Thursday, June 28, 2012

Blogging Royalty

He says, “the King is dead.” We’re not so sure.

Adam Vingan has decided to retire the Caps blog, “Kings of Leonsis,” after a two-year run as one of the must-read sites for Washington Capitals fans. I have to admit that competition for time makes it hard for me to read all the Caps blogs out there, but Kings of Leonsis has been one that I have to check out daily. It is the rare site that combines good humor with good content regularly and consistently. Its always fresh approach and unique perspective on the Capitals is what has kept me going there each morning. And now, we’ll miss it.

Adam is moving on to other things, and in that respect we don’t think the “King” is dead at all. He's just finding another kingdom.
I’m sure we’ll find him entertaining us and informing us for quite a while to come.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More Work to Do -- Part II

“Does experience help? NO! Not if we are doing the wrong things.”
-- W. Edwards Deming

Building through the draft is a way to build a solid foundation, and re-signing known commodities – especially when they have performed up to and ahead of expectations – is a good thing. But it is not the only way or the only tool to build a roster. For instance, three of the six defensemen who dressed for the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings got their starts in other organizations. Matt Greene was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers and joined the Kings in 2008-2009 with forward Jarret Stoll in a trade for Lubomir Visnovsky. Willie Mitchell was drafted by the New Jersey Devils and spent time in Minnesota and Vancouver before he was signed as a free agent by the Kings in 2010-2011. Rob Scuderi was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins and spent five seasons with the parent club before he went west as a free agent in 2009-2010.

This is a roundabout way of saying that the Caps still have holes and other ways to fill them than from within. The immediate concerns are for a scoring winger and a defenseman. There just does not happen to be a large supply of those types of players, either in free agency or via trade. There are names out there, though.

Zach Parise

With Alexander Semin likely to leave his number “28” behind next season, the Caps need a scoring winger. Zach Parise scored 30 goals in five of his last six seasons, the sixth cut short due to injury. In those six seasons he has averaged 35.1 goals per 82 games played.

The Caps could use a scoring winger with playoff experience. Parise has 61 games of playoff experience (21 goals) and has played in a Stanley Cup final as recently as, oh, less than a month ago.

The Caps could use a durable player. Parise had a knee injury in 2010-2011 that limited him to only 13 games, but in his other six NHL seasons he has not played in fewer than 81 games.

The Caps could use another solid citizen to provide a measure of leadership. Parise was an alternate captain for the 2010 Team USA men’s hockey team, and he was captain of the Devils this past season after spending two seasons as an alternate captain.

Parise will turn 28 before opening night of the 2012-2013 season. Given that he is coming off a one-year/$6.0 million contract with the Devils, it is not unreasonable to think he might go north of five years and/or $50 million as a free agent. He certainly does not lack for suitors, if the usual rumor mills are accurate. Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Detroit leading the mentions. But there seem to be two near certainties about which teams he will not be joining. He will not be signing with the New York Rangers.

And, he will not be signing with the Caps (even if former New Jersey assistant Adam Oates is taking over as head coach of the Capitals). The Caps do not do those kind of free agent deals, at least not with players from other teams (even Jaromir Jagr’s mega-contract was, technically, an extension for a player already under contract). Besides, with the long-term deals the team has with Alex Ovechkin (through 2021) and Nicklas Backstrom (through 2020), a third deal going out to the 2020’s seems a bit much to take on.

Probability of Acquisition: 5 percent

Ryan Suter

The Capitals could use a defenseman. Ryan Suter needs a home. The similarities pretty much end there. Suter is, if not the prize of this free agent class, the best defenseman available. Coming off a four-year/$14 million contract with the Nashville Predators, he could double both term and salary in the deal he signs on or shortly after July 1st. He will not lack for suitors, either. He is a “30-team” free agent, meaning that each of the 30 teams in the league will make at least due-diligence inquiries as to his inclination to sign a contract. But the leaders coming into the home stretch for his services appear to be Nashville, Detroit, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh.

Why? As Josh Cooper writes in The Tennessean, “Suter is a midwest guy, who likes the anonymity of playing in Nashville. The laid-back nature of playing a majority of games in Western Conference markets — many of which aren’t nearly as rabid as Eastern Conference teams — fits his personality.”

Cooper discounts Pittsburgh, noting that “even with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin there to take pressure off Suter, he would still have to produce, and produce at a high level — especially for the money he is likely seeking.” But while Pittsburgh might be an “eastern” team that gets a lot of attention, it might resemble more the Midwest feeling Suter with which Suter seems comfortable.

As a player, Suter brings the numbers. First, he isn’t just a minute-eater, he gobbles them up by the bushel. In three of the past four seasons Suter has averaged more than 24 minutes of ice time a night, and in the fourth season he averaged 23:59. He missed only 15 games over those four years. Despite all this ice time (only two defensemen averaged more than the 26:30 in ice time Suter logged per game last season), 57 defensemen were on the ice for more goals against than Suter.

Among defensemen that played in at least 60 games and averaged more than 15 minutes of five-on-five ice time per 50 minutes, Suter ranked 16th in Corsi relative to quality of competition. He tied for 16th in quality of competition faced. He was tenth in PDO. He did all this while receiving unfavorable offensive zone starts (45.7 percent).

But here is the catch. Shea Weber’s numbers were better. Is there a complementary effect here, an influence of one on the other’s numbers? And that begs the question of how Suter will fare as the number one defenseman, the position he will occupy on whatever team he signs with (with perhaps the notable exception of Nashville).

Suter is 27 years old, and this contract is likely to be his big career payday. But money, while important, is not the only variable here. Suter seems to recognize that: "Wherever I sign, I want to be there for the rest of my career and that affects my family, my wife, my kid [and] if we have more kids... everything plays into it."

It all seems part of a larger narrative. Suter was born in Madison, Wisconsin; played a year at the University of Wisconsin; even played a year with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL before joining Nashville in the NHL. It certainly argues for a team in a Midwestern city that fits his work and life style. In fact, the more one reads about Suter, the more one gets the feeling he really does not want to leave Nashville. If he does, it seems likely he will do so for a town that resembles it in many respects. That town won’t be Washington.

Probability of Acquisition: 2 percent

Bobby Ryan

Forever the answer to a trivia question (“who was drafted second after Sidney Crosby in 2005?”), Bobby Ryan has become as reliable a goal scorer as there is in the NHL. He is one of only four players who scored more than 30 goals in each of the last four seasons (Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Jarome Iginla being the others). In 2011-2012 Ryan had 31 goals (tied for 20th overall, tied for eighth among right wings) and did it with relatively unfavorable offensive zone starts. Among 77 right wingers playing in at least 60 games, Ryan ranked 49th in offensive zone starts (49.2 percent). Ryan is also an efficient shooter, never finishing with a shooting percentage lower than 12.6 percent in four years (14.4 percent over his 332-game career).

Ryan’s contract is certainly favorable in relation to his comparables, performance-wise (source for comparables: Only Corey Perry and Phil Kessel are more productive goal scorers among contract comparables, and both have heavier cap burdens. Ryan's contract carries a $5.1 million cap burden for three more seasons.

Of course, that contract also means that a team wanting to relieve Anaheim of Ryan’s services will have to pony up assets in trade. What might that look like? Well, compare Ryan to his contract comparables who were themselves traded. Phil Kessel commanded two first round draft picks and a second round draft pick from Toronto. Jeff Carter was traded from Philadelphia to Columbus for a top-six forward (Jakub Voracek) as well as a first and third round draft pick. James Neal was traded with a defenseman (Matt Niskanen) by Dallas to Pittsburgh for a defenseman (Alex Goligoski).

A first-round pick and a top-six forward/top-four defenseman (or players having clear potential for becoming one) would seem to be where the negotiations for such a player would start. As far as who might be in the running for such a player as Ryan, the Philadelphia Flyers would seem to be at the head of the list. Ryan is a native of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. And the Flyers certainly are not averse to trading. The thing is, though; forwards seem to be an exchange commodity in Philly. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and James van Riemsdyk all have been traded away over the past 12 months. Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek were the forwards in return (and Schenn has been mentioned as a player going to Anaheim in return).

Could the Caps be a contender for Ryan’s services? Well, they do have a hole on right wing into which Ryan could fit. So, need is covered. As for trading, well, this is where things get interesting. Since the lockout, who have the Caps traded away that could be considered a current or potential top-six forward or top-four defenseman? If we want to stretch the point…

  • The Caps dealt defenseman Brendan Witt to Nashville for Kris Beech and a 1st round pick in 2006. But in that deal, Witt had already expressed having no interest in being part of a rebuild.
  • In 2007 the Caps sent forward Richard Zednik to the New York Islanders for a second round pick. They later sent Dainius Zubrus (and Timo Helbling) to Buffalo for Jiri Novotny and a first round pick.
  • In 2008 they sent Steve Eminger and a draft pick to Philadelphia for a first-round draft pick (that became John Carlson).
  • In 2010 they rented Joe Corvo from Carolina for Brian Pothier (and Oskar Osala and a draft pick).
  • In 2012 they traded Cody Eakin and a draft pick to Dallas for Mike Ribeiro.

With one exception (the last one), it is mostly rentals or sale items as the last parts of the post-lockout rebuild. The Caps simply haven’t done a trade on the scale of what it would take to get Ryan. As practitioners of a draft-centric personnel management philosophy, trading away young talent and/or draft picks is not in the manual. We have seen on some message boards and other outlets the idea of cobbling together a package along the lines of defenseman Dmitry Orlov, forward Marcus Johansson, and a first round pick. That would be in the ballpark of trades among Ryan’s comparables mentioned above (but given Ryan’s age and likely productive years ahead, probably on the low side). And while that’s all well and good, we’re betting the Flyers could top that offer because, well, they’re the Flyers. Trading is what they do. Even if they would not, there is still the matter of the Caps’ disinclination do such “blockbuster” deals that involve futures on their end. With that in mind, we think the idea of a trade for Ryan intriguing, but unlikely.

Probability of Acquisition: 15 percent

Shane Doan

Shane Doan’s roots are so deep in Phoenix, they go all the way back to Manitoba. He was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 1995 and played for the Jets in their last season in Winnipeg before moving to Phoenix for the 1996-1997 season. Over almost 1,200 regular season games (1,198 in fact) he has seen it all – the interesting uniform choices, the Gretzky years, “The Goal,” team bankruptcy, rumors of moving to another city. What he has not seen is a lot of playoff games. In 16 seasons Doan has tasted the playoffs nine times, only once advancing past the first round (the Coyotes reached the Western Conference final this past season).

Now, Doan is a free agent. He is not as productive as he once was, and he will turn 36 years of age in the first week of next season. But he has this going for him – nine consecutive seasons of posting at least 50 points. He has recorded 20 or more goals in 11 of the last 12 seasons. He has been the Coyotes’ captain since the 2003-2004 season. He is big and ornery. He is as durable as granite, not playing in fewer than 73 games in any of the past 13 seasons (a total of 38 games missed in those 13 seasons).

If Doan is looking for something completely different, what would be more different than trading the Southwest for the Mid-Atlantic? Phoenix has expressed confidence in its ability to re-sign Doan, but there is still the unsettled situation concerning the Coyotes franchise. Doan is Coyote Hockey, to the extent such a tradition exists. And having spent 15 seasons in the Southwest, 16 with the same franchise, it is hard to see him playing for another club. But if the Caps wanted to re-fill the “Mike Knuble” seat, Doan is head of the class to do so.

Probability of Acquisition: 10 percent

Justin Schultz

We add this name because there seems to be a lot of buzz surrounding him recently. Justin Schultz was a second-round pick (43rd overall) of the Anaheim Ducks in 2008. He has spent the past three seasons as a defenseman for the University of Wisconsin Badgers. That number “three” is important here. In late May, Schultz “de-registerd” from the University, upon which the Ducks had a 30-day window with exclusive rights to sign him or to trade his rights. They have done neither, and he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Here we are, four years removed from Schultz’ selection as a second-round pick. Why the buzz? Well, scoring 34 goals in 78 games over his last two seasons as a defenseman for a major NCAA hockey program will get one’s attention.

Would he be ready to fill a hole on the Caps’ blue line right away? We would not think so, but a player who has already spent three years honing his skills in a respected college program who could come relatively cheap on an entry level contract (performance bonuses could up that amount substantially) should be attractive to any team. As far as who seems attractive to Schultz, speculation on where he will sign appears to focus on Toronto, Detroit, and Vancouver; but Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Chicago, Philadelphia, and the New York Rangers have been mentioned. It is hard to find a team that is not interested. We assume the Caps are interested, but is Schultz interested in the Caps? The Caps are never in anyone’s sights until the team announces something, but he would fit nicely with Karl Alzner, John Carlson, and Dmitry Orlov and up-and-comers on defense. He might even be the best “Schultz” on the team.

Probability of Acquisition: 10 percent (just for interest’s sake)

So, how might the Caps fill their remaining holes at right wing and defense? Answering that question requires acknowledgment of an uncomfortable truth. The Caps could open next season with no rookie skaters on the parent roster. Dmitry Orlov just completed his rookie season; Cody Eakin did likewise and has been traded. Evgeni Kuznetsov is not coming to America, at least not now. Filip Forsberg will spend at least another year in Sweden. Stanislav Galiev will spend this year in Hershey. It would be a reach to think anyone from last season’s Hershey roster will be on the Caps’ opening night roster or would get any significant time with the big club over the course of the season.

If you start from there, then the holes can be filled only from outside the organization (unless certain players are going to be asked to play above their comfort level). And if the Caps follow their recent path, mid-level/bargain-priced FA’s would seem to be the way they would go. This is not the deepest free agent class in high end talent, but there could be targets here for the Caps in familiar places. Look at players such as P-A Parenteau (18-49-67 last season; 29 years old/$1.25M cap hit last season) or Mikael Samuelsson (14-17-31; 35/$2.5M), among forwards. To add depth on defense, targets might include the likes of a Jason Garrison (16-17-33; 27/$675K) or a Francis Bouillon (4-7-11; 36/$1.35M). Not that those are necessarily the players the Caps would target, but they fit a certain profile – mid-priced free agents. It’s not unlike last year with Joel Ward (overpayment premium notwithstanding) or Roman Hamrlik.

In any event, the Caps will almost certainly test the free agent waters; they just are not likely to be swimming in the deep blue sea. We’ll see if they are the right things to do or not.

Monday, June 25, 2012

More Work to Do -- Part I

“It does not happen all at once. There is no instant pudding.”

-- W. Edwards Deming

Draft weekend is history, but the work continues. This is “free agent week.” Although the unrestricted free agent signing period will not begin until Sunday at 12:00 (Eastern), the jockeying will begin this week, if it has not already with players to be re-signed, and rumors flying about this player or that being moved or his rights surrendered.

The Washington Capitals made a bit of a splash on Friday with the trade of Cody Eakin and a draft pick to Dallas for center Mike Ribeiro. And that move addresses Job One on the summer things to do list. But that job list is longer than one item. There are players to sign and holes to fill. First, the players to sign – the restricted free agents.

Mike Green

The four roster players with restricted free agent status – Mike Green, John Carlson, Jay Beagle, and Mathieu Perreault – have been extended qualifying offers, but those are just first steps in settling with those players for next season and beyond. Mike Green’ salary cap burden was $5.25 million last season. His qualifying offer is for $5.0 million (his 2011-2012 salary), and he has arbitration rights. From 2007-2008 through 2009-2010 Green recorded 68 goals and 205 points in 225 games and was a plus-69. He established himself as the premier offensive defenseman in the league and was twice a Norris Trophy finalist. The knock on him was that he was too much an offensive defenseman, a player with deficiencies in his own end of the ice (apparently there is a shelf life for such concerns when it comes to Norris Trophy voting). In the last two seasons he has made improvements in that area, but it has come at a price – both physically and production-wise. Green missed 83 games over the past two seasons to concussion, ankle, and groin injuries. In the 81 games in which he appeared, he was 11-20-31, plus-11.

Speculating on Green’s future is hard if for no other reason than there are some strange contracts among defensemen at this level of compensation. Duncan Keith might be worth every bit of his $5.54 million cap hit, but is James Wisniewski worth $5.5 million? In fact, looking at salary comparables, it is hard to fathom that many of these guys – defensemen such as Paul Martin ($5.0 million cap hit), Fedor Tyutin ($4.5 million), or Lubomir Visnovsky ($5.6 million) come to mind – are “worth” those sums. But that is the going price these days for defensemen, a position that commands a compensation premium.

There are left two questions. First, will Green’s rights be moved to free up cap space? The Capitals have almost $21 million in cap space ( Moving Green to free up cap space makes sense only if there is a bigger play in store. We think that unlikely (we will get to that on another day). Second, will he be extended with a term similar to those of Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom? We think that unlikely as well, given the coincidence of his health issues and decline in production the last two years. Green is eligible for salary arbitration, but given the premium on defensemen and the known commodity that is Green, we think the probability high that he be re-signed (something in the three-year range).

Probability of Return: 80 percent

John Carlson

John Carlson’s path seems a bit clearer, because there is a template (and he is not arbitration-eligible). He is 22 with 186 games of experience under his belt. Last summer Karl Alzner was in a similar situation – 22 years old, 133 games of experience. Both had entry-level deals that paid $875,000 in base salary. Alzner did have performance bonus clauses in his contract amounting to an average of $800,000 over the three years of that entry-level contract. Carlson had no such bonuses. Alzner signed a two-year, $2.57 million deal last summer. This would seem the likely path Carlson will follow.

Probability of Return: 98 percent

Jay Beagle

There are two ways to look at Jay Beagle. First, he did a lot – especially late in the season and in the playoffs – to establish himself as a fixture on an energy line. He does the little things that need to be done – blocking shots, applying a physical edge, winning faceoffs, playing responsibly in his own end. In fact, but not for his missing 31 games with a concussion, his season might have been that much more impressive in a grinder role.

On the other hand, the nature of the position is that it is replaceable. There are many more of this specie of player than there are high-skill players. But his contract history is an odd one. In his first two seasons he played a total of only 10 games with the Caps, but the “NHL” portion of his salary was for $687,500 per season with performance bonus clauses for another $187,500; the AHL portion of his contract paid $65,000 ( In the last two seasons, his cap hit was $512,500 and no performance bonus provisions. Beagle is arbitration-eligible, but it seems more likely he would be re-upped for a modest raise in pay.

Probability of Return: 85 percent

Mathieu Perreault

None of the restricted free agents have as wide a range of potential outcomes as does Perreault. He had something of a coming out year with 16 goals (tied for fifth on the team) in only 64 games. On the other hand, he sat for the last ten playoff games this spring after going without a point (and only one shot on goal) in the first four games of the opening round series against Boston. The added dimension regarding Perreault is whether he will be moved as part of a package deal to upgrade the top-six forwards or to add depth to the defense. His contract history resembles Beagle’s in that his entry level contract carried a cap hit of $716,667 a season over three years, a contract that included both performance and signing bonuses (he played in a total of only 56 games with the Caps over that period); the AHL portion of his contract paid $62,500 a season. Last season he signed a one-year deal that paid $525,000.

Perreault could sign his qualifying offer ($575,000), could be signed to a longer term deal in acknowledgment of his ability to produce as a scoring forward, could go to arbitration (he is eligible), or could be traded. If anything, the direction the Caps went in the draft and the comments of George McPhee might offer a hint as to which direction the Caps could go with Perreault. The Caps drafted two forwards with size in the first round, and with respect to their drafting Tom Wilson – a player with size and an edge to his play – McPhee said, “When we’re in the middle of playoffs I made a note after the games: ‘Remember these games when you’re at the draft. Remember how intense they are, how physical they are, how demanding they are and make sure you get someone who wants to play in that kind of stuff.’”

It will be a while before Tom Wilson is a Capital, but this does open the window just a bit into the kind of team the Capitals are trying to build. And it does raise questions about whether Perreault will be a good fit for it. And from the other side, Perreault might not be sad about moving on. The lack of communication about his performance and reasons for his benching in the playoff seem to have been a source of aggravation – "Obviously I wasn't happy. But they never really told me anything. That's probably the worst part; like you don't really know how you're playing. But it's really been like that every time I get sent down in the past year or get sent down in another year. I never really knew why. It's not fun. I didn't enjoy that."

Of the four, we think Perreault is the one least likely to be a Capital on opening night next season.

Probability of Return: 50 percent

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The McPhee Opening

The Washington Capitals were busy this past weekend in what will be a summer-long chess match, trying to position their pieces – new and old – to challenge for a Stanley Cup next season and for years to come. The first order of business was to address the perennial problem of the hole at center on the second line.

In 2008, as the Capitals were making a last push for a playoff berth that seemed impossible just months earlier, the “solution” was to trade Theo Ruth to Columbus for Sergei Fedorov. Adding a veteran of Fedorov’s pedigree provided a measure of leadership that a young team such as the Caps needed, but the fact is that he was on the far side of a legendary career. In 70 regular season games over two seasons with the Caps he was 13-33-46, plus-2. It was a respectable output, and he did score the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the opening round of the 2009 playoffs against the New York Rangers. On the other hand, he missed 30 games in his only full season with the Caps, and he managed only a 2-11-13 scoring line in 21 playoff games with Washington.

In 2009-2010 the solution was Brendan Morrison, a player who posted 20-goal seasons in four of his last five full seasons in Vancouver, but who had wrist and knee injuries in the 2007-2008 season. After splitting time between Anaheim and Dallas in the 2008-2009 season, scoring 16 goals in 81 games, he arrived in Washington as a free agent. He started fast enough with the Caps, going 9-14-23 in his first 29 games. But he went ice cold after that, going 3-16-19 over his last 45 games of the regular season and had but one assist in five playoff games. The next season, he was in Calgary.

In 2010-2011 it was solution-by-committee. Brooks Laich, rookies Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault. It was no solution. At the trading deadline Jason Arnott was picked up for David Steckel and a second round draft choice, and he provided stability and that “veteran leadership” so prized by many. But he missed eight of the last 19 games of the regular season, and he was 1-5-6 in nine playoff games. By July, he was a St. Louis Blue.

This past season it was back to solution-by-committee. Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault. If one could have combined the best of the three – Johansson’s speed, Laich’s versatility, and Perreault’s uncanny shooting accuracy – the Caps might have had a solution. But apart, each was an incomplete solution. Johansson wasn’t sturdy enough to deal with the punishment of the position and was prone to defensive lapses, Laich wasn’t as adept a playmaker as the position requires, and Perreault had not yet put together a body of work that suggested he could survive with his slight frame against the burly centers in the East.

As it is, the Capitals have not had two centers with at least 50 points in the regular season since Robert Lang (69) and Michael Nylander (60) did it in the 2002-2003 season. Until Nicklas Backstrom joined the club in the 2007-2008 season, the Caps had no centers hit the 50-point mark since Lang and Nylander did it.

If a problem could be both acute and chronic, the lack of a credible second line center was it for the Capitals.

And that brings us to Friday. The Capitals acquired Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars for prospect forward Cody Eakin and a second round pick in the 2012 draft (the Stars selected Mike Winther with the pick). Ribeiro is a scoring line center. He is not necessarily an elite scorer, but he is a consistent one, especially when compared to the committee/rental approach the Caps have used the past several years to address their problem. For example…

-- While the Capitals have not had a full-time second line center register as many as 50 points in a single season since 2002-2003, Ribeiro has not finished a season with fewer than that number since 2002-2003.

-- He is not an elite goal scorer, but again he is a consistent one. Over eight full seasons he has not finished a season with fewer than 16 goals, with a high of 27 and an average of 20 over that span.

-- Only twice in eight seasons has Ribeiro had fewer than 40 assists (high of 56 twice and an average of 46).

-- He is an efficient player, never finishing a season with a shooting percentage lower than 11.8 percent (high of 25.2 percent and an average of 14.8 percent over the past eight seasons).

-- Last season was the first time in eight seasons Ribeiro finished a season with fewer than 23 power play points (2-13-15). In the seven previous seasons he averaged 7-18-25. That 25-point average would have led the Caps in each of the past two seasons.

-- For a center who is not the largest of his species (6’0”, 177) he has been durable. Only once in the last eight seasons had he played fewer than 74 games in a regular season. And, he has averaged more than 19:30 per game in each of his last four seasons.

-- As much as we loathe the Gimmick, the league still insists on awarding standings points to teams that win the trick shot competition. Ribeiro is 20-for-57 lifetime in the shootout (35.1 percent shooting percentage) with nine of the 20 goals being of the game-deciding variety. If Alexander Semin departs (3-for-6 last season and 15-for-43 for his career – 34.9 percent), the Caps might avoid leaving standings points on the table with Ribeiro.

Offensively, and as a matter of structure and stability, Ribeiro is a solution. That is the good part. On the other hand…

-- Only Loui Eriksson was on ice for more goals against last season among Dallas forwards, and Ribeiro was on ice for more even-strength goals than any Star. Eriksson faced a higher quality of competition at five-on-five, and Ribeiro had the highest five-one-five offensive zone starts of any Dallas forward (numbers from

-- There seems to be an issue about his propensity to overstay his welcome – on the ice, that is. As Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News put it:

“His insistence on taking long shifts used to frustrate the heck out of Brad Richards and Mike Modano, and they could have played a huge part in Jamie Benn having such a strange season last year.”

It is possible to make too much of this – Ribeiro did lead Dallas forwards in average shift length last season (53.0 seconds/shift), but he was tied with Phil Kessel, Shane Doan, Blake Wheeler, Chris Kunitz and PA Parenteau for 14th among league forwards. It does suggest somewhat the need to be managed.

-- Faceoffs…ugh. In eight seasons Ribeiro’s best finish was a 46.6 percent winning percentage, and he averaged 45.1 percent. With Nicklas Backstrom the only returning center having finished 2011-2012 over 50 percent (500 draws minimum), the Caps are not getting improvement with Ribeiro.

-- Then there is the contract. The good part is that the $5.0 million cap hit is reasonable for a player who has averaged 65 points over the past eight seasons. By way of comparison, Ales Hemsky (also with a $5.0 million cap hit) has a total of 100 points in his last 138 games (a 59-point scoring pace), but has been brittle, missing 108 games over the last three seasons. Tomas Plekanec (another $5.0 million cap hit) has averaged 56 points a season. Martin Havlat ($5.0 million) has averaged 51 points a season over his last six years and has missed 130 games in that span. The bad part is it has the one year left on the deal, so the Caps could be right back in this situation this time next year. And, in the event (heaven forbid) the Caps want to move him at the trading deadline in 2012-2013, Ribeiro has a limited no-trade clause (he can specify a ten-team no-trade list).

In the deal that brought Ribeiro to Washington the Caps gave up a “maybe” (Cody Eakin) for a known – and consistent – commodity. Eakin might one day be a second line center, though we think he will be more of a third-line center type. In any event, he is not now a second line center team for a club having Stanley Cup aspirations. Ribeiro provides a dimension on offense the Capitals have not had in quite some time. He is a credible offensive threat on the second line. He can provide power play production for a team that has underperformed on the man advantage the past two seasons. He is not without his warts, but he is a clear improvement over any alternative the Caps had in-house.

Ribeiro provides a structure that has been missing in recent years. When the second line center position is manned by committee, it makes for muddled roles among more than one forward. Is Brooks Laich a second line center, a third line center, a second line wing? Is Johansson a second line center or a wing? Is Mathieu Perreault a second line center, or does he even get a jersey? Ribeiro on the second line could mean that Laich moves to the middle of the third line. Johansson could settle on the wing, where he might have more manageable responsibilities. Perreault’s role remains uncertain, but the flip side of that is that the club has more reasonable options in how to deploy him.

In the end, this trade does not have the shock value of a Jordan Staal-for-Brandon Sutter (and other assets) or Luke Schenn-for-James van Riemsdyk deal. However, it addresses a clear need with a player of consistent production. On paper, it is a plus move. But the important concepts there are “on paper” and “a move.” With respect to the latter, the Caps have almost $21 million in cap space to build on this move, either through trades for talent or through free agency. This first move looks promising.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Let the games begin!

Rick Nash, Roberto Luongo, Jordan Staal, Bobby Ryan, James van Riemsdyk, Evander Kane.

Every year, it seems NHL draft weekend is associated with trades, at least in the minds of hockey’s chattering class. And this year certainly does not lack for big names in the rumor mill, as that short list above suggests.

Last year, the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets pulled off a trade on the eve of the draft that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus and Jakub Voracek to Philadelphia, along with a couple of draft picks (one of which was Sean Couturier, who had a fine rookie season for the Flyers).

But otherwise, most of the names exchanged at draft time – Troy Brouwer, Brent Burns, Devin Setoguchi – lacked a certain marquee value. Not that there wasn’t a lot of commentary in advance about the possibility of a lot of movement accompanying the draft.

It just seems as though there are more big names being named this time around, and named often (Nash being foremost among them). We don’t think that the Capitals will be acquiring any of the names listed above, but moving big names might end up churning up a lot of activity among second and third tier players as teams re-engineer their rosters, re-calibrate their payrolls, and seek that elusive key to unlock the vault in which a championship can be found.

With 11 picks, the Caps will not lack the means to participate in this movement.

And then there was one...

Nine seasons. 689 regular season games. 114 playoff games. Countless words, billions of pixels, millions of column inches.

Taken together, they can be rolled up into the simple question, “when?”

When would LeBron James, the greatest, most complete basketball talent of his generation, make good on his promise and win a championship?

He finally realized his dream last night -- in his 115th career playoff game -- leaving behind the possibility that he might play an entire career without an NBA championship and thus carry with him the title, “best ever never to win a ring.”

Even from the fan’s chair, it seems the hardest thing there is to do in sport, to win a championship. The athletes at the top of their respective professional sports in North America – James, Peyton Manning, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Tom Brady, Albert Pujols, Kobe Bryant – all have their rings. Even in the NHL, Sidney Crosby has his ring.

And that leaves one.

And the question…”when?”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Peerless Prognosticator Brings You the Only 2012 Mock Draft You'll Ever Need

Now that we have finished up the 2011-2012 season with last night’s NHL awards celebration, we turn to futures – the 2012 NHL Entry Draft from Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. And we, being in the prognostication business, will offer up our take on who goes where. We make no pretentions about being especially informed on these fine young men. But hey, that doesn’t stop most folks offering up their ruminations, contemplations, and observations. So here are our prognostications…

1. Edmonton Oilers: Nail Yakupov – RW
Nail Yakupov is, as the astute observer of amateur talent knows, an anagram for “Voila, ya punk.” We expect he will announce his presence in the NHL with similar authority.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets: Ryan Murray – D
There have been 41 “Murray’s” who have played or coached in the NHL (either with that surname or that Christian name), including a “Murray Wing” (one game with Detroit in 1973-1974). Now a “Murray” defenseman.

3. Montreal Canadiens: Alex Galchenyuk – C
If this guy had a mob name, would it be Alex “The Chin” Galchenyuk?

4. New York Islanders: Filip Forsberg – C
There has been only one other “Forsberg” in NHL history. He was a center too. Oh, and as Joe Beninati might say… “no relation.”

5. Toronto Maple Leafs: Mathew Dumba – D
Let me guess… his nickname is “Ears.” For his sake, hope he doesn’t have “rabbit ears” going to Toronto.

6. Anaheim Ducks: Morgan Rielly – D
FINALLY, someone gets it right! It’s “’I’ before ‘E,’ except after ‘C.”

7. Minnesota Wild: Mikhail Grigorenko – C
Mikhail Olegovich Grigorenko is an anagram for “Receiving a high gloom irk look.” That doesn’t sound good.

8. Carolina Hurricanes: Griffin Reinhart – D
That’s the kind of name that the White House chief of staff character that goes to prison at the end of a made-for-TV movie has, not a hockey player.

9. Winnipeg Jets: Jacob Trouba – D
Little known fact… as a youngster, “Trouba” played the “Tombone” in marching band. OK, we made that up. There is no such thing as a Tombone.

10. Tampa Bay Lightning: Teuvo Teravainen – LW
For those of you with prior engagements, be sure to TiVo Teuvo.

11. Washington Capitals: Radek Faksa – C
The Capitals have never had a player named “Radek” on its roster. That’s good enough for us.

12. Buffalo Sabres: Cody Ceci - D
How does a kid with two names you’d give a poodle end up playing hockey?

13. Dallas Stars: Olli Maatta - D
We eagerly await the rest of the clan – brothers Whatsa and Itdont – to reach the NHL.

14. Calgary Flames: Derrick Pouliot - D
Anagram – “To ridicule pork.” Don’t even go there, son.

15. Ottawa Senators: Zemgus Girgensons - C
Shouldn’t he be laughing maniacally and plotting the takeover of the world?

16. Washington Capitals: Hampus Lindholm - D
Hampus?... No, “hamp them!”

17. San Jose Sharks: Matthew Finn - D
An anagram for “win man theft.” San Jose sure hopes so.

18. Chicago Blackhawks: Brendan Gaunce - C
This draft is woefully short of “Brendans.”

19. Tampa Bay Lightning: Sebastian Collberg - RW
Word association… “Sebastian Collberg.” Uh, former hosts of “Masterpiece Theater.”

20. Philadelphia Flyers: Thomas Wilson - RW
I got nothing here.

21. Buffalo Sabres: Malcolm Subban - G
You gotta hope this kid makes it in Buffalo and shuts out his big brother.

22. Pittsburgh Penguins: Scott Laughton - C
Loved him in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

23. Florida Panthers: Slater Koekkoek - D
Barend Cornelis Koekkoek was a Dutch landscape artist and father of Johannes Hermanus Barend Koekkoek. Neither of them played professional hockey, so Slater… you’re probably going to be the first Koekkoek to make the NHL.

24. Boston Bruins: Stefan Matteau - LW
An anagram for “a manatee’s tuft.” Really…who knew?

25. St. Louis Blues: Brady Skjei - D
The Brady that didn’t quite make the “Bunch.”

26. Vancouver Canucks: Tomas Hertl - C
“Don’t hurt ‘em, Hertl!”

27. Phoenix Coyotes: Tanner Pearson - LW
So, is there a brother who is less tan?

28. New York Rangers: Pontus Aberg - LW
An anagram for “onstage burp?” Now that would be embarrassing.

29. New Jersey: Dalton Thrower - D
The name “Thrower” is one that is peculiar to eastern regions of England and means someone who twists fiber (wool, mostly) into thread or yarn. Maybe he can twist opponents into knots.

30. Los Angeles: Michael Matheson – D
This kid has the chance to be the first Matheson in the NHL since Godfrey played two games in the 1932-1933 season for the Chicago Blackhawks. No pressure, kid.

Congratulations to all these fine young men and all those not mentioned who will be drafted or, if not selected over the next couple of days will have their chances as free agents to realize their dreams to play in the NHL. Good luck, guys.


"[Washington Capitals season ticket] renewals at 96 to 97 percent; sold out of season tickets with a waiting list of about 3,000."
-- Sports Business Journal/The Sporting News (source: NHL club officials); June 18, 2012

"We would like to extend to you, a valued full season-ticket holder, the opportunity to purchase additional seats for the 2012-13 season."*
--The Washington Capitals, "Planholder Info;" June 20, 2012

Is this "NHL math?"

* There is a maximum purchase of four (4) additional seats per account.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Peerless Brings You... The Awards!

OK, so it's hardware time, and let's get right to the prognostications for the winners...

Calder Trophy

“…an annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”

Selected by: A poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.

Finalists: Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils; Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers

This would have been Nugent-Hopkins’ award to lose had he not missed 20 games. As it is, he still finished tied with Landeskog for the rookie scoring lead and was fourth in goals scored. On the other hand, Landeskog led all rookie forwards in hits and tied for the lead in blocked shots among rookie forwards. He was second among rookie forwards in plus-minus and led all rookie forwards in average ice time.

Winner: Gabriel Landeskog

James Norris Memorial Trophy

"…an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position."

Selected by: A poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.

Finalists: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins; Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators; Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

This is perhaps the hardest category to figure out. There is the former winner (Chara in 2009), the winner in waiting (Weber), and the player with the big numbers (Karlsson). Karlsson lapped the field of defensemen in scoring with 78 points (Dustin Byfuglien and Brian Campbell were next with 53). Chara was fourth in scoring and was a plus-33, tops among defensemen. Weber was among the defenseman leaders in several categories: points (sixth), plus-minus (tied for seventh), average ice time (fifth), power play goals (first), hits (tied for 16th), takeaways (second). And since the award is for “all around ability”…

Winner: Shea Weber

Frank J. Selke Trophy

“…an annual award given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”

Selected by: A poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.

Finalists: David Backes, St. Louis Blues; Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins; Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings

Pavel Datsyuk is perhaps the default selection here since he has won it in three of the past four seasons (Ryan Kesler won last year). But there is Bergeron with his plus36 (tops among NHL forwards), his 59.3 percent faceoff winning percentage (second in the league), his Corsi values (best overall, second among forwards in relative), his relatively unfavorable zone starts (47.6 percent offensive zone starts at 5-on-5), and the fact that 144 forwards had more goals scored against on ice (Datsyuk had fewer, but in fewer games, too).

Winner: Patrice Bergeron

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

“…an annual award given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

Selected by: A poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.

Finalists: Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers; Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers; Matt Moulson, New York Islanders

We are never sure what to make of this award and how it is to be judged, so we have a simple formula – total points divided by total penalty minutes.

Winner: Jordan Eberle

Jack Adams Award

“…an annual award presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters' Association to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success.”

Selected by: A poll among members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association at the end of the regular season.

Finalists: Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues; Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators; John Tortorella, New York Rangers

Paul MacLean took a team that finished in 13th place in the East in the 2010-2011 season and led them to the playoffs. Ken Hitchcock took a team that was lollygagging at 6-7-0 early in the season, opened his tenure with a shutout, and finished the season with a record of 43-15-11 in 69 games. John Tortorella imprinted his style on a team that started slowly (3-3-3 in the Rangers’ first nine games) but caught up quickly and led the East for most of the last five months of the season. All have their arguments, but one came the farthest.

Winner: Ken Hitchcock

Vezina Trophy

“…an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position.”

Selected by: Vote of the general managers of all NHL clubs.

Finalists: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers; Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators; Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

As good as Pekka Rinne’s season was, this is really a two-horse race between Lundqvist and Quick. Their statistics are almost indistinguishable – Quick has the better GAA (1.95 to 1.97), Lundqvist the better save percentage (.930 to .929), Quick has more shutouts (ten to eight) and more minutes played (4,099 to 3,753). In the end, though, the Rangers had more one-goal wins and the fourth best winning percentage in one-goal games. The goalie had a lot to do with that.

Winner: Henrik Lundqvist

Ted Lindsay Award

“…presented annually to the "most outstanding player" in the NHL.”

Selected by: Vote of the fellow members of the National Hockey League Players' Association.

Finalists: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins; Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning; Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

We do this every year…”best” is not synonymous with “most valuable” player. Sometimes it can be the same player, other times not, but this is the award for “best” player. Only two players reached the 50-goal mark this season – Stamkos (60) and Malkin (50). They were two of the ten players with at least 12 power play goals (12 apiece). Both averaged over 20 minutes a game – Stamkos’ 22:01 a game third among forwards. Stamkos was second among all forwards in shooting percentage; Malkin was in the top-20 among forwards in plus-minus. Malkin was third among all forwards in assists and assists per game. Stamkos had only the second 60-goal season since 1996. It’s close, but…

Winner: Evgeni Malkin

Hart Memorial Trophy

“…an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.”

Selected by: A poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season.

Finalists: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins; Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning; Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Again, we do this every year. The citation says, “most valuable to his team.” Stamkos had a great individual year, but could not get the Lightning over the hump and into the playoffs. Malkin had a great year but had a pretty strong supporting cast, too. Lundqvist had Martin Biron behind him, a decent enough backup goalie, but the fact remains that Lundqvist’s GAA was almost a half-goal better (1.97 to 2.46), and his save percentage was 26 points better (.930 to .904). And, as noted above, there were all those one goal wins. If Lundqvist isn’t there, there are likely to be many fewer of those one-goal wins, and that might have been the margin between the Rangers being a conference champion and fighting Washington and Ottawa for a playoff spot.

Winner: Henrik Lundqvist

General Manager of the Year

“…awarded annually to the top National Hockey League general manager.”

Selected by: A vote of a 40-member panel that includes all 30 general managers, five NHL executives and five media members.

Finalists: Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues; Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers; David Poile, Nashville Predators

Doug Armstrong did some on-the-fly re-engineering to deal with an under-performing squad early in the season, and no one seems to do more with less than Poile. No team, however, did more off-season re-engineering than did the Florida Panthers, and it resulted in what had to be an unexpected division championship. For 2012, at least, it was the best job of management in terms of success relative to expectations.

Winner: Dale Tallon

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The 2012 Draft -- Can Good Things Come in Threes?

Unless things change between now and sometime next Saturday, the Washington Capitals will have 11 picks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Since the NHL went to a seven-round draft format in 2005, the Capitals have never had so many selections in a single draft (twice they had ten picks).

Quantity is nice – more is better than fewer – but the key in the 2012 draft for the Capitals might be in their top end picks. The Caps are one of six teams that will have at least three picks among the top 54 selections (Carolina, Columbus, Montreal, and Tampa Bay have three apiece, and Buffalo has four). They will be the only team with two picks in the top 16 (11th and 16th overall).

Do such things matter? Given the Caps’ history of multiple picks such as these, it could. Here is the history of the Capitals when holding at least three of the top 60 picks (records with Capitals included; goaltenders broken out to illustrate records):

(click pic for larger image)

Starting at the top, 25 players are in this group. By position…

- 11 defensemen
- six centers
- five wingers
- three goaltenders

The Caps have done best in drafting defensemen with these high picks. Volume might be a part of it, but the fact is that Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson are still with the team and in large part form the core of the defense. As a group they have 1,172 games played of the 1,434 total games by defensemen in this draft group.

Conversely, five of the 11 defensemen have not played a game for the Caps. Three of them, however, were traded for other assets. Ross Lupaschuk was part of the package that brought Jaromir Jagr to Washington. Theo Ruth was traded at the deadline to Columbus in 2008 for Sergei Fedorov. Keith Seabrook was dealt to Calgary for future considerations, which will be a seventh round pick in this week’s draft (195th pick overall).

The wingers have not fared too badly, either. That group of five includes the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin – a pair that has played 1,022 games for the Caps (although by next season Ovechkin might be the only one of this pair left with the club). Here, though, the Caps have had more of an all-or-nothing sort of result. In addition to Ovechkin and Semin, the picks include Chris Bourque, Francois Bouchard, and Dmitri Kugryshev, a trio with a total of 13 games played for the Caps, all by Bourque, who was traded to Boston for Zach Hamill this past May 26th. Bouchard was traded earlier this season to the Rangers for Tomas Kundratek, and Kugryshev signed a two-year deal with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. None of those three seem likely to ever add to their totals in a Capitals uniform.

The most productive position, relative to numbers selected, is probably goaltender. The Caps picked only three netminders among top-60 picks, but Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov have been productive. Neuvirth has played in more than 100 regular season games and will be battling Braden Holtby for the number one goaltender position next fall. Varlamov played in 59 regular season games, and was parlayed into a first (11th overall) and second round choice in this draft.

Then there are the centers. If the Caps have had a problem at this position, the solutions have not come at the top of the draft, at least not past the pick of Nicklas Backstrom with the fourth overall pick in 2006. Boyd Gordon did contribute 363 games, but mostly as a third/fourth line defensive specialist with faceoff talents. Kris Beech and Michal Sivek were moved as part of the Jagr deal in 2001, Beech having played in only four games with the Caps before that deal and Sivek none (they played a combined 236 regular season games in their respective careers). Charlie Stephens was drafted in 1999 but was unsigned by the Caps and re-entered the draft in 2001 (selected in the sixth round by Colorado; he played a total of eight NHL regular season games, none since 2003).

Anton Gustafsson was drafted 21st overall in 2008. It was a pick that illustrated the uncertain nature of drafting, even at a high level. Gustafsson was the fifth-ranked European skater in the 2008 draft according to Central Scouting. He was ranked 24th overall by The Hockey News, was ranked 44th overall by the Red Line Report, and was ranked 34th overall by International Scouting Services. The Caps owned the 23rd overall pick in the 2008 draft, but traded it and a second round pick (54th overall) to obtain the 21st pick, with which they took Gustafsson. They moved assets to move up to select a player whose top-side ranking appeared to be in the area in which he was drafted, but who might have been a reach given other rankings.

There is always the difficulty of too much being made of one pick over another after the fact, but with the next pick Edmonton selected Jordan Eberle (who had 34 goals for the Oilers last season). Meanwhile, the Devils parlayed the 23rd overall pick into the 24th overall and a third-round pick in 2009 in a trade with the Minnesota Wild. The Devils took Mattias Tedenby (9-19-28 in 101 games for the Devils so far, although he struggled quite a bit this past season). They would take Alexander Urbom with the 2009 third-round pick they obtained, and he has had eight games of experience with the Devils. Meanwhile, Gustafsson has a grand total of one game of professional hockey in North America (with the Hershey Bears in 2009-2010). His contract with the Capitals was suspended when he left the South Carolina Stingrays in the 2010-2011 season and returned to Sweden.

Looking at these drafts chronologically, they break cleanly in terms of production into the pre-2007 period and post-2006 period. The Caps had four drafts from 1999 to 2006 in which they had at least three picks in the first 60 selections. In three of the four (2002, 2004, and 2006) the Caps ended up with three players in each that could be called significant contributors. And in the fourth – 1999 – the Caps used three of the selections as the basis for what ended up being one of the biggest trades in franchise history when the club obtained Jaromir Jagr and Frantisek Kucera from Pittsburgh for Kris Beech (seventh overall), Michal Sivek (29th), and Ross Lupaschuk (34th) and cash.

In the 2007 and 2008 versions of these drafts, though, the Caps have had rather meager returns for a total of seven picks in the top-60 selections of the two drafts combined. Karl Alzner has to be considered a gem as the fifth overall pick in 2007, but Josh Godfrey (34th overall) never came close to securing a roster spot with the parent roster and is out of the organization (he played in 38 games with Binghamton in the AHL this past season). Theo Ruth was traded to Columbus for Sergei Fedorov in what had to be considered a net plus for the Caps, even if Fedorov played only two seasons with Washington. Ruth played three seasons with the University of Notre Dame and spent the past two seasons with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL.

The 2008 draft would have been a disaster, at least at the top of the board, but for another trade the Capitals made, that being with the Philadelphia Flyers in which defenseman Steve Eminger (himself a member of the “top-60 picks club” in 2002) and a third-round pick (84th overall) was sent to the Flyers for the 27th overall pick. The Capitals used it to select defenseman John Carlson. In addition to Gustafsson (taken six spots ahead of Carlson), the Capitals selected Eric Mestery in the second round (57th overall) and Dmitry Kugryshev one spot later. Mestery’s relationship with the Capitals was terminated in June 2010, and he retired from professional hockey the following August. Kugryshev is playing in the KHL.

In the end, the Capitals are a team whose roster engineering philosophy begins with the draft. In those drafts in which the Caps have had at least three picks in the top-60 selections since 1999, realizing ten players having 100 or more games of NHL experience does not seem especially impressive. More disturbing is that of the last nine such picks (over the 2006-2008 drafts), only two have played in any games for the Caps (Karl Alzner, John Carlson), and three are out of hockey in North America altogether. Four others are in the minors; none have yet to play in their first NHL game.

This could be an especially important draft for the Capitals. Last summer Washington had only four selections, none higher than the fourth round. They had only five in the 2010 draft and only one higher than the third round (and he – Evgeny Kuznetsov – will be spending the next two seasons in the KHL). The question this week is, with the 11th overall pick will the Capitals get an Alexander Semin (12th in 2002) or a Sasha Pokulok (14th in 2005)? With the 16th pick, with they get a Boyd Gordon (17th in 2002) or an Anton Gustafsson (21st in 2008)? At 54, will the Caps get a Dmitry Orlov (55th in 2009) or an Eric Mestery (57th in 2008)?

Having quantity is of greater use if more is done at the top of the draft. And the Caps have to improve on their outcomes from the past two instances in which they have had volume at the top of the draft.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

2011-2012 By the Tens -- The Architect

"The first Matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect; it was a work of art, flawless, sublime. A triumph equaled only by its monumental failure. The inevitability of its doom is apparent to me now as a consequence of the imperfection inherent in every human being."

-- The “Architect”

George McPhee – the “architect” of the Capitals roster for the past 13 seasons – had a busy year in trying to design in his 14th version of the Capitals a work of art, flawless, sublime…one that was NOT a monumental failure in the end. Starting with the end of the 2010-2011 season he endeavored to retool and reshape the roster in ways great and small:

June 1, 2011; signed Mattias Sjogren.

June 2, 2011; acquired Taylor Stefishen from Nashville for a conditional draft pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

June 15, 2011; re-signed Patrick McNeill to a two-year contract.

June 16, 2011; re-signed Dany Sabourin to a one-year contract.

June 24, 2011; acquired Troy Brouwer from Chicago for a 1st round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft (Phillip Danault).

June 28, 2011; re-signed Brooks Laich to a six-year contract.

July 1, 2011; signed Jeff Halpern.

July 1, 2011; signed Ryan Potulny.

July 1, 2011; re-signed Sean Collins to a one-year contract.

July 1, 2011; re-signed Matt Ford to a one-year contract.

July 1, 2011; acquired a 1st round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft and a 2nd round pick in the 2012 or 2013 Entry Draft from Colorado for Semyon Varlamov.

July 1, 2011; signed Joel Ward.

July 1, 2011; signed Roman Hamrlik.

July 2, 2011; signed Tomas Vokoun.

July 2, 2011; signed Chris Bourque.

July 4, 2011; signed Danny Richmond.

July 6, 2011; re-signed Troy Brouwer to a two-year contract.

July 8, 2011; acquired Danick Paquette and 4th round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft from Winnipeg for Eric Fehr.

July 11, 2011; signed Christian Hanson.

July 14, 2011; signed Jacob Micflikier.

July 15, 2011; re-signed Francois Bouchard to a one-year contract.

July 15, 2011; re-signed Karl Alzner to a two-year contract

August 24, 2011; signed Stanislav Galiev to a three-year entry-level contract.

September 29, 2011; re-signed Jason Chimera to a two-year contract.

November 8, 2011; traded Francois Bouchard to the New York Rangers for Tomas Kundratek.

November 28, 2011; relieved Bruce Boudreau as head coach; hired Dale Hunter as head coach.

January 30, 2012; signed Joel Rechlicz to a one-year contract.

February 2, 2012; traded Matt Ford to the Philadelphia Flyers for Kevin Marshall.

February 2, 2012; traded Danny Richmond to the Colorado Avalanche for Mike Carman

March 27, 2012; signed Cam Schilling to a two-year entry-level contract.

Not all of these moves were with this season in mind; nor were all of them, strictly speaking, “Capitals” deals. Nevertheless, George McPhee was a busy man, a man to take action. But remember that choosing not to do something is an action, too. Hold onto that thought. We will get to it later. In the meantime, you can limit the discussion of these deals to impacts on the Capitals and distill this list of transactions into free-agent signings, trades, and one that is in a class of its own. First, the unrestricted free agent signings:

Jeff Halpern
Joel Ward
Roman Hamrlik
Tomas Vokoun

If you – a fan, like me – knew nothing else about these signings other than the names involved, you might think, “gee, this looks pretty good.” It looked pretty good to McPhee, too, as a matter of fact. At the time, he said, "All the holes are filled. I think we have a good, strong team."

An impartial observer (ok, a partial one) might have penciled this quartet in for 25 goals and 81 points for the skaters, and 32 wins for the goaltender (that’s what we prognosticated, anyway). More to the point, they would improve on the players they replaced through free agency or trade. Jeff Halpern would replace Boyd Gordon’s faceoff prowess, but do so with more offensive kick. Joel Ward would provide more points and sturdier play than Matt Bradley. Roman Hamrlik would replace Scott Hannan’s veteran edge, but do so with bit more balanced two-way play. Tomas Vokoun would be the stopper that Semyon Varlamov had the promise to be, but had yet to realize, at least on a consistent (or more accurately, on a consistently healthy) basis.

That’s on paper. Of course, hockey isn’t played on paper. What did the Caps actually get for all this hole-filling? They got 12 goals and 47 points – a career low in goals and points for Joel Ward, a career low in goals and points for Jeff Halpern, a career low in goals and points for Roman Hamrlik. The goalie had 25 wins, a career low for a season in which he played in more than 40 games and didn’t play for a bad team in south Florida. His save percentage for the season was his lowest since before the lockout. You seeing a pattern here?

More to the point, the players they replaced had comparable seasons. Boyd Gordon, Scott Hannan, and Matt Bradley were a combined 13-30-43, and Bradley missed almost the last two months of the season to injury. Semyon Varlamov had 26 wins for an inferior Colorado Avalanche team and a comparable save percentage and goals-against average (.913/2.53) to Vokoun’s (.917/2.51).

For this marching in place the Caps paid Ward $3 million (with three more years at that pay to go), Hamrlik $3.5 million (with another year on his contract), Halpern $825,000, and Vokoun $1.5 million. Vokoun’s contract was widely regarded as a deal when signed (yes, we thought so too – enthusiastically), but by the end? Debatable; it might have been a “$1.5 million” performance, although he was playing very well when injury cut his season short. In the context of the 2011-2012 season, how do you like those unrestricted free agent signings now?

Then there are the trades.

I said, “then there are the trades!”

With all due respect to Taylor Stefishen, Danick Paquettte, Tomas Kundratek, Kevin Marshall, and Mike Carman, the Caps made two trades of consequence for the 2011-2012 season. The first involved doing what the Caps have seemed loathe to do in recent years – trading a high draft pick. They traded their first round pick in the 2011 entry draft (26th overall) to the Chicago Blackhawks in a deal that netted forward Troy Brouwer, who was subsequently signed to a two-year, $4.7 million contract extension. Having failed to get any consistent production from Eric Fehr at right wing (largely a product of repeated shoulder injuries), Brouwer was that sturdy winger who could play with a physical edge, eat up minutes (he missed only five games over his previous two seasons), add some power play scoring (18 goals in three full seasons in Chicago), and play on the right side on any of the top three lines.  And, he had that Stanley Cup from his days in Chicago.

Brouwer certainly did eat up minutes, playing in all 82 games and averaging more than 17 minutes a game. He did play with a physical edge (seventh among all NHL forwards in hits, but with only 61 minutes in penalties), and he did chip in with goal scoring (18 goals, his 82-game average in Chicago over three full seasons). If there was a disturbing number, it was that he was on ice for more goals scored against than any Capital forward except Brooks Laich, who had tougher defensive assignments. But all told, it seems fair to conclude that the Caps got what they bargained for in Brouwer.

As for the other trade of consequence, it had no meaning to the Caps this year, at least in its return. The Caps traded Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first and a second round pick from the Avs. That might be a steal for the Caps in the longer run – two futures for a player that seemed disinclined to re-sign with the Caps without certain playing guarantees. It just does not mean a lot in terms of this season.

And that leaves a gaping hole. In the two weeks leading up to the February 27th trading deadline, 30 trades were made (source: “Trade Centre”). Of the 16 teams that were playoff-eligible on trading deadline day, 15 of them were involved on one trade or another. The only one that was not?... Pittsburgh (gotcha!).

OK, the Caps were not playoff eligible on that date; they were in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. But they did not make any deadline deals, either. Even the team that was sitting in tenth place in the Western Conference made a deal in that two-week period. That would be the Los Angeles Kings, who dealt defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional first-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Jeff Carter. That worked out well for the Kings.

If the Caps were unlikely to be a “seller” at the deadline, owing to their being on the edge of the playoff mix, they still had assets if they chose to go in that direction. Five players would be unrestricted free agents at the conclusion of the season – Mike Knuble, Alexander Semin, Jeff Halpern, Dennis Wideman, and Tomas Vokoun.

In the more likely event the Caps would be buyers, trying to add a piece or two for a playoff run, they had draft picks and prospects they could move. There were the two first round draft picks (their own and Colorado’s). At the time, they could have moved a prospect goaltender such as Braden Holtby (yeah, we know…). There were forwards Stanislav Galiev or Cody Eakin, defensemen Dmitry Orlov or Patrick Wey. Even Evgeny Kuznetsov might have been dangled. Not all of these prospects might have been desirable from other teams’ perspectives, and the Caps have been consistently averse to moving prospects. But the fact remains that the Caps were among a small number of playoff contenders that chose to make no moves at the trading deadline.

Given the record of the team at the time, it almost seemed like the Caps were seated at the poker table, were dealt a pair of sevens and chose not to draw any other cards. They chose to go with what brought them to ninth place at the trading deadline.

The lack of action at the trading deadline was a statement. The trouble is, the statement lacked a certain clarity. One could interpret it in different ways. On one hand (call it the “defiant” statement), it was the club saying, “this is the team we built, and we have confidence that we can win with it.” OK, does that comment make sense for a club that in February up to that trading deadline had a record of 5-7-1?

On the other hand (call it the “clear-eyed” statement), it was the club saying, “we cannot add enough assets to this team responsibly to make it a real Stanley Cup contender, so we will keep our powder dry, get another year of experience for the young kids, and see what the summer brings.” This might be closer to the truth, but it makes for a lousy marketing campaign. The best spin one can put on this, we suppose, is that the team did not make a bad situation worse.

The second statement, to the extent it is true, does reveal some inconvenient truths about this club. First, it is in regression. Regression is not a permanent state of nature, but the Caps are not as good a team – today – as the one that ended the 2009-2010 season, even with that team’s disastrous first round playoff loss to Montreal. Second, and this is a related point, it is shallow in skill. The Caps finished the season with arguably a viable first line (or at least three forwards of first line skill) in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin. And they had three third lines (or maybe a third and two fourths, depending on your inclination toward charitable interpretations). Third, the matter of a second-line center was and remains unsolved. This is not a new problem. The Caps tried patchwork in years past (Sergei Fedorov, Jason Arnott), but have been unable to find anything resembling a permanent solution. The Caps have not had two centers with more than 50 points on the same team since 2002-2003, when Robert Lang (69) and Michael Nylander (56) did it. And no, we do not consider Brooks Laich or Viktor Kozlov full-time centers in this comparison.

On the other hand, the club has outstanding depth in goal, evidenced by the emergence of Braden Holtby in the playoffs after both of the parent roster goalies went down to injury. The defense is a work in progress with John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov having only 461 regular season games of NHL experience among them. Although, the term “work in progress” applied to a club having made the playoffs for five straight years, yet not advancing past the second round is an uncomfortable one to contemplate.

As for the deal that was in a class of its own, that would be the coaching change in November. The Capitals were coming off two bitter disappointments in the playoffs, losing as a Presidents Trophy-winning team in 2010 and then being swept by a team they handled adequately in the regular season in the 2011 post season. One did not have to be especially intelligent to figure out that the head coach might be on the hot seat. We will not revisit the sequence of events that brought the Bruce Boudreau era to an end, but rather spend a moment on the successor. Hiring Dale Hunter was of a pattern, and we do not mean only George McPhee’s penchant for hiring coaches with no NHL head coaching experience (Hunter made four in a row). It was a display of the “out of the box” thinking that from time to time is expressed by McPhee. As with any “out of the box” thinking, there will be instances when it is successful (see: “Bruce Boudreau, 2008 playoff run”) and other times when it is not (see: “Pokulok, Sasha; 14th overall draft pick, 2005”).

But if you think outside the box on a draft pick, you have six other rounds of picks in that year, and the draft comes around in another year. Do it with a coach, and you might end up with a lot of turnover. The nature of tenure among hockey coaches is that it is Hobbesian – “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” A Lindy Ruff, who has been head coach of the Buffalo Sabres since July 21, 1997 (coincidentally, only about six weeks less than McPhee has been GM of the Capitals), is the exception. The Capitals, on the other hand, are about to select their sixth coach in that span of time. He will be their fourth coach since the beginning of the 2007-2008 season. Hopefully, this will be the charm.

In the end, the Caps won the off-season. The signings of Jeff Halpern, Tomas Vokoun, Joel Ward, and Roman Hamrlik; together with the trade for Troy Brouwer; looked good…on paper. In season, with the possible exception of Brouwer (or perhaps Hamrlik in terms of his late season performance), they underperformed expectations. None outperformed expectations. And in season, the Caps consummated no deals to improve on that roster. Given that “that roster” was as healthy as it was going to get in the playoffs it still managed only to hit the wall that has proved almost insurmountable for this franchise for decades – the second round. Couple that with having had to fire a coach in mid-season (rare is the instance in which that happens and the season is a success), and it suggests that there are many more holes on this team than we were led to believe existed last summer.

Grade: C-

Photo: Rod Lamkey, Jr./The Washingon Times

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2011-2012 By the Tens -- The Coaches

“You are rewarding a teacher poorly
 if you remain always a pupil.”
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

The players had their turn, now it’s the guys not wearing numbers on their backs.


The year started under a cloud. Bruce Boudreau started the season as the third-winningest coach in Washington Capitals franchise history (189 wins) and was one of only two Jack Adams Award winners for the Caps (Bryan Murray being the other). He was the only coach to lead the Capitals to two 50-win seasons in franchise history. But despite his record of achievement, there was the matter of the Capitals being swept out of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Add that to the disappointing performance of the 2009-2010 edition of the Caps, the one that won the league’s Presidents Trophy and then lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, and Boudreau was a coach on the hot seat to start the 2011-2012 season.

The clouds parted for a time when the club sped out of the gate, winning its first seven games. That would turn out to be an illusion. In five of those seven games the Caps would face their opponents’ backup goaltender. Four of the games would be one-goal decisions, three of them in extra time, a thin margin of decision. Five of the games would be in the friendly confines of Verizon Center, where the Caps had been difficult to beat in the regular season the previous three years (84-22-17).

The streak came to an abrupt end at the hands of an unexpected source. The Edmonton Oilers ended the streak when the Caps took to the road for their first western swing of the year. And against the precocious Oilers the things that would cause the Caps’ early season unraveling were exposed – too many shots from the perimeter with little purpose (35 shots on Nikolai Khabibulin), quiet performances from the players expected to contribute (no points from any of the three “Young Guns” playing in this game, Mike Green out with an injury), inopportune penalties (nine minor penalties) and an inability to kill them off (both Oiler goals scored on the power play). In all, it added up to a 2-1 loss.

Things got worse – quickly. The Caps followed up their first loss of the season with a 7-4 loss in Vancouver in which the Caps allowed three first period and three third period goals. Then there was the next game, at home against Anaheim, in which the fractures hidden below the surface might have been laid bare. With the Caps trailing the Anaheim Ducks by a goal and barely a minute left in regulation, Boudreau chose to leave captain Alex Ovechkin on the bench as the Caps pulled goalie Tomas Vokoun for an extra skater. Ovechkin muttering an epithet under his breath was captured on video, but it hardly seemed to matter when the Caps scored to force overtime, then won in the extra session.

We do not believe that one could draw a bright line from Ovechkin’s benching to what would happen three weeks later, but it was a clear indication that things were not all well. The Caps were being uncovered as something of a mirage, not as good as their seven-game start suggested. And when the Caps went 2-5-1 after their win over Anaheim, the rumbling got louder.

Washington won its two games immediately before the Thanksgiving holiday, but lost in embarrassing fashion at home to the New York Rangers in a matinee game on the day after Thanksgiving. The Rangers scored three goals in the first eight minutes of the second period and coasted from there to what was to that point their best offensive output of the season, a 6-3 win over the Caps. That set up a game in Buffalo the following night. The Caps would catch a break in that game, the Sabres having to ice a team that was missing nine regulars, including number one goaltender Ryan Miller. But the Sabres scored twice in the first period to give them the sense that they could win despite the absences, and would light up Tomas Vokoun for three more. The Caps managed only a penalty shot goal by Jason Chimera, and the Caps were embarrassed once more, 5-1. After that 7-0-0 start, the Caps were now 12-9-1 and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

Bruce Boudreau was fired two days later. General Manager George McPhee expressed the problem thusly, “The reason for the change was we weren’t winning, obviously, and this wasn’t a slump. You can ride out slumps. This was simply a case of the players were no longer responding to Bruce.”

By this time, the ledger of plusses and minuses in Boudreau’s approach had tilted heavily to the minus side. On the plus side, as a hockey lifer he had compiled an encyclopedic knowledge of the game. And, he had won championships at two stops in the minor leagues. He was widely viewed as a “players’” coach, one who would give the players a considerable amount of on-ice freedom to express their skills (although this might have been overplayed somewhat as an absence of structure).

On the other side, Boudreau had reengineered his approach twice in less than 12 months. From the pressure offense that he employed to great success in his first two and a half seasons (the problems against the Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs notwithstanding), he retooled the club into a defense-first, trapping team after an eight-game losing streak in December 2010. Then, after the second-round sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay in the 2011 playoffs, he came to camp looking to impose an “accountability” regime. What the Caps were left with was a team that could score (3.14 goals per game in the 22 games under Boudreau), but had reverted to old (read: bad) habits on defense – 3.27 goals/game, but truth be told, that might have been as much a product of poor goaltending as bad team defense.

If the players were not listening to the coach, was it a case of too many messages in too short a time? Whatever the reason, a change was made, and Dale Hunter, perhaps the most revered player in team history, was named head coach. Many thought that the hire would instill a sense of fire among the players, that somehow Hunter could impart his hard-edged style to a team that might have had too many peripheral players, too many floaters.

What they got was almost hockey’s equivalent of the rope-a-dope. The Capitals were not an especially aggressive forechecking team, and they did not produce on the other end of the ice at in a manner consistent with what was perceived as their skill level. In fact, the Caps started quite slow under their new coach. They scored one goal in five of their first nine games under Dale Hunter (2.33 goals/game). Their defense showed some improvement (two or fewer goals in six of those nine games; 2.56 goals/game), but the Caps were still only 4-4-1.

The Caps seemed to get whatever it was Hunter was trying to communicate starting in the games just before the new year. Starting with a 4-1 win over Nashville on December 20th, the Caps would not score fewer than two goals in nine consecutive contests (3.00 goals/game). Their defense seemed stuck, though, still allowing 2.56 goals per game. It left the Caps still largely treading water in terms of wins and losses, going 5-3-1 in those nine games.

It would be a problem that the Caps had for the rest of the regular season. You will recall that in the last three seasons, the Caps have had nine separate winning streaks of at least five games. Under Dale Hunter the Caps could not get enough traction to peel off more than three wins at a time. In Hunter’s 60 regular season games the Caps had a pair of four-game winning streaks and a pair of three-game winning streaks. But they also had three three-game losing streaks as well. It made for an overall record of 30-23-7 over 60 games, which was actually a slightly lower points pace (91.6 over 82 games) than that compiled by Bruce Boudreau in his 22 games (93.2 points).

The Caps made the playoffs – barely, clinching a spot in Game 81, but their history of ups and downs and their net minus in goals for/goals against under Hunter (2.48 GF/G; 2.57 GA/G) left the Caps as something less than a dominant team and one that would play close to the edge in its games (27 of the 60 games under Hunter one-goal decisions). Making things more difficult for Hunter was the fact that he would go into the playoffs with what was the number three goaltender on the depth chart – Braden Holtby – his other two netminders (Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun) injured.

And close to the vest is how Hunter played it. The Caps were hardly an offensive powerhouse, scoring only 29 goals in 14 games (2.07/game). But they were stingy, allowing only 30 goals in those 14 games (2.14/game). By deploying a strategy that emphasized collapsing in front of the net and defending shots, whatever shortcomings or nerves that might have accompanied Braden Holtby to the net for 14 games were minimized allowing him to finish the playoffs as the only goaltender not named Jonathan Quick to have a goals against average of 1.95 or lower and a save percentage of .935 or higher. The result was a lot of close games (13 of 14 being one-goal decisions, seven of which the Caps won)

Looking at their respective records this season…

(click pic for larger image)

…Hunter realized some marginal improvement in the performance numbers, but in terms of standings points earned could not much drag these Caps toward an improved performance level any more than could Bruce Boudreau.

In a way, Hunter’s performance might signal a fundamental problem with this team. It was built and nurtured with one style of hockey in mind, that being one that allowed for an expression of offensive skill. The core four of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green have been, for most of their respective careers, primarily offensive players. To that add a Brooks Laich, who improved his goals and points production in the Boudreau years, or a Dennis Wideman, who could be considered more an “offensive” defenseman. Youngsters coming through the system have substantial offensive gifts – John Carlson, Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson.

This was not a team engineered to “grind” out wins. It was arguably most successful when it steamrolled opponents. This presented Hunter with a problem. How could he implement a style that he evidently preferred that might not have been a good match for his roster? You might argue that Bruce Boudreau got this roster to adopt a more trapping style of play when they endured an eight-game losing streak in the 2010-2011 season. True enough. But did it have staying power as a mind-set among the players? Evidently not. As George McPhee pointed out when Boudreau was dismissed, “the players were no longer responding to Bruce.”

Given the cards he was dealt, perhaps what Hunter was left with was a situation of having to implement what he could in “chewable bites” to a roster not necessarily structured to be a team of cautious, patient counter-punchers. This idea manifested itself with clarity in the playoffs, where the Capitals played games so close to the vest that the largest lead they ever held lasted all of 4:56 (Game 2 of the second round series against the Rangers). Not only did they shutter their attack when holding one-goal leads, Hunter all but shouted that certain players would not be trusted late with one-goal leads, most notably the captain himself, Alex Ovechkin. That might have been an acknowledgment of a particular reality with this team. It was not equipped to play with the 200-foot discipline that allows for attack when opportunities arise, balanced with responsibility to know when those opportunities are not present and to play sound defensive hockey.

In the end, we are left with a bifurcated coaching situation in the 2011-2012 season – two coaches with very different philosophies, with very different personalities, but in the end with all too similar results.

On the one hand there is Bruce Boudreau, hockey’s “everyman,” a coach who has probably logged more bus miles in his career than half the drivers for Greyhound Lines. A coach who wears his emotions on his sleeve and says what’s on his mind. A coach who favors a pressure style that puts opponents back on their heels. For most of his tenure in Washington, it was a style that meshed with the talent available. But his personality almost got in the way by the end. A “players’ coach” who preached “accountability;” a pressure coach who now taught a trapping style. That the players spit the bit was, in retrospect, not all that surprising. This is not to absolve the players of blame; they, after all, had it pretty good with an accommodating coach who imparted a style to their liking, and they still did not meet expectations. But too many changes – in style and temperament – in too short a time doomed Boudreau.

It left Dale Hunter almost in a no-win situation. He inherited a team adrift and a situation in which he might not have had a practical path to implement his own style in its entirety to this team. It was one more change -- more passive, less opportunistic; more disciplined, less explosive. He fed them as much as they could seemingly handle, and it made for a more boring game, to be sure. But it provided enough structure that the team could function at a high enough level to make the playoffs. It was not, however, a style that could realistically be held together to keep winning long playoff series characterized by too many one-goal games. If a team plays enough of those games, chance events – a player missing an open net in overtime, another player taking a penalty late in a one-goal game – take on outsized importance.

Bruce Boudreau was not as bad a coach as he might have seemed at the end; a lack of maturity on the part of the players has to explain a good portion of the nose-dive after the seven-game winning streak to open the season. And Dale Hunter was not nearly as boring – at least in philosophy – as it might have seemed watching his team late in the season and in the playoffs. Both did what they could do with what they had. It just was not nearly enough for this team or these coaches. One hopes that the players will have learned that despite the difficulties this season, there were lessons to take forward from each of these coaches. Because now, it really is on them.


Boudreau: C
Hunter: B