Sunday, May 23, 2010


So I took a few days off to enjoy time with my wife and the little one. I don't make any apologies for that, but I have been (for the most part) in Hockey limbo until this weekend. Boy, a lot has happened. From Nick Backstrom signing a monster contract and some speculation on what the Caps plan to do this off season to the remainder of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, there is a lot for us to catch up on.

Big Contract Player

It's old news, but Nick Backstrom was signed to a 10 year, $67 million dollar contract. Backstrom's new deal escalates from $6 million to $8 million and breaks down each year like this: 6, 6, 6, 6, 6.5, 6.5, 7, 7.5, 7.5 and 8 according to Tarik on his blog.

It gives the Caps the room they need early, but it's a tougher contract to trade later in his career (if the Capitals are inclined to do so). That pretty much means Backstrom is a main figure in DC for the next ten years. It's a great signing for the Caps, who made a similar 10 year deal with Alex Ovechkin although that was up in the $9 million range. Per Wash Post:
"I wanted 10 years, I wanted the long term and finally got it. I think it is good that we're together." -Nick Backstrom

"We went back and forth. Different trends were discussed. But players want different things sometimes. Nicky was ready to do 10 years, he was interested in doing 10 years. We discussed it and felt that that would work for us if we could get the right number." -GM George McPhee
The Caps also had a minor signing of prospect and 2009 first round draft pick Marcus Johansson to a entry level contract.

Stay At Home is reporting that Anton Volchenkov will be changing the license plates on his beamer to Washington DC Plates (does he drive a beamer?). While the stay-at-home defenseman Volchenkov would be a great addition, the contract puts him in is a $5 million with bonuses. That would squeeze the Caps to the limit salary cap-wise.

The Caps (as of today) are sitting pretty tight to the $56.8 million ceiling (somewhere around the $55 million range including Backstrom's new deal). Of course things can and will change over the summer.

Who Knew?

Former Capitals' prospect Jakub Klepis scored on a pass from Jaromir Jagr as the Czech Republic stall Russia's bid for a second straight gold medal at the IIHF World Championships. Russia's roster featured a beefed up NHL line up that included Alex Oveckin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Datsyuk and Sergei Gonchar, but were not able to solve Tomas Vokoun as the CR's win gold with a 2-1 win.

Klepis was released by the team to play in the KHL amid some trade rumors concerning him in '08.

Always A Bridesmaid...

Phrases like "Shaking loose the playoff monkey on their backs" have been suddenly recanted concerning the San Jose Sharks. The veteran squad of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle were swept away by youngsters Johnathan Towes, Patrick Kane and Anntii Niemi of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks playoff woes continue, apparently getting out of the second round is a bar raiser for them. Maybe their fans need to boo the Canadian Anthem again.

Always the Bride...

Hershey Bears advance to the Calder Cup finals for the fourth time in the past five years. Sigh.

That is all I got for now. I hope to come back with some original content, and a college radio station is begging for an interview with me (talk about desperate).

Until then, enjoy the playoffs.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Filling The Holes - Centers

The Washington Capitals may be able to fill some problem areas with free agents this summer. Of the three areas that need work is a second or third line centers. The available free agents this summer have some pretty solid names. I came up with ten possibilities George McPhee could go with to bolster some secondary scoring behind the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and Mike Knuble.

1. Patrick Marleau (31 years old, 11 NHL seasons, last season's salary $6.3 million) - The San Jose forward comes with a hefty price. Since his recent production after Ron Wilson left for the Toronto Maple Leafs, many say that he is un-coachable. Would you waste a good $6 or $7 million on a player that is temperamental and may cause rifts with the coaching staff? Let him stay in San Jose.

2. Matt Cullen (33 years old, 11 NHL seasons, $2.8 million) - Now here is a name that raises an eyebrow. Especially after the series he had against the Penguins where he produced 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists). Cullen can bring some grit and scoring as he turned in a 48 point season with Carolina and Ottawa this season. The price tag is okay too, if it stays below $3 million.

3. Craig Conroy (38 years old, 14 NHL seasons, $1.o million) - Conroy doesn't really add scoring, but will bring some grit and some defensive stability that might be good. His age is a factor and he did sit out 12 games last season with knee issues. If McPhee wanted a more defensive two way, Conroy is an interesting choice.

4. John Madden (37 years old, 10 NHL seasons, $2.75 million) - Another defensive minded center that won't add scoring, but will be a solid two way. However, he does bring a lot of good Cup experience to the table, something not to overlook for a team that wants to go far in the post season.

5. Mike Comrie (29 years old, 8 seasons, $1.25 million) - Comrie brings a lot of heart and some feisty play, but he doesn't really produce. He was stuck on a bad, bad team in Edmonton last year, and his numbers were dismal. His best year was 3 years ago when he was with the Islanders. He had 49 points in the regular season then, but since it has been a struggle for him to even reach the half way to 40 points in a season.

6. Tomas Plekanec (27 years old, 5 seasons, $2.75 million) - Plekanec has brought some scoring to a struggling Habs' team. He is coming off of a 70 point season, pretty huge. He has a small price tag, but that could balloon in the open market if he goes far in the playoffs. I like Plekanec for this team, but not sure if the Habs want him to leave the nest.

7. Chris Higgins (26 years old, 5 seasons, $2.25 million) - Higgins is another two way, more defensive style player. Too much money for a player that only had 17 points last year. He has had some good number with Montreal back in the day, but of late hasn't produced much on the offensive side.

8. Scott Nichol (35 years old, 9 seasons, $750,000) - Nichol may not add much offense, but he is a gritty hard nosed player that will go to the net. Most likely he will be resigned in San Jose.

9. Matt Stajan (26 years old, 6 seasons, $1.75 million) - Great, except for the fact he was resigned by the Flames to a four year contract extension. Doh.

10. Kyle Wellwood (26 years old, 5 seasons, $1.2 million) - Not much of a scoring threat, Wellwood does bring a hard work ethic to the ice. He also brings a foot injury.

Not much to choose from I know. Best bet for the Caps is to try and resign Brendan Morrison and Eric Belanger. The pair want to be here and a full season for Belanger can only help fit in. There doesn't seem like ther is much more out there for the Caps to pull from. I do like Cullen and Plecanec as some possible replacements that could had a dimension of scoring to help out the top line.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Filling The Holes - Goaltenders

Over the next three days, I will be looking at holes the Caps may want to fill with free agency over the summer. Now, I don't claim to be a NHL general manager, nor do I have any experience at being one. So for the most part this is just fantasizing what George McPhee will do in the coming months to make his team better.

The three areas that can be solved with free agency will be goaltending (if he decides to move away from resigning Jose Theodore), second and third line centers, and veteran stay-at-home defensemen. Today, it's goaltneders.

Jose Theodore was the best goaltender in the second half of the season for the Capitals. But even that effort left many wondering if the Caps were solid enough in net. McPhee basically has some options if he doesn't sign Theodore. But the market for goaltenders is a bit thin, at best.

1. Marty Turco (35 years old, 8 NHL seasons, last year's salary $5.4 million) - The Dallas Stars let Turco go, vowing to take their goaltending in a different direction. That leaves the three time All Star to look for work. Turco brings some veteran savvy and a cup ring to any team that might be looking. When Turco is on, he is on. He has had the best save percentage in the league twice. But when he is bad, he is bad.

2. Dan Ellis (30 years old, 3 NHL seasons, $2 million) - Ellis was Nashville's saving grace a couple of seasons ago. Since then he has been riding the bench. A fan favorite in Nashville, it is unlikely he will try the free market and the Preds will work on getting back into the fold.

3. Marty Biron (33 years old, 11 NHL seasons, $1.4 million) - Biron was Philly's answer in net. He did lead them to an Eastern Conference Final, but they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins. From there he has fallen from grace. The long time Buffalo back up to Ryan Miller, Biron has signed with goaltender-laden Islanders and has been in the AHL on a conditioning stint to finish the season. Biron has some big game potential, but his age is a factor.

4. Ray Emery (26 years old, 5 NHL seasons, $1.5 million) - Uh, no.

5. Antero Niittymaki (30 years old, 5 NHL seasons, $600,000) - Niittymaki is a mixed bag of goaltender. One night he is spectacular while the next night he can be lit up for 6 goals. His consistency is key, and it's likely he won't stay in Tampa another year. If the Capitals go with Varlamov, Niittymaki wouldn't be a bad back up for the Capitals.

Of all of these options, I think the best bet is to resign Theodore for another season and work Varly in a bit more. Ellis or Niittymaki might make sense if the Caps go away from Theo, but the Caps will have to put all their horses on Varlamov to be a full fledged NHL goaltender and get at least 40 to 50 games under his belt.

McPhee could bring up both kids Nuevirth and Varlamov to share duties in net. But both have injury bugs from time to time. The best bet is get a capable back up just in case.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Hockey Optimism

While it is not where the Capitals thought they would end up, many would say they are headed in the right direction. I would be one of those.

The Washington Capitals considered the record breaking 2009-2010 season a disappointment considering they didn't get out of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But you can't keep a good team down, and the Capitals are a very good team.

My hockey philosophy concerning any loss is to learn from it, let it make you a stronger player and a better team. Perhaps this is a wake up call for the Caps, a tough lesson to learn when you try to learn how to win. You can pack it up and never play again, or you can do better next time. For the Caps, the look forward is bright. As long as they bring along what they have learned in the past three seasons.

The bright spots for the Caps this season was the new acquisition of Mike Knuble to the top line. Knuble brought a net presence to the Caps top line that wasn't there before. His ability to make room for Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin has paid dividends for the Caps this season. He will be back for a second season.

Another bright spot was the play of soon to be Free Agent Jose Theodore. His play was the best in the league in the second half of the season. But whether or not the Caps give him an extension or hand the reins to the kids will be a question for them in the off season.

Resigning Backstrom will be top priority for the Caps and I suspect that dictate how they go about getting other key players to return. Backstrom will be a heavy burden to the Caps' cap next year. The domino effect of his contract will determine space for other players that are teetering on the RFA and FA list this summer. Players like Theodore, Shaone Morrisonn, and Eric Belanger will wait to see what kind of space is left over for them. Restricted free agents Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Micheal Nuevirth and Tomas Fleischmann will also be waiting for Backstrom's contract to see if they will make a return in a Caps uniform.

The job for George McPhee this summer is to keep key players and find compliments to them. He needs proven secondary scoring, so a second and third line center is important to look for. He will also need to shore up the defense (which really wasn't that bad) and look for an imposing d-man that can take care of business in front of their net. If the Caps don't resign Theodore, they may want to get some experience to back up one of the kids.

This is still an exciting team to watch. I feel they have to potential and the character to bring a Stanley Cup to DC in the near future. There is not a whole lot I would do to mess with that.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Hockey Depression

If you have followed my blog, you would have noticed I haven't posted much in the past week and a half. Not that I am Johnny on the Spot with my posts anyway, but I am sure the four of you (including mom) want to know my thoughts on the quick exit by the Capitals.

I could have written something following the loss, but it would not have been kind in the very least to the boys I have followed since childhood. And that isn't really fair. I wanted to give it some time, let the Caps sort of explain themselves and wait for the raw emotions to subside.

Looking back, all I feel is immense disappointment. Their season was one for the history books. We have seen how crazy good this team can be, even if they have to do it after two really bad periods. Like Mike Green said, it was a missed opportunity and we will have to wait another 82 games for another crack at it. Right now that seems a lifetime away, probably longer for the 23 guys in that locker room too.

Before, during the rebuilding phase, we could laud over individual achievements of Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and Mike Green. This year, when those individual accolades fall to the wayside, we were certain it was because the Capitals would sacrifice that hardware for Lord Stanley's Cup. But that didn't happen, not this year.

The playoff series in particular, I felt Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom were on an island compared to the rest of the team. The pressure for one line to produce not only 5 on 5 but also on the power play was just too much with no goal support. The Capitals blue line only mustered two goals for the entire seven game series. Alex Semin, Mike Green and Tomas Fleischmann were held off the scoresheet completely. For the Capitals to win, they needed those players to be their best, they weren't.

Mike Green's worst enemy is himself. If it is not his hockey stick that is no longer in production, then it is him changing his game to answer the critics. Hearing his interview a few days following the end of the season was in a way a bit of a let down in terms of explanation of the way he played.

After not being picked for Team Canada at the Olympics, many of his critics suddenly had a foot hold on complaints of the defensemen's style of play. I understand that, many think he is less of a defenseman and more of a forward on the blue line. But Green took that as a personal insult and changed his game to prove his critics wrong. What most of those who are Green haters fail to see, is that Green is a pretty good defender and a hell of an offensive threat. That is what he has always been, no more, no less. And that is what Caps' fans loved about him. But it got to Green, and he changed how he played at the worst possible moment, the playoffs.

You can't blame Green for everything, there were others that could have put forth a better effort in the post season. With hindsight 20/20, it is easy to pick apart where coaches and players went wrong. Like I always say, sometimes you lose when you play a game, it's what you learn from it and how you adjust for next time. That means looking forward with the lessons we have learned.

Tomorrow, I will take a look at what is ahead of the Capitals, and my thoughts on where the team should go next. That is cause to shake the hockey blues.

Caps Notes:
  • Some more accolades for the Capitals have spewed out this week. The Players Association came out the finalist for the Ted Lindsey award, and much like the Hart finalist Alex Ovechkin is joined by Sidney Crosby and Henrik Sedin. George McPhee gets recognition for his work in the first ever General Manager award. Jose Theodore got the nod for the Bill Masterson award given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.