Monday, July 30, 2007

Arbitration

30 players...19 settled before hearings, 10 still scheduled, one actually going through with it...

Brooks Laich.


edit: OK, two...the Stars' Antti Miettinen was awarded a one-year, $885,000 contract on Monday

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The War Between the States

The Peerless was not able to attend the festivities honoring Dave Fay this afternoon, but “The Voice of God,” John Facenda weighs in . . .




On the frozen tundra of Kettler Capitals Iceplex the players, clad in blue and gray, harkened back to the armies of Virginia and Maryland in the War Between the States…hard men and women defending their honor and virtue. The skates slashing into the freshly surfaced ice were like those sabers unsheathed in preparation for battle so long ago. The pucks ricocheting off the glass were the sound of minie ball fired by elite marksmen.

Upon the drop of the puck, the Army of the Potomac established a territorial advantage that they would not soon relinquish. Waves of blue-clad northerners swept through the Virginia end of the ice like a cold wind from White Flint Mall. The Army of Northern Virginia fought gallantly, but yielded two goals before the game was ten minutes old. A rout was in the offing, but the rebels summoned the courage and audacity of their ancient brethren to halve the deficit as the period was waning.

But just as the Virginians were climbing back into the battle, the comeback was thwarted by a Maryland goal with one-tenth of a second remaining in the period. It would be a grim harbinger of what was to come in the second period as the Marylanders redoubled their efforts in an assault on the Virginians. The speed and swiftness of the Marylanders proved too much for the Virginians to cope with in that pivotal second period…the Union forged a wide margin to put the Southerners on the verge of a level of carnage not seen since…well, in a long, long time.

The second period ended with the Virginians licking their wounds, which was amazing in itself given all the equipment they were wearing. The Marylanders appeared confident to the point of giddiness, the giddiness of a schoolboy dreaming of a Sunday afternoon when he could take a turn on the fabled Kettler Capitals Iceplex ice sheet.

But a hockey game is three periods long, and the Virginians were of a mind to provide the Marylanders with a lesson that hard reality. In a counter attack that lacked only for the spine-chilling rebel yell, the Virginians stormed the Maryland zone, peppering the goal with puck after puck. It was a prodigious display of hockey aplomb, but for all their efforts, they could only fight the team in blue to a standoff in the final stanza. The Marylanders held on for a 16-8 win in a contest that was much, much closer than the final score indicated.

And so, on the frozen tundra of Kettler Capitals Iceplex, another chapter in the storied rivalry between the north and south was written in the struggle to possess Lord Brown's Boot. Skaters stooped by age will regale their grandchildren with the exploits of this day. Bull Run.…Antietam....Gettysburg….Kettler…battles in the civil war that will transcend history.



**********

Don't mistake any of the above for anything but respect for all involved. The game was played in honor of Dave Fay, who passed way earlier this month after a long battle with cancer. The proceeds were donated to "Hockey Fights Cancer," a joint initiative founded in December 1998 by the National Hockey League Players' Association and the National Hockey League to raise money and awareness for hockey's most important fight. It is for that reason that while all of the members of the Virginia and Maryland teams represented themselves well on the ice, the three stars have to go to Gavin Toner, Rob Keaton, and Ben Wilson, for their work in putcanceronice.org.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Idiots Need Work, Too.

Newsday reports that former player, general manager, and drooling idiot (ok, he's still that) Mike Milbury will replace the equally cognitively challenged Brett Hull in the NBC studio for NHL telecasts this upcoming season.

Milbury, whose main claims to hockey fame are whacking a fan with his own shoe and making obscenely stupid trades, will join Pierre McGuire as part of his effort to pursue, as he put it, "things I'm much more passionate about than ticket sales."

Given that he also said that, "the first thing is, you only have to work 25 days out of the year...It's kind of like stealing money," one can only think that what he's passionate about is mailing in a few weekends a year and getting paid for it.

At least he can't do the damage to a major television network (given how many actually watch) that he did to hockey front offices. As he once famously stated about an agent, “It's too bad he lives in the city. He's depriving some small village of a pretty good idiot.”

Mike would know.

If there is one consoldation, perhaps he'll do this to Pierre McGuire when McGuire waxes rhapsodic once too often about Sidney Crosby...

Sittin' at the end of the bar...


What a week....didja miss me? Seems this week's common theme (as it is much of the time in pro sports these days) is money...

Want to get rich? Forget Powerball, be a Sabre. This summer, four Sabres signed contracts for a combined 26 years and $161.25 million. Daniel Briere, Thomas Vanek, Chris Drury, and Derek Roy . . . at those salaries, you’d think they were the Yankees' starting rotation.

**********

Look up “futility” in the dictionary . . . no doubt you will see this picture:

Oilers’ GM Kevin Lowe has offered two players – the Sabres' Thomas Vanek and the Ducks' Dustin Penner -- offer sheets of a combined 12 years a $71.5 million. Neither will play a minute for the Oilers. The adjectives used by Ducks’ GM Brian Burke with respect to the behavior of Lowe – “gutless” (for Burke allegedly getting notice of the offer by fax from the player’s agent, not Lowe), “classless” (regarding the timing of the move, stepping on the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame ceremony, which included Burke’s induction) -- well, there won’t be any holiday greetings exchanged this December. And to think…it was Burke to whom Lowe turned to take the disgruntled-with-Edmonton Chris Pronger, not an inconsequential part of the Ducks Cup-winning squad. Well, guess we need a soap opera in these long, hot days of July.

**********

Brooks Laich got a one-year, $725,000 deal via arbitration. Laich’s deal is interesting in juxtaposition with that given the departed Jiri Novotny ($750,000 cap hit in each of the next two years) by Columbus. If you look at their respective career statistics, they are virtually identical on a per-82 game basis:

Laich: 8-14-22, -7, 31 PIMS
Novotny: 8-14-22, -9, 28 PIMS

Laich is 50 days older, so that isn’t much of a difference, either. Novotny is (surprisingly, if you believe NHL stats) the bigger hitter – 72 to 56 – but that’s a subjective measure. Laich has the virtue of being more versatile and appears to be the better faceoff man. In this small comparison, Laich is a comparative bargain, even with the approximately 20 percent increase in salary, both in price and terms. And, it affords the player an opportunity for a bigger payday next year.

**********

Milan Jurcina avoided arbitration by signing a two-year, $1,762,500 deal. Here is the defenseman neighborhood (plus or minus $25,000) he lives in with his $850,000 salary this year:

Chris Chelios
Jack Johnson
Lasse Kukkonen
Branislav Mezei
Christoph Schubert
Dennis Seidenberg
Brent Burns
Shane O’Brien

If you account for Chelios (a fossil veteran who is winding down his career) and Johnson (who is likely to see larger paydays down the road), Jurcina fits well in this neck of the salary woods. But it is who Jurcina left behind in Boston that serves as an interesting comparison. Compared to Andrew Ference ($1,235,000 salary this year) and Andrew Alberts ($1,100,000), Jurcina must be considered a bargain.

The thing is, though, with Laich and Jurcina looking like comparative bargains at the prices they will command this year, are the Caps going to assume additional payroll by trading lower priced assets for a higher priced veteran on defense?

The summer continues…

Sunday, July 22, 2007

What this off season might mean to two left wings

It is hard to overemphasize the effect the change in centers on the top two lines is likely to have on next year’s Capitals club. Let’s look first at the top line.

In 2006-2007, up to the trading deadline, the top line of Alexander Ovechkin, Dainius Zubrus, and Chris Clark had a total of 84 goals. But the oddity was that Dainius Zubrus had only 32 assists. Had that pace played out over the entire year, Zubrus would have ended up with 42 assists. That would have been good for a tie for 26th among centers and a tie for 45th among all forwards in the NHL last year. Those are not necessarily bad figures, but on a line with a goal scorer such as Alexander Ovechkin more might be expected out of that position.

However, it might be the second line where the changes will be felt more keenly. The pivot on the second line was shuffled around quite a bit last year, itself a problem. Kris Beech might have had the most opportunities in that spot and finished the year with only 26 points. Even if you sum the production of Beech, Jiri Novotny, Brian Sutherby, and Brooks Laich, you find this composite center having a finish with the Caps of 23-42-65. Without putting undue pressure on the rookie, Nicklas Backstrom, he should settle into the range of those numbers for the season (perhaps with a few fewer goals and a few more assists).

It makes Alexander Semin’s year on offense all that more noteworthy and could signal a much bigger year this coming season from the young left wing. Semin was 38-35-73 last year, but he was 17-21-38 on the power play (he led the Caps in power play scoring), leaving him “only 21-14-35 at even strength. If there is any production out of the second line center, it could result in a substantial improvement in Semin’s scoring at even strength.

That Ovechkin and Semin could combine for 84 goals last year is quite an accomplishment, given the depth of centers last year, especially on the second line. This year, they could be the league’s top 1-2 goal-scoring tandem.

"Soccer has already surpassed hockey on the American sports landscape...."

It's a throw-away line in the fourth paragraph of a column by the Washington Post's Michael Wilbon last Friday morning. Mike's column concerns itself with professional soccer and the curiosity that is David Beckham.

It is the only time in the article that the word "hockey" appears, but it is in the paragraph in which it doesn't appear that might be more significant to the sport:

"Soccer is an international sport and has been for decades. Basketball is an international sport and has been since the 1970s. People all over the globe play both regularly, and support their own leagues. Baseball, slowly, has extended its international reach, but seems to have enough restraint to know that selling a few jerseys overseas and scheduling games there on a consistent basis are two wildly different things."

With the exception of soccer, what sport is more "international" than hockey? Europe is teeming with hockey leagues. 46 countries were represented in the IIHF world rankings for 2007; 33 in the women's rankings. The NHL is represented by countries "A" (Austria) to "Z" (if you accept the NHL's symbol for South Africa, "ZAF," the birthplace of Olaf Kolzig). Robyn Regehr was born in Recife, Brazil, for heaven's sake (wonder if he plays soccer).

Is it this "international" quality a burden for soccer in the US? for hockey?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Joni signs a deal...thoughts on the 2002 draft class five years later

Joni Pitkanen signed a one-year deal with Edmonton for $2.4 million yesterday. It gets The Peerless to thinking, that the top of the 2002 draft is turning out to have been a real disappointment. After five years, here are the top-15:

1. Rick Nash (Columbus). Had a big year in 2003-2004 (41 goals), but otherwise has been a merely a decent scorer (he’s had 57 points twice) and is -65 in 283 games over his career. Does he play on a bad team, or does he not have the stuff to lift the Blue Jackets higher?

2. Kari Lehtonen (Atlanta). Arguably the class of this class and is perhaps the best young (under-25) goaltender in the game. His development has been what you’d ask for (went from 20 to 38 wins in his two AHL years, and then has gone from 20 to 34 wins in his two full NHL seasons).

3. Jay Bouwmeester (Florida). He’s a fabulous skater. Sometimes, that term is used much like “she has a nice personality” is used to describe women. Not here. But Bouwmeester also seems to lack the physical dimension to his game that his size suggests and tends to play “meekly” from time to time.

4. Joni Pitkanen (Philadelphia). The Flyers traded Ruslan Fedotenko, and two second round picks for the chance to draft Pitkanen, and five years later he is shipped off (ironically, Joffrey Lupul, who appears below, is part of the return). As bad a year as the Flyers had last year, and Pitkanen’s role in it (-25) makes Philadelphia a hard town to play in.

5. Ryan Whitney (Pittsburgh). Has had a rather gentle glide path into the NHL for such a high pick (he didn’t finish his first full season until he was 23). He had a good year last year, but the question with him – as with the entire Pittsburgh squad, given that everyone seemed to have a career year -- is “can they do it again?”

6. Scottie Upshall (Nashville). He will be 24 in the first week of the upcoming season and has not yet played more than 48 games in an NHL season. He was sent to the Flyers for Peter Forsberg, but only as part of a larger package than included a first and a 3rd round pick. He has the look of being a decent third-liner some day, but….when?

7. Joffrey Lupul (Anaheim). When Lupul takes the ice on opening night, he will be doing so with his third team, and he will have just turned 24. He has decent offensive instincts, but defensively leaves much to be desired. He’s had 61 games (of 162) on the minus side of the ledger the last two years, one of which was with a 43-win team in Anaheim.

8. Pierre-Marc Bouchard (Minnesota). He’s the kind of guy who can get lost, given where he plays, but he’s had pretty good progress. He is not yet an elite scorer, but in the new league a guy of his comparatively small stature could flourish. 20 goals last year might just be a start.

9. Petr Taticek (Florida). Arguably the biggest bust of the first round. He has as many games played in the NHL as he has teams for which he has been under contract (three). It would be something of a surprise to see him in the NHL (he played in Europe in 2006-2007 after a very brief stint in Hershey of the AHL).

10. Eric Nystrom (Calgary). Well?...he’s 24 years old and has two NHL games of experience. He has the pedigree (son of Bob Nystrom), which might work against him – the burden of expectations. He was re-signed by Calgary, so they must see a future for him, but he hasn’t yet taken that next step.

11. Keith Ballard (Buffalo). Another guy with his third team (drafted by Buffalo, traded to Colorado, traded to Phoenix). But unlike the path most three-team guys at the age of 24 might be expected to take, he looks like he could have a productive NHL career. 5-22-27, -7, on what was a bad team in Phoenix last year is not a bad point to be at this juncture.

12. Steve Eminger (Washington). Drafted with the expectation of being a top-pair defenseman, he is now in jeopardy of being passed by as a deep cohort of Capitals prospects moves up the development chain. Part of his problem might have been in his being asked to assume a more “defensive” role last year than the two-way role he might be better suited to, and his defense suffered. But something that Caps fans might consider – he was -11 by New Years and only -3 the rest of the way on what was a poor defensive team.

13. Alexander Semin (Washington). Might be the biggest achiever among the skaters in this class so far (although goaltender Lehtonen projects as the better player). He was 13th in the league in goal-scoring last year (tied for fourth in power play goals) and, with Alexander Ovechkin, was part of the third best one-two goal-scoring punch (84, tied with Heatley/Spezza of Ottawa) in the league last year to Tampa Bay (Lecavalier/St. Louis – 95). But, he seems to lack maturity.

14. Chris Higgins (Montreal). Suffered a variety of injuries and illness last year to limit him to 61 games, but still managed 22 goals. Looks to be a solid two-way, second-line wing who can net 25-30 goals a year.

15. Jesse Niinimaki (Edmonton). Has played 24 games in North America – all with Edmonton (the Roadrunners of the AHL, not Oilers of the NHL), and that was in 2004-2005. You have to wonder if that is about it for his pro career on this side of the lake.

Do any of these guys have “star” written on them? Will any of them have that 15-year career that makes them a no-brainer for the Hockey Hall of Fame? The Peerless thinks that of all these players, only Kari Lehtonen has that potential. Others might reach that level, but it is not obvious at the moment – five years after this draft – that any of them will.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Hey!...Look Over There----->

See that link...up at the top?...Click on it. The PCOI guys are lacing their skates up for a good cause this month, "Hockey Fights Cancer," in honor of Dave Fay, who passed away earlier this week.

It's a great and deserving cause. If you can contribute, please do.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Anaheim will not repeat as Stanley Cup champion

Consider that the first prognostication of the 2007-2008 season. How do we arrive at it? Simple....

The Detroit Red Wings

Since the Red Wings won back-to-back Cups following the 1997-1998 season (yes, when they beat the Caps), no team has won Cups in consecutive years. Only New Jersey has appeared in consecutive finals (1999-2000 and 2000-2001). Eleven different teams have appeared in the finals since Detroit's 1998 Cup.

Why is this so? The Peerless thinks that obvious factor is roster turnover. The Peerless also thinks that the obvious factor could very well be wrong.

Anaheim is the best team at the moment -- on paper -- but there is a reason in recent history why they will not repeat. I think the short off-season is really an underrated factor in a club's likelihood for success in the following season. Anaheim will have a 115-day break between the Cup-clinching game on June 6th and opening night of the 2007-2008 season on September 29th. Compare that with baseball (St. Louis had 155 days from their World Series-clincher in 2006 to opening day 2007), football (the Colts will have 214 days from their Super Bowl win in February to opening night in September), and basketball (the Miami Heat had 133 days from winning the NBA title in June 2006 to opening night in October). A team's ability (or inability) to refresh after a grueling playoff grind that requires 16 wins over four series from mid-April to early-June might be the factor to pay attention to in figuring out who should or should not be a favorite in the Cup sweepstakes the following year.

Anaheim might be the best team in the NHL, but they will not repeat.

Dave Fay, 1940-2007



Dave Fay passed away today at the age of 67 after a long bout with cancer. There are a lot of tributes to him in the blogosphere and from various media sites. I cannot improve on the remarks of those who knew and worked with him, especially those of Mike Vogel over at Dump and Chase.

Dave has taken a lot of grief in recent months for his perceived "glass-half-empty" take on the Caps. I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Fay, but he impresses me as the sort who really didn't much care, and that is to his credit. He is of the "old school" of journalism, I suppose, a reporter who toils diligently in pursuit of a story and reports it in a straight-forward manner. No embellishment of the sort one sees often in the "new" media would or could ever do his reporting justice. His was of the "meat and potatoes" sort of journalism that seems less and less prevalent these days.

Dave might not have had his "A" game in recent years. That's for others to judge. But given his dogged fight against his health problems, his devotion to his craft commands respect. It is a pity that there are a lot of folks who haven't had the pleasure of following his reporting since he joined the Washington Times in 1982 and took over the Caps beat because, as he put it, "nobody else wanted to do it." His body of work, at least in my recollection of it since I moved here in 1984, was of the "must read" quality.

Last May, the Hockey Hall of Fame announced that Dave would be the recipient of this year's Elmer Ferguson Award for distinguished hockey writing. He joins a distinguished group of recipients. Those who have had the pleasure of reading Dave over their morning coffee on cold winter mornings realize that the recognition is well deserved, and that his passing leaves a void in hockey reporting that will not soon be filled.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Rebuild . . . Replenish

The words sound similar, but they are a world apart in meaning, and the Capitals are about to move from one phase to the other.

How can one say that of a two-consecutive-70-point-seasons team? It’s all in the eye of the beholder. Back in January we took a look at the rebuild. Out of those (and related) efforts the Caps might have some or all of these players stepping in or stepping up and contributing over the next 1-3 years:

Tomas Fleischmann
Mike Green
Shaone Morrisonn
Jeff Schultz
Brooks Laich
Joe Finley
Jakub Klepis
Francois Bouchard
Patrick McNeill
Semen Varlamov

To this one might add Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Steve Eminger, and perhaps Chris Bourque (you might add others of your own) – Caps’ own draft picks or draft picks obtained prior to the big selloff.

It is to this youthful group that players from outside like Michael Nylander, Tom Poti, and Viktor Kozlov are being added. This is where we enter the end-game of the “rebuild” phase – restoring the Caps to a competitive position, capable of making the playoffs and doing some damage in the next 1-3 years.

But enter the kids we saw last week at Kettler. This is the begining of the “replenish” phase – players who will make their impact perhaps in the next 4-6 years (although we would expect Nicklas Backstrom to make his presence felt sooner), players who will fill in those spaces that are created as other players leave in free agency, retire, or are traded. What we saw last week was precisely what folks signed on for when the rebuild started. Mike Vogel described it well in his Dump and Chase blog:

“I just checked my notes from the Capitals’ 2003 summer camp at Piney Orchard. There were 22 players in attendance that summer, compared to 42 this season. Only 13 of those 22 players in 2003 were Capitals draftees, and the most notable attendees were Steve Eminger, Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr. This year’s camp featured 30 Caps draftees out of the 42 players in attendance, and included five first-round and four second-round choices.

“It’s also worth noting that among players in the Capitals’ organization but not at this week’s camp are Chris Bourque, Eminger, Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, Gordon, Mike Green, Jakub Klepis, Brooks Laich, Shoane Morrisonn, Alex Ovechkin, Jeff Schultz and Alexander Semin. None of those players has celebrated his 25th birthday yet (Morrisonn is the only one who has reached 24), and the group includes nine more first-rounders and two more second-rounders.

“The talent is there, arguably as much young talent as has been in the system at any time in the team’s history. The trick now is to develop the young talent, and fill in around the edges and in the holes where needed. We’re starting to see some of that, too. Hershey has had two straight long playoff runs including a championship. And the Caps brought in three free agents to fill needs earlier this month.”

Developing the young talent – in addition to what the Caps have on board – and filling in “around the edges and in the holes” is where the Capitals will leave the “rebuild” phase behind and enter the “replenish” phase that they can sustain (we hope) via the draft and the judicious use of trades and free agent signings.

And now...what?

Arbitration hearings will be held from the period beginning July 20 and ending on August 4, with decisions to be rendered by August 6. This might be expected to be the great void in NHL activity as the arbitration process works its way to its conclusion.

At the moment, based on the data compiled by the fine folks here, no one is over the “summer cap” of $55,330,000, but there are three teams over the opening night cap of $50,300,000:

-- Philadelphia: $54,376,039
-- NY Rangers: $52,505,757
-- Boston: $51,254,888


There are another four teams within 10 percent of the opening night cap (Toronto, Anaheim, Detroit, and Vancouver). Only the Rangers of these seven teams have players currently scheduled for arbitration (Sean Avery, Marcel Hossa). In fact, there are only 21 players left scheduled for arbitration representing 14 teams.

But we also find a host of unattached players still available. All of them have warts or flaws, to be sure, but with talents that might be a bargain….at the right price.

We’re stuck at one of those tipping points where one signing, one odd arbitration decision could start another cascade of movement. The trick is figuring out just where that is going to occur. There isn’t a lot at this time of year to satisfy our interest, especially since the frenzy of the early free-agency signing period has passed. Part of the fun right now is trying to figure out where the dam is going to spring a leak.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What other folks are up to while we've been at prospect camp -- Los Angeles

What in blazes is Los Angeles doing, trying to be the Gotham of the Left Coast?

The Kings have signed more than $24 million in free agency cap room so far this summer in eight players (three of whom are re-signings, including Lubomir Visnovsky for which $5.65 million of the cap hit represents a contract extension).

It isn’t the amount so much (the Kings are at about $43 million for 22 players at the moment) as the influx of players from other clubs. A club bringing in Tom Preissing, Michal Handzus, Kyle Calder, Ladislav Nagy, and Brad Stuart is doing so with the aim of ramping up expectations.

Given that the Kings haven’t been in the playoffs since the 2001-2002 season and have finished 10th, 11th, 10th, and 14th in the conference in the five seasons since, one can understand a certain frustration. The question is whether this rather substantial infusion of free agents will alleviate that frustration or add an entirely new layer to it if the new guys find trouble meshing with the hands already on-board.

With youngsters like Mike Cammalleri, Anze Kopitar, and Jack Johnson, the Kings have a youthful core, and they have a solid prospect crop waiting in the wings. Are the signings this summer the next logical step, or is it more an effort to “jump start” the developmental process? In the “how-to’s” of building a team, Los Angeles is going to bear watching this year.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Scrumptious...




In the world of the culinary arts, the term “amuse-bouche” refers to those little bite-size savory morsels that precede the hors-d’oeuvres course. Literally, “an amusement for the mouth.” And what morsels we’ve been treated to this week to tease the hockey palate.

This evening was the climax of the week’s events, a scrimmage that at the last minute became a full three-period, 60 minute game. The Blue Team, with Simeon Varlamov and Daren Machesney in goal, and Nicklas Backstrom among the forwards, appeared to have the advantage as far as the lineups went. Although the White Team did fight Blue to more or less a stalemate in the first half of the game (the teams were tied 2-2 early in the second period, the Blue Team pulled away with a 7-3 win.

The outcome perhaps was not as important as some of the subplots within the game…

-- Simeon Varlamov looked a great deal sharper than he did in the morning session, not to mention a good deal more relaxed. He seemed to get into the flow of a game situation much better than he was able to do in the drills in the morning.

-- Nicklas Backstrom might have saved the best for last. He had a cagey way about him, able not just to anticipate teammates breaking open, but opponents looking to impede his progress or take advantage of him in the corners. He had a couple of especially sweet passes to set up scoring chances.

-- A game, as opposed to drills or scrimmages, brought out the ornery among the participants (or maybe it was just a week’s worth of familiarity wearing thin). Josh Godfrey and Jamie Hunt had a brief scuffle, and Viktor Dovgan threw his weight around more as the game wore on, inspiring a member of the White Team to throw several punches at him. Dovgan's expression looked like, “ . . . what?”

-- Machesney is a real chatterbox out there…he was very vocal in directing players in front of him as they were coming back to play the puck, much more so than any of the other netminders at The Peerless’ end of the ice.

-- Joe Finley saw ice time in the first period, but looked to have been on the shelf for the last 40 minutes.

-- It was another large crowd at KCI, standing room only in the back of the stands.

But in the end, it was a week of tasty morsels, courtesy of the youngsters who hope to be skating at Verizon Center before too long. Thanks, guys…

A Glove and a Bucket...





Practice has its choreography, no matter what the sport. Pickoff moves and sliding drills in baseball, the blocking sled and footfire drills in football. This morning offered a look at what passes for the art in hockey as the kids took the ice in two groups. The first session had a distinctly different look and feel than did the second session. In that first session there appeared to be more plays involving more players, whereas the second session seemed to focus more on shooting (including tip drills and shooting rounds ) and more focus on the goalies (Daren Machesney and Simeon Varlamov; Michal Neuvirth, Dan Dunn, and Justin Mrazek having handled the first morning session).

You start to notice little things as time goes by…

-- Phil DiSimone with a dozen or so pucks in the slot…picking one up and then stickhandling through the rest before wristing a shot at the net…over and over until he’s out of pucks

-- Mathieu Perrault looking absolutely tiny out there

-- Nicklas Backstrom on one timers looking absolutely effortless

-- Oskar Osala looking like he has a future in the NHL

-- Viktor Dovgan looking like he was engaged in a little trash talking with Varlamov

-- Some guys looking comfortable out there, as if they’d been through this before (in some cases, they had) and others looking like they were feeling their way

-- Karl Alzner directing traffic on the ice

-- Machesney looking like he took another puck a little awkwardly, stinging him a little

-- Oscar Hedman getting a fair amount of attention and a pat on the back from Coach Evason a couple of times, maybe just as a pick-me-up

-- A long, long conversation at the bench after the session ended between Simeon Varlamov and coach Dave Prior. The Peerless is guessing they weren’t comparing notes on lunch spots in Ballston.

But what we were struck by most was something that seems to reflect the summer camp aspect of this week and the quirky nature that is hockey . . . there were a half dozen or so players at the far end of the rink, running a three-shot drill at the goalie. And there, as pylons for the skater to weave through as he took passes for the shots in the drill, was a glove laying in the face off dot and a bucket of pucks sitting in the slot. It reminded The Peerless of playing baseball as a youngster, when first base was a rock, second base was a slip of cardboard, and it was just fooling around. This isn’t fooling around by any means, but it seemed just the informal touch that makes this fun before all the seriousness starts in September…

…a glove and bucket.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Hot Puck

The Peerless snuck away early on this Friday afternoon to see the next generation of Capitals skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. It was a two 30-minute halves, running clock scrimmage, and there was a fine crowd looking on in the stands and around the glass.

We are not particularly interested at this phase of the game to say "this guy was good," or "this guy has things to work on." It was an opportunity to hear skates dig into the ice, bodies crash into the boards, and the occasional puck sail into the net. The Peerless will say that Nicklas Backstrom and Karl Alzner are considerably more developed at their respective ends of the ice than the other kids, and that is not an insult to those other hard-working youngsters.

Backstrom seems to have the knack, as adverised, of being able to see how a play will unfold and move the puck smartly. Alzner, who in his posture and heads-up style looks like he's been doing this for a while, showed a knack not just for moving the puck out of his own end, but in giving his forwards a passing lane in the offensive zone to keep the puck in that end of the ice.

Michal Neuvirth looks as young as he did last year, but geez, the kid is quick. And, he was living right as he had a couple of pucks clang off the pipes behind him. And pity young Mr. Machesney...in warm ups he took a puck off the side of the head that sent him to his knees, but he was up quickly and didn't look too much the worse for wear.

Oh, and Joe Finley?....He is a very large young man, especially when he was splattering a guy against the glass right in front of The Peerless.

We had the chance to try our new digital toy, so gander at the following, and be kind in your judgments of my photographic skills...





Monday, July 09, 2007

One Player's Journey With the Cup

The Peerless was glad to find this report on Drew Miller's day of squiring the Stanley Cup around his hometown of East Lansing, Michigan. It's been a pretty good year for the Spartans, hockey-wise. An alum gets called up and joins the ride to the NHL championship, and the Spartan men's hockey team wins the NCAA championship.

Click on the photo gallery link at the story for more of a glimpse of Miller's day with Stanley. Even Sparty looked proud.

From a fellow alum, great job, Drew.

Go green!
...go white!









photos: Dale G. Young / The Detroit News

Sunday, July 08, 2007

"Lower Body Injury" has nothing on this.

Think the NHL's "lower body injury" description is equal parts vague and mysterious? Hah! Terry Francona, manager of the Boston Red Sox has pushed the envelope of non-descriptive medical issues just that much further . . .

"Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez was out of the lineup [for today's game against the Detroit Tigers] with what Francona called 'intestinal turmoil,' but was used as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning after the Tigers gave him antibiotics."

"Intestinal turmoil"

We look forward to that malady in the injury reports to come to a newspaper near you very soon.

But we'll avoid the locker room in which it makes its appearance.

What, you mean he WON'T take the minimum just to play in New York?

Our old pal Larry Brooks must be beside himself this morning. Henrik Lundqvist is getting pinched by the salary cap (not to mention the the $14.4 million in cap room eaten up by the two new shiny toys) and will be taken to arbitration so as to "buy time," in Ol' Lar's words, for resident genius Glen Sather to "make roster moves."

Yeah, that's a way to go...go cheap on your franchise goaltender, pay him half of what he's worth this year on a one-year arbitration deal, then try to negotiate a long-term contract with him . . . and Lar, who must be the keeper of the checkbook inventory for Sather, is even talking in terms of Sheldon Souray as a free-agent signing. That signing -- for a defenseman who tied for the league lead in power play scoring among defensemen but was a -28 for the year* -- should make Lundqvist feel truly loved.

That second helping of $7-million center is looking like it might cause a case of indigestion in New York before too long.




* No full-time Caps defenseman was worse than -14.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Why she's called "The Better Half?"

Well, at least Caps fans might have an opinion, if you read on . . .

"[Michael] Nylander apparently left for the same reason Chris Pronger skipped town. 'He wanted to come but his wife was uncertain,' [Kevin] Lowe confessed.

"By Lowe's numbers, the Edmonton hockey wife discount now stands at a record $2.5 million - the difference between what the Oilers were offering and what Nylander signed for. What gives?"


Thanks, Mrs. Nylander.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Bottle Rocket...

Ooooh…ahhhh.

The Edmonton Oilers shot off a bottle rocket of an offer for Buffalo Sabres restricted free-agent forward Thomas Vanek. It climbed and climbed and climbed and then…..

…fffffft.

Dud.

Darcy Regier spent about four seconds pondering the idea of losing another forward (Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, and Dainius Zubrus for those of you scoring at home). Not even four first round draft picks could dissuade Regier from matching the heavily front-loaded seven-year, $50 million offer that breaks down as follows:

Year 1: $5.0 million signing bonus, $5.0 million salary

Year 2: $3.0 million signing bonus, $5.0 million salary

Years 3-7: $6.4 million salary

Buffalo has lost three players to a combined $107.15 million (ponder that number for a moment and ask yourself if you think that lockout year was worth anything more than a bucket of warm piss). Losing a fourth would leave Buffalo looking a bit like Ryan Miller and 911 on speed dial.

As it is, Buffalo overpaid to retain Vanek. At $7.14 million/year, is he worth more than Drury ($7.05 million/year) or Gomez (ok, Gomez is a little higher at $7.38 million/year)? Then again, what was Buffalo to do? Let him walk? You think Sabres were going to sell out the season with Derek Roy centering Jason Pominville and Maxim Afinogenov? I like those guys a lot, but with Vanek going out the door, you’d have to worry about what was behind those three. Buffalo isn’t looking at a Philadelphia-like collapse – they are still (on paper, especially with retaining Vanek) a playoff-caliber team. But they are not going to be thought of in 2007-2008 on the short list of Stanley Cup contenders, not unless Regier has some moves up his sleeve.

Buffalo was stuck. We’ve raised this point before – a team that sells out its season finds itself in financial straits...it makes no sense. Then, it watches as two of its core players walk out the door (let’s discount Larry Brooks’ breathless “everyone wants to play in New York theory” for the moment). A player it rented walks soon after. Then, perhaps its best up-and-coming young forward is offered the sun, the moon and the stars, forcing the team in to what might be a decision to stave off and further bleeding in the standings or, potentially, its gate.

There are those who think this league is just fine, that everything is alright, if we just give it some time and nurture it and heed our “cost certainty” structure. I think it’s nonsense.

I think JP is dead on with his question of whether Kevin Lowe is trying to get himself fired in Edmonton (is he trying to out-"Milbury" Milbury?). But meanwhile, looking at what’s happening in Buffalo hockey looks, if not broken, then fractured. And that is the franchise that was supposed to epitomize the new NHL.

….ffffft.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Holiday

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.


-- John Adams, in a letter to his wife, Abigail, July 3, 1776.

Adams refers to the adoption of a resolution on the issue of Independence on July 2, 1776 by the Second Continental Congress. Although taken in secret, this action was the statement of the Colonies that they were free and independent of British rule. The Declaration of Independence itself would be adopted two days later, the date on which we celebrate this holiday. And "holiday" is a particularly apt term. Whether one thinks of July 2 or July 4 as "Independence Day," this is as close as it gets to an American "religious" holiday.

It is celebrated with its own peculiar rites and decorations -- picnics and barbecues, bunting and flags, parades and fireworks. It even has it own "carol" -- The Stars and Stripes Forever -- played on its first Independence Day 110 years ago on this day in New York.

So, here is to celebrating with "Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations . . . "

Happy Independence Day.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Has he lost it?


This has not been a good three months for Certified Genius Lou Lamoriello. On April 2nd, he fired his coach in the midst of a playoff run and stepped behind the bench. Then, his team looked all too vulnerable against Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs before going quick and quiet against Ottawa in the second round. He didn't have a chance to make a pick in the 2007 draft until pick #57 came around (Mike Hoeffel for those scoring at home). As July started, he watched as Scott Gomez, Brian Rafalski, and Brad Luckowich left the warm embrace of Newark.

So, what did Lou do to strike back?

He signed Dainius Zubrus to a six year deal at $3.4 million per.

I'll repeat that . . . he signed Dainius Zubrus to a six year deal at $3.4 million per.

OK, that's half the cap hit of what Scott Gomez is costing the Rangers, but...geez, Lou.

The Peerless will stipulate that Lou forgot more about hockey over his morning coffee than I am ever going to know, but . . . geez, Lou.

This for a guy who in 79 games centering a supreme goal scorer and then manning a wing on the top offense in the National Hockey League managed to score a total of . . . 60 points. Who was 0-8-8, +1 in 15 playoff games.

$20.4 million over six years.

Geez, Lou.

The plot thickens . . .

“On Sunday, July 1, 2007, Kevin Lowe, Oilers general manager, and Mr. Mike Gillis, certified agent for Michael Nylander, negotiated and agreed to a multi-year NHL Standard Players Contract, starting in 2007-08. Mr. Gillis confirmed same to the Oilers in writing . . .

“ . . . However, while the Oilers were expecting the returned signed agreements from Mr. Nylander and Mr. Gillis, the Oilers discovered through public announcements made mid-afternoon on July 2, that Mr. Nylander had subsequently entered into a long-term contract with the Capitals."

Ah . . . a soap opera to entertain us through the summer.

Uh....where are we?


This is as good a place as any to take stock of where the Caps stand this summer. It’s a chance to step away from the pessimism that too many Caps fans often marinate themselves in and look at the stages that brought us here…

I. Trading Deadline:

Dainius Zubrus and Timo Helbling to Buffalo for Jiri Novotny and Buffalo’s 1st round pick (28th overall) in 2007.

This was a deal to get something – anything – for free-agent-to-be Zubrus. What the Capitals got was a chance to audition a center and an additional first round pick. Novotny did not make a significant impression in his audition (Novotny would not be extended a qualifying offer, the Caps electing to forsake their rights to Novotny as a restricted free agent). The pick – at the end of the first round in what was widely perceived to be a relatively weak draft – wouldn’t be retained, either, but more on that later.

Richard Zednik to the NY Islanders for a second round pick in 2007.

There isn’t a lot of “there” there in this trade. Zednik was acquired for a third, sent for a second, but in a weak draft. It’s a wash, value-wise.

Jamie Heward to Los Angeles for a conditional draft pick in 2008.

Given that the 2008 draft is thought stronger than the 2007 draft, this could be a sleeper pick, but it doesn’t inspire flights of imagination.

Grade: C+

II. Draft:

The 2007 entry draft did not offer much to distinguish itself after the top half dozen or so prospects (not that there wouldn’t be drama with respect to one of those prospects, although that drama would concern the Caps only in passing). By the time the draft would get to #28, there really wasn’t a lot of distinction between the 28th pick and the 58th pick (to pick a number out of thin air).

The Capitals got the man they wanted, if news reports could be believed, with the 5th overall pick – defenseman Karl Alzner, who might have been the surest bet to have a substantial NHL career of any pick in this draft. But the entertainment was provided by that 28th overall pick. The Caps held it until the last possible moment, trading it to San Jose for a second round pick in 2007 (41st overall) and a second round pick in 2008. Then, the Caps sent the No. 41 to Philadelphia for the 84th overall pick in 2007 and the Flyers' second-round pick in 2008. The Caps parlayed the 28th pick into the 84th pick in this year’s draft (used to select USHL Player of the Year Phil Desimone) and two selections in the second round in 2008, thought to be a much deeper draft.

In between the hijinks with the Buffalo pick, the Caps picked Josh Godfrey, the news reports for whom read as if he is the second coming of Al MacInnis with his cannon slap shot, and Ted Ruth (the return for the Zednik trade), a defenseman whose nickname might be “Sandpaper,” given his characterization as having “grit.”

Not that the hijinks were over…George McPhee moved the Caps’ fourth-round pick (#95 overall) for a sixth-rounder from Los Angeles (#154 overall) and a fourth-rounder in 2008.

In all, it was a busy weekend – the Caps went to Columbus with 10 picks in the 2007 draft, and they ended up making 10 picks. But they came out with two extra second round picks (three in all) and an additional fourth rounder in 2008 – ten picks in all in what is supposed to be a deeper draft.

Grade: A

III. Free Agency:

The Caps came into the unrestricted free agent signing period with considerable cap room, even relative to the mid-point of the salary range ($42.3 million). Even if one felt that the Caps would end up with a payroll somewhere south of that number, they had to spend money (just to get to the salary floor), so that they would do so on Day 1 was neither a surprise nor a symptom of a more free-spending attitude.

The signing of defenseman Tom Poti right out of the gate, then forward Viktor Kozlov addressed needs, although it appeared that lesser needs were being met – power play help from the blue line and a right wing of some offensive skill to mesh with Alexander Ovechkin and (until a real NHL center could be obtained) Nicklas Backstrom. By itself, that pair of signings would have constituted far less than what fans might have expected, especially since the big-three centers all signed with Eastern Conference teams (Chris Drury and Scott Gomez with the Rangers, Daniel Briere with Philadelphia).

It was left to Day 2 for the other shoe to drop, and with it some unresolved intrigue. As the day progressed the story emerging with respect to Center #4 – Michael Nylander – was that he had agreed to terms with the Edmonton Oilers, that all that was left was the announcement. Based on the effort from some enterprising members of the blogging community, the story was deemed to be false. Then, just before 5:00 pm, the announcement came, not that Nylander signed with the Oilers, but with the Caps – a front-loaded four year deal that would pay him a total of $19.5 million.

The story isn’t over, if this report in the Edmonton Sun can be believed.

Grade: B+

So let’s recap…relative to where the Caps were on June 21st, they have:

- added two 2nd round and a 4th round pick in the 2008 draft while still preserving 10 picks in the 2007 draft

- added a two-way defenseman – Karl Alzner -- via the draft with the 5th overall pick

- addressed specific needs on the parent club at a fraction of the cost of the “big-three” defensemen. This point cannot be overemphasized. Much as fans would like Ted Leonsis to open the purse strings, that is a risky road to walk in this NHL. Guaranteed, no-trade contracts of eight years (as in the case of Daniel Briere) carry too much potential for “dead money” at the end of the deals. And it’s hardly a sure thing that signing high-end/high-cost free agents contributes to a winner (certainly in the first year of a deal). The Caps added three players at a total cap hit of $10.875 million. At the moment, that is second or third among NHL teams (depending on the as-yet undisclosed terms of the Ladislav Nagy deal in Los Angeles) in the dollar value of salary cap additions. But the Caps did it with a balanced approach (center, defenseman, forward), whereas the Rangers – who added the most salary cap dollars -- did it with typical piggishness (two centers?...and who is playing defense for this team?).

- Preserved some measure of cap room (even if their “cap” is the salary range mid-point) and flexibility to make additional deals

There is much to be done. For example, the log jam at defense now includes (without respect to signing status, waivability, or other pesky details):

Shaone Morrisonn
Steve Eminger
Brian Pothier
Milan Jurcina
Tom Poti
Mike Green
Jeff Schultz
John Erskine
Josef Boumedienne
Karl Alzner
Viktor Dovgan
Joe Finley
Josh Godfrey
Patrick McNeill
Sasha Pokulok
Sami Lepisto
Keith Seabrook
Oscar Hedman
Ted Ruth
Jamie Hunt


What was once an almost embarrassing organizational weakness has the potential to be its strength. But, some of the excess needs to be addressed, and in the short term a stay-at-home defenseman remains a shortcoming.

This isn’t a fantasy league enterprise; this is a dynamic, ever-changing environment that requires both the long and the short view. In other words, it requires the astute application of the word “manage” as a verb. Strategically, in addressing immediate needs, in acquiring future assets (to play or trade), in working within a budget, the Caps deserve a lot of credit for their performance so far. We’ll qualify that (as a Caps fan is almost required by law to do) by saying that the actions taken now might never translate to success on the ice, but so far George McPhee and his staff have done what they’ve had to do and done it rather well.

Here is what signing Nylander means...

Obviously, Michael Nylander provides the Capitals with the first line center that was a requirement for this off season, but there is another benefit as well as it pertains to the strategy this club appears to be pursuing.

Look at the top two lines' experience...

Alexander Ovechkin -- 163 games
Michael Nylander -- 808 games
Viktor Kozlov -- 749 games
Alexander Semin -- 129 games

There is sufficient experience here so that the Capitals can work a youngster (Backstrom) or two (Fehr or Fleischmann) into the lineup to get experience in responsible situations, at least on an experimental basis. The team does not have to bury kids on a fourth line for maybe eight minutes a night, unless their play dictates they're not ready for more.

That is the kind of mix a club wants to employ if it is going to be "draft-centric" in building its core, which in this case is Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and perhaps whoever mans that other right wing.

If Nylander (or a player of similar skill) is not obtained, the carefully-crafted mixing of veterans and youngsters -- to give the kids the best opportunity to succeed without undue pressure -- can't be performed.

And that is why the timing of free agency is important. Until now, the Caps weren't "ripe" enough among their kids to merit investments in higher-dollar free agents. Well, Ovechkin and Semin are well past 100 games of NHL experience (not to mention their international experience); they have kids ready to make the leap to the big club. Now -- not last year, not the year before -- is the time to begin making those investments.

As disappointing as the start to the free agency period looked after Day 1, it looks a lot better now.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Better . . .


Four years, $19.5 million. And now, the Yashin talk can stop . . . and Nicklas Backstrom need not bear the burden of being a rookie in a new league in a new country and being the center on the first line.

Old Habits...

Perusing the salary database at USA Today, The Peerless notes that in 2003-2004, the top four teams in total payroll (among those participating in Day 1 of the free agent signing period) were:

Detroit 77,856,109
NY Rangers 76,488,716
Philadelphia 68,175,247
Colorado 63,382,458

And yesterday, the top four teams in adding salary cap obligations were:

NY Rangers 14,407,143
Colorado 10,750,000
Philadelphia 6,500,000
Detroit 6,000,000

Coincidence? Or the return of the spends and spend-nots to the NHL?

Why ESPN is the Worldwide Leader in Bad Hockey Coverage

Scott Burnside really should market whatever he's smoking for this...

The Capitals quietly have built a tough, talented blue-line corps with last season's emergence of free-agent acquisition Brian Pothier. The Caps added to that mix Sunday by inking Tom Poti to a four-year deal worth $14 million.
That the Caps have upgraded their skill (Poti is pretty much the replacement for the departed Jamie Heward) is not in doubt. But "tough?" Poti and Pothier, "The Po-Po Boys?"* (the new pair pictured below).



I don't suspect there is a forward in the National Hockey League spending sleepless nights at the prospect of either of those two guys manning the crease in front of Olaf Kolzig.


* that's a New Orleans thing

Day 1:

Anaheim: Mathieu Schneider

Atlanta : Eric Perrin, Todd White

Boston: Shawn Thornton

Calgary: Cory Sarich

Carolina: Jeff Hamilton

Chicago: Yanic Perreault

Colorado: Ryan Smyth, Scott Hannan

Detroit: Brian Rafalski

Edmonton: Dick Transtrom, Denis Grebeshkov

Florida: Radek Dvorak, Richard Zednik, Brett McLean

NY Islanders: Jon Sim

NY Rangers: Chris Drury, Scott Gomez

Philadelphia: Daniel Briere

Pittsburgh: Petr Sykora, Darryl Sydor, Dany Sabourin

St. Louis: Paul Kariya

Tampa Bay: Michel Ouellet

Toronto: Jason Blake

Washington: Viktor Kozlov, Tom Poti


18 teams dipped their respective toes into the water on the first day. The big guys are pretty much gone, but if last year was an indicator, the effect these guys will have will be disappointing relative to the "wow" factor of the signing. But winners?...Losers? The Peerless thinks the winner for Day 1 was Colorado.