Sunday, December 18, 2011

Avs-Caps Recap and Thoughts on Value

As life becomes more hectic, posts become more sporadic. But after a (very) brief back and forth with Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg, probably the best guy to follow for Caps stats) about Schultz's role on the team and trading, I felt compelled to say a bit more here.

For those of you who do not know, the Capitals lost to Colorado tonight 2-1. A couple quick thoughts on this before moving on to the rest:
  • McLeod, MacLeod, same dif. The point is, there can be only
    one (goal like that ever again or else I will get a sword and...)
    A lot of bloggers, fans, and game announcers called the first goal of the game, scored by the Avs' Cody McLeod from about five feet past the blue line, "fluky." I call it "Neuvirth needs to get his ass outta his head." (It's still ok to quote Boudreau and his staff, right?) That was pathetic, and if he had been paying any attention, maybe he would have put his glove up during the time it took that lob pass to make it him rather than waiting until it over his shoulder. A fluky goal banks off three players or a divot in the ice. That was a crap goal against a guy who has looked like little more than a crap goalie this season.
  • Glad to see Semin scored tonight, but it is unbelievable that it was only his sixth of the season. That puts him on a 16-17 goal pace. I cannot say enough times that I think Johansson is the wrong guy to center Sasha. Not a knock on MoJo, who I have generally been impressed with this season, but just looking at the reality that something is wrong here, and realizing that you can't force a pair or trio of players to be successful if their skillsets and styles simply do not mesh.
  • Knuble on the fourth line? Halpern playing wing on the second line? Halpern is a skilled guy. Knuble can grind it out with the best of them. But they don't belong where Hunter has put them recently. Neither has done poorly, mind you, but the team as a whole is not performing. The Avalanche and Jets are absolutely lesser teams that the Capitals should DOMINATE (yes, in capitals), not score a goal against in close, grinding games. Put the guys where they belong, where they have had success, and see that success return. Knuble belongs on the top line with Ovi and Backstrom. Halpern belongs on the fourth line centering Hendricks and another player. Play with the rest of the lineup as needed, but those five should be set in stone if you ask me, which I am assuming you did.
Ok, so what to do? The team, on paper, is a top-notch group of guys that should have no problem winning a cup. There are rookies and veterans, snipers and grinders, role players and elite talent. Our starting goalie is (was?) tied for the league lead in save percentage since the lockout. Leonsis has like ten dollars left to spend under the salary cap. Bruce Boudreau was fired when things took yet another turn. All the stops have supposedly been pulled out to win a Cup, and it has been the team's worst season in four years. A trade seems likely if nothing changes in the next week or two, but the way the team has performed, who would net anything of value?

The funny thing about value is that it's relative. There are a number of trades that appear to be "bad trades," but at the time they involved moving a player who simply did not work out with teammates, coaches, or both. I think that the Fleischmann trade was absolutely awful, for example, but Boudreau was clearly not going to give Flash the consistency and ice time that he needed to succeed. A point-per-game player for the Avs/Panthers and a useless bust of a defenseman for the Caps later, and it looks even worse. When a coach handicaps a player, or the talent on a team is such that a guy cannot be unleashed or properly utilized, it is probably best to move him sooner rather than later.

As bad as the team's record is, the fact remains that there is a lot of talent and a lot of money at all positions. I say move Jeff Schultz is the guy to move. I actually kind of like Schultz, and I think he can be a good d-man when he is paired with the right guy and the right system. But he has probably had one of the worst times adjusting to style changes since the Montreal series and last season's losing streak. Coach Hunter has benched him the past couple games in favor of (inferior player) John Erskine and (budding stud) rookie Dmitri Orlov. Mike Green isn't even in the lineup, and when he returns, someone else will have to be scratched or sent down to Hershey. Schultz also carries a not-insignificant cap hit of $2.75 million. Trading him for a draft pick simplifies a crowded blueline, frees up cap space, and hopefully gets Schultz some more NHL ice time. He has spent a lot of time on the top line with Mike Green during his stay in Washington, and he could fit in that role on a lot of other NHL teams. If he is not going to be used here, or if the style of play has changed so much that he is no longer a comfortable fit, I think it is best to move him now to help the team and help his career. Schultz's value in DC may have dropped as a result of the changes made over the last year, but he is still a valuable player in the league and should be able to net some decent value in terms of a second round draft pick and maybe a late round pick or prospect in a year that is supposed to have a strong draft.

Semin has been the name floated around in most rumors, and a year ago it made sense. When McPhee made the bone-headed move of giving him $6.7 million for this season, he skyrocketed Semin's face value. Any team looking to sign him has to determine if he is worth that much money while giving up something of value to the Capitals. At his current pace and level of play, he is not worth the money. That means that the Caps would not get $6.7 of value back in a trade, and would essentially be sending away a guy that has all the skill in the world, if not the desire, for someone that very likely does not have either. Not worth it for the team.

Then you have one of my favorite players: Mathieu Perreault. Perreault is a guy who is probably undervalued by the Capitals, and apparently especially by Hunter. His ice time has been absolutely pathetic, especially since Boudreau left. On a night when Cody Eakin was benched and Matt Hendricks had to sit five minutes for a fight, Perreault saw his lowest total ice time of the season, playing a measly 3:14, last on the team behind Hendy's 3:49. You better believe that there is a team out there aching for a young, hardworking forward that is in the top three for goals- and points-per-sixty minutes on his team. You also better believe that the Capitals would only get back in return what they value him at, and not what the other team would. However, much like Fleischmann, he would benefit greatly in his personal life if he was to be traded because he would surely see more ice time and greater development. But because he has the second-lowest cap hit of any forward on the team, and only if you include Jay Beagle, and because he would net very little in return, trading MP85 would be a pretty stupid move.

All of the players have fans, and all of them have value. They will not all be here when the trade deadline rolls around. Hopefully McPhee bucks his past trends of lousy trades and figures out how to properly judge value on the team under Hunter, and is able to extract the same or greater value from another GM. My vote is for Schultz, and to a lesser extent Erskine, who is a guy I think fits in between Sarge and Perreault on my makeshift value scale. Who is yours?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Caps @ Cats Recap, 12/5/11

Two-post night for me, so pardon the brevity of each. Not a whole lot of leadup necessary for my thoughts, so here they are:
  • Michal Neuvirth is looking more like the goalie I thought he was. Five goals against tonight, a couple of which he definitely should have had and three in the first period, continue a pretty terrible season for him so far. Not to say he didn't make some nice saves, but every goalie does every night, that's why they are in the NHL. He continues to bite way too hard when shooters skate wide, leaving waaayy too much of the net open behind him (See Goal #5 for reference), and falls into his butterfly position too early. The other teams are on to him, shoot for the top-right, and you'll probably score (See goals 1, 2, 3, and 5 for reference). Dave Prior is not working out as a good replacement for Arturs Irbe, who actually replaced Prior in the first place...
  • Jason Chimera continues his best-ever season, and putting him with Brooks Laich and Joel Ward looks like a genius move more and more as the season goes on. The offense is still there on the team, it just isn't where we thought it was. Then again, we knew Laich could score, that Chimera could skate, and that Ward had it in him (at least in one playoff series), so maybe this all should not be as surprising as it has been. So at least there is one bright spot on the team.
  • John Carlson had a helluva night, himself. Eight shots on net, three assists, a +3, and 26:04 of ice time. Wideman, too, had a helluva night, just not in quite the same way. Team-leading 29:00 of ice time, including 5:29 of shorthanded time on a night that saw three PPG against, two shots on net, no points, and a -1. Wideman, at times, has looked like a valuable addition to the team, and I honestly think he is, but a healthy Mike Green will lessen the burden on Wideman and allow him to be put back in his comfort zone.
  • Speaking of what'll happen when Mike Green comes back, count me among those that hope it does not involve sending Dmitri Orlov back down to Hershey. His puck-handling skills are absolutely incredible, as is his willingness to lay into the other team and contribute to the offense, adding his third assist in eight game tonight. Carlson, Alzner, Green, and Wideman are likely all guaranteed spots when #52 returns, and Hamrlik will likely keep his sweater, too. It might be time to move Schultz or Erskine to make room for #81. Definitely a situation to watch in the coming weeks.
  • Have to give credit where it is due: the Weiss-Fleischmann-Versteeg line continued to show just how dominant they are, with each player finishing a plus-one on the night. Weiss had three points with two on the PP, and Fleischmann assisted on Weiss' second goal of the night, which ended up as the game winner. Fleischmann, a former capital and "failed" 2C experiment, has been a point-per-game player since being traded out of Washington last season, earning 49 points in 49 games as of tonight. I, for one, always thought that if he played some solid minutes that he would perform, and I am happy to see that he is doing both these days. I would still rather the Caps won, but part of that is proper player management. I don't care what some of the more popular Washington bloggers say, moving Flash was a mistake, and I think the continued problems on the second line are evidence that the team is still paying for it. Here's hoping those issues are resolved sooner rather than later.
So the Capitals are now 1-3 under new coach Dale Hunter, allowing more than two goals for the first time, and against the team currently leading their division. Hunter was brought in, presumably, to make some changes. So far, I'm not sure that many have been made. I hope tonight was more of a fluke in a new system than more of the same from the old one, but the Caps should be a lot better than this. There is still time to right the ship, but losing division games is not a good way to start the healing. Next up, another game against Ottawa on Wednesday. Hopefully the boys can get Hunter his first regulation win and his first road win in the same game.

Early Thoughts on Realignment

It has been reported on Twitter tonight that the NHL Board of Governors has agreed on a four-conference realignment to being next season. Here are your new conferences:

Conference 1: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim, Colorado, Phoenix
Conference 2: Winnipeg, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus, Dallas, Minnestoa
Conference 3: Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Tampa Bay
Conference 4: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, New Jersey, Carolina, Washington

Let me start off by saying that I am not a fan of the four conference/division split solely because it will require an overhaul of the current NHL playoff format, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs is probably the best playoff series in sports today. That being said, a lot of this makes sense. A lot does not. Conference 1 makes the most sense, keeps the west coast teams together, and really spreads out the travel requirements pretty evenly. I have issues with the rest. I would like to say that just swapping Columbus and Carolina would make a lot of sense, but that ignores Conference 3. I don't know what map they were looking at during the meetings, but having both Florida teams in a conference with three Canadian teams and two New England teams seems off. Here is how I would attempt to create a bit more common sense:

Conference 1: As is
Conference 2: Winnipeg, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Minnesota, Dallas
Conference 3: Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Buffalo, Columbus, NY Rangers
Conference 4: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, NY Islanders, New Jersey, Carolina, Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida

You still end up with two 8-team and two 7-team conferences, but the travel schedules make a little bit more sense. Dallas will have one less northern city to travel to by removing Columbus. The Rangers are reunited with three of the other Original Six teams, and Columbus is in a conference that makes a lot more geographic sense. Conference 4 essentially becomes a mash-up of the Atlantic and Southeast conferences, building on some already fairly strong rivalries and requiring a good bit less travel for the Florida teams. If the NHL is going to embrace some radical changes, let's try to make those changes work for everyone.

Old is new all over again.
Either way, in terms of the Caps, more games against the Penguins and Flyers means more fire for the rekindling of old Patrick Division rivalries. Really, I think Capitals fans might get the best end of the stick out of anyone in this realignment, as the Conference 4 teams feature a lot of rivalries, top-notch teams, and budding young talent. It will certainly be an exciting year for mid-Atlantic puckheads, that's for sure.

A lot of teams will be helped by the ratings, especially the southern teams and Columbus. Dallas, too, gets a bit of a break by being away from the Pacific Division teams. I would love to hear people's thoughts on this. To date, I have not had a single comment on any of my posts, and I think this one is prime fodder for a little debate amongst my few readers. So, comment away!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cap - Pens Recap, 12/1/11

Been a minute since I wrote a recap, but I had to make sure to write one for this game. First time Crosby has led the Penguins against the Capitals in 11 months, and new head coach Dale Hunter has had a few days with the team to try and prepare them. Before I dive into my thoughts on the game, though, I just want to say congratulations to Bruce Boudreau on landing that coaching gig in Anaheim already. I was admittedly surprised he got the call so soon, and that he got the job the same night that the Ducks won a game, but I fully expected Anaheim to be his new home by the end of this year. As much as I ragged on him and called for him to be fired, I was still a little sad to see him go. After all, the team was its most successful in its history, let alone since my childhood, under his watch. Caps-Ducks games were my favorite ones to watch these past couple seasons, and I can only hope for a Stanley Cup matchup this year. I expect Gabby to be a great fit with the team and that they will have a lot of success together. Kudos to Bruce, good luck to him and his family as they adjust to a whole new part of the country, and hopefully we'll see him at Verizon Center before the start of the next season. Now, here are my five thoughts on tonight's game:

Soooo I go over there, skate left, then to the middle, and shoot?
  • As a certain Great One said: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." That was the story of the night for our boys in red, being held to a season-low 17 shots on goal, with only two of them in the third period. Hunter has his work cut out for him, because this kind of crap has been going on for far too long now with a team that features Alexes Ovechkin and Semin, Nick Backstrom, John Carlson, Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, and Marcus Johansson. We get it, you all miss Mike Green and he is a big part of getting the offense going. But he is not that big a part of the team that these guys can't even get shots on the net. Completely unacceptable, and I am sure that our new blue-suited coach will address it quite loudly in practice.
  • On the
    I know this photo is overused, but it is just so good...
    flip side of things, the Penguins were credited with 35 shots on goal, scoring on only two of them. Tonight, Vokoun looked like the goalie we all know him to be. Part of that was the all-around defensive play of the team, as the majority of those shots were low percentage chances from the outside. Crosby had 3 shots, Malkin had 7, neither had any points and Crosby even finished a -1. For about 90% of the night, I'd say stellar job limiting Pittsburgh's chances.
  • As has been the case with many a Washington team, the Capitals seem unable to catch a break, and seemingly must pay for every mistake made. Other teams have the occasional defensive breakdown or imperfect play and don't get scored on, but not our Caps. Both goals against came as a result of poor play by the guys in front of Vokoun. On goal #1, Vokes had no chance of making the save, because he played the puck and players perfectly. Schultz, on the other hand, has to stop that puck from getting across the crease, and Orlov has to be in tighter on his man under Dale Hunter's system. Schultz is cementing the idea that his +50 season was one of the all-time flukes in recent NHL memory, and is a prime candidate to ride the pine pony when Green returns. On the second goal, Eakin has to keep from turning over the puck, Johansson has to prevent Kennedy from keeping the puck and getting around him, and Erskine has to do better at being the last line of defense on what was essentially a 1-on-3. Carlson was not totally without blame, as he could have come in more, and Vokoun proooobably should have stopped that one, but it never should have progressed as far as it did in the first place.
  • Hits, hits, hits. Holy crap were there some hits. Hunter is making his influence known, as the Caps threw around their big bodies to the tune of 43 hits tonight. Ovechkin in particular was laying people out, looking a bit more like his old self in terms of physicality and speed. Washington has a lot of big players, and may be one of the biggest teams in the league. If they can keep this intimidating style of play up and rekindle their scoring touch, I will feel a lot better about this team.
  • I love
    Woooo! Who would have thought I'd be the go-to guy for goals?!
    being proven wrong about this team, mostly because I am such a pessimist when it comes to the Caps. Chimera, along with his linemates, has been an absolute joy to watch this season. A team-leading (!!??!?) 10 goals after tonight, the work of blazing speed and hard workalong the boards. This is the guy McPhee thought he was signing two years ago, and the work that Laich and Ward have done on what has to be the most expensive third line in the NHL is just great. All three are shutting down the opposition and adding crucial offense. This was the best thing that Boudreau left behind, and may be the only part of the forward lines that does not need to be touched. Congrats on reaching last year's goal total in just over 1/4 the time, Chimmer, and keep up the good work, Meat-n-Potatoes line.
  • BONUS THOUGHT! I love the youth and depth that Washington has, and the three guys I am keeping an eye on are Cody Eakin, Mathieu Perreault, and Dimitri Orlov. Orlov has looked incredible for a kid playing in his first handful of NHL games, absolutely embarrassing a few guys with his stick handling and hits. He has made some rookie mistakes, but overall I like his play a lot more than I like Schultz or Erskine's, or even Hamrlik's right now. I hope to see a few more games with him in the lineup, but as of right now I kind of hope he is here for good. Eakin, on the other hand, impressed early but has faltered as of late. He has gotten a much better shot at this lineup than Perreault has, despite starting the year off in Hershey. His ice time has gone up and he has played on the second line more often than not, but he looks as though he may just not be ready for the big time, even if he is on the cusp. A year with the Bears would do him a lot of good, and I think the organization would be better served by making that move sooner rather than later. Perreault has always been one of my favorite guys to watch, as he can be very speedy and tricky as the team's smallest player. Unfortunately, he just has not been given a consistent shot at staying in DC, all the while being attacked for his perceived "inconsistency." I have been saying this since he first got back-to-back healthy scratches, but how many other fourth liners set a 40-point pace? Halpern and Hendricks have suffered without him on their line, and the team as a whole has done a lot worse without him than with. If I am not mistaken (and correct me if I am), but he was the last player to be on ice for a goal against on the team. I hope he gets ice time and has the opportunity to show Hunter what he can do, but if not I hope he demands a trade as he absolutely should be playing in the NHL right now. 
Tonight marked the first time since before Dan Bylsma started coaching the Pens that Washington lost to Pittsburgh in regulation, but it had to come sometime. Two-thirds of the team's game seemed to be there, with very solid goaltending and a consistent and physical defensive effort. Nobody expected Hunter to turn this team around immediately, but back-to-back 2-1 losses show some early returns. Add in some offense, and the fans can breathe a little easier, not to mention McPhee. Looking forward to what you can do, Dale.