Posted on 16 September 2012 by WNSTV
Posted on 17 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic
“We’re getting too down. As soon as we get a goal scored against us it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world. It’s just one goal. It’s bound to happen every game. We’re killing our momentum by having them score and then giving up another one.”
“We were too slow. We were soft. We weren’t making the smart plays, helping each other get open. If you’re not working hard for each other you’re not going to be successful.”
Those are some really telling quotes there, aren’t they? While doing some end of season spring cleaning, I stumbled upon the quote sheet that the Caps super PR department distributes after games and the above were from November 25, 2011 after the Caps lost, 6-3, to the New York Rangers. Those two quotes were from the always honest and straight forward Karl Alzner.
The night after that contest Washington would get blown out, 5-1, in Buffalo and that would spell the end of the Bruce Boudreau era and bring Dale Hunter into the fold.
We all know what happened from there in a roller coaster season that nearly put the Capitals into the Eastern Conference Finals before a tough end in New York last Saturday night.
Unfortunately, Hunter announced on Monday that he is heading back to Ontario to be with his family and to work with his London Knights franchise. Selfishly I would have loved for Dale to stay here and coach this team because I felt that when he took over he was the right guy for the job and I still believe that. It is clear that this team came together under ole number 32 like they haven’t done in recent years. Reading those two quotes above from Alzner should remind EVERYONE just how far this hockey team came in the nearly six months Hunter was behind the bench.
The Caps no longer were mentally weak and found ways to come back from some crushing defeats (see late season loss to Buffalo, games one, three, and six to Boston, as well as games three and five to the Rangers). They also became a tougher team to play against and the word soft could only be used to describe perhaps a couple of players instead of most of the team. Washington’s players certainly learned to stick together and play for one another and at the end of the season I will say that this club overall became greater than the sum of their parts, which in the past often didn’t seem to be the case.
But the season is over and Hunter is gone. There were lessons learned that should be carried forward and that locker room unity we saw hopefully continues next fall, if there is a 2012-13 hockey season, but more on that in a minute.
Every season hockey rosters turn over and with free agency coming on July 1st, the Caps will no doubt undergo some changes. I would bet my last dollar that both Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman won’t be back. Add goalie Tomas Vokoun to that list too. Right there that is over $11M in salary cap room for General Manager George McPhee to work with. There will be other changes too and it is well documented in this blog that McPhee’s number one player issue is improving the middle of the ice. We all saw how inconsistent the Caps were when Nicklas Backstrom went down for 40 games. They nearly missed the playoffs because they had a hole at the number one and two center positions. Finding a true second line center isn’t easy and many Caps fans were hoping that 2010 first round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov might be the answer to that next fall, or at the very least he could come over and play on one of the top two lines as a winger. That isn’t happening. Kuznetsov, who turns 20 on Saturday, is staying in Russia. He can make more money there in the KHL and the uncertain NHL labor situation (the CBA expires on 9/15/2012) definitely didn’t help the Capitals cause.
The importance of quality centers cannot be overstated. There is no doubt that good centers help puck possession and other fancy stats. The Caps struggled in that area simply because they had pivots who could not break the puck out of their own zone very well, especially when #19 was injured. Hunter knew he had issues there and I firmly believe he put in place a strategy that gave him the best chance to win with the absence of strong centers. That was to focus on their own end and try to generate scoring chances via transition. He nearly pulled it off and if Alex Ovechkin or Troy Brouwer score from in tight in overtime in game three or they survive the last 25 seconds of game five they defeat the Rangers and instead they are the ones facing the New Jersey Devils.
Just look at the difference Brad Richards has made for a Rangers team that Washington manhandled in the first round in the spring of 2011! The bad news is there are no players like Richards on the free agent market this year, so McPhee has his work cut out for him.
Speaking of the market, does anyone have any idea how that will shake out this summer? After all, the head of the NHL players union is game killer Donald Fehr (see 1994 MLB strike and World Series cancellation) so you can bet that the NHL owners won’t be giving their GM’s a whole lot of rope to play with in the summer given the economic uncertainty facing the league with no collective bargaining agreement in place after September 15th.
So Fehr alone could wreck McPhee’s chances of retooling the Capitals this summer and getting them ready for a Stanley Cup run in 2013. It will not be a fun NHL offseason from that standpoint alone. McPhee does have two first round draft picks in this June’s NHL Entry draft so he needs to use those to help re-stock the prospect pipeline. He could package one of the picks in a trade to obtain a top six forward, but that seems to be a less likely scenario.
But given all of that, there are still places where this Caps team can improve on over the summer and it starts with each individual player. Regardless of who the next coach will be, every guy who wore a red sweater this past season needs to remember what brought them post season success: hard work, sticking together, and defensive hockey. The days of wide open play are over. The Caps kept doing that towards the end of the Boudreau era and all it led to was what I call “Odd Man Rush City” for the opponents. You can’t win that way in the NHL and even the Edmonton Oilers learned to play the right way before winning their first Cup in 1984. Defense wins championships, plain and simple.
You do need offense though and one way to improve that is by GMGM finding another top center. Washington needs two scoring lines and they didn’t have that this season. The result is it makes it much easier to defend Alexander Ovechkin. Hunter tried putting Backstrom with Semin on the second line to try and balance things out. It was a move that Boudreau smartly used in 2008 and 2009, but he had Sergei Fedorov to center the Gr8.
Ovechkin is at the top of my list of who can definitely improve next year. Better personnel will help him right off of the bat, if those moves can be made. But the Gr8 also can help himself by applying what Hunter was trying to teach him: good defense leads to more offense. Ovechkin needs to work on his defensive game regardless of the system implemented by the new coach. Pavel Datsyuk and Fedorov are great offensive talents but they both are/were very good defensively too. There is no reason why Alex can’t get better in his own zone. If he gets rid of the straight legged and gliding posture, bears down more, and does extra film study of opposing defenders to learn their tendencies, I am willing to bet that the Gr8 could score 10 more goals next season just by going from defense to offense more efficiently. His size and speed are some of his greatest assets and if he used them better in his own zone he could become the most dominant player in the league, once again. But Ovie has to want to do that and put the work in, plain and simple. Maybe he should give Ray Lewis a call to learn about work ethic and the benefits of film study?
Marcus Johansson is next on my list. MJ90 had a rough playoffs and was moved off of the puck too easily by the Rangers. Given that he was on one of the top two lines, that really hurt Washington’s chances to win the series. I’d much prefer him on the third line where he could really be effective and not have so much pressure on him, but with the lack of talent in the top six forward area, Marcus was forced to play up. He’s only 21 and he has great speed, but he needs to build strength and be stronger on the puck. The playoffs are all about winning the battles on the wall and he was not equipped to do that this spring.
We saw lots of promise out of Braden Holtby and Dmitry Orlov and both must avoid the sophomore slump. Alzner and John Carlson became a flat out dominant pair on the ice and they will be expected to do that and more next season. Carlson deserves first unit power play time, in my opinion. He has a great shot and isn’t afraid to use it. #74 was super in the playoffs and I see no reason why he can’t continue that level of play next season. Brooks Laich is a rock for this team but he needs to score more, hopefully the new coach gets him more power play time.
Right down the roster every player must find a way to improve while staying within the team structure. That brings us to the most important off-season decision that is non-player related, hiring the next head coach. The new bench boss must be a guy the players respect. Hunter certainly commanded it for his reputation as a player but also because every guy on the roster was held accountable, regardless of their contract or star power. That must continue.
McPhee smartly said he will take his time with the decision but there are some names out there that immediately bubble to the top of the list based on discussions I’ve had with people very familiar with the NHL coaching landscape: Craig Ramsay, Mike Sullivan, Jim Playfair, and Mike Eaves. Ramsay, Sullivan, and Playfair all have NHL head coaching experience while Eaves has been coaching at Wisconsin since 2002. Take a look at their respective coaching records yourself and you will be impressed with each candidate. McPhee certainly couldn’t go wrong picking any of those four, but perhaps he goes a different route and chooses someone with more ties to the Caps organization, such as a Terry Murray or Adam Oates?
It will be interesting to see what McPhee does, and this is a critical decision for him with this hockey team coming off of some positive playoff production.
There is a good vibe to this hockey team right now despite a disappointing end to the season, but the 2012 summer holds a lot for the Washington Capitals with so many important things on the agenda to address.
It is imperative they do the right things this summer. Let’s also hope that the NHL labor negotiations, and particularly Fehr, don’t wreck what is a very crucial off-season for the Caps.
Posted on 30 January 2012 by WNSTV
Shannon Sharpe dropped by our Indianapolis set on Radio Row to discuss a myriad of topics including Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, John Elway and the pending retirement status of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
First, it’s Tebow and Manning…
Then, it’s all Baltimore Ravens talk here:
Posted on 25 January 2012 by Nestor Aparicio
As much as the loss to the Patriots stung me and everyone else in the Baltimore purple tribe, believe it or not I left the stadium with some sort of inner peace that hasn’t allowed me to cry, bellyache or bemoan the efforts of this year’s team.
All of you know I’m in the locker room, asking questions, posting videos, texting and Tweeting and Facebooking all sorts of insights, observations, jokes and information from Baltimore Ravens’ games.
This was the last thing on my video reel after the game — before Drew Forrester and Luke Jones joined me on the field to recap the game and the missed Billy Cundiff field goal reenactment by our morning show host.
As Luke and I walked out of Gillette Stadium and through the purple confetti our final words were: “If Ray Lewis can find peace with this game 15 minutes after it’s over then maybe we should find a way as well.”
Watch this video. I think it might change your mood…it certainly changed ours!
Posted on 22 January 2012 by WNSTV
Posted on 18 January 2012 by WNSTV
Posted on 11 January 2012 by WNSTV
Posted on 10 January 2012 by Ed Frankovic
If you ask anyone who’s been around the NHL for the last 20 plus years who they thought the most entertaining general manager would be, in the press box, I’d wager that at least nine times out of 10 the answer would be former St. Blues GM Ron Caron. Sadly news came down on Tuesday that the legendary hockey executive passed at the age of 82 in Montreal.
Nicknamed the “Old Professor,” Caron was a longtime assistant GM for the Canadiens and helped build the Montreal teams that won six Stanley Cups (1971, 1973, and four more from 1976 to 1979). Caron was hired as GM in St. Louis in 1983 and spent over a decade in the position.
“Mr. Caron was extremely passionate about the Blues and the city of St. Louis,” president of hockey operations John Davidson said in a statement. “He will truly be missed.”
To say he was extremely passionate about hockey is a HUGE understatement. As a Washington Capitals team statistician from 1987-1997 the opposing teams general manager would routinely sit in the row in front of us in the old Capital Centre press box and our crew was always excited when the Blues would come to town because of Caron. The French-Canadian was a joy to watch while his team was playing. He’d frequently yell or get up and start talking out loud to seemingly noone about his team, or usually about the referees. His bald head would get bright red and his words were a mix of barely decipherable French and English. I’ve always thought I’ve been tough on the zebras, but anyone in hockey will likely tell you that the “Old Professor” was their number one detractor. He was pure entertainment!
There have been a number of great write-ups on him tonight (see Kevin Allen’s post) so I’d thought I’d share some first hand stories that many of us who have been around the Capitals for so many years still talk about to this day and laugh about hysterically.
As it has been chronicled, Caron was obsessed with hockey and specifically the referees. One night team statistician Mike Herr and I were having dinner with former NHL goalie and Bruins scout Marcel Pelletier when Caron entered the Capitals press room. “Watch this Eddie,” said Pelletier. Marcel immediately caught Caron’s eye, since they no doubt had known each other for years, held up the game notes, pointed at the part where the referee was listed (back then there was only one referee) and said towards the Blues GM, “Can you believe that you have this guy calling the game tonight?!”
With that Caron IMMEDIATELY reached into his suit jacket pocket, pulled out a sheet of paper and with his head getting bright red started reading the statistics on the road team’s record when this official was calling the game and how bad he’d been when officiating Blues games. He proceed to blast the referee up and down for a couple of minutes to Pelletier, Herr, and I before leaving to grab his dinner. After Caron was out of earshot, Pelletier said quietly, “If he spent that much time now on his team instead of the referees they’d win the Cup!” Of course Caron already had 6 Stanley Cup rings from his days with the Canadiens but that never stopped his desire to win one for St. Louis.
Towards the end of his career as GM for the Blues, St. Louis came to Washington to take on the Capitals in late November of 1993. Caron was getting up there in age and there was talk that he was getting close to retirement. Despite that fact, he was still his usual self in the press box talking at anyone who would listen and often gesturing up at NHL supervisor Bryan Lewis, who was sitting one row behind us in the Capital Centre tiered press box, about the referee.
Back in those days, NHL budgets were very tight and our stats crew performed the job on an old COMPAQ 2 computer that was over 25 pounds and didn’t even have a hard drive! We had used that thing since the mid 1980’s and kept the ice time, face-offs, hits, and turnovers for the coaches and General Manager David Poile. Herr and I would travel with the team on the road in the playoffs and after games we’d have to lug that thing with us on the team bus and through the airports. Dale Hunter and several other players would often crack jokes about the big white box that we’d have to carry around for the Caps to keep track of important metrics.
In 1993 we were still using the COMPAQ 2 for the stats as the game transpired (the following season we got rid of that boat anchor when assistant coach Tod Button gave us his old laptop after the team purchased him a new one). The Capital Centre was the first arena, in December of 1973 when it opened, to have in house video, called the “Telescreen.” Replays would be shown on it by the in house staff as well as videos and other information. By 1993 it wasn’t the greatest of pictures but it was still used to show the game and highlights.
So it is a close contest between the Blues and the Caps in the third period and Caron has not been happy with the officiating all game, what else is new, right? Anyways, what happens next leads to complete chaos in the Washington press box. Blues defensemen Rick Zombo catches Caps forward Randy Burridge with a vicious elbow and the Caps forward stays down on the ice. The referees get together to confer and just then the in house staff shows a replay of the hit. Keep in mind, that replays of that such were considered a no-no back then. So as the replay is shown Caron looks around and just as Zombo hits Burridge the entire game staff in the first two rows of the press box grabs their right elbow to signify a penalty. Caron, who was looking back at Lewis already yelling about the play, hears the crowd gasp at the replay, watches the renactments from those in the press box, then spots me behind the computer, and goes absolutely bezerk.
He comes storming over yelling at me from one row down “You can’t show the replay! What are you doing? That is not allowed!” and a bunch of other things that I couldn’t make out because it was half in English and half in French. I am absolutely STUNNED as to why he is yelling at me but suddenly it dawns on me that he thinks I AM the one responsible for running the replay on the Telescreen when all I’m simply doing is statistics for the coaches on this severely outdated equipment. So naturally I start laughing at him and this enrages Caron even more. He just goes nuts, yelling and screaming “Quit laughing at me funny boy! You can’t do that. I know people in this league, I’ll have you fired!’ I continue to laugh because I am thinking if he really knew how inept this computer we were using was he’d have realized that there was NO WAY that I could have possibly shown the replay on such a technology challenged piece of equipment. That computer didn’t even have its own hard drive, we had to boot it from floppy discs each game!
Anyways, Caron continues to yell at me for what seems like forever and Caps PR man Dan Kaufman is kneeling next to me saying “Don’t say anything Eddie, just be quiet” over and over but I can’t stop laughing and it doesn’t help that Herr is howling and the other stats man, Scott Scheuler, is hiding behind the television we had next to us for replays in tears from laughing so hard. Eventually Caron calms down and goes back to his seat. Zombo gets a major for elbowing and the Capitals erupt on the power play to win 5-2. Caron is not happy and I don’t make eye contact with him at all as he leaves the press box for fear of another attack from him.
After the game ends, I’m a little bit uneasy with what Caron said because I knew he was a man of extreme stature in the NHL and was a little bit worried about my job. So I go up to Lewis, who has always been nice to me, and ask him what he thought of the situation. Lewis, who no doubt had seen more than his share of Caron meltdowns, with his trademark big smile, said with a laugh, “Don’t worry Eddie, I saw the whole thing, you are fine. Of course it didn’t help you that the whole first two rows of the press box grabbed their elbows when they showed the replay though!”
After that game, we never saw Caron in the Capitals press box again since he did retire after that season. Year after year, not a single Capitals-Blues game goes by without Herr, Scheuler, or Caps Press Box announcer John Beamer bringing up that famed Caron incident or talking about how he kept track of the won-loss record for his team with each NHL referee.
I am sure if you went around the NHL talking to executives, players, officials, and media personnel every one would have at least one Ron Caron story. He was a man who loved hockey and wore the game on his sleeve like no other. Personalities like him don’t come around too often and he has been missed since he retired. RIP Ron Caron.
The Washington Capitals have recalled defensemen Tomas Kundratek from Hershey. Here is the full press release from the Caps:
The Washington Capitals have recalled defenseman Tomas Kundratek from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL), vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.
Kundratek, 21, recorded eight points (six goals, two assists) and 14 penalty minutes in 21 games with Hershey this season after being acquired by Washington from the New York Rangers for Francois Bouchard on Nov. 8, 2011. Prior to the trade, Kundratek collected two assists in seven games with the Connecticut Whale.
The 6’2”, 200-pound defenseman registered 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) and 42 penalty minutes in 70 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack during the 2010-11 season.
Kundratek made his professional debut for the Wolf Pack on April 23, 2009 in Game Five of 2009 Atlantic Division Finals versus Worcester. The native of Prerov, Czech Republic, was drafted by the Rangers in the third round (90th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Kundratek, who will wear number 36 for Washington, will participate in Washington’s morning skate at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.
COMMENT: Clearly defensemen Mike Green is still injured and won’t play against the Penguins on Wednesday. With Jeff Schultz already up with the team and presumably healthy it would appear that either someone else is hurt or another roster move is pending.
Posted on 27 December 2011 by Nestor Aparicio
It’s all come down to this for the Jekyll and Hyde Baltimore Ravens of 2011 – win on the first day of 2012 in Cincinnati or have the season quickly turn into a month-long road journey that has claimed many wildcard victims along the way in the NFL over the years.
We all know the stakes – a Ravens win over the Bengals would earn Baltimore a much-needed two weeks of rest, relaxation and home-cooking while four other AFC teams (including the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers) have to pack, play and win on the first weekend of 2012 with nothing but airplanes and hotels in their futures.
An unthinkable loss in Cincy – like the ones the Ravens have suffered four times this season against just three road wins – and the local heroes will be stuck on a week-to-week road journey that almost certainly would destroy their Super Bowl chances in Indianapolis for early February.
After all, the theory goes, if you can’t beat the Bengals in Cincinnati where they can’t even sell their own pseudo-playoff tickets, how could the Ravens go to Denver or Oakland and then Pittsburgh and New England and win three straight NFL games on the road in January?
So it all comes down to Cincinnati on Sunday for the Ravens to have any odds we’d all like for them to win the Super Bowl.
The most important roadtrip in Baltimore Ravens’ history?
Sure, I think we can make that case, especially given the stakes of the bye and the home-field advantage that the Ravens can execute with a victory over upstart quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals.
Several key injuries have made this game in Cincy look even more formidable, considering the limps and gimps on both sides of the football for the Ravens. Losing David Reed for the remainder of the season will put a crimp into the special teams efforts moving forward but the Ravens’ entire squad has looked more like an infirmary the past few weeks with a series of injuries affecting the roster.
The most serious this week will be the chest contusion suffered by Marshal Yanda, who is their most effective offensive lineman and a key cog in the Ravens’ desire to run the ball with Ray Rice and Ricky Williams. Coach John Harbaugh was unusually direct in his statements regarding the situation with Yanda but the Ravens will plug in Andre Gurode if necessary and attempt to win in Cincinnati.
As the axiom in the game goes “No one is healthy at this time of the season” but with the Ravens it’s even more severe because of how these untimely losses will affect the offense, which has been inconsistent even when all its parts have been on the field.
Just when it appears Lee Evans gets healthy, the Ravens lose Anquan Boldin.
Just when Ray Lewis gets back on the field, the Ravens lose Dannell Ellerbe.
Just when Lardarius Webb gets back onto the field in one piece, the Ravens lose Cary Williams with a concussion.
And let’s not get started on the Billy Cundiff injury and the tough decisions Harbaugh and the coaching staff will have making a decision on who will be kicking the most important three-pointers of the season for the franchise — the now questionable Cundiff or former Bengals kicker Shayne Graham, who looked strong vs. Cleveland last Saturday.
But excuses and injuries will fall on deaf ears with the Baltimore Ravens’ fan base if the Ravens come back from Cincinnati late Sunday night staring at a three-week roadtrip beginning somewhere West – Oakland or Denver – and they might even have to play that game in just five days given the wildcard Saturday starts.
And while some teams – including last year’s version of the Green Bay Packers – could survive that kind of grind and win a Super Bowl title, it would take someone far more gullible than me to think that a team that struggled to a 3-5 road finish this year and coming off a loss in Cincinnati would be considered a real threat to run the table with three straight road victories going through the likes of Pittsburgh and New England in back-to-back weeks.
And while the clock ticks on the football careers of the likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Matt Birk – did anyone say last and best chance for a championship in Baltimore? – it’s easy for me to write that this game in Cincinnati is indeed the most important roadtrip in Ravens’ history.
The Ravens have never played a bigger regular season game or one with higher stakes than this New Year’s Day game of poker in Cincinnati.
Undefeated at home in a perfect 8-0 run this season, the Ravens are now going to finally have to show that they have the heart of a champion in southern Ohio on Sunday.