Author Archives: Pat Holden
Kevin Klein from Sick, Unbelievable was nice enough to take the time to answer some questions via email about the new Caps season. You can follow Sick, Unbelievable on Twitter.
1) During the NHL Network coverage of the Caps preseason game vs. the Jets, it was twice mentioned that the Caps will miss Mike Ribeiro. Agree or disagree?
Before George McPhee went out and got Mikhail Grabovski, I would have agreed. Regardless of how “lucky” Ribeiro was (a not-exactly-accurate term used on account of his high on-ice shooting percentage and powerplay success), that kind of production was going to be missed. There wasn’t a soul on the roster in June who better fit the mold of 2C than Mike Ribeiro.
Grabovski changed that. He probably won’t be quite as high-octane on the man-to-the-good as Ribeiro was a year ago, but Grabovski has made a career of keeping the puck in the offensive zone at even strength. With the vast majority of the hockey game pie going to the even-strength slice, Grabovski is more likely than not an upgrade at the position. And that’s a conjecture made purely based on his on-ice merit and the Caps’ weaknesses from a year, with nothing to say for his friendlier age, contract, and possible future in the Nation’s Capital.
2) What forwards end up getting the most top 6 minutes?
I’d be a fool to veer away from the obvious answer: the top two lines, whoever they shake out to be. There’s a lot of modularity there with guys like Martin Erat, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer and Eric Fehr. After Ovechkin, Backstrom, Johansson, and Grabovski, it’s anyone’s guess.
3) One much discussed topic this preseason is who will see minutes on the 2nd defensive pair. Assuming Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson are the top 3 blueliners in terms of ice time, what defenseman will see the 4th most amount of minutes this season?
By all accounts it will be John Erskine, and if you ask me, that particular lineup choice is the team’s greatest roster flaw. Erskine’s underlying numbers for a year ago don’t represent how poorly he played— a fact that can singularly be attributed to the fact that he received a .944 sv % from the padstacker behind him over the course of the season. That goaltending didn’t add up in the playoffs, and as a result Erskine was exposed as something of a goat.
I’d expect the Capitals to make a move to obtain another, defensively stronger, left-handed D-man at the deadline to play on the second pairing.
4) Who/What will be the biggest surprise this year, good or bad?
I don’t know if you can call him a surprise at this point, but in many people’s eyes Braden Holtby is still unproven. It’s not a terribly unfounded notion, as Holtby has only played 57 career regular season games— in the ballpark of 1 full season’s work for a non-Lundqvistian NHL goaltender.
By no fault of his own, this will be Holtby’s first chance to put together a strong campaign over the course of a full schedule. Of all goalies that have played a minimum of 2500 minutes at even strength during the past three years, Holtby has the seventh best save percentage. If he can improve upon that, while continuing to rack up the wins (the guy’s got a .649 career winning percentage), it’ll be hard to argue that the Canadian Olympic-hopeful isn’t the real deal— and yeah, I think that will surprise some people.
5) How does this season end for the team?
In my 3-Dieselpunk’s deep mind’s eye, the season ends with Ovi drinking Vodka from the Stanley Cup (and me sharing an under the pressbox seat fistbump with Vlad Putin). In reality I think they absolutely make the playoffs— despite now competing in a substantially more stacked division, this team boasts an opening day lineup that looks as good as any they’ve had in the last ten years. In any event, anything less than a birth in the Conference Finals will be a disappointment, and that doesn’t have as much to do with the paper lineup as it does with our expectations, as they’ve been bred by the organization.
- Caps Q&A with sportswriter Ted Starkey (brookslaichyear.com)
Ted Starkey was nice enough to answer some questions I sent to him over email about the upcoming Caps season. If you’re not familiar with Ted, you should check out his two books about the Caps and follow him on Twitter.
Pat Holden: During the NHL Network coverage of the Caps preseason game vs. the Jets, it was twice mentioned that the Caps will miss Mike Ribeiro. Agree or disagree?
Ted Starkey: If the Capitals wouldn’t have signed Michail Grabovski, the second-line center position would be a huge problem for Washington. While Grabovski might not be quite the scorer Ribeiro is, his playmaking skills certainly will keep from being a big dropoff after Nicklas Backstrom in the middle. They will miss Ribeiro a bit, but certainly not to the degree where it will be a tremendous liability.
PH: What forwards end up getting the most top 6 minutes?
TS: Most likely, you will see beyond the clear-cut of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Grabovski getting the most time, you should see Marcus Johansson on the wing on the top lines (although he will need more consistent production), and Martin Erat and Troy Brouwer on the second line. There’s a pretty clean dividing line – with Brooks Laich’s injury – between the Top and Bottom 6 in the lineup.
PH: Tom Wilson makes the cut, yes or no? (ed. note: This Q&A was done 2 days before rosters were finalized)
TS: Yes, the team certainly feels the rugged forward has outgrown his usefulness in juniors. If anything, the Capitals keep Wilson in Washington off the bat, allowing them to punt their decision for 9 games. But barring a major regression there, he’s in Washington for good.
PH: One much discussed topic this preseason is who will see minutes on the 2nd defensive pair. Assuming Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson are the top 3 blueliners in terms of ice time, what defenseman will see the 4th most amount of minutes this season?
TS: Capitals certainly will try to use John Erskine in a Top 4 role as a balance for either the rushing partner of Green or Carlson, but the question is how he does at the age of 33, as he has shown some signs of slowing down. Part of the reasoning for putting him with an offensive counterpart is to allow the other to take some chances, if Green or Carlson have to be aware of a potential liability, it certainly opens the door for someone else to step in.
PH: Who/What will be the biggest surprise this year, good or bad?
TS: Grabovski should be a good boost to the Capitals this year, as he has excelled in preseason and seems to be a good fit for the lineup. His presence fills a major gap left by Ribeiro’s departure, and he should have a nice rebound season after being used in a limited role in Toronto.
PH: How does this season end for the team?
TS: Capitals will have a decent season, finishing 2nd in the Metropolitan Division. It remains to be seen, however, how the new playoff format that likely earns them dates with one of their recent playoff foes – the Penguins, Flyers or Rangers – will be for the team’s postseason hopes. Most likely, the Capitals can perhaps win a round, but realignment makes that road to the Stanley Cup a bit tougher for Washington.
I’d like to extend a sincere thanks to Ted for taking the time to do this.
Some of the Caps fanbase on Twitter and other social media outlets seems a bit uneasy about the fact that the Caps have not yet made a big splash in the free agency market. While certain players may have made some sense (i.e. PA Parenteau), I’m in no way bothered by the Caps lack of activity thus far. I would rather the team save the cap space to address needs at a date later than July 1st than rashly fill a hole in a manner that will likely prove to be inadequate or with a contract that will become regrettable. That being said, there are holes on this roster that need to be fixed, most notably, a winger to replace Alex Semin on the second line.
The Caps filled a major hole on the roster by acquiring Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars. However, with the impending departure of Semin via free agency, the Caps still have some work to do in terms of their top 2 lines. Given the lack of top-6 talent on the free agent market, the Caps may be best served to make a deal for a winger to play on one of the top two lines, which brings us to scenario one…
Trade for Bobby Ryan or a similar player.
This scenario was brought up recently over at Japers’ Rink with the hypothetical package of Dmitri Orlov, Marcus Johansson and a 1st round pick going to Anaheim for Bobby Ryan. For a good debate on the value of that deal, head on over and read the comments section. For my purposes here, I’ll assume the value makes sense for both teams. If this trade were to happen, or one for a player similar to Ryan, the Caps group of forwards would look like this:
Perreault-Backstrom/Ribeiro-Ryan( or similar player)
Is Perreault a top-6 winger? No. But could he be a serviceable option given the quality of the players on his line as well as the quality of the other lines? I would vote yes. The top two lines would have plenty of scoring and prove difficult to play against with physical players such as Ovechkin, Brouwer and a Ryan-type player. I see no question marks with the third and fourth lines listed above, they’d make Dale Hunter proud (and probably be his first and second lines).
However, we can play arm-chair GM all we want, but it doesn’t magically make Bobby Ryan or a similar player available and/or affordable. So what if the Caps can’t bring in a second-line winger? What if the contract or asking price for such a player is currently at a level that will do more harm than good for the Caps? This bring us to scenario 2…
Sign Jason Arnott
This comes with a disclaimer. Ultimately, the Caps need a to acquire a 2W, not Jason Arnott. Without acquiring a winger to play on the second line, the Caps are not legitimate Cup contenders. But what if nothing makes sense? Should the Caps stand pat? Depending on the what’s available, possibly, but I hope it doesn’t come to that. Instead, the Caps should put a band-aid on the situation and wait until a trade for a 2W opens up. A band-aid type fix would involve bringing in a player on a short-term, low-risk deal so as not to handcuff the team should a 2W becomes available. To me, the easiest way to do this is to sign a player to solidify the center spot on the third line to free up Brooks Laich to play wing on the second line. Of all of the available free agents, Jason Arnott strikes me as the player best suited to serve in this role. He’d likely be available on a one-year deal for a reasonable amount of money. The forward lines would then look like this:
I wouldn’t have a lot of faith in this team contending for the Cup, but I don’t think it’d be a disaster over the short term, either. The intention here is to put a band-aid on the 2W situation until a legitimate one hopefully becomes available via trade during the season. This is certainly not an ideal option, but it’s better than signing Player X, who is questionably adequate to play as a 2W for the duration of his contract, to a deal that will be harmful to the team’s cap management.
Regardless of what the Caps end up doing, I like the patient approach they have opted for thus far. Doing nothing to address glaring needs is generally a better approach than addressing those needs in an inadequate or fiscally irresponsible manner. That being said, signing a player such as Arnott makes sense for the short-term. The would allow Laich to fill-in as a 2W while also not handcuffing the team financially when/if a 2W becomes available.
The Capitals top-6 forwards are in need of reinforcements. With Alex Semin set to become an UFA and depending on if the Caps have Brooks Laich penciled in as a 2W or 3C next season, the Caps currently have as few as 4-top 6 forwards on their roster right now (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Brouwer, and newly acquired Mike Ribeiro). These kind of players don’t come cheap, via trade or free agency. With a particularly thin free-agent market this year, the price for top-6 forwards is likely to be even more inflated than usual. The Caps have smartly not locked themselves into any crippling free agency deals with such players in recent memory, and it wouldn’t be smart to start now. That being said, George McPhee would be smart to look for a player with top-6 potential but who has certain questions marks that will keep the money and term of the deal within reason. On the free agent market this year, a player that fits that mold is Brad Boyes.
Over the course of the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, Boyes played in all 164 games and totaled 76 goals and 62 assists (a 0.84 PPG average). However, in the 3 seasons since then, Boyes has totaled just 38 goals and 91 assists in 210 games (a 0.61 PPG average). Boyes was particularly mediocre this season in Buffalo when he totaled 8 goals and 15 assists in 65 games. So why should the Caps take a look at Boyes?
At 29, Boyes is unlikely to again reach the numbers of 4 years ago, but he is plenty young enough to still be a productive player when put in the right situation. Last season, Boyes played just 13:10 per game and spent time on the Sabres 4th line. While some may see a player whose production has fallen off a cliff, I see a player with a lot to prove who could be had on a cheap one year deal. He likely will be signed to a low-risk/potential high value type deal. Another positive is that Boyes, while primarily a winger, can play center when called upon.
There are reasons to hesitate signing Boyes and there are certainly valid concerns that his days as a top-6 forward are behind him. However, in a day and age when many free agent contracts get bloated to regrettable levels, taking a flyer on Boyes, if he is under the radar, may be worth the risk for the Caps.
Of the six players on the Caps roster that are set to become unrestricted free agents, none has garnered as much attention so far as Alex Semin. Recently on Twitter, we asked what people thought the Caps should offer Semin or how they should replace him if he signs elsewhere. Here are some of the responses:
@brookslaichyear I think three years at 15 million is a fair deal. Yes he can score but he hasn't done it enough over the last couple years.—
Michael Kelly (@mikekellynecn) May 16, 2012
@brookslaichyear GOTTA be a 1-year deal, but would he take it (~$5M?).—
Brian McKain (@bmmckain) May 16, 2012
Allan Petersen (@ampetersen99) May 16, 2012
@brookslaichyear would be tough to replace. I would offer 2 or 3 years at 5\6 million. Semin is a great player.—
Alberto (@roncajolo37) May 16, 2012
@brookslaichyear 3yrs/$4.5m per.—
Danny A Jasso (@dannyajasso) May 16, 2012
Semin’s agent has already said that his client won’t accept a one year contract this time around. He has also said a lot of other things that I chalk up to posturing, that his client didn’t exactly support when asked about the comments.
Neil Greenberg wrote a great piece on Semin’s value, in which he advocated bringing Semin back on a 1 or 2 year deal for about $6 million per season. There was also a great FanPost on Japers Rink that took a look at Semin’s value using some fancy charts.
Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself when talking about Semin’s value when so many Caps fans seem opposed to even bringing him back. I don’t want to rehash what we’ve already spent plenty of time on in previous posts, but perhaps you should reevaluate your opinion of Semin if you think he’s lazy and should not be brought back under any circumstance. I also think anyone who opposes bringing back Semin needs to propose how we replace him. This team needs more top-6 forwards, not less, and if Semin walks then the holes in the top-6 become even more glaring.
If the Caps don’t re-sign Semin, the decision better be part of a larger overhaul set to take place this summer. Letting Semin walk and taking a business-as-usual approach to the rest of the off-season will result in a team with even deeper flaws than the one we watched over the past season.
Given that I’m not George McPhee, I don’t have the benefit of knowing what options are available to the Caps if they decide to go with a larger overhaul this off-season. That being said, I don’t see a better option out there than bringing Semin back if the contract makes sense. I’d absolutely not go any longer than a four year term, and I’d be much more comfortable with a two or three year deal. In terms of dollars, I wouldn’t go over $6 million per year under any circumstance, and would be much more comfortable with a cap hit in the $5-$5.5 million range. Unless a major overhaul takes place, specifically to the Caps top-6 forwards, I don’t see how this team gets more competitive by letting Semin walk away.
- Alex Semin Hasn’t Made Decision On NHL Free Agency, According To Report (sbnation.com)
- BrooksLaichyear’s Pat Holden talks Alex Semin on The Mike Wise Show (brookslaichyear.com)
- Is Alex Semin being held to a higher standard than other Caps players? (brookslaichyear.com)
- Pierre McGuire needs to rethink his Alex Semin narrative (brookslaichyear.com)
To get you ready for the Caps-Rangers series that kicks off on Saturday at 3, we exchanged questions with Kevin from The New York Rangers Blog. Below are Kevin’s answers to our questions. Visit their blog to see our answers to Kevin’s questions.
Other than Ryan Callahan, since I assume he’d be the obvious answer, who is the player that most embodies what this Rangers team is all about?
Dan Girardi. The Rangers are a blue collar team that is willing to do the dirty work to get the job done. And no player does it better than Girardi. He is fearless on the ice. He’ll throw a big hit along the boards, get to the front of the net to block a shot then bust it up the ice to assist with the offense. Similar to the rest of his teammates he brings that lunch pail mentality to the rink every night. Oh yeah, and he’s a pretty darn good player as evidenced by his All Star nod.
What do you think of Chris Kreider so far?
While I expected to see some great things from Chris Kreider in the playoffs, I never dreamed he’d be dominating a Game 7 in just his fifth NHL contest. His speed is deadly. There were times in Game 7 against Ottawa where it seemed like there were three of him out there. His ability to track down pucks gave the Rangers additional puck position at key moments in third period. He’s also a sniper who will bury his opportunities. But to me the most impressive part of this kid is his character. He is very humble, is willing to learn and knows his role. John Tortorella has mentioned numerous times that Kreider won’t be intimidated by the moment. Which has been proved by his two NCAA National Championships with Boston College and his Game 7 performance Thursday night. Can you think of a more pressure situation for a young player to be thrown into? He’s been unflappable.
What is the biggest difference between this Ranger team and the one the Caps knocked out last year?
Confidence. I don’t think you’re going to see a much different game plan from last year’s series. The Rangers are very comfortable playing a low scoring, defensive oriented game. While that’s the strategy of almost every team in playoffs, the Rangers feel they’re the best at it. Last year as the #8 seed they were just happy to be in the playoffs, get their young guys some experience and hope for an upset. This year, they’re thinking Stanley Cup and are confident they have the horses to do it. They have a great mix of veteran leadership and youthful enthusiasm. Helps to have Henrik Lundqvist playing at an All World level as well.
You guys made the biggest move in free agency last offseason by signing Brad Richards. Has he been living up to his contract?
Numbers wise Richards did not live up to his nine-year, $60 million contract. He finished the season with just 66 points despite playing in all 82 games which was his lowest output since 2007-08 when he had 62 points in 74 games. He did make his points count, however, as he led the team with eight game winning goals. Having said that, Richards’ worth to this Rangers team isn’t measured by points. The influence he’s had on the development of young players such as Derek Stepan and Michael Del Zotto has proved to be invaluable and will have a positive impact on the Rangers franchise for the next decade. His leadership on and off the ice has been noticeable all season and they would not be the same team without him.
Shouldn’t Brian Boyle have answered the bell again Matt Carkner? I’m not condoning what Carkner did, but it seems like the unwritten rule is that Boyle should have accepted the challenge.
I think Brian Boyle would have answered the bell if Matt Carkner challenged him face-to-face like a man instead of jumping him like a coward. Which was proved later on in the period when he excepted Chris Neil’s invitation to dance.
Before Game 6 between the Devils and Panthers tonight, Panthers President and COO Michael Yormark brilliantly displayed to the world that he can be a jerk even when it’s completely unnecessary. See below.
@LaurenAshley07 you have 70 followers.No one cares what you think.
— Michael Yormark (@PanthersYormark) April 24, 2012
Our mission? Get Lauren more followers than Yormark before the Devils-Panthers Game 7 on Thursday night. After all, should the President of a team that covers seats in their stadium with a tarp really be calling anyone out for their lack of Twitter followers? Do your part and follow Lauren on Twitter. On Thursday, thanks to Michael Yormark, we are all Devils fans.
Plenty has been said or written about Nick Backstrom’s turnover in overtime of Game 6 that led to the Bruins winning goal. While the mistake was costly, and could look even costlier if the Bruins end up winning the series, these kind of mistakes are bound to happen. Learn from it, shake it off and move on. I’m not advocating mistakes but I am saying that even an elite player fails to execute sometimes. What I’m not willing to excuse is Backstrom’s complete lack of hustle and effort on the Bruins third goal.
Tyler Seguin made a nice defensive play to strip Alex Semin in the Caps offensive zone. Semin may be at fault for the turnover, but much like the Backstrom mistake in overtime, it’s not worth dwelling on because it’s a lack of execution, not a lack of effort. Semin did exactly what he should have done after Seguin stripped him of the puck; He hustled back to avoid giving the Bruins an odd man rush off of his turnover. If Backstrom had given an effort similar to Semin’s then Andrew Ference wouldn’t have been able to skate wide open into the slot to deposit the loose puck into the net. The replay of the goal from up high (at the 30 second mark of the video below) gives the best look at how Backstrom and Ference are the 4th player on each team to join the play, and Ference flat out beat Backstrom to the puck because he hustled.
I realize that the 4th and 5th players back on defense are often not skating full speed to get back. However, this is because, especially in a man-to-man defense, they are responsible for guarding the opponents’ defensemen, who, more often than not, don’t join the rush or come into the offensive zone at full speed as the trailer on the play. However, when a defensemen does join the rush or hustle up the ice as a trailer, the forward responsible for him needs to match that hustle to ensure that defenseman does not skate into the slot unmarked looking for a loose puck. What happens if the forward doesn’t? Exactly what happened on the Bruins third goal.
Nick Backstrom is as at fault as anyone for the Bruins 3rd and 4th goals on Sunday. The turnover on the Bruins 4th goal is frustrating but excusable because it happens to everyone at some point (although you’d like for it not to happen in overtime of a Game 6). However, the lack of hustle and effort on the Bruins 3rd goal is completely inexcusable. Backstrom owes us one. I’m looking for him to bounce back with a great effort in Game 7 because, if not for his lack of effort in Game 6, the Caps just may have clinched the series on Sunday.
Mike Wise invited me to call his show to discuss our disagreement over Alex Semin. I appreciated the offer, Wise was fair and cordial on air, and while I’m not sure we’re any closer to agreeing about Semin, it was nice of Wise to invite me to call in. I don’t think Wise gets a fair shake from many Caps fans and my beef with him is not as deep or vindictive as some of the things written or said about him by other Caps fans, but simply about Alex Semin.
Wise is in a bit of a catch-22 with Caps fans where some say he doesn’t know the sport well enough to talk about it while others will criticize him and his colleagues for not covering the Caps enough. Personally, I think it’s great that the Caps are relevant enough to have people other than just their beat writers giving them media coverage. Wise will be the first to say that he’s not a “puckhead” and I don’t think he needs to be in order to talk about the Caps on his show or write about them in the paper. It’s a little silly to expect him to know the sport as in depth as, say, Alan May, and equally as silly to think he should shut up because of that.
So the short-winded summary is that this is not me taking issue with the fact that Mike Wise talks about hockey but instead the fact that he’s wrong when it comes to his analysis of Alex Semin. Below is the audio of our conversation (not included in this audio clip is the other dude on the air with Wise calling me a “bozo” before I’m on the air).
I don’t think any score was settled and I know there are plenty of people out there who agree with Wise. I’m not going to fire a shot after the whistle here by building my case without Wise around to offer a rebuttal, but I think it would behoove Wise and those that agree with him to do some further research on Semin. I think you’ll find that, regardless of battles with inconsistency or how he seems to be playing, Alex Semin does not simply have the potential to be an elite player, but in fact has been an elite player for years. A good place to start is here where Neil Greenberg provides evidence that “Semin has not just been a very good player; he has been an outstanding one.”
- “I don’t think the criticism in the past has been really justified” (brookslaichyear.com)
- Pierre McGuire needs to rethink his Alex Semin narrative (brookslaichyear.com)
- Hendricks, Laich, Semin and a gritty Caps goal to like in Montreal (brookslaichyear.wordpress.com)
Last year, the Caps watched enviously as Tampa Bay Lightening role player Sean Bergenheim scored 4 goals to help lead the Bolts to a sweep of the Caps. Bergenheim’s heroics, coupled with the Caps lack of scoring from their grinder lines, led to moves in the offseason that were intended to give the Caps 3rd and 4th lines more of a scoring punch, especially come playoff time. Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward were signed. A trade was made to bring in Troy Brouwer, with the thought that he’d either play on the 3rd line or push Mike Knuble down the depth chart to strengthen the lower lines. Unfortunately for the Caps, the lack of secondary scoring remains. Here is a look at the Caps production (or lack thereof) from the bottom 2 lines through 3 games against Boston.
Man Games Goals Assists +/- SOG
18 0 0 -9 18
These numbers include the 5 players (Aucoin, Perreault, Ward, Hendricks and Beagle) who have spent all 3 games on the bottom two lines as well as a game each from Brouwer (Game 3), Chimera (Game 2) and Johansson (Game 1). Beagle has 8 of the 18 shots. Perreault and Aucoin, two-thirds of the 4th line, have combined for 1 shot and a -3 rating. How can we blame Joel Ward for not producing when these are his partners? Ward never did and never will carry a line, so he must play with guys who are going to carry their own weight.
Perreault took some good strides this year when playing as our 2C, but the Caps have opted to go with more size on the top lines against the Bruins, leaving Perreault on the 4th line, a role he is ill-suited for. Perreault either needs to be playing on one of the top two lines or be out of the lineup for a player (i.e. Jeff Halpern) who’s skill set is better suited for a checking line role.
Of all of Hunter’s questionable coaching decisions, giving Aucoin a jersey over Knuble, against an opponent like the Bruins, may be the most perplexing. If ever there was a time when we need to #freeknuble, it is Thursday night at Verizon Center. The Capitals (much like any team this time of year) will be hitting the golf course sooner rather than later if they don’t get production from the 3rd and 4th lines. So, Caps fans, who ya got, Knuble or Aucoin? Perreault or Halpern? I’m certainly hoping there are two different faces in the lineup for the Caps come Thursday night.