Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On a Clear Day

Except for the blindingly bright blue sky, it was another day at the office, just like any other.

As I did hundreds of times before, I boarded a Metrorail train early Tuesday morning and rode into Washington with thousands of fellow commuters. As I did hundreds of times before, I arrived at my office in a building on the National Mall, checked my phone messages, checked my e-mail, and turned on the television to check the latest news on CNN.

There was nothing extraordinary. Another day at the office, just like any other.

I had an 8:30 meeting scheduled with a member of my staff to talk about financial issues we had to address as we were approaching the close of our fiscal year. We were exchanging pleasantries and getting to the issues in the discussion when I turned to glance at my television to see an unexpected sight. There on the screen was hole shaped like the cross-section image of an aircraft embedded in the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

Meeting over. The two of us sat there looking at the image of the smoke billowing from the gaping wound in the tower, and I thought to myself, “what was a commuter plane doing so close to a skyscraper in Manhattan?” At the moment, the news reports said nothing about a commercial aircraft, let alone any mention of hijackings or terrorism. We were just left to watch events unfold, just like millions of others turning on their televisions.

Barely 10 minutes later, as we were watching the feed looking out on the burning tower, we gazed in disbelief as another aircraft circled into the South Tower at more than 500 miles per hour, a fireball rising from the hole torn in the skyscraper. There was little left to the imagination; we were under attack.

What followed in our small corner of the world was confusion. We did not have procedures to follow in such an event. Who could conceive of it? And then another explosion, this one much closer. Strong enough to rattle my windows and physically move me in my chair across the floor and into my desk. I walked to the office next door to assure myself I wasn’t imagining things and asked my colleagues if they heard or felt that. Assured that they had, I said “I don’t know what it was, but it will be on CNN in five minutes.”

It was. The feed broke to the Pentagon where it was said an aircraft flew into the west face of the building. One could not help thinking that there was more to come.

The lack of information, both in the news reports coming over the media and circulating within our offices, left a void into which people started letting their imaginations and rumors run free. An explosion at the State Department. Another attack just minutes away. The National Mall is on fire (seriously!). Do we go home? Do we stay in place?

By this time a crowd assembled in my office, it being the only one with a working television. Few words were being spoken, the images on the screen doing all the speaking that needed to be done. And who could wrap their minds around all of it, anyway, at least enough to be able to explain what was going on?

Nothing could prepare us for what was about to unfold…the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, looking like a mushroom cloud settling into the streets of south Manhattan below. I remembered sitting on a train years ago as a youngster on my way through New York and seeing the towers rising under construction, the lights in the scaffolding in the upper floors shining brightly. In seconds, one tower was reduced to rubble and jagged shards of walls.

Not long after, the other tower met the same fate. We watched the communications tower at the top of the building settle into a cloud of dust as the upper floors gave way, another mushroom cloud descending into the streets. The images were almost too much to comprehend, and details began to emerge, if only in a trickle. Likely a terrorist attack and we all became familiar with the term, “al Qaeda.” More planes unaccounted for; then, CNN reported a crash of a “747” in Pennsylvania. Not sure if it was related to these attacks or not. It would not be until much later that the story of a Boeing 767 crashing into a reclaimed strip mine near Shanksville in western Pennsylvania – United 93 – would be made known.

We then got the word that we were released. People were fearful for how they were going to get out of the city. Traffic would surely be horrendous. Was Metrorail even safe? We just did not have any guide for what to do or how to behave.

The stubborn Irishman in me said not to go anywhere, to wait until the crowds dissipated. I stayed in my office watching the reports continue to flood in. Time seemed to have been suspended. It was all becoming something of a blur. Deciding it was time to go I looked at the clock. It was about 1:00 p.m., more than four hours since I was sitting in a room with a member of my staff to talk about things that just did not seem nearly as important anymore.

I closed and locked my office, the lights in the hall already out and not a soul in evidence. I walked to the door of our building, not knowing what I would find on the other side. I opened it to streets that were empty, sidewalks without a tourist or a commuter walking upon them. Only the traffic lights changing broke the stillness of the image, but the constant wailing of sirens reminded me that this was different.

It was now a day unlike any other I had ever known.

Remember those who were lost that day, and remember the heroes on the ground, in the towers, and in the air who tried to save others and defend our country.

Washington Capitals 2012-2013 Previews -- Defensemen: John Carlson

John Carlson


Gold watch, diamond ring,
I ain't missin' not a single thing.
And cufflinks, stick pin
When I step out I'm gonna do you in.
They come runnin' just as fast as they can
Coz' every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

-- Frank Lee Beard, Joe Michael Hill, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)

In the Style Setters 2012 section of Washingtonian, “15 of Washington’s most fashionable people turn it out” on the pages of the magazine. One of them is a smiling young man, impeccably dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit with all the accessories. And why shouldn’t he be smiling? Just 22 years old, a first-round draft choice in the National Hockey League, veteran (if you will) of almost 200 games, and whose number “74” jersey is adorned by many Washington Capitals fans in the D.C. metropolitan region. And, he is about to sign (labor issues willing) a contract that will pay him something substantially more than the $845,000 he was paid over each of the past three years.

Yes, there is much to smile about. Defenseman John Carlson enjoyed what had been the uninterrupted climb from first-round draft choice to prolific scorer in Canadian juniors, to tournament winning overtime goal in the 2010 world juniors tournament, to Calder Cup champion, to a fifth-place finish (and highest ranking defenseman) in Calder Trophy voting for top NHL rookie in 2011.

Then came the “interruption.” The 2011-2012 season was full of interruptions. He suffered his first “minus” season (minus-15) since he was a 17-year old playing for the Indiana Ice in the USHL in 2006-2007. Only three defensemen in entire league (of 297 having dressed) were on the ice for more goals against. None of them happened to play for a playoff team.

Carlson did face stiff competition – 22nd highest quality of competition at 5-on-5 among defensemen playing in at least 40 games last season – but he also had the 24th highest goals against average-on ice per 60 minutes of that same group of defensemen (behindthenet.ca). Only two of the 23 defensemen above him played for playoff teams, and one of them (Pavel Kubina) was traded from a non-playoff team (Tampa Bay) to a contender (Philadelphia) at the trading deadline. The next worst Capital defenseman in these rankings was Dennis Wideman, who was 85th. In his last 55 games, Carlson was minus-23. The regular season was not kind to him.

Fearless’ Take…

Carlson did achieve a measure of redemption in the playoffs. Among defensemen playing in at least 10 playoff games (a group of 39 defensemen), Carlson had the eighth lowest goals against-on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. He was 14th in Corsi relative to his quality of competition. And he did this by having the lowest percentage of offensive zone starts of any of the 39 defensemen in this group. Only ten of these defensemen were on ice for fewer even-strength goals, and only three of that group – Roman Hamrlik, Shea Weber, and Ryan Suter – had more even strength ice time per game. He and his partner, Karl Alzner, had become as dependable a defensive shut down pair as there was in the post-season.

Cheerless’ Take…

What’s with this team and their reverse gear? Ovechkin slides backward. Mike Green. That guy who’s in Carolina now? And Carlson? If it was just him, maybe it would be just one of those speed bumps on the road of his career. But there seems to be a pattern with this team, and folks might just think he’s the latest to catch that bug. He was a “plus” player in only 13 of his last 55 games last season. 

The Big Question… Which John Carlson will Caps fans see in 2012-2013, the regular season disappointment of last season or the post-season cornerstone?

John Carlson will not be 23 years old until January. It is a bit much, perhaps, to expect him to show the maturity of a player who is coming up on 33 years old. As such, there are bound to be potholes and detours on the road of his professional development. The best that one could say is that the regular season was something of a wake-up call, that nothing can be taken for granted. That Carlson stepped his game up in the post-season suggests a lesson learned. He has the tools to continue that march upward on his professional arc, and his head might be in the right place now to continue that progress.

In the end…

When he was a prospect, scouts and coaches said stuff like this of John Carlson

“John Carlson is a big burly defensemen, he is a real good skater and a strong skater. He runs the power-play from the top of the umbrella and he has a very heavy shot. He’s a very self-assured kid and rightfully so -- he’s a boy, yet in a man’s body and very physically strong . . . I knew when I first saw him that he was a first-round pick. He was a guy I had seen before as an under-ager. He had all the tools – size, skill, physical presence and charisma."

-- Jack Barzee, NHL Central Scouting

"When I look at John Carlson, I just see pro written all over him. He's big, strong, can absolutely rip it. He's good on his feet and agile for a big kid. He's poised at all times and just has the mind for the game. He never gets rattled . . . as a coach, you know what you are going to get every time John goes out on the ice."

-- Charlie Skjodt, Head Coach, Indiana Ice

Last season he struggled in playing to that profile. He did record more goals and more power play goals than he did in 2010-2011, but the presence was not there on a night to night basis in the defensive end. He did not seem to be right enough on his feet to be in a good position to prevent scoring chances and looked at times to be suffering brain lock rather than exhibiting a mind for the game.

The playoffs did provide that measure of redemption for a disappointing regular season, and the task now will be to carry that forward into the 2012-2013 season. It won’t be enough to dress sharp, he now has to play sharp if the Caps are to move closer to the goal of a Stanley Cup.

Projection: 82 games, 10-26-36, plus-11

(photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)