2011-12 season preview: Washington Capitals

1 Comment

2010-11 record: 48-23-11, 107 points; 1st in Southeast; 1st in East

Playoffs: Defeated New York Rangers 4-1 in Eastern quarterfinals, lost to Tampa Bay 4-0 in Eastern semifinals

The Capitals’ recent history has been dominated by a common theme: great regular seasons deleted by playoff disappointments. To some, those postseason failures erase all of the good things that happened in those 82 games. Fair or not, casual fans will paste the “choker” label on this team until they win a Stanley Cup.

Even after coach Bruce Boudreau changed the game plan from all-out offense to a more traditional (read: conservative and boring) approach, the team still flopped in the big time after posting the top record in the Eastern Conference. This season won’t be the final straw for Alex Ovechkin and a few others, but it’s a make-or-break campaign for Boudreau, Mike Green and much of the team’s familiar faces.

Offense

The Capitals’ 224 regular-season goals was the second-lowest total of all Eastern playoff teams – only Montreal found the back of the net less frequently (216 goals).

While Washington might not be as high-flying as its once was, expect the top guns to soar again. Both Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom should bounce back after suffering from career-low shooting percentages. Alexander Semin must realize that this could be his last shot to stay in Washington (and he is only signed through the season, which should add more incentive for a strong campaign).

Along with likely bounce-back seasons for incumbent stars, the Capitals’ future should look different after GM George McPhee added a few helpings of elbow grease. Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward are two wingers who play physical styles, adding grit to their upper ranks along with returning garbage goal specialist Mike Knuble and two-way center Brooks Laich. Jeff Halpern is a blast from the past who might work out nicely if he can stay healthy.

Jason Arnott might have been a voice of reason, but the team probably won’t miss him, eternal injury-list member Marco Sturm, Eric Fehr and other departed forwards all that much.

Defense

The defense is an interesting mix of players whose strengths could surprise some.

Green should be a bigger factor after an injury-plagued second half last season. Health is a big hurdle for Dennis Wideman, who’s essentially a less potent (but more physical) version of Green. Those two offensive defensemen are complemented by the up-and-coming shutdown pair of youngsters in Karl Alzner and John Carlson.

While Tomas Vokoun ranks as a bombshell of an upgrade in goal and Ward covers the “slightly overspend for a missing piece” aspect of the offseason, Roman Hamrlik is a big upgrade over Scott Hannan. He might not be as physical, but still manages to slow scorers down. Hamrlik can provide some offense as well, which might earn him some time on the power play.

Overall, the Capitals have an interesting group that could round out to one of the better defense corps in the East – if they stay reasonably healthy.

Goalies

Vokoun gives the Capitals something they haven’t had in their previous runs: a legitimate difference-maker in net. Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth had their moments and Jose Theodore did what he could, but none of them can match Vokoun’s impressive resume. Maybe big-time pressure might rattle a goalie who put up dominant numbers under the radar, but chances are good that he’ll thrive with the kind of goal support he’s never seen in Florida or Nashville.

The Capitals have fantastic insurance if Vokoun doesn’t work out (or shows his age a bit). Neuvirth’s individual numbers weren’t great in the regular season, but teammates and onlookers raved about his calm demeanor – something that shouldn’t be overlooked in a reactionary atmosphere. Even Braden Holtby showed some flashes of brilliance in spot duty last year, although fans should be warned about the dangers of small sample sizes.

Coach

Boudreau is a likeable guy who turned around a moribund franchise (with the help of an incredibly talented young cast, of course). That being said, people who constantly compare the Capitals to the Pittsburgh Penguins might view Boudreau as Washington’s Michel Therrien – a guy who bridged the gap from bad to good but couldn’t win a Cup. This might be Bellicose Bruce’s last chance to prove people wrong. It would be nice if he went out his way by playing a “guns blazing” style rather than last season’s compromised system, but either way, Boudreau needs some big results in the playoffs.

Breakout candidate

Alzner and especially Carlson could grab even more attention, but they played big enough minutes that they cannot be called breakout players. That title might go to the Capitals other Swedish center, Marcus Johansson. He looked solid (13 goals, 27 points) in his first 69 games at the NHL level and could provide valuable depth scoring for a team that might be a little top-heavy skill wise.

Best-case scenario

Vokoun proves he’s the real deal, finally giving the Capitals the hot goalie that felled them in postseasons past. Ovechkin and Backstrom go back to being, well, Ovechkin and Backstrom. Green, Semin and Boudreau silence their critics with a dominant run to earn that elusive Stanley Cup win. People who love calling professional athletes “chokers” turn their attention back to the San Jose Sharks – even if the Capitals beat them in the championship round.

Reality

The Capitals are loaded in almost every area, although they could use a better second-line center. Laich is a great checker but might be better off with a third-line role and Johansson might not be ready for that job either.

Things are looking pretty good if that’s your biggest trouble spot, although Semin and Green haters will probably disagree. Simply put, Vokoun pushes Washington to the level of genuine favorites.

Columnist warns Blackhawks fans: DeBrincat may not make the jump

Getty
1 Comment

It’s easy to see why Chicago Blackhawks fans are excited about Alex DeBrincat.

The undersized forward already seemed like a potential steal when the Blackhawks drafted him in the second round (39th overall) back in 2016, as he was coming off consecutive 100-point seasons in the OHL. DeBrincat topped that in 2016-17, scoring more than a goal per game (65 in 63) and finishing with a ridiculous 127 points.

Honestly, that last paragraph might leave some Blackhawks fans twitching with excitement.

MORE: DeBrincat was the one to watch at prospects camp

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers relays an important message on Thursday, though: tap the brakes.

Beyond the questions of the 19-year-old being ready for the NHL, Myers reasonably wonders if Chicago can fit him into its salary structure.

Looking at the Blackhawks’ listing at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that Myers has a point. There are 14 forwards under contract, and as Myers notes, only Nick Schmaltz can be sent to the AHL without needing to clear waivers.

The Athletic’s Scott Powers notes that few 19-year-olds have made much of a dent on recent Blackhawks rosters beyond Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Nick Leddy. As great as Joel Quenneville can be at integrating younger players into Chicago’s mix, history states that DeBrincat indeed faces an uphill climb.

Then again, for a smaller forward whose numbers sometimes get disregarded or downplayed because of his stature, DeBrincat’s probably used to overcoming odds. If nothing else, the Blackhawks seem willing to go the extra mile if it gives them a better chance to compete.

Even so, Blackhawks fans would probably be wise not to pencil him into the 2017-18 lineup just yet.

Katie Bieksa enlists husband Kevin, other Ducks to promote book (shirtless)

via Kevin Bieksa's Twitter feed
Leave a comment

Katie Bieksa, wife of Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, found herself in a bind after he was traded from the Vancouver Canucks. With extenuating circumstances keeping her from working normally, she wrote a novel … and decided to promote it in a brilliant way.

AJ Manderichio of the Ducks website provided an in-depth look at Katie Bieksa’s experience writing “Newport Jane,” which Bieksa compares – in some ways – to “Desperate Housewives.”

Which seems like a convenient segue to mention one way of hyping up the noveal: “Hot Guys Reading My Book” on Instagram.

It started with Kevin, although Katie told Manderichio that it required some negotiating.

“These guys are looking for opportunities to show off their summer bodies. They were volunteering, and that’s where the idea came from,” Katie says. “There was someone – it may have been Kevin – who said ‘I am NOT going to take a picture with your book,’ and I said ‘Oh yes you are.’

“When he said he would do it, the rest of the guys did. They’ve all been so supportive, and that’s such a nice feeling. It is a community, and you do depend on each other. It’s so nice to have that support, bear down and take the picture.”

Good stuff.

Kevin’s caption really sold it “Yes this is how I usually read.”

As you can see on the Instagram feed, noted pest Ryan Kesler also “contributed,” but Andrew Cogliano‘s missing teeth stole the show.

Here is part of the “Newport Jane” summary on Amazon, which in a just world would inspire people to call Kevin Bieksa “the cardiac surgeon.”

From the outside, Ellen has it all: a glamorous new life in a sun-soaked city more like a movie set than the small Northern town where she grew up, and her very own McDreamy. But being married to a gorgeous, brilliant cardiac surgeon also means standing in his shadow, putting aside her dreams to follow his—and having way too much time home alone to think about how much she’s given up to follow him to California.

Don’t worry, there probably won’t be a spin-off involving shirtless blogging.

Flames hand Hathaway a two-way deal

Getty
1 Comment

The Calgary Flames signed forward Garnet Hathaway to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

Hathaway, 25, earned some reps on the team despite being undrafted.

Here’s how his NHL work looks so far:

2015-16: three assists, 31 PIM in 14 games played.
2016-17: one goal, four assists, 44 PIM in 26 GP.

If the penalty minutes didn’t make it obvious, Hathaway is the “rugged” type. He’s already provided some snarly action shots against the Flames’ rivals, as you can see below and in this post’s main image.

via Getty

He clearly makes friends quickly.

The Flames celebrated his first – and so far only – NHL goal after the signing.

Penguins are ‘prepared to go to arbitration’ with Sheary, Dumoulin

Getty
Leave a comment

Earlier today, PHT discussed how the Pittsburgh Penguins might take advantage of robust cap space to replace Nick Bonino. Of course, that cap space could really start to dry up depending upon how things go with RFAs Brian Dumoulin and Conor Sheary.

At the moment, both are heading toward salary arbitration hearings, with Dumoulin’s scheduled for July 24 while Sheary is slated for Aug. 4.

Both situations are pretty tricky, so it’s not too surprising that GM Jim Rutherford admitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey that the hearings will “probably” happen.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Rutherford said.

There’s still time – especially for Sheary – yet both hearings could be especially interesting considering the variety of different ways you can break down their value.

Dumoulin: strong defense, weak offense (so far)

Hockey Buzz’s Ryan Wilson and FanRag’s Dave Holcomb both went pretty deep on what Dumoulin might be worth, as did Matt Cane. The disparity is pretty interesting; Cane puts Dumoulin at about a $2.5 million value, Wilson proposes a five-year, $15M deal, and Holcomb wonders if Dumoulin could be worth as much as $5 million per season.

Dumoulin’s reps might point to Olli Maatta as a handy comparable, although that comparison falls flat from simpler (i.e. Dumoulin not producing as much offense) and fancier perspectives. Sometimes it’s pretty plain to see HERO charts smiling upon one player more than the other.

Still, both Dumoulin’s prominent use and his strong at-home work indicate that he’s worth a pretty penny, however many he’d receive.

While he generated 16 and 15 points during the past two regular season runs, Dumoulin saw solid ice time in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. That was especially true during the playoffs, as he averaged 21:31 per night in the 2016 run and 21:59 TOI during this last postseason.

Considering the waves of injuries the Penguins endured during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in particular, Dumoulin really showed his importance to the team.

Now, will those details matter as much as weaker counting stats? We’d find out if Dumoulin’s hearing actually took place.

Sheary’s sheer luck

Somewhat amusingly, Conor Sheary is almost in the opposite situation.

If you look at his simple stats, Sheary could argue for a pretty nice little raise.

While his 2015-16 numbers are modest, he really took advantage of his time alongside Sidney Crosby this past season, scoring a remarkable 23 goals and 53 points … in just 61 regular-season games. That would be about 71 points over an 82-game span.

His postseason numbers weren’t as great (seven points in 22 contests after 10 in the previous run), but one could imagine a solid argument made on the 25-year-old’s behalf considering that 23-goal output.

Of course, the Crosby effect was significant. Sheary spent 697 of his 836 even-strength minutes with Crosby, while only spending 139 minutes without him last season. To his credit, Hockey Analysis’s numbers reveal that Sheary at least maintained decent possession numbers in those rare moments without number 87, but the sample size is too small to refute claims that Sheary was Jonathan Cheechoo to Crosby’s Joe Thornton.

***

Ultimately, it’s tough to tell how much each player is worth, which might explain why arbitration hearings may just need to happen. Such hearings would be fascinating, though both the players and the Penguins would likely experience some serious nerves.