Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Tale of Two Drafts, Part 1

"With the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, the Washington Capitals select, Center Evgeni Malkin from Magnitogorsk, Russia."

How would you feel today if you heard this on June 26, 2004?

The NHL draft will take place on June 27-28 of this year, 10 weeks from now. Coincidentally, this will be the 10th anniversary of the 2004 Draft, where the Caps picked Alex Ovechkin first overall.

Today, many analysts think the better pick would have been Evgeni Malkin, who went second overall to the Pittsburgh Penguins. What would have happened then?

Over the next few weeks, I'll look at how this event would have affected the entire NHL in each year and offseason, starting with 2004-2005 today.

So, let it begin.

The 2004 offseason began after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 7 games, and as the final buzzer went off, the old CBA expired. There were rumors of a lockout to occur, although nobody knew how long it would last.

Focus switched to the coming draft, which would feature two extremely talented Russians who had led their team to World Juniors glory and were considered some of the most talented players the league had seen in a long time.

The Capitals entered with the third-best odds to take the top pick, with a 14.2% chance compared with Pittsburgh's 25% chance and Chicago's 18.8%. Surprisingly, the Caps won the first pick.

Alex Ovechkin was viewed as the consensus top pick in 2004. But say today's media 'pundits' went back in time and told the Capitals organization that Evgeni Malkin is a better pick. What would have happened then?

Let's say the Caps picked Malkin. The Penguins would have had no problem taking Alex Ovechkin second overall.

Assuming the rest of the draft went the same way, the Caps would've picked Malkin and defensemen Jeff Schultz and Mike Green in the first round. There's where we'll end the draft for now.

The NHL lockout started and the NHL died for a year. When an agreement was reached on July 21, 2005, attendance and interest in the NHL had dropped drastically. ESPN declined to continue to air NHL games in the 2005 season. Teams like the Capitals and Penguins were in dire need of something (or someone) to increase interest in their team again.

That takes us to July 30 (my birthday!) and the 2005 NHL Draft, where we'll pick up our story next week.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

GMGM vs. Adam Oates: Who Should Go (First)?

The Washington Capitals management has become a comedy of errors (or really more of a tragedy) in the past few years. There's no secret that major upheaval is completely necessary and on the way.

That being said, what is the bigger priority for the Caps: getting rid of General Manager George McPhee (GMGM) or getting rid of Head Coach Adam Oates (HCAO)?

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see them both go, and I'm sure most of Caps Nations agrees with me. But if, for some reason, Owner Ted Leonsis (no cooky abbreviation for him) decides to keep one of them, who is more important to fire?

Let's look at the track record within the last few years for each, starting with the bad for GMGM:

  • Trading touted prospect Filip Forsberg for minor-league center Michael Latta and aging veteran Martin Erat
  • Trading talented center Mathieu Perreault for a pick and a prospect, both of which were traded away later 
  • Trading talented backup goalie Michal Neuvirth for unnecessary expense Jaroslav Halak, who didn't even help the Caps all that much
  • Signing Brooks Laich and Mike Green to monster contracts that haven't helped at all
  • Signing human traffic cone Jeff Schultz to a big deal before using a compliance buyout last year
Now, let's look at the good stuff he's done:
  • Trading a 4th round pick for tough forward Dustin Penner
  • Signing Mikhail Grabovski for just 3 mil during the offseason
  • Signing top defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner to relatively inexpensive deals
Needless to say, GMGM has made some foolish decisions, but has made up for some of it by striking some good deals. Now let's look at HCAO, starting this time with the good:
  • Revamped Alex Ovechkin into a scoring threat and brought him back to being the second-best player in the world
  • Improved the Capitals power play
  • Striking gold with the 'Gang Green' line (Chimera-Fehr-Ward)
And now, the bad:
  • Buried proven Top-6 veterans like Martin Erat and Dustin Penner in the fourth line, or scratched them
  • Held talented prospects Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson to very little ice time per game
  • Played ineffective, unproven players such as Jay Beagle, Aaron Volpatti, and Joey Crabb on the top line
  • Continued to call up AHL players until late in the season
  • Failed to help a struggling defense
  • Tried to change the goaltending style, with terrible effects
  • Threw half the team under the bus
So, yeah. Some good stuff, but more than offset by all of the mistakes he's made.

Looking at everything together, both GMGM and HCAO have done some extremely stupid things. However, let's look at this in a different way.

Based on the trades and signings GMGM has done, here are my personal optimized lines:


Schmidt-Oleksy (oh yeah, those two were on the teams, weren't they?)


These lines are much better than the ones HCAO had on the ice during the latter half of the season. In fact, if you stop HCAO benching and disgruntling Martin Erat, add him and Neuvirth back while losing Halak, and you have an extremely talented team that doesn't even need Jay Beagle on the ice. 

And if you take out HCAO's obsession with handedness, the second line can be 
Penner-Grabovski-Erat, and the fourth line can be 
Wilson-Johansson Brouwer. See, we don't even need Jay Beagle or Brooks Laich!

All I'm trying to say is although GMGM made some questionable moves in the last few years, if HCAO had used these assets correctly, this team is much stronger than it seemed last season. Therefore, the highest priority for the Caps should be firing Adam Oates. GMGM should probably go too, but without HCAO's stupid decisions, the Caps would be in the playoffs right now.

What do you think? Who is most important to be fired, GMGM or HCAO? Leave a comment and/or rant and hope for the best!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

First Round Predictions (Eastern Conference) for the Stanley Cup Playoffs

What's harder than seeing your team lose in the playoffs? Seeing your team miss out on the playoffs despite having the talent to, not only get in, but do some damage.

That's the situation we Caps fans are in right now, as we have three choices now to get our sports fill: watch baseball (not ideal), watch the Washington Wizards in the playoffs (I'm cool with that), or watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs without the Capitals for the first time since 2007 (um, no thank you).

Although I have no plans to watch a single game of the playoffs this year, I'm still going to give my round-by-round picks. Last year, I badly underrated the Boston Bruins, but still went 9-6 overall.

Here are my official picks for the opening round in the Eastern Conference, before I do the West tomorrow. If you don't remember from last year, I compare both teams' offense, defense, goaltending, and special teams before making my decision.

#1 Boston Bruins vs. #4 Detroit Red Wings
Offense: The Bruins were third in the league in goals per game, behind only Anaheim and Chicago. The Red Wings were 16th. This is a no-brainer. Boston.
Defense: The Bruins were one of the best defensive teams in the league throughout the year, allowing just 2.08 goals per game, behind only ultra-defensive Los Angeles. Detroit, meanwhile, was 16th in this category as well. Again, a no-brainer. Boston.
Goaltending: The most probable goaltenders are Tuuka Rask and Jimmy Howard. If they get the starts, this is pretty lopsided. Rask carries a .930 save percentage into the playoffs, whereas Howard has only a .910. Rask's name has come up in Vezina ballots, while Howard has struggled with consistency. Another easy decision. Boston.
Special Teams: Probably the most lopsided of them all. Boston had the 3rd best power play in the regular season, while the Wings had the 18th. Boston had the 8th best penalty kill, while the Wings came in at 12th. Easy call. Boston.
Prediction: Boston in 6. On paper, this isn't even close. However, the Red Wings had some success against the Bruins in the regular season, winning 3 of the 4 matches. Still, I don't see the Bruins losing this series.

#2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. #3 Montreal Canadiens
Offense: The Lightning were ninth in the league in goals per game, while Montreal was 21st, being a primarily defense-first team. Tampa Bay, easily.
Defense: The Lightning were 12th in the league in goals against per game, while Montreal was 8th. This is close, but I'll take Montreal.
Goaltending: The closest battle so far, the probable netminders will be Carey Price (Montreal) and Ben Bishop (Tampa Bay). Price had a .927 save percentage during the regular season, while Bishop had a .924. It's a close game, but considering Montreal has a better D, I pick Montreal.
Special Teams: Tampa has the 13th best power play on the circuit, while Montreal is ranked 19th. However, Montreal wins the special battle pretty handily thanks to their top notch PK, which ranks 3rd in the league, while Tampa's PK has struggled all year and is ranked 23rd, behind teams like Carolina, Calgary, and, yes, Washington. Montreal.
Prediction: Montreal in 6. This could easily go the distance, but I don't see the Bolts winning, even with home ice advantage. Montreal is just too good defensively, and Carey Price has been very good, and he'll only continue to do well.

#1 Pittsburgh Penguins (ugh) vs. #4 Columbus Blue Jackets
Offense: I don't even have to look at stats for this. Pittsburgh.
Defense: This is a close one. Pittsburgh finished at 10th in goals against per game, while Columbus finished 13th. Overall, I still have to go with Pittsburgh.
Goaltending: The probable netminders are Marc-Andre Fleury and defending Vezina champion Sergei Bobrovsky. Respectively, their save percentages are .915 and .923. An easy choice, Columbus. Besides, who likes Fleury anyways?
Special Teams: I don't have to look at stats for this either. Every Caps fan already knows the Penguins were the top power play team, beating the Caps by less than a tenth of a percent. However, I did look up the PK numbers, and it just confirmed my suspicions: the Pens were fifth overall at the end of the year. No doubt here, Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5. This isn't close at all. The only chance Columbus has is catching the Pens D on an off-day and shaking Fleury's confidence. However, I don't see that happening 4 times. Pittsburgh will win this one.

#2 New York Rangers vs. #3 Philadelphia Flyers
Offense: The Rangers ended the year 18th in goals per game, while the Flyers were 8th. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, considering the Rangers have always played a defensive style of hockey. Not much of a contest here. Philadelphia.
Defense: Just as I expected, the Rangers were dominant defensively, ranking 4th, while the Flyers were not, ranking 20th, just one spot above the Caps. Again, not too much of a shock. New York.
Goaltending: Although Ray Emery is getting the start in game 1, Steve Mason will probably be in net for the majority of the games for Philly, while Henrik Lundqvist will have the same honor for the Rangers. Mason had a save percentage of .917, while Lundqvist garnered a .920. Close, but I'll take New York.
Special Teams: An extremely tough decision, I'm going solely based on the special teams indices here, or the combined rank of power play plus penalty kill. For Philly, this is 8 (pp) + 7 (pk) = 15, and for the Rangers this is 15 (pp) + 3 (pk) = 18. Overall, I have to go with Philly.
Prediction: New York in 7. In the end, these two teams are extremely evenly matched. It will come down to if the Philly offense or New York defense will prevail. Home ice, however, will probably play the biggest role, which is why I'm going with the Rangers.

So there you have it. My picks for the first round in the Eastern Conference. Whatever happens, I won't care because I'll be watching the Nationals and Wizards and completely shunning hockey broadcasting until June.

Until then, though, I'll have to content myself with these blog posts.

4 Reasons Not to Trade Alex Ovechkin

For the first time in six seasons, the Washington Capitals missed the playoffs. So obviously, the Caps have to trade away the selfish, cherry-picking, non-team playing, and most of all, Russian Alex Ovechkin.

Since the season ended, speculation has seemingly come out of nowhere that Ovechkin should be traded. However, this makes absolutely zero sense.

Here are 4 reasons why OV should not be traded (you know, 8/2, cause if we lose him, the talent on this team is cut in half...):

1. The Fanbase. DC is famous for fair-weather fans. Other than the Redskins, no other team receives continuous support from the entire DC area. If you're reading this blog, you're probably a die-hard Caps fan like me, and we will always support this team no matter what. But for the majority of the DC area population, take away the one recognizable figure on a team that may now be the 4th-best in the area, and any interest that's left is suddenly gone.

2. The Once-In-A-Generation Player. We are privileged to be able to see one of the greatest players of all time playing in DC. Yes, of all time. OV is 13th all-time in points per game, ahead of players like Jaromir Jagr, Joe Sakic, etc. By the time he retires, OV will definitely be a Top-20-25 player, and maybe even a Top 10. Right now, he's the second best player in the world, and if he has a better team (which I'll get to) around him, he could be spurred to even greater heights.

3. The Season Was Not his Fault. What happened this year cannot be blamed on Alex Ovechkin. First, let me talk about his abysmal plus-minus; is it his fault if his linemates cannot score worth beans when he's on the ice? His two most common linemates, Nick Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, only scored 14 combined even-strength goals, and I'm not sure how much of that was with him on the ice. Despite this, OV totaled 13 even-strength assists. Look, it would take forever to individually address every single beef anybody's ever had with Ovechkin, but suffice to say he did nothing less than he could have this year. He played with his heart on his sleeve, but was careful to say anything to the media. You can't please them all, Alex.

4. The Future. No matter what we get for him, it's highly doubtful to be enough. First the Caps would need enough assets to just replace a legend in Alex Ovechkin, and then would need more assets to fix the numerous holes in the team. It would take at least 3-4 high prospects and first-rounders to replace OV, and then we'd need a top-notch defenseman and some Top-6 help. No player in the league is worth that much right now. Even if the Caps do get this, will it be enough? Will they have enough talent to truly turn the team around? The way this organization's management is right now, no prospects and picks can be considered sure things.

I don't know where all this talk about trading OV came from, but it has to stop right now (we don't want GMGM getting any ideas in his final days here, you know). Still, there is not justification for trading OV, and the Caps will have some dark days ahead if he is dealt.