Tag Archive | "Fedorov"

Caps Must Make Big Changes Going Forward

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Caps Must Make Big Changes Going Forward

Posted on 13 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals closed out their 2013-14 season today with a 1-0 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a meaningless game. The Caps finish the season at 38-30-14 (90 points) and have failed to make the post season for the first time since 2006-07.

The failed season is unacceptable on numerous levels. Owner Ted Leonsis blogged over the weekend that the analysis of this club is “fair and deserved” and stated that they will not make any knee jerk reactions and conduct a thorough review before making any decisions.

Last Wednesday I blogged that the Caps need to move on from current GM George McPhee and Coach Adam Oates. I stand by those statements.

Both McPhee and Oates are good men that are very intelligent. There is no denying that. They’ve done many good things for the NHL and the Capitals organization.

My decision is not personal, they are both likeable people. But the bottom line is despite their intelligence they have failed to get the Caps to be in a position to do what they need to do: Compete for and Win a Stanley Cup.

This Capitals team, over the last three plus seasons has gotten further from lifting Lord Stanley. They are not contenders, as currently configured.

The defense is horribly thin with both Karl Alzner and Oates himself questioning the talent level this week. Putting together a quality defense has been McPhee’s achilles heel since he took over the job from David Poile in 1997. He has failed to get to the Eastern Conference Finals with two superstars, Jaromir Jagr and Alexander Ovechkin, primarily because of his inability to put together a strong blue line. Year after year stop gaps like Joel Kwiakowski, Jason Doig, Milan Jurcina, Tyler Sloan, Jack Hillen, etc. have been thrust into prominent roles when they simply weren’t qualified to be playing on a club that has Stanley Cup aspirations. This year’s defense was easily the worst since 2007-08 and the decision to rush a 19 year old Connor Carrick to the NHL was a disaster and hopefully hasn’t wrecked the future of a kid that has promise. Carrick should’ve been playing in Hershey all season but McPhee hamstrung himself with the salary cap by tying up too much of his money in forwards and forced an already weak defense to once again rot.

McPhee’s inability to get a second scoring line has been a problem for years. One of George’s best trades ever was acquiring Sergei Fedorov from Columbus at the 2008 deadline. #91 not only brought talent that allowed Coach Bruce Boudreau to have two legit scoring lines, but Fedorov also brought a wealth of experience and leadership to Washington’s locker room. He took pressure off of Ovechkin and Alexander Semin played his best hockey during that time. But once Fedorov left in 2009, partly to play with his brother but also because the failed Michael Nylander contract ate up the salary cap room that could have been used to entice Fedorov to stay, things began to unravel. Yes, the team had a great 2009-10 regular season but that team’s big holes were at 2nd line center and on defense. The Canadiens knew they only had to shut down one line to win and they did that. From there, things have gotten worse.

The declining talent is troubling and the Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg deal was an indication that this hockey department has lost its way. Whether Forsberg turns into a top six player or not is not what bothers me the most. What is troubling is that McPhee’s staff felt that Erat, who had struggled in 2012-13 and was clearly on the down side of his career, was worth a player that they had just lucked into in the first round at the previous draft. It made me start to wonder about the work ethic of the Caps hockey department when you see a move like that made.

Clearly not enough talent has been brought in to help Ovechkin and a lack of experienced leaders, something I blogged about back in the spring of 2011 that the Caps badly needed to add, has put an incredible amount of pressure and scrutiny on the Gr8. Sure Ovechkin could improve defensively, but he’s been a reason this team is not a bottom five hockey club for the last three years. He is not the problem. The lack of talent in the top six forwards and on defense along with little support in the leadership department has done serious damage to Ovechkin and probably impacted his ability to enjoy hockey. McPhee and the organization have failed Ovechkin, not the other way around.

As for Oates, I give him full credit for reinvigorating the Gr8 over the last 14 months. An MVP season followed by an NHL leading 51 goals for Ovechkin was made possible by things Oates did, including changing the Caps power play and moving Ovechkin to right wing. Clearly Oates was given a not very perfect set of tools to work with, he inherited an unbalanced roster, but overall he did not come close to optimizing what he was given.

Oates may be a “genius” on technical hockey issues, as Alzner called him on Sunday, but coaching is more of an art and not a science. It’s nice to be armed with technical details, but to be a successful coach you have to get people to work together. As The Washington Post’s  Katie Carrera wrote last week, former Caps goaltending coach Dave Prior said he was forced out because Oates felt he knew goaltending better than a man who has successfully coached it for years, including turning Olie Kolzig into one of the NHL’s top goaltenders.  The coaching staff’s decision to try and change Braden Holtby’s game was a disaster and led to an unneeded goaltending carousel that forced Michal Neuvirth out of town.

Being the smartest guy in the room is nice, but when it comes to being a successful leader, it isn’t about being smart. It’s about gathering input from the people around you, harnessing it, and using it to make the total greater than the sum of its parts. Oates failed to do that this season and the 2013-14 Caps were not a “team.”

You simply can’t have three players ask for trades in a season, that just shows organizational chaos and that falls on both the GM and the head coach. It was clear that both Oates and McPhee were not on the same page. Dustin Penner was brought in at the deadline and was misused. Several players were not properly deployed and a team that should be playing hockey on Wednesday finished 5th in its’ new division. The Caps went 12-15-3 against the Metropolitan Division in 2013-14 with many of the losses coming after December 27th. Overall they were 28-33 in games decided before the shootout. That is clearly not Stanley Cup contending calibre.

In the past, while the team has been steadily eroding since the spring of 2009, the organization’s motto has been “we’re close” and when they’ve been bounced out in either the first or second round the excuses have ranged from “facing a hot goaltender” to “injuries.”

There are no excuses this year and this team is not close to being a Stanley Cup contender as configured currently. Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Boston all suffered far worse injury situations and made the postseason. The Penguins survived five of their six defensemen out of the lineup, at one point. Those clubs have built depth and they have tremendous leadership and quality coaching. Washington does not compare in those three categories.

In sports, you are either getting better or you are getting worse. The Caps clearly fit the latter right now.

In summary, it seems apparent that the Caps “thorough review” should lead to the same conclusion I’ve arrived at: both the GM and the coaching staff need to be changed going forward.

The Caps have some key pieces they can build around in Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Holtby, but they need someone running the show that really knows the league and can reshape and balance the roster. The new GM can’t overvalue his current players like this regime has done on too many occasions. They need leadership on and off of the ice. Towards that end, Leonsis may want to consider requiring the hockey department to include not only a new GM but a new Director of Player Personnel that has Stanley Cup winning experience. Winning championships is not easy to do, so getting people that have won them before so that they can help teach the others in your organization how to do it seems like a no brainer to me.

They need people that know how to get managers and players to work together. They need a hockey department with a strong work ethic and an attention to detail. They need a coaching staff that gets the club to be a team.

It’s 39 years and counting without a Stanley Cup in Washington. I’ve been watching this club since 1974 and have pretty much seen it all. There’s a time to stand pat and let things run it’s course and there is a time for change. This club is not on the right path with the current management and coaching.

Time for a big change, because clearly the “status quo” method is not working.

 

 

 

 

Comments (3)

Tags: , ,

Caps Acquire Center Jason Arnott

Posted on 28 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have acquired center Jason Arnott from the New Jersey Devils in return for center and face-off specialist David Steckel and the Caps 2011 second round pick. Arnott is an unrestricted free agent following the 2010-11 season while Steckel is signed for two more years at $1.1M annually.

Arnott will fill the sorely coveted second line center spot that GM George McPhee and the Caps have been trying to find since Sergei Fedorov left for the Kontinental Hockey League after the 2008-09 season.

Arnott, who won a Stanley Cup as a member of the New Jersey Devils in 2000, most recently played four seasons for the Nashville Predators before signing with the Devils as a free agent this year and in 2008-09 scored 33 goals in 65 games. Overall he has 396 goals and 501 assists in his 1196 game NHL career. The 6′ 5″, 220 pound center is 36 years old and was the 7th player taken overall in the 1993 NHL draft.

Steckel was a 4th line center who led the NHL in faceoff percentage for most of this season.

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Caps Rally To Defeat Islanders, 3-2

Posted on 26 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

It was the worst of times. It was the best of times. Okay, I am exaggerating quite a bit here but that is what tonight’s Capitals game against the Islanders had to feel like to Washington fans. Following up on Friday night’s pile of garbage effort in which they were buried 6-0 by the Rangers, the Caps came out and looked disorganized and uninterested for the first 22 minutes of the game falling behind New York, 2-0. At that point, it seemed like this team was unraveling, but the typical sacrificial Matt Hendricks fight, a Bruce Boudreau timeout in which he likely out dB’d the local air traffic coming in to LaGuardia airport, and then most importantly, a change in the top two line combinations jump started this Capitals club and they scored the last three goals to win, 3-2. The victory improves Washington to 33-20-10 (76 points) and they pull within three points of Southeast Division leading Tampa, who will face the Rangers on Sunday at 1pm at Madison Square Garden.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game Washington needed to have if they want to stay in the division race:

- Sometimes in hockey players perform poorly because they aren’t playing with the right guys. This leads to that disorganized look I mentioned above, then frustration sets in, and finally the effort goes out the window because the players tend to give up. To me, that is what was happening for the first period or so for this Washington team, especially the top two Capitals lines. Alexander Ovechkin, who was all over the ice on Friday night, was shifted away from his regular centerman, Nicklas Backstrom, and put with rookie Marcus Johansson for the first period plus of Saturday’s game. It was a DISASTER! The Great #8 had 0 shots on net with MJ90 as his pivot (h/t former Capital Alan May). I like the young rookie, who will eventually be a really good player in this league but will never be a #1 center, but to align him with Ovechkin is asking too much of a 20 year old who is a very good skater but doesn’t know where the Great #8 wants and needs the puck. Simply put, asking Johansson to center Ovie is putting way TOO MUCH pressure on the kid. Thankfully, the coaches figured it out and shuffled the top two forward lines a few shifts after the Boudreau bench rant at 5:35 of period two. Whoever was involved in the decision to get 8 and 19 back together and put MJ90 with Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble is the star of the game, in my opinion. The whole team was way better and more confident after that configuration change.

- The player of the game, and deservedly so, was Laich. #21 made two strong plays with the puck that led to tallies, one for himself when he beat Islanders goalie Al Montoya (19 saves) on an in close bad angled goal to seemingly wake up the entire Capitals team, and the second of which was another strong move with puck in front of the New York cage that allowed Knuble to bang home the biscuit and knot this affair at 2-2 just 2:24 into period three. Laich found chemistry with Johansson (1 assist), who was fantastic after the line juggling, and #22 providing Boudreau with one of those rare contests when he had two lines generating offensive chances.

- The winning goal came from Alexander Semin, whose picture was only seen on a milk carton for the first 30 plus minutes of this tilt, but once #28 was put with his young gun mates #8 and #19 he was a totally different player. Semin started competing on the boards and his laser in the slot at 5:41 of the final stanza was the difference. When you see Semin play like that it really has to make the entire Washington organization think that if they could get him a real center he would play at an elite level more often. Kind of like he did when Sergei Fedorov came over in 2008.

- Michal Neuvirth (29 saves) is the other big reason the Capitals had even an iota of a chance of pulling out a victory on Saturday night. The Isles threw 14 shots on the young Caps goalie when the “Bad and Disorganized” Washington team took the ice in the first period. #30 only gave up Kyle Okposo’s quality shot in the slot when John Carlson got caught pinching too deep in the offensive zone and then Karl Alzner did a poor job of closing the gap on #21 in the defensive zone. The only other marker allowed by Neuvy came after a #74 giveaway on Travis “Diver” Hamonic’s deflected slap shot just 33 seconds into the middle frame. Neuvirth, who had to be ready to sue for non support at that point, has become a rock for the Capitals and he was forced to play again when Semyon Varlamov came up with yet another injury during the morning skate (and Todd Ford, he of the ECHL to start the season, was recalled from Hershey to be the back up goalie with Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin on the shelf in Hershey). I am not sure where the Caps are this season without Neuvirth.

- Alzner and Carlson had their struggles early, likely because bad line combos don’t help d-men out either, but as the game went on that duo got stronger and stronger. Carlson even made the play in the neutral zone that sprung Laich for his first goal. #’s 27 and 74 logged 23:03 and 20:31, respectively and came back to -1 after being on for the first two goals against. The defensive player of the night, however, was Scott Hannan (+2). #23 was super solid on the back end and if you want to see just how great he is defensively, go back and watch the last 2:08 of the game. Hannan was on the ice the entire time and made numeous strong plays to preserve the Capitals victory.

- In closing, this game was headed for disaster yet the Washington players and coaches found a way to battle through it and gut out a victory. The effort, which had been gone for over four periods came back, and the Caps got a much needed two points. There are still issues with this team, primarily the hole at second line center and a power play that continues to be pitiful, but there is still hope given that the NHL trade deadline could still yield some assistance in the talent department. We will all know that story come 3:00pm this Monday afternoon after Capitals GM George McPhee attempts to work his magic.

Notes: I sure hope Hendricks (signed to a 2 year contract extension by the Caps this week) recieved or was considered for the hard hat for his fight tonight. He got hammered by Zenon Konopka but the message received on the Washington bench was what mattered. #26 is all heart…Michal Grabner missed the ocean from the beach when it appeared he had an empty net that would have given the Islanders a 3-0 lead in period two. Hannan helped to thwart that chance as well…Backstrom only took two faceoffs. The Caps won that battle again, 30-27…The Caps claimed forward Marco Sturm off of waivers from the Los Angeles Kings today. Sturm played for Boston last season but blew out his knee in the playoffs. He has struggled to regain his health and the Kings, who are hoping to make some trade deadline acquisitions, valued the vacant roster spot more than Sturm’s services so McPhee gets a second line winger at a discount price…forward/tough guy/typical scratch DJ King was waived today and Mathieu Perreault was sent to Hershey, however #85 apparently is not going to play for the Bears this weekend…Jay Beagle was recalled from Hershey and he played physical and well in 10:27 of ice time…Mike Green did not play and traveled to Calgary to attend his grandmother’s funeral…Hershey won 4-3 getting four assists from Keith Aucoin on Saturday night. 2009 Caps 2nd round draft pick, d-man Dmitri Orlov (1 assist) made his AHL debut for the Bears. Congrats to Jared DeMichiel (27 saves) for his first AHL victory at home! Orlov’s assist came on one of the two Hershey power play tallies.

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Caps Select 4 on Day 2 of NHL Draft

Posted on 26 June 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Press Release from the Capitals:

The Washington Capitals selected right wing Stanislav Galiev, goaltender Philipp Grubauer, center Caleb Herbert and defenseman Samuel Carrier on the second day of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, held Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

That group, along with first-round selection Evgeny Kuznetsov, gives the Capitals a five-player draft class, matching the smallest in Capitals history (1979). Washington traded two picks (fourth round, 116 overall, and fifth round, 176) to Toronto for a fourth-round pick (112 overall), which it used to select Grubauer.

Galiev, taken with the 86th pick, was the 20th-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. He had 60 points (15 goals, 45 assists) in 67 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and led all QMJHL rookie scorers in the playoffs with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 21 games.

Grubauer, a German-born goaltender who split this past season with Belleville and Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League, led Windsor to the Memorial Cup (championship of the Canadian Hockey League). He posted a 23-15-2-5 record with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. Grubauer also led Germany to the gold medal in the second division of the World Junior Championship, elevating the Germans to the top group for 2011.

Herbert recorded 55 points (26 goals, 29 assists) in 25 games for Bloomington-Jefferson High School in Minnesota in 2009-10. He expects to play in the United States Hockey League next season before attending college.

Carrier, a native of Laval, Quebec, scored 10 goals and added 32 assists in 66 games for Lewiston in the QMJHL this past season. He led Lewiston defensemen in scoring and saw his point total jump from nine points (four goals, five assists) in his first year with Lewiston.

COMMENTS: When Caps GM George McPhee was asked on Friday night, after Washington selected Russian center Evgeny Kuznetsov, if his scouting staff had a preference for Russian players, the GM stated that his club simply followed their list and took the best player available when it was their turn to draft. So why so many Russians? Well, they are very talented hockey players but some teams are afraid to risk taking them for fear of them not coming over to North America to play. Fortunately for Washington, they have a key ingredient that is sure to provide any drafted Russian hockey player with a reason to come to DC to join the Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin. So when teams pass on these highly skilled players, they remain on the board and when it comes time for the Capitals to select, it is quite often that a Russian is at the top of their list. Makes sense, right?

But is it a good strategy to keep drafting so many Russians? Some will argue that it is hard to win with them but off the top of my head the following players from Russia have all won Stanley Cups: Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Slava Kozlov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, and Sergei Gonchar (the full list can be found here). Detroit had a ton of success with that recipe in the late 1990′s winning titles in 1997 and 1998, so to say the Capitals method of building a team won’t work is pure speculation.

As for the Grubauer pick, some will wonder why Washington traded up to take another goalie when they already have young net minders Semyon Varlamov (22), Michal Neuvirth (22), and Braden Holtby (20) in the organization? McPhee told Mike Vogel over at Caps 365 that his scouting staff really liked him and they had the Windsor Spitfire slated as a 2nd rounder. Thus when he was still on the board in the 4th round, the Caps brass felt it made sense to go after a player they rated as a blue chip propsect and added to their goaltending assets. Competition is a good thing and having seen this kid play during the Memorial Cup, it was definitely the correct move. Grubauer is a winner and despite the fact that he had a super strong team in front of him, he still made the big saves when he needed to, unlike say an Evgeni Nabokov, now formerly of the San Jose Sharks. The bottom line is you can never have too many good players, especially young ones, in a salary cap driven NHL.

Here is the complete 2010 Capitals draft class:

Rd.        No.          Name        Pos.  Ht.        Wt.         Shoots        Birthday       Birthplace             Team

1    26    Evgeny Kuznetsov C   6’0”  172   L   5/19/92   Chelyabinsk, Russia   Chelyabinsk Traktor (KHL)

3    86    Stanislav Galiev  RW   6’1”  178   R     1/17/92   Moscow, Russia    Saint John (QMJHL)

4    112  Philipp Grubauer  G   6’0”  180   L   11/25/91 Rosenheim, Germany    Windsor (OHL)

5    142  Caleb Herbert   C   5’10”   180   R  10/12/91  St. Paul, Minn.  Bloomington-Jefferson HS

6    176  Samuel Carrier  D  6’1”  186   R    4/28/92   Laval, Quebec    Lewiston (QMJHL) 

All draftees have been invited to attend Caps development camp, which begins on Monday, July 12 and runs through Saturday, July 18 at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston, Virginia.

 

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Caps Blast Blackhawks, 6-2, in Pre-Season Game

Posted on 23 September 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-2, on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. I was unable to attend the contest so if you want a couple of good takes on it click here as well as here. Also, below are some bullets on the game and some post game quotes from Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Knuble, and Head Coach Bruce Boudreau courtesy of the Caps outstanding Media Relations department:

* Mike Knuble scored two goals 2:16 apart in the first period; he leads the Caps with three goals in the preseason.
* Alex Ovechkin assisted on Knuble’s second goal of the game to register his first point of the preseason and added two goals in the second period.
* Nicklas Backstrom registered two assists tonight to tie Alexander Semin for the lead on the team with four assists and tie for second in the NHL (entering tonight’s game). Backstrom also scored a power-play goal in the second period.
* The Capitals gave up their first power play goal in the second period. After starting the preseason 14-for-14 on the penalty kill, the Caps are now 17-for-19 (89.5%).
* Four Caps players recorded three points tonight – Knuble (2g-1a), Ovechkin (2g-1a), Backstrom (1g-2a) and Semin (3a).
* After scoring only one power play goal in the first three preseason games (1-for-12) the Caps scored three tonight – Knuble, Ovechkin and Backstrom – and are now 4-for-18 (22.2%).
* Defenseman Tyler Sloan recorded his first point of the preseason, a goal, in the second period.
* Semyon Varlamov stopped 26 shots and is now 2-0-0 with a 2.48 goals-against average in two preseason games.
* This is the Capitals first preseason game of the year that hasn’t been decided by one goal, with the first two games decided in overtime.

Capitals Forward Alex Ovechkin

On the addition of Mike Knuble …

“He’s great and you can see how he works. He’s good for us and we’re happy. We’re lucky we can get him here.”

On the defensive play in the contest …

“We had great defense. It was good. I think we were fresher than Chicago and this was the result.”

On the start of the regular season approaching …

“We still have one week and we still have to work. We still have to get ready for our game against Boston and two against Toronto.”

Capitals Forward Mike Knuble

On a seemingly easy transition to the Capitals …

“I think as a player, you’re never happy with your overall game. You always feel like you can do better – practice better and be a better all-around player. I can’t sit back now and say, ‘I got a couple of goals and figure everything is okay. I can just cruise now.’ You always want to work harder to never let the other guys down.”

On keeping the power play simple in tonight’s game …

“It looks nice to snap it around the outside, but you have to take it to the front of the net at times.  We had some pretty goals tonight, but that 5-on-3 goal we just bounced the puck across. It’s not going to be pretty all the time though. I think when you can back teams off with that fear of your skill … they aren’t going to know what to do. You’ve got to have middle presence and have shots at the net.”

On the skill of his Capital teammates …

“As a player, you’re excited playing with those guys because you know it’s coming anytime and they’re all gifted. The puck starts flying around and it’s spinning like a top down there. It’s got to come to the front of the net eventually though and you hope it hits your stick or something like that. Sometimes you don’t even see it coming. You just have yourself planted there.”

Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau

On getting the rust of out before the regular season…

“Every first game takes them (veteran guys) a little while to get into the flow. I thought those three guys (Capitals forwards Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom) were a lot better today. And when they’re good, they’re pretty fun to watch. They’re a line that I don’t think will stay together for 82 games. But, when they’re on and not just looking for each other to be fancy, they’re a pretty unique, skilled line.”

On the play of Capitals forward Mike Knuble…

“He’s a meat and potatoes guy. Coaches love guys like that. He has a scoring touch. He goes to the net. It’s an element, other than Alex (Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin) that we really didn’t have last year. No disrespect to Feds or Viktor (former Capitals forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov) but it’s something we haven’t had here in Washington.”

On the play of the Capitals defensemen…

“The 10 defensemen we have here are pretty good defensemen. All 10 are capable of playing regularly in the NHL.”

On the Capitals goaltending and the play of Semyon Varlamov…

“Varly’s (Varlamov) got a good chance of being here. I thought in the third period, Varly kept his head. He controlled the rebounds. It gave our guys a rest and [we were] able to get a line change.”

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Mid-July NHL Off-Season Analysis

Posted on 12 July 2009 by Ed Frankovic

This year I have had to wait a little longer to bring you my analysis of the NHL’s free agency signing period, which began on July 1, because with the salary cap not going up drastically for the first time since it was instituted coming out of the lock out in 2005, there are still general managers making moves, as evidenced by the Caps inking of center Brendan Morrison this past Friday night.

Despite the fact that the salary cap increased just $100,000 to $56.8M next season, there are still teams who have been very active and spent a lot of money, such as the Blackhawks, Rangers, Maple Leafs, and Canadiens. However, the interesting thing that is happening this summer that has not occurred in years past is there are some familiar players who have not been signed yet, such as forwards Alex Tanguay (made over $5M last season in Montreal and has had his named bantered about in Nashville) and Maxim Afinogenov (Buffalo), and those guys are running out of time to find a chair before the music eventually stops.

Below is a summary of what several teams have done so far and my thoughts on the impact of those moves. I am including in this analysis any trades and significant 2009 draft choices. In general, my opinion is that the teams that did not spend a lot of money this summer on free agents did well.

Chicago Blackhawks – GM Dale Tallon has been wildly active and his biggest move was the signing of former Detroit Red Wings forward Marian Hossa to a 12-year, $62.8M contract. Hossa has been on the losing end of the last two Stanley Cup Finals and will be playing with his fourth team (Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta) in the last three seasons. They also re-signed some of their current young players giving forward Kris Versteeg a three-year, $9.2M deal and defenseman Cam Barker a three-year, $9.25M extension. 23 year old forward David Bolland, who had 47 points and was +19 in 81 games for the Hawks in 2008-09, also received a five year contract at $3.375M a season. Tallon added forwards Tomas Kopecky ($1.2M) from Detroit and John Madden ($2.75M) from New Jersey. This all comes after the GM inked goalie Cristobal Huet to a four-year deal at $5.625M a season and defensemen Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal at $7.143M a season last summer. The biggest loss was goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who bolted to the Edmonton Oilers, and they also lost forwards Martin Havlat and Samuel Pahlsson in free agency to Minnesota and Columbus, respectively. Chicago went to the Western Conference finals last season before losing to the Red Wings and they should do well in the upcoming regular season, but I have serious doubts about Huet’s ability to carry a team deep into the playoffs. The other big problem for Chicago is after the 2009-10 season they will have to give their two best forwards, Patrick Kane  ($3.725M) and Jonathan Toews ($2.8M), long term contracts with significant raises in order to keep them. Kane and Toews will likely both command around $6M a season. Overall, I don’t like what Chicago did because they spent a lot of money that very well could impact their ability to lock up their two young superstars (Kane and Toews) long-term plus they still have questionable goaltending in Huet.

Montreal Canadiens – GM Bob Gainey came into this summer with 10 unrestricted free agents and five restricted free agents on his roster. To date Gainey has not re-signed any of those 10 UFAs and included on that list were top name players Alexei Kovalev, Tanguay, Mike Komisarek, Robert Lang, and Saku Koivu. All but Tanguay are signed by other teams. Gainey has taken the unorthodox route of over turning his roster via trades and free agency. He traded forward Christopher Higgins to the Rangers for forward Scott Gomez, but at $7.35M over the next five seasons. He then gave $6M a season for five years to Mike Cammallieri (scored 39 goals in Calgary last season) and $5M a season for five years to Brian Gionta (spent his first 7 seasons in New Jersey). To quote an NHL scout, “Gainey basically replaced a bunch of small forwards with a bunch of small forwards.” On defense he lost Komisarek to the Leafs but added Hal Gill from the Penguins for $2.25M a year for two seasons and Jaroslav Spacek from the Sabres for three years at $3.833M a season. He also signed forward Travis Moen (third line player) and journeyman defenseman Paul Mara. Overall, I am not sure what Gainey’s long term plan is as this team has gone from a early round playoff out to one that I see just fighting to get into the post season in 2009-10, at best. If I am a Habs fan I view this off-season as a colossal disaster and with the long term contracts this organization has gotten themselves into I don’t see a bright future any time soon.

New York Rangers – When GM Glen Sather worked in Edmonton he routinely complained about having to manage a small market team. However, Sather always seemed to overcome those problems and annually had the Oilers in contention for the playoffs and often with a decent chance to go deep into them. In 2000 the former great Oilers coach became President and GM of the Rangers and the Blueshirts promptly missed the playoffs their first four seasons despite the fact that the GM took advantage of the large budget afforded him. With the salary cap in place since 2005 Sather would appear to be more constrained but that hasn’t stopped him from getting the Rangers tied up in some outrageous contracts such as the deals given to Gomez, Wade Redden, and Chris Drury. New York was basically in salary cap jail coming into this off-season but thanks to Marcus Naslund retiring and the Gomez trade it looked like Sather might finally be able to back up his statements about giving the younger Rangers players a chance to develop and play. That plan lasted less than a day as Sather couldn’t resist throwing around more money and signed often injured forward Marian Gaborik, formerly of the Minnesota Wild, to a 5 year deal worth $37.5Million. Gaborik, when healthy and motivated, can be one of the best players in the league but the problem is that doesn’t happen very often. Sather also overpaid for former Sabres forward Ales Kotalik (three -year, $9M deal) and former Caps enforcer Donald Brashear (2 years for $2.8M total). Higgins, obtained in the Gomez trade, should do well in New York given that he is a Long Island native. The Rangers also lost Mara, Nik Antropov, and Colton Orr via free agency. I didn’t like the Rangers team last season and I don’t like it for 2009-10 either. The best thing they have going for them is goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who single-handidly took the Caps to a seventh game in the first round of the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs – When Brian Burke took over as GM of the Leafs mid-season in one of the worst kept secrets ever, you knew he wasn’t going to stand pat and just build through the draft. Toronto has a massive fan base,  loads of financial resources, and with that comes the pressure to win right away. Fortunately for Burke he inherited arguably the Leafs best draft pick of the last 10 years in defenseman Luke Schenn (drafted fifth overall in 2008). After that Burke was smart to announce that anyone else was available via trade. The savvy GM then was able to get Thrashers GM Don Waddell to take on defenseman Pavel Kubina and his $5M salary for next season and in return received 1999 first round Atlanta draft pick in Garnet Exelby (he also received Colin Stuart in the deal). Then Burke used the cap room afforded him to sign former Canadiens defenseman Komisarek to a five-year, $22M deal and former Ducks d-man Francois Beauchemin for three years at $3.8M a season. In Tomas Kaberle, Schenn, Komisarek, and Beauchemin the Leafs have a very good top four group of defensemen. The next three best defensemen on the roster are Exelby, Mike Van Ryn and Jeff Finger but those seven total close to $23M in salary cap space so look for Burke to deal another one of that crew either before October or during the season. The Leafs still have the expensive Vesa Toskala (one more season at $4M)  in net but Burke also just signed Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who led Farjestads to the Swedish Elite League championship this past spring, to a one year deal at $810,000. This could turn out to be a major steal in the long run. Of course the Leafs still are weak up front. They drafted forward Nazem Kadri of the London Knights with the 7th overall pick in the 2009 draft and he could turn out to be a first line player, although I have concerns about his size. Overall I think the Leafs really improved their team and you can bet that Burke will continue to make changes. But Leafs fans, who are prone to overestimating their own team, should not even think about a parade on Yonge street any time in the next two seasons, at least. Making the playoffs in 2009-10 would be a major step up for Toronto and with head coach Ron Wilson’s defensive philosophy they could pull it off.

Philadelphia Flyers – Approaching the 2008-09 season trade deadline back in February there were talks that Philadelphia was making a run for a front line defenseman and Jay Bouwmeester of Florida was the name frequently linked to them. Then on the eve of the 2009 NHL Entry draft GM Paul Holmgren sent forward Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Luca Sbisa (Philly’s first round pick in the 2008 draft), their 2009 and 2010 first round draft picks, and a conditional 3rd round pick to Anaheim for defenseman Chris Pronger and forward Ryan Dingle. Next Philadelphia promptly signed the soon to be 35 year old Pronger to a seven year contract extension that averages $4.9M a season. Pronger will count $6.25M against the salary cap in 2009-10 since he is still in the last year of his previous deal. With a big three on defense of Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn the Flyers have an outstanding trio on the backend but they are still weak in net. Holmgrem gave up on free agent goalies Martin Biron and Anterro Niittymaki and signed former Senators goalie (and some would say head case) Ray Emery for one year at $1.5M and the aging Brian Boucher at $925K a season for the next two years. Those moves are head scratchers, if you ask me. The Flyers also added bottom six forward Ian Laperrierre, who can mix it up when needed, for three years at $1.16M a season. Because of salary cap issues the Flyers had to let Mike Knuble go in free agency (Washington). Still on the books is the injury prone and pesky Danny Briere at $6.5M a season for six more years, something Flyer fans can’t be happy about. Overall the Pronger move makes Philly Stanley Cup contenders next season but the price in the long term may be too costly given that they will likely go three years (counting Sbisa) without a number one pick in a salary cap era where building through the draft is a must.

Calgary Flames – Calgary was in such salary cap jail last spring that when they suffered a rash of injuries in March and April they could not field a full team in several games down the stretch which cost them the Northwest Division title and helped put them on their way to a first round playoff exit. GM Darryl Sutter, who is starting to feel some pressure to get his team into at least the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004, took a lot of heat for what some see as salary cap mismanagement. However, Sutter has continued to be aggressive in the off-season and fired coach Mike Keenan and replaced him with his brother and former Devils coach, Brent. Then he pulled off a major coup by trading a third round pick and Jordan Leopold to Florida for the rights to Bouwmeester. Sutter subsequently signed one of the best defenseman in the league to a five year deal at $6.68M a season. To make salary cap room for Bouwmeester they traded defenseman Jim Vandermeer to Phoenix in return for forward Brandon Prust and they didn’t attempt to re-sign Cammalleri. Calgary now has a top four defense of Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf (who struggled under Keenan but should return to top form under his former junior coach at Red Deer in Sutter), Robyn Regehr, and Cory Sarich but it comes at a price of almost $21M in salary cap space. With forwards Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, and Daymond Langkow plus goalie Mikka Kiprusoff accounting for nearly $22.5M in cap space, Calgary is a top heavy team that will need to stay healthy and find the right role players to help them win in the playoffs. Still with the Bouwmeester signing the Flames are a major contender in the Western Conference.

Ottawa Senators – It is never good to be boxed into a corner by a star player but that is exactly what has happened to Ottawa GM Bryan Murray who had to be shocked to hear that superstar Dany Heatley wants to be traded despite counting $7.5M against the salary cap the next five years. Heatley, after playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, began the 2007-08 season with a six year contract extension but he now wants out. Murray, who had to pay Heatley a $4M bonus when he exercised his no trade clause and refused to be moved to Edmonton on July 2nd (despite wanting out of Ottawa), says he will now keep the 28 year old forward to start next season unless he gets a premium deal. Murray did sign Kovalev for two seasons at $5M each and re-signed tough net crashing forward Chris Neil for four years at $8M total. Sens fans are counting on Pascal Leclaire to be the #1 goalie after he was acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline in February. However, the Ottawa defense remains weak with Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips leading the way. Their future totally depends on what happens in the Heatley saga.

Washington Capitals – GM George McPhee said prior to July 1 that the Caps would not be big players in free agency and he was correct. The Caps did sign net crashing forward Knuble for two years at $2.8M a season and potential second line center Morrison for only $1.5M for next season. Those moves aren’t headline grabbers but they are low risk ones that could yield good results. Washington lost 39 year old Sergei Fedorov and underachieving forward Viktor Kozlov to the Russian league but with them went $6.5M in salary cap space. McPhee says the team will continue to build from within. GMGM will likely spend the next couple of months working on a long term deal for Nicklas Backstrom, who at just 21 years old is already one of the top centers in the NHL. The question mark over the next 12 months is what to do with the up and down Alexander Semin. Semin has the talent to be one of the best players in the league but his motivation, at times, and ability to play through injuries has held him back. There is also the danger that Semin could bolt back to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The Caps lost tough guy Brashear in free agency and that is a void in the line-up right now but McPhee seems resolved to going without an enforcer stating recently that you only need one for about 10 games a season. Any deal to unload Michael Nylander and his $4.875M salary cap hit for the next two seasons would be a very good one and unreliable goalie Jose Theodore has one more year in DC at $4.5M unless McPhee can move him, but I don’t see that happening until the 2009-10 trading deadline. The Caps did not spend much money so I see their off-season as a good one that could get better if #92 or #60 is somehow dealt.

Pittsburgh Penguins – The Stanley Cup Champion Penguins won their title and now because of the salary cap are paying the price, especially on defense as Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles) and Gill (Montreal) both left for new deals. The good news is GM Ray Shero convinced forwards Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko to come back for one year at $2M and $1.8M, respectively. However, I was not a fan of the decision to sign restricted free agent Alex Goligoski, an offensive but slow moving defenseman, to a three year deal at $1.833M a season. They also signed defenseman Jay McKee, who was bought out by St. Louis, for one year at $800K. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar is under contract for one more year at $5M but they have the physical Brooks Orpik locked up for five more years at $3.75M a season. Pittsburgh is clearly weaker on defense since the Stanley Cup Finals but their goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, proved to be a big time netminder in the playoffs and with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Chris Kunitz signed for at least three more seasons this club will be contenders for the Cup again unless the injury bug hits hard.

Detroit Red Wings – Could the Wings finally be on the way down? They were beaten in the Stanley Cup Finals by the Penguins, then lost Hossa to the Hawks and Mikael Samuelsson to the Vancouver Canucks. Forward Jiri Hudler, who played well crashing the net for Detroit last season, has signed a disputed contract to play in the KHL plus Kopecky bolted to Chicago with Hossa. So that is four of their top 12 forwards gone, if Hudler isn’t legally dragged back to Motown, but they still have forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Johan Franzen signed under long term deals. Superstar defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom is under contract for just one more year at $7.45M and this could be it for him in the NHL as he will likely either retire or head back to play in Sweden after next season. Chris Osgood is still the #1 goalie for the next two years but he is aging. Basically GM Ken Holland has his work cut out for him but he and draft guru Jim Nill always seem to find good players to plug any holes.

Los Angeles Kings – Signed defenseman Scuderi to a four year, $13.6M deal away from the Pens and also traded defensemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing plus a 5th round draft pick to the Avs for crease crasher Ryan Smyth. If the Kings can get some good goaltending next season (could young goalie Jonathan Bernier finally be ready?), Terry Murray’s young team could make the playoffs.

Vancouver Canucks – Re-signed the Sedin twins (Henrik and Daniel) at $6.1M each for five seasons and inked Samuelsson away from the Wings so they are hoping the Swedish connection works. Goalie Roberto Luongo is under contract for one more season at $6.75M and they have goalie Cory Schneider waiting in the wings in Manitoba of the AHL should they not be able to re-sign the superstar goalie (but if they can’t keep Luongo they might as well pack it in for good). Schneider will spend next season in the AHL again as GM Mike Gillis signed Andrew Raycroft to be the back up at $500K for one season. I can’t see this team going deep in next year’s playoffs as they are currently configured.

Columbus Blue Jackets – Re-signed superstar forward and 2002 1st overall NHL Entry draft selection, Rick Nash, to a eight year, $62.4M contract extension that goes into effect for the 2010-11 season. This move alone saves a franchise that had trouble generating interest until their first ever playoff appearance this past spring. GM Scott Howson also signed third line grinder and former Stanley Cup winner (Anaheim) Pahlsson for three years at $2.65M a season as well as getting Pittsburgh backup goalie Mathieu Garon for two years at $1.2M a season, which seems a little high considering that their #1 goalie will be 2008-09 rookie of the year, Steve Mason, who will count only $905K against the cap the next two years and will receive the bulk of the workload.

As for the rest of the NHL, here are some moves that I like, don’t like, as well as some things to keep an eye on before training camps open in mid September.

Like:

Tampa Bay Lightning – Signed defenseman Mattias Ohlund from Vancouver for seven years at $27.M total. This expensive move is a good one primarily because the Lightning are counting on the Swedish veteran to tutor 2009 first round pick and second overall selection, defenseman Victor Hedman, who also hails from Sweden. With last year’s number one overall pick, Steven Stamkos, and Hedman the Lightning have two players to build around plus they still have team captain Vincent LeCavalier locked up for 10 more years (and the Habs have no salary cap space to try and obtain him).

Colorado Avalance – Signed goalie Craig Anderson at $1.8M a season for two years. The Avs aren’t going to contend next year, especially after Joe Sakic retired, and they traded Smyth so this is a good chance for them to see if Anderson can be a bona fide #1 goalie. The other goalie will once again be the inconsistent Peter Budaj, who was re-signed for $1.25M for next season.

Florida Panthers – They lost Bouwmeester and pretty much gave away any chance they had of making the playoffs next season with that move but I did like the signing of former Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen at three years for $1.2M a season.

Dislike:

Minnesota Wild – Rookie GM Chuck Fletcher did a good thing letting Gaborik hit the open market but giving the often injured forward Havlat a six year, $30M deal was a mistake. Other than goalie Nickas Backstrom I do not like this team’s roster at all as it currently stands.

New York Islanders – This once proud franchise continues to make boneheaded decisions. They have goalie Rick DiPietro signed for 12 more years at a $4.5M annual cap hit yet they decide to sign 39 year old goalie Dwayne Roloson for two years at $2.5M a season????? Does that mean DiPietro is still in bad shape??? Well at least I liked that they selected John Tavares first overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft so Islanders fans will have something to watch and cheer for next season. Too bad they can’t seem to get out of that dump of a building in Uniondale (Nassau Coliseum) but perhaps with Tavares in the fold they can figure out a way to change that?

Things Still to Watch in this off-season:

Boston Bruins – Phil Kessel, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (right after the Caps took Backstrom), is an unsigned restricted free agent whose name was bantered about in a draft day deal that went bad between the Bruins and the Leafs. The Bruins reportedly will re-sign him but they do have some salary cap issues to deal with in order to get the forward who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery inked long term.

San Jose Sharks – Will GM Doug Wilson stand pat after seeing his President’s Trophy winning team get knocked out by the Ducks in the first round of the playoffs? Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been heavily criticized for not delivering in the post season so is Wilson willing to roll the dice on those two guys again next season?

New Jersey Devils – With the reportedly homesick Brent Sutter now hired by the Flames who will GM Lou Lamoriello get to coach his squad next season? As I’ve blogged before, Dave Tippett would be a great fit there but there has been some talk of former Devils forward John Maclean taking over behind the bench.

Phoenix Coyotes – Off the ice the ownership situation is still up in the air and the NHL is trying desperately to keep the team in Arizona. On Saturday Coach Wayne Gretzky finally got involved in a situation that is not looking too good.

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , ,

Caps Sign Brendan Morrison (UPDATED)

Posted on 10 July 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have signed unrestricted free agent center Brendan Morrison to a one-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

A 5’11”, 181-pound native of Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Morrison has had 50-plus points six times, including four 20-goal seasons. He has played 755 career games with four teams – Dallas, Anaheim, Vancouver and New Jersey – spanning 12 NHL seasons. Morrison has 175 goals and 330 assists (505 points) in his NHL career, with career highs in goals (25), assists (46) and points (71) coming in 2002-03 with the Canucks.

Morrison, who will turn 34 on Aug. 15, split last season between Anaheim and Dallas, posting 16 goals and 31 points in 81 games. He had 32 penalty minutes and a +3 rating. Morrison played 542 consecutive NHL games from 2000-07, but was hampered by injuries the past two seasons.

Morrison’s best seasons came as a member of the Canucks, where he amassed 393 points in 543 games from 2000-08 and was among the team’s top five scorers for six years in a row. He has consistently been a plus player, with a career rating of +55, and has 47 power-play goals, seven shorthanded goals and 38 game-winning goals to his credit.

A second-round draft choice of New Jersey in 1993, 39th overall, he earned AHL All-Rookie Team honors as a member of the Devils’ affiliate, the Albany River Rats, when he led them in scoring in 1997-98.

Morrison won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top college player in 1997 (the same award McPhee won as a player at Bowling Green) and led Michigan to the national championship in 1996. He led the nation in scoring three times for the Wolverines, collecting 102 goals and 182 assists (284 points) in 155 games. Morrison was a teammate of recent Capitals signee Mike Knuble for two years at Michigan and again with Linkopings in Sweden in 2004-05.

COMMENT: As everyone knows the Caps needed a second line center and it appears McPhee has gotten his man. Depending on the money involved I think this is a good signing. Morrison was once a member of one of the best lines in hockey in Vancouver with Marcus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, and Morrison. The Caps lost Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov and have replaced them with Morrison and Mike Knuble at likely less money than last season (they paid a combined $6.5M last year for those two players and with Knuble at $2.8M and Morrison no more than that – he made $2.75M last season and definitely took less money from the Caps – McPhee has saved salary cap room). Washington has arguably upgraded the talent level, although Fedorov’s leadership and experience is a tough thing to replace but he was injury prone, with these two signings. The key with Morrison will be his health. He badly injured a wrist that snapped a 542 consecutive game streak and then he tore his ACL during the 2007-08 season. The former first line center of one of the best lines in hockey has struggled to regain his form since then.

UPDATE: TSN is reporting Morrison signed for $1.5M for one season. Here is some of the info and quotes from the TSN article:

He played in 542 consecutive games from 2000-07, but he has since had four surgeries — wrist, hip, sports hernia and torn right ACL.

He was limited to 39 games with the Canucks during the 2007-08 season, moved on to the Ducks for 2008-09 but was waived in March and claimed the next day by the Stars.

He finished the season with 16 goals and 15 assists in 81 games between the two teams.

Morrison said he “could barely get up and down the ice” for much of the season.

“I thought I felt good and I thought I was healthy, but my legs didn’t start coming around until probably the three-quarter mark,” he said.

He said he’s now back at full strength for summer conditioning.

“He has a clean bill of health,” general manager George McPhee said, “and is committed to coming to camp in great shape. We think he could really flourish here.”

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Caps Update and NHL News

Posted on 30 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Update

When the clock strikes midnight tonight it is Canada Day and with that comes the start of NHL free agency. Today Caps GM George McPhee mentioned that he didn’t see Washington as being a big player in that arena because of the lack of success the Caps and most teams have had in free agency as well as his team’s salary cap situation. The Caps do have needs going into next year if they want to win the Stanley Cup and I list them in the following priority order: second-line center, a first or second line power forward that goes to the net, and a physical defenseman.

Last weekend the Caps drafted Swedish center Marcus Johansson with their first round pick, 24th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. This was the third time in the last four years that Washington has selected a center from Sweden with their first selection. Last year they took center Anton Gustafsson, son of former Cap Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, and in 2006 they selected Nicklas Backstrom with the fourth overall pick in the draft. Backstrom is already one of the best centers in the NHL while Gustafsson has struggled to get onto the ice back in Sweden due to injuries.

I spoke with another NHL team’s scouting director this evening and he said that he thought Johansson was a good pick by the Caps and will likely be a 3rd or 4th line center in the NHL. Considering how much of a crap shoot the NHL draft can be this doesn’t seem to be a bad scenario for the 24th overall pick. The scout also said that Johansson is definitely better than Gustafsson.

Forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov are already gone from this past season’s Caps roster and it appears enforcer Donald Brashear won’t be back either. The Caps also qualified eight players yesterday in Chris Bourque, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Steve Pinizzotto, Jeff Schultz and Kyle Wilson while they did not extend offers to Andrew Joudrey, Daren Machesney, Travis Morin, and Sasha Pokulok. Pokulok was the 14th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft so he has definitely reached bust status.

NHL News

Last Saturday morning the Calgary Flames traded with the Florida Panthers for the right to negotiate with superstar defenseman Jay Bouwmeester sending the Cats unrestricted free agent defenseman Jordan Leopold and a 3rd round pick. That move has definitely paid off for both the Flames and Bouwmeester as they have agreed to a reported five year deal worth $6.6M per season. This certainly gets Calgary back in the elite category in the Western Conference just like the Chris Pronger acquisition has shifted some of the power balance back to Philadelphia in the East.

Another big trade occurred today with the New York Rangers shipping center Scott Gomez and his huge contract to the Montreal Canadiens for Long Island native Christopher Higgins. The Rangers also receive former Montreal first round draft pick Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Donatanko while the Habs got forward Tom Pyatt and defenseman Mike Busto in return. With the acquisiton of Gomez, who has 5 years and $33.5M left on the deal he signed with the Rangers in 2007, any talk of Vincent LeCavalier being moved from Tampa to Montreal now goes out the window.

The NHL scouting director I spoke with today said that the Canadiens benefit because Gomez is the best player in the deal despite his high salary while the Rangers were clearly looking to get some salary cap room. He also said that the only real prospect in the deal was McDonagh. I’m giving the nod on this one to the Rangers for clearing major salary cap room but given Glen Sather’s free agent acquisition history he could easily put his team back in the same boat with another high priced signing. We’ll see if the New York GM has learned from some past mistakes.

The Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed free agent forward Bill Guerin to a one year $2M deal as they attempt to make a run at repeating as the NHL champions. Guerin was a big factor in the Penguins resurgence from the trading deadline all the way to their title run. GM Ray Shero will now turn his attention to resigning forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who now has two Stanley Cup rings (Tampa in 2004), and defensemen Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill.

With the Pronger, Bouwmeester, and Gomez moves happening the domino effect could start taking place on Canada Day and there are some big names still available in forwards Marian Hossa (Detroit), Marian Gaborik (Minnesota), Daniel and Henrik Sedin (Vancouver) not to mention Ottawa’s Dany Heatley, who says he wants to be traded out of Canada’s capital city.

I asked the NHL scouting director if the salary cap was slowing down movement (there surprisingly weren’t many trades at the NHL draft last weekend) and he said that was true. I then asked him if we will see some crazy signings like we saw last year, such as the Leafs giving defenseman Jeff Finger for four years at $3.5M a season or Columbus inking defenseman Mike Commodore for four years at $4M annually, and he said that definitely will occur because there are some teams with lots of salary cap space available.

Check back for news and analysis over the next several days as things in the NHL get really interesting.

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Caps Update and Pre-NHL Draft Thoughts

Posted on 24 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

So it appears that Donald Brashear is not in the plans for next year for the Washington Capitals (check out more on that and an update on the Sergei Fedorov situation here). While Brashear did serve a purpose the last couple of seasons in DC by protecting Alexander Ovechkin and many other Caps players he is now 37 years old and following a knee injury he suffered in a losing fight to Nashville’s Wade Belak his value has drastically diminished. The question GM George McPhee has to answer is:

Can the Caps go forward with defenseman John Erskine and forward Matt Bradley as the guys who will take on opponents players and tough guys when they start taking liberties with the Great #8 and some of Washington’s other highly skilled players next season?

Here is my answer: No, I think McPhee needs to add a guy to try and fill the Brashear role next season because Erskine and Bradley aren’t good enough fighters to take on the league’s heavyweights plus both of them have other more important roles on the team than just being a fighter. During the regular season the Caps absolutely need someone who can fight and protect. Come playoff time that skill pretty much goes out the window (As an example of this, take a look at how little ice time forward and resident tough guy Eric Godard, who played 71 games and had 171 PIMs for the Pens in the regular season, received in the playoffs: 0!).

If one takes a look at the coverage and analysis from blogs and national publications about the Caps you will see various need assessments ranging from a second line center to a defensive d-man to a power forward who can go to the net and score the ugly goals. I’ll stand by my assertion that the biggest need is a second line center (I don’t think Fedorov will be back and if he does come back can he be counted on to play anywhere close to 82 games?).

Some of the other things McPhee needs to do this summer is solve the Michael Nylander (as in how can he get rid of this guy and his huge salary cap figure?) and Jose Theodore situations. I am 100% convinced that Theodore cannot be the #1 goalie for the Caps going into next year’s playoffs no matter how well he does in the regular season because the Washington players can’t possibly have any confidence at all in this guy after he opened the playoffs with one of the worst goaltending games in Caps playoff history. Rob Yunich over at Storming the Crease throws out some options on where McPhee could send #60. I think Edmonton or Colorado make the most sense but at $4.5M this might not happen until after the season gets rolling or even closer to the trade deadline. Bottom line in both situations is it doesn’t matter what the Caps get back  in return for these guys as long as they can unload the salary.

On to the 2009 NHL Entry Draft where TSN/NBC’s Pierre McGuire and former Flames GM Craig Button offer up their predictions. As I mentioned in my last blog, Button, who used to run the draft for the Dallas Stars back in the 90′s (he selected Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, and Marty Turco) before moving on to Calgary, likes d-man Victor Hedman to be the first overall pick by the Islanders. McGuire and I see New York taking forward John Tavares.

Once again scanning the national publications and blogosphere several people have the Caps picking forward Landon Ferraro with the 24th selection in the first round on Friday night. Ferraro, who is the son of former Hartford Whalers and Islanders forward Ray, is only 5′ 11″ and 165 pounds. The younger Ferraro is reportedly very fast but given his genetics one can’t expect him to grow into the body necessary to be a power forward (next biggest Caps need behind a second line center). Since Ferraro is a right wing, is small, and the Caps have several other young, small, and speedy forwards in their system already (see Chris Bourque, Mathieu Perrault, and Francois Bouchard), I just don’t see any reason why McPhee and head scout Ross Mahoney would take him. McGuire picks him for the Caps while Button goes with defenseman Dmitri Orlov.

Another popular name associated with the Caps in the first round is Jacob Josefson. Button has him going in the top 10 while McGuirre has him taken by St. Louis with the 17th pick so it is unlikely he is around where Washington is currently slated to pick. However, you never know if the Caps will move up (or down) and last year there were over a dozen trades in the first round so trying to predict who Washington will select is extremely difficult. I would not be surprised at all to see McPhee trade this year’s pick for a player who can help the Caps next season. In fact, what will surprise me most is if McPhee and his staff leave Montreal without making a single trade that will immediately fill in some of the current needs for next season.

All players drafted this weekend will be invited to the 2009 Caps development camp which will be held July 13-18 at Kettler Ice Plex in Ballston, Virginia. Last year defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson and goalies Simeon Varlamov and Michal Nuevirth really stood out while we also got good looks at forwards Oskar Osala, Bouchard, Perrault, Jake Hauswirth and Steve Pinizzotto; defensemen Keith Seabrook and Patrick McNeill; and goalie Braden Holtby. The one player I will be looking at most during that time is last year’s first round draft pick (21st overall), Anton Gustafsson.

The son of former Capital Bengt-Ake Gustafsson did not attend the 2008 development camp and then after just one day of training camp last September he was done with another back injury. Anton, who was signed by the Caps to a three year contract back in May, hardly played at all this past season (27 regular season and 5 playoff games in Sweden) and his stats to date don’t inspire any confidence to me that he can play an 80 game season. Some have Gustafsson rated as the 5th best prospect in Washington’s system behind Alzner, Carlson, Varlamov, and Neuvirth. I talked with the NHL scouting director of one team last year after the draft in Ottawa and based on their due diligence he said there was no way his team would take Anton because they believed much of his injury situation was in his head. Clearly the book is still really out on Anton and he needs to show his skill and his ability to stay healthy at the development camp.

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hershey Bears Calder Cup Champions; Penguins win Stanley Cup (Updated)

Posted on 12 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears are the Calder Cup Champions after knocking off the Manitoba Moose, 4-1, in game six of their series tonight in Winnipeg. Hershey blitzed Moose goalie Cory Schneider for three goals in the first period and never looked back. Rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, who won the Jack A. Butterfield trophy for AHL playoff MVP, made 24 saves to get the win.  Andrew Gordon, Chris Bourque, Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin scored for Hershey. Congrats to the Bears and the Washington Capitals organization!

Revenge is a dish best served cold if you are a Penguins fan tonight as Pittsburgh held off a furious Red Wings rally to win the Stanley Cup in exciting fashion, 2-1, to avenge last season’s Stanley Cup Finals loss to Detroit. Hockey fans will be watching the incredible Marc-Andre Fleury save on Nicklas Lidstrom with one second left for years to come. Evgeni Malkin was the Conn Smythe Award Winner for Playoff MVP but in my mind, the Pens aren’t anywhere without Sidney Crosby (who was injured in game 7 and barely played after that). Crosby carried this team in the first two rounds, especially against the Caps, and he goes against the opponents best defensive group every game while Malkin gets the second unit.

In Detroit tonight, defenseman Brad Stuart is wearing the goat horns for taking the first penalty (slashing Malkin), then giving the puck away that allowed Maxime Talbot to make it 1-0 Pens, and then pinching at the blue line to set up a two on one for Pittsburgh that they, of course, scored on (Talbot again). I’ve been saying this all playoffs and will say it again – the Penguins are about as good a team as I’ve ever seen at converting two on one breaks.

Btw, please check out my on air discussion with Nestor today in the WNST audio vault (http://wnst.net/wordpress/section/audio/) for my pre game thoughts on the NHL and AHL finals.

For Caps and Baltimore sports fans it was tough seeing Pittsburgh win another trophy but given that the Caps lost two contests in OT to the Pens before bowing out in 7 games should make you and the entire Caps organization realize that they are very close to their first ever Stanley Cup victory. With some salary cap room freeing up from the Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov departures (and hopefully a Michael Nylander release too), Caps GM George McPhee should finally have some cap space to make the moves he needs to put Washington over the top. There is lots of talent in this organization in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL (the Caps team down there, the South Carolina Stingrays, won the Championship as well).

The NHL Awards show is next week from Las Vegas (Alexander Ovechkin should win the Hart Trophy for MVP and Mike Green is up for the Norris Trophy (best defenseman)), followed by the NHL draft the week after in Montreal (June 26 on Versus), and then free agency begins on July 1 so the NHL off-season will start fast and furious.

Congrats again to Coach Bob Woods and the Hershey Bears on their championship!

Comments Off