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Caps 2014-15 season preview

We didn’t post very much last season. Personally, I didn’t post much the past two seasons as I navigated my way through Grad school while working a full-time job. But we’ve started posting more this summer and plan to be much more active this season. We’ve even added a new writer, Margaret Stuart, who you should follow on Twitter. So thanks for reading. Check back often throughout the season for more frequent posting than last season. 

There is no shortage of season previews available on the Caps. Given that, this preview isn’t meant to be an exhaustive recap of the summer or of story lines certain to arise during the season. Instead, I wanted to give answers and opinions on a few things.

Additionally, some of our recent posts have covered preview-ish type material.

Brooks Orpik and what we know about 34-year-old defensemen

What Todd Reirden could mean for Mike Green

Marcus Johansson: Where he fits and what to expect

First, here’s a question we got on Twitter

Pat Holden: I’d expect a defensemen to get dealt before a forward, but sticking to the subject of the question, my guess would be Marcus Johansson. Johansson has had 4 seasons to find his niche here in Washington and he’s yet to do so. Barry Trotz has already said that Johansson will be used at wing this year, not the greatest vote of confidence for a guy on a team lacking Center depth who was drafted to play Center. If Johansson doesn’t have a coming of age prior to the return of Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson, he’s going to be fighting to get a sweater each night. Johansson is an asset who probably has some value on the trade market. If he can’t realize that value here in Washington and becomes scratched on a regular basis, he will be dealt.

Margaret Stuart: The easy and accurate answer is Marcus Johansson. A quick look at the roster sets him apart from his teammates, and not in a positive way. Who else is a viable trade candidate? The Caps can afford to ship him off–he doesn’t fill a specific, in-demand need. Every other forward on the team has a clearly-defined role, even if his place among the lineup is undefined. Johansson, on the other hand, lacks this clarity.

Is he a center or a left wing? Having scored eight goals last season, where does he fit on a team in need of secondary scoring? His lack of physicality isn’t ideal for a bottom-six player, and his even-strength production doesn’t merit top-six minutes.

With a cap hit of $2 million, Johansson won’t be difficult to take on. A change of scenery might benefit Johansson, although it’s unclear what exactly a team would acquire him for. His all-around play is solid, and his relative Corsi was positive. The latter will help the Caps shop Johansson, given the rise of advanced stats. But Johansson deserves another shot to slot into the lineup, and a handful of new coaches could mold him into the type of player the Caps can’t afford to lose. If this isn’t the case, he’s in the last year of a two-year deal–he’s a natural choice for trade bait.

One optimistic prediction about the season

Holts_28

Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRBG Photography

Pat Holden: Braden Holtby will be widely considered an elite goalie around the NHL by the end of the season. (Peter from RMNB covered this in his predictions. I pinky swear this was in my draft of this post before reading that. I was going to remove it from my post but decided not to. Because really, Holtby’s play took such an undeserved beating last year that it doesn’t hurt to hammer home the point that he’s quite good).

Last season, Holtby caught a lot of heat for the Capitals problems. Last season, ultra-tinkerer Adam Oates messed with his style and Holtby played in front of a defense often comprised of multiple players who should have been in Hershey or the press box. Yet, Holtby still finished 8th in 5-on-5 save% of all goalies who played in 41 games or more. His 92.89 mark finished just below Henrik Lundqvist, who posted a 93.06%. Was Holtby shaky at times last year? Absolutely. But Holtby wasn’t the problem in Washington. In fact, Holtby has never been the problem.

Holtby is now being coached by Goalie Whisperer Mitch Korn. The defense in front of him is stronger than any other defense during his time here in Washington. This is Holtby’s year.

One less optimistic prediction about the season

Pat Holden: Joel Ward, meet regression to the mean. Regression to the mean, Joel Ward. 

Ward_1

Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRBG Photography

 

Ward was great last season and figures to play a big role on the Caps 3rd line again this year. However, if you’re expecting Ward to match the 24 goals and 25 assists that he piled up last season, you’re going to be disappointed. Ward shot 18% last year, which is well above his career mark of 11.1%, and about 10% above the league average. Ward’s PDO of 102.66 last year is certain to come back down closer to 100. This is not a knock on Ward or to say that he won’t play well this year. Ward was a good player last year and will almost certainly be a good player again this year. But he was also lucky last year. That luck is likely to regress a bit and it’s not because of a drop in quality of Ward’s play.

For example, last year Ward had 133 SOG and shot 18% for 24 goals If Ward again manages 133 SOG again but shoots at his career mark of 11.1%, he will score 15 goals. Ward will still be a contributor to this team, but his offensive totals are all but certain to drop.

Margaret Stuart: Caps trade Green and get little in return. To state the obvious, defense has long been an Achilles heel for the Caps. MacLellan addressed this weakness by signing Niskanen and Orpik to long-term deals. The moves raised questions about Green’s role with the team, given the capabilities of the former Pittsburgh defensemen.

Green is the epitome of an offensive defenseman, but the past few seasons have signified a drop-off in his scoring abilities. Enter the fancy-stats argument: last season, Green had some of the highest possession numbers on a lousy possession team. If the Caps wanted to trade Green tomorrow, they’d find some takers. His stock has gradually fallen, but he’s still a valuable asset.

What could the Caps get in return for Green?

Worst-case scenario, they receive a meaningless draft pick or two, coupled with a bottom-four NHL defenseman. The Caps have enough budding young blueliners in their system to fill that role. Calling for trades is premature, but the Caps should receive a high-quality offensive talent in return for Green. Parting ways with No. 52 means losing a veteran leader and weakening the defense. But if the Caps are struggling enough to trade him, they probably can’t afford to be choosers.

Where will the Caps finish this year?

Pat Holden: I’m not big on predictions of where a team will finish in the standings, but this is a season preview so I feel some sort of obligation to provide one. The only team in the division that I think will definitely finish above the Caps are the Penguin (sorry!). But the only team in the division I think the Caps are certain to finish above are the Hurricanes. I’d say it’s unlikely that the Caps will finish above the Rangers. In the end, I think the Caps will end up in a tight battle for 3rd in the division/a Wild Card spot with the Islanders, Devils, Blue Jackets and Flyers. How’s that for vague? Fine. In the end, the Caps will grab the 2nd Wild Card spot in the East with 95 points (41-28-13).

Margaret Stuart: The Caps will finish among the top-four Metro teams. The Metropolitan Divison is unique in that it lacks a truly elite team. The Penguins are still in the running for a Cup, but they’re arguably on their way to becoming fringe contenders. Even the Rangers, who made it to the Cup Final, look weaker on paper than they did a year ago. Beyond these “frontrunners,” the rest of the division is up for grabs–only Carolina is poised to be a true basement-dweller.

If the Caps can patch up the 2C situation, their revamped blueline makes them a far greater threat. And the penalty kill and shots-allowed, two areas in need of fixing, are being addressed. The preseason is…well, the preseason, but it’s yielded mostly positive results thus far.

On the offensive front, Burakovsky may be the team’s most pleasant surprise, providing secondary scoring to supplement Ovechkin. If Trotz & Co. can elicit a Young Guns-era performance from Green, that alone is a red flag to other teams.

Given their improved play in both zones, I predict the Caps will finish fourth in the division, and their 96 points will qualify them for the postseason via the first wild-card spot. Their record will be 42-28-12. (Bear in mind predictions are notoriously inaccurate.)


Thanks again for reading and be sure to come back and visit us often this season.

 

Caps advanced stats All-Stars of the Ovechkin Era

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.

allstarusagechart

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.

What Todd Reirden could mean for Mike Green

Green_1a

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Since the departure of Alex Semin, Mike Green is the most divisive player among Caps fans. I’m a Green supporter. Yes, he has defensive lapses that are glaring and costly. Yes, his offensive production has dropped off significantly and injuries have mounted. But the Caps are a better team with Mike Green than without him. He’s a possession monster and his skating ability is top-notch. The Caps additions on the blue line this off-season have left Green’s role in question, including who will play the point on the power play.

A lot of things will go into Green’s level of success this year. Perhaps the most important change is that the new coaching staff, led by Barry Trotz, have already said they will move away from Adam Oates’ insistence that the Caps defenders not carry the puck. Allowing Green the ability to showcase his skating a bit more should help his production.

One facet that I wanted to look at is how the coaching changes could affect Green by looking at how other offensive defeseman have fared before and during their time under the guidance of Todd Reirdan, who replaces Calle Johannson in handling the coaching duties of the Caps defenseman. As I said, this is just one of many facets and by focusing on this one facet I am not suggesting that it exists in a vacuum. I’m also not suggesting that the difference in results below are simply because of a coaching change.

Todd Reirden joins the Caps coaching staff after being an assistant in Pittsburgh since 2010. In Pittsburgh, two of the supremely offensively-gifted defenders Reirden coached were Kris Letang and now Cap Matt Niskanen. Here’s how each of these players did, possession wise, before and with Reirden.

letangniskanen

 

Both players saw a significant uptick in possession under Reirden. Yes, both of these guys also happened to enter their prime under Reirden, and these are overall possession numbers, not relative. But Reirden was the defensive coach during the time both players saw a significant uptick in their possession numbers. This can’t be ignored.

Enough about possession, how about production? This is 5-on-5 only.

letangniskanenproduction

Given the rise in possession shown in the first graph, the rise in production isn’t surprising. Both Niskanen and Letang saw a rise in production across the board under Reirden’s watch. In fact, both had a higher assists/60 with Reirden than points/60 before they were coached by him.

Simply because two offensive defenders entered their prime years under Reirden and improved their results drastically doesn’t mean that a 28 year old Mike Green is certain to have a return to glory because of the new coach in charge of the defense. But, it’s certainly not going to hurt. And allowing Green the freedom to use his skating ability and creativity is also not going to hurt. While I’m not expecting Green to return to his production levels from the Boudreau years, I do expect an uptick in his production this season.

Mikhail Grabovski: Caps loss is Isles gain (Jeremy Roenick is still wrong)

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
Brouwer 273:16 51.6 756:55 46.4 +5.2
Fehr 271:10 55.1 641:53 46.4 +8.7
Ovechkin 235:19 50.8 888:27 48.8 +2.0
Chimera 223:53 49.8 804:11 45.6 +4.2
Ward 207:13 51.2 787:24 46.2 +5.0
Laich 123:59 48.1 508:47 47.9 +0.2
Backstrom 82:42 47.3 1070:13 49.5 -2.2
Wilson 40:53 48.8 598:32 44.8 +4.0
Erat 38:20 58.5 799:17 49.7 +8.8
Johansson 27:26 54.8 1039:55 48.2 +6.6
Beagle 19:49 46.2 609:13 44.6 +1.6
Volpatti 19:48 38.1 279:42 39.7 -1.6

-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
Carlson 291:57 49.1 1029:15 46.3 +2.8
Alzner 287:30 49.9 1005:32 46.4 +3.5
Green 275:10 55.3 1003:39 50.4 +4.9
Orlov 166:52 59.9 795:41 49.0 +10.9
Schmidt 130:48 49.0 358:10 51.3 -2.3
Oleksy 119:42 50.4 316:32 44.9 +5.5
Erskine 92:14 53.3 405:21 43.9 +9.4

-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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Who should play the point on the Caps power play?

When the Caps signed Matt Niskanen to a 7 year, $40.25 million contract, new coach Barry Trotz was given another intriguing option to play the point on the power play. Niskaenen is an offensively-gifted defenseman, finishing 12th among all defesemen in scoring last season with 46 points (10 goals 36 assists). While it remains to be seen if Trotz will use 2 defenders on the PP or skate one defender with Alex Ovechkin playing the other point, the Caps coach has 3 formidable PP options from his defensive corps in Niskanen, John Carlson, and Mike Green.

One consideration when deciding how to divvy up ice-time, as pointed out by Peter from RMNB, is that Carlson plays a significant amount of time on the penalty kill. We don’t yet know how the coaching and personnel changes in Washington will impact PK deployment, but last season Carlson saw the ice for 65.2% of the time the Caps were on the PK, while Green played 8.6% and Niskanen saw 13.8% in Pittsburgh.

Glossary for chart

FF% rel-The % of unblocked shot attempts the player’s team saw with him on the ice, relative to with him off the ice

SA per 2:00-The number of total shot attempts (SA) for a team with the player on the ice, per 2:00

Setup Passes per 2:00-Estimated number of passes by a player that led directly to a shot attempt, per 2:00

All of the numbers are PP only. Per 2:00 was obviously chosen to represent the time of a standard PP.

Player FF% rel SA per 2:00

Setup Passes per 2:00

Carlson

+6.3% 3.91

0.83

Green -8.3% 3.35

1.08

Niskanen +0.8% 3.54

0.31

-The Caps perform significantly better, FF%-wise, with Carlson on the ice during the PP while the Caps saw a significant drop in FF% with Green on the ice during the PP.  This is interesting, considering Green was the Caps best possession player in 5-on-5 close game situations. The Pens PP generated slightly more unblocked shot attempts with Niskanen on the ice.

-The differentials in SA per 2:00 may look insignificant but they add up quite a bit when given proper context. The Caps averaged 3.54 PP per game, so the difference between Carlson (13.8) vs Green (11.9) amounts to just about 2 additional SA per game in a hypothetical world where they each separately play 100% of the team’s PP minutes.

-Green has a significant advantage in setup passes per 2:00.  Discussing his numbers relative to Niskanen’s here is probably apples to oranges, since they played on different PP. There are all kinds of factors, such as set plays and who they are funneled through, that could impact this rather than passing ability and vision. For example, one possible reason Green’s numbers are so high is that he was often funneling the puck to shooting machine Alex Ovechkin for his patented PP one-timer. However, when comparing teammates, Green (3.82) would produce nearly one more setup pass per game than Carlson (2.93) were each to play 100% of the team’s PP minutes.

-One interesting tidbit not shown in the chart is that opponents’ average shorthanded shot distance with Carlson on the ice was 52.7 feet compared to 34.6 feet with Green on the ice. That’s the difference between 7.3 feet inside the blueline vs. 5.4 feet inside the top of the faceoff circle.  While not proof in and of itself, those numbers could serve as a launching point for someone who wants to show that Green is prone to take risks that can backfire (I’m skeptical of that theory).

Player

Individual SA per 2:00

Carlson

0.99

Green

0.91

Niskanen

0.91

-Carlson generates .08 more SA per 2 minutes of PP time than Green and Niskanen (Like above, reading too much into Niskanen’s numbers at face value vs. Green and/or Carlson is probably a bit faulty since they played on different PP). Last season, the Caps average 3.54 PP per game. Over the course of a season, at 3.54 PP attempts per game,  Carlson would generate 23.2 more PP SA than Green or Niskanen, were they each to play 100% of their team’s PP minutes (this also assumes, for the sake of simplicity, that each PP attempt is 2 minutes) . The Caps scored on 8.3% of their PP SA this past season. This would mean that, through his SA alone, Carlson would generate 1.93 more PP goals per season, in a hypothetical world where all 3 players assume the Caps average PP goals per shot attempt % from last season (8.3%) and the Caps average 3.54 PP per game for a season.

From all of this data, it appears that John Carlson should be first choice to play the point on the PP in 2014-15 for the Caps. The team generates more unblocked and overall shot attempts with him on the ice, and he personally takes  more shot attempts than Green or Niskanen. However, should Trotz choose to manage Carlson’s PP time in order to keep him fresher for PK and 5-on-5 play, and depending on what position Ovechkin plays on the PP, both Green and Niskanen offer Trotz viable options.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment below or send a tweet. Follow us on Twitter here.

S/T to ExtraSkater.com for being such a great resource for this article (and in general). 

Taking a closer look at Brooks Orpik, Part 2

In my last post, I took a look at how Brooks Orpik’s possession stats compared to defensemen around the NHL who faced similar minutes in terms of quality of competition and zone starts during the 2013-14 season. The contract Orpik signed with the Caps on July 1st has been met with a lot of criticism, and I am certainly among those who don’t like the deal for the Caps.

However, some context can help us better evaluate the Orpik contract. Below I’ll take a look at how Orpik fared compared to the top 5 Caps defenders in terms of games played in the 2013-14 season.

Key

FF%-FF% (Fenwick For %) is the percentage of unblocked shot attempts a team takes when that player is on the ice. Think of it like +/- but for shots. Instead of 0 being even, like with +/-, the 50% mark is even. It is a metric used to measure puck possession. If you’re skeptical as to how much this stat matters, here is a chart showing the top Fenwick teams of recent years.

ZS%-This is the percentage (ratio) of offensive zone to defensive zone face-offs for a player. A lower percentage indicates a player is assigned “tougher” minutes as he is on the ice for more defensive zone face-offs.

QOC TOI%-This is the quality of competition a player faces as measured by the average time on ice of the opposing players he faced.

“Close” game situations are games within a goal or tied in the 1st or 2nd period, or tied in the 3rd. It is used so score effects don’t inflate or deflate a player’s numbers in blowout situations. All FF% and ZS% below are in close-game 5-on-5 situations only. QOC TOI% is from all situations at 5-on-5

As noted in my last post, Orpik started more shifts in the defensive zone during close-game situations and also faced tougher competition than any other Penguin defender. Here is how he stacks up against the Caps defenders last year.  The players are in order of FF%, best to worst, but I’ve also noted their ranks in QOC TOI% and ZS% (ranked toughest to easiest).

Player ZS% QOC TOI% FF%
Orlov 50.1% (3rd) 28.0% (5th) 52.5% (1st)
Green 53.2% (6th) 28.5% (4th) 52.0% (2nd)
Orpik 48.2% (1st) 29.3% (3rd) 47.6% (3rd)
Alzner 49.1% (2nd) 29.4% (2nd) 47.3% (4th)
Carlson 51.3% (4th) 29.6% (1st) 46.3% (5th)
Erskine 52.8% (5th) 27.7% (6th) 45.1% (6th)

-Orpik was a better possession player last season than Alzner and Carlson, who are generally considered to be the Caps top-pair defenders that play the toughest minutes among Caps defenders. Orpik did this while having a tougher ZS% than either of the Caps defenders. Carlson faced the toughest competition of the three with Orpik finishing 3rd barely behind Alzner. One important thing to remember in terms of FF% is that the Penguins were a better FF% team than the Caps, so Orpik has an advantage there. FenClose rel % is a stat that can be better to compare possession stats of players on different teams, but I chose not to include it in this post, for the sake of simplicity.

-Orpik ranks 3rd in FF%, but it’s a distant 3rd. Green and Orlov are significantly better possession players than the other 4 defenders listed.  Green and Orlov did face far easier ZS’s than Orpik, which isn’t particularly surprising since they are thought of as more offensively-minded defenseman. Green and Orlov also faced weaker opponents than Orpik.

So, while I still don’t like the Orpik contract, there is no debating the Caps have improved their defense this off-season. Hopefully the last two posts have provided some insight into what exactly to expect from him moving forward with the Caps.

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

A look at next season’s Washington Capitals defense and Jeff Schultz

English: Jeff Schultz plays a homegame against...

Jeff Schultz plays a homegame against New Jersey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Washington Capitals have four defensemen from their current NHL roster under contract for next season (listed here with their ’13-’14 cap hit, according to CapGeek.com):

Mike Green – $6,083,333
John Carlson – $3,966,667
Jeff Schultz – $2,750,000
John Erskine – $1,962,500

Restricted free agent Karl Alzner, currently making $1,285,000 will certainly be re-signed, at a much higher salary than what he makes now, but for less than what the Caps pay the more offensive-minded Carlson. That would bring the total under contract to five.

Dmitry Orlov, who just returned to action with the AHL Hershey Bears last week after being injured in a December game for them during the NHL lockout, should be back with the Caps next season and will earn $900,000.

Newcomer Steven Oleksy is set to make $541,667 in 2013-14 if he remains at the NHL level, while Tomas Kundratek could be re-signed for a reasonable price and brought back as well. This would bring the Washington defense total to eight players.

Prospects Cam Shilling, just recalled to DC from Hershey, and Patrick Wey, a senior at Boston College, could be in the picture for the Caps next year as well, taking the field to 10.

I’ve left Tom Poti off that list, as I don’t expect him to be back, and Jack Hillen, who has played only one game this year and will be an unrestricted free agent at the season’s end. Hillen could be re-signed as an inexpensive seventh or eighth option on defense for well under $1 million, but it’s difficult to tell his status for next season at this point and I’m going to leave him out of this discussion.

Taking all that into account and not knowing if a trade or free agent signing will occur, here are the defensemen that would be in the picture next season, broken down by the side they shoot from:

Left: Alzner, Erskine, Schultz, Kundratek, Orlov, Schilling

Right: Green, Carlson, Oleksy, Wey

If Capitals coach Adam Oates wants to go with three right-shooting and three left-shooting defensemen in the line-up next season, things look a little thin with the righties if Green continues to battle injuries. Provided he’s healthy, Green, Carlson and Oleksy could make up that side for the Caps, with Wey starting off in Hershey.

With the left-handed shooters, things get more interesting. Alzner will, without a doubt, be an everyday player. Erskine has just been re-signed and though he’s been a seventh defensemen for Washington at times in the past, I expect he’ll be in the line-up regularly based on how he was being utilized by Oates before his recent injury.

If Orlov returns to his form of last season, it will be tough to keep him out of the line-up and Kundratek has shown great promise, with the potential to earn a starting job next season too. Schilling could end up back in Hershey if things shake out this way.

That would leave the seven dmen as: Green, Alzner, Carlson, Erskine, Orlov, Kundratek and Oleksy. If there’s an injury and an eighth is needed, Shilling or Wey could be called up, depending on how they’re playing and whether a right or left shot is needed.

There’s one guy I’ve left out of the group: Jeff Schultz.

I’ve never been a Schultz hater. While there are flaws in his game, as there are with many players, he often gets blamed for more than he deserves. He’s been somewhat like Alex Semin was for the Caps on a smaller scale, getting called out for his mistakes more than other players and not given some credit when he deserves it. But I do think Schultz and his $2,750,000 salary next season are something the Caps could do without.

With what will likely be an abundance of left-handed shooting defensemen going into training camp and younger, less expensive options like Kundratek and Orlov, now might be the time for the Caps to take what they can get for Schultz, freeing up nearly $3 million for next season to spend on other pieces, such as Top 6 forwards.

If a team is looking for an experienced dman in the off-season and is willing to take Schultz for a prospect or a pick, the Caps should pull the trigger. Depending on their playoff position and the health of Orlov, the Caps could even look to make a move like that before the April 3 trade deadline.

Another option is for the Caps to include Schultz as part of a package this off-season or during ’13-’14 to fill another of the team’s needs, which could be a Top 6, goal-scoring forward or a right-shooting, offensive defenseman if Green can’t stay healthy. The team will also need a second line center if Mike Ribeiro isn’t back next season.

But whatever the approach, with things looking crowded for left-handed defensemen next season, moving Schultz is certainly one way the Caps could free up some cap space to address some other areas where the team is short on talent. And this has more to do with cost and other assets in the organization than it does with Schultz’s abilities.

Is Alex Semin being held to a higher standard than other Caps players?

My brother Pat wasn’t happy with Alex Ovechkin’s effort defensively on the Rangers first goal in Game 1 of their second round playoff series. He tweeted, “The listless, one hand on the stick effort in support of his D man who was clearly beaten is not really my thing.”

I hadn’t noticed this during the game. I was mostly focused on watching Artem Anisimov out-muscle Mike Green. But I tend to agree with my brother on this one. Where was the Ovechkin that seems to relish crushing opposing players with an explosive hit? This would have been a great time for one of those. At the very least, just a solid shoulder or a strong poke check might have done the job. I can’t help but wonder if Ovechkin would have had more spring in his step had this instead been an opportunity for a big play in the offensive zone.

Artem Anisimov scores in Game 1

Somewhat related to this, Alexander Semin has been demoted to the fourth line for Game 2.

Semin took two penalties in Game 1, one for unwisely retaliating after being slashed by a Ranger player and another for tripping a player while forechecking. The second penalty didn’t bother me much, as it appeared he was going for the puck and got too aggressive.

Caps’ Coach Dale Hunter told reporters regarding Semin, “We need him to score goals for us, we need him to play good on the power play.” (Note: Semin leads the team in both goals and power play goals so far in the playoffs.)

As I said via Twitter earlier today, I don’t care a great deal either way about Semin’s move to the fourth line. Maybe it will pay off through a more balanced set of lines or perhaps it will motivate Semin and we’ll see a big game from him. However, I do find it odd that Semin gets banished to the fourth line, while other highly-skilled offensive players on the team often don’t when they’re guilty of less-than-stellar play. Nor do I think they should necessarily.

For example, Nicklas Backstrom’s lack of hustle cost the Caps a goal in Game 6 against the Bruins (I’m not talking about the game-winning goal that was a result of his turnover and was easier to forgive). Marcus Johannson has been giving the puck away far too often these playoffs with careless passes. Ovechkin took a bad penalty Saturday against the Rangers for tripping, put in a questionable defensive effort on the Ranger goal highlighted above and was kept off the score sheet like Semin, but there’s no way Ovi or Backstrom is going to get demoted to the fourth line—and for good reason. Yet Semin does?

Maybe there’s more to the Semin story than I’m aware of as a spectator who isn’t in the locker room, but the higher standard Semin seems to be held to confuses me. Even the league seemed to have something against the guy when he was the first 40 goal scorer I know of to be left off the All-Star ballot the next season (I don’t mean Semin just didn’t make the game…I mean he scored 40 goals and then you couldn’t even vote for him unless you wrote him in).

NBC’s Pierre McGuire doesn’t give Semin a break, even when he’s scored a goal on more than one occasion right after McGuire calls him out. As NHL.com writer Dave Lozo recently noted, “Alex Semin is the only guy who can score on national TV and have people spend the next 5 minutes questioning why he doesn’t try. Amazing.”

ESPN and Washington Post contributor Neil Greenberg said on Twitter today, “Surprised ppl continue to underappreciate Caps Semin’s contributions beyond points (and off zone penalties). If he walks, tough to replace.” Greenberg also did a statistical analysis last fall about how the criticism of Semin is unfair.

I don’t deny that there are occasions when Semin is—like many players—deserving of some criticism. However, I find it odd that other key Caps make mistakes and it doesn’t become half the story it does when Semin isn’t playing the way people would like him to.

But putting all that aside, if the demotion of Semin to the fourth line for tonight’s game results in a two-goal night, Hunter’s a genius.

Four years ago today: Alex Ovechkin’s first NHL playoff goal and Caps fans

As sportswriter Ted Starkey pointed out on Twitter, it was four years ago today that Alex Ovechkin scored his first NHL playoff goal, “stealing the puck and scoring late in a 5-4 win over the Flyers in Game 1.”

I was at that game and took some video in the crowd as we reacted to that Ovechkin goal. It’s not the steadiest camera work, but the place was total bedlam with much high-fiving, jumping, etc. happening all around Verizon Center.

Here’s one I got after Mike Green scored prior to Ovechkin’s goal to make it 4-4:

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