Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Season in Review 2013-2014: Jay Beagle

Jay Beagle had….an interesting year.

For the longest time, Beagle maintained the fourth line center position for the Washington Capitals.  That's all.  And he did an alright job at that.  He won face offs, played smart defensively.  Basically everything you would expect from a fourth line center.

But then, Mikhail Grabovski got injured.  And then, Head Coach Adam Oates thought that Jay Beagle would make a great top six center to replace Grabovski's production.  And then, apparently it made sense to put Beagle on the top line with Alexander Ovechkin.

It didn't make sense.  Like, not at all.  What is the most opposite word of making sense?  I guess nonsense?  Yeah, it was nonsense.

Now, you can't judge Beagle's season as a whole based on his production on the top line.  Actually, it was sometimes even the second line.  You can't judge him on that production because he is not a top six forward.  We can still look at his numbers, but almost in the same sense that Martin Erat and Dustin Penner was misused, Jay Beagle was also misused.  Let's take a look at some of his numbers.  All stats are obtained from extra skater, in all game situations.

Season    GP  G  A  A1  A2  P1 TOI/60  S  MS  BS  Pen  PenD  HitF  HitA
2013  48  2  6   3   3   5   12.0 56   24  17    7     2   55   40
2013-2014  62  4  5   2   3   6   11.0 60   30  15   14     7   93   71

It's actually surprising to see that Jay Beagle shot the puck far fewer times this season than last season.  This could be because he was playing with Ovechkin, who shoots the puck 5 billion times a game.  His offensive numbers didn't see that big of a jump from last season either.  One concerning point to see from Beagle is that his face off percentage dropped nearly five percentage points from last season.  The Caps have always had a guy who was a face off specialist in the past, between Dave Steckel, Boyd Gordon and Jeff Halpern.  These guys were at  57-58 percentages, and that is where Beagle has been in his past two seasons, but this season he was only at just 51.7 percent.  That needs to improve. Another concerning stat regarding Beagle is his penalty kill time.  It dropped off by over a minute per game from last year (2.1 penalty kill minutes in 2013 and just 0.9 penalty kill minutes per game this season).  It's important for a guy like Jay Beagle to excel at the penalty kill, but it is odd to see him rank in 8th in penalty kill minutes at the forward position.  Let's take a look at his corsi, fenwick and PDO numbers in 5 on 5 close situations. 

Season  CF   CA    CF%  CF% Rel  FF   FA   FF% FF% Rel   PDO
2013  233   263   47.0%    -1.2% 172   191  47.4%    -0.3%   98.0
2013-2014  313   381   45.1%    -2.9% 228   265  46.2%    -1.4%   97.9

Yikes.  Those are not very good possession numbers.  His quality of competition at the defensemen position was only 27.6 percent, which is one of the lowest on the team, and his offensive quality of competition was pretty low as well at just 24.5 percent.  He spent majority of his time playing with Tom Wilson, Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera, and the defensemen he spent the most time with were Mike Green and Karl Alzner.  So, while he did spend time getting minimum minutes with low-quality minutes on the fourth line, his numbers were just not that good.  In fact, in his last ten games, where he spent time with Ovechkin, his corsi for was still just 94, while his corsi against was 131, which is pretty awful still.

 I blame Beagle's pairing with Ovechkin for Ovechkin going through the entire month of March without an even strength point.  That actually happened.  Ovechkin went an entire month without scoring an even strength point.  I guess I shouldn't blame Beagle, because it wasn't up to him to play with Ovechkin, it was Oates' doing.  But, it was just painfully obvious that Beagle just shouldn't be playing with Ovechkin.  He's a born 4th line center, 3rd line center if you need it.

But, I think Beagle is an important part of this team when he is used correctly.  He must improve on that face off percentage from last year.  His teammates love him, and have stated in the locker room that he plays a very underrated role very, very well.  Beagle is through next season, and while a guy like him generally turns into a journeyman around the NHL, I think the Caps can do no wrong if they choose to extend his contract.


Jay Beagle's Grade:  C+

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Season In Review 2013-2014: Nicklas Backstrom

When it comes to passing, there are few better than Nicklas Backstrom.  In fact, only Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton finished with more assists than Nicklas Backstrom.  He is truly fun to watch, it is just so smooth.  And even in plays where he doesn't record an assist, the way he is just able to thread a needle is truly unbelievable.  He is quite arguably the best player all around player on the Capitals.  Let's take a look at some of his stats this year.  All stats are obtained by Extra Skater for all game situations.

Season GP G A A1 A2 P1 TOI/60   S  MS  BS  Pen PenD HitF  HitA
2011-2012 42 14 30 17 13 31   18.9  95  36  30   12    6   31    52
2013 48 8 40 17 23 25   19.7  82  36  38   10   12   31    70
2013-2014 82 18 61 24 37 42   19.3 196  74  66   27   22   89   116

I've included Backstrom's last two seasons to compare them to this current season because of Backstrom's injury in the 2011-2012 season.  As you can see, his assist numbers are pretty consistent through each season.  I do think that Backstrom could have done a little bit better in the goal scoring department, but I did like what I saw towards the end of the season (more on that later).  There is no reason Backstrom shouldn't be at the very least a 25 goal scorer.  Interesting enough, his primary assists (A1) was a little bit down, as was his primary points (P1, goals + primary assists).  Still fantastic numbers, but that is just interesting to see.  He missed the net 74 times, and 66 of his shots were blocked, which is pretty average.  I would also like to see Backstrom draw a little bit more penalties.  He is such a fluid stickhandler that he should be able to draw more penalties.  Obviously that's not entirely under his control, and I'm just nitpicking here, but it would be nice.  Let's take a look at Backstrom's corsi, fenwick and PDO numbers in close 5 on 5 situations.

Season   CF  CA   CF%   C% Rel    FF   FA   FF%  FF% Rel    PDO
2011-2012  357  327  52.2%    +1.6%   264  246  51.8%    +0.6%   100.8
2013  348  350  49.9%    +2.7%   258  260  49.8%    +3.1%   102.7
2013-2014  682  716  48.8%    +1.6%   505  541  48.3%    +1.2%     98.0 

So, as you can see under Adam Oates as compared to Dale Hunter, Backstrom's game appears to take a slight bump.  His corsi and fenwick relative numbers are alright, but, then again, the majority of his teammates don't have very good statistics.  37.6% of Backstrom's starts were in the offensive zone at even strength.  He also was second on the team in power play minutes per game with 3.5, and led the team in power play points with 44.  In fact, Backstrom led all players in the NHL in power play points. He won 50.5% of his face-offs, which, again, could be much better.  34.3% of his playing time was against the oppositions top defensive lines, which is as expected.  Backstrom spent the majority of his playing time with Alexander Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer.  It is pretty ridiculous that he only played 29.3% of the time with Ovechkin, but that is for Adam Oates' brutal review.   He also mostly played with Mike Green and John Carlson.

 As I mentioned earlier, I was excited to see how much Backstrom was shooting towards the end of the year.  In the final ten games of the season, Backstrom had 30 total shots, which is excellent.  That's almost a shot above his season average of 2.3.  The fact is, SOMEONE on this team has to consistently shoot the puck that's not named Ovechkin.  There is should be no reason that Backstrom shot nearly 200 shots less than Ovechkin's 386 shots.  Could you imagine if Backstrom started consistently ripping the puck?  If his game becomes too predictable, he can be easily stopped.  Now, I'm not saying that Backstrom is easy to defend, but I am saying that it is a lot easier to defend a guy if you know he's going to pass the puck 90% of the time he enters the defensive zone.  It's not so hard to defend a guy who is completely unpredictable.  I don't know if Oate's was telling Backstrom to shoot the puck more, but I do hope that he continues the trend into the 2014-2015 season, because Backstrom would only be better.

Backstrom is signed through the 2019-2020 season.  The 26-year-old is among the best in the league, and while he was third in assists, he was 11th in scoring with 79 points.  He's good, but I think, no, I know he is more than capable than being better.  And I truly believe that if Backstrom continues to shoot the puck, he will be better, and that's a scary, scary thought.

 Backtrom's Grade: B+

Monday, April 14, 2014

Season in Review 2013-2014: Karl Alzner

Karl Alzner has been one of our most consistent defensemen the Capitals have had in recent years.  I mean, he is literally about as consistent as it gets.  In a comparison with his last 82 game season, the 2011-2012 season, his numbers are literally almost identical.  Let's look at some of his numbers.  All numbers are obtained from Extra Skater, numbers are from all game situations.

Season  GP G A TOI/60  S  Pen  PenD ShB HitF  HitA
2011-2012    82 1 16   20.6 56   13    6 139 74  135
2013-2014   82 2 16   20.1 95   13   11 158 73  130

I mean, how crazy is that?  He had just one more goal this season than two seasons ago, just .5 less in time on ice per game, the same amount of penalties taken, just one less hit and just five less taken.  That's pretty remarkable.  But then, you look at the total shots he took, and Alzner took just under twice as many shots on goal.  Unfortunately, it didn't equate to more goals, but it is still good to see that he is shooting the puck more.  He also drew nearly twice as many penalties, and, considering the Caps had the highest power play percentage with 23.4 percent, the penalties Alzner drew converted to about two or three goals.  Not bad.  It is also great to see that he blocked 19 shots more this year.   His 20.1 minutes per game was 4th on the team, and his 158 blocked shots ranked 2nd behind his buddy John Carlson.  Alzner also was second on the team in penalty kill minutes per game, averaging 3.4 minutes per game  Now, lets compare his corsi (measures shots all shots taken, used to measure possession), fenwick (same things as corsi, minus blocked shots), his PDO (save percentage + shooting percentage, used to measure.  The more above 100, the luckier the player was, the more below 100, the more unlucky) numbers for these two seasons.  Again, these numbers were obtained from extra skater in 5 on 5 close situations.  Close situations means that the game is tied in any period, or it's a one goal game in the first or second period.  The reasoning for this is that game situations change if the game is a blowout or whatever, so if the game is close, ideally, both teams are playing as best and as hard as they can.

Season  CF  CA    CF%   C% Rel   FF   FA   FF% FF% Rel  PDO
2011-2012   698  744   48.4%    -1.4%  514  527  49.4%   -0.5% 101.1
2013-2014  703  815   46.3%    -2.0%  532  592  47.3%   -0.2%   99.9

So while Alzner (or his teammates) was taking more shots this year than his last 82 game season, he was also surrendering more shots.  The C% Rel and FF% Rel measures his numbers compared to each individual players average of their corsi and fenwick numbers.  So, his corsi and fenwick numbers aren't as good as his average teammates. But, you also have to keep in mind that Alzner plays against the opposing teams top forward lines, which he averages 26.9% of his ice time against the oppositions top forward lines, according to extra skater.  Alzner spent the majority of his playing time with Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson, and his defensive partners were generally Carlson and Green. So really, based on his numbers, Alzner has done an average job at playing top line minutes.

The thing to take away from Alzner's season is the fact that he is proving to be extremely consistent.  He won't by any means record a ton of points, but he will play smart defensively.  He's only 25 years old, and he will continue to learn more and more, until it just becomes clock work.  The Caps have a true stud in Alzner.

It's also no secret that he and Carlson are probably the most technically sound defensemen we have.  He is capable of playing the top line minutes.  I would say he makes an adequate top line defenseman and a deadly second line defenseman.  He is well spoken, and an excellent teammate.  Alzner is signed through the 2016-2017 NHL season, so we will continue seeing Alzner through his prime NHL years.

Alzner's Grade:  B+

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Who's Fibbing?

All day yesterday, the big news involved Jaroslav Halak.  In case you haven't heard, Adam Oates said in an interview that Halak had stated that he didn't want to play against his former team in the Blues because he didn't feel comfortable.  Pretty lame.

Then, after the game, Halak stated that he never actually said that.  Earlier today, Halak's agent, Alan Walsh, confirmed that Halak never actually said that he didn't feel comfortable playing against his former team.

Someone is lying.

At first, I was going to write about who I figured was probably lying.  But then, I quickly realized something.

I don't really care.

Does it really matter?  Let's say Halak is lying.  Ok, great.  That means we have another primma donna player on the roster, who really doesn't care all that much how the season ends.  We seem to get a lot of those guys.  If Oates is lying, then we have a primma donna coach who is completely willing to throw his players under the bus.  Which is honestly better?

And again, does it really matter which scenario is better?  It appears that both are pretty likely out of
Jaroslav Halak, who may or may not be a lier 
DC as soon as the campaign ends anyway.

I'm willing to bet Braden Holtby plays every game from here on out giving the potential lie and the current season situation.  The season is virtually lost, the only scenario being the fact that either the Detroit Red Wings loses all three remaining games this season (where they play the Penguins, Hurricanes and Blues) or the Columbus Blue Jackets go either 0-3-0 or 0-2-1 (where they play the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Panthers).  The Blue Jackets will start off their game against the Stars already up 1-0, due to the makeup game where Stars forward Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench last month (fun fact, Nathan Horton scored the goal in the first period of that game.  He isn't supposed to play in the makeup game, but will still be given credit for the goal.  Therefore, he will be the first ever player to score a goal in a game he technically did not play in. So, in games he has literally not played in, Horton has as many goals as Martin Erat had for the Capitals this season.)  Oh, and did I mention that not only does one of these teams have to lose out, which is already pretty unlikely, the Caps have to win the rest of their games, which is unlikely.  It's not a matter of if we don't make the playoffs, it's a matter of how many days we have remaining until we officially cannot make the playoffs.

The Caps played arguably one of their best games they've played all year when they beat the Blues 4-1 last night.  But it's just a little too late.  I'm not talking about the players, I'm talking about the coaching staff.  I would be stunned if Adam Oates is still the coach in October.  Too many silly line concoctions, weird issues with individual players.  It has just been weird.  This means Calle Johansson is probably going to follow Oates out as well, which is no loss.  He's the worst shootout guy we have if you ask Al Koken, and sounds completely lost in interviews.  He just kind of giggles along saying things will eventually get better every time he speaks.  I mean, Alzner's probably speaking about the team pretty generally in Dan Rosen's piece on, but it's safe to this quote pretty much defines Johansson as well.

"We don't always admit to our mistakes, own up to them and fix them," Alzner said last Friday.  "We just push them under the rug and worry about it later."

 Sounds like a fun environment.  I'm not convinced Ollie Kolzig and Blaine Forsythe would be gone, but it wouldn't surprise me.

But who could replace Oates.  Peter Laviolette?  That would suck.  Dale Hunter?  Probably not.  We would just have to wait for the coaching carousel to start after all of the firings that will happen within a few weeks, and any other assist that keeps his ear open for a head coach job.  It's not easy to tell.

An interesting story came from Greg Wyshynski today regarding former Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson.   The article states that apparently Nicholson received a huge offer from the Capitals to take over as president.  Although, apparently he wants to work with the Canucks.  However, later today, the Canucks named Trevor Linden as the team president of hockey operations.

 Does that mean Nicholson would be interested in coming to Washington?  Is McPhee out?

I think we are going to see big changes this offseason.  The front office is going to look vastly different, coaching staff could look different.  With new guys in charge, will the team look vastly different?  Are we going with a more conservative approach, or an aggressive approach?

My two cents, I think we start off a little conservative.  Virtually all of the team, minus Dustin Penner, Jaroslav Halak and Mikhail Grabovski are signed for next season (Grabovski is apparently very close to re-signing, which is good).  The talent is there at the forward position with the right coaching, and we have young, young talent ready to be molded in Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky.  The defense is another question, and it will be interesting to see how that is addressed with a new front office.  And we are more than fine at goaltending with Holtby and Philipp Grubauer.

This is, of course, if there is even any sort of change.  I mean, what at this point, would shock you?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What the Puck?

Well, that's about it.

After tonight's 5-0 loss to the Dallas Stars, a game that was pretty much a must win situation, they have completely blew it.

According to Sports Club Stats, the Caps now have an 8.3 percent chance of making the playoffs.  To have a realistic shot, that means they have to go 4-0-2, and even still, that only gives them a 59.3 percent chance of making the playoffs.  You and I both know there is absolutely no way that is going to happen.

At least our offseason is going to be fun.  I mean, you know how many jobs that loss cost the Caps organization?  Probably a lot.

Who's at risk?

-Adam Oates and the rest of his coaching staff.  I put the majority of the problems on him.  His decisions have become mind boggling.  And if you watch each of his press conferences, his answer is just "Oh, we'll pull through."  "It wasn't our day today."  "Awwww…shucks."  Probably not direct quotes, but it has gone along those lines.  He's made some of the dumbest lines physically possible, mainly partnering the best goal scorer in the league with a guy ranked 522nd in assists in Jay Beagle.  I mean, what is the logic there?  What could it possibly be?  He has virtually no strategy for 5 on 5 hockey, considering we have….maybe two 5 on 5 goals in the past month.  That may or may not be true, but the fact that they are on pace for 138 5 on 5 goals for the season is true.  That's the lowest they've had since 2005-2006, when they SUCKED.  What an absolute disaster.  The defensive scheme is just as bad.  And not just the defensemen themselves, but the forwards defensively are just horrid.  I'm looking at you Ovechkin.  I'm willing to bet Oates' done.

-George McPhee.  This one, in my opinion, is not all that fair.  McPhee has done a fantastic job drafting for virtually his entire Washington career.  He's created potent offenses, and found goaltenders in deeper rounds.  But, he's lately been judged by his defensive assembly, which, as mentioned before, is bad.  And even more judged by one bad trade.  But, you look at his trades in the past, and they have been decent.  You look at his trades this season, and they were excellent.  But, it could understandably be time for a change of scenery.  I can go either way on this.  Some days I'd say it's time to go, other times I think he should stay.  It depends on who is available as his replacement.

-The defense.  These guys are awful.  I think that sometimes Carlson and Alzner don't make that much of a difference.  Green is such a head case that he does far more harm than good at this point.  Erskine is too slow.  Hillen, when healthy, is not a difference maker.  Wey, Brouillette and Carrick just aren't ready.  Erskine is just way past his prime.  The only guy I think plays at, or better, than his ability is Orlov.  His limit is a second line pairing, but he plays his hardest all the time.  Unfortunately, this is going to be difficult to magically make better, as all the main defensemen are signed through next year, but something has got to be done.

As far as the forwards go, I think they are more than capable of being one of the best forward groups in the league.  I just think they are poorly coached.  They need someone who will kick their ass if they don't play better defensively, kinda like Dale Hunter did.

That's all I'm going to say for now.  I can, and will, go far more into detail proving why Adam Oates sucks.  Who could possibly be available to replace McPhee.  And what defenseman we should possibly trade for.  But, I have a headache from banging my head repeatedly into the wall, as that is far more enjoyable than remembering I'm a Caps fan.  So that will come another day, probably within a couple of weeks, when we enjoy a much-more-earlier-than-usual offseason.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why We Should Keep Brooks Laich

Two days ago, Head Coach Adam Oates announced that Brooks Laich would not be making the long trip to California with the rest of the team.  Instead, he would be heading to St. Louis to visit Dr. Michael Brunt, who would evaluate Brooks Laich's nagging groin injury.  The visit resulted in Laich getting a procedure done to release a tight abductor muscle, presumably ending his season.

It has been no secret that Laich has not been himself for the past two years since he's been dealing with this injury.  A healthy Laich can do it all, play on the power play and penalty kill, on a top line if need be, on the bottom lines, and even on the wing and center positions.  He's even played as a defenseman before.  He can do it all.  When not healthy, well, he still plays on the top line apparently.  He's an extremely valuable piece for the Washington Capitals.

Now, after the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), each team is allowed two compliance buyouts that can be used from the 2013 offseason (obviously that has already passed) and the 2014 offseason (obviously still in play).  Basically, the difference between a compliance buyout and a regular buyout is that teams can buyout a contract that they don't want to use anymore without the buyout counting against the cap, where as a normal buyout does.  It allows dumb general managers a "get out of jail free" card for dumb contracts they've signed.  Several teams have already used their compliance buyouts.  The Flyers bought out both Daniel Briere, who had a two years remaining on his contract, where he was going to be paid $5,000,000 and Ilya Bryzgalov, who was owed $36.75 million through the 2019-2020 season. Tampa Bay used it on Vincent Lecavalier, who was owed $45 million through the 2019-2020.  It's how we were able to sign Mikhail Grabovski, where Toronto used a compliance buyout on his contract, where he was owed $21.5 million through the 2016-2017 season, and it's how we got rid of Jeff Schultz, who was owed just $3 million on a one year contract.  You get the point of the compliance buyout.  So, this begs the question, do we use our final compliance buyout on Brooks Laich, who is owed $13.5 million through 2016-2017 ($4.5 million per year)?

I may be in the minority, but I say we don't necessarily have to.  Here's why.

The teams that are using these compliance buyouts either are doing so because of three points:  The player's contract is absurdly long and they are not performing at a high level, the players contract is too expensive, AND the players contract puts the team in a rough salary cap position.  Laich's contract does not do that.

Interestingly enough, the one exception I'd make to those points is Schultz.  Schultz announced he wanted out of Washington, and McPhee stated that "if you don't want to play for us, we'll move you."  Every team knew that McPhee wanted Schultz out, so no team was willing to trade for him because they knew one way or the other that Schultz would be out.  McPhee had no choice but to use a compliance buyout after saying that, so he booted Schultz out.  But, 9.5 times out of 10, it's for those above reasons.

By the way, this is assuming that Laich is considered healthy in the offseason.  Teams can't buyout the contracts of guys who are injured, which is why Boston can't buyout Marc Savard and Philadelphia can't buyout Chris Pronger.  While Laich's injury is not nearly severe as Savard and Pronger's, where both will more than likely never play in the NHL again, if Laich is deemed unhealthy during the compliance buyout window, which is only a week in late June to early July, he cannot be bought out of his contract according to the latest CBA, which, if you are extremely bored, can check out here.

But, even if he's not injured, I don't think we are in a dire situation where we must use the compliance buyout.  Next season, we have 22 players signed with a projected $13,736,538 in cap space (this is according to Capgeeks current roster, which won't exactly reflect next year's roster, more on that below).  Having 22 players already signed for next year is the most in the NHL.  To put that in perspective, the Flyers only 15 players signed for next year, with only $12,658,571 in projected cap space.  Keep in mind, an NHL roster consists of 23 players.  So, the Flyers need to sign…. well, they don't need to fill out the full 23 main roster, but realistically they do.  Anyways, for the eight remaining spots on their roster, they need to average a little over $1.5 million per player, which is awful.  Pittsburgh has 14 players signed, and though they have $2 million more than us in projected cap space, they can only average a little over $1.775 million per signing.  There are many other teams that are really pushing the cap with a low amount of signed players.  Those teams will need to use compliance buyouts or trade away assets.

Now, this $13,736,538 includes all of the players currently on the roster for the 2014-2015 season, meaning that Aaron Volpatti, Casey Wellman and Patrick Wey are included in this figure.  So, let's assume that the Caps will choose to demote those guys to the AHL (As Wellman and Wey regularly are, and Volpatti is pretty much done as a Capital).  That means, more realistically, we have 19 players signed with $15,501,538 in projected cap space.  With $15,501,538 in projected cap space for next season, let's take a look at our impending free agents.  Only Dustin Penner, Mikhail Grabovski and Jaroslav Halak are going to be unrestricted free agents.  And with the amount of money we are projected to have, we can realistically sign all of them if we want to.  Penner is making $2 million a year, which is a fair price for him.  He won't rise above $3 million if we wanted to keep him for another year.  Grabovski made $3 million from us this year.  His situation is pretty unique.  He has been injured for a pretty decent chunk of the season, and he is set to make $1,791,667 million dollars from Toronto until the 2020-2021 season due to his compliance buyout.  So while he's only being paid $3 million from us, he's actually making $4,791,667 per year.  Would he be willing to sign for less than his value, knowing he is already guaranteed $1,791,667 per year?  I would think yes, and I would think another signing at $3 million per year is fair.  Halak may ask for an increase in salary if he believes he can be the starter.  His cap hit was $3.75 million this year.  I would expect that to jump to $4 to $4.5 million to realistically sign him again, if we even want to re-sign him.  So, according to math, that's around $9.5 million in resigning our UFA's.  That still leaves us with about $6 million in projected cap space.  This gives us freedom to bring up Andre Burakovsky if we think he's ready, Michael Latta (who will be a restricted free agent) and pretty much any other AHL player, freely.

And while you could make the argument that buying out Laich's contract frees up even more space to sign a couple of quality defensemen, I ask you one question…who?  Who could we sign?  Look at the upcoming free agent defensemen at the UFA level.  I see a lot of old defensemen that are past there prime.  A large chunk of these guys will just re-sign with their team.  And why is Washington a place these guys want to go?  I wouldn't know the answer to that.  And even if we do want to sign one of these guys, we can still realistically afford it without buying out Laich.

Getting rid of Laich doesn't necessarily benefit us greatly in any sort of way.  It is a risk to keep him, and McPhee is greatly going to have to weigh the pros and cons of the decision.  The way I see it, if we keep him, we run the risk that he won't ever be healthy, and it will effect us until the 2017 offseason.  But if he is healthy, we have a leader that can play all sides of the puck.  If we get rid of him, we gain $4.5 million dollars in cap space that we don't necessarily need, but would be understandably nice to have.  That's just the way I see it.  Regardless, it's going to be a tough decision for McPhee to make if Laich is ruled healthy during the compliance buyout period.  But, I say Laich stays.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

One More Move

As the trade deadline came and past, George McPhee had one more move up his sleeve.  McPhee took the disgruntled Michal Neuvirth and one of his latest acquisitions in Rostislav (which, I'm happy he's gone, I got sick and tired of messing up every time I spelled his name) Klesla, and brought in a 3rd round draft pick in 2015 and….Jaroslav Halak.

Do you guys remember who that is?  He's like, literally, one of the current players in the league that is the Capitals arch-nemesis.  In the 2010 playoffs for Montreal, he was an absolute stud against the President Trophy winning Capitals, stealing away the series.  And we vowed to never, ever root for Halak.

Except for today.  Now we like him.   The 28-year-old goaltender comes to a D.C. team that already has a solid goaltender in Braden Holtby.  But adding Halak could work out very well for the Capitals.  He was a stud for the St. Louis Blue's earlier this year, winning 24 games, posting a .917 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against average.  While those were played in front of a stellar St. Louis Blues defensive unit, he should be able to have similar numbers in Washington.  I imagine that Holtby and Halak will split the remainder of the season pretty equally, as Halak did in his time in St. Louis with Brian Elliot.  As far as the playoffs go, we'll just have to wait and see.

You may be asking yourself, why did McPhee bring him in?  That should be everyone's initial thought.  Wasn't the problem defense?  Don't we trust Holtby?  Here's what I think happened.

It was no secret that Neuvirth wanted out.  He publicly stated he wanted out.  Neuvirth was also expendable, as we had a viable backup in Philipp Grubauer.  I'm willing to bet that McPhee initially contacted Buffalo, knowing that they are in a rebuilding phase, looking to find stability in the goaltending position, and willing to trade away pieces.  I don't think McPhee originally went in wanting a goalie swap.  While Buffalo acquired Halak purely to use him as trade bait, McPhee was not originally interested.  I truly believe that McPhee went in wanting one of Buffalo's better defensemen.  Maybe Henrik Tallinder, kicking the tires on Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers.  Somebody.  But, Buffalo Sabres General Manager Tim Murray was most likely asking McPhee for too much.  McPhee knew that they wanted Halak out for whatever they could get.  And he obviously made the decision to trade what he did.

But why?  Why bring in a goaltender for a goaltender?

Because we come out on top for virtually no cost.

While Halak costs the Capitals $3.75 million this year, and Neuvirth is a $2.5 million dollar cap hit, Halak is an unrestricted free agent after this, while Neuvirth is after next season.  The move added an extra $2.5 million cap space to our projected amount of money to play with.  Combined that with the fact that newly acquired Dustin Penner is an unrestricted free agent after this season, and adding the extra $4.5 million cap space in trading away Martin Erat, McPhee has upgraded our goalie situation and brought in a second line winger while adding an extra $7 million dollars to play with next year.  Also, considering he cleaned out $7 million this year as well, and bringing in Penner's salary of $2 million and Halak's salary of $3.75 million, we have gained $1.25 million in cap space for this season according to math.  That is more than enough to bring in Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is rumored to be coming here within a week:

Kuznetsov is eligible to sign a two-year entry level contract.  The maximum base salary an entry level contract can be?  $900,000.

So, with the addition of Jack Hillen, who will come back from injury against the Flyers, the shedding of expensive contract this year, bringing in better, cheaper players this year, freeing up even more cap space and freeing up enough money to bring in your prize prospect equals to a pretty successful trade deadline for the Washington Capitals.