Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Your Hart Trophy winner, er, finalist

Per the NHL, the Russian Machine has been named a finalist for the Hart Memorial Trophy (along with also rans Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla), which is awarded annualy to "the player judged to be most valuable to his team" by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

If (when) Alex wins the award, he would be the first player in the Capitals history to be named regular season MVP. He would also be the second Russian (after Sergei Fedorov) and 6th European born player (Stan Mikita, Fedorov, Hasek twice, Jagr, Forsberg) to receive the award.

If you need a reminder of why Ovechkin deserves the award (yeah, right) the NHL's summary on the Machine is below:

"Ovechkin, a first-time Hart nominee, tallied 112 points (65 goals, 47 assists) in 82 games, capturing the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring leader and Maurice Richard Trophy as the League’s top goal scorer. He also led all players in power-play goals (22) and game-winning goals (11). Ovechkin set the single-season NHL record for goals by a left wing, surpassing Luc Robitaille's 63 with Los Angeles in 1992-93, and his 65 goals were the most by NHL player since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. Ovechkin scored 51 of his goals in the 61 games after Bruce Boudreau was named head coach Nov. 22, pacing the 37-17-7 run that carried the Capitals into the playoffs."

Finalists for the Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year will be announced tomorrow. Don't be surprised if, despite the amazing season he had, Coach Boudreau is left off the list. It seems asinine, but there are already some sportswriters who have already let slip that they refuse to vote for a coach in his first year with a team. Whatever. I think Coach B is probably too busy househunting for a long term living space in DC to be concerned about it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

That's enough of that

Onward to the consolation bracket IIHF World Championships, where just about a third of the Caps roster is expected to play.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

There's always next year

Yes, the Caps are out of the playoffs. Yes, they're a young team and this experience will no doubt make them better in the long run (as you can read about in articles by just about everyone that can type). And yes, I'm hungover.

No more Caps games until October.

This sucks.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Adjustments, or, why the Caps are losing this series 2-1

Well, Caps fans, it hasn't been a pretty series so far, has it? The Caps are getting outworked, outplayed, and outmuscled. They've had decent stretches of play, but nothing approaching a 60 minute strong effort. So what's going wrong with the team right now? Glad you asked.

First, the Caps defensive corps has been totally unwilling to engage the Flyers physically before, during, or after the whistle. Don't get me wrong, the defense has been great at skating up to Flyers players and giving them a good talking to after they run our goaltender on every shift. Unfortunately, the Flyers don't seem to be listening to our polite requests that they stop doing so. In particular, Milan Jurcina (who is capable of playing a nasty physical game) Shoane Morrison (who needs to learn how to do so in a hurry) and Tom Poti (who can play rough but doesn't want to take a penalty because he's counted on to play so many tough minutes) seem just fine with watching their goaltender get run over and then slowly skating over to the Flyers player performing the deed and giving him a little love tap. That just won't get it done.

In order to make them listen, the defensive corps needs to make a statement by burying the next forward who makes even glancing contact with Huet, no matter whether they get penalized for it or not. I'm not talking about a little slash across the leg. I'm talking a full force cross check in the small of the back in the gap between the shoulder pads and the pants. The Flyers have no problem stretching the rules regarding contact with the goaltenders to their absolute limits (and it appears the referees have no interest in enforcing them) so someone on the Caps needs to make it known that there will be a steep price to pay for such borderline dirty play. If they can't step up and defend their crease they might as well walk out during introductions wearing golfing outfits and carrying a set of clubs, because their season is over.

The Caps other main problem has been their top line, which had been their saving grace during the regular season. The fix for the top line is simple: move Kozlov off it. While rookie Nicklas Backstrom has bounced back from a rough first set of games to perform at a playoff level in game three, Viktor Kozlov has shrunk from just about every challenge in front of him. He doesn't play physical, he's easily intimidated, his puck possesion game has gone to hell, and if you watch him he's not even skating hard (well, in fairness to Viktor, he's never done that).

If the Caps want to get going, they need someone on the right side that's not going to cough up the puck every time an opposing player gets near them. Maybe Kozlov hasn't gotten the memo that there are no shootouts in the playoffs so he figures he's saving up for that. Whatever the reason, he's absolutely KILLING the flow of the first line. If Chris Clark isn't ready to go for game four, the Caps need to think about promoting Matt Cooke to the first line.

In short, the Caps defense needs to start playing like it's the playoffs and repaying the mugging our forwards are receiving in kind, and the Caps first line needs to cut its dead weight and get a player out on the right wing that wants to win more than they want to get through a game without getting touched.

Update: Of course. Per Tarik, Bruce Boudreau has made a change to the first line, but not the one suggested above. Sergei Fedorov moves up to center the first line between The Russian Machine and The Russian Disappearing Act.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Why the Flyers are Doomed to Fail for the Next Decade

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Deuce breaks out his hatchet and murders the Flyers:

Since everyone is wrapped up in predictions and series breakdowns, I thought I would look at the futures of the two franchises facing off tonight at the Verizon Center. As others have noted, these two teams have taken two radically different views on rebuilding. The Flyers’ approach can best be described as “the quick fix,” sort of like that commercial where the engineers stick a piece of bubble gum over that crack in the Hoover Dam. The Caps, on the other hand, were patient, tearing down the team prior to the lockout/work stoppage, and rebuilding through draft picks and deadline acquisitions that do not bring contract obligations past this year.

After one bad year, in which they missed the playoffs, Philly went out like a drunken sailor in the Hotel California and brought in everyone’s favorite punk, Danielle Briere, and traded for and signed Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timmonen, Marty Biron. They then totally lost their minds and signed Mike Richards, everyone’s favorite 20-goal scorer, to an 11-year, $5.75 million a year contract. Good move. For this lunacy, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren was almost universally praised.

The Caps, on the other hand, took the hard road. They traded away Gonchar, Bondra, Nylander, Jagr, and the rest, and got back a bunch of young kids nobody had ever heard of and some draft picks in return. They stank the year before, and two years after the lockout. But they drafted intelligently, refused to panic and trade their prospects and draft picks, and played the kids, both in DC and Hershey. They made smart, reasonable free agent signings (Pothier, Nylander, Poti, Kozlov). For this approach, Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee were almost universally panned. So let’s take a look at the rosters and salary cap numbers, shall we?

Forwards of Note
Danielle Briere: $6.5 million/yr through 2014-15
Simon Gagne: $5.25 through 2010/11
Scott Hartnell: $4.1 through 2012/13
Mike Knuble $2.8 through end of next year
Jeoffrey Lupul: $2.8 through end of next year
Sami Kappanen & Scottie Upshall: $1.25 through end of next year
MIKE RICHARDS: $5.75 through 2019/20
RJ Umberger and Jeff Carter are RFAs this summer

Defensemen of Note
Kimmo Timmonen: $6.33 through 2012/13
Derian Hatcher: (wait for it --- wait for it ---) $3.5 million through end of next year
Mike Rathje: $3.5 million through 2010/11
Jason Smith: $1.975 through end of next year (UFA)
Braydon Coburn: $1.3 million starting next year for 2 years

Goaltenders: Wait for it, wait for it:
Marty Biron: $3.5 through 2009/10
Antero Nittymaki: $1.225 through 2009/10

Cap hit this year $55 million
Cap hit next year $49.5 million - and they still need to resign Umberger and Carter, who will be RFAs this summer.
Cap hit in 3 years: $33 million

Compare that with the Capitals:
Capitals Cap Hit this year: $39.021
Cap Hit next year: $34.8 million (but we still need to sign Green (RFA), Morrison (RFA), and Huet/Kolzig (UFAs))
Cap hit in 3 years: $28.4

So which roster would you rather have in 2009/10 for essentially the same salary cap hit?
Philly - with Briere (31 years old with 5 years left on his contract), Gagne (30 years old); Hartnell ((27 with 3 years left), Richards (24 years old with 9 years remaining); and VanRiemsdyck (on an entry level contract) up front, and
Timmonen (34 with 3 years remaining); Rathje (35); and Coburn (24) on the back line (and Biron and Nittymaki in net)


Ovechkin (23 years old with 11 years remaining), Semin (25 years old coming up RFA the next summer), Clark (33 years old with a year remaining), Nylander (36 with a year remaining), Backstrom (21 and and RFA the next summer), Fleishmann (25 and RFA the next summer) up front; Poti (32 with 2 yrs left), Pothier (???) (32 with 1 year left), Green (who we know we’ll resign), Alzner on the back line (on an entry-level contract with 1 year remaining), Huet or Kolzig in net.

I think if we polled NHL GMs, even Holmgren would take that second lineup. In a second. And remember, that’s when you factor in 5 million a year or so for Green!

Even worse, the Flyers have killed themselves in the long term, as Briere will be a 6.5 million dollar cap hit when he’s 35 and 36 with a no-trade clause!
Timmonen will be a $6.3 hit when he’s 37!
MIKE FREAKING RICHARDS will be a $5.75 hit when he’s 34 years old.
AND, they’re just above-average enough to be a fringe playoff team for the next 6-7 years, meaning no high draft picks, no blue-chip sure fire young superstars in the near future. Oops.

The only deal the Caps have past 2010/11 is Ovechkin: at 9.5 a year. I’ll take that one. So the Flyers have taken the quick fix route back to the playoffs, where they are doomed to be a team that will be average to pretty good for the next, oh, six years or so. They’ll play a hard nosed, hard working style, have mediocre goaltending, and are doomed to eventually bow out to teams with more talented superstars. Sound familiar Caps Fans?

Boy, am I glad those days are over. On the other hand, the Caps still have some work to do…they have to resign their restricted free agents (Green, Morrison, Laich, Gordon, Fehr, probably in that order of importance), and lock up a solid netminder until we find out if Varlamov or Neuvirth are any good (Huet, anyone?), but even then, the Caps will have the salary cap room to make moves and add to an already potent lineup.

Sorry Philly. It looks like the Championship drought is going to last at least a decade or so longer. But you can always reminisce about the old days of the Broad Street Bullies, and talk about how tough your team is. And hey, how about them Eagles?

Oh, and one more thing: Jim Butler --- you’re an idiot. Only someone as dumb as you could insult an entire fan base in the NY Times, then act surprised when they (rightfully) hammer you for it.

Monday, April 7, 2008

An addendum

Last year, I wrote this post on why the Caps would make the playoffs this year (and win a playoff series). There were a couple misfires (Dainius Zubrus isn't going anywhere? Really?) but for the most part it was pretty much on target. And although the focus lately has been on the Caps trade deadline acquisitions, this team would never have made the playoffs without one major addition made during the offseason:

That's right, folks. Tom Poti is the unsung hero of this Capitals team.

Now I know Poti's offensive numbers this season are nothing to write home about. In fact, his two goals this season tied his career low set in 2001-2002. But make no mistake, Tom Poti is the reason this team has a chance to compete for the Cup this year.

Without Poti, the Caps would have had no veteran leadership after Brian Pothier went down with a cuncussion. Without Poti (second overall in ice time per game, first among defensemen in time on the penalty kill) this defense would have lacked an anchor to hold the D together in tough spots. Poti has been by far the slickest defensive player on the ice, always making the right decision and making it quickly.

I can't say how many times I've turned to the Deuce during a game and said "You know who's a smart hockey player? Tom Poti." He could always be trusted to make the best play available without forcing the issue.

With a player with such a high hockey IQ on the backline, the Capitals knew that one side of the ice would always be taken care of as long as Poti was on the ice. That's exactly the kind of confidence that was missing from the team's defense last year.

So while we rightly celebrate the incredible ability of the Russian Machine, or the lightning-quick maturation of uber-rookie Nicklas Backstrom, or the great crunch time acquisitions of Huet, Fedorov, and Cooke, remember first that one summer day where the Caps signed the rock on which their young defense would be built. Remember July 1st as the day this playoff team was born.

Keep Philly fans out

Don't sell them tickets.
Don't give them tickets.
Steal their tickets and give them to Caps fans.

You get the idea.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Big ratings and a programming surprise

Per the Capitals, yesterday's critical win against the Lightning drew the largest rating for a hockey game in Comcast Sportsnet history (a 2.7 rating). While this is great news, scoreboard watchers will be just as interested in this note buried in the last couple of lines of the release:

"The network will also carry the Philadelphia Flyers regular season finale against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday at 3 p.m., as the game most likely will have an effect on Washington’s playoff hopes."

Kudos to CSN for giving Caps fans a way to follow their team's fortunes by airing this out-of-market matchup.

And for those of you that get NHL Center Ice you might want to tune into tonight's game between the Bruins and Senators, which also has major implications for the Caps. How big, you ask? If the game ends in regulation (meaning no points for the loser), the Caps are guaranteed a playoff spot if they beat Florida Saturday. That, as they say, is frikkin HUGE.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Alex Ovechkin is a big star

Per NHL.com, The Russian Machine is this month's #1 star. I guess 26 points (14 goals) in 14 games will do that for you.