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Next GM Most Important Decision in Caps Franchise History

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Next GM Most Important Decision in Caps Franchise History

Posted on 28 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have been in existence for 39 years and they still have not won a Stanley Cup.

With their team spiraling further away from winning Lord Stanley, Caps Owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick fired both General Manager George McPhee and Head Coach Adam Oates on Saturday.

Those moves were no surprise, especially if you read my blog from two weeks ago. The Capitals have a flawed and unbalanced roster that became even more exposed under some questionable coaching decisions this past season.

Simply put, these moves had to be made and Leonsis stated that the team needed new leadership and “a new set of eyes.”

The hiring of the next GM is critical to this franchise given that star players Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who are both signed to long term contracts, are in the prime seasons of their career. McPhee and company were unable to put a quality team around those two players and as a result much criticism has fallen on them, especially the Gr8.

Some who cover the NHL have already tweeted or blogged that this is Ovechkin’s fault. When you make the money he makes, have won the MVP three times, aren’t of North American descent, and haven’t won a Stanley Cup yet, those things will happen. It’s an easy narrative for those who choose to be lazy and biased.

But those who’ve studied and watched this Washington team since 2008 know the real story. Fancy stats clearly show that this team’s puck possession statistics have steadily declined since 2009, after Sergei Fedorov left for Russia. The decline is a function of an eroding roster, particularly on defense, and poor coaching/system changes. None of those roster or system decisions were made by Ovechkin.

Hall of Famer Rod Langway used to always tell me that hockey starts from the goalie to the defense and then to the forwards. If your defense routinely can’t get the puck out of your own end, how are the forwards going to produce with any consistency at even strength? Washington’s overall blue line crew has gotten worse over the past several seasons.

Bottom line, as I wrote two weeks ago, the Caps have failed Ovechkin, not the other way around.

For those who still want to put a vast amount of blame on him I pose the following question:

If I gave you the choice of any other forward in the NHL in place of Ovechkin for the last three seasons, would the Capitals have won a Stanley Cup or even made the Finals?

That’s right, you could have Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby, etc. but you lose Ovechkin in that move. Do you think the Capitals win a Stanley Cup doing that?

No way, not with the rest of that roster.

Hockey is a team sport. So blaming Ovechkin for the team’s decline is absolutely incorrect.

Now that’s not saying that the Gr8 can’t improve his game. Every player can always get better. NBA great Larry Bird used to spend every summer working on new moves, so if Bird thought he needed to improve, every player certainly should be trying to do so, as well.

Fortunately for Caps fans, the ownership, despite making it clear that these moves weren’t done solely for Ovechkin, get that the Gr8 is a special player. When I asked both Leonsis and Patrick about the pressure and abuse that Ovechkin takes, Patrick was quick to defend him and point out the nature of the NHL.

“Alex Ovechkin is a great, great hockey player,” Patrick said. “I wish we had two of him, then we wouldn’t even be here today, probably. All he wants to do is win. People are saying, ‘Well, you’ve got Alex Ovechkin. How come you haven’t won a Cup?’ It does take a team. It takes 20 guys. How can you be unhappy with what Alex Ovechkin has accomplished and continues to accomplish in the National Hockey League?”

Patrick is bang on and that is why it is so crucial to get a GM that really understands how to build a team. The “new set of eyes” needs to help alleviate the pressure on its two stars by bringing in better players, particularly on the blue line, and by adding leaders with winning experience.

As the great Jim Ignatowski once said on Taxi, “There is no substitute for experience!”

That brings me to my next point. The trend in sports is to seek out the next “hot” assistant and give him the keys to the camper. We see it with GM positions and head coaching openings many times in pro sports.

Jim Benning of Boston is a name that is on the top of the “next GM” list for many NHL clubs, according to people I’ve spoken with around the league. There are other hot assistants out there too like Ron Hextall, Jason Botterill, and Tim Burke.

But would hiring another hockey person with no GM experience be the right move here?

Hmmm…..

Sometimes bringing in a person that has performed in that role previously is the better choice, even if they’ve been fired. After all, Joe Torre and Bill Belichick were both fired but went on to win multiple championships with their new teams. Simply put, there is something to be said for learning from past mistakes.

So shouldn’t names like Mike Gillis, Neil Smith, and Craig Button garner attention? All have been a GM before and both Smith and Button have Stanley Cup winning experience, Smith as GM of the Rangers in 1994 and Button as the Director of Player Personnel with Dallas in 1999.

To me, Button is an intriguing option. He has ties to the organization from his late father Jack, who played a prominent role in the drafting and development of personnel in Washington from 1979 to 1996. Craig worked closely for years with Bob Gainey and Doug Armstrong in Dallas taking a team that was built around young players Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher, and Richard Matvichuck and transformed it into a Stanley Cup Champion. He understands the microscope Ovechkin and Backstrom are under and he has a successful track record in dealing with that scenario.

In addition, he took a flailing Calgary Flames team and re-built the defense on a club that eventually went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004. Then GM and Coach Darryl Sutter credited Craig for laying the groundwork for a squad that came ultra close to winning it all.

He currently covers the NHL for the NHL Network and TSN but he also pays close attention to the junior ranks and publishes his own draft board each spring on TSN’s website. His knowledge of current pros and amateurs is extensive. With the Stars, he drafted both Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow. As someone in the business recently told me, “He’s hard working, dedicated, and has an incredible passion for the game.”

Given his excellent people skills, I’d have to imagine he is on Leonsis and Patrick’s current list to interivew.

As for that process, Leonsis made it clear that they were not going to conduct a search where information is going to be made publicly available. Certainly details will get exposed as the media scouts out Kettler IcePlex, but the Caps are pretty good at keeping things secretive.

Leonsis stated this was going to be a thorough search while putting no timetable on its conclusion.

Given the importance of this decision, which I believe is the most critical one in franchise history, the owner and Team President must do what they need to do to make sure they get this GM selection correct.

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Thirty years after Mayflower crime, I’ve pardoned Irsay and moved on from the hate

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Thirty years after Mayflower crime, I’ve pardoned Irsay and moved on from the hate

Posted on 28 March 2014 by Nestor Aparicio

(Originally published on March 28, 2011, I think this is appropriate for where my life stands with #JennStrong & #BmorePositive mojo. nja)

Twenty-seven years ago today I awoke to see my father crying in my kitchen in Dundalk. It was one of two times that I ever saw him cry. The Baltimore Colts’ infamous ride of the Mayflowers out west on I-70 just two months after I started interning at The News American defined the end of my childhood at 15 and the beginning of my lifelong education about money and the real world of sports for the remainder of my sports fan and business life as a journalist.

It’s been a tumultuous quarter of a century plus a year for my feelings of anger, anguish, desperation, loss and bad vibes about the Colts leaving Baltimore on March 28, 1984. My Pop died in 1992 and never got to see the Ravens come back to town to avenge the loss of the horseshoe. I never got to go to one more football game with my father. And over the years, it’s really been a civic badge of honor to hate on all things Irsay and Indianapolis.

Nestor and Mini Bob

I’ve been to Indianapolis more times than I can count since 1996 – always for a football game or the annual March combine. There’s never been a time that it hasn’t taken me 15 minutes on the ground there to get ill seeing the horseshoes and “Go Colts” kind of marketing that is ubiquitous in Indy from the minute you land at the airport. It drives my wife batty — my almost irrational instant anger, ranting and self-inflicted torture when I’m in Indianapolis. I’ve always figured that I’d proudly be like the old dudes in Brooklyn, still pining away about the Dodgers 50 years later.

Here’s an example:

It’s taken me years of internal therapy and self soothing to calm myself when I see the game day experience there in Indy as those Midwestern hillbillies parade around in my father’s stolen laundry. In many ways, our “friend” Merton From Indianapolis (and no, none of us has any idea who he is or where the whole gimmick started – honest to God!) sort of exemplifies the entire experience of dealing with their fans when you travel to the “friendly heartland.”

My loathing of all things Irsay and Indianapolis is a bit legendary – there are plenty of pictures of me carrying Bob Irsay’s head on a stick through the streets of Indy — and my rants and raves throughout the 1990s are all very “on the record” and still accurate. What happened to this community at the hands of Bob Irsay and how I saw it affect my father and the psyche of the citizenry here will never been forgotten. The degrading and demoralizing “begging” to get back into the league that fell on Herb Belgrad. Paul Tagliabue’s “build a museum” expansion declaration in Chicago. All of it…I’ll remember those feelings and emotions for the rest of my life. Most Baltimoreans older than me — and I was born in 1968 – still can’t begin to imagine a world without the Colts of that generation. If you’re from Baltimore, sports is etched into your DNA.

(And if you doubt those feelings, imagine how you’d feel if the Ravens packed up and left tomorrow morning and never played another game here? For you young’ins that’s essentially what happened here in 1984…)

But after long and careful consideration – and as today’s 26th anniversary of the dastardly

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Season Saving Win For Caps?

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Season Saving Win For Caps?

Posted on 08 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For over 40 minutes on Saturday night, it sure looked like the Washington Capitals were headed for a fourth straight loss and about to sustain a serious blow to their playoff chances.

The Caps looked listless for the third straight contest and couldn’t find a way to get a goal, extending their scoreless streak to over 100 minutes. Making things worse was they were playing a strong defensive team in Phoenix with one of the top goalies in the NHL in Mike Smith.

But suddenly, a team that wasn’t working very hard to overcome some lineup holes, started doing the little things right, like getting pucks and bodies to the net.

Karl Alzner scored a seeing eye goal from the blueline that only finds the back of the cage because Troy Brouwer and Jay Beagle went to the front of the net and took their defenders with them. Keith Yandle managed to screen his own keeper with 10:15 to go and suddenly the Caps and the Verizon Center had life for the first time since before Dmitry Orlov’s awful hit last Sunday.

Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, and Brooks Laich then outworked the Coyotes down low and #25 found Brooksie all alone in front of the cage and he put it by Smith to tie things up just 32 seconds later.

The Caps instantly became a new team. Orlov then drew a penalty to put Washington on the power play and when Troy Brouwer potted the rebound of a great Nicklas Backstrom shot, the Capitals grabbed a 3-2 lead.

Then, instead of sitting back, Washington became an even more energized squad and dominated the last five minutes of regulation to salt away a huge victory.

Jaroslav Halak notched 31 saves to earn his first victory in his Caps debut and he can thank referee Tim Peel for a quick whistle that disallowed a Phoenix goal in period one. But that’s the breaks of the game, a Backstrom shot that appeared to be a goal last Sunday against Philly didn’t count and hurt Washington in that one, so it looks like things eventually evened up.

Halak was shaky early on and probably wanted at least one of the two goals back, but his save on Antoine Vermette in the third period on a one on one was absolutely a must and a key reason why the Capitals were able to overcome the two goal deficit. I’ve been saying all season long that goaltending is not the major issue for the Caps and I stand by it. Halak was good, but defensive mistakes and lapses in focus continue to plague this Washington club and is the primary reason they are on the outside looking in at the postseason, right now.

But that’s a story for another day, the Capitals are alive and still in the hunt after a huge rally over a good Phoenix team.

They started skating and doing the simple things and were rewarded.

The question now is can they keep this energy level up on Monday when they start a critical home and home with the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Washington gained some much needed positive vibes and confidence tonight that they need to carry into Monday’s tilt.

They will also likely get newly signed Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010 Caps 1st round draft choice) in the lineup for the game against the Pens. “Kuzy” will wear #92 and likely skate on the second line. He arrived in DC today and signed his entry level contract (two years) with the Capitals this afternoon. He will burn up that first year in less than 20 games and then will have another season left, but General Manager George McPhee called that aspect of the deal, “worth it.”

It’s hard to argue that because the Caps need skilled offensive players and Kuznetsov (just 21 years old), who carried the Russian squad to World Juniors Gold in 2011, has the potential to really improve the offense. But coming to North America and playing on the smaller rinks will be an adjustment. He is not “a savior” for the Caps season, but make no mistake about it, this club needs forward help with Laich playing through serious pain and Mikhail Grabovski still on the shelf due to a wonky ankle.

The road is not easy for the Caps as they have the hardest schedule in the NHL in their remaining 17 games, but rallying tonight and inking Kuzentsov at least gives them a fighting chance to pull off a seventh straight playoffs appearance.

Notes: Washington once again lost the face off battle for the fifth straight contest, 33-26. Losing draws makes it very difficult to win the puck possession battle. The Capitals will need to improve in this area if they are going to get on a run and make the playoffs…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 23:50 and he had an assist on the game winning tally.

 

 

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Torrey Smith: “We weren’t on same page”

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Torrey Smith: “We weren’t on same page”

Posted on 22 December 2013 by WNSTV

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Postcard from Denver: The Greatest Game I’ve Ever Seen

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Postcard from Denver: The Greatest Game I’ve Ever Seen

Posted on 12 January 2013 by Nestor Aparicio

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Torrey Smith describes his view of Jacoby Jones catch

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Torrey Smith describes his view of Jacoby Jones catch

Posted on 12 January 2013 by WNSTV

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Will Ravens continue to be haunted by the four deadly sins of defense in 2012?

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Will Ravens continue to be haunted by the four deadly sins of defense in 2012?

Posted on 04 November 2012 by Nestor Aparicio

Let’s get this out of the way right away – the Baltimore Ravens are 6-2 and any complaining about Sunday’s 25-15 win over the Cleveland Browns won’t change their slim lead in the AFC North or color the obvious breakdowns and weaknesses that are apparent to anyone who has watched their choppy work.

But as a Ray Rice told me at the podium on the shores of Lake Erie after another win: “There are no bad wins in the NFL.”

We can deal with the offensive inconsistencies later but my concerns center around a defense that will continue to take the field with a squad of patchwork underachievers and glaring fundamental issues.

The four deadly sins of defense continue to haunt the Ravens, if only for the first 80 yards of the field in Cleveland on Sunday. Rushing the passer. Stopping the run. Covering in the secondary. And tackling in general.

Let us count and assess the issues one by one…

The Ravens have no pass rush. Despite having the return of a seemingly spry Terrell Suggs in Houston two weeks ago, he was no factor in Cleveland. Joe Thomas ate him up and most teams will simply get some help on No. 55 if he becomes a pest and the Ravens lack a backup quarterback chaser with any push. Paul Kruger hasn’t been effective. Pernell McPhee, who flashed some visions of a pass rush specialist last season, has been mostly invisible this year and was an injury scratch on Sunday. Haloti Ngata continues to struggle physically and the leaks continue all around him on the defense.

Of course, no pass rush leads to trouble in the secondary with any quarterback and wide receiver tandem that has is given ample time to make a play. This will be an especially daunting issue when the Ravens see the Steelers in two weeks as Ben Roethlisberger has made a Hall of Fame career by making positive plays happen after the play breaks down.

With the injuries to Lardarius Webb, the Ravens secondary has been stressed tremendously because Cary Williams is now carrying the weight of marking every team’s No. 1 receiver. Aside from the obvious with Sergio Kindle being unable to play after his brutal fall and head injury, Jimmy Smith has been the Ravens’ most disappointing first-round draft pick since Travis Taylor. He’s the most penalized defensive player on the team and is consistently getting beat by top-notch receivers on a weekly basis. To my eyes, they’re simply targeting him and the likes of Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and the Manning brothers will literally be frothing at the mouth awaiting a chance to throw the ball into this secondary.

After more than a decade of dominance against the run – and a source of massive pride of a local fan base that would routinely chant “you can’t run” from my seats up in Sect. 513 – the Ravens’ run defense has been porous as it’s been four straight weeks of allowing running backs to gash the front seven and get deeper down the field where the secondary becomes a de facto part of the tackling corps.

And all over the field tackling has been a consistent source of frustration. You can blame not-so-new-anymore defensive coordinator Dean Pees. You can talk about the loss of personnel like Ray Lewis via injury or Jarret Johnson, Cory Redding, etc. to free agency, but there have been leaks all over the field when it comes to second chances and fellows in purple flailing and missing.

Eight games into the season, the Ravens are 6-2 and there’s ample reason to be energized by their gaudy record and seat atop the AFC North.

The offense has certainly been capable as witnessed by their early-season success and it even managed 25 points yesterday on the road in Cleveland by managing to play about 20 minutes of decent football and still spending more than an hour without a first down. But there have been many times recently when Joe Flacco and the offensive crew have been stumbling their

SEE PAGE 2

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Torrey Smith tells Nestor about emotions of his day

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Torrey Smith tells Nestor about emotions of his day

Posted on 24 September 2012 by WNSTV

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Torrey Smith tells Nestor staying upbeat through Pittsburgh drops was key to success

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Torrey Smith tells Nestor staying upbeat through Pittsburgh drops was key to success

Posted on 07 November 2011 by WNST Staff

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Caps Media Fantasy Camp plus Other Odds and Ends

Posted on 08 September 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held Media Fantasy Camp down at Kettler IcePlex on Wednesday and the event started with Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach/video Blaine Forsythe providing the media with a tour and demonstration of the video room. The room is quite nice with very comfortable seats positioned in front of a 100 inch plus screen. Boudreau started the presentation by showing us a clip of the “old way” the Capitals used to play in their own zone. In that method, the strong side wing (the one on the side where the puck currently resides) was positioned high in his own zone on the near side defensemen. Boudreau noted that this tactic often resulted in quick transition for his club, which the highly skilled team took advantage of in previous seasons. However, due to the drop in goal scoring early on in 2010-11, the bench boss opted to change that strategy to one that is more closely used by the other 29 teams in the league where the winger is positioned down lower in his own zone. That tranformation, which was often painful to watch last December, was chronicled on HBO’s 24/7. But at the end of the season, the strategic move paid off as the Caps ended up 4th in the NHL in goals against average at 2.33 per game behind Vancouver, Boston, and Nashville. Note that two of those three were in the Stanley Cup Finals while the Predators gave the Canucks all they could handle in round two. From my vantage point, Boudreau absolutely did the right thing changing things up in his own zone last season, but more on that a little later on.

An interesting part of the video session was a one on one chat I had afterwards with Forsythe about the software technology involved in breaking down game tape. Today’s products make it very easy to get that done as soon as a period is over and the assistant coach stated that he is able to show the coaches and/or players whatever they want to see after each stanza. Back when I was doing statistics for the Capitals in the early 1990′s, then video coordinator Tod Button often did that task after the game, but while the game was going on he had software that allowed him to mark portions of the tape as even strength, power play, penalty kill, face-off, etc so that he could break it down quickly for then coach Terry Murray. Button would also use that software to break down game film of other teams, which he recorded via Satellite at Piney Orchard and sometimes at the old Capital Centre. Forsythe told me that he still relies on the Centre Ice Package to record the games of future Capitals opponents. As expected, Forsythe’s software, 20 years later, is leaps and bounds better than what Button had to work with. The video coach also stated that certain buildings provide much better angles than others, with Madison Square Garden being one of the best (so I guess Rangers fans do have something to chant about next year, eh?!). Video coordinators prefer that they get all of the game footage from faceoff to final buzzer so Forsythe’s biggest issue is one that Button didn’t like dealing with either in the 1990′s: the play starting in the corner! It seems even technology can’t replace a tv producer who prefers showing other footage while the puck is being dropped.

Once the video session was over, the media was treated to a practice and instruction session that was run by assistant coaches Bob Woods, Dean Evason, and Forsythe. It was truly a fun day out at Kettler.

Now back to the Caps and their defensive zone play. On a very recent trip to the Great White North, I spoke with an NHL scout who was adamant that the way to win the Stanley Cup was via solid team defense and goaltending. He opined that a team must have a goalie that can flat out win a game for a team when needed in the post season, as Tim Thomas did for the Bruins on several occassions this past spring. The list of those type of netminders includes mulitple Stanley Cup winners Ken Dryden, Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr, Patrick Roy, and Martin Brodeur. Having witnessed every Capitals season since their inception and many painful post seasons, it is hard to disagree with the scout. Washington’s biggest problem in the post season over the years has primarily been goaltending. In 1998 the Caps received the best netminding they’ve ever had as Olie Kolzig basically carried Washington into the Stanley Cup Finals. Looking back on very recent history, the best example of a Capitals goalie stealing a game or two was Semyon Varlamov’s play in the opening two contests of the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins series. If you go back and look at the quotes from the Pens you will see that many of them talked about how good Varly was playing. That was one of the reasons I was hoping that Varlamov would remain a Capital but his agent sealed that fate with some crazy negotiating and now that ship has sailed. So the question now becomes is Tomas Vokoun the guy that can take the Capitals to unchartered waters in the post season? That’s not to say that Michal Neuvirth can’t be that guy, after all he’s won two AHL titles, but #30 was unable to steal a game for Washington against Tampa this past spring when the Caps needed that desperately to change the momentum in a tight series. Clearly we can’t hang the series sweep primarily on Neuvirth, team defense was horrendous at times and all you have to do is go back and watch the Jeff Schultz giveaway in game one that led to Steve Downie’s tying goal or Eric Fehr’s disastrous clearing attempt in game three with the Caps up 3-2 in period three.

Here are some other Caps Odds and Ends:

- It was revealed by The Washington Post that John Erskine underwent shoulder surgery this offseason and he may not be ready for the regular season meaning the top six healthy defensemen are Mike Green, Dennis Wideman, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Roman Hamrlik, and Schultz.

- In that Varlamov trade, the Caps received Colorado’s first round selection in the 2012 NHL entry draft (they also received a 2nd round pick). When speaking with an NHL scout who is focused on the amateur side of the business, he mentioned that next year’s draft class was very good. He also felt that Colorado could very well struggle in 2011-12. So GM George McPhee and company could end up with a top five pick in a strong draft year!

- Capitals rookie camp opens on Sunday, September 11th at Kettler IcePlex with a rookie game in Philadelphia against the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, September 15th at 5 pm. The veterans will officially hit the ice on Saturday, September 17th at Kettler IcePlex.

- Single game Capitals regular season tickets are now available via washingtoncaps.com

- Tickets are still available for the Capitals pre-season opener in Baltimore at the First Mariner Arena on September 20th against Nashville. Go to washingtoncaps.com for purchasing info.

- Finally, my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in and connected with the tragic plane crash in Russia on Wednesday. God Bless.

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