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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:

Talking with the enemy: Bruins blog ‘Days of Y’Orr’ answers our questions about Caps-Bruins series

Tim Thomas NopeBetween now and Thursday, when the Caps-Bruins series kicks off, we’ll be bringing different features to have you all geared up for Game 1.  Bruins bloggers ‘Days of Y’Orr‘ were kind enough to answer our questions about their team and we did the same for them.  Below are their answers to our questions.  You can find our answers to their questions about the Caps here.

1) Other than the obvious choices (the headline players), what player should Caps fans be most wary of going into the series?

Chris Kelly or Rich Peverley. The fun thing for Capitals fans will be that they can watch these guy potentially play on the same line together. Here’s a couple reasons for each player:

Chris Kelly is playing for a contract so that usually motivates a player to play better. He also scored 20 goals this year, which is the first time in his career that he’s done that. Kelly is also second among Bruins’ forwards in terms of short handed time on ice, only behind Mr. Selke himself Patrice Bergeron by a second (in SH TOI per game). Actually, since I have the stones, I would say that Chris Kelly is a carbon copy of Patrice Bergeron this season. He can kill penalties, he plays on the power play and he’s a great two way forward.

Rich Peverley is a wildcard here. He’s a couple weeks removed from a knee-to-knee hit by Hal Gill that left him on the sidelines for 6 weeks. Normally, Peverley plays on the power play and fits well in Claude’s defensive scheme. He uses his speed along the outside to move the puck and start rushes. He can score, he can kill penalties.

2) What player are Caps fans most likely to hate after the series?

Brad Marchand. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. I would expect to see one of your players slew-footed by Marchand and his unusually long honker at least once. The thing is, Marchand is a pest. And no, I don’t mean the Matt Cooke type of pest where if you’re not paying attention, you’re getting an elbow to the temple. He’s an old school pest. What’s even worse? He backs it up. Marchand scored 28 goals this season, so not only will he frustrate you with his antics, he’ll frustrate you on the ice.

3) Going into the last day of the season, what team were you hoping to face given the potential opponents? Why or why not the Caps?

Honestly? The Ottawa Senators for the sheer fact that Boston has owned Ottawa this season. Boston is 5-1 against Ottawa with Tim Thomas posting a 4-1 record, a 2.41 GAA and a SV% of .932. In short, Thomas has made Ottawa his bitch and it would’ve been nice to see guys like Lucic and Seguin clown Erik Karlsson so people will stop talking about Mike Green V 2.0 as a Norris Trophy candidate. Ah well, I guess we’ll have to see the Rangers take them to task.

I don’t mind the Bruins facing the Caps. The only thing I’m worried about is that they’ve seemed to hit a hot streak as of late….but then I look at their goaltender and I know all is right with the world.

4) Why do you think the Caps have matched up so well against the Bruins this year?

They usually play down to their competition.

5) Tyler Seguin seemed to take a significant step forward in the regular season this year, do you anticipate the same in the playoffs?

Absolutely. The kid was 1 goal away from 30 and last year’s playoffs was really his coming out party. I expect the Bruins second line of Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin to really do some damage against Washington.

6) Is Tim Thomas still pissed from when Matt Hendricks broke his hip in the shootout?  Does he always fall like that when he goes to the locker room?

Thomas is fine. I spoke with him a few days ago about the Hendricks shootout goal and Thomas stated that as a free citizen, Hendricks has the right to score in the shootout and Tim Thomas was not going to oppress him by stopping the puck. Then Thomas posted from stuff on Facebook.

7) Repeat, yes or no? 

I’m going to say no, just because it’s hard as hell to do. Should all 4 top seeds win out, Boston then goes on the face Florida and the winner of the Rangers/Penguins and that’s a series that can really beat a team down. I wouldn’t say Boston has the upper hand, but if they go through Washington and then Florida and have to face either a Rangers team that had to go through Pittsburgh or a Pittsburgh team that had to go through Philly AND New York, than it looks like the easier path.

I’m not sure how they would fare against the West though. The one game they played St. Louis, they hung in it. Vancouver seems to know how to beat the Bruins, as shown in their January 7th game at the Garden. It’ll be tough, starting with Washington. It’s the playoffs, nothing’s guaranteed.

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