Monday, October 08, 2012

Washington Capitals 2012-2013 Previews -- Forwards: Joel Ward

Joel Ward

Theme: “A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.”
-- Henrik Ibsen

Dale Hunter, Joe Juneau, Joel Ward.  Whatever Joel Ward does over the remaining three years of his contract with the Washington Capitals, his name will be mentioned along with those of Dale Hunter and Joe Juneau as Capitals who ended a playoff series with an overtime goal in Game 7.  It was the high point of what must have been a frustrating season for the newcomer who arrived in Washington as a free agent in July 2011.

Ward started well enough with points in his first two games as a Capital and going 4-3-7, plus-6 in his first dozen games.  But when Ward notched that fourth goal in his 12th game, the first Caps goal in what would be a 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on November 5th, it would be the last goal he would score for 26 games.  And it wasn’t as if breaking the goalless streak led to a deluge.  When he broke the streak with a goal against San Jose in a 5-2 loss on January 7th, he promptly embarked on a goalless streak of 21 games.

It was a barren stretch that was part of a season in which Ward finished with full-season career lows in goals (six), power play goals (none), game-winning goals (none), and shots on goal (79).  He was such a non-factor on offense that despite playing in 73 games he did not qualify to be ranked among forwards in shooting percentage.  Not that it mattered; his 7.6 percent efficiency would have ranked him 229th of 282 qualifying forwards.

But there is a flip side to this story.  There were 308 forwards who were on ice for more goals against than was Joel Ward last season.  In more than 900 minutes of ice time he was on ice for a total of 25 goals, only 11 percent of the total number of goals Washington allowed last season (226).  None of the other ten Capital forwards playing in at least 60 games was close to that low a total (Mathieu Perreault was on ice for 31 goals in 64 games).  To put those numbers in a little perspective, Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron was on ice for 51 goals in 1,500 minutes of ice time.  Joel Ward might not be a Selke-level quality of defender, but he had a very effective season helping keep opponents off the scoreboard.

Fearless’ Take…

Let’s dive a little deeper into that defensive thing for a moment.  Considering that he struggled with his own offense, it is impressive that he was 45th among 368 NHL forwards playing in at least 40 games in his plus-minus/60 minutes at 5-on-5.  He had the 14th lowest goals against/on ice per 60 minutes among those 368 forwards.  His was the 15th highest PDO value among those forwards, a product of Caps goalies having a .944 save percentage when he was on the ice in those situations (21st).  And it is not as if he was facing stiffs; Ward finished in the top half of those forwards (168th) in quality of competition faced (all numbers from

Cheerless’ Take…

Lemme get this straight.  The Caps sign a guy to a four year/$12 million contract, largely off the fact that he could give solid third line minutes (he was fourth among forwards in average ice time in Nashville in 2010-2011), that he could contribute on the power play (he was third in power play goals for Nashville in 2010-2011), and could be sturdy in the post season (he led the Predators in total and power play scoring in the 2011 post season).  So, he gets his average ice time cut by more than four and a half minutes a game, he fails to record a single power play point, and that overtime goal against Boston in Game 7 of the first round was his only playoff goal.   The Caps bought a heavy duty pickup truck and used it as a lawn ornament.

The Big Question… Was Ward’s season in 2011-2012 an aberration, or was it part of a slow decline in production?

17-13-10-6… 35-34-29-18… 12.8 - 9.7 - 6.4 - 7.6.  That is Joel Ward’s four-year progression in goals, points, and shooting percentage, respectively.  There are 10 players that identifies as spot-on comparables with Ward in terms of his $3.0 million cap hit.  Those ten players averaged 75 games played last season with a 19-23-42 scoring line.  Ward was 6-12-18 in 73 games.  He certainly showed glimpses early on of what he was brought to Washington for, but as the season wore on his offense dried up.  To his credit, he played hard and responsibly in the defensive end in a system that valued those attributes.  But at $3.0 million a year, 18 points is probably below the low end of expected contributions in the offensive end.  Given the forwards the Caps have assembled for this season, can Ward expect to improve on his production from getting more than the 12:25 a night he skated last season?

In the end…

If you look at what projects as the Caps’ top three lines, you can see an Ovechkin-Backstrom-Brouwer top line.  On the second line you can see Mike Ribeiro centering Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera.  A third line might have Brooks Laich centering Wojtek Wolski and Ward.  On the other hand, if the Caps want to get a player like Mathieu Perreault minutes, Ward could be fighting for fourth line time with Matt Hendricks, Joey Crabb, and Jay Beagle.

Ward suffered a lot last season from having a poorly defined role and was the victim of deployment decisions that seemed at odds with the reasons that made his signing logical.  He might be embarking on a similar journey of uncertainty this season.  Some of that uncertainty is a product of the Caps taking chances with the likes of Wolski or watching to see if last year’s production from Perreault can be duplicated, if not improved upon.  That makes for the possibility of opportunities for a veteran such as Ward.  And as Caps fans saw in Game 7 against the Bruins last season, Ward is capable of taking advantage of an opportunity. 

Projection:  78 games, 9-13-22, plus-12

Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

First Time and The Charm

Now that the Washington Nationals have won their first post-season game – the first time a baseball team in Washington won a playoff game since October 5, 1933 (their only win in a five-game World Series loss to the New York Giants), it might be instructive to take a look at the experience of other teams in these parts in their first experience in the post-season.

Washington Capitals

First, there are our Capitals.  In their first eight years in the league, starting with the 1974-1975 season, the Caps averaged 54 standings points a season (in an 80-game schedule) and never climbed abve 70 points.  They hit that mark in the 1981-1982 season.  But in the 1982-1983 season they made it to the promised land for the first time.

Caps fans will remember that year as the one in which the Caps and their brand new General Manager David Poile pulled the trigger on a trade that probably saved the franchise in D.C., picking up defenseman Rod Langway, along with forwards Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin, and defenseman Brian Engblom from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for forward Ryan Walter and defenseman Rick Green.

The quartet solidified a developing lineup, and the Caps finished the season 39-35-16, third in the Patrick Division.  It earned them a shot at the defending Stanley Cup champions, the New York Islanders.  It was an odd series, and not only for the Caps making an appearance.  It was one of only three of eight first round series featuring an “All-American” matchup (it was the last time to date that all active Canadian teams made the playoffs). 

The Islanders dispatched the Caps in Game 1, 5-2, perhaps leaving the impression that the upstart Caps would be no more than a speed bump in the Islanders’ road to their fourth straight Stanley Cup.  But the Caps returned the favor in Game 2, besting the Islanders by a 4-2 margin on Long Island.  The win might have fueled a sense of hope among Caps fans that an upset was possible as the clubs took the series to Landover, MD.  What it did, though, was get the Islanders’ attention.  New York outscored the Caps 12-5 in Games 3 and 4 to take the best-of-five series, three games to one.  Bobby Gould scored five goals in the four-game series, almost matching the combined output of his teammates (six).  No other Cap had more than one goal in the four-game series.

If one could find solace in the series loss it was that while the Caps were but a speed bump on the Islanders’ road to that fourth straight Stanley Cup, that was more than could be said for the Islanders’ finals opponent; the Islanders swept the Edmonton Oilers in four games by a combined 17-6 margin in goals.  We will leave out the fact that Edmonton would win five of the next seven Stanley Cups.

Washington Bullets

The “Baltimore Bullets” had already been a well-traveled team, the franchise having originated as the Chicago Packers in 1962, a team that won only 18 games in one 80-game season in that incarnation.  They became the Chicago Zephyrs in 1963 and won 25 games.  The Midwest not agreeing with the club, it became the “Baltimore Bullets” in 1964, and Baltimore would be home for the next ten seasons.  The club would make it as far as the NBA finals once – in 1971 – but would be no match for the Lew Alcindor-led Milwaukee Bucks, who crushed the Bullets in a four-game sweep, winning three of the four games by double-digit margins.

After a 1972-1973 season in which the team won 52 games and made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Bullets moved to College Park, MD, while their new home – the Capital Centre – was being finished in Landover.  Still being in Maryland, the team apparently could not bring itself to adopting the city of Washington in its name, becoming the “Capital Bullets” for one season.  That being the case, we think it appropriate to consider the following season – the 1974-1975 season played out of Capital Centre – as the club’s first in ‘Washington” (although the “Washington Bullets” played in Landover, which was outside the Capital Beltway, not inside it as it was when playing in College Park as the “Capital Bullets”).

That 1974-1975 season was the first and, to date, only season in which the Bullets/Wizards franchise won 60 games, posting a 60-22 record.  It was a team that was loaded – Elvin Hayes and Phil Chenier each averaged more than 20 points a game; Hayes and Wes Unseld averaged more than ten rebounds a game.  Kevin Porter averaged eight assists a game.  In the post season the Bullets were taken to seven games by the Buffalo Braves before blowing out the Braves in a 115-96 Game 7.  They were taken to six games by the Boston Celtics before winning that Game 6 by a 98-92 margin.  But that’s when the music stopped for the Bullets.  The Golden State Warriors swept Washington in four games in the finals, and even though the Bullets would win their only title in 1978, this performance was perhaps the first instance of what would later become the “Curse O’ Les Boulez.”

Washington Redskins

Once upon a time there was a team called the Orange Athletic Club, a team that began as an independent football team in  Orange, New Jersey, in 1887.  And that they were for 32 years, until they decided to call themselves the Orange A.C. Golden Tornadoes (which sounds like a smoothie drink you might find in a mall food court or at a cheap bar at happy hour). The Golden Tornadoes played another ten seasons as an independent before dropping the “A.C. Golden” from their name and joining the National Football League as the Orange Tornadoes.

“Orange” became “Newark” in 1930 when the team changed cities.  Bad move.  The Tornadoes won one game in that 1930 season, went through three coaches, and had their rights sold back to the NFL.  Even though the league offered the defunct franchise to the highest bidder, no one wanted it (to be fair there was a depression going on).  In 1932, however, Boston was awarded an NFL franchise, and the core of the old Tornadoes became members of the Boston Braves.

From 1932 through the 1935 season, the Braves were the epitome of mediocrity, posing a combined record of 17-23-5.  What could be done to kick-start the club?  Why, a name change, of course.  The Boston Braves became the Boston Redskins in 1936, posted their only above-.500 season (7-5-0), and reached the NFL championship, losing to the Green Bay Packers, 21-6.

The Redskins celebrated by moving the whole enterprise to Washington.  Actually, the team’s inability to draw flies to Fenway Park probably had something to do with the move.  And it worked out pretty well, especially when the club was about to break in arguably its best player ever – quarterback Sammy Baugh, who they drafted out of Texas Christian University.  The club improved on its last season in Boston, going 8-3-0 in its inaugural season in Washington.  This was long before wild-cards and conference championships and that sort of month-long nonsense that is the NFL playoffs today.  Back then it was an Eastern Division, a Western Division, and the teams that won their divisions met in the NFL Championship Game (without Roman numerals).

The Redskins and Chicago Bears traded leads in the title game, the Skins drawing first blood in the first quarter, but relinquishing the lead on a pair of touchdowns by the host team.  Washington tied the game at 14-all in the third quarter, but Chicago got it back to carry a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter.  Then it was Sammy Time.  Baugh completed two touchdown passed in the fourth quarter to give the Redskins a 28-21 win it their first year carrying the banner for Washington.

So there you go.  The Nats are 1-0 in their first playoff appearance, leaving Washington teams 2-2 in opening games as a playoff participant (Redskins and Nationals wins, Bullets and Capitals losses).  The Nationals are not as late to the party in making their first playoff appearance (eighth season) as were the Capitals (their ninth season), but not nearly as quick as the Bullets or Redskins, both of whom appeared in the post-season in their first years in Washington and both reaching the title round of their respective leagues.

And that leaves open the question, will the Nationals merely be somebody’s “speed bump” on the way to a World Series title, as the Caps were for the Islanders on their trip to a Stanley Cup, or will they make their own mark by reaching the title round, as the Bullets and Redskins did in their first seasons here?

Here’s hoping we have another couple of weeks to get an answer to that question.

Washington Capitals 2012-2013 Previews -- Forwards: Mike Ribeiro

Mike Ribeiro


"Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you."
-- Walt Whitman

On the last day of the 2005-2006 season Jonas Johansson dressed for his one and only game in the NHL, taking the ice for the Washington Capitals.  Seven shifts, four minutes, no shots, no points, and an interference penalty taken.  That is one more game and four more minutes played for the Caps than has been played by Mike Ribeiro.  When April comes along, that might still be the case, depending on what the league and its players association does regarding a new collective bargaining agreement.

For now, Caps fans can only imagine life with a bona fide second line center, a position that has been a problem without a solution for a while (the last time the Caps had two centers with at least 60 points was when Robert Lang and Michael Nylander did it in 2002-2003).  When Nicklas Backstrom went down to injury in the team’s 38th game last season and missed the next 40 contests due to the effects of a concussion, the depth problem at center was brought into stark relief.  The Caps played “center-by-committee” on the scoring lines with Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, and Mathieu Perreault.  Combined they finished with 46 goals and 117 points, which on a per-82 game basis was 17-26-43.  It was not an especially impressive result.

Which brings us to Mike Ribeiro, who came to the Caps last June from the Dallas Stars in a trade for forward Cody Eakin and a second round draft choice.  Over the last six years in Dallas Ribeiro’s per-82 game scoring pace was 22-51-73, and his corresponding power play scoring line was 7-19-26.  That last line could be very important to the Caps if you consider that Alex Ovechkin led the Caps last year with 23 power play points and led the Caps the previous year with 24 power play points.

Last season Ribeiro’s power play production was his lowest in six seasons playing in Dallas.  It was part of a bigger problem in Big D, the fact that the Stars were dead last among the league’s 30 teams in total power play goals scored (33) and power play efficiency (13.5 percent).  Still, his scoring or assisting on 15 of 33 total power play goals (45 percent) was roughly consistent with his contributions the previous year (23 of 55 goals; 42 percent), and better than 2009-2010 (23 of 61 goals; 38 percent).

Offense is why Ribeiro is in Washington (well, figuratively for the moment), and that – if you happen to have watched him in Dallas – might mean that there are other parts of his game not as well developed.  One knock on his play in Dallas was a propensity to spend too much time on the ice on his shifts.  In fact he was eighth among centers in average shift time last season (0:53) and not out there much longer, on average, than either Marcus Johansson or Nicklas Backstrom (both at 0:51 per shift).  He is not especially adept at faceoffs, never having topped 46.6 percent wins in his six years in Dallas.  Then again, the Caps have had faceoff winning machines in Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, and Jeff Halpern, too. 

Fearless’ Take…

It’s of limited use to compare numbers from different teams, but let’s do that anyway.  Mike Ribeiro had a larger positive difference in goals scored/for-on ice to goals scored/against-on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (+0.11) than any Capital center last season, except Mathieu Perreault (+0.95).  He faced a higher quality of competition that any Capital center (numbers from  But that aside, let’s go back to that average of 73 points per 82 games over the last six years.  The last time a Caps center not named “Backstrom” had more than that in a single season was back in 2000-2001 when Adam Oates, who is now the head coach for the Caps, finished with 82 points.

Cheerless’ Take…

Mike Ribeiro had a higher share of offensive zone starts at 5-on-5 (53.7 percent) than any Cap center had last season (Nicklas Backstrom; 52.2 percent), and his offensive zone finishes, while still over 50 percent (51.0) was a net negative (-2.7); only one Cap center was in negative territory last season – Marcus Johansson (-2.1).  He was on ice for more goals against than any Dallas center last season, and only Loui Eriksson among forwards was on ice for more goals against.  And being challenged on faceoffs is one thing, but Ribeiro was last among 89 qualifying forwards in faceoff winning percentage last season (42.2 percent).

The Big Question… Can Mike Ribeiro be the contributor in the playoffs the Caps have lacked in the 2C slot?

It would be surprising if Mike Ribeiro did not have a regular season at the second line center slot better than that of any Caps’ center in the last ten years.  But the lack of a productive second line center has been crippling to the Caps in the post season in the post-Lockout I era.  Last spring the Caps got three points in 14 playoff games out of Marcus Johansson, who spent much of the season as the first or second line center.  The year before, Nicklas Backstrom had two points out of the first line center slot and the Caps got six out of Jason Arnott in the second line slot in nine post season games.  In 2009-2010 the Caps got a combined two points out of Eric Belanger and Brendan Morrison in seven playoff games.  Mike Ribeiro is here largely to improve on that… a lot.  But while he had 17 points in 18 games in his last playoff appearance, that appearance came in the 2007-2008 post season.  Will being out of practice influence his performance in the post season?  To the extent it does, it defeats much of the purpose of his being here.

In the end…

The convergance of Mike Ribeiro and Adam Oates in Washington will be one of the more interesting story lines of this season.  Only twice in six seasons in Dallas did Ribeiro’s Stars rank in the top half of the league in scoring and only once in the top ten (ninth in 2007-2008).  The Caps had what most would call a disappointing result in those scoring rankings last season, but still finished 14th.  Adam Oates is expected to employ a more dynamic approach to offense than his predecessor behind the Caps’ bench, Dale Hunter.  Ribeiro is here to be an important ingredient in that.

Of course, this assumes that there will be a season and that Ribeiro will wear his number “9” jersey for the Caps.  If the season is missed, one wonders if folks will have to search another place for where Ribeiro makes his contributions.

Projection:  77 games, 19-48-67, plus-6

Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America