The Caps first half of the season was quite an adventure as the team started 6-14-1 and Coach Glen Hanlon was fired. Insert Coach Bruce Boudreau and fast forward ahead 21 games to just past the season midpoint and the Caps ended up 17-20-5 (before last night’s win over Colorado).
Here are my mid-season grades for the players followed by a grade for the coaches, GM, and owner:
Alexander Ovechkin – A+; Scored 30 goals in the first 41 games. Has been sensational regardless of the coach but clearly he is having WAY more fun with Boudreau’s aggressive forechecking system. Worth the price of admission.
Michael Nylander – D-; -16 through the first half for a guy GM George McPhee paid $5.5M a year. Was supposed to bring offense but only has 9 goals. So far he has been an incredible waste of money especially when he is not scoring because he cannot play a physical game due to his lack of size.
Nicklas Backstrom – A; The rookie has been everything advertised and more scoring at a pace much greater than expected. If he and Ovechkin weren’t stuck with Viktor Kozlov on most nights he would have more points. Ice time has increased dramatically since Boudreau took over.
Viktor Kozlov – F; 4 goals in 41 games, are you kidding me??!! This guy has been horrible. He was supposed to have good hands but some nights he can’t even take a pass in the neutral zone. Another bust signing by McPhee. Too bad the team is stuck with him for next year as well.
Tomas Fleischmann – C-; Playing in a role way above his head on most nights. Really belongs in the AHL.
Brooks Laich – C; Bottom 6 forward has done okay but if he ever wants to be a solid 3rd line player he will need to find a way to chip in more on the scoring side.
Alexander Semin – D-; He almost gets an incomplete because he missed so many games but he has not played well at all when he’s been in the lineup. He is too one dimensional and is a liability in the defensive zone. Turns the puck over too much. The Caps should have traded this guy last summer when he had value (38 goals last year).
Chris Clark – Incomplete; Clark had a career year last season and has been hurt too often. Has had to play on the top two lines when in and he really is a 3rd line player. Great attitude and team guy. Calgary wishes they had him back.
Boyd Gordon – D; Missed 12 games due to injury. He is a 3rd line player at best and this team is filled with guys like that.
Matt Bradley – C-; Another Bottom 6 forward who works hard but isn’t much of a threat to score on the ice.
Matt Pettinger – F; This 2nd round draft choice in 2000 has been ruined by the Caps lack of development plan under McPhee. Only 2 goals in 41 games.
Donald Brashear – B; For a 4th line guy who only gets between 5 and 10 minutes of ice time a game he is doing his job of protecting the better players on the team.
Mike Green – A; Biggest benefactor to coaching change as Boudreau told him to stop worrying about making mistakes and just play. This guy can skate and move the puck plus he can score. Had 10 goals in the first half which is superb for a defensemen. Ice time has increased significantly under Boudreau (featured in ESPN “The Mag” this week, but remember you heard about the ice time increase and his improved play in one of my earlier blogs here first).
Brian Pothier – C-; Ice time continues to dwindle. In my opinion he is only a #5 defensemen in this league. Not physical and downright soft. Bottom line: McPhee paid too much for this guy. Signed him for too long as well (through 2010).
Tom Poti – D; He is making $3.5M a year, has 0 goals and is a -5 overall, that just doesn’t cut it. Another non physical defensemen that McPhee overpaid for. Opposing forwards have no fear of going to the Caps net when he is on the ice
Jeff Schultz – C+; Played well at times but overall is still finding his way in the NHL in his first full season. He is 6’ 6” but doesn’t hit anyone! Somebody in the Caps organization needs to teach this guy how to take the body.
John Erskine – D; Most physical defensemen on the team yet has only played half of the games because he doesn’t skate well and that does not fit Boudreau’s aggressive system.
Shaone Morrison – B; This guy continues to grow on me every year. He is a solid defensemen and is currently the 2nd best defensemen on the team after Green.
Milan Jurcina – F; Not physical, provides no offense, and can’t block shots. Why is he even out there most nights? Only because this team is weak on defense. He belongs in the minors or in Europe.
Olie Kolzig – B-; Save percentage is only .890 and some of that is Olie’s fault and some of it is the fact that his defense can’t block shots or clear the front of the net. Still, I’ve seen Zilla give up some goals this year that he never would have given up in the past. I expect a strong 2nd half from Olie.
Brent Johnson – C; Decent backup goalie but is now out due to injury. Never will be an every game starter.
Glen Hanlon – F; Fired. Ran too passive of a system. Enough said.
Bruce Boudreau – A+; Incredible job coming in and taking what he had, and in many cases what he didn’t have, and turning this season around. His aggressive system and willingness to let his players play the game and not worry about mistakes has been refreshing. I’m not sure the team can keep up this hot pace the rest of the way because of the lack of depth and overall talent but I think this team has a good coach that should be around for awhile. Get him some more players George!
George McPhee – C-; Waited too long to get rid of Hanlon but the fact that he went with Boudreau is saving his skin right now. Kozlov, Nylander, Poti, and Pothier are overpaid and underperforming acquisitions. Can possibly save his job by signing Ovechkin long term and making a deal or two at the deadline that really improves this club for next year. They need a physical defensemen or two and someone up front who can play with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Kozlov should be shipped out ASAP. Signing Nylander for 4 years at $5.5M a season is baffling.
Ted Leonsis – C; Should have never said “The rebuilding is over.” The truth is, according to one Western Conference scout, the rebuilding is just starting with this team. This team has Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, Karl Alznur (#1 pick last year), and Schultz to build around. Schultz needs major work. They also seem to have the right coach. They need a future goalie as Kolzig is in the twilight of his career. Made a big mistake by letting McPhee overpay for the three big off-season free agents (Nylander, Kozlov, and Poti). If this team does not keep up this hot pace the rest of the way then he needs to pull the long overdue plug on McPhee after the season. 29th in league attendance with Ovechkin. He needs to market in Baltimore. There are hockey fans here who would appreciate watching Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green play. It is not all about Northern Viriginia Ted, you can benefit by promoting up in this area.