Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Caps Confident In Youth

As you have already heard, qualifying offers were made to eight restricted free agents by the Capitals. Washingtoncaps.com:
The players are: Chris Bourque, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Steve Pinizzotto, Jeff Schultz and Kyle Wilson.

These players are now restricted free agents and able to negotiate elsewhere, but Washington could either match any offer or receive compensation should they sign with another team.

Among that group, Fehr, Gordon, Jurcina, Morrisonn, Pinizzotto and Wilson have arbitration rights. They can elect to have their salary for 2009-10 determined by salary arbitration, with those hearings scheduled for late July and early August. Players and clubs have the option to elect arbitration by July 5 and 6, respectively.

Washington did not extend qualifying offers to four players – Andrew Joudrey, Daren Machesney, Travis Morin and Sasha Pokulok – meaning that they will become unrestricted free agents on Wednesday and can sign with any team (including the Capitals).
The players offered a contract makes the most sense. Bourque continues to grow and it will only be a matter of time before he stays with the big club. Fehr played well and was only hindered by injuries. Morrisonn, Jurcina, and Schultz were all mainstays on the blue line and all played well (Although Schultz has yet to live up to his first round billing). Pinizzotto was a great character player for the Hershey Bears last season. Gordon was a solid defensive forward and Wilson is progressing nicely.

This, the eve of Free Agent Frenzy, The Caps may look to filling holes with prospects rather than bet the bank on a available free agent when the clock strikes noon. But GM George McPhee has warned that we may not hear the Caps mentioned in the days to come as free agents flood the headlines.

If the Capitals are to play in the free agent market, they would be looking for a solid second line center. They would also look for the cheapest option possible. Of the available centers available as free agents this summer, here are some considerations.

Samuel Pahlsson, 31 years old, last season's contract: $1.4 million with Chicago. Pahlsson was a big part of Chicago making the playoffs and going to the second round. His price tag is relatively low, which might mean he is looking for more cash. But his experience with the Ducks and the Hawks will make his contributions immediately felt for the Caps.

Manny Malhotra, 29 years old, last season's contract: $1.5 million with Columbus. Malhotra has two things going for him, he comes pretty cheap and he was second in the NHL in face offs. He is also a work horse who had a streak of 140 games before an injury sidelined him early last season.

Marcel Goc, 25 years old, last season's contract: $775,000 with San Jose. A good hard working player, but injury prone. He lead his team in face off wins and seems to play his best against better teams. His price tag is an attractive attribute.

Another area the Caps could use help is on the blue line. Again, McPhee is confident that they don't need to sign certain players to bad contracts just because there is a hole, but here are a few defensemen that look intriguing.

Mathieu Dandenault, 33 years old, last season's contract: $1.75 million with Montreal. Dandenault's age is the only bad thing about him. Solid defender with good experience and he may sign for 3 years or less.

Michael Komisarek, 27 years old, last season's contract: $1.9 million with Montreal. Komisarek is an A1 leader. He is a tough stay at home defender that makes the players around him better. When he was injured, he took to the bench as a coach and helped his team from there. A great character player to have in the locker room. His price is a bit high however.

Steve Montador, 29 years old, last season's contract: $800,000 with Boston. Montador is a good puck moving defenseman that plays will with a cheap price tag (maybe).

Whatever the Caps do, one thing is clear; they are pretty good in the goaltending department. Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth both have made the Caps deep between the pipes. Jose Theodore will most likely make his return and Brent Johnson has told many that he wished to return. That makes the Caps set for goaltenders (they didn't even pick one in this year's entry draft).

The Caps will lose and have lost talent to free agency as well. Donald Brashear has decided to test the market, a good sign he may not return. Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov have moved on to the KHL. Some minor leaguers might make the move elsewhere as well, Alex Giroux, Graham Mink and defensemen Steffan Kronwall and Bryan Helmer.

All that remains to be seen is what players and teams decided to do. The Caps may be saving their fireworks for the developmental camp in mid-July.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Grading The Draft

With their seven picks in seven rounds, the Washington Capitals took three defensemen, two centers and two wingers in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft this weekend. They picked a player each from Sweden, Russia and the United States, and the other four were Canadian. The Caps' picks average in height of 6'0" and have an average weight of 190 lbs. The Caps went after speed and precision according to the available scouting reports of each player.

In the first round, the Caps took a two way centerman in Marcus Johansson from Sweden. I covered him in the last post as being a smart two-way player who some think will be the next Valtteri Filppula or even a Henrik Zetterberg. Johansson is a hard working player that looks to be a year or two away from playing inside the Caps' farm system.

On day two, round two, the Caps took (what some had speculated they would pick in the first round) Dmitri Orlov. This Russian player is a quick, puck-moving defenseman who makes excellent passes. In the third round the Caps took Cody Eakin who has tremendous speed. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native is a dynamite at chasing down loose pucks and works hard at both ends of the ice.

From there the scouting reports get fuzzy for the remaining players chosen in the Entry Draft. The Caps picked Patrick Wey, a Pittsburgh kid, in the fourth round. Wey will be attending and playing for Boston College this fall. In the fifth round, the Caps took Brett Flemming (no relation to Peggy), a defenseman that looks like he needs to gain some bulk (listed as 6'0" and 172 lbs.).

In the sixth and seventh rounds the Capitals picked Garrett Mitchell (yea! another Garrett) and Benjamin Casavant respectively. Both wingers (Mitchell a right winter, Casavant a left winger) and Canadian.

The Caps did not pick a goaltender in this year's draft.

Overall, I think the Caps did a solid job. They stuck to their game plan of building the organization up through youth. And why should it change, the Caps have seen significant changes and are credible threats for a Stanley Cup Championship. Under the direction of George McPhee, the Capitals have built in some deep talent. Just looking at the two farm clubs under the Caps, both have won their respective championships.

McPhee has stayed aggressive on the defensive front as well. While the Caps are bursting at the seams with defensemen, even keeping a few good ones in a Hershey Bears' uniform, they picked three of them in the draft. All of them still have some developing to do and are a year or two from entering the Capitals' system.

The Caps did not trade any of their picks this year, sticking to building a squad rather than looking for short term replacements. McPhee would rather use the free agent market to bring in what he needs now and continue to build the team he wants for the future.

If I had to grade what the Caps did for the '09 Draft, it would be a B+. They did very well with the picks that they had and didn't get involved in the itty bitty trading going on through out the weekend. The Caps filled the holes they had with draft picks and I think they did what they wanted with the selections they had.

Most often than not, the draft can be a crap shoot. Sometimes those players turn out for you, sometimes they are duds. It also has to do with how you develop those players through the minors up into the big club. The Caps have a good group of young players, it will be exciting to see them at the upcoming Development Camp the Caps will hold July 13.

Editor's note: The Capitals did make a minor trade, giving up Sami Lepisto for a pick in next year's draft to the Coyotes. The Caps did try to make a bid for a second line center, but may have to wait for free agency to pick up anything available. Lepisto was rumored to be on the trading block for well over 5 months now. Micheal Nylander is also rumored to be moved "soon" according to an anonymous source (so take it a face value).

Next up for the Caps... Free Agency July 1st.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Caps Take A Swede

The Washington Capitals made their only selection Friday night in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft and they picked Marcus Johansson 24th overall. The Capitals were rumored to take Landon Ferraro, but instead took a Swedish centerman for their pick.

Johansson scouting report through NHL.com:
“Johansson has a good selection of shots with a quick precise wrist shot. His overall skill level and stickhandling give him room to move the puck and shoot. He is a player with good offensive instincts and fine understanding of his defensive duties. He can play both center and wing with a consistent hard working presence.”
Johansson was a member of the Team Sweden for the 2009 World Junior Championships and helped them to a silver medal with two goals and he was a plus 2. The name that is thrown around Johansson's as going down a similar path is Henrik Zetterberg. While his play is not flashy or over the top, his hard working style and mastery of simple plays makes him a solid player that can play both ways. TSN compared his style of play to Valtteri Filppula.

The negatives are few for Johansson, but he does have a history of concussions. He played his first complete season last year playing 52 games, while he only recorded 12 games the year before. If he can stay healthy, he should make an immediate impact.

Unless there is a trade, the Capitals' night is over until their second round (55th) pick tomorrow.

Video interview courtesy of washingtoncaps.com:

A Great Goes Home

Sergei Fedorov is fulfilling the wishes of his father, playing on the same team as his brother Fedor. Since the Capitals have no desire to sign the Russian's brother, Fedorov makes the move to the KHL. It marks the second player to make the move to play on home soil as their contracts expires here in the NHL. Viktor Kozlov also made the move to return to Russia.

As much as the fans and the management would have liked to see both return, it could be a blessing in disguise for the Capitals. Both Russians' contracts pulled heavily on the Caps purse strings to steer clear of the salary cap. Now this frees space for the Caps to sign some key players whose contracts are up or up shortly.

Namely Nick Backstrom and Michal Neuvirth. Both will be entering their last season under their entry-level contracts for the '09-'10 season. Backstrom is definitely a talent the Capitals wish to keep, while Neuvirth is progressing nicely in the AHL. It will be an expensive venture to keep both and the freed cap space will help.

Although, having Fedorov on the Capitals may have made us starry eyed in the face of a future hall of famer and an extraordinary talent. He made some clutch goals for the Capitals, the rocket slapshot that beat the Florida Panthers and spun the Capitals into the playoffs for the first time in ten years. Or his game winning goal that won the first series win the Caps have enjoyed in 11 years. His talent and classy constitution will be missed.

But how many more years could Fedorov keep up his two way play at this level? It is a question we will never know as Feds will pack up his sticks and go someplace else.

Caps Draft Notes:
  • Looks like the Caps have some major interest in Landon Ferraro. Son of Ray Ferraro (once called a "little ball of hate" by a teammate), Landon's speed has piqued the Caps' interest, but many are saying that Ferraro is still a few years away from wearing a NHL sweater.
  • George McPhee most likely will not trade his picks for players. According to the Capitals Insider, McPhee's philosophy remains solid:
    "If you're doing the right things, you're always taking the best player," [McPhee] said. "And you find other ways, whether it be a trade or free agency, to fill any holes. (In the draft), you want a left winger who can play, versus a right defenseman that's not going to play."

    He added: "If you draft for positions, then sometimes you make players out to be better than they are and you (pass over) someone who ends up playing and being a good player. If you have too many good left wingers, then maybe you have to move somebody to fill a position some place else."
  • While first round picks are always helpful, the Detroit Red Wings have gotten by with a bunch of late rounders. Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula were picked in the third round, Pavel Datsyuk was a sixth round pick and Henrik Zetterberg was picked in the seventh round. I guess it proves that scouting wins out the best players, not necessarily first round picks. Something to chew on while you watch the entry draft tonight.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is There A Window Open?

Because there is a Draft. Ha!

The Washington Capitals enter this draft with picks late in each round. But they have picks in all seven rounds. The Caps pick 24th in the first round, if they should use it or trade it remains to be seen.

It is highly unlikely that the Capitals would trade their first round pick as they have used their first round picks more than any other team in the past eight years. They have plucked 15 first round picks in that time. The Caps have used the first round picks to build a team from scratch. So far, the results have been good for the organization.

One only has to look at the Caps' development tree. The South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and the Hershey Bears of the AHL are the affiliates of the Capitals. Both have won their respective league championships. Proof that the organization is going in the right direction.

Many of the mock drafts have the Capitals picking a winger (provided there are no moves in picks). That winger is Landon Ferraro, son of Ray Ferraro. Landon is a speedy and smart player on the short side (5'11", 165 lbs.). It not a given that Ferraro will be drafted by Caps, being so far down on the list.

The Caps picks for the '09 Draft are as follows:

Round 1: 24th pick
Round 2: 55th pick
Round 3: 85th pick
Round 4: 115th pick
Round 5: 144th pick
Round 6: 174th pick
Round 7: 204th pick

Notable 24th overall picks:
'05 T.J. Oshie (STL)
'03 Mike Richards (PHI)
'01 Lukas Krajicek (FLA)
'96 Daniel Briere (PHX)
'85 Sean Burke (NJ, 2nd rd.)

Capitals' unrestricted free agents*: Donald Brashear, Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, Alex Giroux**, Graham Mink**, Bryan Helmer**, Brent Johnson

Restricted free agents*: Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Chris Bourque**, Steve Pinizzotto**, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz, Sami Lepisto**

First round of the NHL '09 Entry Draft will be on Versus Network this Friday night (6/27) at 7 pm. Following rounds will be on Saturday and can be watched on the NHL Network throughout the day. This year's draft will be in Montreal.

*-as of 10 AM, 6/23/09
**-played majority of the season for Hershey

Shocked And Saddened

Being a Smart Trip card holder and a frequent rider of the Red Line, to see those images of yesterday's horrific accident of the two Metro trains between Fort Totten and Takoma Park stations was a shock to the system. Both my wife and I watched the continued coverage on all of DC's networks.

I am no stranger to the Red Line as it was a life line at one point in my life to work and of course was a connector to the Verizon Center and many Capitals games at the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro stop. It was a very shocking thing to see flashed on the television screen last night. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all my DC neighbors and their families involved in this unfortunate incident.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Well... Duh

The Capitals held off announcing Jay Leach's replacement after that replacement won the Calder Cup. Now that Bob Woods is at the top of his game (much like his predecessor in Hershey) the Caps offered up the assistant coach gig with the big league team.

Woods, 41, is coming off a Hershey Bear championship when he took over the reigns for Bruce Boudreau in chocolate town. As head bench boss he lead the Bears to a 49-23-2 record (first place finish in the East with a 106 pts. and 296 goals for) in the '08-'09 season and was 16-6 this past postseason with a Calder Cup to show for it.

As a player, Woods never saw a day in the NHL. He spent most of his playing career in the ECHL and won the Kelly Cup under Boudreau in 1999 with the Mississippi Sea Wolves (he was listed as a player/assistant coach). He was also a brief roller hockey star from '94 - '97. Roller hockey, sweet! (Incidentally, Glen Metropolit was also in the RHI. Who knew?)

It was rumored that Woods was the front runner for Leach's job. That rumor became truth today.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Awards For The NHL Awards Show

Alex Ovechkin took the Hart Trophy again, he repeats as the league's most valuable player. He snubbed his countrymen Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin to win the award once again. Ovi also won the Lester B. Pearson Award for MVP decided on by the players and the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in the '08 - '09 season.

Mike Green sat second fiddle (or third) to Zdeno Chara who took home the Norris Trophy for best defenseman.

You know all the winners (if you don't, you can find them all on NHL.com). Now here are the awards I will be giving out for the awards show.

The Tear Jerker award: Tim Thomas when he was awarded the Vezina Trophy. "I have been more worried about getting my name on a roster than I have been about winning the Vezina." Aww, doesn't it break your heart.

The Classiest award: Jean Beliveau and his acceptance speech for the '09 lifetime achievement award. He attributed all of his successes in life to his family especially his wife. Classy.

The Funniest Moment award: Tim Thomas after he and his teammate Manny Fernadez won the William M. Jennings Trophy. Thomas spoke first thanking the usual people as well as his wife. Then he turned to Fernadez and said, "Do you want me to thank your wife Manny?" It got a good laugh and Thomas turned bright red. Proving goaltenders share everything (no, not really).

The "I Look Exactly Like the Presenter" award: Jerome Iginla as he accepted the Bridgestone Messier Leadership Award. Both Mark Messier and Iginla were sporting the shaved head look. Check out those shiny domes.

The Awkward Moment Next to a Beautiful Girl award: Presenter Kirk Muller when he as presenting the award for the Selke (best two way forward). Tricia Helfer joined him and spoke first. Muller was a wreck next to the super model. He stumbled on his words and only Helfer's good looks and smooth talk saved the day. Hey, I would have been stumbling over my words too with this beautiful girl next to me.

The Best Attempt At English But Fell Short award: Evgeni Malkin with Pavel Datsyuk as runner up. Malkin spoke broken English when he accepted his Art Ross Trophy. "I would like to thank the organization and stuff," Malkin sputtered. "Of course I want to thank my parents, they support me on my lap(? - hey that is what I heard). Thank you very much." Ovi chimed in after his speech, "Well Geno, your English is better than Pavel Datsyuk English." A Russian riot ensued there after (no, not really).

The Random Thank You Speech award: Alex Ovechkin for thanking his equipment manager when he accepted the Rocket Richard Trophy. Brock Myles, the Capitals' equipment manager was the source of Ovi's praise. "We forget to say thanks to our guys that work in the team like trainers. Just normal guys who help us," Ovi said. "So I want to give this award to the Capitals organization, Washington fans and our trainers." Sweet.

The Snub Handshakes and Award Shows award: Sidney Crosby, whose name and picture (besides the opening) were never seen. Was he even there?

The "I Wore What I Wore to Prom" award: Mike Green in a simple tux with bow tie. Just about everyone else showed up in a suit. I think the NHL should have made this a black tie event. Green looked sweet.

The Inspirational Moment of the Night award: Vladimir Kostantinov who walked out on stage with a walker. Amazing moment and why no one gave that man a standing ovation, I will never know. He was a presenter and walked out with good friend Igor Larionov to present the Pearson award. Although Konstantinov looked like a dejected old grouchy man (which kind of made him look endearing), it was amazing to see him on his own two feet as the last time I saw him he was in a wheel chair.

The "What the Heck Do We Do Now" award: Everyone after the show ended. Ovechkin just took the Hart Trophy backstage and the Micheal Buble concluded the show, the entire crowd just sat and looked around wondering what the in the world was going on. I am sure they would have sat there all night if producers hadn't got everyone out of the theater. I mean you are in Vegas people, look somewhat excited to be there.

Congratulations to all the real winners of the real awards. That officially concludes the '08 -'09 season. Ovechkin ended the night on a positive note for Caps fans, "Next year, I hope Stanley Cup will be ours."

Photos by Getty Images, Harry How/Ethan Miller/Bruce Bennett

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Caps Work Only Begun

The Capitals have resigned Quintin Laing. The left winger spent most of the season in Hershey last season just because there was no space for him in the Capital locker room. He was brought up toward the end of the season but it was short term when he suffered a torn spleen. This resigning could be an indication that he might play the whole season next year as a Capital.

But the work for the Caps has just begun. With a slew of restricted free agents to negotiate and a few unrestricted that may or may not have left already, the Capitals have to put together a winning team with the major parts returning.

The Caps have the pork in Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Alex Semin and Nick Backstrom will return. Semin and Backstrom will be on their last year of their contracts. What is left is the lipstick to put on the pig. With the possibility that Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov playing on a different contient, the Caps maybe looking to bring up their depth rather than chance it with off season signings.

With a talent pool in Hershey, that would make more sense then looking for that ideal free agent signing. The Capitals could always look for a deal during the summer months. In any event, the next few weeks should be interesting to see who gets an offered contract and who the Caps are willing to let go.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Double Cup Friday

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on winning the Stanley Cup. You can call it sweet revenge as the Pens defeat the Detroit Red Wings on their ice a year after they lost the Cup on their ice. Boy, did Marion Hossa turn out to be a bad penny. Evgeni Malkin wins MVP honors (the first Russian to do so), although they should have given it to Max Talbot for his clutch goals in the finals or Rob Scuderi for his goaltending prowess.

However (and even more importantly), congratulations to the Hershey Bears on winning their tenth AHL championship last night. They beat the Manitoba Moose on their ice 4-1 to close out the series 4 games to two and hoisting the Calder Cup. Again, the Capitals top development team wins a championship, their second in four years.

Michal Neuvirth earned MVP honors as he posted a 16-6 record with only a 1.19 GAA, a .932 save percentage and four shutouts in the playoffs. He was the big reason for the Bears' championship run, not bad for a player that started the season in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays. In game six he made 24 stops on 25 shots by the Moose. Neuvirth makes the Capitals extremely deep in the goaltending department with Semyon Varlamov, Jose Theodore, Brent Johnson (if the Caps decide to resign him) and a few other prospects.

The Bears got off to a great start in the first, putting the Moose up against a wall with a 3-0 lead in the opening period. Goals by Andrew Gordon, Chris Bourque and Alex Giroux. It was Giroux's playoff leading 15th goal, 28th point. The Moose were able to get a goal in the second, but the Bears held their 3-1 lead through half of the second period and through the third, eventually icing the game with an empty netter scored by Keith Aucoin.

The tandem of Stephan Kronwall and Dean Arsene lead to both players getting a +3 on the game, the Bears' best. Bourque had a goal and an assist as well as the game's number one star. Kyle Wilson had a pair of assists and also was the game's number 3 star.

The last time the Bears won the Calder Cup, many of those players went on to make the Capitals' squad: Mike Green, David Steckel, Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann and Boyd Gordon (you could include Jakub Klepis in that list before he went off to play in the KHL). The Bears beat the the Milwaukee Admirals 4 games to two in that series as well. In their game 6 they also jumped up to a 3-0 lead in the first period and went on to win the game 5-1.

Bob Woods, rumored to be in the hunt for Jay Leach's old job, took the Bears to the promise land in just his second year at the helm. He also lead them to a Eastern Conference best 53-22-2-3 record finishing with 111 points.

Highlights of the Bears record breaking tenth AHL championship can be found here. Bryan Helmer, the Bears' captain accepted the Calder Cup along with assistant captains Aucoin and Quintin Laing.

The state of Pennsylvania has to be beaming with pride as they have won two hockey championships (Penguins: Stanley Cup, Bears: Calder Cup), a NHL championship (Steelers) and a MLB championship (Phillies). Pretty impressive in the same year. Now can we stop with all the "Boo hoo, PA teams never win" crap.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cup Crazy... Take 2

At least one Cup will be awarded tonight. Both the NHL and AHL have games in which the Stanley Cup will be awarded and the Calder Cup could be awarded. Unlike last time, it will not happen in the state of Pennsylvania.

The Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins will battle it out at Joe Louis Arena in a series deciding game seven. At this point this game is a coin flip, the Penguins have a little momentum after keeping the Red Wings from lifting the Cup in their building for the second straight year. But the visiting team has had trouble getting the win, which favors the Red Wings. Either way, what a series!

What looked to be another domination effort by the Red Wings, the Penguins have done all they could to stay alive for a game seven. This entire post season we have seen some of the best hockey in the new NHL (since the new CBA).

In the AHL the Hershey Bears will try again to win the Calder Cup still up in their series 3 games to two against the Manitoba Moose. The Bears would have liked to have lifted the Calder Cup in their own building, but will have to win now on the road as the final two games in the series are in Winnipeg. This has been a goaltenders series as both the Moose goaltender Cory Schneider and Bears' Micheal Neuvirth have been outstanding for their teams.

The AHL series has also broke attendance records for the finals in both Hershey and Winnipeg. Through five games, just over 62,000 fans have watched the Bears and Moose duke it out. At tonight's game, the number will break the record set in 2003 in the series between Hamilton and Houston.

The Stanley Cup will be awarded, the Calder Cup might be. It is almost sad to see it all come to an end.

In the DC area, game seven in the Stanley Cup Finals will be on NBC channel 4. The Calder Cup Finals will not be televised here, but you can watch on line by going to B2TV.com and pay the "small" fee. Those in central PA will be able to watch the game, check your local listings.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Moose Stay Alive

The Hershey Bears were just a win away from winning the Calder Cup at home, but the Manitoba Moose had other plans. The Moose stay alive with a 3-2 win over the Bears and force a game 6 back in Manitoba. The Calder Cup will have to wait just a bit longer before it is awarded.

The Moose scored a pair of late second period goals. The Bears answered in the third with a Graham Mink goal to make it 2-1, but the Moose stood tall defensively and scored an empty netter to ice the game. The Bears did add a late tally off of a John Carlson point shot but the damage had been done.

Micheal Neuvirth did another fantastic job in net for the Bears stopping 23 shots and his counterpart, Cory Scheinder was no slouch either. Both goaltenders have been great in this series, but it was Scheinder's night to shine with 31 saves.

The series now shifts back to Manitoba where the Bears will try to once again win the Calder Cup. The Bears still hold the series lead 3 games to two and the Moose are pressured to stay perfect through two games.

Bad Contract? Dump It In The KHL

The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) could be a place for NHL teams to dump bad contracts in this new salary cap . That could be the case if the Washington Capitals move Micheal Nylander's contract to Avangard Omsk. General Managers who want to free cap space with bad deals could find a reprieve in the Russian league by dumping those players across the ocean. Since there is no deal between the KHL and the NHL other than each league respecting the contracts of the other.

Nylander hasn't lived up to the hype in Washington and he has spent a majority of the season in the dog house under Bruce Boudreau's aggressive forechecking style. That has left the crafty centerman off the ice but still pulling a hefty pay check of $5.5 million for the 09/10 season. The contract drops however in 10/11 season to $3 million.

Apparently now, there is a deal in the works between the Avangard and the Capitals that could relieve the Caps of Nylander and give the Jaromir Jagr his assist man back. It is a deal that could be a ripple in the water that leads to a hurricane of contracts that are dumped a sea away. NHL teams that have dead weight could cut it away to the KHL instead of flopping around with it in the American Hockey League (AHL).

Both leagues had agreed to respect each others' contracts. That was put to the test earlier in the year when the Nashville Predators lost a defenseman to the KHL and went to court to get Alexander Radulov back in a Preds jersey.

"Trust me, if we are working on it, that means there is a way," Anatoli Bardin told Sovetsky Sports in a recent interview about getting Nylander to play for a KHL team. Bardin is Omsk region govener's hockey advisor and a former President of Omsk. "We are still working on it. When we have some concrete information, [the media] will be the first to know."

The New York Rangers have done something similar, allowing Darius Kasparatis to play for the KHL after they waived him. But the Rangers didn't get anything in return for the defenseman except for freed up salary cap space.

If a deal is brokered between the Capitals and Avangard, could that mean an exchange of players is possible? Could the KHL be the new AHL in a way? This could also be a legal minefield if there is no deal brokered between the two leagues. One thing is for sure, with a salary cap that may be lowered for next season, teams will be more creative in dealing with heavy and mid level contracts.

Cup Crazy

Tonight could be a night when both NHL's Stanley Cup and AHL's Calder Cup could be awarded. The Detroit Red Wings can do away with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh and the Hershey Bears can win their 5th championship over the Manitoba Moose at the Giant Center in Hershey. That leaves the possibility of both Cups awarded on the same night in the same state; you wonder if the universe might be collapsing in on itself with such an event.

The Bears series could be done in 5 games after they had split the games in Manitoba and then won two straight at home, including a game three shutout by Micheal Neuvirth. The Red Wings are a bit behind the curve as they are only ahead in their series 3-2. A visiting team has yet to win in the other's building in the Wings/Pens series, a stat that will have to change if the Red Wings wish to win.

The Stanley Cup Finals can be seen on NBC channel 4 locally with a puck drop at 8:18 pm. Good luck trying to find the Hershey Bears game, it will not be shown locally here in the DC area like it had two years ago when they won the Calder Cup. You can however spend a few bucks and watch it on B2TV.com online. Puck drop is at 7:15 pm.

If both teams lose their chance to win a Cup, the Bears will have to travel back to Manitoba will have to try to win it on the road. While the Red Wings will have a chance to beat the Penguins at home in an all important game seven.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Bears Just A Step Away

The Hershey Bears is just one game away from a Calder Cup championship over the Manitoba Moose and have a chance to win it at home on Tuesday night as they win game four 2-1. Keith Aucoin broke a 1-1 tie in the third with a power play goal. From there, Micheal Neuvirth took over the game with some magnificent saves to get the win and help the Bears to a three games to one lead in the series.

Neuvirth gave a little jump when the final horn sounded, and why shouldn't he. The rookie goaltender has been a big part of the Bears' rise to the finals. The last time the Bears were in this position, it was on the back of a grizzled veteran Fredric Cassivi. Neuvirth has been a key compontent in this possible championship run.

But the hardest part of closing out a series is closing out a series. The Hershey Bears are on the brink of not only winning the AHL's championship, but they have a chance to raise the Calder Cup at home. The Moose just want to win one more game to take it back to Manitoba and hopefully break the Bears' momentum.

Game five is on Tuesday night and there could be a chance that both the Stanley Cup and Calder Cup could be awarded on the same night. Game 4 highlights can be found here.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Wanted, Good With Defensemen And A/V Equipment

The Washington Capitals continue the coaching changes by letting go of video coach Jonas Plumb. Besides having a cool, Clue-referenced name, he opens the door for yet another coaching position that needs to be filled in the off season. The Capitals and Jay Leach (the defense coach) parted ways just weeks earlier.

That leaves two very lucrative spots open for qualified coaches. I have heard two rumors about the possible replacements, but it's nothing confirmed nor told to me by anyone on the Capitals' staff.

One is the possibility of bringing up Bob Woods, which would be hard to do at the moment since he is a tad busy leading the Hershey Bears in the Calder Cup finals (who just took a 2 games to one lead in that series, Holla!). The second is the return of Glen Hanlon to coach the defensive end. Since Hanlon pounded in a defense first attitude, I doubt that would be cohesive with Bruce Boudreau's aggressive offensive style. But hey, what do I know.

Those are just the rumors and are neither hear nor there. Both positions of defensive coach and video coach remain open. Dust off that resume kids.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Bears Jump To A 2-1 Series Lead With Win

The Hershey Bears took full advantage of home ice advantage breaking the series stalemate to take a 2-1 series lead over the Manitoba Moose with a 3-0 win. Alex Giroux and Graham Mink scored power play tallies while Micheal Neuvirth stopped all 28 shots his way to give the Bears the lead in the best of seven series for the AHL's Calder Cup.

The Bears' power play was a potent 2 for 3 and was the deciding factor of game 3 with Steffan Kronwall assisting on both goals. Quintin Laing scored the empty net/short handed tally to ice the game and give the Bears the series lead.

But Neuvirth was the game's first star posting the shutout in an all important game for the Bears. His league leading 4th shutout of the playoffs came in a series with the Moose that had taken a few days off after game two in Manitoba on Tuesday night.

The Bears also were able to kill off all 5 of Manitoba's power plays. Five on five both goaltenders were spectacular with Neuvirth's counter part, Cory Schneider, stopping a slew of Bear's shots.

Just like the Capitals, the Bears had to make it interesting with Bryan Helmer taking a couple of late penalties to give the Moose a chance late. But the visiting team just couldn't cash in on their opportunities and the Bears look pretty sharp in their home whites.

Video highlights can be found here. Game 4 is a quick turn around with a 5 pm start tomorrow (Sunday) evening.

Caps' Farm Team Wins Kelly Cup In 7 Games

At a sold out (6610) Sullivan Arena in Anchorage Alaska, with its Olympic-sized ice sheet, the South Carolina Stingrays finally do away with the Alaska Aces in game 7 and are awarded the ECHL's Kelly Cup by a score of 4-2. The Stingrays, the Capitals' AA team, had a 3-1 advantage over the Aces but the Alaska group were resilient sending the series into a game seven.

The Stingrays were out-shot by the Aces in the first period but were able to get the game's first tally at 18:45. Maxime Lacroix scored to give the Rays an early lead. They built off of that lead with a goal early in the second by Rob Ricci. Ricci scored is first career goal as a professional player (let alone a big goal in a game seven series for the championship).

The Aces turned up the heat and it was up to James Reimer, a rookie goaltender, to turn them down. Micheal Neuvirth was the starting goaltender for the Rays at the beginning of the season, but has since helped the Hershey Bears in their playoff run.

Alaska would eventually get a goal to making it 2-1 going into the second intermission, but they could have done much worse if Reimer hadn't turned away chance after chance. He finished the night with 26 saves and the game's first star.

An insurance goal by the Stingrays came in the third at 11:06 and it turned out to be the game winner by Trent Campbell. The Aces made it interesting when the Rays took a bad slashing penalty late and scored to make it 3-2, but the Stingrays held firm and Pierre-Luc O'Brien scored on the empty net to solidify a championship season.

Congratulations to the Stingrays, ECHL's '08-'09 Kelly Cup winners.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Moose Get Even

The Manitoba Moose did not want to go down two games to none against the Hershey Bears in AHL's Calder Cup Final and then face the next three games of the series on the road. The Bears will have to settle for a split on the road and come home with the series tied at one.

Alex Giroux got the Bears off to a good start, but the Moose fought their way back in the game with a power play goal. Jason Jaffray scored to even things up then scored the late third period game winner with under a minute left. The Bears lost their cool in the final seconds and Jaffray was able to answer Giroux's game one hattrick with one of his own on an empty netter.

Highlights of game two can be found here (if they have them up yet, which they haven't at the time this article was posted). The Calder Cup does not resume in Hershey until Saturday June 6. The next three games will be in Hershey then the best of seven will transfer back to Manitoba on June 12.

Meanwhile, another level down, the South Carolina Stingrays are on the verge of a Kelly Cup win in the ECHL. They were up three games to one in the series against the Alaska Aces (a series that stretches 5 time zones!) but lost Saturday night as the Aces stay alive still down three games to two. The Rays have a chance to ice it Thursday night at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage Alaska.

Now, We Have A Series

On the brink of a possible sweep, the Pittsburgh Penguins finally woke up at home and get back on track in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings. They even showed signs of dominance that we saw with Carolina and Washington with their aggressive forecheck.

In fact, this kind of feels like the Washington series in a lot of ways. Down two games to none, the Penguins looked like all the luck had run dry. Then they just got lucky and started playing with more and more confidence. That is a scary prospect if you are a Red Wing fan.

What may be even more important, the series is now long enough for NBC to pick up the awarding of the Cup. If the Wings won game three and then win again in Pittsburgh, there was a good chance that Versus would be showing the series clinching game, not NBC. Hence, some upteenth million households would miss out completely the completion of the Cup finals. That would have been the real shame.

NHL Notes
  • Jim Balsillie (besides having a silly name) is dead set on buying a NHL franchise and moving it to Hamilton, come hell or high water. The league has been fighting him every step of the way even when he seems to play by the rules. His plan is to purchase the struggling Phoenix Coyotes and he made no falsehoods about moving the team. Which is a shame, since hockey was starting to grow in the desert.
  • Apparently the GM position for Jacques Martin in Florida was just too much. He jumped at the first chance to become head coach with the Montreal Canadiens. Hmm, trade Guy Carbonneau for a guy that couldn't coach the Panthers with the talent they had. I am just saying, Habs' fans might be waiting awhile to win.
  • The NHL loves concussions. They love it so much, that they won't even consider a hit to the head rule to prevent them. The GMs met in Pittsburgh just before game 3 at Mellon Arena to discuss a possible hits to the head penalty. But nothing came of it. I guess they figure if we dumb down the players, the next CBA will be easier to handle.
  • Finally, Comcast may offer the NHL Network on its Classic Digital Channels lineup. Good news for some of us that have to pay extra for the network. Finally, Comcast doing something good for a change.

Monday, June 01, 2009

What NHL Did Right

The NHL sometimes does some head scratching moves that confuses its fans and makes lives for teams a mess. It is a work in progress of course, things are done then changed when it is done wrong. For the most part the league has done its best to create a competitive sport that is enjoyable to watch for everyone of its thirty franchises.

There are somethings I can live with out in the NHL. The trapezoid behind the net (hey, let the goaltenders be great assistmen), the instigator penalty (I just think there has to be a better way rather than fining coaches) and official inconsistencies (but that is an arguement for another day). But lately, the league has been doing some good.

First of all, the Stanley Cup Playoffs could have been held off until June 5, but the decision to start it over the weekend with back to back games on the weekend was nothing short of near brilliance. While it may have been hard on the players and the teams, the short turn around built momentum for the casual fan.

They also made the times consistent through out the Finals series at 8 pm. The start time helps our friends on the west coast to at least can wait another hour at work before they take off early to catch the game. It is nice to see the "east coast bias" folks have to stay up a bit later for the good of the entire country (both U.S. and Canada) to enjoy round two between these teams.

Second, the league was quick to react to the allegations made in Florida against the Capitals. In fact some NHL suits were in town yesterday (according to Tarik) to investigate the matter. They asked questions of the Capitals' staff, coaches and trainers. Better to be proactive in a situation like this than reactive, a position Major League Baseball seems to be stuck in.

There is still alot of trouble woes for the league however. KHL, Players Union (year-round drug testing), Olympics, Phoenix all are still problems that need attention. As long as the NHL keeps their fans in mind when making such decisions, then it can't be that bad. Can it?

NHL Notes
  • The Red Wings take a two game lead in the series. So much for young legs in back to back games. History repeating? Penguins starting to lose focus and looked like they whined everytime things didn't go their way. The Malkin/Zetterberg fight was worth the price of admission though.
  • Speaking of the fight, Evgeni Malkin should be suspended... but oh... wait... superstars are immune to such suspensions! Oh what Donald Brashear must be thinking right now.
  • Joe Nieuwendyk will be the new GM in Dallas. I think they would better benefit him on the ice the way things are going there. First order of business? Get thee a goaltender, get thee a goaltender! So ends the co-GM duties of Brent Hull and Les Jackson.
That's all I got, have a nice Monday.