Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hockey Held Hostage: What's a Player to Do? Have a Bake Sale!

So here we are, Day 4 of “Hockey Held Hostage,” and as the stars take their pucks and sticks and head to Europe for the duration, we are left to wonder, what might the rank and file NHLer do as the siege drags out over the next days, weeks…or months?

And it came to us… BAKE SALE!!!*

Yes, the time-honored fund-raising tool used by Little League teams, school clubs, and any number of groups looking to scratch together some scratch. And we wondered what specialties might be available from our Washington Capitals in their food booths at the HHH Bake Sale 2012. Wonder no more…

Beagle's Bagels… Jay Beagle serves up those yeasty, chewy delights in such varieties as Body Check Chocolate Chip, Slap Shot Sesame, Overtime Onion, Goal Line Garlic, and Hat Trick Honey Wheat.

Pastries by Perreault… The flashy forward serves up pastries with a French-Canadian twist. Neutral Zone Napoleons, Even Strength Eclairs, and Drop-Pass Dacquoises will satisfy your sweet tooth. Poke Check Poutine didn’t make the cut.

Carlzner’s Cookies… The dynamic defensive duo team up to bring you a dazzling variety of cookies. Snap Shot Snickerdoodles, Body Check Chocolate Chunk, Blue Line Biscotti, and of course “Oates”meal Cookies. Their Game Misconduct Gingerbread will have Brendan Shanahan suspending you for overindulgence. Now, if they can just keep @AlznersDogs from gobbling up all the goodies.

Holtby’s Heavenly Home Style Delights… Braden Holtby “saves” dessert with such fare as Blocker Brownies, Butterfly Bon Bons, and Trapezoid Tortes.

Bread by Brouwer… Troy Brouwer takes flour, yeast, salt and water and performs magic with such specialties as… Zamboni Zucchini Bread, Change on the Fly Challah, Backhand Banana. His “Missed Open Net Nut Muffins” are a seasonal item available in the spring. Let’s hope things don’t go that far.

Crabb Cakes… Joey Crabb might be new to the Capitals, but he is no stranger to a springform pan. Stop by and try such delicacies as… Chimera Chiffon Cake (a nod to Jason Chimera that you’ll finish faster than Chimera on a breakaway), Rock the Red Velvet Cake, Crash the Net Carrot Cake, and Power Play Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

Pies You Laich… Brooks Laich isn’t only adept at changing tires. He can fill your kitchen with the sweet aroma of a fresh-baked pie. Your mouth will be watering as soon as you step up when you recognize the classics… Breakaway Blueberry, Stay-at-Home Strawberry Rhubarb, Playmaker Peach, and Cherry-Picking Cherry.

Ribeirolls… You’ll “pivot” to Mike Ribeiro’s stand to sample some of the best rolls and specialty items you’ll find anywhere. Hearty treats such as… Sin Bin Cinnamon Rolls, Stickhandling Sticky Buns, Crash the Crease Croissants, and Chip and Chase Ciabatta Rolls.

Ro-Nuts… Roman Hamrlik provides your minimum daily requirement of that sugary staple of hockey fans all over North America, the doughnut. His Off-the-Glass Glazed is to die for. But you’ll also enjoy… Power Play Powdered Sugar, Boston Bruin Crème, Man Advantage Maple, Left Wing Lemon, and Cross-Check Crullers.

Wolski’s Virtuous Vegan… Wojtek Wolski takes the guilt out of baked goods with a vegan approach. Screen Shot Scones, Short Side Shortbread, Five-Hole Whole Grain Bread, and Biscuits in the Basket will be kind to your whole body health.

We gained ten pounds just writing this.

* Actually, it didn’t “come to us.” We have to give a stick tap to JP over at Japers’ Rink for being the inspiration for this dream sequence.

Washington Capitals 2012-2013 Previews -- Defensemen: Jack Hillen

Jack Hillen

Theme: “Time is a circus, always packing up and moving away.”
-- Ben Hecht

Defenseman Jack Hillen put together a fine four-year career at Colorado College, topping it off with being named Defensive Player of the Year and a first team all-star in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in addition to being named as an All-American. After finishing up his college career in 2008, a season in which he was 6-31-37 in 41 games, he found himself undrafted by any NHL team. He signed with the New York Islanders as a free agent after completing his NCAA eligibility and dressed for two games in his first taste of NHL action.

Hillen would play in 175 games for the Islanders over four seasons averaging almost 19 minutes a game in his appearances. In his last season with the Islanders he suffered a concussion and a shoulder injury that caused him to miss 11 games. He would not be extended a qualifying offer by the Islanders and was picked up by the Nashville Predators on a one-year deal.

He dressed for 55 games for the Predators in 2011-2012, recording a pair of goals and six points. But once more he found himself without having an offer extended to him. Enter the Washington Capitals, who signed Hillen to a one year deal at the same pay as under his Nashville contract -- $650,000.

It is an odd circumstance his being signed by the Capitals. Coming to Washington reunites Hillen with Joey Crabb, a teammate for Hillen’s first two years at Colorado College. Then there is his unfortunate experience with Alex Ovechkin. In a visit to Long Island on January 26, 2010 – a 7-2 win over the New York Islanders – Ovechkin recorded ten shots on goal and four other attempts that were blocked. One of the shots that was blocked was done so by Hillen’s jaw. Despite the injury that left him bleeding on the ice Hillen managed to skate off under his own power, but he did miss nine games. Ovechkin did not score a goal in that game.

Fearless’ Take…

One can never have too many defensemen. The Caps have not dressed fewer than eight defensemen for a season in any year since the first lockout and have dressed as many as 13 in a season (2008-2009). Hiller might not be a sure bet as a top-six defenseman, but he will get minutes. Hillen is not a big defenseman (5’10”, 190), but has a reputation as a good skater. He might thrive under Adam Oates more than he might in other systems, given the expectation that Oates will put a premium on pressure and that as an assistant in New Jersey for two years he saw the likes of Andy Greene and Matt Taormina, defensemen of about the stature of Hillen.

Cheerless’ Take…

Alzner, Carlson, Green, Hamrlik, Orlov, Schultz, Erskine…Hillen. Sure, it is likely that the Caps are going to dress something more than six defensemen this season (assuming that any dress at all), but an undersized guy who doesn’t provide much offense (199th among 297 defensemen in points) or physical play (187th of 297 defensemen in hits) is not likely to get a lot of minutes unless things go wrong. He was sixth in games played by the Predators last season, but you wonder if that was a product of Jonathan Blum and Ryan Ellis being on a yo-yo between Nashville and Milwaukee of the AHL, and Roman Josi missing 30 games to injury. Just remember, Hillen played in only two of Nashville’s ten playoff games and got less than eight minutes a game in them.

The Big Question… Can Hillen leap-frog into a top-six spot?

Hillen was a top-six defenseman on Islander teams that had modest aspirations and a lack of depth. In Nashville, his 55 games might have been more a product of circumstance. Certainly that seems to be the case given that the Predators chose to stick with younger options in the lower pairings than re-sign Hillen. The Caps have a more veteran group fighting for third pair spots (Jeff Schultz and John Erskine have 797 regular season games of experience between them to 230 for Hillen), which will make the contest difficult from Hillen’s perspective. If he has an advantage it might be that he could be a more mobile defenseman than either Schultz or Erskine and a better fit for Oates’ approach. But since both Oates and Hillen are unseen commodities in these parts so far, it makes for a fuzzy picture trying to look ahead.

In the end…

Given the way the Capitals roster is currently set up, Hillen will get minutes. How many might be more a product of what happens around him than what he can do to make his own case. Injuries and slumps happen. Mike Green’s availability is no sure thing, and Dale Hunter cut back on Roman Hamrlik’s ice time when Hamrlik was around for too many scoring chances through the middle of last season. At age 26 (he will be 27 in January) he seems to have reached his niche in the NHL, a defenseman who is in that 6/7/8 twilight zone. It is a place that is important for depth purposes, but it is one that will always have him on the margin of regular employment in the NHL. And the Capitals being his third team in three years, whether Washington will be a destination or another stop on the journey is unclear.

Projection: 34 games, 1-3-4, plus-3

Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images North America

Washington Capitals 2012-2013 Previews -- Defensemen: Roman Hamrlik

Roman Hamrlik

Theme: “Character is the impulse reined down into steady continuance.”
-- Charles Henry Parkhurst

No active NHL player has appeared in more career games than Roman Hamrlik. Were he to play in all 82 games this season he would climb into the top-20 all-time in games played. At the moment he stands at 1,379 regular season games played. He does not have a Stanley Cup.*  One might think that a player who in 19 seasons has not played for a Stanley Cup champion has toiled for by and large awful teams. Not so, Hamrlik.

Oh, there have been a few. The 54-loss team he played for in Tampa in his rookie season qualifies, but that might be expected given that the 1992-1993 season was the Lightning’s inaugural season (and they took Hamrlik with their very first franchise pick, first overall in the 1992 draft).

The 2000-2001 New York Islanders team would qualify, too. That team finished with 51 losses – last in standings points in the league. But that was Hamrlik’s first year on Long Island and merely the latest in a string of poor seasons for the Islanders – their fifth in seven seasons in which they failed to reach 60 standings points (even extrapolating their results from the shortened 1994-1995 season wouldn’t have gotten them to 60). In Hamrlik’s second season the Islanders jumped to 96 points for the season – eighth best in the league.

Looking at his whole body of work, Hamrlik’s teams have a combined record of 675-646-117-89 over his 19 seasons. He spent his first five and a half seasons in Tampa with the Lightning, being a part of the growing pains of that new franchise. He was a combined minus-124 in 377 games with Tampa. Since then he is a combined plus-79 in 1,002 games and was a minus player in only two of his last 13 and a half seasons. In 19 seasons he has had only one in which he recorded fewer than 20 points, that being last season with the Caps when he finished 2-11-13 in 68 games.

Even his season with the Caps last year was an example of regressing to the steady, reliable play the characterizes his career. In his first 27 games he struggled, going 1-0-1, minus-10. But over his last 47 games he was 1-11-12, plus-21 (a 2-19-21, plus-37 pace over 82 games). Hamrlik caught a break in terms of the quality of competition he faced at 5-on-5 – 165th among 198 defensemen playing in at least 40 games – but given that he also finished 147th among that same group of defensemen in offensive zone starts, he performed rather well (numbers from He demonstrated that he could be a solid second pair partner.

Fearless’ Take…

Hamrlik stepped up against stiffer competition last season. Against teams that would make the playoffs out of the Eastern Conference he was 1-6-7, plus-6. Then, in the post-season, he was second in overall scoring among Capitals defensemen (1-3-4 in 14 games) and led the team with a plus-8. Only Karl Alzner logged more even-strength ice time in the post season than did Hamrlik, and he was on ice for only eight of the 30 goals allowed by the Caps (only five of the 24 at even strength). John Carlson and Karl Alzner get more attention as the closest thing the Caps have to a shut-down defensive pair, but Hamrlik was quite effective in a steady, understated way.

Cheerless’ Take…

There is only one defenseman currently under contract in the NHL who is older than Roman Hamrlik (Adrian Aucoin). In the last 25 seasons only 26 defensemen have played in 50 or more games in a season at age 38 or older (some of them did it multiple times). Only 18 played 65 or more games in a season. You have to wonder how much Hamrlik will have in the tank.

The Big Question… Does Roman Hamrlik get second-pair minutes with the Caps?

Karl Alzner and John Carlson are likely to get the most minutes as a pair for this club. Last year, each of them averaged about 18 minutes of even-strength ice time per game. Mike Green would appear likely to get almost as many minutes (he averaged 17 even strength minutes a night in his 32 games). Who gets the minutes on the other side of that second pairing is something of an open question. Dennis Wideman took his 18:41 of even strength ice time that he averaged last season to Calgary, and Dmitry Orlov might not be ready to assume than much of a load. It would be hard to think that anyone but Hamrlik would be paired with Green on the second pair to start the season (hey, humor us about that). Whether Hamrlik will have enough to be on that pair in the spring is another matter.

In the end…

Except for that 27-game stretch to open the season last year, Roman Hamrlik has been a remarkable steady performer over his 19 seasons. He does not put up big numbers, but he does put up consistent numbers. He is no longer the scorer who put up 40 or more points in six of his first 11 seasons, but he could be a decent bet to put up something in the 20 point neighborhood. Doing so would depend on his playing 65-plus games. And while Cheerless has a point about age and defensemen in the NHL, the fact is that Hamrlik played fewer than 68 games (his total last season) only once in his last 16 seasons. When you account for the abbreviated 1994-1995 season in which he played in all 48 games, he has only one season in which he has played fewer than 64 games. Durability has not been an issue. That will be the thing to watch as the season unfolds. If he dressed as consistently as he has over 19 seasons, that “steady continuance” is almost sure to follow.

Projection: 67 games, 3-15-18, plus-13

* Nine players have appeared in more games and not won a Cup, four of them also having been Capitals at some point in their careers: Phil Housley, Mike Gartner, Dale Hunter, and Doug Mohns).

Photo: AP Photo/Alan Diaz