Monday, July 18, 2011

Off Season Doldrums

In the words of an assistant coach, "Development camp is... development camp". It is no more or less of what you make of it. For the Capital brass, it is more about inventory. What do they have and what can they use down the line. Rosters are not set because of last week, and no eyebrows were really raised. Take from it what you want, but it is simply a gauge that some players will be measured at when fall camp takes place.

17 year old Garrett Haar turned heads with his play (what a fantastic first name too). It even compelled a general manager to call in a favor with Boston College to get the prospect a chance to continue his development at the NCAA level. Not bad. "Just have to have the right school come through for him here," George McPhee stated about Haar's development and the "I can neither confirm nor deny" way of telling the media he wants to see him improve in the NCAA.

Cody Eakin, the new dark horse to make the roster since pint sized Chris Bourque (who also returned to the organization this off season), had a pretty flat camp. That was to be expected since he played some pretty spectacular hockey just 5 weeks ago. "I think he will be ready in September," scoffed GMGM. Take that critics.

Caps new play thing from Sweden, Mattias Sjogren, looked out of sorts at times. It was to be expected from a European player faced with North American hockey up close and personal for the first time. Good thing he is taking this experience as a learning tool to prepare him for camp. "It is just about orientation," McPhee said of his summer signing Swede. "He has probably not been in too many games where they are hitting and scrapping like this."

The slew of other players did okay, or did alright. No one knocked the socks off the coaching staff. When the big boys come to town, one will see the difference between professional athletes and prospects that might never see the light of Hershey (Josh Godfrey ring a bell?).

What took most people by surprise was the gigantic red wall that was once white behind the stands at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. It took awhile to get used to it along with the team secondary eagle logo and "Home of the Washington Capitals" sprawled along the side. Just in case you did not know where you were.

It is more important for the fans in way than it is for the players or coaches. Fans will not see the red, white and blue for another month, month and a half as we have reached the dead zone for hockey in Washington DC. The long period where replays of the recent playoff stretch dominates the NHL Network and news travels the speed of print journalism.

Getting through this period of time takes a bit of patience and a little luck that the Washington Nationals are actually flirting with the idea of staying above the .500 mark for the rest of the season. The other is to talk hockey with friends and family or any one who will listen. I have had the same conversation 5 times with another hockey fan at work about Tomas Vokoun, and I am sure we will discuss it again this morning.

It sucks, but hold out hope. The season is not as far away as you might think and you have the bloggers who will speculate, the writers who will fact find, and Bruce Boudreau's ketchup smeared face on DVR recordings of 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic (oh, you didn't save those, bad fan!).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Alzner's In

The Washington Capitals wrapped up some RFA business by signing Karl Alzner to a two year contract. The estimated contract is worth $2.57 million ($1.3 this season, $1.27 next, cap hit just under $1.3 million). Per Wash Caps PR:
The Washington Capitals have re-signed defenseman Karl Alzner to a two-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We are pleased to have re-signed Karl Alzner to a two-year contract,” said McPhee. “We feel he’s an important part of our defensive core who logs critical minutes against other teams’ top players.”

Alzner, 22, recently completed his first full season in the NHL, playing in all 82 games with the Capitals and posting career highs in goals (two), assists (10), points (12), penalty minutes (24) and plus/minus (+14). His 132 blocked shots were third on the team while his 98 hits were tied for seventh. Alzner was one of just three NHL defenseman aged 22 and younger to play in all 82 regular-season games. In addition, he ranked sixth on the team in average time on ice per game (20:00). The Burnaby, British Columbia, native recorded an assist in nine playoff games and was tied for second on the team with 20 blocked shots.

From 2008 through 2010, Alzner appeared in 103 AHL games with the Hershey Bears, collecting 41 points (seven goals, 34 assists) and a plus-57 rating while helping lead the team to the 2010 Calder Cup championship.

A two-time gold medalist at the IIHF World Junior Championship with Canada, Alzner captained the Canadian team in 2007-08 and was named one of the team’s top three players by the coaching staff. Alzner also represented Canada in the 2007 Canada/Russia Super Series and played for the WHL team in the 2006 Canada-Russia Challenge.

The 6’3”, 206-pound blueliner collected 117 points (19 goals, 98 assists) in 260 games with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League (WHL) from 2004-2008 and was named the WHL Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year in 2007-08.

Alzner was drafted by Washington in the first round (5th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Just When You Figured GM Out...

The Washington Capitals looked like they had goaltending set. But George McPhee thought bringing in some veteran presence wouldn't hurt either. The Caps sign Tomas Vokoun to a one year contract worth $1.5 million. Vokoun, rumored to be traded at the deadline last year to the Capitals now signs a contract with them.

"We are excited to add an elite veteran goaltender to the Capitals," said McPhee. "We now have a nice blend of talent, depth, experience and youth in the goaltending position."

Drafted in 1994 by the Montreal Canadiens, he was a long time Nashville Predator then Florida Panther. He is a goaltender the Capitals know well in the three games he played against them, he won all three with a .969 save percentage and a .98 GAA. Vokoun had a shutout streak of 142:04 last year to start the season.

Vokoun is a solid goaltender who seems to thrive on big games and plays tougher teams tough. But when things go wrong, they go wrong in a hurry for the 34 year old goaltender.

The Capitals looked like they were going to lean hard on their youth when they traded the rights to Russian goaltender Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for a pair of picks in next year's draft. McPhee instead brought in some proven backstopping in Vokoun to fill the gap left by Varly. 

Caps Notes:
  • Capitals also signed another player that has played for them in Chris Bourque. Bourque spent last season with two teams in the KHL and has been signed to a 1 year contract.
  • Matt Bradley signed with the Florida Panthers with a 2 year deal. Bradley will join former Caps Jose Theodore and Tomas Fleischmann.
  • Roman Hamrlik addressed the media via conference call and he talked about his time dwindling in the NHL.
    “It’s a really good team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup,” Hamrlik said. “The decision was clearly made. The money was not an issue. I’m not getting any younger and I really like that team. We played against [the Caps] in the playoffs and always watch them play, and it’s an honor to play for the Washington Capitals."

Friday, July 01, 2011

McPhee Flys Through Free Agency

The Washington Capitals' general manager George McPhee is a pretty simple kind of team builder. He pushed through NHL drafts stockpiling his farm team as he goes. When a hole opens up, he simply looks down his depth chart in Hershey and systematically fills positions with players he has observed and players he knows well. Very rarely has he gone outside that system unless there is a missing piece that needs replacing.

It was really no different in this year's free agency. Faced with a series of gaps in his team, McPhee simply looked to what he needed and focused on the players he wanted. He didn't jeopardize what he had built through countless good draft picks and trades in which he acquired youth and talent in a way that benefited the team he was molding.

He had some holes, mainly at the center position. With Boyd Gordon likely to test the market, McPhee didn't wait around and pulled the trigger to sign Jeff Halpern, a player he knows well, to a one year $825,000 contract (basically for rock bottom price). Too bad for Halpern they retired #11 for Mike Gartner.

McPhee also brought in a gritty, hard working forward in Joel Ward from Nashville. Ward was signed to a four year deal reportedly at $3 million a season. He amassed 29 points in 80 games this season, but his playoff numbers were fantastic with seven goals, six assists in 12 games played. GMGM brings in a fast skater and hard nose forward to the table in Ward.

There was some question on the blue line for the Capitals last season, so McPhee addressed that through free agency by resigning Sean Collins and signing Roman Hamrlik to a two year, $7 million deal. Hamrlik (a possible trade deadline chase for the Capitals in March), had 29 assists last season and was the Canadiens shut down guy. Hamrlik was fourth last season in blocked shots (192) and led the team in February in points (9, tied with 3 others), assists (9, led all NHL defensemen) and blocked shots (35).

McPhee also had a tough choice to make in goaltender. Semyon Varlamov was traded to free up the traffic jam of goaltenders caught in the Caps farm system. Varly spent a good portion of the season fighting for the number one spot with Michal Neuvirth. But injuries kept him out of the line up and there are rumors he will forgo the NHL to return to Russia to play in the KHL. McPhee traded the goaltender to at least get something in return. Which was Colorado's first round pick in 2012's draft and a second round pick in either '12 or '13.

This allows the Capitals to call up Braden Holtby, who is starting to show some promise, to fill the role of back up or even fight Neuvirth for the number one spot. The jam of good goaltenders through out the system made it difficult to pick a clear winner, but McPhee cleared up the mess and got something worthwhile for it in the end.

On a grading scale:

Signed Roman Hamrlik, 2 years $7 million: A+

Signed Jeff Halpern, 1 year $825,000: C

Signed Joel Ward, 4 year $12 million: B

Acquired 1st round draft pick '12, 2nd round in '12 or '13 for Semyon Varlamov: A

A busy day for George McPhee. But he did make his team much better. Add the re-signing of Brooks Laich and the trade for Troy Brouwer, the Caps are looking to make things uncomfortable in the Eastern Conference.

Caps Notes:
  • Hershey had a minor signing of Ryan Polutny and Matthew Ford. Both most likely will stay with the Bears for the season. 
  • Former Capitals Jose Theodore, Nolan Yonkman and Tomas Fleischmann have returned to the Southeast Division with the Florida Panthers organization.
  • Phoenix Coyotes signed Boyd Gordon to a 2 year $2.65 million contract.