Category Archives: Washington Capitals

Washington General Manager Brian MacLellan’s Interesting Comments on Brooks Orpik’s Role with the Caps

Defenseman’s Large Contract Even More Puzzling Now, Two Years Into Five-Year-Deal

In the summer of 2014, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan inked rugged, nearly 34-year-old, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik to a five-year, 27.5 million dollar deal. Despite needing to fill gaping holes in their defense, the choice of Orpik at that price and length of contract was an odd move.

In the years leading up to the Orpik signing, the NHL had begun a shift toward a style of play that places more value on smoother-skating, puck-moving backenders, things Orpik —more of a throwback to the days of crease-clearing, “HIT SOMEONE!” defensemen—really is not.

Perhaps more importantly, by the time he received that long-term contract from the Caps, Orpik had reached an age when most NHL players experience a decline in their performance. Locking up a player who no longer fits the modern day blue-liner mold, through the season when he’ll be 38-years-old and at such a high salary, didn’t seem like a great idea.

Hours before the Caps and Orpik struck that deal two summer ago and not knowing who the team might make offers to, my brother Pat tweeted, “We all agree that the worst possible thing the Caps could do today, including standing pat, is to sign Brooks Orpik, right?”

But, maybe MacLellan saw the former Boston College player as a guy who could deliver value worthy of the contract that currently makes him the second-highest-paid Caps defensemen, just $250,000 a year behind Matt Niskanen. The 2009 Stanley Cup winner may have fit into the team’s plans in ways some outside the Washington front office couldn’t see.

If that was true at the time of the 2014 signing, recent comments by MacLellan make it hard to believe. The GM’s May 2016 remarks better support the thinking of those who’ve been skeptical of the Orpik signing for the past two years.

Addressing the media a few days after this season’s second round playoff loss to Pittsburgh, MacLellan spoke about the Caps’ trade deadline acquisition of defenseman Mike Weber. “I mean, did we need a higher-caliber defenseman? Maybe. But it was difficult to trade those off because you’re going to bring in a guy that’s going to jump in front of [Nate Schmidt] and jump in front of [Dmitry] Orlov and jump in front of Orpik,” he explained.

It was clear this season that Orpik was at-best the fourth defensemen on the Caps depth chart, with Niskanen, John Carlson and Karl Alzner ahead of him. MacLellan’s comment regarding the Weber acquisition hints he may feel similarly about Orpik’s place on the team.

At times, it could also have been argued that Schmidt ranked ahead of Orpik, with Orlov showing flashes of potential to do so as well. With a little more experience, both of those young players may soon remove any doubt they’ve surpassed Orpik in the value they bring to the Washington lineup.

In a May 24 radio interview, MacLellan touched on a piece of this, saying, “There’s an offensive upside to Orlov and there’s ability for him to move up in our lineup, and we’ve got to be careful that we don’t limit him in his ability to move there. I would count on him developing and getting to that next level. I mean, the idea would be, Brooks Orpik plays a little less minutes and Orlov plays a little bit more, maybe he moves into the top four for part of the time. That would be ideal situation, but we’ll have to see how he comes into camp.”

Clearly there’s the possibility in MacLellan’s mind that, as early as this coming season, the fourth highest paid skater on the Caps roster is playing in the team’s bottom defensive pairing, which brings to mind the question: If MacLellan is thinking that now, what was he thinking when he signed Orpik just two years ago? A player recently handed one of the biggest contracts on the roster shouldn’t fall down the ranks to fourth or lower on the depth chart so quickly, unless maybe he shouldn’t have been given that lucrative a contract to begin with.

Even as a fifth or sixth defenseman, could Orpik still provide valuable minutes as a penalty killer? Sure. Did he provide an immediate upgrade to a thin defense that badly needed it going into the 2014-15 season? Yes. Does he bring leadership and experience as a Stanley Cup champion to the Caps locker room? Most certainly. Could he likely be helping some of the team’s younger defensemen adjust to the NHL? Absolutely.

However, none of those needs requires a five-year, $5.5 million cap hit to address it. Players filling Orpik’s role in Washington can be had for far less and, just two seasons after losing him to free agency, Orpik’s former team in Pittsburgh is back in the Stanley Cup Finals without him. Like most players, Orpik is replaceable, regardless of what intangibles he may have brought to Washington.

If the Caps win the Stanley Cup next season, none of this may matter much in the short term. But, if Washington loses in next year’s playoffs due to not having enough of the right kind of talent in the lineup, and wishes they’d had room under the salary cap to add another piece or two, the Orpik contract could be pointed to as Exhibit A for why they weren’t able to do that. It could be argued it already was an issue this past season, possibly preventing the Caps from acquiring the aforementioned “higher-caliber defenseman” than Weber or another player.

Given his recent comments about the team’s plans, the guy who signed Orpik to that deal could be thinking similar thoughts, which raises the question of why MacLellan—who’s otherwise made shrewd moves since being named GM in 2014—didn’t see this coming two years ago and implement a different solution for filling the Caps’ needs on defense.

Read another post by Mike Holden:
The NHL Playoffs Are Broken

Pat Holden on Japers’ Rink Radio Talking Karl Alzner, Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, Andre Burakovsky and John Carlson

BrooksLaichyear co-founder Pat Holden joined Adam Stringham on Japers’s Rink Radio to talk Karl Alzner, Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, Andre Burakovsky, and John Carlson. Stream it at the link below.

And if you missed it earlier this month, Pat was also on Episode 84 of the PDOcast with Dimitri Filipovic.

 

Pat Holden talks Boudreau, Caps/Pens, Wilson and Burakovsky on the PDOCast

BrooksLaichyear founder and Russian Machine Never Breaks/Today’s Slapshot writer Pat Holden joined Dimitri Filipovic on Episode 84 of the PDOcast. The two discussed the firing of Bruce Boudreau by Anaheim, the Penguins and Capitals Round 2 series, Tom Wilson and whether he crosses the line, how good Andre Burakovsky is and more. Stream it below or on iTunesSoundcloud, Stitcher and at hockeypdocast.com.

 

The Definitive Guide to Unofficial 2016 Washington Capitals Out of Town Stanley Cup Playoffs Viewing Parties

Fans have been posting online about getting together in various cities to watch Caps games during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here you’ll find all the viewing party-related posts we know about so far.

Some of what’s listed below are gatherings that have already been coordinated and others are as simple as fans asking who else near them knows of a good place to meet up with other Caps fans to watch the games.

Want a gathering added to the list? Please use the comments or send us a tweet with a link to details. Tweet us a picture at @brookslaichyear from your viewing party too if you can.

Austin/San Antonio
https://www.reddit.com/r/caps/comments/4gpt5j/austin_tx_area_watch_party/

Boston
http://www.japersrink.com/2016/4/26/11513774/out-of-town-caps-watch-parties-in-boston-other-cities
https://www.reddit.com/r/caps/comments/4gscp0/watch_party_in_boston_for_games_12_at_lir/

Cincinatti
https://www.reddit.com/r/caps/comments/4gps24/any_caps_fans_in_cincinnati_ohio/

Denver
https://www.reddit.com/r/caps/comments/4grd4g/watching_in_denver_sobo_151/

Los Angeles
https://www.reddit.com/r/caps/comments/4gp7r6/caps_fans_in_la/

NYC
nyccapscrew.tumblr.com/post/142750045733/meet-us-at-kellys-if-you-live-in-nyc-or-just

Tucson
twitter.com/mattmugmon/status/725215185523204096

 

Caps Preview: Week 13

The Caps grabbed four points last week, going 2-1-0. The only blemish was a 4-2 loss to the Rangers sandwiched between victories over the Senators and the Penguins. With a record of 18-11-6, the Caps have 42 points, which is good for 4th in the Metro and the second wild card spot in the East. When adjusting for score situations, the Caps own 52.5% of shot attempts, which is good for 11th in the league.

The Caps have three tilts on the schedule this week (we run our weeks Monday-Sunday around here), and none of them are particularly easy. The team faces two top teams in the Islanders and the Blackhawks, as well as a surprising Panthers team that is working its way into the playoff hunt. Here’s a look at the games ahead.

Grabovski_01

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Monday 12/29 at NYI

Score-adjusted Corsi: 53.3% (6th)

Power Play: 17.9% (17th)

Penalty Kill: 73.7% (30th)

PDO: 99.5 (22nd)

At 23-11-1, the Islanders sit 2nd in the Metro with 47 points. Despite so-so results on the PP and an awful PK, the Islanders are the real deal, thanks to superior puck possession and solid goaltending.

Jaroslav Halak’s 93.24 save% at 5v5 ranks 9th out of the 28 goalies who have played 900+ minutes this season. It appears Halak will be returning after missing two games due to injury. He had been on a nice roll, giving up just six goals in the four games prior to his injury.

The Islanders also have one of the more talented stars in the league in John Tavares, who is currently 21st in the league with 31 points. Oh, and some guy named Mikhail Grabovski is leading the team’s forwards in possession. The team sees 55.3% of total shot attempts when he’s on the ice.

Thursday 1/1 vs. CHI

Score-adjusted Corsi: 56.3% (1st)

Power Play: 18.7% (14th)

Penalty Kill: 91.0% (1st)

PDO: 100.9 (8th)

This game is apparently being played at a baseball stadium that isn’t Camden Yards.

The Blackhawks currently have 50 points, second only to Anaheim in the entire NHL. This is an elite team, if not the elite team. The Caps were thoroughly dominated in the previous meeting this season, but escaped with a win.

Chicago is led by its usual cast of characters. Joanthan Toews and Patrick Kane are the headliners, but players such as Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp (who missed 14 games due to injury) give this team such impressive forward depth that it’s easy to miss a guy like Kris Versteeg, who is on pace for a career year with 26 points in 32 games.

Hitting is one thing you won’t see the Blackhawks do a lot of. This isn’t because they are incapable or unwilling to do so. It’s because you don’t need to hit people when you have the puck.

Sunday 1/4 vs. FLA

Score-adjusted Corsi: 51.8 (13th)

Power Play: 13.0% (28th)

Penalty Kill: 81.3% (15th)

PDO: 99.5 (23rd)

This is Margaret’s favorite team. Okay, not really. But she’s been high on them for a while now and it’s for good reason. The Panthers are 6-2-2 in their last ten games and are only four points behind the Caps for the last wild card spot in the East. Their possession numbers are solid, and if they could figure out how to be just average on the PP, they could be a dangerous team come Spring.

Roberto Luongo is back tending the net for the Panthers this season. His 93.40 save% ranks 7th among qualifying goalies. He’s also endlessly entertaining on Twitter, but you probably already knew that.

Production-wise, they don’t have a standout forward, as Nick Bjugstad leads the group with 19 points in 32 games. Injuries have been a bit of a concern for the team, but they are getting healthier.

On the blue line, 18-year-old Aaron Ekblad has quickly established himself as one of the best young players in the game after the Panthers made him the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. His 19 points are tied for the team lead. Possession-wise, the Panthers do 0.8% better in terms of shot attempts when Ekblad is on the ice, which the team has to be happy with from a rookie defenseman at his age, regardless of the fact that his minutes have been a little sheltered.

Stats from War on Ice and Fenwick-stats.com

Defensive Prospect Madison Bowey Excels in WJC Debut

RRBG BoweyPhoto by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Drafted in the second round (53rd overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, Madison Bowey is one of the Capitals’ top defensive prospects not playing in the pros. Wait, scratch that–he’s one of their top prospects, and he proved this tonight as a fixture on Canada’s blue line.

Going into the draft, Bowey was lauded for his strong two-way play and skating ability. He’s only strengthened these assets since, and is entering his second year as captain of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. At 6’1”, Bowey uses his size to add physicality to his play, and his offensive numbers are projected to surpass those of his previous season (21G, 39A in 72 games.) There’s a lot to like about Bowey, and he gave Caps fans a taste of his abilities in his WJC debut.

Bowey has suited up for Canada before, but this is his first World Junior tournament. He and Winnipeg Jets prospect Josh Morrissey were slated to comprise Canada’s top defensive pairing, and disappoint they did not. In Canada’s 8-0 shellacking of Slovakia, Bowey recorded two assists on Canada’s third and sixth goals (scored by Robby Fabbri and Max Domi, respectively.)

Skating and size are huge components of Bowey’s game, and he put both to good use. He employed nifty footwork utilized his reach to reclaim the puck from the Slovaks. Bowey also didn’t hesitate to get physical along the boards or around the net.

Quarterbacking a power play is an important skill for offensively-inclined defensemen. While Canada’s power play wasn’t as dominant as anticipated, especially when considering their even-strength dominance, Bowey made crisp passes. He cycled the puck with ease from Canada’s own zone to Slovakia’s, frequently giving rise to what would become good scoring chances.

Bowey himself was denied on a number of quality opportunities, thanks to Slovak goalie Denis Godla. However, he helped Canada return the favor by further stifling Slovakia’s tepid offense while on the penalty kill. Bowey drew a penalty himself—two for tripping—midway through the third period. And while he fanned on a shot on Canada’s final power play, his overall performance on special teams was strong.

Bowey certainly looked like one of the premier young puck-moving defensemen tonight, and it’s hard not to wonder how a Capitals or Bears jersey would look on him next season. He retrieved the puck easily and was able to transition from zone to zone without getting caught out of position. He also showed his ability to play in a variety of situations, from 5v5 to 4v4 to shorthanded.

Of course, Slovakia is hardly a feared opponent, and Bowey and Team Canada will have the opportunity to face tougher competition Saturday at 8pm against Germany. Based on the play of the Bowey-Morrissey duo, don’t expect Coach Benoit Groulx to shake up his top pairing anytime soon.

Alex Ovechkin’s Top 5 Goals

By now, you’ve likely all seen Alex Ovechkin’s goal last night against the Devils. It got me thinking where that goal ranks among his career best.

For my Top 5, I didn’t consider the importance of the goal, but simply how impressive the goal was outside of the context of the game it was scored in. So, for example, his first playoff goal, the GWG against the Flyers that had my brother-in-law and I running up and down the aisles of Verizon Center, didn’t make the cut.

Here’s my top 5.

5) 11/20/2014 vs. Colorado Avalanche

4) 4/24/2009 vs. New York Rangers (I had forgotten about this one s/t to .)

3) 12/20/2014 vs. New Jersey Devils 

2) 2/18/2009 vs. Montreal Canadiens 

1) 1/16/2006 vs. Phoenix Coyotes (duh) 

I think the first two are locks but there are definitely a few goals that were hard to cut out. What are your top 5 Ovechkin goals?

What Will it Cost to Re-sign Marcus Johansson?

Mojo_2 copy

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Marcus Johansson is currently in his 5th NHL season. Johansson is in the second year of a 2 year, $4 million deal and is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Johansson is also having somewhat of a breakout season, as his nine goals in twenty nine games have him on pace to easily surpass his career high of 14 set in 2011-12.

So, what will it cost the Caps to re-sign Johansson?

To help gauge this, I’m going to take a look at some players who have put up similar numbers to Johansson during their first five seasons in the league. To start, here’s a list of forwards since 2009 that have, in their first five seasons, done the following:

1) played in 250 or more games

2) scored 40 or more goals

3) totaled 120 or more points

4) skated more than 4000 minutes

Marcus Johansson falls in this group. It’s important to note that Johansson’s numbers are incomplete, as they include this season. So, while the numbers will change between now and the end of the season, I’m looking at this in terms of extending Johansson now.

I’ve picked out a few players to help find a value for Johansson. The stats are for the players’ first 5 seasons.

 

Player GP G A P TOI/G Previous contract Contract Signed
Marchand 300 92 94 186 15.76 2yr/$5M 4yr/$18M Season 4
Ennis 267 69 97 166 17.09 2yr/$5.65M 5yr/$23M Season 5
Desharnais 257 50 113 163 16.51 2yr/$1.7M 4yr/$14M Season 3
Johansson 292 50 107 157 16.42 2yr/$4M ??????? Season 5
Grabner 283 87 55 142 14.87 3yr/$2.7M 5yr/$15M Season 2

 

-Marchand was more productive than Johansson through five seasons. However, he also signed his deal a year earlier, and thus, was a year further away from being a UFA. Marchand’s previous deal was worth $1 million more than Johansson’s over the 2 years. Given these two factors, Marchand’s average annual value of $4.5 can serve as a soft ceiling for Johansson’s deal.

-Ennis’ productions in his first five seasons is similar to Johansson’s, but in less games. His previous deal was worth $1.65 million more than Johansson’s over the life of the 2 years. He signed his deal during his season 5, where Johansson is now. So, he was more productive than Johansson, had more ice time than Johansson, and was making more on his previous deal than Johansson. Safe to say, Johansson should definitely get less than Ennis’ $4.6 million per year.

-Desharnais also has production very similar to MoJo’s. But he signed his deal after 3 seasons and was making far less than Johansson on his previous deal. Given that, it’s easy to see Johansson getting more than the $3.5 million average annual value of Desharnais’ current deal.

-Grabner is another guy that signed an extension long before season 5. However, his production through 5 seasons is pretty similar to Johansson’s. Given the time at which Grabner signed his extension, he, like Desharnais, gives us two players that Johansson will certainly earn more than.

So, what does this all mean?

I think Johansson will likely get around $4 million per year. I’ve gone back and forth on whether he will get $16 or $17 million on a 4 year deal. Given the improvement in his play so far this season, I’m putting down Johansson for a 4 year, $17 million deal (cap hit of $4.25 per season).

 

Two Players the Caps Should Consider Trading

Alzie

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Yesterday, prompted by rumors that the Caps are actively looking to make a trade, I looked at two players they’ll likely be asked about but shouldn’t trade. Today, I’ll look at two players the Caps should be looking to use as trade chips if they are actually in active trade discussion with other teams.

Karl Alzner

In previous season, Alzner was often asked to play the role of a “shutdown” D, a role that some would say excuses the Caps consistently getting a lower percentage of shot attempts with Alzner on the ice relative to when he’s off. There’s some merit to that, but it’s a murky issue. For example, quality of competition is often overstated as a factor in puck possession.

So, other than saying I don’t think there’s anything in Alzner’s track record that refutes he’s expendable to this team,  I’ll leave last season alone and look at this season.

Alzner is getting easier assignments this season. He’s starting 51.54% of his shifts in the offensive zone, the easiest zone starts of his career. In his defense, they are the second toughest among Caps D. He’s also facing the second easiest competition of his career, second only to 2009-10, and only 4th toughest among current Caps D.

Yet, the Caps still see a better percentage of shot attempts with Alzner on the bench than with him on the ice. But, since he is considered more of a defensive player, it might be more fair to measure his performance in how well he suppresses opponents shots. Here are opponent shots attempts per 60 minutes of ice time for Caps defenders this season.

image (4)

Alzner does okay in terms of shot suppression, ranking 4th.

At 26 years old and in his seventh NHL season, I think it’s fair to say Alzner has not become the player he was projected to be when the Caps took him fifth overall in 2007. Don’t get me wrong, Alzner is an NHL-caliber defenseman whose contract is a pretty good value ($2.8 million cap hit through 2016-17). But Caps have some depth on the blue line and other teams will likely be interested in him. So, trading Alzner, who is good but expendable, makes sense.  

One thing I forgot to include when publishing this is that Alzner has a full no trade clause, so he’d have to approve any deal.

Troy Brouwer

Apologies to the Brouwer Rangers.

Much like Alzner, I think Brouwer is a good player, which is what gives him trade value. But, also like Alzner, I think he’s expendable.

Brouwer’s 1.50 points per 60 minutes of play this season ranks 168th out of 317 NHL forwards who have played 200+ minutes this season. The Caps see 1.37% less of the total shot attempts when Brouwer is on the ice relative to when he’s off.

While some of the sample sizes are small, all of the players he’s most likely to be skating with on the second line are all better possession players playing without Brouwer rather than with him, which you can see in the chart below.

image (5)

But my point isn’t to drag Brouwer down. I think he’s a decent second line winger. But the Caps have two options, Eric Fehr and Andre Burakovsky, who can’t currently crack the Caps top-6 that could play just as well, if not better than Brouwer. Given that he’s expendable, but likely has trade value, the Caps would be wise to try and get Brouwer’s $3.66 million cap hit (through 2015-16) off the books.

None of this is meant as a knock on Alzner or Brouwer. In fact, in some ways I’m being complementary of them by saying they have trade value, whereas many of their teammates, for one reason or another, don’t. While they are serviceable (or better) in their current roles, Brian MacLellan should consider both players expendable if he’s looking to make a trade.

Two Players the Caps Should Not Trade

Mojo copy

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

According to Pierre LeBrun, Caps GM Brian MacLellan is looking to make some trades. The Caps have looked a bit stale lately, save for spurts of inspired and creative play such as the first 40 minutes in Saturday’s game against the Devils, so it’s not shocking the new GM may want to shake things up. Here are two players MacLellan likely will be asked about but shouldn’t trade.

Marcus Johansson

Johnasson has already bested his goal totals from the two previous seasons with 9 goals through 25 games. Johansson has 8 even strength goals this season. He had 5 even strength goals in the last two seasons combined. I understand if people think that dealing Johansson now would be selling high.

I’m not convinced of that. I think that Johnasson very well may have taken a major step forward in his development and that the improvements in his play and production could be long lasting. While his shooting% (17.6%) is likely to come back closer to his career shooting% (12.8%), Johansson is going to continue to score at an improved rate because he is shooting the puck so much more.

image (3)

As you can see, Johansson is shooting way more this season. In situations where he used to force passes, he is now firing pucks on net. As a result, he’s now putting close to 8 shots on per goal per 60 minutes of ice time. In the two previous seasons he averaged about four per 60 minutes of ice time.

In terms of shots per game this season, Johannson is averaging 2.04 shots. If he were to maintain this over an 82 game season, he would have 167 shots on goal, shattering his previous career high of 107 he set last season. If, Johansson were to pump 167 shots on net in a season and shoot at his career average of 12.8%, he would score 21 goals, which crushes his career high of 14 set in 2011-12.

Marcus Johansson is finally producing like a legitimate top-6 player. It would be a mistake to trade him. Instead, the Caps should look to extend him, as he is a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Mike Green

Mike Green is an elite NHL defenseman and the Caps are a better team with him than without him. He can make glaring defensive mistakes at times, but you’re wrong if you think this makes him a bad player.

Here’s a chart Peter from RMNB made that was used in one of my posts on that site that shows Green has consistently made the Caps a better team when he’s on the ice.

greencaps

As you can see, 2012 was the only season when Green didn’t help the Caps possession. Other than 2012, the Green has made the Caps a much better team when he’s on the ice. For a more in-depth look at why Green is irrefutably awesome, check out this article I wrote about him over on RMNB.

I understand he’s injury-prone and that his salary demands could be tricky for a team up against the cap. But the Caps will be better off if they find a way to keep Mike Green.

In my next post, I’ll look at two players the Caps should trade, which can help free up some of the cap space needed to keep Mike Green.

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