Thursday, July 10, 2014

This One Time....At Dev Camp....Day 3

Day three of the 2014 Washington Capitals Development Camp focused more on exit zone passes, player positioning, odd man rushes and one vs. ones.

The initial part of the practice had both forwards and defenseman chasing the pucks in the corners, and finding the open man for the exit zone pass.  This is good.  The Capitals were terrible at this exact situation all last season, and if the Caps' strategy is to start them young, then it certainly won't hurt.

There was a high level of shooting throughout the morning, in all different types of situations.  Two on nones, one on none, three on one, point shots, whatever.  It was all there.

The Capitals staff was also focusing on one on one defending and attacking.  Skaters would go along the boards against defensemen and work out of the corners.  The goalies certainly saw plenty of action.

Other Notes and Observations

- Connor Carrick was in full gear.  Carrick was a participate last season in the Development Camp.  As a player who saw a decent amount of time in the NHL, he doesn't necessarily need a full development camp.  On the other hand, he's 20, and could still use a lot of work.  Carrick's primary focus was just testing out a few things.  It was the plan for the get go to have him start late in the week.  He is familiar with several of the players, both through the 2013 Development Camp and the United States Hockey League, so he fit right in without missing a beat.  It's good to see Carrick out there.

- One of the more impressive players, in my opinion, has been Michal Cajkovsky.  In the one v. ones today, whether it was in the corners or skating up the ice, Cajkovsky was not getting beat.  He was frequently going up against Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana, in some instances right in a row, and they would not beat him.  Cajkovsky played primarily in the ECHL for the Reading Royals, and led Royals defensemen in goals and assists, with 14 and 22, respectively.  Now, obviously the Caps don't need an offensive defenseman, but Cajkovsky is 6'4" and 229 lbs., and he was very clearly using his strength to his advantage all throughout the day.  He's signed a contract with the Hershey Bears, but if Cajkovsky continues to use his size and strength to his advantage, he could be a great original free agent grab.

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Above is the press conference for Cajkovsky.  Feel free to skip the first minute or so if you'd like to ignore CSN's Chuck Gormley's literally moronic babbling.  Actually don't skip it, it's hilariously bad.

Andre Burakovsky
- To go along with Cajkovsky using his strength, that is something both Burakovsky and Vrana lack.  Cajkovsky manhandled Burakovsky every time they went up against each other, especially in the corner.  Burakovsky is the fastest guy with the fastest hands on the ice.  If he gets space, he wins the battle the majority of the time.  But, if he's in the corner or pinned agains the boards, he has a difficult time getting a shot off.  Vrana has a little bit more power to his game.  He to has quick hands, but is not afraid to lean into a defenseman for space.  These two are also spending a lot of time together, which is no accident.  They were always partners during every drill, and it was pretty fun to watch.  Off the ice, they laugh and talk a lot.  Vrana plays the fun loving goofball, and Burakovsky is the stone cold businessman.  Sound familiar?

-Last year, four Development Camp participants saw time in the NHL.  If a similar success rate rings true for this camp, it very well could be Chandler Stephenson.  He is a very intelligent player, and good in the corners.

- Mitch Korn and Olaf Kolzig are working the goalies hard during camp.  Korn has coached very successful goaltenders, and the way the Capitals have been aggressive in targeting goaltenders for the organization, most recently inking up Edward Pasquale after acquiring him in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets, the Caps seem to know exactly where every goaltender fits within the organization.  There is a lot of potential within the young group.  If Korn and Kolzig create a logjam of talent, it can benefit the organization in multiple ways.

- Thomas Di Pauli still has a long way to go in his hockey career.  He's still playing for Notre Dame, but he is a powerful skater with a little bit of an edge.  He may not have the skill set to develop into a bonafide NHL player, but he seems to fit the mold for a tenacious type of player.  If he plays with an attitude, he could see more time in the NHL.

The Capitals 2014 Development Camp continues through the week, ending on Saturday with Fan Fest.  More information about the camp can be found here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

This One Time....At Dev Camp....Day One Of Capitals Development Camp

The 2014 Washington Capitals Development Camp kicked off with skating.  A lot of skating.  Tons of skating, and more skating.

The new coaching staff started off with the basics for the first day of camps with the youngsters, doing countless amounts of skating drills throughout the morning between the two groups.  The primary focus seemed to be on each players first steps as they accelerate and quick, fluid turns.

The camp includes all six 2013 and 2014 Capitals draft picks, and a handful of free agents, roughly about 20.  Of the free agents, Eliot Antonietti really stands out.  He is 6'6" with a full grown man beard.  Antonietti is just a big, big dude.  He's never been able to really scratch the surface when it comes to the NHL, instead playing in Switzerland with Geneve-Servette in the NLA.  He does have connections with the Colorado Avalanche, Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes and the Nashville Predators.

That being said, there are some clear recognizable names within the camp.  Of the invitees, six of the players have an NHL contract:  Andre Burakovsky, Pheonix Copley, Madison Bowey, Chandler Stephenson, Caleb Herbert and Christian Djoos.  Garrett Haar was also recently signed by the Hershey Bears.

Nathan Walker
The players started off doing all sorts of skating drills, as mentioned earlier.  Team White was the first on the ice, which included notables Riley Barber, Stephenson, Nathan Walker and Bowey.  The second team, Team Red, took the ice roughly an hour and a half after the first group.  Team Red's main players consist of Burakovsky, Zach Sanford, Jakub Vrana and Christian Djoos.  They really got down to the basics, but that doesn't mean that they didn't learn something.

"It's a lot of new things," Djoos said.  "We don't do things like that in Sweden as much."

Burakovsky was definitely the best skater of the bunch, with quick, smooth strides.

The camp also gave everyone a little glimpse into the future of these young Capital prospects.  Fewer are more NHL ready than Burakovsky, who appears to have put on a bit of muscle to his 6'2" frame.  Coming off of a strong year at the junior level with the Eerie Otters, Burakovsky believes he can possibly make the transition.
"I don't know," Burakovsky said. "I played some preseason games last year, I think I did really good here.  I think the OHL was really good for me too, and I think I might be ready to at least try to take the next step to the NHL."
Burakovsky does have a realistic shot at making the roster, especially if the Capitals will be looking in house to find a second line center.  The top candidates are Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich, who all play left wing, like Burakovsky.  If one shifts to the center, that leaves a gap on the left side, which could be filled by Andre.  Head Coach Barry Trotz stated that no player's plan is completely set, but it sounds like Burakovsky will play in either D.C. or Hershey.

Other Day 1 Notes:

Madison Bowey
- There appeared to be two leaders within the teams.  Burakovsky was the leader for Team Red, and Riley Barber was the leader for Team White.  Both players were in the center of the drills every time, and just appeared to have command over everyone.

- Barber continues to look like a steal in the 2012 draft, where he was taken 167th.  The former U.S. Development Program player and current Miami (OH) RedHawk finished second in points in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference as a sophomore with 44 points.  Barber was also selected as captain of the 2014 U.S. World Junior Championship, where he scored four goals and two assists in five games.  While it is quite clear Barber is at the very least ready for the AHL, he will be returning to Miami (OH) for his junior year after a subpar team effort last season, and he will win, because Barber is pretty determined.

"We had a very disappointing year as a program and as a team," Barber said.  "We know we have a lot of good guys in the locker room and I'm there to win a championship.  Right now, I'm going back for another year.  (We'll) try to do our best next year and get that national championship that we're looking for.  There's a lot of unfinished business that I have in Miami that I want to definitely take care of."

- Nathan Walker will constantly be reminded that he is Australian for the remainder of his career.

- Shane Gersich is an excellent skater.  He's another late round U.S. National Development Program player, and he could easily give the Capitals another good, solid chance of finding a late round gem.  He will be playing for the University of North Dakota, who will be gunning for a championship after a just narrowly missing out of the Division I Men's Hockey Championship last season.

- Every player that did the skating drill in the above video was filmed using an iPad.  After the group was done making figure 8's, the coach would immediately skate over and hand the iPad to Trotz.  I can only assume Trotz is storing these in a secret safe within Kettler.  Someone find said safe.

Andre Burakovsky
- Jakub Vrana is a character.  He was consistently laughing throughout the practice.  Not in a goof off sort of way, he was just genuinely having fun.  He appears to have made friends with big defenseman Michal Cajkovsky.  Vrana went way too early on a skating drill, and he and Burakovsky laughed it
off.  Vrana also beat Cajkovsky on a pass towards the net, where he buried it.  Vrana started to laugh, and Cajkovsky jokingly nailed him into the boards.  It's also quite clear that Vrana is struggling with instructions, which is to be expected of the Czech.  He understands English, but can't appear to follow it if it is said too quickly. He was consistently followed by coaches who were further explaining each drill to him.  Both his language issue and his personality are shown in this video.

- Barry Trotz was extremely friendly with fans, chatting it up with virtually everyone who came up to him.  I heard him talking about Madison Bowey, and he had nothing but nice things to say about him.  Trotz was also frequently asked about the incoming defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.  He would just say that it is a solid defensive core, and defended the Orpik signing, saying that Orpik will be a leader and character guy for the team.

Camp continues throughout the week, ending with FanFest on Saturday.  A complete guide for the upcoming week of Development Camp can be found here.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

How The Metro Fared

Now that a couple of days have past since the July 1st mayhem-filled start of free agency, the cards are on the table.  We can see how each roster is mostly going to shape up for the 2014-2015 season.

You've already been drilled with more knowledge than you can handle on the Capitals new arrivals.  Ex-Carolina Hurricane goaltender Justin Peters took his talents to D.C., and was followed by a pair of ex-Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen.

I'm not going into detail on the contracts.  Everyone collectively agrees the Capitals vastly overpaid for Brooks Orpik, both in contract length and amount of dough.  Niskanen's was a little bit more fair, but a seven year contract is quite a commitment.

You've heard all about this.  But, do you know what's going on around the Metropolitan Division?  It's their off season too, you know?  Let's take a look at the players that have departed from their former teams, and players that are now arriving.

Carolina Hurricanes (7th in Division)

Arrivals - Forwards Jay McClement (TOR) and Brad Malone (COL), Goaltender Drew MacIntyre (TOR)

Departures - Forwards Manny Malhotra (MON) and Brett Sutter (MINN), Goaltender Justin Peters (WSH)

Jay McClement - Hurricanes
Carolina's team is a mess, and they are in no way, shape or form a threat to virtually any team.  Carolina desperately needs defensemen, and they failed to sign one.  Their biggest signing was definitely Jay McClement, and that isn't saying much.  McClement scored four goals and recorded six assists in a full season with the Maple Leafs.  He did see a lot of defensive zone starts for the Leafs.  In fact, no Leaf had a higher percentage of defensive zone starts.  His fenwick score was dreadful at 38.1%, and a relative score of -5.0%.  This is on the second worst possession team in the league.  Brad Malone has never played a full NHL season, and constantly bounced back and forth between Colorado and the Lake Eerie Monsters.  Malone finished last season with three goals and two assists in 32 games.  Like the rest of his Colorado teammates, Malone had terrible possession numbers.  He may see more time in Carolina than he did in Colorado, but his contribution will be minimal at best.  Drew MacIntyre probably won't see any time, unless there is an injury to Cam Ward or Anton Khudobin.  They lost one of their worst possession players in Manny Malhotra, and losing either Brett Sutter or Justin Peters doesn't hurt them too much.  Overall, Carolina added bad players to fill in for other bad players.  Expect another terrible year for the Hurricanes.

Columbus Blue Jackets (4th in Division)

Arrivals - Forwards Scott Hartnell (PHI) and Jerry D'Amigo (TOR)

Departures - Forwards Blake Comeau (PIT) Jack Skille (NYI), R.J. Umberger (PHI) and Derek MacKenzie (FL), Defenseman Nick Schultz

Columbus hasn't done much to change their squad that earned them the franchises first every playoff game victory this past post season.  Their big move was trading R.J. Umberger for Scott Hartnell.  Columbus won the trade.  Hartnell and Umberger have virtually the same cap hit (Hartnell is at $4.750 million per year), and Hartnell is the more productive player.  Hartnell had 20 goals last season, where he finished with his worst shooting percentage of his career at only 9.7%.  Umberger on the other hand had 18 goals with the best shooting percentage of his career at 13.2%.  There is a pretty great chance that Hartnell will be more productive this upcoming season than Umberger.  Columbus doesn't lose anything in Jack Skille and Nick Schultz and only a combined total of 14 goals in Blake Comeau and Derek MacKenzie.  Columbus still has plenty of cap space to work with, which will come in handy in trying to re-sign forward Ryan Johansen, who is turning into a star for Columbus.  Columbus has plenty of entry level talent they would like to consider for the main roster, including forward Alex Wennberg, who was taken by Columbus 14th overall in the 2013 NHL draft.  By keeping virtually the same team, Columbus should continue moving forward this upcoming season.

New Jersey Devils (6th in Division)

Arrivals - Forwards Martin Havlat (SJ) and Mike Cammalleri (CGY), Goaltender Scott Clemmensen (FL)

Departures - Defensemen Mark Fayne (EDM) and Anton Volchenkov, Goaltender Martin Brodeur

Mike Cammalleri - Devils
After the San Jose Sharks bought out underwhelming forward Martin Havlat, he decided to head to New Jersey.  Havlat appeared in just 48 games for the Sharks, and scored 12 goals and 10 assists.  Havlat had a positive fenwick, but so did everyone on the Sharks.  Havlat was underwhelming because he had 58.9% of his zone starts in the offensive zone, which was by far the highest on the team.  Havlat's quality of competition was also pretty low.  Havlat's -3.3% relative fenwick suggests that while he was starting in the offensive zone majority of the time against pretty low competition, he was still doing really, really bad.  And the only reason why his fenwick score is above 50% is because he was being carried along by his line mates.  Mike Cammalleri is a much better signing.  Cammalleri quietly put up 26 goals and 19 assists in 63 games for Calgary.  Cammalleri finished with a positive fenwick on a really bad possession team.  He also recorded a +6.2% relative fenwick percentage, which is great.  These numbers come on primarily defensive zone starts against high competition.  Cammalleri is easily capable of putting up 30 goals, as long as he stays healthy, especially on a good possession team, like New Jersey.  Scott Clemmensen may see some time, and how much determines on whether or not New Jersey decides to sign another goaltender.  The departure of Mark Fayne and Anton Volchenkov makes an already suspect blue line look even more suspect.  They will have to rely heavily on Andy Greene and Adam Larsson.  Very, very heavily.  And the loss of Martin Brodeur is more of a moral issue than skill.  Losing a leader like that is absolutely devastating, and seeing him put on another jersey would be even worse.  He hasn't signed yet, and there is an option for him to return, but it doesn't seem likely.

New York Islanders

Arrivals - Forwards Mikhail Grabovski (WSH), Nikolai Kulemin (TOR), Jack Skille (CLB), Corey Conacher (BUF), Defenseman T.J. Brennan, Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak, Chad Johnson (BOS) and David Leggio (WSH)

Departures - Technically Defenseman Dan Boyle (NYR) and Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov (TB)

Everyone always gives New York Islanders General Manager Garth Snow shit.  Even he knows it.  This off season, Snow wasn't messing around.  After somewhat embarrassingly trading for San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle, only to see him refuse to sign a contract and sign with the crosstown rival New York Rangers, Snow blitzed and grabbed respectable players at virtually every position necessary.  He first started out with a backup goaltender to newly for newly acquired Jaroslav Halak, and grabbed Boston backup Chad Johnson.  I originally stated that Chad Johnson would be a fantastic backup to have.  He also managed to grab former wunderkind Corey Conacher, who has slightly fallen from grace after bouncing around multiple times within a year.  He put up slightly below average fenwick numbers, and managed to net four goals and 19 assists in 79 games.  Is he going to make a huge impact?  Probably not, but he still does have a realistic upside if he is used correctly.  The main signings happened the day after the initial day of madness, when New York landed Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.  Both were rumored to be a part of a package deal, as the two apparently grew close in their time together in Toronto.  You know what Grabovski is capable of.  Kulemin is an intense player who scored nine goals and 11 assists in 70 games for Toronto last season.  Kulemin had a lot of defensive zone starts, and played against decent competition.  The Islanders improved their goaltending, giving them a solid starter and fantastic backup, and added some great offense this offseason.  They may in fact have the second best center combo in Grabovski and John Tavares.  Their blue line needs a little bit of work.  T.J. Brennan isn't enough to make a significant impact.  The Islanders may need to look for another defenseman, or bring up the young Griffin Reinhart, who was drafted 4th overall in the 2012 NHL draft.  The Islanders have improved this off season, and will be tough to beat.

New York Rangers (2nd in Division)

Arrivals - Forwards Tanner Glass (PIT), Defensemen Dan Boyle (SJ) and Mike Kostka (TB)

Departures - Forwards Brad Richards (CHI), Benoit Pouliot (EDM), Derek Dorsett (VAN) and Brian Boyle (TB), Defenseman Anton Stralman (TB)

Dan Boyle - Rangers
It was no secret the Rangers were going to run into cap trouble this upcoming off season.  With Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and John Moore all expecting pay raises after becoming restricted free agents, money became tight, and good players had to go.  It started with a Brad Richards buyout.  His contract ran through 2020, and while it was heavily front-loaded, his contract didn't match up with the production.  They would have loved to keep him, but it just didn't make sense.  Then, Richards signs with the Chicago Blackhawks for just $2 million, which is beyond cruel.  Benoit Pouliot scored 15 goals and 21 assists.  He was also one of the most productive players the Rangers had in their Stanley Cup run.  Pouliot had a 54.2% fenwick rating, but just a +1.9% relative fenwick rating.  Anton Stralman was one of the most sought after free agent defensemen this season.  He was consistent and technically sound.  Brian Boyle was also notoriously the Rangers best penalty killer, as we were reminded 15 hundred times by Pierre McGuire all throughout the playoffs.  Incoming Ranger Tanner Glass will try to replace Boyle, but will fail miserably.  In 67 games, he scored four goals and nine assists.  But, his fenwick rating and his quality of competition make him a really, really bad player.  Glass' fenwick rating was a 41.7% and a -9.1% relative corsi rating.  While he did have a higher defensive zone start percentage than anyone on the Penguins, his quality of competition ranked him ahead of only Craig Adams.  He's bad, and the Rangers should feel bad for signing him.  The Dan Boyle signing would have been great 10 years ago.  He did score 12 goals and 24 assists in 75 games last season, though his fenwick relative was a -1.8%.  He also received a ton of offensive zone starts for a defenseman, and didn't play very high quality competition.  There still might be some left in the tank, but no one can blame him if there's not.  The Rangers didn't have much of a choice but to get slightly worse this season.

Philadelphia Flyers (3rd in Division)

Arrivals - Forwards R.J. Umberger (CLB) and Andrew Gordon (WPG), Defenseman Nick Schultz (CLB)

Departures - Forward Scott Hartnell (CLB) and Tye McGinn (SJ), Defenseman Bruno Gervais (COL)

The Philadelphia Flyers will return with virtually the same team, as they have no money to spend due to former General Manager Paul Holmgren spending money like a teenage girl on a shopping spree every offseason for the past few years.  Their big move was trading Hartnell for Umberger, which, as I mentioned earlier, was a dumb trade for the Flyers.  They stated it was because they wanted to be faster.  I guess that's understandable, considering the former Flyer Hartnell literally has a charity based on the fact that he doesn't know how to skate.  The only big news that will come from the Flyers is the fact that their captain, Claude Giroux, likes to honk cops butts.  Google it.  It's funny.

Pittsburgh Penguins (1st in Division)

Arrivals - Forwards Patric Hornqvist (NSH), Nick Spalding (NSH), Steve Downie and Blake Comeau (CLB), Defensemen Christian Ehrhoff, Goaltender Thomas Greiss (ARI)

Departures - Forwards James Neal (NSH), Jussi Jokinen (FL), Tanner Glass (NYR), Joe Vitale (ARI) and Chris Conner (WSH), Defensemen Brooks Orpik (WSH), Matt Niskanen (WSH) and  Deryk Engelland (CGY)

Patric Hornqvist - Penguins
Obviously the Penguins are the most drastically changed team in the Metro Division.  Their offseason started off with a bang on draft day when they shipped scorer James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spalding.  Spalding has yet to be signed by the Penguins, and Hornqvist's cap hit is just slightly under Neal's.  Hornqvist scored 22 goals and 31 assists in 76 games for the Predators.  With a 52.9% fenwick rating and a +4.8% relative fenwick rating, Hornqvist can possess the puck.  He also had a high offensive zone start rating against high quality competition.  He's a good player at only 27, but he is a downgrade from Neal's scoring.  The Penguins also take a scoring hit from the Jokinen departure, though the other forwards they lost will not effect them too much.  The Penguins defense will look very different after losing Niskanen, Orpik and Deryk Engelland.  The Penguins big signing was for Buffalo Sabre buyout Christian Ehrhoff,
which I had stated would have been a great target for the Caps to snag.  At just $4 million, Ehrhoff looks like a steal.  The Thomas Greiss signing is respectable for the Penguins as well.  The Penguins obviously needed to replace the unnecessary penalty minutes that Neal got for them, so they went after Steve Downie.

Overall, the Metro Division will look different.  The Caps were willing to take a hit offensively to improve their defense.  Islanders looked to improve their offense.  New York looked to be as cost efficient as possible.  Flyers stayed put.  The offseason is also still not over.  Teams can still look to trade, and their are still a few decent free agents available.  But, for the most part, the 2014-2015 teams have their core settled.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Free Agent Frenzy

12:00 p.m.  July 1st 2014

That exact time is when the off season frenzy truly begins.  Every single team will scramble to sign a few guys to the roster, and lucky players will be the center of attention in massive bidding wars, where they will surely come out as the winners.

The Caps have some pretty obvious holes, and just by listening to management, the wholes become quite clear.  The Capitals will be in search of a defenseman and a back up goaltender.  They also kind of need a second line center.  Brian MacLellan's plan is to roll with either Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Brooks Laich as the center.  That's cool.  If he feels one of them can do it, then by all means, go for it.  But, shifting one of those guys still leaves a whole on the left wing, as Johansson and Kuznetsov both played on the left, and Laich hardly played at all.  So if you shift one over, there's still a whole to be filled.

Realistically, I think Kuznetsov shifts to center.  But, who would fill the second line (or first) left wing?  It can't really be done internally.  Only Andre Burakovsky is capable of filling that need, but it doesn't seem likely that he will find a way on the roster.

That leaves a need for a defenseman, a backup goaltender and a 2nd line forward.  That's a lot to ask for.

The Caps have a little over $12.5 million in cap space, and with 20 players already signed for next season, the Caps can use around $4 million per player to round out their 23 man roster, according to math.

But, who will they choose to target?  Let's take a look.


Matt Niskanen - Niskanen is a 27 year old defenseman coming off a career year, and is widely considered the most sought after blue liner.  That generally means that he will make a boat load of cash.  Niskanen is rumored to want a seven year deal, which is a lot to ask for for any team in free agency.  Niskanen is a puck moving defenseman with great fancy stat numbers.  He had a 53.3% fenwick rating in all 5 on 5 situations last season, with gave him a solid +6.3% relative fenwick rating.  Niskanen also added 76 blocked shots and threw 124 hits.  He also tallied 10 goals and 36 assists.  These are all great numbers, however, his PDO was 103.1, which is certainly not going to be sustainable for this upcoming season.  His on ice save percentage was far too high, and it accompanied by a high shooting percentage.  One could easily expect Niskanen's numbers to take  slight hit in his next campaign.  Niskanen is probably going to consider Washington, especially due to he and former Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirdon's, who is now coaching the blue line for the Caps, relationship.  That being said, Niskanen's asking price, and term, may be a little too high for the Capitals.

Christian Ehrhoff
Christian Ehrhoff - Ehrhoff was recently bought out by the Buffalo Sabres, and immediately became a target for teams searching for defense.  Ehrhoff played for an absolutely terrible team.  However, he was still able to put up 46.3% fenwick rating.  That sounds pretty awful, and it is, but when you take into consideration the fact that he played for an awful team, played against the top lines, and still had a +5.7% relative fenwick, which was the best on his team (for 5 on 5 situations for players who played at least 20 games), it's really not that bad.  Ehrhoff is not a really offensive minded player, but that's not the type of player the Capitals are looking for.  Ehrhoff would normally fetch big bucks, and  he still probably will.  But, if any blue liner is willing to take a pay cut this offseason, it's Ehrhoff.  He's set to make $12 million over the course of 14 years.  A team could realistically sign Ehrhoff in the $4 million range, and most likely not over $5 million.

Anton Stralman - Stralman comes from one of the top possession teams in the New York Rangers.  He had an excellent year, finishing with a 56.2% fenwick rating, and a +5.3% fenwick relative score. That's fantastic.  Stralman pretty much saw 2nd line defensemen quality of competition time, which is exactly what the Capitals could use.  Stralman blocked 64 shots, but he doesn't tend to throw his weight around, instead relying on his technique and positioning.  Stralman may be the best value option for the Capitals.

Free agent Mark Fayne could also be a potential option, but the above three would certainly make the most sense.  Each has their own positives.  It all just depends on how much money MacLellan is willing to throw at a defenseman.

Back Up Goaltender

Chad Johnson
Chad Johnson - Johnson played in 27 games this past season for the Boston Bruins, and only saw 4 losses.  Now, he played for one of the best teams in the league, but Johnson played very well.  He recorded a .925 save percentage and only allowed 2.10 goals per game, both good for 6th in the
league.  Now, he didn't have a very large sample size, but in 27 games, Johnson proved that he could be a very solid backup goaltender.  Johnson could potentially go to a team that is desperate for goaltending and become the starter.  But, if he's satisfied with being just a backup, the Capitals would be wise to pursue him.

Tomas Vokoun - The former Capital turned Penguin had a rough year.  After missing the entire year with blood clots, Vokoun is ready to return to NHL hockey.  He's 38 years old, and missing a full year means he will probably seek a backup role.  Vokoun had played very well for the Capitals.  On top of that, Vokoun has worked with new Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn before in Nashville.  It makes sense to have Vokoun return in D.C.

Martin Brodeur - Ok, this one is admittedly a reach, but MacLellan should at least make an effort to sign Brodeur.  The New Jersey great and future Hall of Famer is well past his prime days as a starter, and would be able to not only help out Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby in relief, but he would surely teach Holtby a ton of things.  Having Brodeur in the Capitals locker room would definitely be an odd sight, but would be extremely beneficial in multiple areas of the game.

The key in signing a back up goaltender is that the new arrival needs to be just that, a back up goaltender.  It's time to give Holtby the reigns, and if he has a goaltender breathing down his neck, there could be serious problems between the Capitals and their prize possession.

2nd Line Center/Forward

David Legwand - The aging center wouldn't provide the Capitals with second line stability for the next few years, but he could be a quick decision, near term effort for the Caps.  Legwand scored a total of 14 goals and added 37 assists with the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings this past season.  Legwand had a 50.5% fenwick rating for both teams, good for a +0.3% relative fenwick rating.  His numbers aren't extremely flashy, but he shouldn't come at an expensive price for the Caps.  Legwand also has a strong relationship with new Capitals coach Barry Trotz, as the two spent the majority of careers with each other.

Mikhail Grabovski - If Grabovski tests the free agency waters, a team will surely be willing to sign him up for a few years.  He's reportedly asking for $5 million, which MacLellan deemed too much for his services.  I would tend to believe he could get that from any sort of team in need of a second line pivot, but if for any reason he doesn't, I would imagine his first choice would be with Washington, as he appeared to like it in the DC area, and he has a great relationship with Alex Ovechkin.

Mathieu Perreault
Mathieu Perreault - The Anaheim Ducks had the option to submit a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Perreault, but opted not to and instead offer him a contract.  Perreault could take that contract, but because he did not receive a qualifying offer, teams can pursue Perreault without having to worry about the offer sheet.  The former Cap scored 18 goals and 25 assists for the Ducks.  He also had a 51.7% fenwick rating, accompanied by a +1.8% relative fenwick score.  Perreault did have a 102.6 PDO, which is a little too high to expect him to put up similar numbers this upcoming season, but the fact that he scored nearly 18 goals could certainly help out the Capitals.

The key in signing a forward is to spend as little money as possible in doing so, considering a defenseman and a back up goaltender are the top priority.  This means that Grabovski is highly unlikely to return to Washington, but if MacLellan is able to sign a back up goalie with a small cap hit, he may be willing to splurge on a forward.

The Capitals will certainly have to sign a few guys if they want to see an improvement from last year.  They may even have to trade away current assets in order to improve.  But, when the clock strikes noon on July first, you will surely see the beginning phase of a brand new Capitals team.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Capitals 2014 NHL Draft: Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Goalie! Goalie! Goalie! And Some Creative Way to Include Vrana

The Washington Capitals 2014 NHL Entry was quite interesting.  It had been said numerous times that the Capitals would not draft players based on position, but based on who was the best player available.  They made that quite evident.  While, it seems to be the popular consensus that this team lacks any sort of prospects in the pivot position, and maybe need to shore up the backend a bit, the team went for a left handed winger in Jakub Vrana.  Ok, Vrana is listed as a center on the NHL website, but, according to ESPN's Corey Pronman, who pretty much knows everything there is to know about NHL prospects, stated that he sees Vrana as a wing.

It's really no biggy that the Caps went with a winger instead of a center.  They obviously need a center now, but if they were to draft a center with the first pick, he would most likely not make the team this year.  Realistically, the Caps will see these guys in two or three (probably three) years.  So, it really makes sense to draft the best available player at any given point, as you never know what may happen.  Still, it's a little odd that the Caps were one of only two teams to go this entire draft without drafting a defensemen.  It's also a little odd that the Caps drafted a goalie with their second pick, and then traded for a goaltender.  But what do I know?

Let's take a look at each of the Caps picks.

1st Round, Pick 13 - C/LW Jakub Vrana.  Czech Republic.  5'11", 172 lbs.  Linkopings HC.

Vrana has bounced between the senior team and junior team in the Swedish Hockey League.  You may have seen him play in the World Junior Championships, where he has actually played twice.  In 2013, he was the youngest player in the whole tournament, and in 2014 he tallied a goal and an assist in two games.  Vrana was ranked as the fourth best European prospect in the entire 2014 Draft Class. Here's what a few people have to say about him:

"He plays with determination and drive, has an excellent work ethic and is a very fast skater with excellent all-round skills. He is able to control the game and create a lot of scoring possibilities with his quick moves." - Goran Stubb, Director of European Scouting.

"An offensively skilled winger. Vrana is a good skater, works hard for the puck and has good technical skills. Is a capable goal scorer with a quick release and a nose for the net. Can improve his defensive game." -

"NHL strong, goal scoring's what he's all about," - Bob McKenzie, hockey analyst.

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He has been compared to Marian Gaborik and Patrik Elias.  Pronman also stated that his defense could use some work, and he is sometimes be selfish, but, then again, that is about the same critic as every single European player.

Now, for the important stuff.

His favorite actor is Steven Seagal, which I'm like 80% sure is Evgeny Kuznetsov's favorite actor as well.  So, at least they have a conversation starter.  His favorite movie is Miracle On Ice, so I guess he also loves America, which means he probably would have no problem coming over here quickly.  Oh, and he is definitely willing to just pick up and move, as he left the Czech Republic at 15 to play in Sweden, where he lived by himself in an apartment complex.  He sounds like a winner.

More info on him

2nd Round, Pick 39 - G Vitek Vanecek.  Czech Republic.  6'0", 180 lbs.  HC Bili Tygri Liberec U20.

This is an odd pick.  The Caps actually traded up for Vanecek, who went after a string of goalies in the second round.  He's rated as the 7th best European goaltender, according to the International Scouting Services.  He was not within the top 100 prospects in The Hockey News.  No one really saw the Caps going with a goaltender like this, and Vanecek appears to be a project goaltender.  That being said, the Caps have had success with drafting goaltenders the last few times they've done it, so, in the worst case scenario, this guy becomes trade bait.  Here's what the International Scouting Services had to say about him:

"Vanecek was arguably the MVP for the Silver Medalist Czech Republic throughout the U18 World Championships as he elevated his game and was put in the position to steal games when needed.  Good size in net and shows great net coverage as he challenges well making himself look big. Great lateral extension couldn't keep track of the amount of lateral desperation saves he had to make on the opposition rush.  Never gives up on the play, excellent to see him battle against the elite opposition forwards.  Great post work and covering short side.  Air-of-confidence between the pipes, always focused and ready to go to work.  Has shown tremendous promise at the U18s and with Liberect Jr."

He posted a .922 save percentage this season, which is phenomenal.  It's just really interesting that the Caps were willing to trade up to snag him.  It seems to fall in line with the fact that three quality goaltenders were selected right before him, and the Caps may have really, really wanted to grab one early.  I just wonder how far Vanecek could have fallen.

More info can be found here.

3rd Round, Pick 89 - LW Nathan Walker.  Australia.  That is not a typo.  He is from Australia.  5'9", 185 lbs.  Hershey Bears.

We got our Aussie back!  You might recognize Walker from the Hershey Bears.  He was never drafted, and became eligible this year again as a 20 year old.  Walker is the first Australian ever drafted by the NHL.  Walker will most likely return to the Bears this season, where he had five goals and six assists in 43 games.  Walker also has a realistic shot at making a couple of appearances on the Capitals this season.  Again, the Capitals traded up to grab him, but it's good to know our mate is back.

We have to make sure to come up with an incredibly creative cheer or something for this guy.

You can follow Nathan Walker on twitter @NathanWalks10.

More info can be found here.

5th Round, Pick 134 - LW/C Shane Gersich.  Minnesota.  5'10", 165 lbs.  USA U-18, USHL

I love players drafted from the USA Development team.  The teams are loaded with talent.  This guy played behind a lot of first round talent in Dylan Larkin, Sonny Milano, Alex Tuch and Jack Eichel.  It's tough to be a superstar on a team with those guys.  You know who else played behind a lot of talent and dropped in the draft?  Riley Barber, and it looks like he has the potential to be a stud.

Gersich comes from a hockey family.  His uncles are Neal, Aaron and Paul Broten, all of whom were drafted into the NHL.  Neal is the most famous.  He was on the "Miracle on Ice" team that won gold in 1980, and won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils.  Gersich did pretty well for himself on the development team.  He scored 16 goals and added 14 assists in 53 games last season.

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It sounds like the kid has a good head on his shoulders.  He will be playing for the University of North Dakota this fall.  You can follow him on twitter at @shane_gersich9.

More info can be found here.

6th Round, Pick 159 - RW Steven Spinner.  Minnesota.  5'11", 192 lbs.  Eden Prairie High School.

Not many players get drafted after primarily playing in high school, but Steven Spinner was able to do just that.  Spinner scored 17 goals and added 22 assists in 25 games.  Spinner is said by Pronman to be a very fast player, who "darts all over the ice."  Spinner has good size at nearly 200 pounds.  It sounds like he plans on playing Division I College hockey, where he has a chance to really develop his skills.  Definitely a project player, but he does have tremendous upside.

You can follow Spinner on twitter at @SJSpinner.

More info can be found here.

7th Round, Pick 194 - RW Kevin Elgestal.  Sweden.  6'0", 172 lbs.  Frolunda Jr.

Could not find that much information on Kevin Elgestal.  He recorded 13 goals and 22 assists in 44 games for the Frolunda junior club.  He was also a part of Sweden's World Junior Championship U-18 team, where he scored a goal and two assists in seven games.  Here he is with a pretty solid wrist shot at around the 1:45 mark.

He is Swedish, so I can only assume he is really quiet and has really quick hands.

You can follow him on twitter at @KElgestaal.

More info can be found here.

So these are your newest Capitals.  The way I see it, there is no clear cut stud, but a lot of potential within the 2014 Caps draft class.  We'll just have to wait and see.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lucky Number 13

Judas Iscariot was the 13th apostle to arrive to the Last Supper.  He is also the apostle that betrayed Jesus.

In the Norse mythology, the evil God Loki attacked the a group of Gods, killing one.  Loki was the 13th guest to arrive.

13 steps lead prisoners to the gallows.  Apollo 13 is the only unsuccessful moon mission.

Hotels avoid it.  Airports and hospitals too.  There is a date, Friday the 13th, that people fear.

There is even a name for the fear of the number, triskaidekaphobia.

It is feared by all.

Except by us.

The Caps embrace it.  When the clock ticks away, and our management members, some old, some new, review each and every possible option.  Do we go with a forward, a defenseman?  Virtanen?  Barbashev?  McCann?  Why is Ekblad still available?  Each and every possible option is quickly reviewed within the three minutes available.


MacLellan takes the stage, calm as can be.  He stands before the Philly crowd, who immediately try to drown him out with boos and hisses.  He says how wonderful the city is and thanks them, but we know he's lying.  With a slight hesitation, but with confidence, he makes his selection.

We sit at home and gasp.  We immediately start YouTubing the selection, finding his latest highlight film.  Wow, he's got some amazing skills.  What a sweet shot.  And he drops the gloves?  Awesome.  All of the hockey analysts tweet how great of a pick it is for the Caps.  Other teams groan.  They wanted him.

We immediately love the guy, and we know he is going to be the next big thing for Washington hockey.  And he will be.  He is now a part of us.

We sit back cooly, knowing that everything looks great for the Caps future.

We have nothing to fear with the 13th pick.  We are the fear.

Unless, of course, we trade it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Caps Potential Draft Preview

Ross Mahoney was promoted to the assistant general manager position of the Washington Capitals.  Previously, he served as the director of amateur scouts for the Caps.  And, in a recent conference call, Mahoney stated that he is still the go to guy for the entry draft.

He and new Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan gave a little glimpse into the Caps near future draft/free agency period.

Immediately, what you can take away from the conference calls:
 - The Caps will draft the best available player, regardless of their position.
 - There will not be a compliance buyout.
 - Andre Burakovsky is impressing everyone in the organization, may have a shot at making the NHL roster.  He just needs to bulk up a bit.
 - Madison Bowey is also impressing everyone, but the organization will patiently wait until he is fully ready.
 - The Caps will look to trade up or down if they see the right player.
 - Interestingly enough, MacLellan specifically said trading up to the 7th through the 9th spot, held by Carolina, Winnipeg and Toronto, respectively.
 - Trading is an option, but the Caps won't trade a defensemen or center.
 - Caps have a few free agents in mind, but won't spend too much money.
 - MacLellan specifically is looking for a top defenseman and a veteran backup goaltender.
 - Confidence doesn't seem too high on re-signing Mikhail Grabovski.  Caps will look to Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Brooks Laich to fill the second line center role.

All are very interesting points.  The most disappointing is the fact that it doesn't seem likely that the Caps will re-sign Grabovski.  That doesn't mean that they won't, it just seems like Caps management
Ross Mahoney
is making plans for the future that doesn't include him.

But, there is still a couple more weeks until free agency starts (July 1st), and still plenty of time for things to quickly change with both the Capitals and the Grabovski camp to try to get him back in DC.

What I found most interesting is the quick little glimpse into the Caps draft plans.  While the Caps definitely need some high-end defensive prospects, this draft is pretty weak when it comes to blue liners.  I think it would make the most sense for the Caps to draft another with their first round pick, as there is clearly more offensive depth than defensive depth.

If the Caps give up the right pieces, they certainly can move up a few spots.  There aren't too many teams that, right off the bat, look like trading partners, but there could be a few.   Let's take a look.

Edmonton Oilers (hold third pick) - The Edmonton Oilers have had a top ten pick for every draft since 2009, including three first overall picks.  They've picked virtually the same type of forward, a small, playmaking forward, for the majority of the picks, minus last year's seventh overall pick of defenseman Darnell Nurse.  The Oilers are clearly doing something wrong.  One thing that they might be doing wrong is filling their top six with extremely small forwards.  Really, really small guys that are just getting beat up, especially playing in the Western Conference.  How big of a factor is size becoming?  Each one of the Stanley Cup winning LA Kings lines weighed over a combined 600 lbs., and guys like Milan Lucic and Tom Wilson are becoming integral parts for their teams.  The Oilers need to bulk up.  There are a few players available in the first round that the Oilers could take that are playmakers/goal scorers with big size.  If they wanted to take that type of player, they would be
Nick Ritchie
wasting the top three pick on them.  If the Oilers were to trade back to the Caps 13th pick, they could potentially gain an asset from the Caps, along with a draftee that would fit their needs.  Big man Nick Ritchie could potentially be available at the 13 spot.  Ritchie is a 17-year-old power forward, and already stands at 6'2" and weighs 226 lbs.  That's a big dude.  He recorded 39 goals and 35 assists in the 2013-2014 season for the OHL's Peterborough Petes in 61 games.  If Ritchie is snagged before the 13th pick, another big guy in Alex Tuch will surely still be available.  Tuch is 6'3" and 213 lbs.  He is a right-handed forward who tallied 13 goals and 19 assists in 26 games in the United States Hockey League.  If the Capitals were to gain the third overall pick, they would surely get defensive defenseman Aaron Ekblad, as the Florida Panthers, with the number one overall pick, need virtually any talented forward for their squad, and the Buffalo Sabres, with the second overall pick, would definitely shore up their offensive units as well, considering they have the top two best defensive prospects at defense in Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, both towering shutdown defensemen like Ekblad.  Could Edmonton keep the pick and choose to go with another defenseman, like Ekblad?  Of course.  But, Edmonton does have Nurse, who is 6'4" and Oscar Klefbom, who is 6'3" and Martin Gernat, who is 6'5", in waiting.  All of whom are 19, 20, and 20, respectively.  Would it be worth it to draft another big defenseman when you have other needs that aren't readily available?  It's not exactly the most likely situation, and the Caps may have to give up a player or two, but it definitely makes sense for both sides.

Carolina Hurricanes (hold seventh pick) - Carolina is in the exact situation as Edmonton, in need of a big forward that can produce points.  The only issue with Carolina is that they are also in need of defense as well, and Hadyn Fleury will most likely be available to draft.

Toronto Maple Leafs (hold eighth pick)  - This team needs defense and a young goaltender.  The Caps also need defense, just like about 10 other teams.  Since the Leafs have a pretty solid goaltender in Jonathan Bernier, they can afford to gain a project goaltender, all of whom would be available in the second round or later.  I don't realistically see Toronto as a trading partner, but, then again, it is Toronto.

Winnipeg Jets (hold ninth pick) - The Jets need a playmaking center in their system and a goalie.  Not exactly sure what the Caps could trade to realistically gain this pick.  They could trade back further than the Caps 13th pick, getting a better return than what the Caps could offer them, and still land a true playmaking center, or even top goaltender Thatcher Demko of Boston College, if they'd rather go with a goaltender.

Trading up is difficult, but it does happen.  A top ten draft pick has been traded in the days leading (or day of) the draft for the past three drafts.

More realistically, the Caps probably hold the 13th pick when their clock starts.  I don't think they go defense, as Ekblad and Fleury will likely be gone by then, and the remaining projected first round defensemen are primarily offensive-minded, which is exactly what the Capitals don't need.  Who could they potentially grab at 13?

Kasperi Kapanen (6'0", 180 lbs. RW) - The name Kapanen should sound familiar.  His father, Sami Kapanen, played primarily for the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes, recording 189 goals and 269 assists.  Kapanen is quite a bit bigger than his dad, and plays a two way game.  The Finnish forward is also fast.  Really fast, taking just after his father, who was a two-time winner of the NHL's fastest skater competition at the All-Star game, where Sami participated twice.  Kasperi grew up with the sport, surrounded by it 24/7.  Anyone who is around that game for that amount of time can potentially grow into something special, and the young Kapanen surely can.

Jared McCann (6'0", 179 lbs. C) -  This Canadian forward plays a very similar game to Kapanen.  He recorded 27 goals and 35 assists with Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL  He sees a lot of time on the penalty kill, and can also be placed on the power play, if needed.  Ideally, the Caps need to start looking for a Jonathan Toews (drafted 3rd overall), an Anze Kopitar (drafted 11th overall), or a Patrice Bergeron (drafted 45th overall).  Teams that have these guys, who are among the best two way centers/ corsi and fenwick players in the league, win games.  The Caps don't really have that guy yet.  McCann can potentially be that guy for the Caps.

Ivan Barbashev (6'0", 180 lbs. LW) - Only Ivan Barbashev and Nikita Scherbak, a right wing, are Russian's projected as first round draft picks.  The Capitals tend to like Russians, and Russians generally work out pretty well in Washington.  Scherbak is more like your prototypical Russian, similar to Kuznetsov, who will put up loads of points with flashy play.  Barbashev is not your prototypical Russian.  He instead plays a smart two way game, and he is a tough guy who's not afraid to drop the gloves.  He plays for the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he recorded 25 goals and 43 assists in 48 games.  Barbashev is projected a little bit later in the first round (rated as the number 19 prospect in the International Scouting Services and 22nd in The Hockey News), but no Caps fan would frown upon this pick.  Barbashev also has some experience at center, which is always desperately needed in Washington.

Sonny Milano (6'0", 183 lbs. LW) - Sonny is extremely comfortable with the puck.  He was recently featured in this NHL YouTube video, and at the age of 14, won a pair of Bauer skates in a Bauer commercial competition with this video.  Oh, and completely un-hockey related, made this video for a health class.  When he's not making informative videos against smoking, he's tearing it up in the USHL.  Milano scored 14 goals and had 25 assists in 25 games.  Anybody who has moves like that and is comfortable with the puck generally does pretty well for himself in the NHL.  Most recently, Tomas Jurco, who was also made jaw dropping, stick handling highlight videos, found his spot in Detroit, but could Milano be a similar player to Patrick Kane?

Jake Virtanen (6'0", 208 lbs. LW) - Jake Virtanen shot up in the draft projections after his 2013-2014 Western Hockey League Calgary Hitmen season after scoring 45 goals in 71 games, a large improvement on his previous seasons 16 goals.  He has pretty solid size at 208 lbs., and he uses it.  Virtanen recorded 100 penalty minutes last season, which is a respectable amount of minutes for a forward.  He will score a lot of goals in the NHL.  He's also a right handed shot, something the Caps lack in their prospect pool.  Virtanen could be an extremely effective forward in the Caps system.

Based on the available talent, it just doesn't make sense for the Caps to try to go into this draft looking for a potential top line defensive defensemen, unless they are able to trade up, which could potentially happen.  The Caps can instead look into the second round, where there are quite a few defensive minded defensemen around the 44th pick.  Jack Glover, who plays in the National Hockey Team Development Program, is a 6'3" big defenseman, though he plays "too nice" according to an unnamed scout in The Hockey News.  Does that kind of sound like Jeff Schultz, who, while he's the most recent Capital to win a Stanley Cup, played like he was afraid all the time?  Or Sweden's Andreas Englund, who, at 6'3" is projected as solely a shutdown defenseman, who will never focus on an offensive game.  Or even the USNTDP defenseman Ryan Collins, who is a massive 6'5" and 205 lbs. and is steadily improving his game.

This draft has an abundance of potential top two way forwards, which is something the Caps desperately need.  The Capitals have done extremely well in drafting top players, most recently with Burakovsky, who appears to be the steal of the 2013 draft, and Wilson, who is the type of player teams are desperately trying to find for their own rosters.

While defense is the immediate and obvious issue, Mahoney should stay true to his word; draft the best available player.  If they stick to that philosophy, the Caps should walk happily away from a successful draft.