Caps 1st Half of the Season Grades
As I did last year at the halfway point it is time to grade each player, the coach, the GM, and the owner of the Washington Capitals on the first half of the season. I went back and looked at my grades from the midpoint last year and a couple of things stuck out that have really changed. Forward Alexander Semin was a total non factor in the first half of last season due to injury and the defense was not playing well making things tough for the goaltending. The defense last year in the first half was terrible at blocking shots and Tom Poti was struggling (and word is he played hurt most of the year). But then Semin came back, Poti really improved, GM George McPhee made some great trades at the deadline (he acquired Sergei Fedorov, Cristobal Huet, and Matt Cooke), and Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green, who all received A or better grades at the season’s midpoint last year, continued their great play from the first 41 games and carried this team on their backs into the post-season. Interestingly, I mentioned 2007 1st round pick Karl Alner in that blog because I was already hearing great things about him and of course everyone knows about him now.
Anyways, it is twelve months later and the Caps have had an incredible year that began last January when this team really gained confidence in its ability, took off down the stretch and into the NHL playoffs, and then carried over into this season despite an unbelievable string of injuries to key players. Because of injuries, 34 different players have suited up for the big club this year showing the incredible depth in this organization.
The Caps were 16-20-5 after 41 games last year after starting 6-14-1, which led to the firing of Glen Hanlon and the hiring of Bruce Boudreau. This year the Caps are a superb 27-11-3 good for second place in the Eastern Conference. So given the outstanding record, the depth in the organization, the success on the ice, and the significant increase in interest in this hockey team (attendance is up 31.5% and television ratings have more than doubled) one would expect these grades to be very good, and they will be, with only a subpar one here or there.
Alexander Ovechkin – A+; In the 39 games he played he has 27 goals, 26 assists, 53 points, 245 shots on goals, and at least two big hits a night. Even when he only had 2 goals in his first 11 games the team was winning and he was contributing. The Great #8 is can’t miss hockey and he is still the league’s MVP. The NHL needs to promote him more.
Nicklas Backstrom – A; #19’s ability to hold onto the puck in traffic or along the boards and make the right pass at the right time is unrivaled. He injured his ankle right before training camp opened and had a slow start with only four assists in twelve games but he has taken off like a rocket ever since amassing 12 goals and 33 assists in 45 games. He is vastly underrated around the league but anyone who watches this team game in and game out knows how valuable he is to this hockey club.
Alexander Semin – A; Has only played 23 games but has 14 goals and 20 assists for 34 points. Where would this team have been at the beginning of the season when Ovechkin and Backstrom were struggling had it not been for #28? He was the NHL’s first star of October and was leading the league in scoring. Then the back injury came about and he has had a hard time getting back to 100% thanks to a cheap shot by Blues forward David Backes on December 18th. He needs to be healthy for this team to finish first overall in the Eastern Conference and make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Sergei Fedorov – B+; Has been battling a bad ankle and at 39 years old those things can take awhile. He was great at the beginning of the season and even played some games on defense when the injuries began. The Pittsburgh game stands out in my mind when #91 went back on defense after Poti got hurt early in the game and Fedorov helped lead the Caps 4-3 comeback win at the Igloo. Another guy who needs to be healthy for the Caps to go deep in the playoffs because he is the #2 center.
Viktor Kozlov – B-; He has been inconsistent and part of that was the knee injury he sustained in the Vancouver game. Has a -5 plus/minus but he does have 9 goals and 18 assists in 36 games. He can be force on the boards with the puck and he is usually sound in his own zone. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and needs to pick it up if he wants to be back next year.
Brooks Laich – B+; Has 11 goals and 11 assists in 41 games and is on pace to break his single season career high of 37 points. Is big, strong, and can skate so he poses problems for opponents. Goes to the net and gets the ugly goals, something this team will need in the playoffs. Has really improved and is a great team player.
Tomas Fleischmann – C; Has proven he can score goals at this level netting 12 in 32 games but his -11 plus/minus rating shows his defensive deficiencies. Has been battling pneumonia and hopes to be back in the lineup soon. He is very streaky and needs to be more consistent.
Michael Nylander – D; At $5.5M for this season and next he is not getting it done. Has lost a step and rarely goes into the corners. Makes almost the same cutback move every time he carries the puck down into the offensive zone. He has 1 goal since the fourth game of the season but luckily that won the game in Montreal. That along with his +3 plus/minus is the only thing saving him from an F. It is tough paying someone so much money to play only an average of 14:48 a game. I see “healthy scratch” in his future.
Boyd Gordon – B; Has 5 goals and 7 assists in 38 games. Is a key penalty killer and solid grinder. Given his role he is playing above average.
Dave Steckel – B; Also has 5 goals and 7 assists in 38 games like Gordon. Very good face-off man and good energy line center. Only gripe with him is sometimes he takes some lazy penalties, which I’m sure does not make Boudreau happy.
Donald Brashear – B-; Has only 1 goal in 36 games but it was a key one that won the Islanders game at home in December. He has won pretty much all of his fights, some of them handily, and that prevents teams from taking liberties with some of the team’s stars. I would like to see him knock out Tim Jackman for that cheap shot he had on the Great #8 in that Islanders game. Has had lots of scoring chances and the lines he has been on have been dominant at times, but he is a -1 overall in plus/minus.
Eric Fehr – B-; Has 3 goals and 6 assists in 25 games. He is big, can skate, and has a nose for being in the right position but struggles to close the deal and put the puck in the net. I still really like this player and see him doing nothing but improving. He is finally healthy and if he keeps going to the net he should start scoring more goals.
Chris Clark – D+; Has 1 goal and 3 assists in 26 games. Does not appear to be fully recovered from last season’s groin injury because he looks slower. At $2.6M a season the Caps need more out of him. He is a great team guy and really wants to do well but I’m not sure his 32 year old body will let him skate the way he used to before last season’s injury.
Matt Bradley – C+; Has 4 goals and 3 assists in 41 games; Is a good penalty killer and is willing to do the dirty work to support his teammates. Great team guy but he only plays an average of 11:28 of ice time a game.
Hershey Forward Call Up Crew – C; 2 goals and 1 assist combined in 24 games from Alexandre Giroux (11 games), Chris Bourque (6 games), Graham Mink (2 games), Keith Aucoin (3 games), Andrew Gordon (1 game), and Oskar Osala (1 game). Bourque did have a game winner in Buffalo and Giroux was pretty solid in his stretch. Giroux went back to Hershey with a vengeance last weekend and had 9 points in two games to win AHL player of the week. At some point he could be back up but he is 27 years old. Osala, who is only 21, is a future project with lots of promise. I am not a Bourque fan, he is just too small.
Mike Green – A; The “one man breakout” has been great and the team is only 7-6 with him out of the lineup so he is clearly invaluable. Has 10 goals and 16 assists in just 28 games so if he stays healthy he should easily surpass the 20 goal mark. Is +14 on the season and continues to mature and improve. Has battled an upper body injury thanks to a Chris Pronger hit (#52 will learn that sometimes it is better to dump the puck instead of going 1 on 4).
Tom Poti – B+; The team is 15-8 when he plays so he is a key defensemen for Coach Boudreau. Has suffered two groin injuries and really needs to make sure it is healed before coming back because the team needs him fully healthy for the playoffs.
Karl Alzner – A+; The team is 15-4 in his 19 games and many of those were when either Green or Poti were out so the kid who started in the minors became the team’s #1 defensemen in many contests. 19 games with ZERO PENALTY MINUTES is amazing and shows that this guy knows how to play the game. Passing is outstanding and positioning is “Nicklas Lidstrom” like.
Shaone Morrisonn – C; Has battled some nagging injuries but seems to have struggled to be consistent this year. He could get caught in a numbers game considering he makes $1.9M this year and reportedly wants $3M a year when he becomes a free agent this summer.
Milan Jurcina – B-; Since Alzner has been his partner he has been very good. Has a big shot but needs to work on when to uncork it and when to pass or dump it in the corner as a lot of his shots are blocked. Still only 25 years old so he continues to have upside.
Sean Collins – A; Has only played 13 games but came up when the team was decimated on defense with injuries and has been great. Is a very good skater which is so important in the new NHL. This guy played in South Carolina at times last year and is now playing decently in “The Show.” Collins is still only 25 years old.
Tyler Sloan – B; Did a good job in his 24 games but seemed to wear down towards the end of his stint in DC. Will be 28 this year and seems to be a guy who will bounce back and forth between the AHL and the NHL. Good guy to have in your system for depth.
John Erskine – Incomplete; Has only played 16 games due to a concussion but the organization really likes him as evidenced by the new contract he received.
Bryan Helmer – B+; Only played 8 games but they were when the team was ravaged with injuries on the blue line and the old man did his job earning #1 star honors in the Buffalo game but then got sent back to Hershey.
Sami Lepisto – C-; Played 7 games but is a defensive liability due to his size. He is good on the power play but that is about all you can really get from him at the NHL level.
Jose Theodore – B+; Is 14-6 with a .896 save percentage but has grabbed the number one goalie job the last couple of weeks. Was inconsistent early on but seems to have settled in and is controlling his rebounds much better. Finally looks confident and comfortable in net. The team will need him to be the work horse in the playoffs.
Brent Johnson – B+; 11-5 with a .913 save percentage. He was great in some games when this team had a lot of injuries. Has struggled with injuries and that has cost him the chance to be the #1 goalie. The team will need him to spell Theo and perhaps win a few games or even a series in the playoffs.
Simeon Varlamov – A+; 2-0 with a .953 save percentage including his first NHL win in his first start on Hockey Night in Canada in the hallowed Montreal Forum. Goalie of the future has been great in Hershey as well seizing the #1 job.
Coach Bruce Boudreau – A+; 27-11-3 using 34 different players is all you need to know. He is a great coach and knows how to communicate with and motivate his team. Love his passion for winning and it rubs off on his players and everyone in the organization. Isn’t afraid to say what he thinks and that is a big key to his success.
GM George McPhee – A; Responsible for bringing in all of the talent, most of them young players. Drafting has been very good the last several years. Only downfall has been some of his high priced free agents just haven’t produced at the level commensurate with the money they are being paid. He will really earn his money managing the salary cap this year and trying to find room to help this team make a deal or two before the trade deadline (March 4th) that could help take the team deep into the playoffs and possibly win the Stanley Cup.
Ted Leonsis – A+; Is very, very passionate about the Caps and the fans feed off of that. Has allowed the Verizon Center to become a rocking place that is a lot of fun and difficult for any team to come in and play. 18-1-1 is the home record. Attendance is up over 30% and it will be VERY HARD to get a ticket to see this team play the next several months. TV ratings are way up too and people are connecting with this team. Is spending the money to try and win a cup and is well liked. Also, he’s hired great people and the marketing and public relations departments are at the top of the league. Mike Gartner had it right when he said this is now a “1st class organization” at his jersey retirement game on December 28th.
The future is bright for this organization and having followed this team since it started back in 1974-75 it would be great to see the Stanley Cup finally reside in DC. There is a chance of that this year but there is a long way to go this season. The next several months are going to be alot of fun watching the Washington Capitals.