The Caps are now 11-6-4 under Coach Bruce Boudreau officially putting them over .500 with the new coach at the helm. The Caps have earned 26 points under Boudreau while they only earned 13 points in the same amount of games with former Coach Glen Hanlon (6-14-1). Because of the poor start the Caps will have to keep playing at this level or above to have any chance at the playoffs in a tightly crowded Eastern Conference race. Last season it took 92 points to grab the eighth and final playoff spot in the East (NY Islanders) so with 40 games left the Caps will likely need at least 53 points the rest of the way. That is a very tough total to reach.
The improved play of the Caps over the last 21 games also bodes well for them off the ice because the upward trend certainly has to be helping Caps owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee in the Alexander Ovechkin negotiations. Ovechkin is a restricted free agent after this season and if the great #8 is not signed long term in Washington they might as well fold up the tent for hockey in that city. Ovechkin is believed to be asking for a lot of money and the Ottawa Sun reports that the amount is in the neighborhood of $9 to $10 million a year. Note that the Penguins Sydney Crosby, who many regard as the best and most marketable player in the league (he is Canadian and playing in a US city), recently signed a 5-year $43.5 million dollar contract with Pittsburgh (in the $8 to $9 million a year range).
By “restricted” free agent this means that any team that signs Ovechkin, provided the Caps did not match the offer, would owe the Caps a first round draft pick in each of the next five years. This happened to the Caps back in 1990 when the St. Louis Blues signed defensemen Scott Stevens away from Washington.
I spoke with a Western Conference scout recently and he said while on the surface to the media and some fans it might appear that Ovechkin has most of the leverage in the negotiations that is not necessarily true. The scout went on to say that Ovechkin likely cannot fit under the salary cap of many teams and also any team that does sign Ovechkin would have to be sure they had a first round pick in each of the next five drafts to give to Washington. Thus McPhee and Leonsis do have some decent leverage and as you can imagine, when both sides feel they have leverage the negotiations will take some time. One thing is for certain, anyone who has watched Ovechkin play recently can clearly see that he is enjoying himself much more since the coaching change and that only helps the ability of the Capitals to sign him to a long term contract.
Ovechkin is BY FAR the most marketable hockey player this area has ever seen and it would behoove the Capitals to try once again to work the Baltimore market because the hockey fans in this town would certainly appreciate this tough, fast skating, hard hitting, and exciting hockey player.
Tomorrow I will be finalizing my Caps mid-season grades of the owner, GM, and players and will post it late Monday night.
NHL Mid-Season Update
The first half of the NHL season has brought some major excitement to the league but the highlight had to clearly be last Tuesday’s New Years Day outdoor game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres in front of over 70,000 people at Ralph Wilson stadium. Anyone who watched it, especially in HD, had to be excited for hockey. The game was excellent ending in a 2-1 shootout win for Pittsburgh with Crosby netting the winning shot. The game was a MAJOR marketing success for the NHL in the US, especially where TV is concerned, as the game pulled in the best ratings for NHL hockey since February of 1996.
At the beginning of October I provided you with my fearless NHL regular season predictions. The link is below if you want to go back in time and read it:
Now at the midway point of the NHL season let’s see how those predictions are panning out. Below is how each team currently stands in the conference and in parentheses is where I picked them at the beginning of the season to finish overall:
- Ottawa Senators (1): Still looking on track for the #1 seed in the east but goaltending issue (Martin Gerber vs. Ray Emery) could possibly divide the team in the second half of the season.
- New Jersey Devils (8): Brent Sutter is doing an outstanding job coaching this team. Martin Brodeur is fast approaching Terry Sawchuk’s all-time shutout record (103). He is only 7 games away from tying it (likely to happen some time next season).
- Carolina Hurricanes (2): This team started fast and is fading. Defensive injuries and goaltending issues have really hurt this team. Losing forward Justin Williams for the season does not help.
- Pittsburgh Penguins (4): This team is coming on strong after a slow start. Goalie Ty Conklin was picked up off the scrap heap and has won seven straight games filling in for injured Marc-Andre Fleury.
- Montreal Canadiens (10): Still having a good year thanks to the league’s best power play (24.2%). Typically the Habs fade down the stretch.
- Boston Bruins (11): Lost goalie Manny Fernandez to injury but Tim Thomas has played out of his mind filling in. The B’s recently lost six games in a row but have come back with three straight wins. Playing much more physical than recent Boston teams.
- NY Rangers (3): Jaromir Jagr only has 11 goals in 42 games so that is holding the team back. Scott Gomez (former NJ Devil) leads the team in scoring. I expect the Rangers to finish strong.
- Philadelphia Flyers (7): The Flyers have been streaky this season. They give up a lot of shots so unless their goaltending holds up (Martin Biron and Antero Nittymaki) they are in trouble.
- NY Islanders (14): Ted Nolan is doing an outstanding job with this crew of cast-offs from other NHL teams. Goalie Rick DiPietro is one of the league’s best.
- Atlanta Thrashers (5): Started 0-6 but have come on strong ever since they fired coach Bob Hartley. Could catch Carolina for the Southeast division title. Defense remains its biggest weakness.
- Buffalo Sabres (13): Loss of Chris Drury (Rangers) and Daniel Briere (Flyers) seems too great to overcome. A Western Conference scout told me in December that he still believes this team will make the playoffs. I’m skeptical but the east is wide open.
- Florida Panthers (9): Goalie Tomas Vokoun can’t work miracles.
- Toronto Maple Leafs (6): Clearly I missed the boat on this team as they are horrible. GM John Ferguson and Coach Paul Maurice will be gone for sure either during or immediately after the season. Hockey is king in Toronto and if you think Ravens fans are fed up with their football team take a trip to the “Big Smoke”, talk to a few insane Leafs fans, and trust me, you’ll feel a lot better about everything in your life.
- Washington Capitals (15): Coaching change turned everything around for this team. Still have a long uphill climb to make the playoffs but Ovechkin has been sensational.
- Tampa Bay Lightning (12): Vincent Lecavalier is one of the top five players in the league but he can’t carry the whole team. There is no goaltending here and losing defensemen Dan Boyle to a freak wrist injury (cut by a falling skate in the locker room) killed the team.
- Detroit Red Wings (1): To quote the words of Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High this team is “Awesome, Totally Awesome!” Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood have been great in net and the team even survived the two week absence (injury) of top forward Henrik Zetterberg. Team still not selling out their games though. It will likely take a Stanley Cup win to get the building sold out again next year.
- San Jose Sharks (4): Didn’t take full advantage of Anaheim’s Stanley Cup hangover and slow start. The Ducks will pass them unless Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer get hurt.
- Calgary Flames (3): The Flames started fast, stunk up the joint in November, and were sensational in December. Mike Keenan has this team playing hard and aggressive. Only problem has been the goaltending of Mikka Kiprusoff who struggled after signing a contract with Calgary through 2012-13.
- Vancouver Canucks (7): They have a chance to win every night because of one guy: Goalie Roberto Luongo. Sedin twins are playing superb.
- Dallas Stars (5): Fired GM Doug Armstrong (a former ball hockey teammate of mine in 1990 when Doug worked for the Caps) early in the season and have taken off with co-GM’s Les Jackson and Brett Hull. Jackson is a very well respected hockey person around the NHL.
- Minnesota Wild (9): Got off to another fast start but is very inconsistent. Injuries to Pavel Demitra and Mikko Koivu have hurt the team. Marian Gaborik has played 36 of 41 games and if he gets to 70 I will be surprised if they don’t make the playoffs.
- Anaheim Ducks (2): Slow start but now that Niedermayer (DEAD!) is back on defense this team should start clicking. I expect them to win their division and support my original prediction. However, they will not repeat as Stanley Cup champions (can’t pick against the Red Wings this year).
- Colorado Avalanche (6): Losing Joe Sakic for 3 months due to hernia surgery and Ryan Smyth for 8 weeks due to a fractured leg is a killer blow to this team. Goaltending still is not very good (Peter Budaj and Jose Theodore).
- St. Louis Blues (8): Getting Andy McDonald for Doug Weight is a good trade long term but it may not be enough to get the Blues in the playoffs this year. Paul Kariya has been a terrific pickup.
- Columbus Blue Jackets (14): Playing very well but were hurt by forward Rick Nash’s streak of going pointless for nine games (two due to a throat injury). Goaltending has been solid but they don’t have enough firepower to make the playoffs this year.
- Phoenix Coyotes (15): Wayne Gretzky is doing a remarkable job with this young team. Pickup of Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers from Anaheim has paid off as team is 12-8 with him in net.
- Nashville Predators (10): GM David Poile got his wish when the team was purchased and the new ownership has decided to keep the team in Nashville. Ownership uncertainty last year forced Poile to unload too much talent (Kariya, Kimo Timonen, Peter Forsberg, etc.) so they need two years to restock the squad.
- Chicago Blackhawks (12): Tonight’s United Center crowd of 21,869 was the Blackhawks’ largest this season and third straight sellout. Injury to Jonathan Toews (knee, out four weeks) last week dampens any playoff hopes this team had but the future is bright in the windy city.
- Edmonton Oilers (13): This team is young but not very good right now and to be quite honest, not worth watching much at this time.
- Los Angeles Kings (11): This team can score but they give up way too many goals. They still can’t find a goalie. Getting rid of coach Andy Murray in 2006 was a huge mistake (doing well in St. Louis now).
So overall I’ve done pretty good so far but as a Western Conference scout recently told me, “Everyone knows the NHL season really doesn’t start until the second half of the season.”
Can’t Miss Game of the Week: Colorado Avalanche at Detroit Red Wings, Tuesday, January 8th, 7:30 pm on Versus in HD. The rivalry between these two teams goes back to the mid-90’s. Do you remember when Patrick Roy and Chris Osgood fought in the playoffs?