Theme: “There is nothing so stable as change.”
-- Bob Dylan
In 2009-2010, the Caps defensive corps might be described as promising, what with Mike Green and Jeff Schultz putting together solid years, and John Carlson and Karl Alzner showing signs of being a steadfast duo for years to come. But the adjectives that were missing from the group were “stay-at-home” and “durable.” No Cap defenseman played in more than 75 games, only four playing more than 50 games. And when the Caps’ best example of a stay-at-home defenseman was Shaone Morrison, well, one could imagine a need to improve in that area.
The Caps would go almost two months into the 2010-2011 season before addressing that need and filling in the missing adjectives. Washington traded forward Tomas Fleischmann to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Scott Hannan, the culmination of several months of talks between the clubs. In Hannan the Caps got a defenseman who in 2009-2010…
-- Played more games (81) than any Caps defenseman (75 for Mike Green) and in fact had not appeared in fewer than 75 games in a season since he split time between San Jose in the NHL and Kentucky in the AHL in 1999-2000.
-- Had more blocked shots (144) than any Caps defenseman (129 for Jeff Schultz)
-- Played more minutes (1,776) than all but one Cap defenseman (1,911 for Green)
-- Had more shorthanded ice time (265 total minutes) than any Caps defenseman (253 minutes for Tom Poti)
And at age 31 (he turned 32 in January 2011) with almost 800 games of NHL experience, he had the experience that the Caps needed to complement the young defensemen Green, Schultz, Carlson, and Alzner.
So, just what the doctor ordered, right? Well, Hannan joined the Caps lineup on December 2nd in Dallas. They lost, 2-1. Then they lost their next game… and the next… and the next. The Caps welcomed their new defenseman on board just in time to lose eight games in a row. In those eight games, Hannan did not record a point (offense not being what he was brought on board to provide) and was a minus-9. He was on the ice for 12 of the 27 goals scored against the Caps in that skid.
After that, however, Hannan proved to be a stable anchor on the blue line. After the losing streak, he went 14 games without finishing on the minus-side of the ledger and overall finished up the last 47 games of the regular season 1-4-5, plus-12. And with Mike Green and Tom Poti spending much of the second half of the season on the shelf with injuries, the 20:16 a night he logged in ice time provided the kind of stability the Caps needed without having to heap even more responsibility on the youngsters on the blue line – John Carlson and Karl Alzner. As his splits with the Caps suggest, he struggled early upon joining the Caps (as did the rest of the team in that train wreck of a losing streak in December), but settled in quite nicely over the rest of the season…
Odd Hannan Fact… After starting with the Caps with six games on the minus side of the ledger in his first eight contests in a Caps jersey, he was a “minus” player only four times in his next 39 games.
Game to Remember… March 3, 2011. Scott Hannan is not known as a goal scorer; he came to the Caps having scored only 30 goals in 775 games, but on this night he did his best impression of Mike Green. Early in the second period, with the St. Louis Blues holding a 1-0 lead at Verizon Center, Hannan settled into some open space at the top of the right wing circle. In the opposite corner, Matt Hendricks outfought Carlo Colaiacovo for a loose puck, which squirted to Alex Ovechkin behind the Blues’ net. Ovechkin threaded a pass to Hannan in the circle, but Hannan, not being a Mike Green, did not one-time the puck. It worked out for him though as goalie Ty Conklin went down once, sprang back up, then went down again as Hannan teed up. Hannan snapped the puck high over Conklin’s glove hand on the near side for his first, and what would be his only goal for the Caps this season in a 3-2 win.
Game to forget… December 11, 2010. Shortly after arriving in Washington, Hannan had the opportunity to face his old team, the Colorado Avalanche. It was not what Hannan might have envisioned. He was on the ice for all three goals scored by the Avalanche, finished minus-2, and otherwise had a rather quiet scoresheet (one hit, one blocked shot) in the 3-2 loss that extended a Caps losing streak to five games.
Post Season… There is the forest, and there are the trees. Overall, you might say Hannan ended up about where you would expect. In nine games, he had an assist (no surprise there, being a stay-at-home type), and he was plus-1 over the nine games. But like the rest of the Caps, those numbers really don’t break down so well…plus-3 in five games against the Rangers, minus-2 in four against the Lightning. Against the Lightning in the second round sweep he was on the ice for five goals against (of the 16 Tampa Bay scored).
In the end, Hannan provided what the defense, looking back, sorely lacked – a sense of stability. For a group in which only the kid defensemen (Karl Alzner, John Carlson) played in all 82 games, one in which only two other defensemen (not including Hannan) played in more than 50 games, Hannan didn’t miss a game and despite coming to the team in December still finished fifth in total games played among Caps defensemen. Hannan is an unrestricted free agent and may be moving on, but for 55 games in the 2010-2011 season the change he brought was stability.
photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America