMJHL)

What does Florida need?... Last year, we said “Mr. Peabody and Sherman to show up with their Wayback Machine to transport the club back to 1996.” It still applies, seeing as how in all the years since they’ve been in the playoffs twice and have won more than 35 games only three times. This will mark the second straight number three overall pick for the Panthers. The last time they had one before that, it was Nathan Horton in 2003. And he had a fine year…for Boston. Oops. Jonathan Huberdeau was born in St. Jerome, Quebec…he played for the Saint John Sea Dogs. Florida is prepared to remame the city the Panthers play in, “St. Sunrise,” if the Panthers draft Huberdeau.

4. New Jersey Devils: Adam Larsson, D (Skelleftea/SWE)

What do the Devils need?... to realize that the glory days are probably over for a while. The last time the Devils picked in the rarified air of the top ten was 20 years ago, when they selected Scott Niedermayer with the third overall pick. Only once since 1996 have the Devils had their first selection higher than the 20th overall pick. Devils fans, this is probably new for you, picking this high, so set your alarms. Adam Larsson says his favorite food is “my mother’s meatballs.” Not…going…there.

5. New York Islanders: Dougie Hamilton, D (Niagara/OHL)

What do the Islanders need?... time. The Isles have done rather well with first round picks lately. Each of their last four first picks in the first round – Kyle Okposo, Joshua Bailey, John Tavares, and even Nino Niederreiter from last June’s draft have appeared in NHL games. Trouble is, the Islanders are making too much a habit of this. Each of those picks was a top-ten selection. As for Dougie Hamilton, what’s the over/under on when he becomes “Doug” Hamilton?

6. Ottawa Senators: Ryan Strome, C (Niagara/OHL)

What does Ottawa need?... A new logo. The one they have looks like part of an ad for Caesar’s Palace. As for young Mr. Strome, he describes his most embarrassing moment in hockey as “’crying after a penalty’ when he was four.” Maybe we should have had Vancouver picking him.

7. Winnipeg Team to be Named Later: Ryan Murphy, D (Kitchener/OHL)

What does Winnipeg need? You mean other than a name and a jersey? Who cares, at least they got all their tickets sold. When asked which three people he would like to have dinner with, Ryan Murphy responded, “Bill Gates, Oprah, and Sidney Crosby so he ‘won’t have to pay the bill.’” He’s going to be an owner some day.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: Sean Couturier, C (Drummondville/QMJHL)

What does Columbus need? Jim Tressel as head coach. He’s local, he’s a winner, and he probably knows where a guy can get a deal on tattoos. Sean Couturier was born in Phoenix, Arizona and claims Bathurst, New Brunswick as his home town. Huh, too bad he won’t last a few more picks and go to the Coyotes. He could tell them about moving from Phoenix to Canada.

9. Boston Bruins (from Toronto): Mika Zibanejad, C (Djurgarden/SWE)

What to the Bruins need? Silver polish. As for young Mr. Zibanejad, his mother is Finnish and father is Iranian, and he speaks Swedish, Finnish and English. We can’t help wondering what it’s like waiting for him to decide what to order for takeout. We’re betting “Tex-Mex.”

10. Minnesota Wild: Nathan Beaulieu, D (Saint John/QMJHL)

What do the Wild need? Well, to get wild would be a nice change. Okay, so Nathan Beaulieu’s favorite team is the Washington Capitals, and his favorite activity away from the rink is golf. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

11. Colorado Avalanche (from St. Louis): Joel Armia, RW (Assat/FIN)

What do the Avalanche need? Well, we’ve already covered Sakic and Roy, which by the way is not an animal act in Vegas (although “Roy” can get out of hand from time to time). As for Joel Armia, if you are going to play for a team named “Assat,” be prepared for all the jokes about choice of head fashion.

12. Carolina Hurricanes: Sven Baertschi, LW (Portland/WHL)

What does Carolina need? Rod Brind’Amour to say, “I changed my mind.” Sven Baertschi’s goal celebration is described as, “nothing special, just a big smile.” Awwww… isn’t that cute.

13. Calgary Flames: Mark McNeill, C (Prince George/WHL)

What does Calgary need? Someone to figure out a way to clone Jarome Iginla. Mark McNeill's most embarrassing moment came “during peewee summer hockey when he fell behind the net and was unable to move because his jersey was caught on the boards forcing the game to be stopped.” Somewhere, a Sedin just had an idea.

14. Dallas Stars: Duncan Siemens, D (Saskatoon/WHL)

What does Dallas need? Something big. Doesn’t matter what, but they’re in Texas, and everything has to be big! Duncan Siemens is pretty big (6’2”, 192). Asked about his shootout move, he replied, “shoot.” Hockey is, as you can see, a rather simple game.

15. New York Rangers: Oscar Klefbom, D (Farjestad/SWE)

What do the Rangers need? A Larry Brooks/John Tortorella reality show…”Odd Couple from Hell.” One scout said this of Oscar Klefbom… “Worst-case scenario, he’s a big, strong guy who can play against the other team’s top players." Best case scenario is what? Raise the dead?

16. Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Biggs, RW (USA U-18/USHL)

What does Buffalo need? More players named Tyler…Myers, Ennis. Can’t ever have enough. Well, what do you know. Another Tyler. As for Tyler Biggs' shootout move, he says, “Close eyes and shoot the puck.” Beer leaguers all over North America will read that and say, “see? I coulda been a prospect!”

17. Montreal Canadiens: Nicklas Jensen, LW/RW (Oshawa/OHL)

What does Montreal need? A baseball team (insert Nats joke here). Nicklas Jensen’s favorite player is Alex Ovechkin, his shootout move is “Ovechkin fake-shot deke,” and his goal celebration is “Ovechkin going nuts.” He’s more of an Ovechkin fan than Ovechkin's mother is.

18. Chicago Blackhawks: Mark Schiefele, C (Barrie/OHL)

What does Chicago need? To get rid of hot dogs with salads on them, and those poppy seed buns…the seeds are always getting stuck in my teeth. Mr. Schiefele is is to Pavel Datsyuk what Mr. Jensen is to Alex Ovechkin. Favorite player? Datsyuk. Favorite shootout move? “Datsyuk’s move.” Almost sounds like a remake of “From Russia With Love.”

19. Edmonton Oilers (from Los Angeles) : Zach Phillips, C (Saint John/QMJHL)

What does Edmonton need? More of their own picks (not those of other teams) in this area of the draft…it’d be a sign they are improving. Zach Phillips is one of nine Saint John Sea Dogs on the NHL’s Central Scouting list of ranked skaters. Edmonton is actively exploring the possibility of drafting the Sea Dogs en masse and calling it a day.

20. Phoenix Coyotes: Boone Jenner, C (Oshawa/OHL)

What does Phoenix need? A Groupon offer for moving van services. Boone Jenner’s shootout move is ““Try to put it where the goalie isn’t; I change it up.” Did we say hockey is a simple game?

21. Ottawa Senators (from Nashville): Tomas Jurco, RW (Saint John/QMJHL)

What does Ottawa need? A do over on Zdeno Chara? Tomas Jurco names as his favorite players, Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik. He is, in fact, changing his own first name to “Marian” (ok, he’s not).

22. Anaheim Ducks: Jamie Oleksiak, D Northeastern (HE)

What do the Ducks need? To do something about Jonas Hiller’s mask. I mean, really, spring for a paint job, eh? Jamie Oleksiak once played for the Detroit Little Caesars. He’s 6’7”, 244… sounds like he ate a Detroit’s Little Caesar’s.

23. Pittsburgh Penguins: Scott Mayfield, D (Youngstown/USHL)

What does Pittsburgh need? Well, we’re not sure, but if they need anything the league will bend over backwards to make sure they get it. NHL Central Scouting's Gary Eggleston says, “Scott plays the body well and is physical but not in an overly rambunctious way.” OK, how about a “truculent" way?

24. Detroit Red Wings: Jonathan Miller, C (USA U-18/USHL)

What does Detroit need? Nicklas Lidstrom to just say, “screw it, I’m playing forever.” Jonathan Miller’s favorite home cooked meal is “Hamburger Helper.” A man after Cheerless' own heart.

25. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Philadelphia): Joseph Morrow, D (Portland/WHL)

What does Toronto need? To make the number “1967” illegal to print or to say out loud. Joseph Morrow’s favorite breakfast food is “eggs benedict.” What, no “eggs benedict helper?”

26. Washington Capitals: Brandon Saad, LW (Saginaw/OHL)

What does Washington need? Got what they need right hereAs for Brandon Saad, he’s perfect. Born in Pittsburgh, grew up 30 miles from Pittsburgh, favorite team is the Penguins, favorite player is Sidney Crosby, loves Primanti Brothers. Really, who better to be a Cap?

27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Jonas Brodin, D (Farjestad/SWE)

What does Tampa Bay need?  I don’t really much care what they need. Not after that sweep of the Caps. Jonas Brodin’s shootout move is “shoot often.” Someone needs to take him aside and explain the concept.

28. San Jose Sharks: Connor Murphy, D (USA U-18/USHL)

What does San Jose need? To offer a human sacrifice for all the misfortune they have endured from the hockey gods over the years. Take Dany Heatley…he hasn’t done much lately. As for Connor Murphy, there seems to be a certain fearlessness about him. He went from the Columbus Junior Blue Jackets to Ann Arbor for the US NTDP. From Buckeye country to Wolverine conntry…gotta like that in a kid.

29. Vancouver Canucks: Ty Rattie, RW (Portland/WHL)

What does Vancouver need? To have all 82 regular season and all playoff games played at home. The three dinner guests Ty Rattie would like to invite are: Patrick Kane, Tiger Woods, and Derek Jeter. All of whom make a living by doing damage with large sticks. Guess it would be a working dinner to get tips.

30. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Boston): Matt Puempel, LW (Peterborough/OHL)

What does Toronto need? Well, anyone do anything about that making “1967” illegal yet? Matt Peumpel’s goal celebration is “kiss the finger.” Well, we suppose it beats “pull my finger.”

And there you have it, your 2011 Peerless Prog-“mock”-tications. As always, do not use them for any cash wagering, unless you plan to cut me and the cousins in on the winnings. Happy draft partying!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Forwards: Jason Chimera

Jason Chimera

Theme: “Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly.”
-- Plato

When Jason Chimera came to the Caps from Columbus in a trade for Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina in December 2009, he had averaged 14 goals and 16 assists, along with a minus-3, per 82 games in a career that spanned 461 games with the Blue Jackets and the Edmonton Oilers. In 39 games with the Caps after the trade, he outperformed his average, recording seven goals and ten assists while posting a plus-6. He made fans with a crusty style (52 hits that was good for seventh among Caps forwards, despite playing in only 39 games) that was matched to a set of wheels that made him one of the fastest skaters in the league.

2010-2011 was something of a different story for Chimera. Three things characterized his game with the Caps in this past season. First, there was an inconsistency in his results. Looking at his ten-game splits, his scoring was a bit up and down, but imbedded in those numbers is the fact that he had five, six, seven, and fourteen game streaks in which he did not record a point. And what’s more, his plus-minus numbers were all over the place, twice recording a minus-4 in a ten-game split, twice recording a plus-2. The overall splits went like this:

Second, there were defensive issues with Chimera this year in this respect. He had the worst plus-minus of any Capitals skater (-10, compared to defenseman Tyler Sloan’s minus-6). Among all Caps forwards playing in at least 20 games, he had the second worst goals against/on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (2.61). Only Mathieu Perreault, a player with his own defensive issues to address, was worse (2.62). He had the worst plus-minus per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (-0.51) of all Caps forwards. Chimera and Jay Beagle were the only Caps forwards to have a differential between plus/minus on ice and plus/minus off ice at 5-on-5 that was greater the -1.00 goal. And given that Chimera generally faced weaker competition than his forward teammates – only Perreault and Eric Fehr faced weaker competition among forwards who played with the Caps all season – there would appear to be defensive issues that needed to be addressed (numbers from

The third thing that characterized his game was an inability to finish. Caps fans might remember Mike Grier, a hard working player who would have many scoring chances of his own making, but who had an inability to finish. Chimera is perhaps a speedier version of Grier. His 6.2 percent shooting percentage was the second worst of his career (5.1 percent with Edmonton in 2003-2004). That might be an odd result in that in his seven previous seasons, Chimera recorded shooting percentages of 15.6, 13.4, and 9.9 percent. In his 39 games with the Caps last season he had a 10.3 percent shooting percentage. His overall shooting percentage of 9.5 percent over his career coming into this season might have had one scratching their head over his finish in this statistic this season.  Overall, though, his numbers sank compared to last season (last season's numbers including those he recorded with Columbus):

Odd Chimera Fact… Plus-1 on the road, minus-11 at Verizon Center.

Game to Remember… March 31, 2011. It never hurts to remind one’s former team what they miss. Jason Chimera did that in grand style in a late regular-season game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He assisted on the Caps’ first goal, scored in the game’s second minute by John Carlson. After the teams traded goals to get to the end of regulation tied at three goals apiece, Chimera ended it when he, Brooks Laich, and Carlson broke in on Columbus on a three-on-two rush. Carlson carried the puck inside the blue line and held up to feed Brooks Laich coming down the middle. Laich backed off the defense and wristed the puck toward the Columbus net. The puck was deflected by Blue Jacket defenseman (and former Cap) Sami Lepisto onto the stick of Chimera, camped at the right post. Chimera had only to bunt the puck into the open net behind goalie Steve Mason, and the Caps had a 4-3 overtime win.

Game to Forget… February 25, 2011. In a 6-0 rout at the hands of the New York Rangers, Chimera dropped the gloves with Michael Sauer barely two minutes into the game. The Rangers must have found the episode annoying, for they abused the Caps often after that with a pair of goals in each of the three periods. Meanwhile, Chimera played only 9:26, recorded one shot on goal, and had a pair of giveaways in going a minus-2.

Post Season… Not awful, in that he had a pair of goals and a pair of assists in nine games. But his effort in the last of those nine games was rather brutal. In 13 minutes and change, no shots on goal, two giveaways, and a minus-2, part of a team-wide “quick and quiet” exit as the Caps were swept in Game 4 by the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-3.

In the end, Chimera had an inconsistent season. His scoring was consistent with his career averages in the first half, but dropped some in the second half. His plus-minus was all over the map in his ten-game splits, and the drill-down numbers indicated wider issues with his defense. He showed an inability to finish consistently, and the question there was whether it was a blip (given his history of shooting percentages) or if he didn’t have the softest hands on the squad.

It was a somewhat disappointing year for a player who might have been slotted as a solid third liner when the season was dawning, but one who was getting fourth-line minutes (except for the odd turn on the power play) as the season was winding down. It seemed as if there were just too many imperfections across his game this past season to justify a bigger role.

Grade: C-

(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)