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World Cup of Hockey: Ranking the Goaltenders

Posted on 08 September 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Day one of the pretournament games for the World Cup of Hockey didn’t disappoint at all. In the first afternoon tilt, Finalnd’s Olli Maatta beat Sweden’s Jonas Enroth on a two on one rush in overtime to lead the Fins to a 3-2 victory over their archrivals. In the second matinee, Alex Ovechkin’s Russian squad took 3-1 and 4-2 leads and then hung on behind goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s 29 saves to defeat the Czech Republic, 4-3. In the main event on Thursday night, Team North America, comprised of Canadian and American players all age 23 and under, smoked a slow looking Team Europe, which consists of all European players not from Russia, Sweden, Finland, or the Czech Republic, 4-0. North America was extremely fun to watch with their high speed game.

As for the Capitals who suited up and played on Thursday, the Gr8 and Evgeny Kuznetsov were both held pointless in 15:17 and 15:57 of ice time, respectively. Ovechkin did have three hits. Russia’s Dmitry Orlov had an assist and led his team in ice time, with 20:12. Nicklas Backstrom was also held without a point in 16:58 of ice time and he went 8-7 on face-offs.

Friday night has one game, and it is a big one: USA vs. Canada from Columbus, Ohio at 7 pm on ESPNU.

On Wednesday night, I provided my World Cup of Hockey blue line rankings. Now we take a look at the goalies from each squad. Keep in mind that this is a SHORT tournament and having a hot goalie is very important to win, so I give more weight to those teams who I believe have net minders who are prone to hot streaks. Depth is important too, because if one goalie is off of his game, it’s paramount that you have a quality backup.

So without further adieu, here’s my rankings of each team’s goaltending from worst to first:

Eighth – Team Czech Republic – Peter Mrazek (DET), Michal Neuvirth (PHI), and Ondrej Pavelec (WPG). Each of these goalies has the ability to steal a game or two, but there’s no long term success history for any of them at the NHL level, and especially in this big time type of a tournament.

Seventh – Team Europe – Jaroslav Halak (NYI), Tomas Greiss (NYI), and Philipp Grubauer (WAS). Halak looked pretty rusty in the game against North America. He battled injuries last spring and if he doesn’t recover quickly, Greiss or Neuvy will see the cage. Halak has gotten hot in the past, but that was many moons ago.

Sixth – Team Sweden – Henrik Lundqvist (NYR), Jacob Markstrom (VAN), and Jhonas Enroth (TOR). Markstrom and Enroth are not very good and King Henrik is now 34 years old. Sure Lundqvist has shown the ability to get in the zone and steal several games in a row, but we haven’t seen that since the spring of 2015 when he helped the Rangers rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the Caps. This is Sweden’s biggest weakness.

Fifth – Team North America – Matt Murray (PIT), John Gibson (ANA), and Connor Hellebuyck (WPG). Murray plays so big with his solid positioning and he looked to have not missed a beat in his debut against Team Europe on Thursday night. He’s won a Stanley Cup, which none of the Sweden, Europe, or Czech Republic goalies can claim. Gibson played very well in the World Championships a few years back, so he’ll be the backup.

Fourth – Team Russia – Semyon Varlamov (COL), Sergei Bobrovsky (CMB), and Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB). This is a really strong trio and all have big game experience. Each of them has the ability to get hot. I’m guessing “Bob” will be the starter. He battled injuries last season and Varlamov has a history of groin issues, as well.

Third – Team Finland – Pekka Rinne (NAS), Tuukka Rask (BOS), and Mikko Koskinen (KHL). It’ll be Rinne first and if he falters, Tuukka will take over. Both are goalies that can get extremely hot and dominate for several games, so that makes them dangerous. The good news for Rask is there are no games at the Verizon Center in actual tournament play, he’s never won in the phone booth.

Second – Team USA – Jonathan Quick (LA), Ben Bishop (TB), and Corey Schneider (NJ). All three are very good goalies and can get super hot. Quick is the likely starter given his two Stanley Cup rings and experience in the Sochi Olympics, where he helped the USA to only fall 1-0 in a semi-final game against Canada, one in which they had no business being that close in.

First – Team Canada – Carey Price (MTL), Braden Holtby (WAS), and Corey Crawford (CHI). This is a no brainer. They have the last two Vezina Trophy winners, including the 2014-15 MVP in Price and a two time Stanley Cup Champion in Crawford. Yes, Price is returning from injury, so there’s questions surrounding him, but if he can’t play then either the Holtbeast or Crawford have plenty of talent and experience to do the job. Canada is flat out loaded at every position.

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The Capitals go all out for 60 minutes in Braden Holtby's 47th victory of the season.

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Caps Dominate Avs in 4-2 Victory

Posted on 02 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals turned in a dominant performance en route to a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on Friday night.

Jay Beagle, Alex Ovechkin, Jason Chimera, and T.J. Oshie scored as the Capitals carried the play for very long stretches.

Braden Holtby made 17 saves to earn his 47th victory of the season and move within one of Martin Brodeur’s single season record.

Wow, this was some effort by the boys in white. They routinely won puck battle after puck battle to stifle an Avs team that had to have this contest for their faint playoff hopes. If not for the efforts of Semyon Varlamov (43 saves) and the goalposts (the Caps hit at least five pipes), then this one would have been as lopsided as the shots on goal, which were 47-19. Shot attempts were even scarier, 83-37 for Washington, that’s amazing!

Up and down the lineup the Capitals played well. Washington was skating and playing physical. Tom Wilson had a monster hit on Nikita Zadorov in the middle period and for the game he had six of the Capitals 22 hits (Brooks Orpik also had six hits). #43 was a beast all evening and Colorado wanted nothing to do with him in this one.

Speaking of beast mode, Beagle was terrific all night. He scored the opening tally on a stuff attempt. That was a key goal for Washington, who were piling the shots on Varly, but he and the posts were not beatable until that point.

But once Beagle scored the dam broke and Washington notched Ovechkin’s 45th of the season on a power play when Marcus Johansson fed him nicely in front. The Gr8 used his strength and reach to bury that biscuit.

Mike Richards, who was dynamite once again, had a great shot pass from the point that Jason Chimera deflected nicely in the high slot to make it 3-0. Stan Galiev did a good job of creating traffic there, too.

The Caps came close to making it 4-0, but they overpassed on a power play, and when Matt Niskanen took an offensive zone penalty, Jarome Iginla scored late in period two to give the Avs some hope.

In the final frame, Washington continued to put shots on the Avalanche, but could not get the fourth tally. Then Gabriel Landeskog scored on one of the rare Caps defensive breakdowns on this night to make it 3-2 with just under six minutes remaining.

Beagle, however, would be the hero when the Avs had the goalie pulled as he won a series of puck battles behind the Washington cage and that allowed Daniel Winnik to send the puck down the rink. Oshie then outraced the Colorado players to the biscuit to drop it into the vacant cage to close this one out. That empty netter was T.J.’s 25th goal of the season.

Again, this was an excellent performance by Washington and it really is baffling that the score was this close. Still, the victory pushes the Caps record to 55-16-6 (116 points) as they head to face the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night.

Colorado badly needed two points and the Capitals pretty much gave them no chance. You have to be very pleased with this performance, other than the lack of goals.

Notes: Nicklas Backstrom missed the game due to an upper body injury, but he did take an extended morning skate, so the injury is likely not serious…Ovechkin had 8 shots on goal and 14 shot attempts…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 32-22, Beagle was 8-6…both teams were 1 for 3 on the power play…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:34…the game was well officiated by Brad Watson and Ian Walsh

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Ovechkin 74th GWG Leads Caps Over Avs

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were the better team on Monday night at the Verizon Center earning a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, plain and simple.

This game really should not have been this close, but former Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov was outstanding, along with the posts around him, for two periods to keep a game that should’ve been 5-1 in favor of Washington to just 2-1 after 40 minutes. Colorado would finally show up for the 3rd period throwing 18 pucks at Braden Holtby (31 saves), but most were from the perimeter and #70 continued his hot run to preserve the victory for the Capitals.

Washington improves to 23-11-8 (54 points) and have closed to within three points of the Metropolitan Division leading Islanders, who face the red hot New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. If the Rangers win again in regulation and the Penguins don’t win against Minnesota, then the entire Metro, from 1st to 4th, will be separated by just three points (Pittsburgh has 56 points). Bottom line, this race is ultra close and all four teams could win the banner come April.

Back to Monday’s win over Patrick Roy’s Avs, Washington was flat out dominant for 40 minutes out shooting Colorado, 32-14. Somehow, primarily due to Varly and his goal posts, this game was tied after the Avs scored on a power play midway through period two. But Varlamov ended up causing his team’s demise by taking a stupid shot at Tom Wilson and the Gr8, Alex Ovechkin, buried the game winning goal on the power play with just over two minutes left in the middle frame. That goal was set up by hard work on the boards from Marcus Johansson and then two pretty backhanded passes from Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer.

Ovechkin now has 22 goals on the season and he’ll head to another NHL All Star game next week.

Sunday afternoon out at Kettler was an optional skate for the Capitals but the fourth line of Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson (along with Michael Latta) all worked with assistant coach Lane Lambert on wall play and scoring from in front of the net. It turns out that session would really pay off as Washington’s first goal came off of a face off. Mike Green fed Wilson in the high slot for a shot that #43 put on the net. Chimera then deflected it and Beagle out worked the Avs defender at the far post and backhanded the biscuit by Varlamov. Beagle has 12 points this season, all in Capitals wins (h/t @JapersRink for that super stat). Officially, the Caps are 11-0-0 when Beagle gets a point (h/t to Caps PR team). Hard work pays off, and Beagle is certainly a guy who brings the effort every night.

The Caps won their sixth straight at home and are now 22-1-3 when tallying first. It was a solid victory against a fast Colorado team that likes to score off of the rush. With the Avs only goal coming on the power play, you can correctly say that Coach Barry Trotz’ club stuck to their game plan to get a big two points.

Now Washington gets a chance for some revenge on the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday at 8 pm at the Verizon Center. Flyers goalie Steve Mason is out injured so they’ll face either Ray Emery or Rob Zepp, who made 21 saves in his second NHL win in as many starts on Monday night when Philly throttled Tampa, 7-3.

Notes: Ovechkin’s game winning goal was his franchise leading 74th. Peter Bondra is now in 2nd place with 73…the Caps won the shot attempt battle, 79-56. The Avs closed a huge gap with their third period push…Evgeny Kuznetsov continues to improve and he had four shots on goal and four other attempts in one of his best games of the season…the Caps won the face off battle, 37-29…Brooks Orpik led the Caps in ice time with 24:47. John Carlson logged 24:42…defensemen Nate Schmidt suffered a fractured bone in a stint down in Hershey on Sunday night and will miss 6-8 weeks…goalie Justin Peters was recalled after playing two games for the Bears this past weekend. He had a shutout in Albany on Friday, then made 31 saves in a tough loss (allowed 3 goals) on Sunday…expect Peters to play Saturday in Dallas after Washington faces the Predators in Nashville on Friday night.

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Fehr Wins Game for Caps in OT

Posted on 19 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After a pointless weekend, the Washington Capitals desperately needed a win in Arizona on Tuesday night.

Eric Fehr delivered that for the Caps potting the rebound of a super hard and low shot by Brooks Orpik in overtime to give Washington a 2-1 victory over the Coyotes.

Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net, and that is how the Capitals finally earned the W in this one to move to 8-7-3, which is good for 3rd place in a struggling Metropolitan Division.

Coach Barry Trotz often calls the NHL a shoot first league.

On Tuesday, Washington had 50 shot attempts, of which only 24 made it through on goal. It’s hard to win games when you aren’t getting shots on net, especially when you are facing a quality goalie in Mike Smith.

The lack of shots needs to change. Somehow this Caps team has to find a way to work harder, and also stop over passing the biscuit, and get more shots to the opponents cage. They also need to go to the front of the net, and as Alan May continually says on Comcast, STOP in front to screen the goalie and put yourself in position for a tip or a rebound. It’s not rocket science.

Doing that requires a mental toughness and willingness to work. Right now we aren’t seeing that consistently from all 12 forwards. There are too many guys playing the easy game, as evidenced by the horrible second period when the Capitals only had two shots on net.

Fortunately the Capitals are playing solid defense and received good goaltending from Braden Holtby (23 saves). The only goal allowed was yet another where the Caps were victimized puck watching in their own zone and that left Oliver Ekman-Larsson all alone to put the biscuit into pretty much a vacant cage early in period two.

This Capitals team right now is very inconsistent. Whether that is a product of the new system or simply the lack of willingness to work hard and pay the price to win by several guys remains to be seen.

But on Tuesday they did what they had to do, find a way to beat a not so good Phoenix club and halt Washington’s two game slide.

Next up is another struggling club, the Colorado Avalanche, at the Pepsi Center on Thursday night. The Avs do have some high end talent, so the Capitals need to be ready or they’ll be run out of Denver.

They also need to shoot the puck and crash the net against Colorado backup goalie Reto Berra, who will likely be in the cage with Semyon Varlamov out injured.

Notes: Jay Beagle scored the Caps first goal off of a sweet drop pass by Jason Chimera…faceoffs were 33-26, in favor of Arizona…the Caps power play continues to struggle and went 0 for 3, but at least they had chances, unlike Saturday in St. Louis. The Caps killed off all four Coyotes man advantage situations…Orpik led the Caps in ice time with 23:11 and was +2.

 

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2011-12 NHL Regular Season Preview

Posted on 05 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

To some people, the National Hockey League season is just too long. For me, it can never come quick enough and once NFL play gets cranked up I become very enthusiastic knowing that the NHL season is right around the corner. On Thursday, October 6th, the NHL season officially gets underway with a VERSUS doubleheader as the Philadelphia Flyers take on the Boston Bruins at 7 pm  followed by the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Vancouver Canucks at 10 pm. For those with the Centre Ice package or living in Canada, the Montreal Canadiens will face the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 pm from the Air Canada Centre.

In June, the Bruins defeated the Canucks to win Lord Stanley’s Cup by rallying from a three games to two deficit behind the stellar goaltending of Tim Thomas. If you read my 2010-11 pre-season predictions, you would know that I predicted that the Beantown goalie would have a comeback year. Little did I know he’d get his name on one of the most coveted trophies in all of sports. But before I get too cocky, I also brought you some worthless picks, like choosing the New Jersey Devils to win the Atlantic Division or the Calgary Flames to make the playoffs. In the immortal words of one Arthur Fonzarelli…I was wrrrrrrrrrrong.

So without further adieu, here are my 2011-12 NHL regular season rankings by conference. Please note that this does not mean I pick both #1 seeds to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, it only means I am choosing that team to get the #1 seed in the regular season.

Eastern Conference

1. Washington Capitals – The two time defending Eastern Conference regular season champion Caps didn’t click on all cylinders last year and despite several important injuries, such as the concussion to Mike Green, they still managed to win the East. GM George McPhee was extremely busy this offseason adding goalie Tomas Vokoun, defensemen Roman Hamrlik and forwards Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, and Jeff Halpern. This team is suddenly more equipped to compete in the post season. In addition, the players all realize that they can’t blow off the regular season like they did last year, to some extent, and should be more focused on trying to peak their game for April and beyond.

2. Buffalo Sabres – Expecting the Bruins here? Not so fast. I am counting on the Stanley Cup hangover combined with an aggressive off season by the Sabres to put Buffalo atop the Northeast Division. Coach Lindy Ruff will rely on goalie Ryan Miller in net but Jhonas Enroth has shown that he can be a backup that allows the former Michigan State star to not play so many games. GM Darcy Regier brought in offensive minded defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and he overpaid for forward Ville Leino at 6 years for $27M. But Buffalo has a super goal scorer in Tomas Vanek and a crew of other solid forwards.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins – Evgeni Malkin is back and NHL’s Network’s EJ Hradek has already declared him as his choice for the Hart and Art Ross trophies, this despite coming off of major knee surgery. It remains to be seen how “Geno” holds up during the season but what is really to like about the Pens is their goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, and a superb defense. If Sidney Crosby is able to return at some point, the Penguins become the favorites in the East to win the Cup. But Sid is still not cleared for contact, even in practice, so who knows when he will return?

4. Tampa Bay Lightning – Head Coach Guy Boucher did a masterful job of taking this team one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals. Steven Stamkos received big money and d-man Victor Hedman continues to improve. Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier are both a year older but #26 brings it every night while #4 is not as consistent. The Bolts are going with Dwayne Roloson in net again and he is older than dirt. Will he hold up? If so, it should be a great season at the St. Pete Times Forum.

5. Boston Bruins – The Bruins partied all summer on TV with Lord Stanley and earned their multiple parades. The question now is how much do they have in the tank for the upcoming season? Thomas is now 37 years old on a team that relied heavily on its goaltending and defense. The good news is 19 year old Tyler Seguin should be even better as a sophomore.

6. New York Rangers – Coach John Tortorella, after his club lost to the Caps in the first round in April, pointed out that his club still was not there yet, from a talent perspective. So Rangers GM Glen Slather went out and inked center Brad Richards to a monster contract. The former Conn Smythe award winner will help a club that struggles to score goals and generate offense, but he did miss time with a concussion last season so there are health concerns there. Henrik Lundqvist continues to be one of the best goalies in the NHL and who can argue with the work ethic of Ryan Callahan up front? The biggest question is will Marian Gaborik have a good year or become a fading star?

7. New Jersey Devils – Martin Brodeur is now 39 years old, that is a major concern for a guy who, at times last year, looked like father time was starting to catch up with him. Zach Parise is back and wearing the “C” after missing almost the entire season due to a serious knee injury. 18 year old Adam Larsson (4th overall pick in 2011 NHL entry draft) brings some much needed mobility to the Devils blue line and former Kitchener Rangers and Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer is the new bench boss. Can he get Ilya Kovalchuk to produce like Jacques Lemaire did during the second half of last season?

8. Montreal Canadiens – Carey Price had a great season in the cage in 2010-11 and I look for him to have another strong year. Still, this team is small up front but they did add Erik Cole from Carolina and he plays a fast game. If Andrei Markov can stay healthy the Canadiens should make the playoffs. If not, they will hit the links at Royal Montreal once it opens up its’ gates in the spring.

9. Philadelphia Flyers – After trading for the rights to Ilyz Bryzgalov Flyers GM Paul Holmgren declared that the Russian goaltender was his final piece of the puzzle. Holmgren, however, forget that he had to sign the expensive net minder to a contract and then realized in order to do that he had to break up his club to stay under the salary cap. He moved Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, his top two centers, to Los Angeles and Columbus, respectively. In return he received up and coming center Jakub Voracek and former first round draft choice, Brayden Schenn (who isn’t NHL ready yet, IMO). The biggest laugh came when they signed Jaromir Jagr to a deal. #68 is a guy that reportedly is happier when he isn’t playing. I see bad things arising for the Flyers.

10. Carolina Hurricanes – Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, and Cam Ward will carry this team a long way but they just don’t have enough firepower and talent on defense to sneak into the post season. How long does Paul Maurice last as the head coach?

11. Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs haven’t figured out yet that you need to really stink to get better and every spring they win just enough games to come close to making the playoffs while ruining their draft position. It also hasn’t helped that the GM traded two of those high picks to the Bruins. I like Dion Phaneuf, the Flames should not have moved him, but Phil Kessel is inconsistent and Tim Connolly, their big ticket free agent acquisition, seems to always get injured. Coach Ron Wilson sure likes to hear himself talk though. If they beat the Habs on Thursday they should party on Yonge Street before the losses start to mount.

12. Ottawa Senators – Craig Anderson is a good goalie and Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen are up and coming young defensemen but it will be a long year for one of the good guys, GM Bryan Murray.

13. Winnipeg Jets – The excitement of moving and being the big stars in town will help the former Thrashers get off to a decent start but the travel schedule will eventually catch up to them. Evander Kane is a tough and emerging power forward but Zach Bogosian has not lived up to the expectations on defense.

14. Florida Panthers – GM Dale Tallon had success in Chicago and is a likeable person, but he spent too much money on a boat load of floaters. This franchise really needs to hope they can build through the draft.

15. New York Islanders – They picked up 36 year old Evgeni Nabokov in net in case Rick DiPietro gets hurt again (and he will), but it will be tough stopping pucks behind that defense. John Tavares will be in his third year and needs to step up. Can the speedy Michal Grabner repeat his great season from last year? Teams will be focused on him more in 2011-12 so it will be tougher.

Western Conference

1. Vancouver Canucks – Despite playing a long season and losing in the final game, I expect this talented squad to come back and win the West. The Sedin twins continue to shine. Missing Ryan Kesler (shoulder surgery) until at least November doesn’t help though. It will be interesting to see if Roberto Luongo can regain his form after playing so poorly in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Northwest division, which used to be really strong, now stinks so the Canucks will pile up points en route to the number one seed.

2. San Jose Sharks – GM Doug Wilson’s club may be the best in the West but they are in the toughest division in the conference. The additions of Brent Burns and Martin Havlat should help while losing Dany Heatley could be addition by subtraction. For some reason Heatley just didn’t pan out in San Jose.

3. Detroit Red Wings – It is hard to pick against one of the best run franchises in all of sports, especially with Nicklas Lidstrom back for another year and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetteberg still on the roster. The Brian Rafalski retirement will hurt on the blue line, though.

4. Chicago Blackhawks – With Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa up front, this club is strong on talent. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook log a lot of minutes on defense and comprise one of the best d-pairs in the league. Corey Crawford looks to be the guy in net. Will their role players produce this year? If so, they can play with anyone in the league.

5. Los Angeles Kings – Drew Doughty received a long term contract (8 years at a total of $56M), like the Kings brass wanted, and now the pressure is on the d-man to deliver a deeper playoff run for LA. With so many ex-Flyers working in the Kings organization (Ron Hextall, Terry Murray, and John Stevens), it made sense for the embattled center to land on the left coast. He should do well there and a young Kings team should be even better with another year of experience under their belt. It is time for them to move into the NHL’s elite.

6. Anaheim Ducks – The best line in hockey (Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry) will carry this team to the playoffs again. The big question is whether goalie Jonas Hiller can return to form after his concussion like symptoms from last season? Sophomore Cam Fowler must improve in his own end this season.

7. Nashville Predators – Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are arguably the best d-pair in the league and Pekka Rinne is a big goalie that is difficult to beat. Mike Fisher, aka Mr. Carrie Underwood, and David Legwand are two good centers for a club that typically plays low scoring games. Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the league. Music city is a fun town and has a good hockey team, on a low budget.

8. Calgary Flames – GM Jay Feaster has turned the attitude around in the organization and he made some big changes this summer, like shipping out main stay d-man Robyn Regehr and often injured forward Daymond Langkow, but goalie Mikka Kiprusoff and captain Jarome Iginla still are around and run this team. Jay Bouwmeester has a big contract but has never made the playoffs, will that change this season?

9. St. Louis Blues – I like many of their young players, especially center Patrik Berglund and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo. The trade to bring in Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk for Eric Johnson was a good one, but will it lead to a post season position? Only if Jaroslav Halak returns to the form he had in the 2010 playoffs

10. Columbus Blue Jackets  – Acquiring Carter from the Flyers should help take some of the heat off of Rick Nash but what this team really needs is goalie Steve Mason to return to the form that put his club in the post season in 2008-09. The franchise desperately needs to make the playoffs this year after missing the last two seasons.

11. Dallas Stars – Marc Crawford is gone as coach so that is a step in the right direction, but this club lost center Brad Richards and has ownership issues, which almost always creates a distraction. The roster is full of middle of the road players.

12. Minnesota Wild –  GM Chuck Fletcher has to be feeling some pressure to produce in his 3rd year in the position. He went out and acquired Heatley, who came nowhere close to expectations in San Jose. Niklas Backstrom is a super goalie but his defense leaves a lot to be desired.

13. Edmonton Oilers – Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are the last two number one overall picks in the NHL draft and have enormous potential. The Oilers also have Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Jordan Eberle, and Shawn Horcoff as solid forwards. Their defense is not very good and goaltending is a huge issue..

14. Colorado Avalanche – The Avs put a lot of stock into Semyon Varlamov, who has shown flashes of brilliance but never stayed healthy for a lengthy period of time. They likely gave up a lottery pick in trading with the Caps for the young Russian goalie. JS Giguere was also signed and he can help in goal when Varly is hurt. Erik Johnson anchors the defense and 18 year old Gabriel Landeskog, the 2nd overall pick in the NHL draft, will get a lot of attention. Matt Duchene enters his third season and has a chance to be an elite player in the league.

15. Phoenix Coyotes  –  Dave Tippett is a great coach but without Bryzgalov, he can’t work miracles. Some young players need to step up for this club to have any chance. The ownership woes are like a black cloud over this team. Will they stay in Phoenix?

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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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Caps Makeover Continues: Vokoun Signed in Net

Posted on 02 July 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Yesterday was Canada Day and Washington Capitals GM George McPhee made the Caps one of the big NHL winners on the Great White North’s holiday with his acquisitions of forward Joel Ward, d-man Roman Hamrlik, center Jeff Halpern, and two draft choices (a 1st and 2nd round pick) for a restricted free agent goalie (Semyon Varlamov) that possibly could have been had for just a second round pick via an offer sheet. Late that afternoon, as part of his job, McPhee stated that he was done with his moves in his chat with the media. But the man who has been the Capitals GM since 1997 was simply just keeping a poker face and playing his cards close to the vest. Those who read my blog know that he wasn’t done and this morning owner Ted Leonsis confirmed that the team was still likely to make some trades and maybe sign another free agent (I tweeted this info on twitter last night and this morning, so for Caps updates please follow me @EdFrankovic).

Today, on McPhee’s birthday, the Capitals signed free agent goalie Tomas Vokoun to a one year deal for a measly $1.5M. This is an amazing signing, given the price. Vokoun is a very good goalie, maybe not as naturally talented as Varlamov, but he can steal games for a team and it is something you need in the post season (see Thomas, Tim – Boston Bruins). He shut out the Caps twice last season and has thwarted them several times in the past, so the organization knows how good he can be. This move also provides some insurance in goal. Yes, the Capitals could have gone and would have likely been comfortable with just Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby in net, but with the price so low and injuries likely to happen at some point, this move makes perfect sense. Holtby needs to play and another year with the majority of his time in Hershey won’t hurt him either. Neuvirth was very good in the post season but in the Tampa series he never flat out won a game when Washington desperately needed it. Vokoun, who is 35 today and has played 13 years in the NHL, is clearly looking for a chance to win a Stanley Cup before his time is up and the Capitals give him a great chance to do so.

So are the Caps done now? I still say, NO! The biggest reason is the salary cap, but a clear locker room transformation is occurring as well that is contributing to these acquisitions and decisions to let others leave. So far Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Varlamov, Marco Sturm, and Andrew Gordon have signed elsewhere. In addition, it is evident that Scott Hannan and Jason Arnott very likely won’t be back. McPhee still has to sign defensemen Karl Alzner and forward Troy Brouwer (acquired for the Caps 2011 first round pick at last weekend’s draft in Minnesota), who are restricted free agents. King Karl, who made in the $1.7M range last year, is set up for a huge raise and I can’t see his new average annual salary at lower than $3.14M per season. Why do I say that? Because for that figure or less, Alzner could be signed by another team now to an offer sheet and all Washington would receive in return, if they chose not to match, would be a second round pick. McPhee is too smart to let that happen. Leonsis blogged this morning that both King Karl and Brouwer will be inked. Brouwer counted $1.025M against the cap last season and I expect him to garner in the $2M plus range going forward.

The issue with those signings is that the Capitals go over the $64.3M salary cap once they ink both #27 and Brouwer. The Caps can exceed the cap by 10% ($70M) up until game one of the regular season, but clearly someone has to be moved out, even if Tom Poti and his $2.8M salary cap hit is off of the books due to retirement or long term injured reserve (LTIR). We’ll get to who the likely trade candidates are in a minute, but besides the dollars, an interesting thing is going on with the Capitals here, the team is bringing in veterans who are leaders to counter balance a young locker room. In addition, these are guys who have playoff or big game experience. Brouwer won a Stanley Cup in Chicago in 2010, Hamrlik (chosen 1st overall in 1992 NHL draft by Tampa) has a Gold Medal from the Czech Republic in the 1998 Winter Olympic games, Halpern is a former Caps team captain, and Ward has 17 points in 18 playoff games the last two seasons, including a great second round series versus the Canucks this past spring.

In addition, Brouwer, Ward, and Halpern are guys who can score from the tough areas in front of the opponent’s cage, something Washington did not have enough of on their roster after Mike Knuble and the recently re-signed Brooks Laich (6 years, $27M). Hamrlik should help a struggling power play as well since he has a decent shot that can be launched from the left point. The Caps did not have that type of left handed defensemen on last year’s roster. These are positive moves on the ice and off of it and if guys adopt #21’s work ethic, this team could be extremely good when it matters.

The previous two off-seasons the Capitals didn’t make many moves expecting that growth from within would help improve the club. That worked, but only in the regular season as evidenced by a Presidents’ Trophy (2010) and an Eastern Conference regular season title (2011) before first and second round playoff losses, respectively. This year McPhee, who along with Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau is likely feeling pressure to produce in the post season, isn’t taking any chances by standing pat. He is being aggressive, but also smart at the same time. The types of players he is bringing in signals that his most recent post season analysis dictated that he add leadership, work ethic, and grit to go along with some highly skilled players. But like I said above, his work is not done yet, there has to be some subtraction to make the numbers work.

Will it be Alexander Semin and his $6.7M salary? After all, #28 hasn’t delivered in the playoffs the last three years other than against the New York Rangers. As talented and skilled as he is, the types of goals he scores from October to early April don’t seem to occur in the playoffs when the game changes. He also isn’t known as the hardest worker, so could a Semin trade become addition by subtraction? There could be merit to that statement. Other candidates to be moved are Mike Green at $5.2M (entering last year of his contract), Jeff Schultz ($2.75M cap hit), and Eric Fehr ($2.2M).  I don’t see Green getting traded since the team needs guys who can move the puck on the back line. As for #55 and #16, possibly, but moving only one doesn’t seem to make the math totally work, after all, McPhee also likes to have some salary cap room to work with during the season. So if it isn’t 28 or 52, then both Sarge and Fehr would probably need to be moved to make salary cap room.  But if Semin is traded, even for just a draft pick (and hopefully a #1), that should free up more than enough salary cap room for Alzner and Brouwer and might even allow GMGM to go after a second line center.

In summary, I applaud these moves by McPhee. The Caps, on paper, have become a better team. But the club is not done, so stayed tuned as the makeover continues in preparation for a training camp that is now just over two months away.

Notes: I will be on with Drew Forrester on the Comcast Morning Show on WNST on Tuesday, July 5th at 925 am talking about the Capitals and other things happening around the NHL. Listen Live on 1570AM or on WNST.NET…forward Chris Bourque (Caps 2004 2nd round draft pick and three time Hershey Bears Calder Cup winner) has been re-signed by the team today. He is expected to play in Hershey but could be an injury call up…defensemen Sean Collins was re-signed yesterday and will play primarily in Hershey as well…Below is the Capitals full press release on the Vokoun signing:

The Washington Capitals have signed free agent goaltender Tomas Vokoun 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.

“We are excited to add an elite veteran goaltender to the Capitals,” said McPhee. “We now have a nice blend of talent, depth, experience and youth in the goaltending position.”

Vokoun, 34, completed his 13th NHL season while posting a record of 22-28-5 with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in 57 games with the Florida Panthers. It marked the eighth consecutive season in which he has recorded 20 or more wins and the third-straight season he has registered a save percentage of .920 or higher. He finished the season ranked sixth in the league in shutouts (6), 10th in save percentage, 12th in saves (1,616) and tied for 19th in goals-against average.

“I’m very excited to join the Washington Capitals organization,” said Vokoun. “It is a terrific team with a lot of talent and I look forward to doing everything I can for us to reach our ultimate goal in winning the Stanley Cup.”

The 6’, 215-pound netminder has played the fifth-most games among active goaltenders (632) and ranks 39th all-time in career NHL wins (262), 17th in saves (16,957) and 27th in shutouts (44). His .917 career save percentage is tied for sixth in the NHL among active goaltenders and he ranks eighth in wins, fifth in shutouts and 18th in goals-against average (2.56). Vokoun is tied for the best save percentage (.922) in the NHL since the 2005-06 season and is also tied for the fourth-most shutouts in that span (32). The two-time NHL All-Star (2004, 2008), has finished in the top ten in save percentage in five of the last six seasons. In 11 career postseason games with Nashville, Vokoun is 3-8 with a 2.47 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage and one shutout. He is also currently ranked sixth in playoff save percentage among active goaltenders that have appeared in at least 10 games.

The Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, native led the Czech national team to a gold medal during the 2010 World Championships, posting a record of 7-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. He also helped backstop the Czechs to a gold medal in the 2005 World Championships and was awarded the Directorate’s Best Goaltender Award while being selected to the tournament All-Star team. In addition, Vokoun captured a bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics and represented the Czech Republic in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. In total, he has represented his country at two Olympics (2006, 2010), one World Cup (2004), four World Championships (2003, 2004, 2005, 2010) and one World Junior Championship (1996), posting a 31-12-1 record with a 1.80 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in international play.

Vokoun was originally selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the 9th round (226th overall) of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.   

 

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Caps Trade Varlamov To Colorado

Posted on 01 July 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have traded restricted free agent goalie Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2012 1st round draft choice and a second round choice in either 2012 or 2013 (Washington’s choice on year, according to TSN). Varlamov’s agent basically burnt and blew up the bridge with the Caps leaving GM George McPhee with no choice but to try and get something for the former 2006 first round selection (23rd overall), who was threatening to go play in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The Caps now have Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby as #1 and #2 on the goaltending depth chart.

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Caps Re-Sign Laich / GM McPhee Talks Moves

Posted on 28 June 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee re-signed hard working and fan favorite forward Brooks Laich to a monster six year, $27.5M deal today. Below is most of the official press release from the Caps, followed with info from GMGM’s press conference, and then my take on what may transpire over the next few weeks for Washington.

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“We are very pleased to have Brooks Laich continue his career as a Washington Capital,” said McPhee. “Brooks has excelled as one of the League’s finer two-way players and is just entering his prime. His combination of size, speed, versatility and leadership makes him a valuable part of our club.”

Laich, 28, finished fourth on the Capitals in points (48), fifth in goals (16) and third in assists (32) while posting a plus-14 plus/minus rating and collecting 46 penalty minutes. For the third time in his career, he played in all 82 of Washington’s regular-season games and finished second on the Caps with 207 shots on goal. In addition, Laich closed out the 2010-11 campaign fifth on the team in hits (113) and won 51.3 percent of his faceoffs. He scored his 100th career NHL goal on Mar. 15 at Montreal and finished second on the team in points during the playoffs (7) while leading the Caps with six postseason assists in nine games. Laich also finished first amongst Capitals forwards in average shorthanded ice time per game (2:18) and was instrumental in leading the Caps penalty kill unit that ranked second in the NHL during the regular season.      

“I’m thrilled to make the commitment to remain a Capital,” said Laich. “It is a wonderful organization with terrific fans and I’m very happy to continue to call Washington home for many years to come.”

The 6’2”, 215-pound center set career-highs in goals (25), assists (34) and points (59) during the 2009-10 season and scored 20 or more goals in three straight seasons from 2007-2010. In 475 career regular-season games, Laich has recorded 237 points (100 goals, 137 assists) and is a plus-14. In 37 career playoff games, he has tallied seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points.

The Wawota, Saskatchewan, native is second among active Capitals players in franchise games played (474), fifth in points (237), third in goals (100) and fifth in assists (137). Laich is 15th amongst his 2001 draft class in points but is one of only three players in the top 15 to be drafted later than the third round.

Laich was a sixth-round draft pick (193rd overall) by Ottawa in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He was acquired from Ottawa along with the Senators’ second-round draft pick in 2005 (traded to Colorado) and future considerations for Peter Bondra on Feb. 18, 2004. 

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Laich has really turned himself into a very good hockey player with his drive and hard work. He was set to become a free agent on July 1st and several teams would likely have bid on him. McPhee spoke to the media this afternoon (video available on washingtoncaps.com) and talked about the importance of signing his own players. He also highlighted #21’s ability to play center, something he thinks we’ll see more of in 2011-12. Laich made $2.4M last season, so this is a hefty raise, but given that the salary cap is going up close to $5M per team and there are several clubs that aren’t even at the cap floor of $48.3M, the deal doesn’t look as bad given what the open market might have resulted in contract-wise for #21.

McPhee also mentioned that there is a lot of talking going on between teams in the league right now but he is not imminently close to any deals. He did say that he thinks that prices will be way up in free agency so he doesn’t expect the Caps to be players there in a thin market, he sees the more likely scenario of Washington making a trade with another club. As for the Varlamov situation, the GM said that the club will either have three goalies next season, meaning Varly re-signs with the Caps, or they’ll go with two (Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby).

The Laich signing ($4.5M per year cap hit) gives the Caps some high cap figure players towards the $64.3M ceiling to include Alexander Ovechkin (~$9.5M), Nicklas Backstrom ($6.7M), Alexander Semin ($6.7M), Mike Green ($5.25M), and Dennis Wideman ($3.9M). Tom Poti ($2.875M), Jeff Schultz ($2.75M), Eric Fehr ($2.2M), and Mike Knuble ($2.0M) are also signed for at least the upcoming season and will make over $2M. Karl Alzner, Troy Brouwer, and Varlamov are the next three guys who would likely be over $2M if they are re-signed. Washington could get some salary cap relief if Poti is unable to recover from his groin problems that plagued him significantly last year (potential retirement?). However, #3’s status will not be known until training camp. McPhee felt that the Capitals are in good shape with the salary cap and they have flexibility to do what is needed to be done to try and win a Stanley Cup.

Both Green and Semin head into the last year of their current deals in 2011-12 so the threat of possibly losing an asset next summer begins looming with both players. McPhee historically has done a good job of not giving up high end players without receiving something in return. I would imagine the team may still be looking for a center if Jason Arnott is not back, as I expect to be the case. Backstrom is the clear #1 and Marcus Johansson is a natural fit to be a super third line center. Putting MJ90 on the second line could put too much pressure on the young Swede so it seems like Laich is the fall back #2 center if another pivot is not added.

More depth on defense is also a likely possibility, especially if unrestricted free agent Scott Hannan is not re-signed. GMGM talked again about the injuries on defense being a big reason for the second round playoff loss to Tampa, so one way to avoid that next year is to find more puck movers in case the injury bug hits again, which seems to be a frequent situation with #52 come post season time.

The GM talked last Saturday after the Brouwer trade about adding more guys with Cup experience so I don’t think he is done putting the 2011-12 club together yet. Clearly the next two weeks are going to be interesting times for Capitals fans, so stay glued to the internet for any breaking Caps news!

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Caps Fans Will Like Troy Brouwer / Other Caps News

Posted on 27 June 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals Media Relations staff arranged a conference call this afternoon with the Caps latest trade acquisition, former Blackhawks forward Troy Brouwer, and based on the way he handled himself during the question and answer session, the physical winger will be extremely liked by his teammates and the local fans. Brouwer talked about his style of play, the things he learned from former teammates to include Cup winning veterans Andrew Ladd and John Madden, and how he thinks he’ll fit in with the Capitals. He was very straightforward and honest and seems like a natural leader. Here is one of the more interesting quotes from the conference call when I asked Brouwer about playing on the top line in Chicago and how it might translate to Washington:

“In Chicago we had quite a few players that would move around the line-up a little bit. I think I was one of the guys who changed lines a little bit more than most people just because the coach used me as a pretty versatile player where I could play on the penalty kill, I could play in the shutdown role, but I could also be put on that first line to finish my checks and create room for [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews. If I was to play on the top line in Washington, I don’t think I would change much, Kane and Toews are both guys that demand the puck all the time and they want the puck on their stick. I’m assuming [Alex] Ovechkin and [Nicklas] Backstrom are the exact same type of players who want the puck and make things happen. And with the world class skill that those two players have you are going to give them the puck and they are going to be able to get it back to you. So playing in Washington, if I am able to play on those top two lines, I am going to play exactly the same as what got me to the NHL and what made me successful in the NHL so far, which is trying to help out my linemates, make sure that they are controlling the play. I’ll stand in front of the net, I’ll take my shots when I need to, but those are two players that are going to want the puck and to be successful they need to have the puck and I’m just going to go get the puck and work hard to try and make sure that they have space.”

The full audio of the session is up on the Caps website.

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In other Caps news, the team issued qualifying offers today to restricted free agents Karl Alzner, Semyon Varlamov, Brouwer, Mathieu Perreault, and Francois Bouchard. By doing this the Capitals retain the right to match any contract offer made to those players by any other NHL team. Brouwer, as noted by Mike Vogel in his blog on the offers over at WashingtonCaps.com, is the only one with arbitration rights.

Varlamov is the most interesting case and twitter was a buzz last night and this morning after a tweet from Dmitri Chesnokov of Puck Daddy that Varly was not likely to be back with the Capitals. Chesnokov said the situation would be resolved by July 1st. The Russian Kontinental Hockey League is clearly on the table for a player that GM George McPhee selected in the first round of the 2006 NHL draft. Last week, however, the Russian goalie told The Washington Post that he wants to play in the NHL. All of this info has led many to speculate that Varlamov could be dealt to another team. If Varlamov bolts to Russia for the KHL, for a reported $4M a season, then Washington retains his rights.

Personally, I believe that Varly is the best goalie of the three young Washington net minders. His performance in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs was outstanding and he kept the Caps in the series with a superior Pittsburgh Penguins team until he ran out of gas in game seven. The biggest downside to Varlamov has been his injury issues but recently hired associate goalie coach, Olie Kolzig, believes that the physical issue is all that is holding him back.

The question is how much money will it take to keep Varlamov? I threw out a $3M figure on twitter today and Chesnokov replied that the young Russian goalie wasn’t even asking for that much. Michal Neuvirth, who started all nine Capitals playoffs games in 2011, signed a two year deal for $1.1M per season last fall before he went on to have a great 2010-11 campaign. Washington also has 2008 4th round draft choice Braden Holtby in the system (10-2-2 with Caps this past season) so McPhee has other options should he choose to let Varlamov go to the KHL or trade him to another NHL team.

I’d like to see Varlamov, a guy I believe can be a franchise type of goalie, stay in Washington, but you can bet if the two sides can’t agree that GMGM will get good value for the young Russian goalie with huge upside.

Finally, Caps owner Ted Leonsis blogged today that changes are inevitable in hockey and for Capitals fans to expect guys to leave in free agency, others to possibly be signed to come to DC via that route, or others to be added and subtracted via trades. McPhee also stated over the weekend that he is seeking more players with Cup winning experience, something I did a significant blog on back in May. So if you put all of the rhetoric from the owner and GM together, Capitals fans should really pay attention these next few weeks as the organization tries to re-shape its’ club in an attempt to get over the dreaded playoff hump they have run up against the last four years.

Note: The Caps waived defenseman Tyler Sloan, who was set to make $700K in 2010-11. No word yet on if there will be a buyout of his salary or not.

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