Saturday, March 22, 2014

Revisiting my Preseason Picks

On August 16, while I was bored out of my mind waiting for the Caps to sign Mikhail Grabovski, I made my official picks for the season. Here's the link:

In case you don't want to read it, suffice to say I was as wrong as anybody who picked Duke to win the NCAA Championship this year (which WASN'T me, thank you very much). Just for kicks (for you guys, anyways), let's see how my picks compare against the current (as of 7:00 ET Saturday) NHL standings with only a few weeks left in the season.

Preseason Metropolitan Prediction:                                       Current Metropolitan Standings:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins                                                           1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. New York Rangers                                                            2. Philadelphia Flyers
3. Washington Capitals                                                          3. New York Rangers
4. New York Islanders                                                           4. Columbus Blue Jackets
5. Columbus Blue Jackets                                                      5. Washington Capitals
6. Philadelphia Flyers                                                             6. New Jersey Devils
7. Carolina Hurricanes                                                           7. Carolina Hurricanes
8. New Jersey Devils                                                             8. New York Islanders

Heh. At least I got the Penguins and Hurricanes right. I was also only one off for the Rangers and Blue Jackets. Still...

Now for the Eastern Conference, which I'll only do the Top 8 for (because that's what I did in the preseason):

Preseason Conference Prediction:                                         Current Conference Standings:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins                                                           1. Boston Bruins
2. Boston Bruins                                                                    2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. New York Rangers                                                            3. Tampa Bay Lightning
4. Ottawa Senators                                                                 4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. Washington Capitals                                                          5. Montreal Canadiens
6. Montreal Canadiens                                                           6. New York Rangers
7. New York Islanders                                                           7. Toronto Maple Leafs
8. Detroit Red Wings                                                             8. Detroit Red Wings

On the bright side, I got five of the current playoff-position teams right. On the other hand, I had the Senators (13th in the conference) and Islanders (14th) in as well.

I admit I was wrong. Like, really wrong. But hey, while the Islanders can't make the playoffs, there's not telling what can happen in the next few weeks. And if my prediction turns out as planned, then who's the one laughing now, huh?

Yeah, probably still you.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Importance of Perspective

This time last week, I was all set to publish a scathing article about how the season is over. Thankfully, I waited.

Since then, the Caps have won 3 in a row, including an upset over Pacific-leading Anaheim on the road. Obviously, every Caps fan now considers it a foregone conclusion that the Caps are making the playoffs.

I hate to be that guy, but just so that we don't have our hearts broken again, I'm going to have to try to put things in perspective.

Coming into today's game against the Kings, Sports Club Stats has playoff chances at 22.6%. In order to have an above 50% chance of making the playoffs (which is not what you want to count on), the Caps have to go 6-3-3.

Here's who the Caps play in their last 12 games: Kings (twice), Sharks, Bruins, Predators, Stars, Devils, Islanders, Blues, Hurricanes, Blackhawks, and Lightning. Of those eleven teams, 6 are all but guaranteed playoff teams, two are still in the hunt for the playoffs, and only three are not fighting for much of anything, and those games (Predators, Islanders, Hurricanes) are all on the road.

One can't even assume the Caps will win their remaining home games, considering that they play the Kings, Bruins, Stars, Blackhawks, and Lightning. Realistically, at best the Caps may be able to beat the Bruins, Stars, and Lightning, while hopefully pushing the Blackhawks and Kings to extra time (they played very well in Chicago in the first game of the year; we'll see today how they do in LA). If they do that, they are 3-0-2 before counting road games.

Let's do those road games now. They play in LA, in San Jose (where they haven't won in more than 20 years- chalk that up now as a loss), in St. Louis (who have the second-best home record in the league), in New Jersey (who we are fighting for a playoff spot) and the last three are the ones I talked about earlier (Predators, Islanders, Hurricanes).

OK, so now chances. First let's look optimistically. The Caps win their five remaining home games, win the three 'easy' road games, beat New Jersey and LA on the road as well, and lose to San Jose and St. Louis (who have two of the best home records in the league). They therefore end up 10-2, which Sports Club Stats gives a 100% chance of making the playoffs (lets be honest, if the Caps can do that, then they deserve to make it).

Now let's look pessimistically. The Caps only win the three 'easy' games and lose everything else (3-9). Sports Club Stats puts this as a 0% chance of making the playoffs.

Now let's look in the middle, comparing the teams' respective records at home and road. Based on this, here are the winners in each game:
Caps @ Kings: Kings
Caps @ Sharks: Sharks
Caps vs. Kings: Caps
Caps vs. Bruins: Bruins (OT) (These teams had very close respective home/road records. I gave this to the Bruins because they've been unstoppable as of late)
Caps @ Predators: Predators (Surprising, but the Predators are slightly better at home than the Caps are on the road)
Caps vs. Stars: Caps
Caps @ Devils: Devils (NJ plays 9 of their last 13 at home)
Caps @ Islanders: Caps
Caps @ Blues: Blues
Caps @ Hurricanes: Hurricanes
Caps vs. Blackhawks: Caps (The respective records are extremely close, but I gave this one to DC because they are desperate at this point, if not out already)
Caps vs. Lightning: Caps
Overall, the Caps finish 5-6-1, which Sports Club Stats pegs as a 0.9% chance of making the playoffs.

Now let's look at the non-scientific, non-biased approach which is probably the better fit. The Caps will probably lose to the Kings (both times), Sharks, and Bruins, can possibly beat the Predators, Stars, Devils, and Islanders, lose to the Blues but beat the Hurricanes, then lose to Chicago in OT at least before beating Tampa Bay in the season finale. This gives the Caps a 6-5-1 record, which Sports Club Stats gives 13.0% chance of making the playoffs.

The road for the Caps is extremely tough. Unless they can steal a few of these next games like they did against Anaheim, the chances of making the playoffs are very dim.

Before I leave you, I give you this note: if the Caps lose in regulation today, their playoff chances plummet to 15.0%. If they steal a point, their chances only go down to 22.3%. If they win in the shootout, chances go up to 31.3%, while if they win in OT or regulation, it goes up to 32.4%.

Let's hope the Caps can get it together and win a few games, and as always, Let's Go Caps!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Guide to Being a Russian NHL'er

Dear Evgeny Kuznetsov,

Tomorrow, you will be making your NHL debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In two days, you will be making your national television debut, also against the Penguins.

Please read what I say here: it will impact your entire future in the league.

No doubt you have heard of all the controversy Alex Ovechkin has gotten himself into, while other Russian players don't get that kind of scrutiny.

Outlined here is a step-by-step guide to surviving the jungle the NHL is to you Russians.

1. Play for Pittsburgh. Too late for that, bud. Unless you play for the Penguins or maybe the Detroit Red Wings, you will be condemned for, really, being Russian.

2. Don't Celebrate. Look at players like Ovechkin or Nail Yakupov. They play with their hearts on their sleeves, and they get criticized for it. However, players like Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Fedorov show the old CCCP tradition of no emotion. Follow their lead instead of the blasphemous non-hockey celebrations of your teammate Ovechkin.

3. Take Goalie Lessons. Being Russian, you'll have to do everything or the media will be all over you. You have to score, pass, play D, have a good plus-minus despite being on a terrible even-strength team, and if you let up in even one of those aspects, you're done. Unless you can play goalie. Maybe you'll be given a brief pass.

4. Don't Take Anything I Said Here to Heart. Go out there, be yourself, score, have fun, and treat the media like OV does: the joke it really is.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Get Ready for Kuzy: Possible Caps Lines for Monday

It's here. Evgeny Kuznetsov is playing. No, actually. On Monday, against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Welcome to the NHL, bud.

How do the new lines play out for the Caps, now that Kuznetsov is here? Here is how I would like the line combos to be for the Caps.

Assuming Injuries:

Assuming Grabovski and Laich are still injured, the Caps are still not going to be extremely deep, with Chris Brown still playing, but this would not be too bad. Kuznetsov has not played left wing, but because he shoots lefty, Adam Oates is probably going to try to make him play LW anyways. Switch him and Penner, maybe, but I don't see him out of the Top 6.

No Injuries/Optimized:

Assuming Grabovski can play, it's hard to see Brooks Laich legitimately getting a spot in the starting lineup. He shoots lefty, so Oates would only have him on the LW or C, which suddenly look pretty stacked. Then again, you never know with a coach who would let John Erskine play over Steven Oleksy or Nate Schmidt.

I digress. This team is suddenly looking much deeper than it really is. What do you think? Would you put Brooks Laich in the lineup (while keeping HCAO's handedness-mania)? Who would you take out? Talk to me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Post-Deadline Day Lines: Welcome Halak, Bye Neuvy (and Erat)

Every Caps fan knows the major trades that have gone down since my post yesterday, written after the Dustin Penner trade but before the Martin Erat trade. But to recap:

1. To Anaheim: 2014 4th round Draft Pick
To Washington: Dustin Penner

2. To Phoenix: Martin Erat, John Mitchell
To Washington: Rotislav Klesla, Chris Brown

3. To Buffalo: Michal Neuvirth, Rotislav Klesla
To Washington: Jaroslav Halak, 2015 3rd round draft pick

The Capitals quite honestly didn't improve much, but they didn't become worse either. Overall, it was a safe year for GMGM, and a comparatively good one (see last year; or better yet, don't).

How do these deals change the line combinations for the Caps? Here are the probable lines for tonight's tangle with Philly:




At full strength, this is how (I would like) the current Caps team looks like:




Of course, things could change if Evgeni Kuznetsov starts to play in a week or two, or if the Caps stop their love affair with Erskine and Carrick and bring up some other guys, or...

I digress. All I'm saying is that this team could be getting a lot stronger in a few weeks, or even later this year.

For today, however, we're going with the formidable Stoa-Beagle-Wilson line. #Playoffs (or is it #Playoffs?!).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pre-Deadline Day Sample Lines

The big news of the day for Caps fans was obviously the acquisition of Dustin Penner. His 2M cap hit, however, means the Caps will be over cap after Jack Hillen comes of the IR for tomorrow's game.

The big question now, obviously, is who's on the move (gotta believe it's Martin Erat and his 4.5M)? We'll worry about that tomorrow, but for now, assuming no big moves, here is how I envision the lines will be for tomorrow night's fight with Philly:

Penner - Backstrom - Ovechkin
Laich - Johansson - Brouwer
Ward - Fehr - Chimera
Erat - Beagle - Wilson

Alzner - Carlson
Hillen - Green
Erskine - Carrick


Here is the sample lineup assuming we send Erat for somebody who is not going to play tomorrow:

Penner - Backstrom - Ovechkin
Laich - Johansson - Brouwer
Ward - Fehr - Chimera
Deschamps - Beagle - Wilson

And the defensemen and goalies are the same.

Here's to hoping the Caps can get a good D-man or at least some picks and prospects for Erat tomorrow by 3:00 pm EST.

UPDATE: GMGM is actually doing pretty well this year, after shipping Erat and prospect John Mitchell (acquired in the Mathieu Perreault trade) to Phoenix for left-handed defenseman Rotislav Klesla (yay!), prospect Chris Brown (not the singer) and a fourth-round draft pick. Nice trade, GMGM.

In Caps Circle news, expect some new articles tomorrow recapping the trade deadline, just in case the Caps do anything else of note.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Washington Capitals Trade Deadline Preview

This has been an annoying month for me. That awesomely important thing I'm working on is still not done, and I'm hoping it will be eventually.

For now, we'll have to settle for something a little bit more pressing, the pending NHL trade deadline. The Caps have some obvious holes in their game. Who should they target? What would they need to give up? Let's see, in order of most pressing to least pressing areas of concern.

1. Defensive Help.
The Capitals D has been absolutely atrocious this year, and quite honestly, nothing can or should get better until this does.
Potential Targets: Jake Gardiner, Dmitry Kulikov, Andrew MacDonald
Best Fit: Dmitry Kulikov
The Florida Panthers aren't making the playoffs this year, and while the Caps currently aren't in any reported trade talks for the young defenseman, they should be. The Panthers are reportedly ready to listen to any deal that will bring them young talent or draft picks. Kulikov is young, strong, and relatively inexpensive, maybe around 3-4 million, which the Caps should at least want to pay for an upgrade.
Trade Offer: Stanislav Galiev + 2014 Second Round for Dmitry Kulikov
Galiev is not going to get playing time for the Capitals. With Andre Burakovsky rapidly improving and young star Zach Sanford nipping at his heels, it may be time for Galiev himself to look for a fresh start. Florida may be the best place to do that, with their depth chart looking weaker and weaker. The Panthers may look for a little more than a second rounder, while the Caps would want to give less, but this could be a good starting point.

2. Goaltending Depth.
Michal Neuvirth wants out (maybe), Braden Holtby is struggling (maybe) and Phillip Grubauer is young (maybe). I don't get it, but for some reason the Caps seem to be looking for goaltending help.
Potential Targets: Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Cam Ward
Best Fit: Cam Ward
Ward is expensive, yes, but he will probably be wanting out, with youngster Anton Khudobin quickly rising up the depth charts. It may be tough to get him, but hey, anything is possible.
Trade Offer: Martin Erat + Michal Neuvirth for Cam Ward
The Hurricanes are looking to shore up their weak right wing position, while Martin Erat wants out. Why not kill two birds with one stone and send Erat and disgruntled goaltender Neuvirth for Ward? This will provide the Caps a bit of a salary dump and give them the goaltending depth they apparently need for some reason.

3. Reliable Top-6 Forward.
The Caps have not had a great Top-6 all year, and could really use some help. Fortunately, there's plenty of options to choose from.
Potential Targets: Thomas Vanek, Ryan Callahan, Brad Boyes
Best Fit: Brad Boyes
As I wrote earlier, the Panthers are willing to sell some of their players for young talent or draft picks. Plus, Boyes is extremely cheap, with a cap hit of just one million. He would fit very well in Washington's Top-6.
Trade Offer: Stanislav Galiev + 2014 Fourth Round for Brad Boyes
Basically the same as the Kulikov trade, except Boyes will be a bit cheaper. Because of his low cap hit, he will be a popular target, but the Caps should find a way to get him if they need him.

Best Possible Trade:
To Florida: Stanislav Galiev, 2014 Second Round, 2014 Fourth Round, 2015 Third Round
To Washington: Dmitry Kulikov, Brad Boyes
Just throw in that third rounder to make this a little more appealing to the Panthers.

To make this more Cap Compliant (Based on Cap-Geek):
To Florida: Stanislav Galiev, Martin Erat, 2014 Second Round
To Washington: Dmitry Kulikov, Brad Boyes
Both teams will receive upgrades and stay under the cap.

The Caps need to make some upgrades this year. Let's hope they can do so without the Filip Forsberg debacle from last year. Anything I missed? Tell me in the comments.