Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” column is arguably the best hockey column to read on the internet. If you don’t reguarly read Friedman and his 30 thoughts, you’ve been officially notified to start. Friedman’s 30 thoughts from October 28th featured a lot of Caps content. You’ll find them below, as well as some brief thoughts on those thoughts.
Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRGB Photography
22. Before the season, a few Eastern teams thought the combination of Barry Trotz, Todd Reirden, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik would have the biggest influence of any off-season moves in that conference. Can’t argue that so far. It took eight games before Washington allowed 30 shots, and it’s no coincidence the Capitals’ worst game was a 6-1 preseason loss in Buffalo. Niskanen and Orpik didn’t dress for that one.
Adding those two coaches as well the two defenders undoubtedly has had a big influence on the Caps. How could it not? I think the example of what happened in a preseason game without Niskanen and Orpik may be a bit exaggerated, but point taken.
Really, how could the Caps be worse by adding any 2 NHL caliber defenders, given the inexperienced and over-matched players they ran out there last season? On top of that, Mike Green has been healthy so far and Nate Schmidt is getting the playing time he deserves.
Oh, and Adam Oates isn’t the coach anymore, that’s a pretty big deal.
23. From one-to-five on the blueline, their minutes are very even, running from 23:14 (Niskanen) to 19:42 (Karl Alzner). Among returnees, Nate Schmidt (number six) is down 4:15 per game, John Carlson is down 1:21 and Alzner 0:50. Also down significantly: Mike Green (2:53). Green, who is unrestricted after this season, is being watched by other teams, as they wait to see how Brian MacLellan handles things.
It’s not a surprise that the ice time among Caps defenders is more even spread this season. The blue line is much deeper, therefore the Caps don’t need to rely on their top pair(s) as much. Schmidt is the team’s 6th defender, so his ice time decreasing isn’t much of a story. The fact that he’s in Washington and playing regularly is the much more important story.
Mike Green is still seeing 19:50 per game, so it’s not as if he’s getting buried on the depth chart. This is simply a case of the Caps having a much deeper blue line. Less ice time makes it more likely Green will be fresher and healthier come April, which is a good thing.
24. The early reviews are positive. One scout: “Green is trying. He (used to be) sloppy in coverage, bad stick, not finishing checks. Now, he’s staying on the right side of the puck.” MacLellan sees a difference, too. “When other teams played us, the plan was to hit him— finish your checks. It took its toll. Now, we have other options. It eases the pressure on him.”
This scout is obviously much more qualified than me to speak on Green’s coverage, positioning, checking, etc. than I am. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean the scout is right.
Regardless of Green’s gaffes, lapses and so on, since 2007 the Caps have seen 54.5% of all shot attempts while he’s on the ice, which is 21st best of the 366 defensemen who have played 500+ minutes since then. That’s superb. Mike Green is really good. Leave him alone.
25. The Capitals have yet to discuss an extension with Green. “We’ll leave that for later in the season,” the GM said. “Let’s see how this shakes out.”
Does the Caps depth make Green expendable? Well, I think he’s their best defender, so I hope not. But it is hard to see the Caps investing as much, or more, in their defense next season as this one.
26. Another Eastern Conference coach on the Nicklas Backstrom/Eric Fehr/Alexander Ovechkin line: “They still cheat, but not as much. I suspect that’s by design they’re allowed to…you still want opponents to be scared of them. The (Jason) Chimera/(Joel) Ward line, for example, plays differently.”
To me, this basically says that Trotz expect his first line to be responsible, but he’s still going to let Ovi be Ovi. And Nicky be Nicky. These guys should be allowed to “cheat” more than other lines. They are supremely talented offensive players and should be encouraged to put themselves on positions to use those talents.
27. Finally on Washington: MacLellan said new goalie boss Mitch Korn worked with Braden Holtby “to get his arms and legs more aligned with his body.” Sounds important for everyday life, not just hockey.
Mitch Korn is the goalie whisperer. Braden Holtby is an underrated goalie who got way too much flack last season for the Caps struggles. As I’ve said before, I expect Holtby to be considered an elite goalie by the end of this season.
Like I said above, if you don’t read “30 Thoughts” regularly, start doing so. While there’s not always this much Caps-related content, it’s always a great read.
Barry Trotz has said not to read too much into his lines for the first 3 preseason games. He has also dropped a few hints as to what the regular season lines may look like. He has said Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin will play together, as will Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. He has also said that the 2nd line center battle is between Maruc Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov, with the loser likely being shifted to the wing. This is music to my ears. What this hopefully means is that the loser will shift to wing and not the 3C slot because Brooks Laich will be the 3C. This would eliminate an issue that Trotz has that revolves around the fact that there is not room for Laich and Troy Brouwer in the top-6 because, as I’ll spell out below, it will result in non-optimal line combinations.
I’ve already written about the fact that I think Eric Fehr should be the winger to play with Backstrom and Ovechkin. But for my purpose here, I’ll back up and explain why Laich and Brouwer can’t both fit in the Caps top-6.
First, here’s a look at Brooks Laich’s CF% with and without Backstrom and Ovechkin.
Laich’s possession game suffers when playing with Ovechkin. His possession game improves slightly when with Backstrom. Now, let’s look at how Ovechkin and Backstrom do with and without Laich.
This chart is about all I need to see that Laich shouldn’t be in the running for playing alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom. He’s dead weight to them. He drags their possession numbers down drastically. Yes, Laich’s possession numbers see a slight improvement when playing with Backstrom, but this is more than offset by the much larger dip in possession Backstrom sees with Laich relative to without him.
So what about Troy Brouwer? Maybe he can play alongside the Caps dynamic duo.
Brouwer’s possession play suffers when playing with the Caps two best players. This doesn’t bode well for him being a viable option as the RW to play alongside them come opening night. But, for the sake of thoroughness, let’s see what playing with Brouwer does to Backstrom’s and Ovechkin’s possession.
I think these two charts show that playing Brouwer with Ovechkin and Backstrom is a possession disaster, which would make it pretty tough for this line to be successful.
So, if neither Laich nor Brouwer are a fit to play RW on the Caps top line, one possibility is that they will play on the 2nd line together. As has been well-documented by many of those around the Caps Blogosphere, these two together are a DISASTER. In case you’re not convinced, here’s another fancy chart.
Laich and Brouwer are not a good combination on a line together. Neither fits on the top line. That leaves room for one of them in the top-6 on the second line. Laich’s versatility and the Caps lack of depth at Center make him the clear candidate to be used as the 3C instead of in the top-6. This puts Brouwer playing wing on the 2nd line.
To reiterate, putting only one of these two in the top-6 makes sense on multiple levels:
-It keeps either player from dragging down the Ovechkin/Backstrom duo.
-It keeps the two from playing together, which is a disaster.
-Placing Laich at 3C helps shore up the Caps lack of depth down the middle.
All stats from Hockey Analysis
As part of their 40th anniversary season, the Caps are asking fans to help them vote on the 40 greatest Caps players in the team’s history. I’m not asking for your vote and I’m not looking at the entire history of the team. Instead, I am looking at the Caps advanced stats All-Stars from the Alex Ovechkin era (2005-06-present). I am not claiming that advanced stats are the end of the discussion when it comes to player evaluation. However, they are for my purposes here. I also didn’t consider forward specific positions. Instead, I picked 3 forwards and 2 defenseman. I set the minimum games played to a completely arbitrary 115 games.
To rank the players, I looked at FenClose, FenClose rel, zone starts, and quality of competition. If a player ranked 1st, he got 5 points, down through 5th place getting 1 point. This was done for each of the 4 categories.
Without further delay, here are the long-awaited Caps advanced stats All-Stars from the Ovechkin era.
Forward #1-Sergei Fedorov (10 points)
Fedorov finished first in FenClose (56.19%) and FenRel (+4.43%). He wasn’t anywhere near the top in zone starts (0.73%% ZS rel), but did finish 8th in quality of competition (28.82).
Forward #2-Nick Backstrom (9 points)
Backstrom’s FenClose was good enough for 5th (53.44) and his FenRel 3rd (+3.28%). Backstrom’s zone starts were not noteworthy (6.08%). Backstrom really shines in quality of competition, where he finished first (29.63%)
Forward #3-Viktor Kozlov (7 points)
Kozlov finished 2nd in FenClose (54.48%), but did not place in the top-5 in FenClose rel (0.34%), a sign that he benefited from playing on very strong possession teams. Kozlov also didn’t find himself in the top-5 in zone starts (5.58% ZS rel). However, he finished 3rd in quality of competition (29.39), cementing his place on the All-Star team.
Defenseman #1-Mike Green (10 points)
This isn’t surprising to anyone who pays attention to possession numbers. Green finished 1st in FenClose (53.10%) and 2nd in FenClose rel (+3.12%). Green didn’t place in the top 5 in zone starts (4.54%) but came in 5th in quality of competition (28.62%).
Defenseman #2 Shaone Morrissonn (9 points)
This was the biggest surprise to me, by a long ways. Morrisonn finished 5th in FenClose (50.21%) but didn’t make the top 5 in FenClose rel (-1.21%). He faced the toughest zone starts (-4.17%) and the 3rd toughest quality of competition (29.03%).
Here’s a player usage chart of the 5 All-Stars.
Morrisonn was the only negative possession player relative to his teammates. However, this is counter-balanced by the fact that he faced the toughest zone starts and 3rd toughest competition among all qualified defenseman. His inclusion is still shocking to me.
Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is finally over. Let’s hear it for your Caps advanced stats All-Stars of the Ovechkin era.
Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography
Barry Trotz has not been shy in heaping praise upon Nick Backstrom since becoming head coach of the Caps. Trotz has also noted how under appreciated he feels Backstrom is around the league. I think Backstrom is deeply appreciated by Caps fans, generally recognized as one of the most important players on this team. But, just in case you forgot about how great Backstrom is, here’s a reminder.
Backstrom’s career usage chart displays a few things,none of which are surprising, but that I think are cool to see in visual form. The first is that he’s only been a negative possession player relative to his teammates once in his career. That is was in 2008-09, and it was by less than 1/4 of a %. Other than that, the Caps, season-by-season, have always been a better possession team with Backstrom on the ice than without him. Backstrom has also faced pretty stiff competition, almost always finishing a season north of 29.2% TOI competition. That’s what we’d expect to find from a 1C who is often deployed with Alex Ovechkin.
Much has been made about the fact that Alex Ovechkin will likely start the season back at LW. It’s a fairly safe assumption that Backstrom will line up at Center on a line with Ovechkin. What potential RW would benefit the most by being centered by Backstrom? And what player would Backstrom most benefit from having on his right side?
I’m making a few assumptions in my considerations. One is that Brooks Laich and Evgeny Kuznetsov are not candidates, as I expect them to fill the 3C and 2C spots, respectively. I’m also assuming that most any winger is eligible. It is safe to assume that Trotz won’t be as obsessed with handedness as Adam Oates was, right? I’ve also excluded Tom Wilson from my list of viable options to play alongside Backstrom because their sample size together is minuscule, so there’s nothing to learn from their history together. Here’s how the remaining options for Trotz stack up, measured in Corsi For with and without Backstrom. These are career numbers.
A note on the sample size here. Minutes with Backstrom are as follows: Brouwer 758:32, Johansson 991:41, Ward 88:53, Fehr 391:26, Chimera 314:37.
Here’s how Backstrom fared with and without each player listed above.
The “with” sample sizes here are obviously the same.
Brouwer and Johansson have by far the biggest sample sizes playing with Backstrom. It’s clear that Brouwer and Backstrom are not a good match as they both see their possession numbers plummet when playing together. Johansson sees his possession numbers improve with Backstrom, but he’s dead weight to Backstrom, who sees a significant jump in possession away from Johansson. Jason Chimera also appears to be a poor fit with Backstrom.
Joel Ward’s sample size with Backstrom is quite small, but the results are decent. That being said, his skill set is one that thrives on a 3rd line and is likely not suited to play with the likes of Backstrom and Ovechkin on a regular basis.
That bring us to Eric Fehr. Fehr’s success with Ovechkin and Mikhail Grabovski is something we’ve already talked about here in other posts. Fehr’s possession benefits from playing with Backstrom and Backstrom’s possession drops the least when playing with Fehr out of all of the RW options. Long story short, if Eric Fehr is not playing RW alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom on opening night, I’ll consider it a mistake by Trotz.
Nicklas Backstrom is awesome, isn’t he? And boy, an Ovechkin-Backstrom-Fehr line on opening night sure does make a lot of sense.
All stats pulled from War on Ice and Hockey Analysis
Alex Ovechkin won the Calder trophy for NHL rookie of the year for the 2005-06 season. Ovechkin totaled 52 goals and 54 assist in 81 games. His 106 points is the 3rd highest total ever for a rookie. 2005-06 was also Sidney Crosby’s rookie season. Crosby had 39 goals and 63 assists. According to Wikipedia, the only other time two rookies have had over 100 points in the same season was in 1992-93 (Teemu Selanne and Joe Juneau).
The voting for the Calder was not especially close, as Ovechkin received 125 of the 129 possible first place votes. He also received 4 second place votes. Crosby received 4 first place votes, 95 second place votes, as well as a number of third and fourth place votes. Scoring 52 goals as a rookie is going to grab the attention of voters. Ovechkin’s highlight-reel goals and physical style of play was also credited for helping him win the award nearly unanimously.
Advanced stats are more prevalent than ever before in the NHL, and are certainly more of a thought than they were in the 2005-06 season. While there’s no doubt many voters still pay them no mind, I want to take a look at how the Ovechkin’s and Crosby’s rookie seasons match-up from an advanced stats perspective.
First, here’s a look at a player usage chart.
This is for all 5-on-5 situations. So, Crosby (57.256) faced easier zone starts than Ovechkin (52.68%), but also faced (slightly) tougher competition (28.78% to 28.56%). The wide gap on the Y-axis is actually quite small if you look at the scale. Both players had somewhat sheltered zone starts, as would be expected for rookies. The bubble color is set to FenRel% which resulted in no noticeable color for either player because, as you’ll see shortly, these two had similar FenClose numbers in their rookie season. Not pictured here is that both players also had very similar strength of teammates, as measured by TOI teammate %. Ovechkin’s was 30.45%, Crosby 30.48%.
Back to looking at possession through FenRel %. This is another stat where there’s not a very meaningful difference between the two. Ovechkin’s FenRel % was 7.88 and Crosby’s was 7.44. Looking at close game situations also doesn’t give either guy much of an edge. Ovechkin’s close game Fenwick was 53.16%, Crosby’s 50.95%. When looking relative to their teammates, the numbers are 9.19% and 9.93%, respectively.
Advanced stats don’t do much to distinguish either player during their rookie campaigns. They both had good possession numbers, especially relative to their teammates. Both guys received zone starts that were a bit sheltered, Crosby more so than Ovechkin. And lastly, they played with and against very similar levels of competition.
So sorry, Sidney, I won’t be calling for a re-vote based off of advanced stats.
All data pulled from War on Ice
As we’ve already highlighted here on the blog, advanced stats have gotten a lot of publicity this summer. A large part of this was due to NHL front offices making hires that were aimed at forming analytic departments. One of those hires, by the Toronto Maple Leafs, was Darryl Metcalf, the founder of ExtraSkater.com. Extra Skater was the go-to advanced stats resource for many people, myself included, but was shut down when Metcalf was hired by the Leafs. One site that has popped up in Extra Skater’s place is War on Ice. I’ve tweeted some of the stuff that makes War on Ice such a cool site, even eclipsing Extra Skater in terms of depth and quality. While Extra Skater had stats from the present day dating back to the 2010-11 season, War on Ice has stats starting with the 2002-03 season. Much like I did when Extra Skater added stats from the ’10-11 season, I wanted to highlight some interesting stats on War on Ice from seasons that were not available on Extra Skater. This post will take a look at advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2009-10 season. This post will far from exhaust all there is to say about the information available on War on Ice from the 2009-10 Caps. Instead, this post is both an effort to point out some interesting highlights, as well as show off some of the stuff that makes War on Ice so great.
For those who don’t remember, 2009-10 was the season that the Caps dominated the league and were then Halak’d out of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadians in the first round of the playoffs. The Caps were dynamic. 6 players had over 20 goals. Mike Green had 76 points in 75 games. As a lifelong sports fan, this team was the most exciting team I’ve rooted for, regardless of the sport.
To start, here’s a look at 2009-10 via just one of the seemingly endlessly customized chart options on War on Ice. This is a chart looking at all 30 NHL teams. The X-Axis is Fenwick %. The Y-Axis is team goal +/- and the color bubble variance is PDO. The bubble size variance is time on ice, fairly trivial for this chart. This is at 5-on-5 in close game situations.
The further right, the better the team was, as measured by puck possession. A blue bubble would indicate good fortunate, with red representing poor fortunate.
-The Caps were good, according to Fenwick, but not elite. They finished 12th in FenClose as a team. The Caps FenClose % of 51.19 is their 3rd best since 2002.
-The Caps have the darkest blue circle, meaning they led the league in PDO at an absurd 103.60.
-My quick takeaway from this chart is that the Caps, at 5-on-5, were a good team that was also very fortunate, which resulted in the huge goal differential.
-War on Ice tracks PDO back to 2002, and the 103.60 is by far the highest season PDO the Caps have had in the time frame. The next highest is 101.78 (2002-03)
The next chart is a look at the Caps defenders. The X-axis is FenRel % and the Y-axis is TOI Competition %. The bubble size and color are set to TOI/G. I’m not sure what variable to use as the 4th that will contribute to the substance of this chart, so I TOI is left as a repeat. I’m open to suggestions!
A few takeaways from this chart:
-Tom Poti and Joe Corvo played a lot of minutes. They were tough minutes and they handled them really well.
-Karl Alzner played against weak competition and he struggled.
-Why was Brian Pothier getting more minutes than Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina?
Here are some other interesting details. First, the Caps top 5 FenClose Rel from 2009-10
And the 5 worst
These charts are pretty self-explanatory. Ovechkin and Backstrom, those two guys are pretty good, eh?
Let us not forget that 2009-10 was the year that Jeff Schultz led the league in +/-. Now, when arguing with someone about how flawed of a stat +/- is, you can give them Schultz’s exact PDO in the ’09-10 season. Schultz’s PDO was 105.75, which was somehow only good enough for 4th on the Caps that season, behind Carlson (105.89), Fehr (105.87), and Ovechkin (105.81). If only considering players who played in 41+ games, Henrik Sedin finished first in the NHL in PDO at 106.71. The next 3 players league-wide were Caps! Carlson only appeared in 22 games, so the top 4 in the NHL is rounded out by Fehr, Ovechkin, and Schultz.
This look at the 2009-10 season is just scratching the surface of the data available on War on Ice. Go ahead and head over there yourself but be prepared to get lost for days!
Yup, this is my second post about ex-Caps player Mikhail Grabovski in the past week. While it’s not my intention in writing this, this is further proof of how wrong Jeremy Roenick is about Grabovski. But this post is more about the fact that the loss of Grabovski hurts the Caps, while the Isles will benefit from signing him.
On a personal level, Grabovski was the Caps player I most enjoyed watching last season. From a team level, he was a possession monster and a nice solution to the Caps problems at 2C that could have been had long-term for a reasonable salary. But I shouldn’t be the only one missing Grabovski. In fact, most everyone of his teammates should be missing him because almost every Caps player saw an improvement in their possession numbers in the minutes they played with Grabovski vs. when they played without him.
Here is a look at how every Caps forward fared while playing with Grabovski vs. while playing without him. I cut off the minimum minutes at 19:48, so as not to exclude possession anchor Aaron Volpatti. Sample-size warnings obviously apply, but you can see a trend. SA% is the % of shot attempts the Caps saw go in their favor while that player was on the ice.
|Player||TOI w/Grabovski||SA% w/Grabovski||TOI w/out Grabovski||SA% w/out Grabovski||Grabovski effect|
-10 of the 12 Caps forwards who played 19:48+ with Grabovski this past season saw an increase in SF% with Grabovski vs without him, the only two exceptions being Backstrom and Volpatti.
-Remember when Adam Oates started the season with his obvious 2C (Grabovski) on the 3rd line and obvious 2W (Erat) on the 4th line? One wonders what the two could have done if ever given extended minutes together (something I, and many others, called for all season) given their dominating 58.5% SF in the very small sample.
-One interesting tidbit not shows here is that Backstrom, the player with the worst “Grabovski Effect,” saw his highest Goals For % with Grabovski out of all Caps forwards. Certainly just a sample size thing, but interesting nonetheless.
Here’s how are the Caps top 7 D, in terms of minutes played with Grabovski, fared with and without him last season at 5-on-5. Again, sample size warnings apply, but a clear patterns emerges.
|Player||TOI w/Grabovski||SA% w/Grabovski||TOI w/out Grabovski||SA% w/out Grabovski||Grabovski effect|
-Other than Nate Schmidt, every defender listed saw an improvement in their possession numbers, many of them pretty drastic improvements, when on the ice with Grabovski.
-It’s especially interesting that the two worst puck possession players on the list, Oleksy and Erskine, both became positive possession players in their minutes with Grabovski, which were admittedly limited.
-I know it’s only 166 minutes, but the Caps were dominant when Grabovski was on the ice with Orlov.
Like I said above, sample-size warnings obviously apply here. It should also be noted that none of these numbers include any caveats such as zone starts or quality of competition. But make no mistake about it, regardless of that, the Capitals were a better team with Grabovski on the ice, and his new Islanders teammates will start reaping the benefits in October.
All stats pulled from http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/
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Advanced stats for the 2010-11 season are now available on ExtraSkater.com. I highly recommend visiting Extra Skater to see the stats for yourself, but below, after a quick refresher on the season, are some Caps highlights I pulled from a glance at the new stats on Extra Skater.
With a record of 48-23-11, the Caps were not only Southeast Division champs, but finished first in the Eastern Conference, with 107 points. The Caps discarded the Rangers 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs before being swept by the #5 seed Tampa Bay Lightening in the second round. This was also the season during which the Caps, under Bruce Boudreau, shifted to a more defensive-oriented system. The Caps defeated the Penguins 3-1 in the 2011 Winter Classic and were featured on the HBO series 24/7.
-The Caps finished 15th in Fenclose%, tied with the Kings at 50.4. The two teams have gone in opposite directions since, with the Caps (47.5%) finishing 25th in 2013-14 and the Kings (56.7%) finishing first.
-Nicklas Backstorm led all qualifying (41+ games played) Caps in FenClose rel at +5.0%, followed by Alex Ovechkin at +3.9% and Alex Semin at +3.5%. The top Caps defender was John Carlson at +1.9%.
-Alex Semin’s PDO of 107.7 ranked highest on the team, aided by his teammates’ on-ice shooting % of 10.5%, 1.8% higher than any other Caps player.
-Marcus Johansson had the highest ZS% at 58.1%, while Boyd Gordon faced the toughest zone starts, with a ZS% of 41.8%
-As would be expected, the Caps top forward line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Knuble faced tougher competition than any of their teammates. Carlson and Karl Alzner faced the toughest competition of any Caps defenders.
-To the surprise of absolutely no one, Mike Knuble had the shortest average shot distance (24.7 feet).
-Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for 82.4% of the Caps PP minutes during the season (this past season Ovechkin saw the ice during 93.2% of the Caps PP minutes).
This was after a quick look at the stats. If you look through Extra Skater and find any interesting tidbits, leave them in the comments below or give us a shout on Twitter.
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.