Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Complete Preview, Predictions for the Washington Capitals (and NHL) Season

Yup, it's that time of year again; as the MLB season winds down (for DC anyways), the NHL season gets underway.

It's a year of renewed hope for the Washington Capitals, who's moves have made them a serious contender for the playoffs this year.

Without further ado, here is the official 2014-15 Caps Circle Preview for the Caps and the NHL.

Biggest Games:
  1. January 1 vs. Chicago Blackhawks: Duh
  2. February 1 vs. St. Louis Blues: One of the big surprises last season was that the Caps won both games against the Blues. This year, they come to DC for the annual Super Bowl Sunday matinee right before the stretch run of the season.
  3. April 11 vs. New York Rangers: Home finale? Check. Season finale? Check. Huge final week matchup against a big-time rival we may be battling with for a playoff spot? Check.
  4. November 26 vs. New York Islanders: Mikhail Grabovski and Jaroslav Halak make their returns to DC. Plus, it's right before Thanksgiving.
  5. December 27 @ Pittsburgh Penguins: First game against the Pens this year, coming right after Christmas, and is the second-to-last game before number one on this list. Get excited, people.
Predicted 2-Month-In Lines:

These are the lines that I believe the Caps will have about 2 months into the year, when we more or less know what to expect, and barring any major injuries. 

Ovechkin - Backstrom - Fehr
Kuznetsov - Burakovsky - Brouwer
Chimera - Johansson - Ward
Laich - Latta - Brown
Beagle, O'Brien

Alzner - Carlson
Orpik - Niskanen
Orlov - Green
Schmidt, Hillen, Erskine

Holtby
Peters

Overall, this team is very deep compared to last year. I see Kuznetsov eventually making his way into the top-6, where he splits second-line center duties with Burakovsky, who sticks with the team. I also think that Johansson, if he is not traded, will settle into the third-line center role (possibly splitting time with Brooks Laich, who will spend most of his time on the fourth line with Latta and Brown). Jay Beagle and Liam O'Brien will get some playing time on the fourth line as well. 

Defensively, Carlzner gets a reunion, as do Pittsburgh teammates Niskanen and Orpik. That leaves Orlov, Green, Schmidt, Erskine, and Hillen as the primary contenders for the last two spots, with Oleksy waiting in Hershey for his chance to come.

The goaltending is a lot more straightforward. Holtby has the starting role, and Peters will back him up, with Grubauer ready in Hershey if he is needed.

Predicted Metropolitan Division Standings:
  1. Pittsburgh Penguins. They're still the best team in this division, although it will be a lot more hotly contested than many people will expect. Expect the Penguins to eke out a division title.
  2. New York Rangers. They probably regressed more than they improved this year, but as long as they have the best goaltender and defenseman in the league (King Hank and Ryan McDonagh) they will be good enough to take second and challenge Pittsburgh.
  3. Washington Capitals. The Caps are a solid team top to bottom now. They may start out a bit shaky, but expect Barry Trotz to bring this team to the next level in the division.
  4. New Jersey Devils. Without having to burden themselves with Brodeur anymore, Cory Schneider and the Devils are ready to bring the former conference champs back to the playoffs.
  5. Columbus Blue Jackets. It's not so much that the Jackets got worse, it's just that everybody else got better. I see them as a borderline playoff team again.
  6. New York Islanders. The Isles improved a LOT, getting upgrades in all major areas. However, I just don't see them beating out anybody else in the division, and think they miss the playoffs in a heartbreaker on the last day.
  7. Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers D took a major hit when they lost Kimmo Timonen, and without too much youth in any area,  I don't see the Flyers coming too close to a playoff spot.
  8. Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes just suck. They should tank for McDavid. They will tank for McDavid.
Predicted Eastern Conference Standings:
  1. Boston Bruins. The best team in the East edges out the Lighting for the division and the top seed in the conference.
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins.
  3. Tampa Bay Lightning. Steven Stamkos beats Sidney Crosby for the Art Ross (but loses to OV for the Rocket Richard) and leads the Bolts to their best regular season since 2003-04.
  4. New York Rangers.
  5. Montreal Canadiens. Last year's Eastern Conference runner-ups turn in another solid season to win the right to play the Bolts in the first round. Ouch.
  6. Washington Capitals. Ugh. Rangers again.
  7. New Jersey Devils.
  8. Columbus Blue Jackets. They edge out the Detroit Red Wings and end the longest playoff streak in pro sports. FINALLY!!!
Caps Circle Preseason Top 10:

My top 10 players in the NHL entering this season
  1. Sidney Crosby (PIT). Still no debate about this.
  2. Jonathan Toews (CHI). Best player in the Western Conference and the best two-way player in the game, I see him as a Hart Trophy finalist this year.
  3. Alex Ovechkin (WSH). It kills me to dock him a spot from last year, but if his defense improves and his production more or less continues, he'll be back up to 2.
  4. Steven Stamkos (TBL). Injuries stop me from putting him over OV, but he will challenge OV for the Richard this year.
  5. Evgeni Malkin (PIT). May see a decline in production, but still one of the best in the game. 
  6. John Tavares (NYI). Edges out Doughty for this spot, but with the improved supporting cast, he is an easy Hart Trophy winner if the Isles make the playoffs.
  7. Drew Doughty (LAK). He's winning the Norris this year. Case closed. Last year he showed that he is the best defenseman in the game.
  8. Anze Kopitar (LAK). He has proven that he can play in both ends of the ice very well. If he cracks 35 goals or 80 points this season while continuing his great defensive play, he is definitely a Top 5 candidate.
  9. Tuuka Rask (BOS). He is probably going to win the next few Vezinas, simply because there are very few true candidates in the NHL right now. 
  10. Ryan Getzlaf (ANA). Vastly underrated, Getzlaf is the heart and soul of the Ducks. Corey Perry gets more press, but without Getzlaf the Ducks would not be nearly as good as they are.
Honorable Mentions: Patrick Kane (CHI), Henrik Lundqvist (NYR), Claude Giroux (PHI), Corey Perry (ANA)

Award Predictions:

Art Ross: Steven Stamkos. He has a very strong supporting cast now, and he will finally knock Crosby off of his throne.
Rocket Richard: Alex Ovechkin. I stand by this prediction, and think that OV will edge out Stamkos for the league lead.
Vezina Trophy: Tuuka Rask. Beats out King Henrik for his second straight Vezina.
Norris Trophy: Drew Doughty. It's his. There's no question. Shea Weber and Alex Pietrangelo are his biggest competitors, but Doughty is going to surpass all of them.
Calder Trophy: Evgeny Kuznetsov. I may be biased, but right now he, Jonathan Drouin (TBL), and Josh Gibson (ANA) are the favorites, and I personally see Kuzya as the most talented of them all. If the Caps make the playoffs and Kuznetsov scores about 20-30 goals and 60-70 points, which is certainly doable, I think he will have a strong enough case for the Calder.
Selke Trophy: Jonathan Toews. Edges out Anze Kopitar for this one.
Hart Trophy: Jonathan Toews. If the Islanders make the playoffs, than I'd say Tavares. But for right now, I'm going to go with Toews, who will bring the Blackhawks back to the top of the West.

Playoff Predictions:

East:

(1) Boston Bruins vs. (WC) Columbus Blue Jackets: Rask outplays Sergei Bobrovsky and sends the Bruins to the next round.
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (WC) New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider plays his heart out, but Marc-Andre Fleury does just enough to send the Penguins past the Devils and into the next round.
(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3) Montreal Canadiens: Steven Stamkos is stonewalled by Carey Price, P.K. Subban scores an OT game winner, and the Habs... still lose. Ryan Callahan steps up, Jonathan Drouin plays a great series, and the Lightning advance to the next round.
(2) New York Rangers vs. (3) Washington Capitals: A very well-disciplined Caps team frustrates the Rangers, Ovechkin scores 6 times in the 5 game series, and the Capitals advance.

(1) Boston Bruins vs. (2) Tampa Bay Lightning: In a series for the ages, Stamkos and Rask exchange hat tricks and shutouts, until in overtime in Game 7 Patrice Bergeron swipes a Stamkos shot off the goal line, brings it back the other way, scores, and sends the Bruins to the conference finals.
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3) Washington Capitals: Ovechkin and Crosby match hat tricks, Holtby outplays Fleury, Niskanen and Orpik score big goals against their former team (yes, Orpik too), and the Capitals upset the Penguins to go to Alex Ovechkin's first conference final (hey, a guy can dream, right?)

(A) Boston Bruins vs. (M) Washington Capitals: The Caps run into a better and much more experienced team, and although they put up a fight, cannot stop the Bruins from advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.

West:

Blackhawks finish above the Kings in the regular season.

(1) Los Angeles Kings vs. (WC) Colorado Avalanche: Darryl Sutter gets in a fight with Patrick Roy, and amidst all that confusion the Kings steamroll the Avs.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (WC) Vancouver Canucks: The surprising Canucks have a Cinderella run to the playoffs, edging the Minnesota Wild, when they run into the Blackhawks who beat them. Again.
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (3) Anaheim Ducks: The biggest rivalry in California (arguably) sees 5 OT games in the 7 game series, and the Sharks stun everybody by not choking and knock off the Ducks.
(2) Dallas Stars vs. (3) St. Louis Blues: Dallas obliterates Ken Hitchcock's defensive game, Jamie Benn makes his case as a Top-10 player in the league, and the Stars move on.

(1) Los Angeles Kings vs. (2) San Jose Sharks: Coming off of a tough series win, the Sharks can do little to stop the Kings juggernaut.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (2) Dallas Stars: In a matchup of proven vs. new, the Stars push the Hawks to the limit before Toews shows why he is one of the best in the league and wins it for the Blackhawks in game 7.

(C) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (P) Los Angeles Kings: After three incredible matches in the regular season, the Hawks and Kings play to a standstill, until fifth overtime in Game 7, when Toews makes an uncharacteristic error and Kopitar wins it for the Kings.

Stanley Cup Final: (W) Los Angeles Kings vs. (E) Boston Bruins. The Kings and Bruins play one of those series that is both boring and exhilarating at the same time (like the Caps Bruins one in 2012), and the Kings repeat as champs in a Game 7 victory.

So that's that for my predictions for this year! Congrats on making it through the entire article, and here's hoping for a great season!

Wait, there's something I forgot to say. What is it...? Oh yeah:

LET'S GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, September 19, 2014

All Washington Awards Part One: Team Rankings

After returning from my long summer break, it's almost time to turn back to hockey.

But not just yet.

For the first time in I don't know how many years, Washington DC has some of the best teams in the country. Therefore, for the next few posts, I'll focus on ranking the DC teams and athletes based on how they will do this season/playoffs (for the Washington Nationals).

First up: the team rankings.

Disclaimer 1: I am a DC fan, not a Baltimore fan. So no Ravens or Orioles here.

Disclaimer 2: I am first and foremost a hockey fan and then a baseball, basketball, and football fan. I'll try not to let this swing my opinion, but it might.

Disclaimer 3: This is all subjective, and hard to rank among multiple sports.

The team rankings were based firstly on Overall Potential for the year, with Championship Title potential receiving 5 points, Conference Finals/Finals potential receiving 3, Division Champs/Long Playoff Run potential receiving 2, and Playoff Contenders receiving 1 point (none of the above = 0). They are then ranked best to worst on Depth and Coaching/Management in a 3 to 0 scale, and Age, aka if their window is just opening (2 pts.), in the middle and serious contenders (3 pts.), close to closing (1 pt.) and not at all there (0). So without further ado, here are the rankings.

Overall Potential:
  • Washington Nationals: 5. They are the class of the National League and are without a doubt World Series contenders right now.
  • Washington Wizards: 3. The Wizards are one of the Top-4 teams in the NBA Eastern Conference, and a conference finals run is a definite possibility after their run to Round 2 last year.
  • Washington Capitals: 2. There are no excuses for the Caps this year; with a strong offense, improved defense, and a great coach, there is no reason the Caps cannot win the division or make a run in the postseason; however, I don't know if a Conference Final run is possible with serious talent in their division and conference.
  • Washington Redskins: 0. No RGIII, a weak secondary, and a patchwork offensive line leads me to believe that the Redskins are at best second in the division, and not nearly strong enough to challenge the Philadelphia Eagles or for a Wild Card spot.
Depth:
  1. Washington Nationals. When Ryan Zimmerman has to sit on the bench, you know your team has great depth. Add a great pitching staff, and this is easily the deepest team in DC. (3 pts.)
  2. Washington Wizards. The Wiz edge out the Caps thanks to their savvy moves this offseason and the rise of Otto Porter as a legitimate starter. The Wizards are seen as one of the deepest teams in the NBA, and for this reason, they take the number two spot. (2)
  3. Washington Capitals. Yes, they have a very talented prospect pool, and the rise of Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov certainly makes a starting lineup hard to figure, but the Caps are still forced to rely heavily on Troy Brouwer, Jay Beagle, and Brooks Laich, all of whom are not quite the kind of people one wants in the roles they will probably have this year. (1)
  4. Washington Redskins. Other than maybe QB and Wide Receiver, no position seems to have a lot of depth. The Running Back position is strong and the Tight End position may be improving, but neither of those are legitimately Top-10 in the league. And don't even talk about the offensive line. Defensively, the linebackers are really the only deep position, with the DL a  few injuries away from a strength and the horrendous secondary that cannot get worse (0).
Management/Coaching:
  1. Washington Nationals. Come on, this isn't even a contest! Matt Williams has been fantastic in his first season as manager and Mike Rizzo is the best GM in the league. Easily number one. (3 pts.)
  2. Washington Capitals. I have high hopes for GMBM and Barry Trotz this year. Yes, they overpaid for Orpik and Niskanen, but right now this team is one of the most talented in the NHL. If Trotz lives up to his reputation, this is a solid management team. (2)
  3. One good year is not enough to completely change my decision about Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld. They have done a great job this offseason, but I'm still not sure about them (1).
  4. Washington Redskins. I'm not even going to go into this. Snyder sucks, Bruce Allen is not that great, and Jay Gruden has not done good so far. (0)
Age:
  • Washington Nationals: 3. Definitely in the middle of their time as a solid contender. No question here.
  • Washington Wizards: 2. Their window is just opening, which is kind of scary, considering how talented this team is.
  • Washington Capitals: 1.5. I don't know what to think here. Their window isn't quite closing, but they're not solid contenders right now either. Eh, I'll put them somewhere in there.
  • Washington Redskins: 0. Seriously, these guys don't even have a window right now. There is a lot more work to be done.
Final Rankings:
  1. Washington Nationals (14 pts). No surprise, the Nats are easily the best team in DC right now.
  2. Washington Wizards (8). Thanks to their young talent and insane depth, the Wiz are just a few years away at most from being top-tier title contenders.
  3. Washington Capitals (7.5). The Caps fall behind the Wiz, but are still capable of being one of the best teams in DC.
  4. Washington Redskins (0). Yup, the Skins bottom out. With RGIII injured and no clear future, the Redskins are by far the worst team in DC right now.
So these are my rankings. What do you think? Tell me, and stay tuned for rankings and more here on Caps Circle.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Caps Circle Is Back!

After a (lengthy) summer vacation, Caps Circle is back, and just in time for the regular season!

Expect season picks and prognostos coming up in the next few days.