Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Eight Years, 3,338 Posts

It all started in a log cabin in Kentucky...

Well, no it didn’t.  But it did start on July 30, 2005 with a non-descript post about the Caps drafting 13 feet of defensemen – sort of the Washington Capitals’ version of 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. It was not the most sophisticated of debuts; we didn’t even have a title for it.

But from that modest beginning grew a colossus that is read by several on a daily basis.  It has been a vehicle for our odd cousins, Fearless and Cheerless, to weigh in (in a manner of speaking) on the great hockey issues of the day.  It introduced the world to the genius of Dr.Vynot Schootdepuck, Director of Advanced Applications at the Bettman Institute of Technology and Competitive Hockey (BITCH).    It is where we gathered the great thinkers in the coaching community for their insights.    And we brought in panels of doctors to weigh in on injury epidemics before concussions become de rigueur as a topic among the hockey media.   We’ve taken a look at The Passion of the Caps Fan and what happens when that passion is taken for granted.

We’ve done this for what is now, with this entry, 3.338 posts, a number that corresponds to the catalogue number of Elvis Presley’s LP, “Girl Happy”…think of us as “Hockey Happy.”  And hoping there are another 3,000 odd posts left before Cheerless takes over for good. 

Thank you all for reading and making this worthwhile.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Washington Capitals -- Chasing Records: Part I, Longevity

We are entering what is the dullest, dreariest month of the hockey calendar – August.  Oh, we can act interested about this or that rumor about this or that free agent who has yet to sign with an NHL team, and we can take notice of the comings and goings of our favorite players on Twitter or other social media as they do this and that over the summer.  But really, what month is slower than August on the hockey calendar?  Even the media are “gone fishin’,” tweeting from their cabins or lakeside homes or other vacation locales since there is little on which to report.

Same thing for bloggers.  Here at Peerless Central, the cousins are keeping busy.  Fearless is at work writing an opera, “Die Zauberschläger,” the story of an impish hockey player who, with the help of his magic hockey stick and his unflappable sidekick centerman, endure unpredictable, rollicking adventures over an entire winter in their pursuit of a silver chalice.  Meanwhile, Cheerless just took delivery of a full set of Rosetta Stone CDs and is busy learning English.

As for yours truly, we’ve been leafing through the Washington Capitals record book, and it got us to thinking, what are the chances any of this generation of Caps (well, those not named “Ovechkin”) will take their place in the Caps’ record book?  We will be doing this from time to time as we wind our way through August

We can start right at the beginning of the individual records, right there on page 248 of the 2012-2013 Media Guide… “Most Seasons.”  Do you think any Capitals will break the record of 16 seasons held by Olaf Kolzig?  Or even reach the second-place record held jointly by Peter Bondra and Calle Johansson?  Well, if Alex Ovechkin completes the terms of his current contract and is not traded to another club, he will complete his 16th season in a Capitals uniform in the last year of his current contract – 2020-2021.

This being the age of the long-term contract (made slightly less long with the latest collective bargaining agreement), Nicklas Backstrom has a shot at that longevity record.  When his current deal expires at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 season, he will have spent 13 seasons with the Caps, provided he isn’t dealt to another club and serves the full duration of the contract.  He would be only 32 years old at that point, and another contract with the Caps is not beyond reason.

If you are looking for a dark horse here, it might be Mike Green.  Green just completed his eighth season with the club and is under contract for another two seasons to come.  When his current contract expires he will be 29 years old.  If he was to sign a six-year deal that would begin just before his 30th birthday, he could be right there with Kolzig as the longest-tenured of Caps by seasons played.

As for youngsters like Karl Alzner, John Carlson, or Marcus Johansson, it’s possible, but it is way too early to put them in the conversation.

Now, as far as games in a Caps sweater is concerned, no Capitals has ever hit the 1,000 games played mark in the red, white, and blue.  Calle Johansson came closest with 983 and holds the franchise record for games played.  Alex Ovechkin is only 382 games away from that record.  If he was to average 79 games played per season – his average in his first seven full seasons in the league (not counting the abbreviated 2013 season) – he would reach Johansson’s record late in the 2017-2018 season at the age of 32.  Unless he goes all Kovalchuk, he seems a good bet to break this record.

Nicklas Backstrom’s future is a bit murkier.  He was among the most durable players in the league in his first four seasons, playing every game of his first three seasons and missing only five as the result of a hand injury.  Then, in the 2011-2012 season, he missed 40 games to a concussion.  He rebounded to playing in all 48 games of the 2013 season.  If he averages the 73 games played per season in his first five full season (again, discounting the abbreviated 2013 season), he would not reach the 983-game mark under his current contract.  If he was to sign an extension to take effect after the 2019-2020 season, he could hit that mark in the first year of his new deal.

As for Mike Green, it would seem unlikely, given his recent injury history, that he would successfully challenge Calle Johansson’s mark.  Since he played in all 82 games of the 2007-2008 season, Green has participated in 69 percent of the regular season games played by the Caps.  That works out to about 56 games per 82-game season.  Even if Green was to participate in, say, 65 games per season, he would not reach Johansson’s mark until the 2021-2022 season, when he would be 36 years old.

If you are looking down the road, this is where Alzner and Carlson come into play.  Alzner has only 263 regular season games under his belt, but already he is showing himself to be a very durable player.  He has played every game of the past three seasons.  Even if he averages only 72 games per season going forward, he would tie Johansson in the last game he plays in the 2022-2023 season when he would be 34 years old.  Carlson, who has been every bit as durable as Alzner in the last three seasons, would (averaging the same 72 games per season as Alzner) hit that mark half-way through the 2024-2025 season, when he would be reaching his 34th birthday.

Then there is Brooks Laich.  The 2013 season took a bite out of his chances to catch Johansson’s 983-games played mark, but not so big a bite that he doesn’t have a chance to get there.  With 556 games played as a Cap, Laich needs 427 games to tie the franchise record.  If he averages 75 games a season he could get to the 983 games mark in the 2018-2019 season.  He would be 35 years old if he did so.

Those are the longevity records and the players who would seem to have a realistic chance of challenging them.  If depends on a variety of factors – health, production, contract renewals.  But in this age of the longer-term deal, by the time the next decade of the 21st century rolls around, there could very well be new holders of the longevity records of the Capitals franchise.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Tools of the Trade

Be good to your equipment, and your equipment will be good to you...

...maybe it's a DC thing.

Photo: Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images
Photo: Ryan Kelly

Friday, July 26, 2013

Washington Capitals: Draft History in Context, Part X -- At the End of the Day

So here we are.  Ten years’ worth of draft picks, 89 players selected in all, for A (Karl Alzner) to Z… well, Y (Mikhail Yunkov), from first (Nathan Paetsch, taken 58th overall in 2001) to last (Samuel Carrier, taken 176th overall in 2010).  Here is what we have.  Of the 89 picks…
  • 30 have played in at least one NHL game, 59 have not
  • Three players – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom – have recorded at least 100 goals, six of those who appeared in at least one NHL game are without a goal
  • Seven players have at least 100 points in their respective careers; four did not record a point
  • All of the players without points are skaters; all three goalies drafted in this span of time have at least one point
  • All three goalies have records better than .500 and have an aggregate regular season win-loss record of 159-108-33
  • The 20 players appearing in at least one NHL game have an aggregate plus/minus of plus-491; only seven are “minus” players.

And yet…

What do the Caps have to show for all of this drafting?  Let us look at the club right now.  What does the depth chart look like, and where do drafted players fit in?

A 23-man roster carrying 13 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goaltenders would have 12 of those roster spots occupied by players drafted by the Caps.  You could add Erat as a proxy for Filip Forsberg (taken 11th overall in 2012).  Thirteen of 23 roster spots occupied by draft picks looks good. 

However, there are holes.  Brooks Laich is a fellow who gives an honest effort, chips in at both ends, and can play a variety of roles.  “Second line center” might not be among them.  That he is being installed in that role is at least in part a product of the fact that the Caps have not been able to fill it through draft.  If one needs evidence of that, it is there at left wing on the first line, where Marcus Johansson – himself having been a potential solution to that problem – currently resides.

The third line has two draftees occupying it, but they come to those positions by circuitous routes.  Mathieu Perreault, a study in determination, has been a player in search of a position over the last few years.  He has been reasonably productive in the offensive end, but he has had occasional problems with consistency and in the defensive end, leading to the occasional tension with his coach in how – and when – he was used.

Eric Fehr is in his second incarnation with the Caps.  Drafted as a scoring winger, injuries stunted his development, and he eventually departed via trade to Winnipeg after six seasons.  He returned as a bargain-priced free agent who was pleasant surprise last season.  The 13 minutes and change he averaged per night last season was a career high.  Perhaps he will be a late bloomer (he will be only 28 years old on opening night), but for the moment he is a scoring-winger-turned-third-liner.

The defense is solid on top – a product of the draft.  Mike Green, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson all are likely to enjoy long and productive careers, worthy of the positions in which they were selected in the draft.  Dmitry Orlov could be a top-four blueliner, although he will have to come back from injuries last season that stopped his development in its tracks.  Still, that he would have that level of potential as a second-round pick is a plus from a drafting standpoint.

After that, though, the draft is an iffy proposition as a source of prospects on the back end.  Among the 2001-2010 picks, especially those since the 2004-2005 lockout, Patrick Wey among the draftees would seem to have the best chance to make a dent in an NHL roster.

The Caps have been most successful in drafting goalies over the 2001-2010 period, and that is entirely a product of the post 2004-2005 lockout experience.  Semyon Varlamov played adequately, sometimes spectacularly, when he was healthy.  Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby have provided solid minutes, and Holtby has played ahead of his development curve since he turned pro.

However, the problems that persist for the Capitals – a second-line center, a defenseman to complete the top-four, a scoring line winger to slide in as a successor to Alexander Semin – persist still.  Since the Caps drafted Nicklas Backstrom in 2006, no drafted center through 2010 has really come close to filling the second line center role.  Since Karl Alzner was drafted in 2007, the Caps did well to draft John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov, but no other drafted defenseman through the 2010 draft has yet played in an NHL game.  Since Alex Ovechkin was drafted in 2004, no drafted winger has played in more than 13 games in a Capitals uniform (Chris Bourque), and the Caps have only 27 total games played in a Caps uniform from the 19 wingers drafted after Ovechkin.

We noted those three players – Backstrom, Alzner, and Ovechkin – for a reason.  All were top-five draft picks, lottery picks earned when the Caps tore their club down to the foundation and embarked on a rebuild after The Great Jagr Experiment in 2001-2004.  The Caps used their top five picks wisely, selecting a prodigy on the wing and players that can make a club strong down the middle at center and defenseman.  In that sense, the Caps “rebuilt” through the draft.

But did they “build” through the draft?  We have maintained that the heavy lifting was not in drafting an Alex Ovechkin, that the critical task would be in building around him.  Backstrom was a fourth-overall pick in 2006, and Alzner was a fifth-overall pick in 2007.  But since Ovechkin was drafted, the Caps have had two of their subsequent 11 first round draft picks never dress for an NHL game (Sasha Pokulok, Anton Gustafsson), another who never dressed in a Caps sweater (Joe Finley), and another who is expected to be an impact player (Evgeny Kuznetsov), but who has as yet not skated a game in North America.  Another – Semyon Varlamov – was traded for another first round pick (Filip Forsberg in 2012) who then became Martin Erat when Forsberg was traded.  Erat has had a solid pro career, but the jury remains out on how productive he will be as a Capital.

The second round is especially disappointing since the Ovechkin selection.  Of the nine skaters taken in the second round from 2004-2010, seven have not appeared in an NHL game.  The best that can be said for the second round, at least until Orlov develops more, is that it served to get a return in trade – Sergei Fedorov for second-round pick Theo Ruth (a 2007 pick) in 2008.  Only eight clubs have had fewer second round draft picks over the 2001-2010 period dress for 100 or more NHL games.  The only Capital to do that since Ovechkin was drafted is a goalie – Michal Neuvirth.

It does not really get a lot better after that.  One third round pick over the 2001-2010 period to dress in at least 100 NHL games and he – Sami Lepisto (66th overall in 2006) – dressed for only 14 games as a Cap.  It goes on and on after that as well.  Three players taken in the fourth through ninth rounds over a ten year period with 100 or more games of NHL experience out of 52 players selected, and only one of them – Mathieu Perreault – has played any of those games in a Caps sweater.

In the end, the Caps “rebuilt” through the draft, but it would be a stretch to say they “built” from the draft.  They tore down their team, got top five picks in the bargain when they finished low in the standings, and drafted cornerstone players.  But after they put those cornerstones in place, their success has been uneven, especially once past the first round, putting considerable pressure on the club not to miss at the top of the draft.  Since the Caps cashed in the picks they earned from getting rid of the aging and dead wood, the draft has not yielded as many productive players as one might have hoped, certainly not for a club whose governing strategy of roster management is “build through the draft.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Washington Capitals: Draft History in Context, Part IX -- Take Your Positions: Centers

We are almost at the end of it.  Having worked our way from goaltenders to defensemen, and then to wingers, we turn to centers in our look at the draft performance of the Washington Capitals by position over the 2001-2010 period.

Of the 89 players taken in the NHL Entry Draft over the 2001-2010 period, the Caps selected 17 centers.  It has not been quite a font of talent that Caps fans might have hoped for over the years.  Even if you go back in time, to when the NHL Entry Draft was established in 1979, the Caps drafted 40 centers from 1979 through 2000.  Twenty-one never dressed for a single NHL game.  Only ten of them went on to play in at least 100 games in the NHL.  Here they are:
  • Tim Tookey
  • Bobby Carpenter
  • Dean Evason
  • Michal Pivonka
  • Rob Murray
  • Tim Taylor
  • Jason Allison
  • Jan Bulis
  • Kris Beech
  • Brian Sutherby

See many difference-makers there?  Moreover, only Carpenter, Pivonka, Bulis, and Sutherby played in 100 games or more for the Caps.  This is the background we have to begin our look at the 2001-2010 period.

If you thought it would get better during that period, it would not, at least not appreciably.  Despite the fact that the Caps had a long and irregular history of finding talent at the position, they devoted surprisingly few high-round draft picks to the position over this ten-year period.  Only four centers of the 17 were taken in the first two-rounds:

The club did place more emphasis on the position among high-round picks after the 2004-2005 lockout – three first-rounders in a four-year period ending in 2009 – but even here the results are mixed.  Nicklas Backstrom was taken fifth-overall in 2006 and is assembling an impressive resume, even at the young age of 25.  After that, things go downhill quickly.

Anton Gustafsson was taken 21st overall in 2008.  Gustafsson had a pedigree Caps fans would recognize, being the son of former Capital Bengt-Åke Gustafsson, one of the best centers ever to play for the club.  We already chronicled the history of Anton Gustafsson's selection in this series, and it is not pleasant to repeat.  

Marcus Johansson was taken 24th overall in 2009 out of Sweden, and he might have suffered from being compared to his countryman Backstrom, taken only three years earlier and by then established as the Caps’ first-line center.  There might have been some fans who thought Johansson would slide right into the second-line center spot and fill a hole the Caps had dealt with for most of the decade.  Johansson spent another year in Sweden with Farjestads BK Karlstad, then made the jump to the NHL.  It was a successful season for him by the usual measures – he finished tied for fourth in total points among rookie centers, fifth in goals, and tied for sixth in assists.  He did so while playing in only 69 games.

Johansson did not suffer a sophomore slump, at least not so far as his offense was concerned, finishing the 2011-2012 season by improving his goal total (from 13 to 14), his assist total (from 14 to 32), and his total points (from 27 to 46).  However, he gave indications of not being the sturdiest player in terms of his ability to win physical battles.  In the 2013 season, new head coach Adam Oates chose to skate him at left wing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.  This was a bit of a luxury (or a holding pattern, if you prefer), given that Mike Ribeiro was signed as a free agent to man the second line center spot.  However, with Ribeiro gone to Phoenix, the Caps have their perennial problem at second line center to deal with once more, choosing (for the moment) to employ Brooks Laich at the position rather than Johansson.

Those are the three first round picks over the period.  After that, things go downhill in a hurry through the rounds at the position over the 2001-2010 period.  Of the 14 picks taken after the first round, only Mathieu Perreault – a sixth-round pick in 2006 – has appeared in as many as 100 games.  And after that, only Andrew Joudrey (one game), Travis Morin (three games), and Cody Eakin (78 games) have appeared at all in an NHL game.

Eakin did prove valuable as a trading asset, having enabled the Caps to procure the services of Mike Ribeiro to fill the second line center role for the 2013 season.  Eakin, who might or might not have been a scoring line center with the Caps (he seems more of a third-line pivot), might not have filled that role productively for another few seasons.  In that sense, the pick proved valuable, but that as much a product of trading skill as drafting skill.

Perhaps Evgeny Kuznetsov, drafted in the first round 2010, will be that answer as the second line center.  Then again, being the second line right wing might be his future.  He has been playing on the wing in the Kontinental Hockey League.  If Kuznetsov is that solution as a second line center, he makes the 2001-2010 period of the draft look a lot better in terms of centers.

In the end, though, we have a team that builds through the draft unable to address what has been arguably their most persistent problem over the last decade – a second line center – through that tool.  Mathieu Perreault has shown intermittent flashes of being that solution, but has as yet been unable to hold tightly onto that job.  Marcus Johansson might be that solution someday, but he has not yet been able to hold onto the job, either, and has found a home for the time being as a winger.

If one subscribes to the notion that you draft the best player available when your number is up, it is entirely possible that even though you have a position need, you will pass on a good player at your need position to get the superior player at another position.  In that respect it is not unreasonable to think that the Caps would draft more at one position – say, defensemen and wingers – than they would at their persistent position of need. 

Still, even having drafted 17 players at the position and having so little to show for it in terms of contributions at the NHL level – one full time scoring line center, two centers who have been unable to occupy the position on a steady basis (but who might yet do so), and another who was more valuable as a trading asset -- there has not been much return.  Then there are the 11 players who did not reach the NHL level at all, five of them taken in the first three rounds.

Perhaps the Caps will realize better returns in the picks since 2010.  Filip Forsberg, a 2012 first round pick who might have been a center (although more likely to find a home as a winger), was a trading asset himself, realizing Martin Erat in return from Nashville.  Erat has been a solid pro for 11 seasons and will fill a hole on the wing on a scoring line going into 2012-2013.  But of the 20 players the Caps have drafted since 2010, only Forsberg and Brian Pinho (sixth round pick in 2013) are centers.  The draft, at least over the 2001-2010 period, has offered no lasting solutions to what has been perhaps the most serious roster problem the Caps have had over that period.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Washington Capitals: Draft History in Context, Part VIII -- Take Your Positions: Wingers

Looking at the Washington Capitals draft performance over the 2001-2010 period by position, we have covered goaltenders and defensemen.  That brings us to the wingers, with your generic “forwards” added in.

Of the 89 players selected in the entry draft over the 2001-2010 period, 35 were wingers or generic forwards.  The Caps have been all over the map with these picks, too.  Five of them were first-round picks, and six of them were seventh-round picks, with a healthy number in-between:

Looking at the Caps’ history in drafting wingers over this period is going to look like a rerun of their history with defensemen.  In the first round the club has done rather well.  Four of the five players selected there have recorded more than 300 regular season games and at least 100 points in the NHL – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Boyd Gordon, and Eric Fehr.  Even the fifth – Evgeny Kuznetsov – would seem to be a sure bet to reach those marks (if he really, really does come to North America).

Those four players account for more than half of the goals scored in the NHL by the 89 draft picks over the period (677 of 1,075) and almost half of the total points (1,422 of 2,904).  Of course, a lot of that is Alex Ovechkin, who accounts for 34.5 percent of all the goals scored by those 89 draft picks (371) and 25.3 percent of all of the points (735).

After that?  Well, you might want to avert your eyes.  This is where the “rerun” portion of the show starts.  If you look at rounds two through five, there are only three players – Chris Bourque, Owen Fussey, and Oskar Osala – who have so much as appeared in a single NHL game.  Bourque, a second-round pick in 2004, has 51 of the 58 total appearances and has yet to get a secure foothold on an NHL roster spot.  In parts of four NHL seasons he has not played in more than 21 games in any of them. 

Of the other two second round picks, Francois Bouchard was traded by the Caps to the New York Rangers for Tomas Kundratek in November 2001, never having played a game for the Caps.  Dmitry Kugryshev left the Caps system at the end of the 2010-2011 season.  Neither Bouchard nor Kugryshev finished the 2012-2013 season in North America.  In December 2012 Bouchard signed a contract with Medveščak Zagreb, then a Croatia-based club in the Austrian Hockey League.  Kugryshev skated for CSKA Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Then there is the great void that is the third through the fifth rounds.  Twelve players were selected in those rounds, and only Owen Fussey and Oskar Osala appeared in any NHL games, seven between them.  Fussey played in four games for the Caps in the 2003-2004 season, his only action in the NHL.  He bounced around the AHL and ECHL through the 2007-2008 seasons and last dressed for the Coventry Blaze in the Elite Ice Hockey League in Great Britain in 2011-2012.  Osala played two games for the Caps in 2008-2009 and another for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2008-2009.  He lasted in the AHL through the 2010-2011 season, then he headed for the KHL where he played the past two seasons.  There is still the unsettled question of how high 2010 fifth-round pick Caleb Herbert will rise in the organization, but this part of the draft had yielded very little for the Caps over the 2001-2010 period.

The history of sixth through ninth round picks (the NHL had a nine-round draft until 2005) is almost as sparse.  Over the 2001-2010 period the Caps selected 15 players over the ten-year period.  Three of them – Tim Kennedy, Andrew Gordon, and Stefan Della Rovere – have dressed for a combined 187 games.  Only 12 of them were skated in a Caps sweater (all by Gordon).  Kennedy, while he never skated a game in the Caps’ system, did bring back a 2006 sixth-round draft pick in a trade, a pick that became Mathieu Perreault (who we will see in another look at the Caps’ draft history).

No other players drafted in the sixth through ninth rounds skated for the Caps or brought much back in trade value (unless you count Stefan Della Rovere for D.J. King a value trade). It is unlikely that any of the players taken in those round who have not already appeared in an NHL game will ever appear in one.

In the end, the Caps’ draft performance over the 2001-2010 period for wingers looks a lot like their performance with defensemen.  They do well at the top of the draft, markedly less so after the first round.  In this instance the Caps did well in the top-20 picks level.  Alex Ovechkin (first overall in 2004), Alexander Semin (13th overall in 2002), Boyd Gordon (17th overall in 2002), and Eric Fehr (18th overall in 2003) have had at least contributing careers (Fehr) to elite-level careers (Ovechkin).  But note that the last of those picks was Ovechkin in 2004.  The Caps have not drafted a contributing winger since the 2004-2005 lockout.  That’s a long time to go without new blood at the position from within based on your own amateur evaluations.

The Caps are counting on significant contributions from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has yet to play a game in North America since he was drafted in 2010.  He might be a first-line left winger (and if he does not play center, it will be as a left wing so long as Adam Oates is coach – Kuznetsov is a left-handed shot).  Then again, who knows?  Even if one assumes that Kuznetsov will contribute at that level, the Caps have struggled to fill other lines from the draft.  When the 2013-2014 season opens, the Caps will find that they have only Alex Ovechkin as a winger on any of the top three lines that they drafted at that position, unless Eric Fehr skates as a top-nine winger (Marcus Johansson, who could start on the left side of the top line, was drafted as a center).  Sure, Alexander Semin and Boyd Gordon played more than 800 games for the Caps, but when each left in free agency, the Caps could not fill their positions from within with drafted players.

If you take away Ovechkin – a product of the draft lottery – the Caps’ draft performance for wingers over the 2001-2010 period looks very uninspired, specifically with respect to the post-2004-2005 lockout period.  Perhaps Tom Wilson (16th overall in 2012), Andre Burakovsky (23rd overall in 2013), or Zach Sanford (61st overall in 2013) will reverse the trend.  Maybe a Chandler Stephenson (77th in 2012) or Travis Boyd (177th in 2011) will surprise.  But if you look to the future with hope, looking back on the past is somewhat disappointing.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Washington Capitals: Draft History in Context, Part VII -- Take Your Positions: Defensemen

Working our way from the net out in our look at the Washington Capitals draft history over the 2001-2010 period, we turn now to defensemen. 

Over the ten-year period the Caps selected at least one defenseman in every draft except in 2003.  There were 27 defensemen drafted in all with a high of five selected in each of the 2004 and 2005 entry drafts.  As you can see, it is a position that has received special attention.  Thirteen of the 27 defensemen drafted were selected in the first or second round:

Even in those two rounds, though, there was a different experience.  The Caps selected seven defensemen in the first round over the ten-year period.  Except for two rather spectacular misses, they did rather well.  Five defensemen have combined for more than 1,800 games of NHL experience.  Three of them are still with the team – Mike Green, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson – and form the cornerstone of the defense. 

Green has established himself as one of the premier offensive defensemen in the game, despite a series of injuries that have carved large chunks of games out of his resume.  Since the 2004-2005 lockout, only four defensemen have more goals from the blue line than Green, and all of them have played in at least 95 more games over that span. 

Alzner continues to develop as a sound defensive defenseman.  He is also one of the most reliable, having played in each and every game of his three full seasons in the NHL. 

Carlson has had episodes of poor play, but he also has shown stretches that suggest he can grow into being one of the best two-way defensemen in the league.  He shares Alzner’s reliability, also having played in each and every contest of his three full seasons in the league.

There were those two misses, though.  Sasha Pokulok was taken with the 15th overall pick in 2005.  Four years after his selection, in July 2009, here is what we wrote about him:
On the day he was selected, folks in Caps Nation could be forgiven for asking, “Sasha who?” To call Pokulok a “reach” would be classic understatement. Pokulok was the 39th-ranked North American skater in the final Central Scouting Service rankings. Pokulok would go on to play one more season at Cornell University, then he turned pro. It was a disaster. He sustained a concussion in his first game with the Hershey Bears, then missed four months before returning to action as a member of the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL. He played less than 20 games before suffering a second concussion. They were injuries from which he would not really recover. Even if he was in perfect health, he lost too much developmental time. Through the 2008-2009 season, Pokulok played in only 97 regular season games over three seasons in the AHL and NHL, and another 29 playoff games (all with South Carolina). The Capitals declined to retain rights to Pokulok this past June, his never having appeared in an NHL game.

Last season, Pokulok played for the Cornwall Riverkings of the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey.

If Pokulok was a curiosity in his selection, Joe Finley seemed picked for a different brand of hockey.  When he was taken with the 27th overall pick in the 2005 draft, it might have been with a much more physical brand of hockey in mind in the league as a whole.  The NHL was still in the “clutch-and-grab” era where defensemen could abuse those who would dare skate into the crease.  Unfortunately for the Caps and Finley, the league change the rules and the dimensions of the rink coming out of the 2004-2005 lockout with an eye toward opening up offense.  The new environment did not suit the larger species of defenseman (at least those not named “Chara”), and a 6’7”, 245 pounds, Finley was an endangered species before he got out of his teen years.  The Caps experimented with Finley at left wing briefly, but he would never appear in a game for the Caps.  He was invited to training camp with the Buffalo Sabres in 2011 and caught on long enough to play five games with the Sabres.  However, he was waived by Buffalo and claimed by the New York Islanders, where he played 16 games last season.

If the first round picks at the position were big hits or big misses for the Caps (mostly hits), the second round has been decent…just not for the Caps.  Two of the six defensemen taken in the second round over the ten-year period have played in the NHL (52.4 percent of all players taken in the second round over the 2001-2010 period have appeared in the league).  Only one, though, has played for the Caps.

Nathan Paetsch was taken late in the second round in 2001 by the Caps.  His career with the Caps never got off the ground, contract issues resulting in his going back into the draft pool in 2003 where he was taken by the Buffalo Sabres.  He has 167 games of NHL experience with Buffalo and the Columbus Blue Jackets, but he spent two of the last three seasons in the AHL and another season in Germany.

The Caps are hoping that fortune shines brighter on Dmitry Orlov, taken with the 55th pick overall in 2009 out of Metallurg Novokuznetsk out of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.  Orlov’s progress was steady – two more seasons in Russia, moving to Hershey at the end of his last season in the KHL to join the Bears. Then, in something of an unexpected turn, he was called up to the Caps (a product what was the latest injury to Mike Green) and played in 60 games for the club in 2011-2012.

He might have stuck for the entire 2012-2013 season had: a) the 2012-2013 season started on time, and b) had he not been concussed in the AHL Showcase game between Hershey and the Norfolk Admirals at Verizon Center in December.  The combination of events limited him to only five games with the Caps this past season. 

One could argue that the Caps got value from one other defenseman taken in the second round.  Theo Ruth was taken 46th overall in 2007.  He never played a game in the Caps’ system though.  He was traded to Columbus in 2008 for Sergei Fedorov, who would be a critical piece in the Caps' late-season playoff run in 2008 and who would spend his last full season of his career in Washington in 2008-2009.

After that, what success the Caps have had in drafting defensemen has been rare and infrequent.  Sami Lepisto, Johnny Oduya, and…well, that’s it.  Of the other 17 defensemen taken in the second round or later, those are the only two who have appeared in the NHL.  Oduya, taken in the seventh round in 2001,  has 511 games of NHL experience, none of it with the Caps.  He was released by the club in 2006.  Lepisto, a third round pick in 2004, did play in 14 games for the Caps, but was traded in 2009 for a 2010 fifth-round draft pick.  After 176 games in the NHL, he signed a contract with HC LEV Praha of the KHL in January 2013.

That leaves 15 other defensemen drafted who have neither appeared in an NHL game, nor brought back any value in trade.  What is striking about the lack of success is that there is a disturbing number who weren’t close to getting NHL ice time.  Josh Godfrey, taken high in the second round in 2007 (34th overall), has a total of 64 games at the AHL level over six seasons.  Keith Seabrook, another second round pick (52nd overall in 2006) last played in the AHL in 2011-2012.  He signed with Val Pusteria HC in September 2012, but retired from the sport two months later.  Yet another second round pick – Eric Mestery (57th overall in 2008) – did not last as long as Seabrook before retiring from the sport.  Two years after he was drafted he was out of the Caps’ system and retired in August 2010, having never played a professional game at any level.

In the end, the Caps’ success in drafting defensemen is mixed.  Their first round performance yielded value – three solid defensemen still with the club and two others with a combined 887 games of experience (Steve Eminger and Jeff Schultz).  After that, however, the Capitals do not have much to show for their efforts (the jury still being out on Patrick Wey, taken in the fourth round in 2009).  Twenty defensemen taken after the first round have a combined 79 NHL games played with the Caps.  “One-and-done” seems to apply not only to the Caps’ unfortunate playoff history but to the rounds in which they were able to draft contributing defensemen.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Washington Capitals: Draft History in Context, Part VI -- Take Your Positions: Goaltender

Now that you have thoroughly digested our look back at the Washington Capitals’ draft history by round over the 2001-2010 period, we return to our look at the draft to examine those drafts by position.  We will work our way out from the net.  That means…goalies.

As we have seen, the Caps selected 89 players from the NHL Entry Draft over the 2001-2010 period.  Of that group, ten were goaltenders.  The numbers might be small, but there is a consistency about them.  Like the number “eight.”  In eight of the ten years the Caps selected a goaltender in the draft (two in 2002 and 2006, none in 2003 and 2009).

The Caps have not shown a particular preference in where their drafted goalies were selected.  Five of the ten taken over these ten years were selected in the first four rounds, another five in the last five rounds.

That breakdown parallels the time frame in one respect.  Four of the five goalies taken in the bottom half of the draft (rounds five through nine) were picked in the first half of the ten-year period:
  • 2001: Robert Müller (9th round/275th overall)
  • 2002: Robert Gherson (5/145)
  • 2004: Justin Mrazek (8/230)
  • 2005: Daren Machesney (5/143)
Only Dan Dunn (6/154) was taken in the second half of the ten-year period.

None of the five have appeared in an NHL game.  As a group, they have a combined 187 games of AHL experience (all from Gherson and Machesney), although none played at that level in the 2012-2013 season.  Müller, Caps fans might remember, passed away all too soon in 2009, the victim of a brain tumor.

The second group of five is, as one might expect from their collective higher draft positions, more accomplished.  Only Daren Machesney, selected in the second round in 2002, has not appeared in an NHL game.  The others, with the regular season NHL experience, include:
  • 2006: Semyon Varlamov (1st round/23rd overall), 147 games
  • 2006: Michal Neuvirth (2/34), 121 games
  • 2008: Braden Holtby (4/93), 57 games
  • 2010: Philipp Grubauer (4/112), 2 games

There is, however, an odd dynamic playing out with these selections.  First, three of them already have spent time as the Caps’ number one goaltender – Varlamov (when he was not injured), Neuvirth (when he was), and Holtby.  But their ascension to that position was not clean or simple.  The Caps have had to dip into the free agent market along the way.  Jose Theodore was signed in 2008 to a two-year contract because Olaf Kolzig was gone after spending 16 years with the Caps, and Varlamov was not ready.  After Varlamov was traded in 2011, Tomas Vokoun was signed to a one-year deal because, despite his playing in the majority of the Caps’ games in the 2010-2011 season, Neuvirth might not have been quite ready in the 2011-2012 season to be the permanent solution at the position.  The Caps were buying time for development.

Neuvirth, in fact, might have been passed by with the development of Braden Holtby.  Taken in the fourth round in 2008, Holtby’s rise through the system has been swift.  After a superb playoff performance in 2012, he took over the number one goaltender job for the 2013 season.

You might expect that a team that chooses to build from the draft would feature drafted goaltenders as their number one in the depth chart.  The Caps, in fact have done just that, going back into the dim reaches of time.  Almost 900 games of the 1,196 contests since the 1997-1998 season have been played with goaltenders drafted by the Caps.  Of course, the large majority of those were played by Olaf Kolzig, but this is a team with a history of sticking with goalies it drafts.

If there is a disturbing subplot to this it is that the Caps have burned through three draftees as number one goaltenders since the 2010-2011 season.  Varlamov could not hold the job, owing in large part to injuries, and Neuvirth just could not seem to grab the position by the throat.  Braden Holtby took over when Neuvirth (who took over for an injured Tomas Vokoun) was injured late in the 2011-2012 season and has held it since.  At the moment, he seems most likely of the three to build a larger resume as the Caps’ number one netminder.

There is a logic in the manner in which the Caps have drafted at this position.  In the first half of the 2001-2010 period they had a durable, high-performing number one goaltender in Olaf Kolzig and could populate the back-up position with lower cost free agents (a Craig Billington) or developmental projects (Sebastien Charpentier).  The club could take a flyer, so to speak, on longer shot, late round picks.  They also thought they had a potential replacement for Kolzig in Maxime Ouellet, who they obtained in trade in 2002. 

Ouellet did not work out for the club, playing in only six games in a Caps sweater, all in the 2003-2004 season.  With Kolzig aging and no clear heir apparent, there might have been a higher sense of urgency about filling the position from within.  Higher-round draft picks at the position were a reasonable course of action, and starting in 2006, with the selections of Varlamov and Neuvirth, this was what unfolded.

In the end, there is no such thing as too much goaltending.  Oh, you can pay too much for goaltending (Mr. Luongo?  Mr. Price?  Mr Ward?...please raise your hands), but you can’t have too much of it.  Consider that way back in the 1994-1995 season, in a 48-game season no less, the Caps dressed three drafted goaltenders.  Jim Carey (2nd round, 1992), Olaf Kolzig (1st round, 1989), and Byron Dafoe (2nd round, 1989) all saw action.  Three seasons later the Caps were banking on a goalie they traded for – Bill Ranford (sending Jim Carey to Boston in that trade).  When Ranford was injured in the first game of the 1997-1998 season, Olaf Kolzig – one of the drafted goaltenders – took over, and the rest was history (including Ranford).

In that sense, plus the fact that the Caps have so much invested in cap room at other positions, getting value out of draft picks at the goaltender position is essential for success on the ice.  The Caps have gotten that out of their picks over the 2006-2010 period.  In 2013-2014 they will pay just $4,350,000 in cap room at the position with Holtby and Neuvirth tending goal.  There are 16 individual netminders who will have larger cap hits.  At this position the Caps have been quite efficient in their draft performance.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Washington Capitals: Alex and the Singular Deal, a "Grim Fairy Tale"

“Alex was coming off his rookie contract, and he could have signed a four- or five-year deal.  Sidney Crosby had signed a five-year deal.  Then [Ovechkin] would have been an unrestricted free agent. We talked to him and we told him we would give him another year, to make it six years.  That was the first deal we negotiated, and that is why it came to $9 million.  Crosby did five years at $8.7 [million].  We were buying a year of free agency — $9 million a year over six years.

“We were all happy.  We shook hands.  We had a deal.  Then it was, ‘Do you want to stay longer?’  And it was, ‘Sure, what do you have in mind?’  Then we did some research and asked, what is the average free agent deal, how long is it?  Last year there were several seven year deals.  So we thought, why not just negotiate his free agent deal now?"

That was Ted Leonsis, founder, chairman, majority owner, and chief executive officer of Monumental Sports and Entertainment on the day Alex Ovechkin was signed to a 13-year, $124 million contract by the Washington Capitals in January 2008.  It was, and it remains, the richest deal ever for an NHL player.  But, as you can see, the contract was negotiated in two parts – an extension and a “free agency” deal.  With what has transpired over the last year, we are left to wonder, what might have happened if the second part of that deal had not been negotiated…


Washington, June 29 (TPPPress) – Although the signs around Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, proclaim that the NHL Entry Draft is the main event this weekend, the big story is off the ice.  In the weeks since the Washington Capitals were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs, speculation has been running rampant over the future of Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin, the league’s leading goal scorer in the abbreviated 2013 season and winner of the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, signed a six-year contract to play for the Capitals in 2008.  That contract, which pays Ovechkin $54 million, will expire upon the conclusion of the 2013-2014 season.  For the Capitals, who have been silent on any progress toward a new deal, stand to lose Ovechkin to unrestricted free agency if a new deal is not consummated before the end of next season.

Hockey media in North America and Europe have not lacked for rumors, speculation, or theories on what might become of Ovechkin.  A story emerged last week outlining the contours of a possible deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs that would have sent Ovechkin to Toronto in exchange for first round draft picks in 2013 and 2014, and forward James van Riemsdyk.  There has been speculation of a possible return to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League, where he played for Dynamo Moscow during the 2012-2013 NHL lockout.

In any case, Ovechkin looms large over the proceedings of the draft, where trades often upstage the draft picks themselves.  The choices he and the Capitals make over the next few days, or perhaps months, will ripple through the league and perhaps change the fortunes of at least two clubs – the Capitals and any trading partner with whom they can deal – for years to come.



Newark, July 1 (TPPPress) – The 51st NHL Entry Draft came and went on Sunday with the usual images of fresh faced teenagers hugging family members and striding to the podium after their selection, their symbolic first steps toward a career in the National Hockey League. 

But the biggest noise of the weekend was silence.  Although it has been the subject of much speculation and commentary over the past several weeks, Washington forward Alex Ovechkin was not traded on draft day.  The Washington Capitals held their star forward and all of their draft picks, making for a no-news day for the club, except for the release of the biographies of the young men they selected in the draft.

On the matter of Ovechkin’s future, the hockey world will now adjust its focus to figuring out how Ovechkin, the Capitals, 29 other teams in the NHL, and the Kontinental Hockey League navigate through the weeks and months to come with Ovechkin about to play in the final year of his six-year, $54 million contract with the Capitals.

There was some discussion in the media after the draft ended that the Capitals might consider a compliance buyout of Ovechkin’s contract, but an unnamed source close to the club dismissed that alternative emphatically.  According to the source, “The Caps might as well just call in [the 2013-2014] season on the ice and at the gate if they did that,” noting also that the Caps would enjoy no return from any possible trade that might yet take place.

Nevertheless, Ovechkin’s future is very much uncertain.  It is possible that while no trade was consummated at the draft, that discussions might bear fruit down the road, either before the start of the 2013-2014 season or at the NHL’s 2013-2014 trading deadline next February.  There is the possibility that the Caps will re-sign the league’s reigning Hart Trophy winner to a contract extension, but this seems problematic given that five-seasons after signing his six-year deal, making Ovechkin the highest paid player in the league in terms of average annual value of the contract, he remains the league’s highest paid player, almost $1 million per year more than Pittsburgh Penguin forward Sidney Crosby.



July 11 (NHL.com) – Stating a desire to return home to Russia, New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk on Thursday announced his retirement from the NHL.

"This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia," Kovalchuk said in a statement released by the team. "Though I decided to return this past season, [general manager] Lou [Lamoriello] was aware of my desire to go back home and have my family there with me. The most difficult thing for me is to leave the New Jersey Devils, a great organization that I have a lot of respect for, and our fans that have been great to me."

Lamoriello said Kovalchuk, 30, signed his voluntary retirement papers, and the team has voided the remaining 12 years of the contract with the player. The voiding of the remainder of the deal opens the door for Kovalchuk to play in the Kontinental Hockey League this season.

Kovalchuk, a native of Tver, Russia, served as captain of SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL during the lockout last season and had 42 points in 36 games.

Lamoriello said he was not surprised by Kovalchuk's decision, saying talks on this issue began in January.

"This goes back to the lockout and prior to coming back, his thought process of staying in Russia was there," Lamoriello said Thursday during a conference call. "He was here a little late [for training camp] and then there was no conversation whatsoever throughout the year about it. Then it recently resurfaced, and his desire was to retire from the National Hockey League…”



Larry Brooks, New York Post

July 14 (NY Post) – “…On Jan. 4, the day before the marathon negotiating session commenced that would lead to settlement of the lockout in the wee hours of Jan. 6, the NHLPA dissuaded Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin from issuing a joint statement declaring their intent to remain in Russia for at least the remainder of the KHL season regardless of whether or when the NHL reopened.

The Post, which first reported that news, has been told the Players’ Association would have been prepared to support the rights of these players to play indefinitely in a different league under contracts signed during the NHL lockout if the timing had been different and would not have created a significant last-minute obstacle to settlement…”



Jeff A. Klein, New York Times

July 15 (NY Times) – “Ilya Kovalchuk walked away from $77 million when he retired from the Devils last week at age 30, citing a desire to return to Russia with his family. On Monday, he signed a four-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League.

SKA did not disclose the terms of the deal in announcing Kovalchuk’s signing. Alexander Medvedev, the former president of SKA, told the Russian daily Sport-Express that Kovalchuk’s earnings would be “absolutely comparable” to what he would have made in four years with the Devils.

Kovalchuk’s salary with the Devils averaged $6.67 million a year over 15 years. But the deal was structured so that he would have received $11.3 million the next two seasons, $11.6 million in 2015-16 and $11.8 million in 2016-17. That contract was rendered void when Kovalchuk signed his N.H.L. voluntary retirement papers.

Even if Kovalchuk does not make as much in St. Petersburg in raw dollar terms as he would have made in Newark, he will retain much more of it. Taxes are far lower in Russia than they are in North America, an incentive that has in the past helped induce Eastern European players like Jaromir Jagr and Alexander Radulov to jump to the K.H.L. from the N.H.L…”



Washington, September 22 (TPPPress) – In our look at the biggest story for each team as the National Hockey League prepares to embark on its 2013-2014 season, we turn to the Washington Capitals.  As the exhibition season slowly winds its way toward opening night in early October, all eyes are focused on the Caps.

It is not because the Caps are considered to be among the favorites to win a Stanley Cup in the spring of 2014.  The big story for the Caps concerns their reigning league most valuable player, Alex Ovechkin.  In 2008 Ovechkin signed a six-year, $54 million contract with the club that would carry him though the upcoming 2013-2014 season.  As Ovechkin prepares to play in the last year of  that contract, there is no lack of rumor or commentary about his status or his future. 

Although the Capitals are famously tight-lipped about any contract negotiations with their players, unnamed sources said to be close to the club say that the talks between club and player on a contract extension have gone nowhere. 

The matter is complicated further by the voluntary retirement from the NHL of fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk earlier this summer.  Kovalchuk signed a four-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL days after his retirement, and the hockey world has been commenting on the possibility of other Russian players – most notably Ovechkin – following the same path.



Washington, October 30 (TPPPress) – Less than a month into the 2013-2014 NHL season, the Washington Capitals find themselves looking up at the other seven teams of the Atlantic Division of the NHL’s Eastern Conference.  The Caps stumbled out of the gate, winless in their first five games of the season (0-4-1) and have mulled since to a record of 2-7-1.

Special teams have been the Caps’ undoing in the early going.  Their power play, the league’s best in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, has just three goals in 37 chances through ten games.  Alex Ovechkin, who led the league in power play goals last season, has yet to record one.  Penalty-killing has been equally disappointing, ranking 29th in the league at 75.7 percent.

When asked recently if the Caps’ early season frustration is at least in part a product of the continuing uncertainty about Ovechkin’s future with the club, head coach Adam Oates stated, “sure, it is a part of it.  These guys are human, but they are professionals, too.  And we expect them to focus every night.  We’ll work our way out of it.”  That task would be made much easier with resolution of the issue of Ovechkin’s contract.



Washington, December 16 (TPPPress) – With the Washington Capitals struggling in their first year in the newly realigned Atlantic Division of the NHL, rumors have been surfacing with increased frequency concerning trades involving Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin, who signed a six-year, $54 million contract in 2008, is in the last year of that deal and has not yet agreed to an extension with the club.  Filling the vacuum has been speculation over possible destinations for Ovechkin either as a rental for a contender for the remainder of this season or to a club who might be expected to spend lavishly to retain his services for a longer term.

Complicating the matter is the alternative that is the Kontinental Hockey League.  During the 2012-2013 lockout, Ovechkin skated for Dynamo Moscow, and this could be an alternative when his current contract expires. 

The Capitals have been adamant that they have no intention of trading Ovechkin and that they are in frequent discussions with Ovechkin about a contract extension. That possibility might have made other teams skittish to trade for Ovechkin, but that has not stopped the rumor mill.  The latest of these, reported in Canada yesterday, would have the Capitals trading Ovechkin to the Montreal Canadiens for prospect defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, forward Lars Eller, and a first round draft pick in either 2014 or 2015.



Washington, February 1 (TPPPress) – Another day, another report of no new progress in the continuing negotiations between the Washington Capitals and star forward Alex Ovechkin over a new contract.  Ovechkin, who currently leads the NHL in goals and is second in points after a slow start, would be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

Neither side has commented officially about the ongoing negotiations, but unofficial sources speculate that the sticking point has become term, the Capitals preferring to lock up the 28-year old winger to a seven or eight year contract, while Ovechkin is reported to prefer a shorter term.



Washington, February 11 (TPPPress) – In a story published late yesterday, Russian press reported that Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Dynamo Moscow have come to a “handshake agreement” that when his current NHL contract expires he will return to Russia to play for the club in the Kontinental Hockey League.

The terms of the rumored deal were not revealed in the report, and this fueled immediate speculation that with the NHL trade deadline looming, the report was floated to sabotage any trades of the NHL star to a club that might wish to sign him to a longer term NHL contract. 

Neither Ovechkin nor the Capitals commented on the report of a deal.



Washington, February 24 (TPPPress) – With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching, all eyes are on the Washington Capitals.  Having failed to come to an agreement with forward Alex Ovechkin on the terms of a new contract, there is a growing consensus among observers that the Capitals will listen to offers.

One widely circulating report this morning has Ovechkin being sent to the Chicago Blackhawks for prospect forward Teuvo Teravainen, defenseman Nick Leddy, and a first round draft pick in either 2014 or 2015 and a second round pick in 2015.

Other teams said to be interested or assembling offers include the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Montreal Canadiens, the Detroit Red Wings, and the Vancouver Canucks.



Detroit, February 26 (TPPPress) – The Detroit Red Wings made a statement earlier today that their days of contending for Stanley Cup championships are not quite over.  The Red Wings, in a dogfight with the Boston Bruins for the lead in the NHL’s Northeast Division, obtained forward Alex Ovechkin from the Washington Capitals for 2013 first round draft pick Anthony Mantha, the Red Wings’ first round draft pick in 2014, and a second round draft pick in 2015.

Detroit General Manager Ken Holland could barely hide his excitement over securing Ovechkin for the stretch run of the 2013-2014 season, saying “obviously, we are thrilled to have a player of Alex’ talent skating with us.  We think that he and Pavel Datsyuk will make a formidable duo for any team to match up against.”  Holland said that he would begin talks with Ovechkin immediately on the matter of a contract extension.

Ovechkin echoed Holland after he touched down in Detroit late this afternoon, where a large crowd was waiting to welcome him to the Motor City.  “I’ve always wondered what it would be like playing alongside [Datsyuk].  Now I can live that dream,” he said. 

In Washington, General Manager George McPhee was subdued, clearly disappointed over losing the centerpiece of his club.  “Alex has meant so much to the Capitals and to the community since he came to us in 2005.  Not winning a Stanley Cup during his years here ranks among my biggest disappointments in hockey, but in the end we felt that without a contract we had to receive some return for him,” he said.  The comment was an apparent reference to the fact that the Capitals lost Alexander Semin and Mike Ribeiro to free agency with no return on their departures in recent years. 



Washington, March 23 (TPPPress) – The New York Rangers came from behind last night to defeat the Washington Capitals, 4-2, and thus eliminate the Capitals from the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.  It is the first year the Caps failed to make the post-season since 2007, ending a six-year string of playoff appearances.

Washington broke on top early on a pair of first period goals, one coming from Mike Green on a power play 3:14 into the contest.  The other came on a late goal from Tom Wilson with just eight seconds left in the period.  For both players it was their 14th goal of the season.

The Rangers came back with three goals in the second over a 2:44 span, starting with a shorthanded goal by Derek Stepan at the 4:44 mark.  Rick Nash tied the game 33 seconds later when he exited the penalty box and took a lead pass from Marc Staal, beating goalie Braden Holtby with a wrist shot over his blocker.  The Rangers scored again at the 7:28 mark when Ryan McDonagh ripped a slap shot over Holtby’s glove, ending the goalie’s evening.  Ryan Callahan ended the scoring with an empty net goal with 27 seconds left in the contest.



Boston, April 5 (TPPPress) – With less than three minutes remaining in the Detroit Red Wings’ contest against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden, Detroit’s Alex Ovechkin scored the tie-breaking goal in what was a 2-2 contest to give the Red Wings a 3-2 victory, and in the process clinching the Northeast Division title for the visitors.

For Ovechkin, the goal capped a three-point night.  He assisted on goals by Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Ericsson earlier in the contest.  Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla scored goals for the Bruins.

Ovechkin’s goal allowed him to reclaim the goal-scoring lead from Steven Stamkos.  Both players started the evening with 46 goals apiece.

Detroit’s win moved them to within two points of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the race to capture the points lead in the Eastern Conference.



Detroit, June 15 (TPPPress) – The Detroit Red Wings and Alex Ovechkin are said to be close to a new deal that would keep the league’s reigning Hart Trophy winner in the Motor City for five more seasons.  An unnamed source with the Red Wings said that there remain some obstacles to a deal, notably a no movement clause and the scale of payments over the life of the deal, but the source noted that these could be settled in the coming days.

The Kontinental Hockey League has not given up on snaring its second NHL megastar in two summers, though.  Last year, Ilya Kovalchuk resigned from the NHL and signed a deal with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, and the league continues to press Ovechkin to return to Russia, according to reports from Russian press.  Ovechkin played with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL during the 2012-2013 NHL lockout.

* Note...all that you have read here, with the exception of a few cited media reports, is fiction, merely the musings of one pepperoni, anchovy, and marshmallow fluff pizza-addled writer.