Monday, March 16, 2015

Seinfeldology - Opposite Personalities?,

Welcome to the first ever Seinfeldology, a new feature that will run once a week (or whenever I feel like it) on Caps Circle!

Seinfeldology is exactly like it sounds: an attempt to explain the Caps, NHL, or DC sports by looking to the greatest sitcom of all time: Seinfeld (ok, maybe not exactly like it sounds). First I'll explain the issue at hand; then I'll compare it to an episode or a scene from Seinfeld; and finally I'll break down what we can learn from Seinfeld as it pertains to the issue.

Now that the administrative part is out of the way, let's get started!

The Issue: Exchanging Slumps

Today, I'm focusing on the Caps and their opponents last night, the Boston Bruins. Coming into yesterday's game, the Caps had lost 3 of their last 4 at home, the lone win coming in a domination of tanking Buffalo. Boston, on the other hand, had won 5 in a row and 7 of their last 8 to help them come all the way back and wrest control of the higher wild card seed from the Caps.

Before these recent streaks, the Caps had dominated throughout the winter months, whereas Boston had stumbled and bumbled and at times looked like the biggest disappointment in the league this year, leading to doubts about whether they would even make it to the playoffs. The Caps, on the other hand, were all but a foregone conclusion to make the playoffs in at least the 7th seed, and possibly even one of the three top seeds in the division.

Now that the Caps have defeated the Bruins, it remains to be seen if the teams will exchange their slumps again. Caps fans will certainly be hoping that they do.

The Episode: The Opposite (Season 5, Episode 22)

The Season 5 finale is arguably the greatest episode in Seinfeld's run, and featured the show at the pinnacle of its quality. The episode's main storyline follows George and Elaine and their coincidental changing luck and all the humor it brings with it.

George's life has fallen hard in Season 5, having moved in with his parents, lost every job he's taken (including being a hand model), and simply not had anything go right. Elaine, on the other hand, is riding high with a promotion and a raise at work thanks to the company she works for, Pendant Publishing, merging with a big Japanese conglomerate.

In a twist, George decides to do the opposite of everything he has done in his life:

Ali Parr (YouTube)

The results are immediate. George suddenly has good luck with girls, gains confidence in himself, and even gets an executive job with the New York Yankees.

But to keep the universe in balance, Elaine's luck takes a turn for the worse as well. Her boyfriend dumps her when she stops to buy some Jujyfruits before meeting him at the hospital, and she ends up losing her job when her sick boss refuses to shake hands with the head of the Japanese company.

Two people exchanging their hard luck... seems familiar, doesn't it?

What Can We Learn?

In the Seinfeld universe, George and Elaine eventually reverted back to their rightful places in the show's totem pole. Despite being completely inept, George was able to keep his job with the Yankees for a few years, although the rest of his life took a turn for the worse. Elaine eventually got another job where she had a more important position and soon met David Puddy, the best TV hockey fan in history.

The Caps made some poor decisions, like Eliane did, and began to fall, while the Bruins raced up the Eastern Conference ladder. However, if last night and how Seinfeld turned out mean anything, we should soon see the pecking order restored with the Caps above the Bruins.

Don't panic, Caps fans. If Seinfeld is to be trusted, we'll still be #7 in the East.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Final: Pre-OV #1 4OT Loss to Pittsburgh vs. OV #1 Montreal Meltdown

We have reached the final of the Worst Moment in Capitals Playoff History (WMICPH) contest! Today we pit the worst moment of the Pre-OV Caps, the 4OT loss to Pittsburgh in 1996, against the worst moment of the OV-era Caps, the 2010 first round loss to Montreal, one of the biggest upsets in Caps (and maybe even NHL) history.

So, to quote Dave Dameshek, LET IT BEGIN!!!

The 1996 Caps were, arguably, overachievers who had scraped the 7th seed in the East. However, like always, the Caps played the Penguins tough. Going into Game 4, the Caps were up 2-1 in the series after sweeping both games at the Igloo. Had the Caps won the game, they would've had 3 tries to beat the Penguins. Assuming they did, their next round opponent would be the Flyers, who the Caps probably wouldn't have beaten. Even if they did, their next round opponent is either the Panthers or Rangers, both of whom had great seasons.
The 2010 version of the Caps represented perhaps the greatest Caps team in franchise history. After one of the most dominant seasons in recent history, the Caps were favorites to win the Stanley Cup, let alone get out of the first round. Had the Caps won the series, their next round opponent would be against a Philly team the Caps had swept in the regular season, and in the conference finals they would have either played the Bruins or Penguins, both of whom the Caps dominated in the regular season. At the very least, the Caps would have made it to the Cup finals for the second time in team history.
Overall the Montreal Meltdown going the other way would've been of greater importance than the 4OT loss going the other way.
Advantage: Montreal Meltdown

The 1996 loss was just another in a multitude of disappointing losses to the Penguins in the playoffs. This particular loss didn't have much of an impact on the Caps other than in Caps lore.
However, one could attribute the Caps changing into their defensive shell to the Montreal Meltdown, as well as the system change that led to Alex Ovechkin's slight decline over the next two seasons.
Advantage: Montreal Meltdown

Shock Factor:
Both of these were stunning losses, but for different reasons. The loss to Pittsburgh was shocking because of the circumstances in the game: the game was at home, Mario Lemieux left with an injury, Joe Juneau had the first ever playoff overtime penalty shot (and failed to score), and the Caps still couldn't pull it off. Heck, the GWG was courtesy of Petr Nedved, him of less than 10 career playoff goals at that point.
The Montreal loss was stunning because, not only were the Caps at home for Game 7, they were the best team in the league and had been up 3 games to 1 in the series. Plus, the Caps completely outshot the Canadiens.
Overall, this category is too close to call.
Advantage: Push

Grudge/Hate Factor:
Yeah, no, not a contest.
Advantage: 4OT Loss to Pittsburgh

Overall, the worst moment in Caps playoff history is the Montreal Meltdown. Thank you for joining me on this sad trip down memory lane, and chime in with what you think is the worst moment in Caps playoff history and if I missed a moment that should be added. Also, be sure to be on the lookout for more fun content from Caps Circle coming up as the Caps enter the stretch run into the playoffs!

OV Final: #1 Montreal Meltdown vs. #3 Shocked by the Lightning

The second semifinal match in the WMICPH contest is underway, as the infamous 2010 Montreal Meltdown takes on the little less infamous sweep in 2011 by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The winner of this will take on the 4OT loss to Pittsburgh in the finals.

Let's jump right into it.

Both of these teams, 2010 and 2011, were ranked number one in the Eastern Conference, and represented what were probably this franchise's best opportunities to reach the SCF. I'd say that the Lightning loss was a bit more important based on the fact that it was in the second round, and it was after the Caps had changed their team identity to that of a more defensive one, and this second point probably led to Bruce Boudreau's dismissal in 2012.
Advantage: Lightning Shocker

The impact sort of goes along with importance, but Montreal has evened the playing field a little in this one. The impact of the Meltdown was the franchise facelift that saw the team switch directions into a defensive style and led to Alex Ovechkin's two-year slump. The Lightning Shocker would eventually lead to Bruce Boudreau's firing, but that can be attributed to other factors as well.
Advantage: Montreal Meltdown

Shock Factor:
This is not even close. While Tampa was not supposed to win, they dominated the entire series, whereas Montreal won as an 8th seed after being down 3-1 in the series. Again, not even close.
Advantage: Montreal Meltdown

Grudge/Hate Factor:
Whether it is all the years as division rivals, the two disappointing playoff losses, or something else completely, Caps fans just can't stand Tampa Bay.
Advantage: Lightning Shocker

In the end, the Montreal Meltdown wins a tight one, with the sheer unpredictability of the loss sending Caps fans into dismay and completely changing the OV-Era Caps for the next few years. It makes one wonder what would have happened if the Caps hadn't run into an impossibly hot goalie; would the Caps still be in search of the first Stanley Cup in team history?

Come back soon to see if the Montreal Meltdown was worse than the 4OT loss to Pittsburgh in the finals of WMICPH contest!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pre-OV Final: #1 4OT Loss to Pittsburgh vs. #2 Easter Epic

The Trade Deadline is over, so Caps Circle turns its attention back to the WMICPH contest. Here is the first conference final, between two heartbreaking 4th-overtime losses to hated rivals: the loss to Pittsburgh and the infamous Easter Epic.

If you've forgotten how this works, I compare these two in different factors and declare a winner in the end. So, let's begin.

The Caps had struggled against both of these teams. They were both hated rivals who the Caps wanted to beat just once. The loss to Pittsburgh did not really have much of an importance factor compared to the Epic, which occurred in Game 7.
Advantage: Easter Epic

Again, impact is tough to measure. Both of these were first round matches. In the long run, the Caps probably would not have been able to knock off the Flyers or Oilers in 1987, while they may have fared better against the Rangers and Panthers. The Caps blew a good opportunity in a year anything could have happened to reach their first SCF.
Advantage: Loss to Pittsburgh

Shock Factor:
This is the definition of a tossup. The Isles goalie had played the game of his life, stopping more than 75 shots in the game the Caps had dominated. The Penguins were playing without Mario Lemieux, Joe Juneau had the first ever playoff OT penalty shot, and the Caps were up in the series. Plus, the game-winner was scored by Petr Nedved, of all people, who was having the playoffs of his life, one where he scored 20 points in 18 games when he never scored more than 5 in any other year. It is pretty much impossible for me to choose between the two.
Advantage: Push

Grudge/Hate Factor:
Another toughie. The Isles were hated during the time they beat up the Caps, and the Pens were hated when they beat up the Caps. In the long run though, there is a reason the Penguins are the Caps' biggest rivals, and the reason we see 'Crosby Sucks' jerseys instead of 'Tavares Sucks' jerseys at Verizon Center.
Advantage: Loss to Pittsburgh

In the end, the 4OT Loss to Pittsburgh was just a bit worse than the Easter Epic for the Caps faithful. This will go on to the finals of this tourney, where it will take on...

Well, you will see.

Monday, March 2, 2015

2015 Trade Deadline Recap and Analysis: Did the Caps do Enough?

The NHL Trade Deadline came and went a few hours ago, with the Caps standing pat after making a couple of moves in the days prior.

In case you don't know what trades the Caps made:
1. Washington: Tim Gleason (D)
    Carolina: Jack Hillen (D) + 2015 4th
2. Washington: Curtis Glencross (F)
    Calgary: 2015 2nd + 2015 3rd

The Caps also sent Aaron Volpatti and Cameron Schilling to Hershey, and did the same for Andre Burakovsky in a paper transaction for him to be eligible for the AHL playoffs. Even if Bura does not play in Hershey, which he likely will until he is recalled one final time, he probably will be scratched next game. Here is how the forwards should look next game:


Once Bura comes back, I predict the forwards will be as so:


There's still a lot than can be changed in the forwards thanks to the dearth of true top-line talent and a plethora of bottom-6/grinder players in the system. The Caps entered the trade deadline searching for either a first-line Right Wing or a second-line Center. They got neither, but one has to be reasonably pleased with the Caps' approach this year. There weren't many legitimate 1st liners available, so a significant overpayment would be needed to pry away a Jordan Eberle or JVR or even a Patrick Sharp. The center position was similarly shallow, with Antoine Vermette the premiere talent at the position. He cost a pretty penny at a first-rounder and a prospect, and when compared to Evgeny Kuznetsov, our current 2C, he is likely not worth the price:
Evgeny Kuznetsov HERO
Antoine Vermette HERO
As you can see, Vermette is just a slight upgrade, if any, despite having much more ice time, although he was on a team much worse than the Caps. He still definitely wasn't worth a first rounder in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory.

The only trade made on offense was to bring in Curtis Glencross from Calgary. Glencross has fallen hard this year as compared to the years past, with just 28 points in 53 games this year after 24 in 38 last year. However, his underlying stats are relatively solid for a middle-6 winger despite the fact that he played on the third-worst Corsi and Fenwick team in Calgary this year:
Curtis Glencross HERO
Glencross should bring veteran experience to the left-side of the Caps lineup as well as better scoring depth for the playoffs. For second and third round picks, there may have been a better option on the market, but with all of the overpayments this year at the deadline, this was a great pickup for the Caps.

The upgrade on defense was also a good deal for the Caps, with Tim Gleason taking Jack Hillen's spot:
Tim Gleason HERO

Jack Hillen HERO
At first glance, Gleason looks like a much worse option than Hillen. However, much of this can be chalked up to Gleason's increased ice time as compared to Hillen (16:39 vs. 12.22). In fact, all of the stat comparisons in the HERO chart can be attributed to ice time. If you look at Corsi, Fenwick, and PDO without accommodations for ice time:

Player        TOI/GP             Corsi               Fenwick                PDO
Jack Hillen 12.22 -40 -32 1011
Tim Gleason 16.39 -32 -29 954

Despite playing more minutes on a team with only a marginally better Corsi and Fenwick than the Caps, Gleason actually had better Corsi and Fenwick scores than Hillen. Additionally, Gleason had a much, much lower PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage while on ice), signifying that his numbers are bound to bounce back whereas Hillen is undoubtedly going to regress. In fact, in Carolina's last game (Hillen's debut, a win) Hillen had a PDO of just 948. 

Even the eye test supports that Gleason is better suited on the Caps D than Hillen. Gleason is a stay-at-home defenseman, a steady presence who will allow Mike Green to jump up into the play when he feels like. Hillen wasn't suited for that job and may have been holding Green back. Gleason looked solid against Toronto yesterday, much better than Hillen has for a while.

Overall, the D-corps is one of the deepest the Caps have had since OV joined the team in 2005. With Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov progressing on their return from injury there is depth beyond Gleason which will serve well for the Caps come playoff time.

In the end, this was a solid trade deadline for the Caps. By bolstering their depth on both offense and defense, the Caps have primed themselves for a deep playoff run without mortgaging the future like teams such as Chicago and the New York Rangers did. With increased secondary scoring, more spectacular play from OV, Backstrom and Holtby, and a solid defensive unit, the Caps look ready to embark on their first playoff run since 2013.

***All HERO charts courtesy of***
***All Advanced Stats courtesy of***

Sunday, March 1, 2015

2015 Trade Deadline Preview: Too late to the Party?

I was all set to do a long trade deadline preview for the Caps, but in the last two days the Caps have made two trades to address, or at least attempt to address, the holes in the lineup. In case you missed them:
1. Washington: Tim Gleason (D)
    Carolina: Jack Hillen (D) + 2015 4th
2. Washington: Curtis Glencross (F)
    Calgary: 2015 2nd + 2015 3rd

Washington's biggest holes entering the deadline were at 1RW and 2C. Instead, so far management have upgraded our 6D, even though there is a better upgrade named Nate Schmidt playing in Hershey, and added a middle-6 winger who could potentially help out the struggling 2nd and 3rd lines.

As it stands now, here are the potential Caps lines, with Andre Burakovsky likely going to Hershey for a bit:

Barring any more trades, the Caps still haven't done anything to address the black hole that is Troy Brouwer on the second line. His Fenwick (Unblocked Shot Attempts) is second worst on the team, better only than Jason Chimera, who has drawn the majority of Caps fans' ire this year. His Corsi (Total Shot Attempts) is also better only than Chimera among Caps forwards. At this point, Brouwer really should not be playing Top-6 minutes.

One solution would be to bump Brouwer down to Line 3 or 4 and either put Wilson or Burakovsky on the second line. This would allow Glencross to take Brouwer's second line role, since Glencross has been better than Brouwer on a poorer team (see HERO charts at -- I'm not able to screenshot right now for some reason).

Optimally, without any more trades, here's how I'd like to see the Caps' forward lines look:

Still, the team would be better off with a proven 1st line winger who can fill in capably for at least two years, by which time the next wave of prospects such as Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber should be ready for the big time. Patrick Sharp would've been perfect for that role, but he will not be traded.

There really aren't any more big name 1st line wingers available, which means the Caps will have to get creative to address that problem.

The best option would be James Van Riemsdyk of Toronto. Unfortunately, he would likely require a king's ransom. If something like this would work:

Washington: James Van Riemsdyk (F)
Toronto: 2015 1st, Jakub Vrana (F), Phillip Grubauer (G), Troy Brouwer (F) OR Tom Wilson (F), Jason Chimera (F, cap dump)

I would strongly consider this trade. Yes, we'd lose three, or possibly four, very good assets, but we have to spend big to get good assets, especially from a rebuilding team like Toronto. If this goes through, the Caps' forward lines would be:
Ovechkin-Backstrom-Van Riemsdyk

This would be one of the deepest forward ranks in the East, one capable of carrying the Caps to a long playoff run. Add in a strong, balanced D-corps and one of the best goaltenders in the league, and the Caps could certainly make it, to the very least, the conference finals.

That trade is obviously a pipe dream, but the Caps would be one of the most balanced teams in the league for a few years, right in the prime of OV and Backstrom, whose window is closing quickly.

Now, I'm not necessarily advertising for that Van Riemsdyk trade, which would truly mean the Caps are all-in this year, but if the Caps are committed to bringing in a first-line RW, this would be a great deal.

Most likely, however, I think the Caps will stand pat after already bringing in Glencross and Gleason. Either way, we can only hope that the Caps will get back on track for the playoff push and beyond.