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A look at potential free agent defensemen for the Caps to target

New Caps GM Brian MacLellan is on record saying that he will be more likely to upgrade the Caps through trade than free-agency this off-season. While the class of pending free agents certainly isn’t spectacular, there are still some players who the Caps should take a look at, especially if the trade market doesn’t pan out in the manner MacLellan seemed to indicate he hopes it will.

I had a long paragraph here about why the Caps need to acquire a top-4 defender, but I figured I’d save you the time of reading it since we all know it’s true.

(If you are unfamiliar with the stats below, there are a few places where you can read up on them. One is Extra Skater, which is where the stats for this article were pulled from. Fenwick Close % (FenClose) is the one used the most heavily. Before dismissing Fenclose as too nerdy, consider that the league leader in FenClose for the 2013-14 regular season season was the LA Kings. Here is a chart of how well the best regular season FenClose teams since 2007-08 have fared in the playoffs. For the more curious reader, go here or here to see how FenClose has been shown to be an excellent predictor of a team’s future success.)

Anton Stralman

There are conflicting reports as to whether Anton Stralman(1 goal, 12 assists, 19:25 TOI/G in 2013-14) turned down a 3 year-$9 million deal, but nonetheless, he is a pending free agent at the end of the year. Stralman is not a guy who will satisfy the crowd that want the Caps to bring in a hard-nosed defender, but he will satisfy the crowd that wants the Caps to possess the puck more than their opponents.  Stralman’s FenClose has risen steadily over the past 3 seasons, from 48.4 to a monstrous 55.7, and continuing to rise to 58.3 this past season.  The 58.3 was good for 3rd among all NHL defensemen. Stralman was also 3rd in the NHL in FenClose rel, which measures a player’s FenClose relative to his teammates. According to QoC TOI, Stralman faced the 4th toughest competition among the 7 defenders who appeared in more than half of the Rangers games this past season. Stralman also ranked 4th in defensive zone starts (the amount of Stralman’s shifts that started in the defensive zone) among those 7 D.

Of the Caps D who played 54 games or more this past season, Stralman would easily rank 1st in FenClose.  Stralman’s QoC TOI would fall 3rd, behind only Alzner and Carlson and his zone starts would be 4th among qualifying D, behind Alzner, Carlson, and Orlov. (This article was drafted at the end of the regular season. With the Rangers deep playoff run, Stralman’s price, while hopefully still in a range that makes sense for the Caps, will be higher than it would have been.)

Matt Greene

Unlike Stralman above, Matt Greene (2g, 4a, 15:52 TOI/G) would satisfy those who want to see the Caps add more “toughness” on the blue line. Greene played in 82 games 3 years ago, posting a FenClose of 55.4. Greene’s 2012-13 numbers aren’t really worth discussing because, due to injury, he only appeared in 5 games during the lockout shortened season. Staying on the ice was again a concern for Greene in 2013-14, but he posted a glowing FenClose of 60.7% in 38 games. In the limited time Greene saw this year, his QoC TOI ranked 6th out of the 7 Kings defenders who played in at least as many games as him. He finished 5th among the same 7 Kings defenders the percentage of shifts he started in the defensive zone. Greene has been a bit injury-prone and has, at times, fallen out of the top-6 on the Kings depth chart. However, a healthy Matt Greene would certainly help a much shallower blue line here in Washington.

Greene’s FenClose would rank 1st among Caps defenders who played at least as many games as him (38) this past season.  If you compare Greene to John Erskine (since they 1) played a similar amount of games and 2) are both thought of as “tough”), who played one less game than Greene this year (37), Erskine had a FenClose of 45.1, compared to Greene’s already mentioned 60.7. However, the Kings are a much better possession team than the Caps, so looking at how each fared in relation to their teammates would be a better comparison. Erskine’s 45.1 is 6.7% lower than the Caps FenClose when he was not on the ice. The Kings FenClose was improved by 4.3% when Greene was on the ice. They faced the same level of competition (27.7) in terms of QoC TOI. Greene’s zone starts also weren’t particularly tough, with only 27.7% of them starting in the defensive zone. This is not to say that simply because a player compares favorably to Erskine that he should be targeted by the Caps, but Greene was not just a little better than Erskine (and the majority of the Caps blue line), he was significantly better. He comes with injury risk but that, combined with being a bit buried on the Kings depth chart, could help get him at a cheaper price.

Kyle Quincey

Kyle Quincey (4g, 9A, 20:48 TOI/G) is 28 years old, and is headed for free agency after playing for Detroit since being traded there during the 2011-12 season. Quincey, like Stralman, is not the tough-nosed, hard-hitting, no-nonsense type defender that many Caps fans have long-called for, but the Caps could do (and have done) much worse than to give a player like Quincey 20 minutes per game. Quincey is a quick, puck-moving defender who boasts solid possession numbers over the past few seasons. His FenClose over the last 3 seasons has been 51.7, 57.2, and 50.2, respectively. This past season, Quincey faced the 4th toughest Qoc TOI of the 7 Red Wings defenders who played 48 games or more.  Of these 7 defenders, Quincey started the highest percentage of shifts in the defensive zone.

Of the Caps D who played 54 games or more this past season, Quincey’s FenClose woulds rank third, behind only Green and Orlov.  In terms of QoC TOI, Quincey played tougher minutes than any Caps defender not named Alzner or Carlson while his zone starts would fall 4th behind Alzner, Carlson, and Orlov amongst Caps D who played 54 games or more.

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All three of these players likely benefit from playing on teams with more defensive depth than the Caps, and therefore would almost certainly draw tougher assignments if they came to Washington. However, I still think the numbers above suggest that any one of these three players could strengthen the Caps defense and, obviously depending on the cost, should be considered when free agency opens.

 

 

 

With new slogan and simple apologies, NHL still doesn’t seem to get it

Backyard hockey

Announcing their return from another lockout, the NHL’s new slogan states, “Hockey is back.” In reality, their brand of hockey is back. Other leagues—from college to juniors to the minors and even recreational and instructional ones—carried on, as did thousands of informal street and pond games. The NHL may be home to the best men’s hockey players in the world, however, the sport exists outside the boundaries of their business.

But the NHL’s new marketing copy goes along with the way the league and the players’ association often appeared to be operating during the latest lockout: as if they are the only thing that matters.

As has been written many times at this point, the two sides turned their back on fans, businesses and arena employees by not getting a deal done in time to for the start of the season in September and then dragging out their work stoppage for four months. The NHL and the NHLPA even released statements in their back-and-forth on the day of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings, while many were focused on that tragedy, hammering home the fact that the two parties seemed to be living in a clouded world of their own.

And with their new slogan, the NHL still doesn’t appear to get it. Hockey never left. A bunch of guys who waited too long to start seriously negotiating a deal deserted thousands who were invested in them. The game of hockey itself is more than just a business and goes on, with or without those men.

If the league and the players want to engage fans who are feeling uninspired to watch the NHL brand of hockey, many of them need to rethink the way they’re issuing their post-lockout statements.

Some players and owners have been thanking fans for their patience and some have apologized; I do not question the sincerity of these statements. If this had been the first time the league had shut down on its fans, perhaps words of sorry and thanks would be enough.

But after four work stoppages in the last two decades, more players and owners, as well as Commissioner Gary Bettman, need to not only thank people for their patience and apologize, but show true regret and that they understand they flat-out screwed up by allowing another lockout to occur.

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller came out with some of the more honest talk I’ve seen from a player since the lockout ended, telling ESPN:

“The best thing to do is acknowledge that it was stupid,” Miller said Friday, before turning his attention to Sabres fans. “I appreciate their patience. I know it’s a hard situation. I still don’t even know the right message because it was just a stupid, useless waste of time.”

Miller, who played a role in negotiations, called himself “embarrassed” that it took more than six months of negotiations to reach an agreement.

Roughly worded but honest statements like Miller’s are a good place to start as more in the NHL draft their own messages. NHL hockey may be back, but some fans will be slow to return until more is done by the league and the players to show they truly grasp what they’ve been responsible for.

As my six-year-old daughter likes to say, “Sorry isn’t magic.” To win more people back, the NHL and NHLPA need to show that they understand just how big of a mistake they made and then, like any good team must do, stop making the same ones over and over and over.

Uninspired to watch: The NHL is back and I don’t care

The NHL is back and I don’t care.

Strike that. I care because of the innocent businesses and arena employees whose income was affected by the work stoppage. I’m excited for them that the lockout that began in September has finally ended. But other than that, there’s not a bone in my body that’s excited about NHL hockey at the moment.

My current disinterest in the league has nothing to do with protesting. This is not a situation where I’m ignoring a game I enjoy, just to stick it to the NHL and the NHLPA. I’m simply feeling uninspired to watch after sitting through yet another of the league’s work stoppages—the fourth in the last two decades and the third lockout of the Commissioner Gary Bettman era—with this latest version having lasted for well over 100 days.

In the early stages of the lockout, I felt disgust toward Bettman, the owners and the players’ association. I expected that, once NHL play started up again, my skipping games would be part of a personal boycott due to the greedy parties appearing to forget about the fans as they dragged out their back-and-forth.

But at some point in the last few weeks, my frustration gave way to apathy and, eventually, I found myself comfortably thinking I could live without NHL hockey. Now, I’m at a point where I need no convincing; I have no urge to turn on an NHL game as soon as they start-up.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the NHL brand of hockey, I’m very much feeling inspired to watch the sport itself. If I still lived in the DC area, I imagine going without NHL games would be tougher, as there aren’t high quality hockey options in that region other than the Washington Capitals. The AHL’s Hershey Bears are over two hours away and high level college hockey is even further. Perhaps I’d reluctantly go to Caps games, just to see some hockey, until my passion for the NHL eventually returned.

Harvard at Quinnipiac, January 5, 2013

Harvard at Quinnipiac, January 5, 2013

But a few weeks ago, my family and I moved to Connecticut and on Saturday night I attended my first Division I college hockey game in over 10 years, watching the Quinnipiac men’s team defeat Harvard to extend their unbeaten streak to 14. The hockey was exciting, the arena was great and at no point did I find myself feeling like I was watching a lower quality product than I’d see at an NHL game (though obviously there is a difference in the overall skill level). I can’t wait to get back to another college game and I imagine it will be weeks or days before I attend my next, not years like last time.

I’m not sure when I’ll feel the urge to invest time and money in the NHL again. It could be weeks or days or months. I doubt I’m gone for good. But the end of the lockout hardly has me excited to watch. The last of that desire left me weeks ago, drained while witnessing two sides bicker as if they didn’t care much about when NHL hockey started up again either, or for anyone but themselves. The agreement they are finalizing now would have been great news last summer.

How Caps fans are feeling after Game 1

This morning on Twitter we asked how Caps fans are feeling after the Game 1 loss to the Rangers. The answers:

Boycott Boston until after Game 7

Boycott Boston

There are over 48 hours to go until the Caps and Bruins meet Wednesday night in Boston for Game 7 of their first round playoff series. There’s a lot at stake and there’s also a lot of time to fill between now and then; we suggest you spend it NOT consuming any products from the Boston area.

BrooksLaichyear.com is calling for a boycott of all things Boston between now and Wednesday night. To get this started, below we’ve listed some things to avoid and have suggested a local DC area product as a replacement. Boycott Boston, Support DC!

Drop the Dunkin’ Donuts
Giving up delicious Dunkin’ Donuts coffee for a few days will be tough, but we suggest the excellent Rockville-based Mayorga Coffee instead. You can get Mayorga from their local locations in the DC area and on the shelf at many local grocery stores. Or maybe you have your own local favorite…but avoid Runnin’ on Dunkin’ until this first round series is over.

So long, Sam Adams
I’m actually not a huge Sam Adams fan to begin with (take that, Boston!), so this will be a smaller sacrifice for me personally. But this gives me another reason to support local brewers DC Brau! I’ll be picking up a couple six packs of The Corruption between now and Wednesday.

See ya, Staples
Need office supplies between now and Wednesday night? Avoid Massachusetts-based Staples. We’re not sure about a local substitute you can use instead, so just avoid doing any office work between now and Thursday. There’s a Game 7 to focus on anyway.

It’s your turn…tell us what other Boston products to avoid
Now we need your suggestions for other products to boycott plus a DC area replacement for it. Use the comments to make your suggestions, email them to us at brookslaichyear AT gmail.com or tweet them to us at @brookslaichyear. And thanks to Adam Vingan for inspiring this with a tweet.

Big TV ratings for Caps-Bruins Game 6

The game drew an 8.6 in Washington, a new record for a non-Stanley Cup game in the market. Washington’s only advance to the Final was in 1998. It drew better numbers than the 2011 Winter Classic, which scored a 7.9 in Washington.

via Puck the Media

How loud was Verizon Center for Caps-Bruins Game 4?

Photo by @clydeorama

How loud was Verizon Center in the closing minutes of Thursday’s Game 4?

The decibel meter hit 116 at one point, says Caps fan @VeggieTart. Former Caps VP of Communications Nate Ewell tweeted, “Can’t imagine it was Feds vs NYR loud at Verizon Center but that sounded pretty impressive, Caps fans.” Goat, the fan who leads Verizon Center in “Let’s Go Caps” chants, tweeted back, “It was pretty damn close. My ears haven’t warbled like they did tonight (before that last push) in a very long time.”

I was at the Game 7 against the Rangers mentioned above (the loudest sporting event I’ve ever been a part of), but wasn’t in the building last night. My father was in the 400 Level of Verizon Center for both games and he texted, “Almost but no,” when I asked him if the building was as loud last night as it was for that 2009 game.

Were you at these games? Tweet your thoughts to @brookslaichyear or add a comment below.

“I don’t think the criticism in the past has been really justified”

“I think he’s playing great. He gets us going with a power-play goal last game, he scores again tonight, another power-play goal. Alex has game-breaking abilities. I don’t think the criticism in the past has been really justified. He’s playing great for us right now. He’s moving his feet and he’s getting chances, and when he does that and gets enough looks, he’s got a good enough shot he’s going to score.”

Brooks Laich talking about Alex Semin

24th anniversary of Dale Hunter’s OT goal for Caps in Game 7 vs. Flyers

As the Washington Capitals face off against the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of their opening round playoff series on Monday night, the date marks the 24th anniversary of one of the biggest goals in Caps history. As any serious Caps fan probably knows, that goal was scored by the man now behind the bench for Washington…

I remember that goal well. It was scored on my 13th birthday. Snow flurries fell at one point that day in the D.C. area, which doesn’t happen too often around here on April 16. I was in seventh grade at the time and had a birthday party at my house that evening with my friends.

As soon as the party was over, I headed to the living room for the Caps game. My family and I were watching on TV—it was on Home Team Sports (HTS) in those days—as Hunter put that puck through Hextall’s legs.

For a franchise that had always seemed to lose big playoff games to Patrick Division foes, Hunter’s goal scored a monumental victory. Just the year before, the team had lost the Game 7, four overtime, Easter Epic to the New York Islanders (a shout out to my mom for taking me to that game and staying until the end, and to my uncle Mike for those tickets).

Four banners for the the Washington Capitals r...

Four banners for the the Washington Capitals retired numbers hang in the Verizon Center, #5 Rod Langway, #7 Yvon Labre, #11 Mike Gartner, and #32 Dale Hunter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the next round following Hunter’s series winning goal, the Caps fell to the New Jersey Devils in seven games. I was at Game 1 of that series at the Caps Centre (thanks to my aunt Terry for taking me to that one), when Rod Langway took a skate to the back of the leg from the Devil’s Pat Verbeek, putting the Caps’ captain out of action for the rest of the playoffs. My memory of the rest of that series is hazy, except that I recall being concerned after the team lost Langway on defense and I imagine the series might have played out differently had he been available the rest of the way.

After defeating the Caps, New Jersey went on to lose to Boston (the Schoenfeld-Koharski “Have another donut” incident took place during that time) and then Boston was swept in the Stanley Cup Finals by Edmonton in a series that also featured Boston Garden fog and a power outage that stopped Game 4 there in progress and forced its cancellation. I think my dad and I watched every minute of those Finals together.

That was the last playoff run for that particular group of core Caps players. The next year at the trade deadline, Caps General Manager David Poile dealt Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy to the Minnesota North Stars for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse. That same day, Poile also dealt goaltender Clint Malarchuk, defenseman Grant Ledyard and a draft pick to Buffalo for Calle Johnansson and a pick.

Malarchuk had come to the Caps with Dale Hunter in a trade with Quebec prior to the ’87-’88 season and had become expendable after the emergence of Don Beaupre, a former NHLer with the North Stars who’d been playing for the Caps’ AHL affiliate in Baltimore before being promoted to Washington. The Caps would use the draft pick they got from Buffalo in that Malarchuk deal to select goaltender Byron Dafoe in the 1989 entry draft, the same year they also drafted a guy named Olaf Kolzig.

Rouse, acquired in that trade with Ciccarelli, was eventually dealt to Toronto with Peter Zezel for defenseman Al Iafrate in 1991. After a few seasons in Washington, including one in which he scored 25 goals, Iafrate was traded to Boston for Joe Juneau.

That 1988 Dale Hunter goal against the Flyers was the biggest in Caps history until this overtime score by Juneau against the Buffalo Sabres, ten years later in the 1998 playoffs, sent Washington to their first ever Stanley Cup Finals…

Though this goal might now be the most famous one ever scored by a Capital…

Where were you the night Hunter scored that goal 24 years ago for the Caps? Add a comment about it below.

Local TV ratings for Caps’ first playoff game up over last year’s Game 1

Current alternate logo, 2007 present

Current alternate logo, 2007 present (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis noted on his blog Friday, regarding Game 1 of the Caps opening round playoff series with the Boston Bruins, “Last night’s Caps playoff game on Comcast SportsNet attracted a peak audience of more than a quarter of a million viewers – 263,000 to be more precise – and averaged 190,000 viewers in the Washington and Baltimore markets.”

That puts this year’s first Caps playoff game ahead of last year’s Game 1 versus the New York Rangers, which scored 179,000 households in the Washington and Baltimore markets, according to this SB Nation post from last April.

The higher ratings for this year’s Game 1 occurred even as the Caps are coming off a disappointing regular season that saw them not clinch a playoff spot until their second to last game. A year ago, the Caps went into the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

One difference between this year and last year, which could partially explain why the 2012 Game 1 averaged 11,000 more households than 2011’s, is that the Caps opened the playoffs on the road this season due to their lower seeding. Some of those 18,000+ fans who were at Verizon Center for Game 1 last year were likely watching on TV this time. But, it’s still safe to say that local interest in this team remains strong—and may even be stronger than it was a year ago-—given the opening night TV ratings.

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