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.

 

 

 

Caps off-season: What would you do?

This weekend on Twitter we asked what roster moves you make would this off-season if you were the GM of the Caps. None of the answers were too shocking, and there were a few answers that were pretty popular. Below are a few quick thoughts on some of those answers that popped up more than once.

Re-sign Mikhail Grabovski

Yes, yes, and more yes. There seems to be a lot of agreement here amongst Caps fans. It’s easy to understand why, as during Grabovski’s absence from injury Jay Beagle was centering Alex Ovechkin. The Caps revolving door at the 2C position has been one of the perennial shortcomings of the latter half of the McPhee administration. In Grabovski, we’ve got a guy who can lock that position down for a few years and, thanks especially to the deadline deals, we’ve got the cap room to pay him a deserving salary (not sure what he will bring in, but I’d guess 4 or 5 years at around $5 million per). Evgeny Kuznetsov could mature into a player capable of filling this position, but as a team with a finite number of prime years left of Backstrom and Ovechkin, the time to reload this roster as a true contender is now and the best way to do this at 2c is to re-sign number 84. Oh, and apparently this could happen sooner rather than later.

Trade Mike Green

No, no and more no. To be clear, no player should be untouchable, and if there is a trade involving Green that will help this club, I’m all for it. But I’m not part of the crowd that thinks this team is better off without Mike Green than with him as a fact in and of itself. Yes, he makes egregious mistakes in his own zone, but I still believe this team is better off with Mike Green than without him and there are numbers to support this claim. Yes, during close games during 5-on-5 play, only one player sees more shots go for the Caps than against the Caps when he is on the ice than Mike Green, and that player is Dmitry Orlov. I just don’t see how getting rid of a player like this is beneficial to a team that generally gets out-shot so handily. I don’t like the Green-Orlov combo because I think they play the similar high-risk/high-reward style. Give me Mike Green and a partner that isn’t just breaking into the league and isn’t named John Erskine, and I think you’ve got a very good NHL defensive pair. (side note: How have John Carlson and Karl Alzner largely escaped blame during this debacle of a season? I’m not so sure their development as a top D pair is trending in the right direction this year)

Re-sign Jaroslav Halak

This is another one I’m not on board with. In fact, I don’t think the trade for Halak was as much about getting him than it was about trading our disgruntled, oft-injured backup Michael Neuvirth, as well as gaining cap space this summer. I am 100% comfortable with Braden Holtby being this team’s number 1 goalie. I’ll say the same thing that I told Ravens fans who complained about Joe Flacco before the Ravens won the Super Bowl: Holtby may not win you a Cup all on his own, but he certainly won’t be the weak link on a Cup contender. Braden Holtby is fully capable of being the Number 1 goalie on a Stanley Cup team.  The money it would take to bring back Halak would be better spent elsewhere. After all, Holtby ranks 12th in the league in 5-on-5 save percentage, while Halak comes in at 21st.

Use the team’s last compliance buyout on Brooks Laich

The water is a little murky here on whether this will be allowed since buyouts of injured players are not allowed. However, there are a lot of technicalities not readily available to us that may or may not make this an option. If it is allowed, as painful as this is to say because Brooks Laich is one of the more likable guys in the league, I think the Caps have to pull the trigger on this (though I would bet against them doing it). That $4.5 million per year for the next 3 years can be much better spent than on a guy who has played 60 games and totaled 19 points over the past two seasons. On top of that, we have plenty of players (Brouwer, Chimera, Ward, Fehr) who can fill the roles Laich would be asked to fill on this team.  Like I said above, this may not even be an option, but I haven’t done the necessary digging to sort out the injury/buyout technicalities.

 

Thanks to extraskater.com for always being a great resource, to RMNB for their Weekly Snapshot (my favorite weekly Caps read), and to all of you who interacted with us over the weekend on this topic. 

 

 

 

Kid who inspired the name BrooksLaichyear scores his first goal

My son provided the inspiration for the name of this blog. As mentioned in the first post I wrote here in 2012, “my hockey-crazy three-year-old son is under the impression that number 21 for the Caps and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story share the same last name: Laichyear. It cracked me up the first time he mentioned the name “Brooks Laichyear” while telling me a story about a Caps game. And [my brother] Pat and I filed it away as what we’d name our Caps blog if we ever started one. ”

He’s six now and played his first hockey game Saturday. Below is the video of his first goal.

And you may have noticed there hasn’t been any blogging happening on BrooksLaichyear for the past few months. My brother is busy with his last year of grad school and I started a new job in the fall, plus my wife and I just welcomed our fourth baby into the world. But here’s one of those kids scoring his first ice hockey goal.

Caps play-by-play man John Walton: “Thug hockey back” in Philly; Calls Flyers goalie Ray Emery’s actions “a disgrace” and worthy of NHL suspension

From Washington Capitals radio play-by-play man John Walton’s call of the Ray Emery-Braden Holtby incident last night (Listen to it on Walton’s blog through the link below):

“Emery takes him down. Oh my goodness. You’ve gotta be kidding me. Ray Emery sucker punching Holtby. He’s still punching him. The referee hasn’t stopped it yet. Oh what a dirty play by Ray Emery. Taking Braden Holtby down. Thug hockey back in town. You’re losing by a touchdown and you just grab a sweater. If you think that’s gonna get you standings points, think again. The Buffalo Sabres are the only thing saving this team from being the bottom of the Eastern Conference and now they’ve taken it to the alley in the dirtiest way possible. Ray Emery went after Holtby. Holtby did not want it. He absolutely didn’t want to fight him. And Emery sucker punched him six times. It’s the only cheer you’re gonna hear out of this building tonight. That’s a disgrace. Ray Emery, a disgrace what he just did.”

“Suspend that guy. Suspend him right now,” Walton went on to say regarding Emery.

full audio clip of Walton calling the Emery-Holtby goalie altercation is available on his Capitals Voice blog.

And here’s a great shot of Michael Latta being waved off during the fight by referee François St-Laurent:

Low secondary market prices for upcoming, not-yet-sold-out Penguins-Caps game; NHL resale prices up overall

Washington Capitals tickets on secondary market sites like StubHub and NHL Ticket Exchange have been selling at their lowest average prices since the 2010-11 season (10/8/13) and the team’s upcoming November 20 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, while one of the higher priced Caps home games on the resale market, is no exception.

“We’re seeing an average ticket price of $120 for that game, which is the lowest for a Caps-Penguins game in D.C. since we began tracking data on the NHL resale market [in 2010],” wrote Connor Gregoire, Communications Analyst with ticket search engine SeatGeek, in an October 22 email. “The average resale price in the 400 level for that game is $71 per ticket.”

Average Resale Price for Pittsburgh at Washington since 2010
for tickets overall and 400 Level tickets (Source: SeatGeek)

Date Avg Price 400 Level Avg
2/6/2011 $166 $117
12/23/2010 $159 $112
1/11/2012 $146 $100
2/3/2013 $138 $95
12/1/2011 $138 $93
3/24/2010 $126 $81
2/7/2010 $121 $75
11/20/2013 $120 $71

The November 20 match-up against Pittsburgh is not yet sold out. Tickets remain available through TicketMaster, starting at $84 in the 400 Level of Verizon Center. The lowest priced tickets for sale to this game on the secondary market as of this posting are a pair for $63 each in section 431, Row G on the NHL Ticket Exchange.

Overall, average NHL resale prices are on the rise. Gregoire explained, “We’ve actually seen a 10 percent uptick in the average ticket price across the league through this point in the season as compared to the lockout-shortened year. The average resale price across the NHL is $89 per ticket so far this season compared to $81 through as many games last season. In the 2011-12 season, tickets sold for $87 each on average through this point in the year, so it appears that we’re seeing a recovery in demand for tickets in 2013-14 after the lockout.”

Washington has been promoting value-added ticket deals via email for some games in recent weeks, including Ticket-Food-Drink packages starting at $59 per ticket and another offering two upper level seats and a signed puck for $99. The November 20 game against Pittsburgh is not listed as part of either offer.

The team also continues to promote “Fan Packs” for some games, offering two tickets for $69. But that deal doesn’t make much sense for customers, considering seats to those games are available at far cheaper prices in the same sections of Verizon Center via the secondary ticket market, including NHL Ticket Exchange, which the Caps also promote via email (“Sorry Caps, but this is bad marketing,” 10/7/13).

The Caps did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

TONIGHT! Win this Caps prize basket and help raise money to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease

IMG_1814This is a cause that has special meaning to the two of us that started this blog…

Come win this Caps prize basket—which includes an autographed Troy Brouwer picture (thanks to the Caps for donating that!), four bobbleheads, a Caps scarf, blanket and more—and help raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Parkinson’s research.

Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, our mother has been working tirelessly to raise money for TEAM FOX, to help the Michael J. Fox Foundation in their efforts to help find a cure. In just her first year doing this, she raised nearly $8,000 through events like the one tonight in Baltimore.

Please join us for this fundraiser as we help her continue to raise funds for the cause:

TONIGHT!
Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 5 pm

Our Lady of Victory School
4416 Wilkens Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21229

The cost is $20 and tickets are available at the door. There will be 18 regular bingo games plus three special games. Prizes are bags (Vera Bradley, Coach and 31) & baskets (Longaberger) filled with a theme of goods & services.

There will also be various raffles at the event, including a 50/50, and food & drinks will be available for purchase, with those proceeds going to the cause as well. Door open at 4 pm and games start at 5 pm. If you can’t make the event but would still like to make a donation, you can do that here.

IMG_1815

Here’s where Tom Wilson and Connor Carrick played juniors last season

While in Detroit this past week, I took a side trip to one of my favorite craft brewers, Bell’s Brewing in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and then stopped by the home of the Plymouth Whalers on the drive back to the city.

Plymouth is where Michal Neuvirth won an OHL championship in 2007 and where Caps rookies Tom Wilson and Connor Carrick (recently assigned to the Hershey Bears) played junior hockey. Former Cap Pat Peake’s jersey is hanging from the rafters as well.

I snapped a few pictures:

Home of the OHL Plymouth Whalers

end rink

champs

Program advertisement that includes Connor Carrick

pat peake

And here’s Mike Ribeiro (63) in a Coyotes jersey during the Phoenix-Detroit game at Joe Louis Arena the night before. We were able to grab seats 11 rows from the ice for $39 (face value of $110) through StubHub. Not a bad secondary ticket market bargain!

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Washington Capitals hockey tickets at lowest average resale prices since 2010

Prices for Washington Capitals tickets on the secondary market, the term used for platforms such as StubHub or Ticket Exchange where individuals can resell seats to sports and other events, have seemed extremely low as the 2013-14 hockey season has gotten underway. It turns out, prices are the lowest they’ve been since 2010.

An analyst with SeatGeek, a ticket search engine that looks at “dozens of the biggest ticket sites and present the results all in one place,” was kind enough to put together some numbers for me on secondary market prices for Caps tickets. They have data going back to the start of the 2010-11 season and it shows just how low prices currently are.

From SeatGeek:

  • Two of the Capitals’ next three home games — Thursday against Carolina ($37 average resale price) and next Monday against Edmonton ($38 average resale price) — are the two cheapest Caps regular season home games since the start of the 2010-11 season. In fact, only one other game — an October 13, 2010 matchup against the Islanders ($39 average resale price) — has drawn an average resale price under $40 in that span.

To put that in perspective, for that October 13, 2010 game against the Islanders, which was the last time the average resale price for Caps tickets was this low, Tomas Fleischmann was on the team, DJ King was in the line-up for the first time as a Capital, and Matt Bradley, though scratched due to an injury, was still with Washington.

Another stat from SeatGeek:

  • The average resale price in the 400 level is $40 or less for each of the Caps’ first 11 home games of the season, including last Thursday’s home opener against Calgary. That’s by far the longest such stretch since the start of the 2010-11 season; in that time, we’ve never seen more than three consecutive Caps home games with an average 400-level resale price of $40 or less. For the Carolina and Edmonton games, 400-level seats are reselling at an average of just $18 per ticket.

And one final SeatGeek point:

  • The secondary market for Capitals tickets as a whole is down considerably this season. Washington currently ranks 21st out of 30 teams in overall average resale price at $73 per ticket, falling from 14th at $90 per ticket last season; that’s a 19 percent dip in average resale price. In the 2011-12 campaign, the Caps ranked 15th at $101 per ticket, and in 2010-11 they were 12th at $90 per ticket.

It’s a great time to be a buyer, Caps fans.

Sorry Caps, but this is bad marketing

Caps fan packs

On Friday I got the above email from the Caps, offering two 400 Level tickets for $69 to either the October 10 game against the Hurricanes or October 14 versus the Oilers. That’s $34.50 per ticket for seats that cost $51 at full price, which might seem like a pretty good deal at first glance.

But if you visit the TicketMaster website to buy those Fan Packs from the Caps and then click on the “Resale” tab instead, you’ll find that upper level seats to those games can currently be purchased for as low as $11 through the NHL Ticket Exchange, which the Caps have promoted by email, as recently as a week ago, as a place to “buy or sell worry-free.” Seats for October 10 and October 14 are plentiful there, with over 2,000 available to each game.

Hurricanes Ticket ExchangeOilers Ticket Exchange

When I can buy tickets in the same sections of the arena for close to 70% less through the “Verified by TicketMaster” NHL Ticket Exchange, a platform that is accessible from the Caps’ website, why would I take advantage of a $34.50 sales offer from the team? The Caps are promoting a Fan Pack that is nothing more than two seats together at a discounted price that can be had for far less money just a couple of NHL-approved clicks away.

If the Caps want people to buy their remaining 400 Level inventory for these two games, they’re going to need to do better than this. Dropping their prices down to the levels of the resale market wouldn’t make much sense, but they could add more value to the Fan Packs. For example, they could throw in food and drink vouchers or add something unique to this promotion that a fan can’t get anywhere else, giving people a reason to want the team’s offer more than the far cheaper options available through resellers.

Otherwise, the Caps will have to count on some fans buying these Fan Packs because they’re unaware of options like the NHL Ticket Exchange. And depending on your customers being uninformed doesn’t strike me as a great marketing practice.

Caps Q&A with Sick, Unbelievable

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.

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