Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Remembering Luc Bourdon

Today is the third anniversary of the tragic death of Canucks defenseman Luc Bourdon. Bourdon was killed at age 21 when he lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into a tractor trailer near his hometown of Shippagan, New Brunswick in 2008. He was best friends with current Canucks winger Alex Burrows.
At the time of his death, Bourdon was considered by many to be the Canucks' best defensive prospect and was drafted by Vancouver 10th overall in 2005.  The 6'3", 211-pound blueliner made his NHL debut during the 2007-2008 season, scoring two goals in 20 games with the Canucks that year at the NHL level. He also played 41 games and tallied 14 points for the Canucks' top minor league affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
This may be a Capitals blog, but on days like this, we can all remember players with such potential who left us far too soon.
Here is the video of the pre-game ceremony the Canucks held in his honor before their season opener against the Calgary Flames in 2008:

Here is a video done by the Moose in his honor.

Rest in Peace, Luc.  The Canucks take on the Bruins in game one of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final this Wednesday at 8 P.M., live from Rogers Arena on the Vancouver waterfront.  I will be blogging each game of the Stanley Cup Final.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Report Card: Karl Alzner

In a rare turn of events, Alzner lets it rip against Ottawa.
Today I bring you the eighteenth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is defenseman Karl Alzner, who finished his third season within the organization this year.

Stats/Season Summary: Alzner played in all 82 games this year, one of only three Caps to do so.  In those 82 games, he tallied two goals, ten assists, a +14 rating, and 24 penalty minutes.  For almost all of the season, Alzner played on the top defensive pairing with John Carlson and had a breakout season in almost all respects.  Though his defensive partner, John Carlson, did most of the offense, Alzner proved his value as a defensive defenseman and blocked 132 shots, good for third on the team.  He also played big minutes on the penalty kill, helping DC vastly improve that part of their game.  In other words, he was great. Grade: A-
Role Play: His entire career, Alzner has not generated much offense but has instead focused on defense; this year, he brought that to the Caps in spades. Alzner used his size and skating ability very well throughout the year to cut off skating and passing lanes, block shots, and in general, just play good, sound defense.  He was cool and calm on the back end as well, rarely panicking, and he never looked out of place, simply remarkable for someone of his age, especially when you consider the minutes he played against the other team's top players. He exceeded all expectations for him. Grade: A
Playoffs: Alzner played in all nine playoff games, but struggled; he only recorded one assist and posted a -4 rating.  He did not take any penalties in the postseason, but in general was not very good.  He played okay during the Rangers series, but against Tampa he was generally lost.  This probably had something to do with the fact that John Carlson was injured and was either not able to play his normal minutes or was severely limited, but nevertheless he was not very good.  That being said, it's not like the collapse was mainly his fault. Grade: C
Future Potential: A restricted free agent, Alzner is 1-A on the "must-have" list among free agents this offseason behind Brooks Laich.  He and Carlson are a perfect match, and I am of the very strong opinion that they make each other better, which is why it is so essential that Washington holds on to him.  He is going to be a very good shutdown defenseman for a long time, and if the Caps ever win a Stanley Cup, he is going to be a big part of it. Grade: A

The next report card will be posed on May 30th and will feature winger Mike Knuble.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Report Card: Jeff Schultz

Hey now, Double Nickel!
Today I bring you the seventeenth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is stay at home defenseman Jeff Schultz, who finished his sixth season in the organization this year.

Stats/Season Summary: Schultz had a typically slow offensive year, tallying one goal and nine assists in 72 games to go along with a +6 rating and 12 penalty minutes.  He also finished second on the team in blocked shots, impressive when you consider he missed 10 games with a broken finger.  Sarge saw time on all three defensive pairings this year, and played with pretty much every other defenseman on the roster for at least two games.  He saw big minutes on the penalty kill and proved useful in many other facets of the game, though he did have the occasional disaster that led to the ire of Caps fans.  The problem with Schultz this year was that his +/- rating dropped over 45 points. Grade: C+
Role Play: For the most part, Schultz did exactly what he was supposed to.  He blocked alot of shots and he used his shot blocking ability well with his large frame.  Schultz's job isn't to score goals, it's to prevent them, and he did a (mostly) good job.  He may not be a gem in open ice, but he usually doesn't need to be. He was a big part of the Caps resurgence on the penalty kill, too.  "Double Nickel" (thanks Locker) did, however, suffer from pylon syndrome a few times, often at inopportune moments. Grade: C+
Playoffs: To no one's surprise, Schultz was held pointless in the nine playoff games he partook in this year, though he did have a +1 rating and six penalty minutes.  He was very good in the Rangers series, especially in the penalty kill, but struggled bigtime against the Lightning's bigger, more physical forwards, especially because he was asked to shoulder a bigger offensive load.  Especially in the fourth game, he was simply brutal, but by that point the series was over. Indifference. Grade: C-
Future Potential: Schultz is under contract for three more seasons at $2.75 million per; he isn't going anywhere.  The Caps need defensive defensemen like him, and he has earned his niche within the organization.  He's not flashy but he gets the job done for the most part, even if he is way overpaid.  There are worse things than having a shot-blocker in back. Grade: C

The next report card will be posted on May 27 and will feature defenseman Karl Alzner.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Report Card: Jason Arnott

Veteran center? Check.  Stanley Cup? Uh....next question.
Today I bring you the sixteenth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is veteran center Jason Arnott, who was acquired by the Capitals at this year's trading deadline.

Stats/Season Summary: Arnott played in 11 games as a Cap this year following his acquisition, accumulating four goals, three assists, a +3 rating, and eight penalty minutes.  He missed almost two weeks in mid-March with a minor knee surgery,  but kept up his production both before and after the procedure.  He spent almost all of his minutes on the second line, seeing some occasional work on the first and third units, and played on the power play as well. Grade: B
Role Play: When you are a veteran acquired at the trade deadline, your job is to come in and be a shot in the arm, as well as to provide leadership.  Arnott fit his role perfectly, making key plays or scoring key goals when he was healthy and immediately standing up and taking control of the locker room.  He stood right up to his billing as a veteran center and especially gratifying was his ability to coax the best out of Alexander Semin.  A job well done both by the GM and Arnie. Grade: A
Playoffs: Arnott had a very nice playoffs, finishing third on the team in postseason scoring with one goal and five assists in nine games, to go along with a +4 rating and two penalty minutes.  Two of those points came in game four of the Lightning series after it was effectively over, so that must be discounted a bit as well.  Nevertheless, he played well and didn't make any big mistakes that really cost his team.  He was solid when almost no one else was in Florida. Grade: B+
Future Potential: Arnott is no spring chicken.  He will be 38 by the time the season starts, and as an unrestricted free agent, it is unlikely that he will re-sign with the Caps because they don't have the money.  He is a valuable player with clearly a little bit of scoring touch left, so he will most likely end up on a young team or one with Stanley Cup aspirations.  His days of scoring big are done, but he will be a very good role player. Grade: B-

The next report card will be posted on May 26 and will feature defenseman Jeff Schultz.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Report Card: Semyon Varlamov

Careful! You'll pop your gr-...oh, no. Not again.
Today I bring you the fifteenth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is Russian goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who finished his third season within the organization this year.

Stats/Season Summary: Varlamov struggled with injuries for the second season in a row, and as a result, was only able to play in 27 games, 25 of them starts. When he was able to play, however, he was very good, compiling a 2.23 GAA, .924 save percentage, and two shutouts.  He only won 11 games, but that was largely in part due to awful goal support, which was near the bottom of the league in terms of average goals per game.  He was simply magnificent for stretches, particularly around the turn of the year, which included his excellent performance in the Winter Classic. Grade: B+
Role Play: Coming into the season, Varlamov was the presumptive number one goalie, but he got hurt in camp and as a result was never able to seize that role, which eventually was taken by Michal Neuvirth.  His job became the 1A goalie, the one with the talent but not the groin to play big minutes, and he filled that very well with stretches of brilliant play that helped the Caps win games.  Like I said before, he was very good pretty much all season, but just was never healthy for a long stretch.  He accepted his job with class as the year wound down, and he deserves props for that. Grade: B+
Playoffs: Though healthy, Varly did not get a start in the 2011 playoffs.
Future Potential: A restricted free agent, Varlamov has the talent to be an elite NHL goalie, but it all comes down to health with him.  He has proven that he can get the job done if his legs stay on.  DC owns his NHL rights no matter what, though he could got to the KHL, but ultimately, I think that the Caps will trade him. But no matter where he ends up, it will be with considerable risk, despite his elite talent. Grade: B+
The next report card will be posted on May 25th, and will feature center Jason Arnott.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Report Card: Jason Chimera

Jason took Manhattan...that was about it.
Today I bring you the fourteenth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is third-line winger Jason Chimera, who finished his second campaign with the Caps this year after coming over last season.
Stats/Season Summary: Chimera played in all but one game this year, in which he was a healthy scratch.  In those 81 games, he tallied 10 goals, 16 assists, a -10 rating, and 64 penalty minutes seeing time on all four lines, but predominantly on the third unit.  His form was either great or awful, as he struggled through a massive goal drought in the late winter that lasted almost two months, but also had stretches when he was producing almost a point every 2 games.  Those hot stretches earned him a spot on the top line for about two weeks at one point, but Chimera never gained enough consistency to really make a huge impact on a nightly basis.  He also struggled on defense, as evidenced by his poor +/- rating, the worst on the team. Grade: C
Role Play: Chimera has an excellent work ethic and is a great guy whose teammates love him, and for a third-liner, that is what you want.  When George McPhee acquired him from Columbus last year, he did it to bring in some veteran experience in a player who can still score a bit, and that's what Chimera does. He uses his speed to create chances at times and can be a havoc for opposing defenses, but as I said before, he often does struggle in his own zone and can put his team behind the 8-ball defensively.  For the most part, Washington needs more consistency and responsibility out of their 3rd line, however, despite his speed being an asset. Grade: C-
Playoffs: Chimera actually had a suprisingly productive playoffs for someone who was so unpredictable in the regular season.  He played in all nine games, tallying two goals and two assists to go along with a -3 rating and two penalty minutes.  Chimmer also scored one of the Caps' biggest goals of the playoffs, if not the biggest, when he used his speed to make Marian Gaborik panic and cashed a loose puck in double overtime in game four of the Rangers series to put DC up 3-1.  He was good. Grade: B
Future Potential: Chimera is under contract next season, and there is no reason to believe that he won't be back for another kick and the can next fall.  He's 32 years old, so he is moving out of his "prime" but barring some sensational camp from Cody Eakin or another prospect he should slide right back into his 3rd line role.  That's fine with me, but he's not going to be a gamebreaker. Grade: C+
Here's some video of that GWG against the Rangers.  Man, that was baller. Shame we had nothing left after that series, huh?

The next report card will be posted on May 23, and will feature goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Report Card: Dennis Wideman

If only brother Dennis could have stayed healthy...
Today I bring you the thirteenth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is puck-moving defenseman Dennis Wideman, who was acquired by the Caps at the trade deadline.

Stats/Season Summary: Wideman began his season with the Florida Panthers but was acquired by the Caps on February 28th for Jake Hauswirth and a third round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.  When he was with the Caps and healthy, Wideman was exactly what they Caps wanted when they traded for him.  In total, he suited up in 14 games for DC, recording a power play goal and six assists to go along with a +7 rating and four penalty minutes.  During a game on March 29, however, he suffered a nasty hematoma injury that forced him to miss the rest of the regular season and playoffs, and that really hurt the Caps in the second round. Grade: B
Role Play: Like a deadline acquisition is supposed to be, Wideman was a shot in the arm, taking pressure off of John Carlson and producing points from the back end at an excellent clip.  He offered the Caps a new dimension, especially with Mike Green out, and that was exactly what they needed, especially on the power play, which showed marked improvement when Wideman was healthy.  Mission accomplished, and a great pickup by the General Manager. Grade: A-
Playoffs: Wideman, despite encouraging progress in practice during the latter stages of April, was not able to make it onto the ice for a game during the 2011 playoffs. Grade: N/A
Future Potential: Wideman is under contract with the Caps for one more season, and should be fully healthy and removed from his injury by the time training camp rolls around.  If the Caps don't trade Mike Green, his presence will enable the Caps to have a puck-moving defenseman on every pairing, which will be a unique part of their game.  He will also play alot on the power play and his presence could help Bruce Boudreau (or whoever is behind the bench) to NOT have Alex Ovechkin run the point a man up.  He's still in his prime and he was great when he was healthy.  Who says he can't do it again? Grade: A-

The next report card will be posted on May 22, and will feature winger Jason Chimera.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Report Card: Boyd Gordon

The stick...has magical powers.
Today I give you the twelfth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs. Today's player is stalwart defensive center and Unrestricted FA Boyd Gordon, who finished his eighth season inside the organization this past year.
Stats/Season Summary: Gordo played in 60 games this year, with some of his missed time coming from nagging injuries around his lower body, but most of it coming between December 12 and January 12 with a right foot infection.  In those 60 games, he recorded three goals and six assists to go along with a -5 rating and 16 penalty minutes.  He was his usual solid self when he was on the ice, playing huge penalty kill minutes, and became even more important as DC's primary faceoff man when David Steckel was traded to the Devils.  He never looked overmatched and he held his own, providing a nice steady hand on that fourth line. Grade: B-
Role Play: When Gordon was healthy, he was exactly what the Capitals needed him to be.  He was reliable, he killed penalties, and he took key faceoffs late in games; the importance of none of that can be overstated.  He was exactly what Washington expected him to be.  Sometimes these are easy. Grade: B+
Playoffs: Gordon had a very quiet playoffs.  He played in all nine games but was held pointless and had a -1 rating along with six penalty minutes.  Some of his best play came in the Rangers series, but, like the rest of his teammates, something just wasn't right against the Bolts.  It's hard to discount him too much for that in my book. Grade: C+
Future Potential: An unrestricted free agent, Gordo is, to me, the #3 priority behind Brooks Laich and Karl Alzner in terms of re-signing players.  He'll be 28 early in the season, so he's certainly not getting old, and he is as versatile a fourth line player you can ask for.  He has earned his place on the Capitals and he has the ability to continue to fulfill that role very well.  Make it happen, GMGM (please). Grade: B
The next report card will be posted on May 20th, and will feature defenseman Dennis Wideman.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Report Card: Matt Bradley

Bradley stares into the soul of some hapless Penguin.
Today I give you the eleventh installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital through this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is hard-nosed winger Matt "The Professor" Bradley, who finished his fifth season in the organization this past year.
Stats/Season Summary: Like all of his fourth-line mates, Bradley had a predictably slow year.  Brads suited up for 61 games this year and tallied 4 goals, 7 assists, a -3 rating and 68 penalty minutes.  The right winger suffered a broken finger in December and missed the Winter Classic, but other than that did not miss any games due to injury (he was only a healthy scratch once).  When he was healthy however, Bradley was his typical self: an energy and role player with a little bit of offensive punch, some forechecking ability, and the skill to bleed epically while sticking up for his teammates.  He did struggle in his own zone at times, though, often in an obvious manner, which is why his ice time diminish as the season wore on. Grade: B-
Role Play: Bradley struggled at times in the defensive zone, which was a hamper on his overall effectiveness, but otherwise he did a good job of filling the "prototypical" fourth line role.  He was a good forechecker, he was physical, he killed penalties a bit, he fought, and he scored some goals.  Bradley was also a good veteran leader, earning an "A" a few nights from Bruce Boudreau and it is widely believed that he was and is a force in the locker room.  He did what was expected of him, for the most part. Grade: B-
Playoffs: As solid as Bradley was in the regular season, he was brutal in the playoffs.  He played in all nine games, but did not record a point and had a -3 rating to go along with four PIMs.  The fourth line as a whole struggled, so I give him a bit of a pass, but players like Brads have to step up bigtime in the playoffs for teams to go far. He did not. Grade: C-
Future Potential: Bradley is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and I do not see DC re-signing him unless he takes a pay cut.  He is a valuable player for sure because he knows the team and the system and people like him, but he is not irreplaceable like a Brooks Laich.  I like him and I hope Washington brings him back, and the issue here would be purely money-based, not performance-based. He will latch on somewhere because he's only 33, and be his usual self, it's just a question of where. Grade: C
Here's some video of one of the worst calls I've ever seen.  Complete with the professor taking roll call.

The next Report Card will be posted on May 20, and will feature center Boyd Gordon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Report Card: Braden Holtby

Whaddaya know?  He's, like, really good, and stuff.
Today I give you the tenth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital through this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is young goaltender Braden Holtby, who finished his second year in the organization this season.

Stats/Season Summary: Holtby had an excellent statistical season this year. The 21 year old played in 14 games, starting 12, and compiled a 10-2-2 record, 1.79 GAA, .934 Save%, and two shutouts.  He picked up the win in his NHL debut after he relieved Michal Neuvirth in a game against the Bruins, but then had a significant rough patch until he was sent back to the AHL following Semyon Varlamov's return to health.  After coming up quickly in January, he was basically given the starter's reigns following injuries to both Neuvy and Varly and ran with it, only allowing six goals over the six games he played in March (all wins). Grade: A-
Role Play: Holtby, as I said before, got off to a rough start during his first call-up, but the second and third times, he was absolute dynamite.  He was exactly what the Capitals needed him to be: a hot goaltender to plug in to their lineup without worrying about him in the net.  Holtby allowed the Caps to keep playing their game and made some unreal saves, and can be pointed to as a major catalyst in the turnaround that saw the Caps claim the top seed in the East.  In short, he did precisely what he was supposed to and more. Grade: A
Playoffs: Holtby was recalled by the Caps to be one of their "black aces" before the Tampa series, but never dressed for a game. Grade: N/A
Future Potential: Holtby is only 21, so he has plenty of development in front of him and projects as an elite NHL goalie.  He uses his size well and has great reflexes, including an exceptional glove hand, and he showed this season that when he gets hot, it is terribly hard to beat him.  The Capitals have an embarrassment of wealth at the goaltending position, and I still think one of their 3 will get traded this offseason, but Holtby will be a stud wherever he ends up. Grade: A
Here's some video of a ridiculous save Holtby made in Tampa in March.

The next report card will be posted on May 19 and will feature "The Professor" Matt Bradley.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Importance of Brooks Laich

This offseason, decisions will be made.  There is no doubt about that.  Several of these decisions are going to be very difficult to make for George McPhee, and in all likelihood, the Capitals are not going to able to retain all of their free agents, both restricted and unrestricted. In a salary-capped NHL, it is simply impossible to keep teams together for long periods of time.  As such, on July 1st at 12:00 AM ET, eight Caps will be become free agents: two restricted and six unrestricted.

Among those unrestricted will be utility man Brooks Laich, who saw significant ice time at all three forward spots this year and saw large minutes on the penalty kill and power play.  Laich played in all 82 games this year, one of only three Caps to do so (the others were John Carlson and Karl Alzner), tallying 16 goals and 32 assists, as well as a plus-14 rating.  But that only begins to explain what he means to this organization and it's fans, as well as the players.  You already know this, but I'll say it anyway: The Capitals cannot afford to let Brooks Laich walk.
Laich is one of the best and most respected leaders on the team, even though he does not usually wear and "A" on his chest for all the hockey world to see.  Laich has been in this organization through all of the ups and downs over the last six years, and he has seen the Caps go from worst to first and then collapse not once, but twice, but thrice in the playoffs.  When he talks, people listen.  There are not many players under the age of 30 who don't have gaudy offensive statistics who command as much respect as Laich does.  Washington needs more leaders like him.
Laich is a grinder and a two-way stud.  Almost nothing he does is sexy or will ever make a SportsCenter list of top plays, but all of it is important.  Brooksie does all of the little things, and he almost never makes mistakes that cost his team.  Heck, he even takes smart penalties.  It is widely considered by teammates and coaches that his work ethic is second to none.  He can play defensively or offensively equally well, and as I mentioned before, his penalty killing prowess was a huge part of the Caps' shift from one of the worst shorthanded teams in the league to one of the best.  If he didn't play on a team already loaded with big name "stars" he could be a nominee for the Selke Trophy. I still think he'll win it someday.
Laich is as intense as they come.  There's something about him that just screams it.  You could see it in his exit interview, he wants to win so badly.  For Laich, as is the case with pretty much every Cap, there is nothing more important to him than winning a Stanley Cup, but you just get the sense that he wants it more.  He wears his emotions on his sleeve and he lets you know how he feels; he never holds back.  He is, to me, the heart and soul of the team because of these things. Alex Ovechkin may be the captain and the leader in the eyes of the management, but if you take Brooks Laich out of the equation, this team takes a huge step backwards.  The fans love him.  And if the Caps ever win a Stanley Cup, you can bet that Brooks Laich will be a big part of it.

All of this being said, hanging on to Laich is going to be hard.  Unless Washington trades Alexander Semin or lets Scott Hannan walk, the money is going to be very hard to come up with.  Laich is a desirable player, for many reasons, and a team like Toronto or Los Angeles, who have young core players and alot of salary cap room, would snap Laich up in a heartbeat if the Caps didn't give him a dollar figure he was happy with.  He's only 27 and he is entering his prime.  Pay up, George.

Report Card: John Erskine

Erskine skates against the Rangers in January.
Today I give you the ninth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital through this past regular season and playoffs. Today's player is rugged stay at home defenseman John Erskine, who finished his fifth season in the organization this year.

Stats/Season Summary: Erskine had a great year statistically by his standards.  He played in 73 games, a career high by 21 games, and recorded four goals and seven assists to go along with 94 penalty minutes and a +1 rating.  The goals were a career high as well, as were the total points.  Any time that Erskine missed was, in general, because of injuries, he had a few lower-body injuries in the middle of the winter and then hurt his hand in March during a fight.  Overall, he had his best season ever across the board and he was able to emerge as a serviceable NHL defenseman, and he became somewhat of a fan favorite as a result. Grade: B
Role Play: Erskine did exactly what he was supposed to this year, carving out a role for himself in the regular lineup and having a career year for a team that suffered bad injuries on the back end.  Erskine also became the Caps' primary fighter on the back end and developed a reputation as a team-first player.  As a team's sixth defenseman, that is your job description: give a little offense, protect your teammates, and don't mess up bigtime.  For the most part, Erskine was able to do this with few exceptions.  Big John Studd played good. Grade: B
Playoffs: Erskine was solid again in the playoffs, playing in all nine games and recording a goal, an assist, a +1 rating and six penalty minutes.  Like in the regular season, he never looked fully out of place, though he did made a few bad plays in the Tampa series, but then again, so did everyone else.  His goal was a total fluke, but a goal is a goal.  I was convinced in the playoffs that his regular season wasn't a total fluke. Grade: B-
Future Potential: Erskine is signed through the next two years at $1.5 million per, so he probably isn't going anywhere when you factor in his great year this past season.  Erskine is a reliable play on the back end, and he should continue to be the sixth defenseman so long as the Caps don't sign sign Scott Hannan, which I don't think they should.  He has earned his keep, for now. Grade: B-
Here's some video of his best fight this year, against Atlanta's Eric Boulton.

The next report card will be posted on May 18th, and will feature goaltender Braden Holtby.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Report Card: Eric Fehr

Uno Seis in yo face? Ehhh, not quite. Not this year at least.
Today I give you the eighth installment in my "report card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital through this past regular season and playoffs. Today's player is oft-injured power forward Eric Fehr, who finished his sixth season in the organization this year.

Stats/Season Summary: Fehr played in 50 games this year, recording 10 goals, three of which came on the power play, and 10 assists to go along with an even +/- rating and 16 penalty minutes.  For the third consecutive season, however, he was plagued by shoulder injuries, missing 32 games with what has become a chronic shoulder problem.  Almost all of his games missed came between mid January and mid March, after he re-injured his shoulder in a game against Vancouver.  Despite his injury woes and inconsistency, however, Fehr scored two of the biggest regular season goals of the year; those would be both the game-winning and insurance goals in the Winter Classic. Grade: C+
Role Play: Fehr was given, at the start of the year, primary third line minutes and a shot on the power play, but again, could not find his consistency and then got injured to compound the problem.  Bruce Boudreau needed Fehr to step up as the year went on and the Caps suffered injuries and players' production declined, but the winger was not able to get it done before he got hurt.  The shoulder never fully healed, so I give him a large amount of credit for coming back and trying to gut it out.  But the fact remains that he was benched for the first three games of the playoffs and continues to fail to live up to the expectations that made him such a high draft pick. Grade: C
Playoffs: As I mentioned above, Fehr struggled so badly towards the end of the regular season that he was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the Rangers series.  Once he cracked the lineup due to Mike Knuble's injury, however, he stuck until game four of the Tampa series after Bruce Boudreau called him out following a brutal performance in game three.  In total he played in five games, scoring one goal to go along with a +3 rating and no penalty minutes. Grade: C-
Future Potential: Fehr had successful shoulder earlier this month, and he has now had multiple procedures on that one shoulder.  He is signed through next season at $2.2 million, and he has skill, so if he's healthy, he's going to be on the team, and depending on other moves the Caps may make, could compete for a top-six role.  There are some reports that he won't be ready for the start of training camp, however, and that could impact his ability to be ready for opening night.  He does have the skills to be a force, and he'll be 26 when the season starts.  With Fehr, it's all about health. Grade: C+
Here's some video of that second goal in the Winter Classic.

The next report card will be posted on May 16th, and will feature defenseman John Erskine.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Report Card: Marco Sturm

Ayyy, Marco!
Today I give you the seventh installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital through this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is winger Marco Sturm, who finished his first season with the Caps this year after coming over from LA.

Stats/Season Summary: Sturm was claimed off waivers in late February after starting the season with the Los Angeles Kings.  He suited up in 18 games for the Capitals, scoring one goal and adding six assists to go along with an even +/- rating and six penalty minutes.  The winger played almost all of his minutes on the second and third lines, though he did see a few shifts on the first and fourth lines as the season wore down, though that was more from Bruce Boudreau juggling than anything else.  The German also was a stabilizing veteran presence in the locker room.  Sturm did not miss a game due to injury while on the Caps, which was a major accomplishment for him; he sat out the regular season finale to rest. Grade: C+
Role Play: Sturm was brought in off the waiver wire to do exactly what he did: provide leadership in the locker room and add a little bit of scoring punch.  He didn't record even close to a point per game, but he wasn't expected to.  Sturm cost the Caps nothing in terms of personnel, only the $800,000 minimum he was paid because he was claimed off waivers.  He saw a little bit of power play and shorthanded ice and filled in no matter where he was needed on both the left and right wings, which was certainly another thing that George McPhee saw when he decided to claim him.  In short, he met expectations. Grade: B
Playoffs: Sturm played in all nine Caps playoff games, recording one goal and two assists to go along with a +1 rating and four penalty minutes.  He played okay in the Rangers series, only registering one assist, but was one of the few Caps who wasn't completely awful in the Tampa series, with a goal and a helper. He never looked out of place, but then again, he never was particularly good, either. Grade: C+
Future Potential: Sturm is only 32, but he has had several major knee surgeries in his career, including two in the last three years, so there is no reason for the Caps to bring the unrestricted free agent back.  They can fill his role with younger players.  Because he has the potential to score 20-25 if he can stay healthy, he will latch on somewhere, but it almost surely won't be with the Caps. Grade: C

The next report card will be posted on May 15th, and it will feature winger Eric Fehr.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Report Card: Mathieu Perreault

Perreault scored on this drive against the Habs in February.
Today I give you my sixth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital through this past regular season and playoffs. Today's player is Quebecois centerman Mathieu Perreault, who finished his fourth season in the organization this year.

Stats/Season Summary: Perreault played almost all of his 35 games this year during the middle of the year, getting essentially nightly call to the lineup between December 6th and February 25th.  In those 35 games, Matty P racked up 7 goals, 1 on the which was on the power play, and 7 assists to go along with a -3 rating and 20 penalty minutes.  Perreault's problem was that his production game in spurts; he was very inconsistent, as 10 of his 14 points came in 5 games, and it eventually led to his demotion for the rest of the regular season in late February. And when he wasn't producing, he looks out of sorts, losing coverage in the defensive zone and letting himself get knocked around a bit. Grade: C
Role Play: Perreault's role this year was very hard to figure out.  He went from beginning the year in Hershey to being recalled in December and then pulling pretty much full-time duty for almost three months, regardless of how he played, until his demotion.  Sometimes he skated on the fourth line, others he was the second line center and saw time on the first power play unit.  He was versatile, which there is always some value to, but he was, as I said before, very inconsistent, and he got lost in the wash by season's end.  Like most of the Caps' young players, though, he always had a smile on his face and worked hard, just like a call-up should. Grade: C+
Playoffs: Perreault was recalled to the Caps as one of their "Black Aces" after the Bears lost in the playoffs, but never cracked the lineup. Grade: N/A
Future Potential: Perreault is a restricted free agent, so if the Caps bring him back, it will likely be on a two-way deal that could help the Caps avoid too big a hit on their salary cap.  He is a skilled and speedy center, so he is a valuable player to keep around, and I think that George McPhee and Boudreau like his ceiling if he could only find some consistency.  If he remains in the organization, he could have a shot at the third line center role (presuming DC doesn't keep Jason Arnott) during training camp, but otherwise he may end up in Hershey again.  He could also end up getting traded for a draft pick.  Again, with 85, it's all about consistency to take his game to the next level. Grade: B-
Here's some video of a goal he scored against the Hurricanes in late December. Sorry the audio is a bit out of sync, Joe B got a little ahead of himself.

The next report card will be posted on May 14th and will feature Marco Sturm.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Should the Caps Trade Alexander Semin?

This offseason, decisions will be made.  There is no doubt about that.  Several of these decisions are going to be very difficult to make for George McPhee, and in all likelihood, the Capitals are not going to able to retain all of their free agents, both restricted and unrestricted. In a salary-capped NHL, it is simply impossible to keep teams together for long periods of time.  As such, on July 1st at 12:00 AM ET, eight Caps will be become free agents: two restricted and six unrestricted.
Among those who will not be a free agent, however, is Russian winger Alexander Semin, who has been a Capital his entire NHL career.  Semin, who was originally supposed to be an unrestricted agent this offseason, was extended in January with a one-year, $6.7 million deal that will make him an unrestricted free agent next summer.
However, with another season of playoff heartbreak etched in stone, some have called for one of the Caps' so-called "young guns" to be dealt, and to bring in new talent in their stead.  Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom aren't going anywhere, and Mike Green is an elite defenseman when he's healthy, so I don't see him going either.  And that leaves Semin.  So let's have ourselves a little look-see:
Those Opposed: When Sasha is on, very few in the NHL can be as dominating as he can; he has the ability to totally take over games. He's dynamic, he's electric, and he's fun to watch.  The names Ovechkin, Crosby (yes, him, he's very good, get over it), and Datsyuk come to mind when comparing Semin's individual skill, his hands, and his speed.  In his five NHL seasons, he has never scored fewer than 26 goals and has never totaled fewer than 42 points; both of those totals came in 2007-2008.  He has scored over 30 goals three season, including one when he scored 40, and has averaged over a point per game twice. As I said before, he has the ability to take over games, he netted four hat tricks this year, and the Caps won every game.  Washington also only lost twice in regulation when Semin scored a goal.  He's offers the Caps an attacking penalty kill forward and he obviously is an asset on the power play because of his skill. He is, in short, a very valuable player.
Those In Favor: Despite Semin's incredible tools and potential to dominate, he is one of the most inconsistent players in the league.  Almost half of his 28 goals this season came in those four games in which he recorded hat tricks, and he went through goal droughts of 17 and 7 games during the campaign.  Alot of people, including me, think Semin often relies too much on his skill and skirts out on working hard to make things happen.  Sasha has also struggled with injuries his entire career, only once playing more than 75 games (he played 77) and three times playing 65 or less.  This not only robs the Caps of one of their main offensive weapons, but eliminates the chemistry that Washington needs so desperately on their revolving-door second line.  Semin has a rap for disappearing in the playoffs, but he was second on the team in playoff goal scoring this year and though he was bad in the Tampa series, so was everyone else.  And then, of course, there is his extremely annoying penchant for taking ill-timed stick penalties in the offensive (and defensive and neutral) zone. Semin was third on the Caps in penalty minutes despite playing in 65 games with 71; only John Erskine and Matt Hendricks had more PIMs.
The Verdict: See ya, Sasha.  Semin is still young, only 27, and he would fetch alot on the trade market from a team with cap room to work with (Toronto, cough) because he is an exciting player who would put fannies in the seats.  I could see teams shelling out at least two draft picks, one of which would be in the first round, for Semin, and that is good for teams like the Caps who have traded away picks in recent years at the deadline as they go after the Cup.  Taking $6.7 million off the books for next year would also help the Caps if they wanted to sign Scott Hannan, which I don't think they should, or can for that matter, if Semin isn't moved.  Washington could also go after a second line center and, of course, re-sign Brooks Laich with that extra money.  Lastly, it is likely that Semin is going to want a long term deal sooner rather than later, and the Capitals, at this point, cannot afford to commit a large amount of money over a long period of time for an inconsistent and injury prone player like him.

Report Card: Tyler Sloan

In his best moment of the year, 89 wrecks Jakub Voracek.
Today I bring you the fifth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital this regular season and playoffs, working my way to the top.  Today's player is intrepid defenseman Tyler Sloan, who completed his sixth season in the organization this year.

Stats/Season Summary: In what has become a pattern over the last three seasons in which Sloan has seen time in DC, he only saw minutes when he absolutely had to.  Sloan suited up for 33 games this year, recording a goal and five assists while compiling a -6 rating and 14 penalty minutes.  When Sloan played, he wasn't usually very good, struggling to keep coverage in the defensive zone, making ill-advised pinches at the attacking blue line, and getting burned with regularity along the wall.  He just struggled, and never looked in sync with the system or his teammates, which is a shame because he is a great guy.  It got so bad that AHL call-up Sean Collins made the lineup over him late in the season and in game four of the Tampa series. Grade: D-
Role Play: When you're a teams seventh defenseman, your job is to not make mistakes on a regular basis and be a quiet and good teammate.  You need to be able to fill holes left by injury, providing your team with a safety net.  Sloan was not able to do this; he constantly made mistakes in his own zone and he was always talked about for all the wrong reasons on the ice.  Off it, however, he is a great teammate who people like to be around and he is always willing to sign for fans at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.  I give him credit, but he was just too big a liability on the ice. Grade: D+
Playoffs: Ha! You must be joking. Grade: N/A
Future Potential: Sloan is under contract next season for $700,000, and that will likely be his last season in Washington.  He will almost surely make the roster next fall barring a miraculous camp from Dmitry Orlov, but will, provided the health of the other blueliners, be relegated once again to the seventh defenseman/healthy scratch role.  He's 30, so he's not going to get any better and he's past his "prime", but for the year left on his contract, he will be semi-valuable as an extra body on the blue line. Grade: D+
Here's some video of one of those pinches.  When Derek Boogaard, owner of three goals in 277 NHL games, beats you down the wing, you got issues.

The next report card will be posted on May 12th, and will feature Quebecois center Mathieu Perreault.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Report Card: Jay Beagle

Beagle skates against Ottawa in January.
Today I bring you the fourth entry in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital through this past regular season and playoffs. Today's player is checking center/right winger Jay Beagle, who completed his fourth season in the organization this year.

Stats/Season Summary: Beagle had a predictably slow season, playing all of his minutes on the third or fourth lines.  He suited up for 31 games, surpassing his career high by 28, which was set last year, and scored two goals and an assist to go along with a -2 rating and eight penalty minutes. Beagle also scored a pretty sick goal against the Canadiens in December, which was cool, and he got to play in the Winter Classic.  He began the year in Hershey, but was called up in mid December and pretty much stuck for the rest of the regular season, though he was a healthy scratch for a number of games as well as the regular season would down.  One weird stat about Beagle - both of his goals were game-winners. Grade: C- 
Role Play: Beagle, like many of the young Hershey call-ups who made appearances for the Caps throughout the season, did an admirable job of filling holes created by injuries.  Beagle was able to skate some third line minutes when he needed to but for the most part ground stuff out on the fourth line.  Like Andrew Gordon, he didn't look completely incompetent when he played, and he worked hard and kept hs head down, which is exactly what you want from a player like him. Grade: C+
Playoffs: Beagle, after playing the regular season finale, did not see any ice in the playoffs, and there was never really any thought that he would. Grade: N/A
Future Potential: Beagle is signed through next season to a one-way contract, which means that the Caps will pay him $525,000 regardless of whether or not he is in Hershey or DC.  However, the money would not count against the Cap if he was with the Bears.  Because of the probable loss of some forwards to free agency this offseason, as well as the now increasing likelihood of Alexander Semin getting traded, he is likely to earn himself a role of the opening night roster. Despite this, he will not become an impact player as he lacks a scoring touch, he not a defensive specialist, and he is not a fighter. Grade: C-
Here's his goal, because it was pretty sick.

Look for the next Report Card to be posted on May 11th.  It will feature intrepid defenseman Tyler Sloan.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why the Caps Should Not Re-Sign Scott Hannan

This offseason, decisions will be made.  There is no doubt about that.  Several of these decisions are going to be very difficult to make for George McPhee, and in all likelihood, the Capitals are not going to able to retain all of their free agents, both restricted and unrestricted. In a salary-capped NHL, it is simply impossible to keep teams together for long periods of time.  As such, on July 1st at 12:00 AM ET, eight Caps will be become free agents: two restricted and six unrestricted.

Among those unrestricted will be defenseman Scott Hannan, who the Capitals acquired in late November from the Colorado Avalance for forward Tomas Fleischmann.  Hannan got off a brutal start with his new team as he joined the Caps right as their eight-game losing skid began, but ever since January he has been one of DC's best and most reliable defensemen, only behind John Carlson and Karl Alzner.  Hannan played big minutes on the penalty kill and at even strength and he was a key cog in the transition from offense first to defense first. Not only that, but he was also a veteran leader in what was then a mostly young and inexperienced locker room.
Despite these many overwhelming positives that Hannan brought this past season, I am of the opinion that the Capitals should led him go when the clock strikes midnight on July 1, and not aggressively pursue his services on the free agent market.
Why, you ask?
The Capitals would have an absurd logjam on the back end if they were to re-sign Hannan.  Assuming George McPhee locks up Karl Alzner, who is a restricted free agent (which he MUST), the Caps would have eight NHL-caliber defensemen under contract next year if they brought Hannan back.  These players are Tom Poti, John Erskine, Dennis Wideman, Alzner, Jeff Schultz, Mike Green, John Carlson, and Hannan himself.  Tyler Sloan is under contract next year as well; whether he is NHL caliber is the topic of some debate.  
If Poti isn't healthy, which there is no guarantee he will be, having Hannan around would presumably force John Erskine into the role as the primary healthy scratch along with Sloan.  Now John Erskine is no Norris Trophy candidate, but he is coming off a career year in which he set personal bests in almost every significant statistical category.  And those number don't take into account his team-first attitude and his willingness to fight, which can never be undervalued. To complicate things even further, the Caps extended him through the 2012-2013 season at $1.5 million per over the winter, so it's not fair to him to have him sit every night and become a part-time player.
But if Poti is healthy, he's going to play, because he's a good defenseman, arguably better than Hannan.  That would mean that the likely candidate to join Erskine and Sloan in the press box on a nightly basis would be Jeff Schultz. I have had my rage against "Tree Man" well documented in the past, but the fact of the matter is that he is a solid NHL defenseman despite his occasional and often poorly timed adventures with the puck.  He can block shots and kill penalties, he's not useless at even strength, and he is not usually a liability in his own zone. And he, too, was extended last year; Sarge has three more years at $2.75 million per left on his contract.  He's not going anywhere.

Logjam arguments aside, Hannan is probably going to require a multi-year deal in the range for $2.5-$3.5 million per, wherever he ends up.  With about $9 million in cap space left for next season and eight players without contracts, Washington simply cannot afford this, especially with the wealth of bodies they have on the blue line (and top prospect Dmitry Orlov wasn't even mentioned in this post).  The money would be much better spent on Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon, two extremely valuable and flexible players who are respected leaders, play big penalty kill minutes, and can win faceoffs (Gordo) and score (Brooksie), but more on this later.  
Put simply, the Caps are running out of money, and an extension to Hannan would not be spending it wisely.  This is not to say that I want Hannan gone, or having him wouldn't be ideal, because it would be.  But the other contracts the Caps have on defense make it very unlikely that we see it happen.

Report Card: Tom Poti

Poti (left) struggled with injuries again this season.
Today I give you the third installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital through this past regular season and playoffs. Today's player is puck-moving defenseman Tom Poti, who completed his fourth campaign with the Capitals this season.

Stats/Season Summary: For the second season out of the last three, Poti was victimized by a chronic groin injury that limited him to only 21 games, as he spent the majority of the campaign on injured reserve.  In those 21 games, however, Poti was his typical solid self, registering two goals and five assists to go along with 8 penalty minutes.  He did have a -4 rating, but I am willing to grant him a mulligan in that department as he spent most of his healthy minutes skating on a pairing with Tyler Sloan.  Poti played his last game on January 12, and though he was skating for the last two months of the year, never got over that final hump. Grade: B-
Role Play: As I said in his season summary, when healthy, Poti was exactly what the Capitals signed him for.  He was reliable in his own end, moved the puck well on the power play and at even strength, and was able to effectively kill penalties on the first unit before John Carlson and Karl Alzner took over those roles.  Poti was an alternate captain when he was healthy as well, as he took on a bigger part in the team's leadership than in years past. When he was healthy, he was great, and he did what he was supposed to do. Grade: B
Playoffs: Poti, unfortunately, was not able to get healthy in time to come back for the playoffs, but it is doubtful that even if he had been healthy, he would have played much barring injury in the first round.  The Caps could have definitely used him in the second round, however. Grade: N/A
Future Potential: The Capitals extended Poti's original 4-year, $13 million contract, which was set to expire this summer, this past September with a 2-year, $5.75 million add-on, which now, in retrospect looks like a poor decision.  His groin injury is very serious, however, and George McPhee said at his end of year press conference that the team is very worried about him and that this injury could end his career.  With the acquisition of Dennis Wideman, who should be healthy in the fall, and the likely departure of free agent Scott Hannan this offseason, it looks like Poti will battle with John Erskine for the sixth defense spot on a nightly basis (providing the Caps re-sign RFA Karl Alzner).  That's a big if in terms of health, however. Grade: C

The fourth report card of the year will be posted on May 10th, and will feature center/right wing Jay Beagle.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Report Card: DJ King

King skates against the Rangers in January.
Today I give you the second installment in my "Report Card" series, as I evaluate the performance of each Capital this regular season and playoffs, complete with a grade in three categories. Today's player is enforcer and left winger DJ King, who was acquired last summer from Stefan Della Rovere from the St. Louis Blues.

Stats/Season Summary: King had a typical slow year, only playing in 16 games despite being on the active roster the entire season.  The left winger registered two points on the year, both assists, while compiling a -2 rating and 30 penalty minutes and occupying a fourth line role.  All 30 of his penalty minutes came from fighting majors.  Predictably, King struggled in the Caps' fast paced offensive system early, and then in their defensive oriented system later; he only played in two games past February 21.  He was also waived at the trade deadline, though he went unclaimed. Grade: D
Role Play: In his first year on the Caps, King was pretty much a flop.  He struggled to get in a groove all season because of his profound lack of skill and as a result saw almost no consistent playing time; he never played more than eight minutes in a game this season.  He had several games where he acquired zeroes across the board: no shots, points, hits, or blocks, and only six fights for an enforcer like him is far from an acceptable number.  By mid November, the sandpaper on the fourth line role had completely passed to Matt Hendricks, rendering King obsolete.  He is a great guy and his teammates love him, but he is not going to be a useful player for the Capitals. Grade: C-
Playoffs: Thankfully, King came nowhere near the ice during the playoffs, instead entertaining us common folk with tweets from the press box. Grade: N/A
Future Potential: King is under contract through next season, but I do not see him making an impact on the team next year unless he is forced to by the Caps' salary cap crunch.  If young players take charge during development and training camp and earn roles in the top 12 forward spots, I would not be surprised if King either gets waived again, spends the season as a healthy scratch again, or takes a quick trip up I-95 to Hershey.  In the Caps' new defensive system, players who are not strong skaters like King really take a back seat. Grade: C-

The third report card of the year will be posted on May 9; it will feature defenseman Tom Poti.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Report Card: Andrew Gordon

Gordo celbrates his first (and only) goal this year.
As the Caps' offseason has now officially begun with breakup day earlier this week, the time has come to look back on the season as a whole, what it brought, and the players who made it all happen, as well as the futures of those players.  As such, I will be writing a report card for every player who played in eight or more (10%) of the Capitals' games this year.  First up is right winger Andrew Gordon.

Stats/Season Summary: Gordon had a predictably quiet year, as he only played in nine games for the Caps this season, skating almost all of his minutes in a fourth or very limited third line checking role.  In those nine contests Gordon had two points, a goal and an assist, which both came December 21 against the Devils. He did not accrue any penalty minutes, but he did finish with a -2 rating. All nine games cam within five week span between December 12th and January 16th. Grade: C-
Role Play: Although Gordo did not come close to making the splash that some have predicted for him for awhile now, he was able to fill his role when he was up with the Caps.  He never looked overly out of place when he was in the NHL, and got to enjoy a cool moment when his first career NHL goal was highlighted by the 24/7 series.  He certainly struggled with injuries at both the NHL and AHL levels, which set him back a bit, but overall he worked hard and he kept to himself.  You can't ask much more than that from a young player like him. Grade: B
Playoffs: Gordon was expected to be one of the players in line to be recalled from Hershey after the Bears were eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs, but he was sidelined with a high ankle sprain. Even if he had been recalled, he likely would not have played. Grade: N/A
Future Potential: Gordon has a legitimate shot to make the club as a checking line winger next season if the organization re-signs him; he is an unrestricted free agent.  It is likely that Matt Bradley will leave this offseason, as well as Jason Arnott, and it is possible that the team could lose Boyd Gordon and Brooks Laich as well up front.  That opens up a spot for a hard-working, younger winger, and he fits that bill.  There are certainly other options, but with the salary cap closing it's jaws, those fourth line spots will likely need to be filled from inside the organization, even though Gordo is a free agent.  But first, he needs to get healthy. Grade: B-

Look for the second report card of the year on May 8.  That one will feature left winger DJ King.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Case for Trading Semyon Varlamov

Who will be instrookting young Semyon next season?
This offseason, decisions will be made.  There is no doubt about that.  Several of these decisions are going to be very difficult to make for George McPhee, and in all likelihood, the Capitals are not going to able to retain all of their free agents, both restricted and unrestricted. In a salary-capped NHL, it is simply impossible to keep teams together for long periods of time.  As such, on July 1st at 12:00 AM ET, eight Caps will be become free agents: two restricted and six unrestricted.

Among the restricted free agents will be Russian goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who has been a fan favorite since his magical playoffs in 2009. Varlamov, as usual, was a stud when he was actually able to strap on the pads, racking up a 2.23 GAA and .924 Save% to go along with two shutouts in 27 games.
The key words in that paragraph, of course, are "when he was able to strap on the pads."  Varly struggled through more injuries this year, being sidelined with groin and knee injuries for the second year in a row.  When he is healthy, however, there is no doubt that he is number one goaltender in terms of talent.
Before I go on, I would like to outline the difference between a restricted and unrestricted free agent.  Unrestricted free agents are literally that; they have the ability to sign anywhere they want once the market opens.  Restricted free agents do not have this ability; teams retain their rights until they are 27 or they have 7 years of NHL experience.  This allows teams to trade the rights to their RFA's in order to maximize return on players who they won't be able to keep or don't "have room for" (used lightly) before this period expires.
As such, if I were George McPhee, I would look long and hard about shopping Varlamov and getting a pick or a prospect in return.  First, he is not likely to accept a one year contract; he has indicated that he wants a long-term deal (though he wants to be in Washington).  For an injury prone goalie like Varly, that is too big of a risk to take, and it tells Michal Neuvirth that the organization favors the Russian, which we certainly don't want.
Second, he is no longer the teams' number one option on goal.  I love him.  Most Caps fans do.  But this year, he was passed on the depth chart by Michal Neuvirth.  Neuvy got better all season and earned the playoff nod; regardless of Varlamov's contract status, it is almost a sure bet that Neuvirth will be in goal for the Caps' season opener in early October.
Finally, Washington has this third guy in the farm system.  His name is Braden Holtby, perhaps you have heard of him.  He's, like, really good, and stuff, and scouts say that he might be better than Neuvirth or Varlamov in time.  He is ready to be an NHL backup and to learn at the professional level.
So the question becomes this: do you trade the de facto number one, the injury prone backup, or the young(est) stud who could be better than them all?  To me the answer is obvious.  If Washington keeps Varlamov, they "risk" him establishing himself as the number one again.  How do you justify trading you number one goalie to a fan base?  You can't.  Then you are forced to trade Neuvirth or Holtby.  That eliminates your most consistent goalie over the last season and a half, who has been a rock in terms of health, or someone who is younger, fitter, and potentially the best.  Sigh.

All of this is not meant to condemn Varly, who is my favorite goalie and my second favorite Cap.  But the reality of the situation is that one of the three has to go at some point, and the decision will only get harder from here on out. Varlamov is good enough to get a solid return now at a position of ridiculous depth within the organization.  As much as it pains me to say it, the time has come.  I will turn away and hide the tears.

Who would you trade?  Or would you string Varly along?  Let me know below.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why Alex Ovechkin Should Not Play in the World Championships

The Washington Capitals' season is over.  But for a few players in the NHL whose playoff dream ends prematurely, the opportunity arises for them to represent their country in the IIHF World Championships, which is, in effect, the World Cup of hockey.
One of these players is Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who has decided to travel to Slovakia following the Caps' elimination and join the Red Army for the remainder of the tournament.
I do not agree with this decision by any stretch of the imagination.
First off, I want to say to anyone reading this who is affiliated with or lives in Russia that I understand how important this tournament is for your country.  The Worlds are a big deal.  You were upset last year.  I understand that and I understand why you want your best player with you.
Ovechkin indicated in his end of the year news conference that he does not want to go, but will because he feels it his duty.  "I will represnt my country."  That is all well and good, and an honorable thing to do.  Ovechkin has garnered fame and fortune playing the game he loves, and it is only natural that he should want to win a gold medal for his country.  I respect that and I understand it.
But at the same time, Alex Ovechkin is, first and foremost, the captain and unquestioned leader of the Washington Capitals.  George McPhee and Ted Leonsis have invested in Ovechkin with a 13-year, $124 million contract.  The future of this franchise and it's Stanley Cup aspirations rest firmly on the Russian's shoulders.  His number one priority, without question, has to be the Caps.
That being said, his decision, to me, does not fully indicate that this is the case. Let's be frank for a second: the Caps have now failed to live up to postseason expectations for the third year in a row, and have fallen in spectacular fashion.  It is a glaring weakness and a profound hole on Ovie's resume.  It's not like he's never won a gold medal at the Worlds; he did in 2008.
Ovechkin is banged up.  Bruce Boudreau said Thursday that his injuries were "more serious" than believed and he is not at 100%.  The captain has admitted to being hurt most of the year; there are rumors about a knee scope.  Ovie should be resting at home and thinking about what went wrong, not playing more hockey.
Tough questions must be answered, and they won't be on a rink in Slovakia. Washington has to find a way to get over this hump, and it starts with Alex.

This is the honorable decision.  I just don't think its the smart one.

NOTE:  This post in not meant to be inflammatory, nor is it meant to question Alex Ovechkin's character or long-term commitment to the franchise.  I apologize if it has in any way.  Please leave a comment with your opinion.

Closing Time

The Washington Capitals were at Kettler Capitals Iceplex Thursday morning for their end of year media availability and to clean out their lockers.  The final updates from Ballston:

First, on injuries: Bruce Boudreau revealed during his press conference that Mike Knuble, as many speculated, was playing with a broken right hand.  Knuble had pins put in his hand after game three of the Rangers series.  Boudreau lauded the veteran right winger above all others, saying he "showed such courage" doing what he did.  Amen.
Boudreau also revealed that John Carlson and Marcus Johansson were not playing at full strength, and Mike Green's injury that forced him out of game three of the Lightning series was a hip flexor.  Nicklas Backstrom was also hurt; he re-injured his thumb during the Rangers series.  So though Nicky was quite brutal in the second round, at least he (kind of) has an excuse now.
George McPhee alsso spoke to the media, and he immediately addressed Bruce Boudreau's job status.  McPhee said that he "expects [Bruce] to be back next year.  He's a good coach."  Okay then.  McPhee went on to add that he doesn't think the Caps are missing anything, they just have to put it all together.  "We'll see," he said, when asked if major roster changes were coming this summer. We shall see, indeed, considering the number of free agents the Caps have and their pending salary cap crunch.
The General Manager also addressed questions regarding the club's three young goaltenders.  One of them, Semyon Varlamov, is a restricted free agent this offseason, and there had be some speculation that he would move to Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.  "I don't have any plans to move a goaltender...but if he wants to go [to the KHL], let him go."

That's all for quotes today.  The season may be over, but I am not.  I will be blogging all summer: player analysis, development camp, and breaking Caps news.  Don't go anywhere, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rapid Rewind: All She Wrote

The Washington Capitals' 2010-2011 season came crashing down tonight, as they fell 5-3 to the Lightning inside the St. Pete Times Forum.  With the loss, the Bolts completed the four game sweep of Washington, making them the first number one seed ever to be swept in the first two rounds of the NHL playoffs, and only the third overall in any round.  Marco Sturm, John Carlson, and John Erskine scored for the Caps, who won exactly one more game in the playoffs this year than last.  And now, it's over.  Time for golf.  FORE!

The Lightning got off to a fast start, controlling play in the early stages and getting some chances on Michal Neuvirth that required nice plays to stop.  About 5 minutes Sean Bergenheim crashed the net with authority and required Neuvirth to make another nice stop on the winger as Tampa Bay had DC on their heels early again.  As the period continued, the Lightning continued to press on the Caps, who also made several bad turnovers and were being outshot 9-3 with 12 minutes left in the frame.  At 8:59, Mike Knuble took a penalty for goalie interference after a little bit of Washington pressure and the Caps began a critical penalty kill.  Tampa was not able to get much pressure early on their man advantage, and DC was able to kill it; however, Alex Ovechkin took an ill-advised charging minor at 11:14.  After another solid beginning from the penalty killers, however, Ryan Malone cashed a pass from Vinny Lecavalier at 12:37 to put the Lightning up 1-0.  DC tried to counter with some pressure and almost scored off the stick of Nicklas Backstrom, but then got a power play when Mattias Ohlund was called for cross-checking at 15:13.  The man advantage continued to be a comedy of errors, however, and could not get anything going.  Washington was awarded another power play soon after when Nate Thompson was boxed for goalie interference at 17:30, and Marco Sturm tied the game when he banged a puck past Roloson on the doorstep at 18:30.  Tampa Bay came back with a press after the goal was scored, but DC was able to hold them off and the first period ended tied at 1.
Tampa Bay carried play in the opening moments of the second period as well, taking advantage of more soft play and bad turnovers by the Caps to establish a forecheck that had DC on their heels.  After a rush up ice saw Michal Neuvirth make an initial save on the Bolts, Sean Bergenheim literally ripped the rebound from Sean Collins and buried it at 4:41 for another Tampa lead.  The Lightning continued to press as the period continued and DC had no answer for them, constantly backing up on the attacking players and failing to get offense going. With about 11:30 remaining, Michal Neuvirth was forced to make a particularly nice save on Lecavalier after another poor turnover led to a 2-on-1.  After a slow period where neither team really got much going, the Lightning capitalized on another rush up ice when Sean Bergenheim buried a rebound for another goal at 12:34 to put the Bolts up 3-1.  Soon after however John Erskine gave the Caps some life when he scored from a nearly impossible angle at 13:40 to cut the deficit to 3-2.  DC kept up some pressure after their goal but it was then predictably negated when Jeff Schultz was sent of for hooking at 15:24, but the away side was able to kill off the penalty.  John Erskine took another one immediately following for delay of game with 2:36 left, but again were able to find a way to kill it off.  The final 36 seconds of the period expired without incident, and the 2nd period ended with Tampa up 3-2.
Washington finally managed to get off to a strong start in the third period, as the top line created some chances early, but Roloson countered with some nice saves in order to keep the Lightning in front.  Washington took another penalty at 3:42 when Marco Sturm was sent off for goalite interference. It did not take long for another goal to be scored, as† Marc-Andre Bergeron blasted a slapshot past Neuvirth to put the dagger in the Caps at 5:07, giving the Bolts a 4-2 lead.  As the period wore on, Tampa Bay put the game into total shutdown mode, not giving the Capitals anything to even sniff at as their crowd began to chant "Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!"  Inside six minutes remaining, the Caps began to use four forwards and one defenseman in a desperate last gasp, but Martin St. Louis totally buried the Caps with 3:08 remaining to make it 5-2.  Boudreau pulled his goalie with over 3 minutes left, and John Carlson scored to make it 5-3 with 2:06 left, but by that time it was far too little, far too late.  Lightning win, 5-3.  Season over.


Another season, more heartbreak.  I actually thought they might have finally figured it out, but once again, I was proven wrong.  The Caps brought in new, veteran players.  They learned how to play defense (or so I thought).  Young players matured.  New system?  Same results.  The Capitals lacked fire all series and it showed.  The result?  Utter humiliation and domination by a team far superior to them in every way.

There were many reasons for this sweep, but the number one reason has got to be the "defense" or lack thereof.  Literally every key Tampa goal in this series was caused by a lack of or soft coverage on obvious players such as Vinny Lecavalier, who just happens to make ten million dollars a season.  The Caps abandoned the system completely, and they paid for it.  Again.  Dearly.

Fi-yer Booo-drow.  More on this later, but I highly doubt that Bruce Boudreau will be the head coach of the Washington Capitals for much longer than a day or two following this debacle.  He is obviously a good coach, he has won at every level, but this is four years in a row of losing in the playoffs, often in spectacular fashion.  This is also less of an opinion and more of a prediction, just for the record.  Something must be done.

I have no idea what the schedule is.  The Caps will have end-of-the-year media availability sometime before the end of the week, and then they, and we, will have another long summer to think about what could have been.