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Caps Trades Are Steps in Right Direction, But More Are Needed

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Caps Trades Are Steps in Right Direction, But More Are Needed

Posted on 04 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Caps General Manager George McPhee made some good moves on Tuesday acquiring LW Dustin Penner, RW Chris Brown, D Rotislav Klesla, and a 4th round pick while dealing out a 4th round pick and LW Martin Erat.

But is it enough to put this team in the playoffs come mid April?

Right now my answer, as it was after Sunday’s painful loss to Philadelphia, is still no.

Penner, a two time Stanley Cup winner (2007 Ducks and 2012 Kings), is a big left wing that can score. He brings a dimension to the left side of the lineup that the Capitals just don’t have right now. The 6′ 4″ power forward had 11 points in 20 games with Los Angeles during their Stanley Cup run in 2012 playing a top six role. He will be expected to play in a top six position with Washington down the stretch. Penner is an unrestricted free agent and currently makes $2M. The winger, who at times has been out of shape and not motivated, should be focused on proving himself since he needs a new contract come July 1st. Simply put, for a 4th round pick, this was a good trade and a no brainer despite the fact that he is not a fast skater.

As for the Erat deal, just moving his $4.5M salary cap hit this year and next season is a bonus. The Caps do take on Klesla’s salary with the latest CBA, even though he is going directly to Hershey. The 31 year old Czech defensemen, who has split time at the NHL and AHL level this season, carries a salary cap hit of $2.975M but is an unrestricted free agent after this campaign. Klesla, a former top 5 draft pick (#4 overall in 2000 NHL Entry Draft), has struggled of late and was not happy in Phoenix (he was on waivers in the fall). He does not have good wheels, so it appears that in order for McPhee to unload his problem child in Erat, he had to take on some baggage from another club.

Brown, 23, is an interesting prospect. He had 29 goals in his first season (68 games) in the AHL in 2012-13, but he only has 14 tallies in 51 games this year. The University of Michigan product also played for the US National Under 17 and 18 teams. He’s a 3rd line type, a big right winger who can skate in an organization that is loaded on that side.

So did the Capitals help themselves today?

Yes, it wasn’t hard to do when you get Penner for a mid round draft pick and you get out from under Erat’s remaining salary cap hits for this year and next. But there are still issues with this roster. There remains an overabundance of right wingers and some gaping holes on defense. The third pair is a big problem area now so McPhee needs to either land a top 4 defenseman to bump Dmitry Orlov down to the 3rd pair or upgrade so that Connor Carrick and John Erskine aren’t every game players.

To me, it makes sense to move one of your right wingers so that you can use salary cap dollars elsewhere to improve the defense. That would likely mean Troy Brouwer or Joel Ward would need to be dealt, which would bump Tom Wilson up into an expanded role. Moves to that effect would further balance the roster and also position the Capitals to make even more changes this summer to get back to being a Stanley Cup contender.

Currently, they are a middle of the pack club hoping to climb into the playoffs and go a round or two. Let’s make no mistake about that, hockey is a business and making the playoffs has a huge impact financially. That’s why I believe McPhee, who reportedly is in the last year of his contract, is not done making moves and will do more before Wednesday’s 3 pm trade deadline.

This organization wants to badly make the playoffs. Money and likely jobs are on the line. We saw the desperation to make the post season last year when they traded Filip Forsberg for Erat and Michael Latta. It was a win now type of move that ultimately backfired. They were focused on the short term and wanted another body due to the uncertainty surrounding Brooks Laich’s injury. The truth is, they would have still been able to make the playoffs without Erat in a weak Southeast Division.

This spring, it is not as easy with the new division configuration. Somehow the Caps need to improve enough to pass either the Flyers or the Rangers, and Columbus too. Philadelphia dominated the Caps in some important puck possession statistics on Washington’s home ice last Sunday. Add in that the Capitals upcoming schedule is rated one of the hardest in the league and making the playoffs is going to be very tough.

So the Capitals improved their position today and helped their future, but it doesn’t appear to be enough to secure a playoff position.

That’s way I say to look for more moves from the Caps on Wednesday.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Drew Forrester on WNST 1570 AM Baltimore talking Caps hockey at 7:45 AM on Wednesday. Listen Live at WNST.NET

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Caps Draft Burakovsky as Big Trades Fail to Materialize

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Caps Draft Burakovsky as Big Trades Fail to Materialize

Posted on 30 June 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The days leading up to the 2013 NHL Draft generated a lot of hype for the extremely talented players slated to be taken at the top of the draft as well as for the possibility of some blockbuster trades given the NHL’s salary cap dropping from $70M in 2013 to just over $64M in 2013-14. Well the first several selections lived up to the billing but as far as deals went, outside of the Cory Schneider to New Jersey trade for the 9th overall pick, there wasn’t much that was done to impact the rosters of many clubs.

Center Nathan MacKinnon, as expected, went first overall to the Colorado Avalanche, but surprisingly the Florida Panthers chose forward Aleksander Barkov with the second pick and Tampa took winger Jonathan Drouin with the 3rd choice sending defensemen Seth Jones, who many had rated as the top player in the draft, to the Nashville Predators with the 4th pick. So former Capitals GM David Poile was the winner in this draft, in my opinion. Jones, who is big, can skate, and has offensive talents, gives the Preds another great right handed defensemen to go with the powerful Shea Weber down in Music City.

As for the the Caps, General Manager George McPhee stated that he tried hard to trade up into the top third of the first round but was unsuccessful. Thus Washington selected Austrian born/Swedish left winger Andre Burakovsky with the 23rd pick in the draft. The early line on the Swedish forward who reportedly has excellent offensive skills is mixed. TSN’s Bob MacKenzie listed him 24th on his board while Craig Button had Burakovsky as far down as 58th on his final list. McPhee and Director of Amatuer Scouting, Ross Mahoney, have not had a first round bust since Anton Gustafsson in 2008. Over the period of 2008-12, they’ve picked up John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, and Tom Wilson in the first round. Certainly one would hope that Burakovsky fits in with that last group but one scout I talked to, who called the 2012 1st round picks “home runs” for Washington, had him more in the Gustafsson camp. Guess we’ll find out over the next few years who is correct on that front? McPhee did state that he believes Burakovsky will take time to develop, so he is likely several years from the NHL, at this point.

In the second round, the Capitals took right handed shooting defensemen Madison Bowey from the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League with the 53rd pick and then traded their 3rd (84), 4th (114), and 5th (127) round selections to move up to the 61st spot to take forward Zach Sanford from Derry, New Hampshire. Sanford will play in the USHL this year and then is currently committed to Boston College in 2014-15. Bottom line, the NHL draft is a crap shoot since you are choosing 17 and 18 year olds and many selections take years to develop.

Going back to the trade front, it’s pretty easy to figure out that Washington wants to upgrade the left side of its defense. Specifically, they need a left handed shooting d-man to play with John Carlson on the second d-pair. In addition, with center Mike Ribeiro slated to test the free agent waters, the Caps will likely need to add a number two center once again. There was hope that perhaps one or both of those voids could be filled with trades in New Jersey but despite the buildup, there were no big deals for top 6 forwards or top 4 defensemen at Sunday’s draft. But there are still four more full days until free agency begins on Friday, July 5th.

The biggest news of the weekend was Tampa Bay using its’ compliance buyout on 1998 1st overall pick Vinny Lecavalier. Naturally there is interest galore in the 2004 Stanley Cup winning center and he’d be a nice fit in Washington. But he’d be great for a lot of teams. McPhee noted that Adam Oates met with Lecavlier, facilitated by the fact that Oates was an assistant with the Bolts back in 2009-10, and that the Caps coach thinks highly of him. At the end of the day though, this is likely to come down to money and Washington just might not have enough salary cap room to land Lecavalier.

The next two weeks will do a lot towards shaping the Capitals roster for 2013-14. The GM has not decided if he will use a compliance buyout or not, routinely scratched Jeff Schultz is slated to count $2.75M against the Capitals salary cap, but he says he has ownership’s support to use that mechanism, if necessary. McPhee still has to sign restricted free agents Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson but the only questions there are pretty much the dollars. It will be interesting to see what the GM does to fill what look to be two holes heading into a season in which they move into an extremely competitive new division. Is Dmitry Orlov ready to be an NHL second pair defensemen? The Devils improved themselves by adding Schneider in goal while the Flyers have lost Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere to costly compliance buyouts. In addition, Philly signed 35 year old defensemen Mark Streit to a long term deal for four years at $21M. So Paul Holmgren and company continue to do some crazy things and don’t appear to be any better, at this point.

But there are a couple of more weeks where the big action still looks to take place via trades and free agency, so stay tuned!

Notes: The Caps will hold development camp at Kettler Iceplex from July 8-13…Team USA will holds its Olympic orientation camp at Kettler as well from August 25-29 in preparation for the 2014 Olympic Games that will be played in Sochi, Russia. Poile is USA’s GM while the Penguins Dan Bylsma will coach the squad. This is a big deal for the area to host this type of event.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on the Morning Reaction with Drew Forrester talking NHL and Caps draft at 7:25 am Monday morning.

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McPhee Takes Big Risk With Erat for Forsberg Trade

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McPhee Takes Big Risk With Erat for Forsberg Trade

Posted on 03 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For all of those people in Caps land who say that George McPhee is not a risk taker, you have no case after today.

The Capitals GM basically went all in on his current team and perhaps his job today, by moving top prospect, Filip Forsberg (1st round pick in 2012), to Nashville in return for 31 year old winger Martin Erat and minor league center, Michael Latta. After the Caps picked up five points in three road games combined with the collapse of the Winnipeg Jets and the Carolina Hurricanes ahead of them in the Southeast Division, it became pretty clear that McPhee’s team has a great chance to win the division, grab the number three seed in the Eastern Conference, and perhaps get a favorable matchup in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It is a move that could net his owner millions of dollars in playoff revenues which would likely get McPhee and his staff not only a playoff bonus, but a contract extension (it is believed McPhee is in the final year of his current contract). As I’ve blogged recently, most fans focus on the “winning a championship” aspect of sports and are only emotionally invested in those teams. But for those in the game, it is their livelihood and as a result, the short term survival route is often the one chosen over what might appear to be the smarter long term plan.

That is what happened here today with the Caps. Washington needs to make the playoffs from a business and personal standpoint for those involved with the club and therefore, McPhee was going to do whatever he was allowed to do to increase the probability his team makes the postseason. If he doesn’t make the playoffs, there is a very good chance he would no longer be the General Manager of the Washington Capitals next season.

From a strictly hockey standpoint, this trade appears to favor the Nashville Predators. Forsberg is believed to be a potential long term top six forward in the NHL. He was the third forward drafted in the first round last season (11th pick overall) and many felt the Caps hit a “home run” when the Swedish right wing fell to Washington when a run on defensemen occurred at the top of the draft. This player could turn out to be an elite one based on input from people I’ve talked to around the league. Of course, the Caps, having drafted and watched him play quite a bit this season, likely know the ins and outs of the young player that other teams may not know about. In addition, the Capitals also have two talented young forwards already in their system in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson (2012 1st round pick, 16th overall). With Alexander Ovechkin signed long term and Troy Brouwer inked for three more years, the Caps clearly had an abundance of right wings so perhaps in order to get a top six left wing they felt that Forsberg was the best asset to move in order to acquire Erat? After all, you do have to give up something to get something decent in return.

That brings us to Erat, the return on Forsberg (for all intensive purposes Latta is pretty much an AHLer). The speedy and shifty left wing has not had a good year (21 points in 36 games) on a Preds club that struggles to score and it was no secret that Erat had requested to be moved. The question is can he become energized again and produce at a higher level like he did in his previous seasons with Nashville? Washington is banking on that with him likely sliding into the top line left wing spot with Ovechkin on right wing and Nicklas Backstrom at center. Who wouldn’t be energized by playing with those guys?

This trade, unlike some other deadline deals, was not a rental move by McPhee. While they gave up Forsberg, they get Erat under contract for this season and the next two after that at $4.5M against the salary cap. As expected, center Mike Ribeiro was not dealt and he will test free agency in the summer and likely find a higher bidder, so the Caps had to hedge against going down another top six forward.

The question is did McPhee get enough in return for Forsberg in Erat? Based on what I saw in other trades and people I’ve talked to in and around the league, Washington paid a big price for the lefthanded shooting winger.

But the price may not matter, especially if Erat starts scoring playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom and the Capitals win the Southeast Division. In that case no matter what happens with Forsberg long term, it is a success for Leonsis and McPhee. However, if the Caps miss the playoffs while Forsberg turns out to be an elite player down the road, this trade will be pointed to and ridiculed for many years by Capitals fans and those around the game. It would become worse than Jorgen Pettersson for Doug Jarvis, and that would be saying something.

McPhee took a big risk today, no matter how you slice it. But he had no choice since the Caps have to make the playoffs. Standing pat was an even worse option given the lack of depth and the need for a top six forward.

So the general manager did what he had to do individually and for his team. McPhee put himself out there and now his club needs to deliver for him. The Southeast Division and a nice playoff matchup is there for the taking. Adding Erat should be enough to put the Capitals over the top. But if it doesn’t, then you can bet changes will be coming.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Drew Forrester on the Morning Reaction at 745am talking Caps and the NHL trade deadline. Listen Live via WNST.NET

 

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Olie Kolzig Talks Holtby & Lockout, Plus an Iafrate at Caps Development Camp

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Olie Kolzig Talks Holtby & Lockout, Plus an Iafrate at Caps Development Camp

Posted on 10 July 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals are holding development camp this week at Kettler IcePlex and on day two of a six day slate that ends this Saturday, another scrimmage transpired. There wasn’t a whole lot of excitement to the game in terms of pretty plays, but there certainly was a big physical aspect to the contest with 2012 first round draft pick (16th overall) Tom Wilson and free agent rookie Max Iafrate (son of former Capital “Big Al”) leading the way in the hits department. In the skill department, 2010 third round pick Stan Galiev certainly stood out as did 2012 1st round draft pick (11th overall) Filip Forsberg. Neither scored in a 2-1 game, but Galiev fired several shots while Forsberg displayed good skating ability and size.

Afterwards, the media had a chance to talk with assistant goaltending coach Olie Kolzig on a number of topics and “Olie the Goalie” was quite forthcoming. Kolzig joined the coaching ranks with the Caps just last spring and at the time he stated his role would be to help develop goalies in the Capitals system that weren’t at the NHL level. That plan came to fruition as Olie said that most of his time this past season was spent with Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin.

“It was very impressive, just because Braden was inconsistent at the beginning of the year and I think one of the things he had to work on was his consistency. So going into the playoffs, we knew he had the talent, obviously, at the time the team needed him to play well, he played well. When he goes into Detroit and Philadelphia and gets three out of four points that speaks volumes about his character. Guys loved playing for him. So going into the playoffs one of the biggest questions was consistency and he was rock solid from game one right to game seven against the Rangers. He knows he can do it now, and I think he’s really excited about starting in September,” said Kolzig when I asked him to assess Holtby’s season.

“I didn’t hande the puck nearly like Braden did. I think, especially with Adam [Oates] coming  from Jersey and having Marty Brodeur handle the puck the way he did, he saw the benefits of having a goalie handle the puck like that and I think he is going to utilize Braden a lot more. It definitely helps on defense, you don’t get hit as much, you are able to break out of your own zone a lot quicker, and the odd time you’ll catch teams by surprise when they are making changes and lead to a lot more scoring chances,” finished Kolzig on how he expects the Caps new bench boss to use Holtby’s stick handling abilities.

In case you haven’t noticed, the pace of free agent signings by NHL teams has slowed to a crawl the last several days. A weak crop doesn’t help that, but I also believe that the current labor situation is impacting what clubs are willing to do without a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place. I am hearing that the NHL could have a lockout that lasts until Thanksgiving weekend, which could conceivably wipe out close to a quarter of the season. Nobody wants to see that but with Donald Fehr in the mix as the head of the NHLPA, all outcomes are possible. Kolzig, who saw an entire season get wiped out in 2004-05, was clearly in the camp that a lockout would be very bad for all parties involved.

“I don’t want to see, and nobody wants to see a lockout, especially with the momentum the NHL has gained over the last few years. But you understand why and it’s the not so fun part of sports, but I suspect that both sides understand the NHL has grown so much the last few years and they don’t want to slow any momentum down or give any kind of negative outlook towards the NHL so they are going to obviously try to get [a deal] done. If for whatever reason it doesn’t get done by September 15th, then I would assume they’ll get something done in a short amount of time so we don’t see what happened in 2004,” started Kolzig on the potential lockout that could occur when the current CBA expires in September.

“It was awful, that was awful. I don’t think our union was prepared for how tough a stance the owners were taking on the lockout and they didn’t play. We didn’t really have a plan B…it was one season and money that I’ll never make back, that was the peak of my career…it was just an ugly situation and I don’t think anyone wants to see that happen again,” finished Kolzig on the NHL labor situation.

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He was known as “Big Al” to his teammates and you will still see Caps fans with jerseys at games with the name IAFRATE  and number 34 on the back. Al Iafrate was a very popular defensemen and even though he only spent just over three years with Washington, much of that time resulted in some of the best hockey of his career. Al was known as a big defensemen with a bigger shot. He held the NHL hardest shot record for 16 years until Zdeno Chara finally broke it in 2009 using new technology.  Al’s son, Max, who turned 18 on March 28th of this year, is attending Caps development camp after not being drafted a couple of weeks back in Pittsburgh. The 6′ 2″ right hand shooting defensemen, who was actually born in Baltimore, certainly throws hip checks like his father and seems to play the game with flair too. The media had a chance to catch up with the current Kitchener Ranger this afternoon and here is a partial transcript of the interview:

WNST: Did you have offers to go to other camps?

Iafrate: I think this was my first one, so I took it. My agent just told me right after the draft if you wanted Washington and I said yes.

WNST: So I noticed several hip checks out there. Your dad was a pretty good hip checker, did you get any technique from him?

Iafrate: Yeah, and my mentor in Kitchener, Ryan Murphy, is really good at hip checks , we both do it a lot during games, and we’ve kind of perfected it, almost, we are looking to do it more.

WNST: How would you describe your game?

Iafrate: I mean last year I came in to Kitchener being traded from Plymouth, they made me like a defense first defensemen. In Plymouth I was trying to be more offensive but they had Ryan Murphy there [in Kitchener] so I don’t think they need me to be offensive, the guy puts up 80 points a year, so just defense first, and this year, if Murph makes the pros I’ll step up and start playing power play and make more offensive contributions.

WNST: What kind of feedback have you gotten so far from the coaches on things they like and things they want you to work on?

Iafrate: Probably just keep it simple. I like to rush the puck and sometimes you make it more hard on yourself than it is, but I like to play exciting. It’s not that fun just sitting around.

WNST: What are your plans for the upcoming season at Kitchener and what kind of team are you going to have?

Iafrate: Last year I don’t think anyone thought we were going to be contenders for the [OHL] championship and we went to the Western Conference Finals. This year, we still have a great team, it will be the same team from last year, but even more experienced.

WNST: Have you seen video of your dad from his playing days?

Iafrate: Yeah, I watch him on You Tube, I’ve seen some Olympic videos of him, it is pretty cool to watch a little bit.

WNST: What hospital were you born in in Baltimore?

Iafrate: I don’t know. I just know shortly thereafter we moved to Boston. [Note: Al Iafrate was traded to the Bruins for Joe Juneau a week before Max was born.]

WNST: Does your dad still listen to the heavy metal bands? [Note: Iafrate was a big Grand Funk Railroad fan as well as Metallica and Van Halen back in his playing days. He also hosted a radio show in Annapolis that aired, for a short while, on 103.1, the Underground, when he was with the Caps.]

Iafrate: There’s really no good rock n’ roll bands anymore. He got into rap, so when I was little he showed me a lot of rap.

Clearly in Max’s case, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. In terms of personality and demeanor, he is very much like his father, the question now is, can he play hockey at the level his father did?

Notes: The Caps Development Camp has three more scrimmages slated for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for those that want to trek down to Kettler and see some free hockey…Oates still has not named any assistant coaches…I spotted former Capital Jeff Halpern at Kettler on Tuesday evening. On Monday, Halpern signed a one year deal to play with the New York Rangers this upcoming season…both Caleb Hebert and Greg Burke were banged up in today’s scrimmage.

 

 

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