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Fehr Wins Game for Caps in OT

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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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Caps Announce Regular Season Schedule / NHL News on Eve of Draft

Posted on 23 June 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals released their 2011-12 regular season schedule today. You can check it out on the Caps website. Here are some of the key dates on the slate:

Oct. 8 – Home opener at Verizon Center vs. the division-rival Carolina Hurricanes.

Oct. 10 – A Columbus Day rematch of the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinal series vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Oct. 22 – The 11-time Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings make their first visit to Verizon Center since 2010.

Nov. 23 – Team Winnipeg makes its first appearance at Verizon Center.

Nov. 25 – The New York Rangers return to Washington the day after Thanksgiving for the first time since the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

Dec. 1 – Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins make their first visit to D.C. of the season.

Jan. 3 – The Capitals kick off 2012 when they host the Calgary Flames at Verizon Center for the first time since 2010.

Jan. 24 – Washington welcomes the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to Verizon Center for the first time in 2011-12.

April 5 – Washington concludes the regular-season home schedule at Verizon Center vs. the Florida Panthers.

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The first round of the 2011 NHL Draft is on Friday night on VERSUS at 7 pm from Minnesota (rounds 2-7 are on the NHL Network starting at 11am on Saturday). The Capitals pick 26th in a draft that GM George McPhee stated lacks difference makers. In the recent past Washington has picked up some quality players late in the first round including Mike Green, Semyon Varlamov, John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. This year getting a player of that caliber that late seems very unlikely. Based on what McPhee told us on his conference call last week, the GM seems open to making some deals to improve his club, if they are there for the taking, so don’t be surprised if he moves his first round pick.

The Caps have a very solid young core but lack experience and leadership, as I blogged in my 2010-11 season summary back on May 17th, so I expect the GM to be active this summer to improve Washington’s chances at going deeper in the playoffs next season.

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Speaking of trades, the Philadelphia Flyers went radical today trading their top two centers, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, in two different deals. Richards, the former team captain went to the Los Angeles Kings for Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, and an undisclosed draft pick. Carter was sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, the Jackets 1st pick in the 2011 draft (8th overall), and a third round pick. They basically dumped two high priced long term contracts in return for two young promising players in Schenn and Voracek, a third line grinder in Simmonds, and draft picks.

GM Paul Holmgren did this because the Flyers signed 31 year old goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov, to a mammoth nine year, $51M deal with an average cap hit of $5.6M per season. So Philly now has a ton of money locked up in both the former Coyotes/Ducks goalie and Chris Pronger. This is a huge risk for the Flyers and I don’t see it panning out. Carter and Richards each apparently had internal team issues so I am not surprised they were moved, plus both are coming off of injuries, but the decision to put so much money in a goalie that has never single-handedly won a playoff series is mind boggling. I do like Voracek and think he can be an impact player, but overall, I think the Flyers traded one set of problems for some new ones.

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Caps Hire Olie Kolzig As Associate Goalie Coach (Updated w/Quotes from #37)

Posted on 16 June 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Capitals Press Release:  The Washington Capitals have hired former Capital Olie Kolzig as associate goaltender coach, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. Dave Prior will return to his role as director of goaltending and NHL goaltender coach.

“We are excited to add a familiar face to our staff in Olie Kolzig,” said McPhee. “Olie had a tremendous impact on this franchise as a goaltender as well as an individual, and we are looking forward to him having the same impact as a coach.”

Kolzig, 41, played in 711 games as a Capital from 1989-90 through 2007-08. He currently owns nearly every all-time Capitals goaltending record, including games played, wins (301), shutouts (35) and minutes (41,259) and ranks fourth (minimum 3,000 minutes played) in goals-against average (2.70) and third in save percentage (.906). In terms of single-season records, Kolzig leads in games (73), minutes (4,371), wins (41) and is second (minimum 1,200 minutes) in goals-against average (2.20), save percentage (.920) and shutouts (6).

The Johannesburg, South Africa, native was awarded the 2000 Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league’s top goalie, and was named the 2005-06 King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner (awarded to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community). He was also named to two NHL All-Star teams (1998 and 2000) as a member of the Capitals.  

A former Caps first-round draft pick (19th overall) in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, Kolzig helped guide Washington to its only Stanley Cup Final in 1998. During his final season with the Caps in 2007-08, Kolzig was teammates with several current Capitals, including captain Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green. The three-time German Olympian (1998, 2002 – sat out due to injury and 2006) appeared in 719 career NHL games with Washington and Tampa Bay before retiring in September 2009.

Prior spent 12 seasons as the Capitals goaltending coach from 1996-97 through the 2008-09 season, including 11 seasons coaching Kolzig, and worked in the Capitals organization as a goalie coach this past season. Under his watch, Washington goalies posted three of the five lowest team goals-against averages in franchise history, including Kolzig’s Vezina-winning season (1999-2000) and the Caps 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. The Capitals won four divisional championships and made six playoff appearances during Prior’s tenure.

Before joining the Capitals’ coaching staff, Prior worked as a goaltending coach for the Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets. In addition, the native of Guelph, Ontario, gained international experience mentoring goalies on the German National Team and spent seven years working with the NHL Central Scouting Bureau.

Both coaches will attend the Capitals’ Rookie Development Camp, running from July 11-16 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va.

COMMENT: With previous goalie coach Arturs Irbe not returning after two years, McPhee needed to bring in a new goalie coach so he will go with the Prior-Kolzig duo for the 2011-12 season. More to come following the Kolzig and McPhee conference call at 230pm.

UPDATE: Kolzig was made available to the media via conference call on Thursday afternoon and in vintage Olie fashion he provided some outstanding insight on his situation and the Capitals three young goalies. Below are the highlights:

- On coming back to the Caps organization:

“I’m estactic to finally be coming back to the place I call home. After over two years away it will be nice to come back and be around family.”

- On how the associate goalie coaching position with Washington materialized and why he took the opportunity:

“Prior pitched the idea a couple of weeks back to me. I thought there is not a better person to work with than him and he was the biggest reason for my success. I was sort of floundering in the minors [when playing early on] and my issues were not so much technical as mental. He helped me have a lengthy and enjoyable NHL career.”

- On Semyon Varlamov and how he might be able to help him improve and stay healthy:

“His is a physical issue. He is an explosive guy and he has to find a way for his muscles to keep up with his agility. I will likely talk to [Caps strength and conditioning coach] Mark Nemish about it. He is such a talent and such a big asset to the team.”

- On the Caps goaltending depth and which goalie he thinks is most like him:

“There isn’t another organization in the league that has such depth at the position at such a young age. The guy I can relate to is [Braden] Holtby because he is a big guy. He has better hands but his temperament is similiar.”

- On Michal Neuvirth:

“I barely met Neuvirth at the end of my career with the Caps but he was a quiet guy who seemed to go about his business.”

- On how he plans on focusing his coaching efforts and some of the logistics involved:

“A lot of my coaching will be on the mental part of the game, especially with the guys in the minors. I have a bad hip, so I won’t be on the ice in gear. I won’t be working a full time schedule. I just want to work with the kids and see if this is something I want to do going forward. Kind of see if I want to be the head guy, as a goalie coach.”

- On the Caps and their struggles to get deeper into the playoffs:

“I think [in 2010] they didn’t have the killer instinct in game five and gave up those two early goals. They need to find a good balance of offense and defense. They may need to look at bringing in a few new players, they have too much talent to not go further than they have.”

- On being around Alexander Ovechkin again, his thoughts on how the Great #8 has progressed on the ice, and what he should do going forward:

“I will have to back off on what I might say to him being a coach and not a player any more. His improved play on defense will him help go along way. As he gets older he needs to keep himself healthy. He’s like a raging bull out there and as he gets older he will need to reign that in a bit.”

FINAL COMMENT: McPhee, in his part of the presser, noted that Irbe had to return to Latvia for family reasons and that Prior expressed interest in directing the department again. The GM said Prior had done a good job before, Dave’s first choice was Kolzig, and they actually had talked about him a couple of years ago before Irbe was brought in, but #37 wasn’t quite ready. Overall this looks like a very good decision by the Capitals. Prior can handle the primary load for at least the upcoming season and if Kolzig enjoys it and does well, he is the frontrunner for the long term solution as Washington goaltending coach.

 

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Evaluation Process Time for Caps. Who Stays, Who Goes?

Posted on 06 May 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Today was breakdown day for the 2010-11 Washington Capitals, the least favorite day for NHL teams that do not win the Stanley Cup, and with it came interviews with General Manager George McPhee, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, and several players at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. We’ll get to that info in a minute, but perhaps what was even bigger news, at least in my view, was Thursday morning’s blog entry from Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis. Particularly the following sentences:

In times like these people are emotional; angry; and demand change. I understand.

The best course of action for us though is to let a few days pass; be very analytic about what needs to be improved; articulate that plan; and then execute upon it.

Clearly we know we have to improve to build a franchise that is as good as our fan base.

I appreciate your emails. I appreciate all of the advice we are being given by media and bloggers. I understand that we are what our record says we are.

Thank you for your support during this grind of a season.

Thank you for caring so much. I am so very sorry we let you all down.

Wow! That is some true, from the heart, direct feedback to the Caps fan base (gratuitous shot at Orioles ownership can be taken at any time). Leonsis clearly gets it and he realizes that he has a problem right now. It is nice to win four straight Southeast Division titles, a Presidents’ Trophy, and a second Eastern Conference regular season title, but his club is two for six in playoff series’ the last four years. Both wins came against mismatched New York Rangers teams and this year’s four game second round loss to Tampa Bay was shocking to nearly everyone. Right now, this club bears a lot of resemblance to those great 1980′s Capitals teams that were coached by Bryan Murray that also could not get past the second round. Back then the major problem was poor goaltending, but that wasn’t really the case this post season. So what are the problems, how are they going to be identified, and what will be done to fix them?

That brings us back to breakdown day and the evaluation process that McPhee described begins today.

“It’s important to do [an evaluation] and what we’ve always done is meet with the coaches and get their evaluations of players, and how the season went. Then I’ll meet with our pro scouts and then I’ll meet with ownership and we put it all together. We put together a plan and then move forward. I’d like to think we’ve been doing a lot of good things,” stated the man who has been the Caps GM since the summer of 1997.

Immediately following that response, Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post asked the GM if Boudreau would be back next season. After a slight pause, the GM gave the following answer.

“I expect him to be back, yeah, he’s a good coach..either you are a good coach or you are not,” stated McPhee.

So clearly the GM is likely in the coach’s corner at this stage of the process, which is at the absolute beginning. If we combine what McPhee said above about the evaluation process with the owner’s blog, it is clear to me that NOTHING has been decided yet, so the decision on Boudreau and anyone else in the organization has yet to be finalized. In addition to Leonsis, I would also imagine that Team President Dick Patrick will have a say in all hockey matters too, so we may be several days or weeks from decisions on management and coaches. After that is decided, the entire hockey department will focus on which players stay and which go, in addition to preparing for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Locks to be back are Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, right off the bat, because of their talent and long term contracts. #19 struggled in the post season and courtesy of Mike Vogel of Dump ‘n Chase we learned today that Backstrom re-injured his thumb in the Rangers series and played hurt against the Bolts. Additional players who will most certainly be back are John Carlson, Michal Neuvirth, Karl Alzner (although he is a restricted free agent), Marcus Johansson, Braden Holtby, and Dennis Wideman. Mike Green, Mike Knuble, and Alexander Semin are under contract for another season. Knuble played with a fractured thumb that required four pins (hurt in game 3 of Rangers series), Green suffered a hip flexor injury, and Carlson played in pain with a hip pointer making it difficult for him to hit or be hit. With #52 and #74 ailing, and #6 out due to injury, it was clear that the Capitals biggest problem in the Tampa series was the lack of puck rushing defenseman, like I stated after game four. McPhee discussed that today.

“I thought that the [blue line] was our biggest issue in the playoffs. I thought our puck distribution and puck possession wasn’t where it needed to be due to those injuries,” commented GMGM on why he thought his team failed against Tampa.

As a result, slower defensemen Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, and Scott Hannan were exposed by a quicker Tampa crew of forwards. Both #4 and #55 are resigned for next year but are third defensive pair guys, at best. Hannan is an unrestricted free agent and will not get anywhere close to the $4.5M he made this season.

McPhee talked about the infusion of young talent into his lineup this year and the Capitals will certainly benefit going forward from their progression.

“The good news is we introduced some really good young players to our team this year to our fans and we think they liked what they saw in Neuvirth, Johansson, Carlson, and Alzner and we have some terrific young players I am thinking hard about introducing next year,” stated McPhee, who did not dismiss the possibility of center Evgeny Kuznetsov, d-man Dmitri Orlov, and forward Cody Eakin getting a shot at playing for the 2011-12 Caps squad.

It’s pretty clear from hearing McPhee today that he thinks he has the personnel on the roster or in the system to get the Caps where they want to be.

“There’s a certain place I want to get to with the team. I think we have it within in our organization to get there. I don’t think we have to go outside the organization. I want to spend more time talking to our scouts about that. We’ve really got some good ones, some difference makers,” added McPhee on how he sees team improvement occuring on the personnel front.

This squad, if it does not bring back Jason Arnott, who hurt his knee shortly after coming to the Caps at the trade deadline and had minor surgery done on it in March, still needs a second line center. Johansson made a lot of progress this year but he is really a third line center. Kuznetsov suffered a shoulder injury this spring and given that he will be only 19 and is not physically developed, he likely isn’t the answer at the two hole, yet. So maybe #44 is back? He told the media today that he wants to return. As for #90, he was playing hurt against Tampa, but he impressed the GM with his rapid development this season.

“He’s really good defensively, a lot of kids don’t have that this early in their careers and we expect his offensive game to continue to blossom,” added GMGM on his young Swedish center, who was selected in the first round of the 2009 NHL entry draft.

On the goaltending front, the GM is extremely happy with his trio of net minders.

“I’m really pleased with where we are with the goaltending. We drafted well, we’ve developed them well. They are three terrific kids with lots of upside.We are in no rush to change anything there. No pressure points in terms of waivers or anthying like that. We’re comfortable with that. It’s the most important position in the league. They’re good. We’ll continue to play them to see how they do. They did really well this year. All three of them played and played well. We have good goaltending,” said McPhee of a stable of goalies that many teams in the league would love to have.

I was happy to hear that the GM plans to stick with all three of them. To rush out and trade one of them would be a big mistake. What would have happened to this franchise had Olie Kolzig been traded in the early or mid 1990′s when he was seemingly passed in the organization by Byron Dafoe and Jim Carey? “Olie the Goalie” turned out to be the best of the three despite early injury problems that had him playing in the ECHL, at one point. #37 was the face of the franchise for many years until Ovechkin arrived on the scene. So a cautious approach with young goalies is a must for the Capitals brass. None of us, at this time, know who will be the best goalie long term between Semyon Varlamov, Neuvirth, and Holtby.

So it was clear, when hearing what McPhee had to say today, that he is pretty confident in staying the course, for the most part, and continuing to improve from within.

“We were the #1 seed in our conference and we played the #8 seed, and we had just four more wins than them. Nobody is that much better than everyone else. What we’re doing here, I believe is we are putting a good team on the ice every year, and hopefully one of these years we win it. But we’re in the mix every year, it could be worse, we could be missing the playoffs…thank goodness we’ve been drafting well, we’ve been really good at it recently…so I don’t expect us to lose any ground, I expect us to get better,” stated McPhee on player development.

“I don’t see major changes. Every team can continue to add to it and make it better. But we’ll see this summer. It’s not easy to step back for a manager either, we’re all here to win a Cup, as we all know, only one team wins it. Hopefully it will be that much better when we win it,” finished McPhee.

I wouldn’t expect McPhee, who has drafted or acquired all of these players, to think otherwise on where his personnel is right now given the fairly successful results of the past four seasons, at least based on the regular season. But to me there are major questions with how his talent is being implemented and that could impact some of GMGM’s personnel decisions going forward.

Are the Capitals playing the right system? Why does the power play continue to struggle after it was such an achilles heel in the 2010 post season? Why does Ovechkin continue to be placed on the point when it seems he would be better served down low or on the half wall? Had the power play been corrected could it have been the difference in games one and two of the Tampa series and allowed the Caps to overcome their key defensive injuries? Speaking of injuries, why is it that Green gets hurt every year? Is he not taking care of himself, is he being over targeted by other teams, or is it a function of not being taught how to move the puck more efficiently and avoid big hits? (You don’t see Nicklas Lidstrom with these continual post season injury issues). Why is Semin so inconsistent? Are the star players listening to the coaching staff? How come Tampa was able to hide its non-highly mobile defense and be so effective?

I could go on and on with these questions but you get the picture. Hopefully the evaluation process examines all of these issues because as I stated on twitter today, “collectively” this group of coaches and players have NOT gotten it done in the post season. This franchise needs to figure out why that is happening and fix it going forward before another year is wasted.

NOTE: Special thanks to Ted Starkey of The Washington Times for sending me the audio for Boudreau and McPhee’s media sessions from breakdown day.

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