Saturday, June 30, 2012

Caps Free Agent Primer

July 1 is the first day of free agency. What this means is that starting at noon, all the players without a current contract (or qualifying offer in the case of restricted free agents) are fair game to sign with whatever team they want. This year's potential big names are Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, while young defenseman Justin Schultz gave us an early taste of the games to be played before signing with Edmonton. So what does this mean for McPhee and the Capitals organization? If you believe what he says: A) Not much at all and B) You must be a recent fan.

By position, here is where Washington's roster stands as of this moment, with cap hits  in parentheses. Although all of the team's restricted free agents were extended qualifying offers, none of them have accepted and thus are not included.:

LW: Ovechkin ($9,538,462), Chimera ($1.75 mil)
RW: Brouwer ($2.35 mil), Ward ($3.0 mil)
C: Backstrom ($6.7 mil), Laich ($4.5 mil), Ribeiro ($5.0 mil), Johansson ($900k), Hendricks ($825k)
D: Alzner ($1.285 mil), Hamrlik (#3.5 mil), Orlov ($900k), Schultz ($2.75 mil), Erskine ($1.5 mil), Poti ($2.875 mil)
G: Holtby ($637,777), Neuvirth ($1.15 mil)

For those not willing to do the math, this leaves Washington with about $20.8 million to work with until they hit the new salary cap of $70.3 million. These numbers are of course subject to the new CBA, whenever that gets signed, but for now we work with the numbers we've got. That free space has to go toward signing the RFAs (whose qualifying offers currently come in at just under $8 million, and that number can be expected to go up) as well as any UFAs.

It's certainly worth noting that while Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson are both technically centers, they are often called to play on the wing. It is the general consensus that Johansson will play on the wing this year, while Laich's role may be a little murkier due to the emergence and relatively strong play of Mathieu Perreault, one of the team's RFAs. Speaking of RFAs, they are as follows: Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, Mike Green, and John Carlson. The latter three are expected to re-sign and stay with the team, while Perreault may or may not be long for DC depending on other moves. What is obvious, though, is that there are some gaps at wing. Even if Laich, Johansson, and Hendricks play on wing, that leaves a hole on the top-6 forwards, and possibly a bottom-6 role as well if MP85 moves after all. Matias Sjogren still has a shot to make the roster, while Stanislav Galiev is a dark horse candidate to skip the AHL and go straight to the NHL. Long story short? Expect a move, either to sign one of the top available scoring forwards, like my personal favorite (of who is left) P.A. Parenteau, or via trade. Many out there are expecting McPhee to make a play for a top-4 defenseman, but there is little indication that is either a reality or a necessity. Personally, I would be shocked if the Caps added another defenseman, and actually expect one or more to be moved in a trade for a top forward or in a salary dump *cough*Erskine*cough* to make room for a free agent. That said, Sheldon Souray and Matt Carle are possibilities to rock the red in 2012.

Then again, McPhee really could just stand pat, resign all the RFAs, call up Sjogren, and call it a day. I don't even think that is a bad idea, personally. It would leave a ton of salary cap room in case things don't pan out and a trade or signing needs to be made later on in the season.

Game on, folks.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

From the Draft: Rounds 2-7

It's a shame what takes place here the rest of the season...

The NHL Draft is divided into two days. Day one consists solely of the first round, largely due to the additional time needed for trades, negotiations, constant adjustments of priorities based on remaining players, and the general pomp and circumstance that surrounds the entire event. In a normal year, this lasts three to four hours, 2012 being no exception. The second day comprises the remaining six rounds, where there is no parading around, most of the big trades are done, and teams have finalized their priorities and draft rankings accordingly.
Some of these look familiar. I wasn't able
to get near the big one that isn't so familiar.

GMs don't even bother to get up from their tables at this point. In a normal year, this lasts four to five hours: a bit longer than the first round solely because there are 180 more picks and it is expected that the GMs and scouts will deliberate for more than eight seconds before making a pick. This year's second through seventh rounds were scheduled to take place from 10am unil 3pm. By 1pm, most people were done shopping at the Consol Energy Center gift shop and trying to figure out what the hell just happened and why did they pay fifteen dollars to park next to a demolition zone (R.I.P. Mellon Arena). There was barely time to blink before picks were announced, and when a team took more than thirty seconds to make a decision, we just assumed a trade was in the works. It was nuts, and allegations of collusion were being thrown around. OK, I was the only one, but come on. *Almost* three hours? Shenanigans.

"Columbus, you're on the clock!" "Nash: YEAH, HOWSON!"
Luckily, the Caps were happy to take part, using all eight of their remaining picks, having traded away only their/Boston's/Colorado's second round pick to Dallas just last night. McPhee seems to have woken up from a haze he was in the past couple years, because he continued to address specific
organizational needs rather than...well, whatever the heck he has been doing since 2009, if not earlier. Below is a brief recap of the players drafted, with minimal info. I am not scout, and most of these guys will not see significant, if any, NHL time. Many of them will spend time in Hershey, though, and overall the consensus is that McPhee did pretty well. If you already know the basics because you have read the other 143 blogs out there going into far more detail, please, enjoy the pictures and leave some comments about how you think McPhee did and how you feel about the future of the organization compared to last week.

  1. Third Round: With their first
    "Seriously, are they still booing us? We're so in their heads."
    pick of the day, and 77th overall, the Caps went with Chandler Stephenson, a 5' 11" 190lb forward that can play center and wing. He describes himself as "an offensive forward...trying to change to a two-way forward [and] fix the defensive part of my game." His name was a no-show in the draft preview booklet handed to all in attendance,so there was a bit of head scratching by people like me who don't know much about anyone in juniors. By many accounts Stephenson is a capable player with future NHL potential. Still probably picked a little high, though.

  2. Fourth Round, pt. 1: The Caps had two fourth round picks, having received one from Winnipeg last summer in exchange for Eric Fehr (see my post from then for my feelings on that), and with the Jets' pick (#100 overall), McPhee opted for center Thomas Di Pauli. An 18 year-old two-way forward, he clocks in at 5' 11" and 188lbs. Much of the chatter surrounding Di Pauli was focused on his backstory, but more importantly his attitude and work ethic got high praise. With the right opportunities, natural skills, and coaching, that can translate to a future roster spot. It's hard not to root for a kid like that. If he does make the lineup, expect even more Pauly D references in the locker room. Mike Green will lose his mind.

    Malcolm Subban signing autographs for a bunch of
    people who were booing him only 18 hours earlier.
  3. Fourth Round, pt. 2: The Capitals own fourth rounder was number 107, where they added right winger Austin Wuthrich. The 6' 1" forward weighed in at 190lbs., and was also part of the U.S. national team development program, a growing theme among the day's picks. He and Di Pauli were teammates on the developmental squad, will play together at Notre Dame, and both heard their names announced by Washington's own GMGM. He got some good pixels on the twitters, and was the fourth forward in a row selected to play in DC's system.

  4. Fifth Round: At #137, the Caps finally got the memo and drafted a defenseman: 5' 11" Connor Carrick, weighing in at 185lbs, described as a mobile defenseman and strong skater with good instincts as a puck-mover. By this point in the draft, realistic expectations of making the NHL have pretty much tailed off, with only the exceptional proving people wrong. It might be just the nature of the talk surrounding the draft, and prognosticators wanting to focus on the good, but once again, there was a lot of solid chatter about McPhee's pick.

  5. Sixth Round: Right winger Riler Barber was the 167th overall selection. Yet another 5' 11" player, he is a liiittle heavier at 194, and kept pace with the trend of being a pleasing pick.

  6. Seventh Round, Episode IV: This one came courtesy of Calgary, part of an oooold trade way back in 2009. This pick was once called "future considerations," and those considerations were obtained for the possible services of Keith Seabrook (he plays for the Panthers' AHL team now). The 195th pick was used on Swedish defenseman Christian Djoos (that's Juice to you). He has a good bit of filling out to do, weighing a mere 158 while being as tall as pretty much everyone else picked. If you don't know what the height is... well I don't blame you for not really reading this far down.

    General Admission. Shame I couldn't get Admiral Admission seats.
  7. Seventh Round, Episode V: At #197 Washington was apparently still reading the "get defensemen" memo from the previous night, going with another blueliner. Unlike practically everyone else, Jaynen Rissling is what we call 'round here a "big-un." At 6' 4" and 223lbs., he is inexplicably described as "more of a physical player.” A big, physical defenseman. Maybe he should train Jeff Schultz a little bit.

  8. Seventh Round, Episode VI: Finally, at number 203, the pick acquired from host team Pittsburgh in exchange for the rights to Vokoun, Washington selected their first Russian,
    Honestly, it felt like they were trying to make ice again.
    I don't blame them for wanting to get out early.
    goaltender Sergei Kostenko. He followed the rules like most of the other kids, sized up at 5' 11" and 187lbs. He also provided one amusingly awesome story. When you don't really expect to go much higher than the fifth round, and you live on the opposite side of Earth, you tend not to make the trip to have a jersey thrown at you as the scouts and GM suck down coffee and whatever lunch they have left. Instead, you hang out with your buddy at home, tracking the internet like some schmuck fan to find out your fate. Sometimes, your buddy is a hockey player, too. In Kostenko's case, that buddy is a hockey player, and he is Capitals defenseman Dmitri Orlov. I imagine when they sober up from celebrating, Orlov will help him develop those goaltending skills by firing his already terrifying slapshot at him. Then again, they're in Russia. They might not wait to sober up.
Even if you're the last pick, in the draft, you are still an NHL draft pick, something that only about 210 kids a year, worldwide, get to say. That's special. That's life-changing. Not everybody can be Ovechkin (1st overall, 2004), and not everybody can be Patric Hornqvist (RW for the Predators, 230th overall, last pick, 2005, 80-69-149 in 263 NHL games), but they are all given the opportunity that so few who play and love the sport are. Congratulations to all of these kids, and they are still kids, and best of luck. I hope to see them all rock the red one day and make Lord Stanley proud.

Lean back, McPhee. You earned it this weekend.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

From the Draft: Round 1

Thanks to a bit of fortune, all of which is due to Jen, the woman behind the must-follow @NHLHistoryGirl twitter account, I was able to attend the NHL Draft tonight. I will be back there tomorrow morning, too. As you may have heard by now, the Capitals had a pretty good night. I would go as far as to say that June 22, 2012 might be known to me as "The Night that McPhee Redeemed Himself." If you have paid much attention to me at all over the past year, that should say a lot. Three big points of interest from the evening:

  1. The Trade. You know that whole second line center issue that has plagued Washington for years? That's settled now. In a steal of a trade, Cody Eakin and this year's second round pick were sent to the Dallas Stars in exchanged for Mike Ribeiro, their top scorer over the past five years. The second rounder was not much of a loss, since we only technically got it a couple weeks ago. Moving Eakin may hurt for a lot of people. He has grown to be a fan favorite, the ginger call-up, the Caps organization's answer to Ron Weasley. On top of that, he was one of the top prospects in the system, a kid with a lot of potential to make an NHL roster. Unfortunately, he seemed slated for a third line role in DC, and that particular line was facing a logjam, especially at center. Luckily for him, Dallas can use someone with his talents, and they will. While it may be sad to see him go, this is ultimately the best thing for him, because he will get a lot more playing time with the Stars, and that's what he needs to fully develop his skills. In return, McPhee was able to steal Ribeiro away. Why do I keep saying steal? Because Ribeiro is consistently good for 18-20 goals, at least 60 points, and about 150 shots on the season. Because his now former teammate tweeted this. Because he is 32, and he can be a bit of an agitator. Because he makes those around him better players. Just ask James Neal and Loui Eriksson. In short, he is a top-notch second line center, and precisely the kind of player the Caps can use at even strength and on the power play. Well done, McPhee
  2. The Unexpected Pick. With the 11th pick in the draft, the Caps chose Filip Forsberg, a winger that was the consensus pick as the top European forward player. He hails, as you may have guessed, from that hockey wasteland called Sweden (I mean seriously, has anyone good ever come from there...?). So why was it unexpected? Because damn near nobody had him making it out of the top ten, if not the top five. Seriously, as I sat there, fans in person and on Twitter kept predicting Forsberg would be picked next from about the 4th pick on. McPhee himself admitted he did not expect the young Swede would be available, so he had not really talked to him much prior to drafting him. It might also explain the lengthy delay the Caps team caused while deliberating their pick, a delay that apparently caught the ire of Bettman, who felt the need to rile up the yinzers by reminding Washington that they were on the clock. Drafting, especially in the first round, takes a lot of prep work, a lot of resarch, and just because someone of Forsberg's potential caliber is available does not make it a sure thing that he is the sort of player that fits into your team's plans. Look no further than him falling to 11th, and to the fact that the top ten picks were absolutely dominated by defensemen. McPhee's squad had to go through the unexpected, but pleasant, surprise of having to reevaluate their plans when Filip and supposedly-top-three pick Grigorenko (he would be chosen immediately after Forsberg) were still available. He is expected to be a top six forward within three years, if not two. 
  3. The Tough Guy. During the Finals, I mentioned to my friend Meesh (@HockeyMeesh, writer of CrosbyFTW and Kings blogger for The Hockey Writers...kid knows hockey and writing) that I wish the Caps would just play the same style as the Kings. He laughed, because obviously everybody wanted to play like the Kings, given their postseason rampage. Of course I knew that, and that it sounded stupidly obvious, but I believed the Caps had the roster ready to roll if only a coach would implement the system. He countered that the Kings had size that was severely lacking in Washington. Well, the Caps have a little more in the system now than they did yesterday. With the 16th overall pick, McPhee and company went with Thomas Wilson, a 6' 4", 203 lb. winger that was the consensus "toughest player" in the entire draft. The guy even won an award for best body checker! Toward the end of the season, he started to show a bit of a scoring touch, as well. Numerous comparisons were made to Milan Lucic, though some cautioned he might not have quite as much upside as the Bruin's notorious pest. Still, he is expected to be a top-level third liner, possibly a second line player. Even better? Wilson says he still has to fill out. This after a highlight reel was shown that drew a couple "oohs" from the crowd as some of his hits were shown.
Forsberg and Wilson will not have an immediate impact, and no matter what you think of a pick, they can surprise you. Here is hoping the two end up more like Backstrom and Lucic than Anton Gustafsson and Todd Ford. If so, McPhee just went a long way toward building an absolutely fearsome team in 2014-2015 in one night, and that is no small feat. Not to mention making a move that solves the 2C problem, starts to alleviate a crowded group of third line quality players, and gives one of those players the chance to flourish with a good team that claims to have wanted him for quite some time... it was a great night. The right players were moved and acquired, and with nary any controversy... and that is the kind of thing McPhee has not done for about two years now. I was impressed, I did not think he had it in him anymore. On to Rounds 2-7, where I'm sure more work will be done.

Oh, and this happened:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Let's Try Something Different

Don't worry, I'm not going to do what everyone thinks I'm gonna do and FLIP OUT, man! At least not yet. Seriously, if you've read like even one post from this season, or more than two hockey tweets of mine, you'd know that I am far more shocked that the Caps season lasted as long as it did rather than ending in the second round. But before I start writing about all the problems and how to address them, I want to point out that there are a number of good things to look forward to for next season. Is that because I think it's a lot easier and quicker to talk about those than the bad stuff? Partially, yeah. Over the next few weeks I will probably have several posts for y'all about my thoughts on this season, individual players, management and coaching strategies, free agency, and of course next season. But for now:
  • Let's look at the fact that they did in fact make it to within a goal of the conference finals. Sure, we're all sick of Game 7 losses over the past... well, forever, but they did win their first-ever road game seven. They took out the defending champs. They held damn near even with the top team in the conference, and the rookie goalie matched the almost-certain Vezina winner shot-for-shot.
  • Expanding on that: You gotta believe we finally have a franchise goalie, a clear number one in Braden Holtby. Granted, I still think we did with Varlamov, but it is an accepted fact these days that between the coaching, management, and perhaps most importantly, the (lack of) medical care, Varly's future in DC was limited. Holtby was lights out, displaying skills and confidence nearly unseen in rookie goaltenders. If you think Neuvirth should still have any claim on the starting job, despite being the statistically worst goalie to wear a Caps jersey in every single season he has played, then GTFO and go watch another sport, we don't need you here in hockey land. I know this includes a majority of Washington bloggers, but these same people also expected a banner year for the team and think/thought that Fleischmann is a streaky hockey player (he has 82 points in 104 games since being traded).
  • The effectiveness of the team's commitment to "defense" (I am still not sure I'd go as far as saying the Caps are an elite defensive squad the way they give up shots and scoring chances) may be questionable at best, but it has showcased the team's talent for shot-blocking. In an ideal world, you don't want to ever have to block a shot, but knowing your guys can and will do so, and do it well, is great going forward.
  • Sophomore slumps happen. Just ask John Carlson, and to a lesser extent, Marcus Johansson. On a lot of teams in the league, their seasons wouldn't be considered disappointments. Be grateful that the Caps have a couple young players with such high expectations based fairly on the respective players' skills that an average season is considered a letdown. I have both of them pegged for big comeback seasons.
  • Goodbye to Dale Hunter. Last offseason, I was one of the people who was hoping he would in fact be called in to coach in place of Boudreau. I also thought, clearly incorrectly, that a guy with over 3,000 career points would be a bit more offensive minded in his coaching strategy with one of the most offensively talented teams in the league. It didn't take me long to retract my previous hopes and expectations about him, and he left the team almost immediately after Washington was eliminated. This is for the best, and it is a good sign that things will change, yet again.
  • Ovechkin showed signs of breaking out of his two season slump. He was scoring at a breakneck pace in the last quarter of the season, and he never really let up on his physical game, either. If nothing else good comes from this season, we do know that Ovechkin can play more defensively than people have given him credit for in the past, that his passion for winning has not diminished, and that his game is a bit more well-rounded than before. That all being said, here's hoping he puts that punk Stamkos in his place next year.
  • Chimera had a career season. I had him pegged as the team goat in my season preview, but he proved me wrong. So very wrong. The guy we saw on ice this season was the guy many thought McPhee got from the Blue Jackets a couple seasons ago. Chimera should be a lock for 3rd line left wing for the next couple seasons, and can hopefully continue to build on his surprisingly effective year.
  • America. Just thought I'd throw that in there. America is great. Don Cherry isn't from America.
  • Players like Jay Beagle are given the opportunity to display their worth in tight games. I still completely disagree with how much he was utilized given his limited skill set, but he showed that the team has a very solid fourth-line center signed and ready to go, and at this point any players that you know are a lock for a specific position are a huge help. Knowing what spots you have filled narrows down the spots in flux and figure out who is expendable elsewhere in the lineup. Kudos to Beags for his strong role playing and helping the team figure out one more piece of the puzzle along the way.
  • Stanislav Galiev may not yet be a name you all know. But he will be. He all but made a mockery of those around him in the QMJHL playoffs, and appears slated for a solid Caps training camp next preseason. Do not be surprised if (read: when) he gets a Caps sweater. He is Russian, he scores, and he has a personality. He is already active on twitter (@Galixon_97), and loves to self-promote. In short, he and Ovechkin will get along famously. Not to mention that other young Russian scoring phenom, Kuznetsov, would have someone else over here to convince him to leave the motherland behind in the coming years. Both youngsters have serious top-six potential in their first or second NHL seasons. All hope is not yet lost. It just might be delayed a bit.