Caps may be winning, but at what cost?


Last night at Madison Square Garden, Alex Ovechkin spent just 13:36 on the ice, a career playoff low.

But Ovechkin wasn’t the only Capitals star that saw reduced playing time during Washington’s 3-2 victory over the Rangers: Nicklas Backstrom (16:18), Alex Semin (12:27), and Mike Green (18:14) each sat longer on the bench than they’re used to.

All told, those four account for over $28 million in cap space.

Meanwhile, career third- and fourth-liners like Jay Beagle (19:58) and Matt Hendricks (15:26) have become coach Dale Hunter’s go-to guys, particularly when the Caps are leading like they did for most of yesterday’s game.

“You need them players. They play hard every night,” Hunter said. “The press don’t write about them a lot. They’re the foot soldiers of the team. These guys come up and come playoff time, that is how you win games like tonight. It is a grind out there.”

With that in mind, here’s a question I’ve got for Caps fans – is winning the only thing that matters to you? Or, is there something to be said for the entertainment value of the product?

I’d also ask Caps owner Ted Leonsis that question. Because if he hasn’t noticed, there aren’t many fans sporting Beagle jerseys at the Verizon Center.

For all those who say Ovechkin is overpaid, maybe he is from a pure hockey perspective. But he’s more than earned his salary from a business perspective.

According to Forbes, Washington’s franchise value has risen from $115 million in 2004, the year Ovechkin was drafted, to $225 million today.

Without Ovechkin, is it anywhere near that level?

All I know from living in Vancouver is that the Canucks didn’t become a license to print money until 2002 when Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison came together to form the West Coast Express. It wasn’t just about winning in this city — it was about winning and scoring lots of goals at the same time.

Clearly style matters when selling tickets. Just ask the New Jersey Devils, one of the most successful teams on the ice the last 20 years. Yet the Devils have rarely been a hot ticket. There are other reasons for that (arena location, less-than-fantastic marketing, etc.), but being associated with boring hockey didn’t help their brand.

Nor was the NHL’s brand shining particularly bright during the dead-puck era, which is why the decline in scoring should have it concerned enough to explore ways to encourage offense, not defense.

Video: The best of Mike Smith’s great Game 6 saves


If there were any holdovers who wondered if Mike Smith’s regular season brilliance could carry over to the playoffs, the Phoenix Coyotes netminder has likely put those doubts to rest after six almost exclusively fantastic games. Numbers aren’t always as sexy as highlights, however, so this clip should be as convincing as any statistical eyebrow-raiser:

That wasn’t the only time Smith robbed someone – Brendan Morrison included – but it might be the moment that lives on longer than all of the rest. There are plenty of great saves to choose from, though.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner for the vid.)

Morrison, O’Donnell in, Mayers and Olsen out for Blackhawks

One can quibble with Chris Kuc’s assertion that this is a “big” change, but either way, the Chicago Blackhawks are tweaking their lower forward ranks by scratching tough winger Jamal Mayers for veteran center Brendan Morrison. Another notable alteration comes in depth defense as stable veteran blueliner Sean O’Donnell* swaps in for youngster Dylan Olsen.

On paper, these changes shouldn’t alter the balance of power. Then again, with all three games going to overtime already, it’s not crazy to say that little tweaks might make all the difference.

(Really, Brandon Saad could make the biggest impact of all the lineup tweaks, anyway.)

* – Whose name I always need to be careful in mentioning, because part of me always wants to call him Chris O’Donnell of Robin in “Batman Forever” infamy.

Quenneville believes Jonathan Toews is cleared for contact


Finally some good news for the Chicago Blackhawks regarding Jonathan Toews.

Tracey Myers of reports Hawks coach Joel Quenneville believes Toews has been cleared for contact. While the Blackhawks are on the road in Nashville, Toews stayed back in Chicago to do more skating.

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane tells Myers he can’t wait for the team to clinch a playoff spot and be fully loaded again.

“It’s going to be nice, for sure, when we do clinch a spot,” Patrick Kane said. “It’ll be nice when that happens, and even nicer tonight knowing we have some of our best players hopefully coming back in the net few games; and we can keep getting better as a team and not worry about clinching a spot.”

The Blackhawks have done just fine without Toews, but getting their best centerman back from a concussion will be a huge lift for the team. With Toews out, the Blackhawks have had to rely heavier on Dave Bolland and occasionally Marcus Kruger and Brendan Morrison as well. There have been spurts of solid play from them, when they’re not hurt, but they don’t compare with Toews.

Just what the Western Conference playoffs needed, another solid team getting healthy.

Junior team sets record with 41st straight victory


Congratulations to the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, who set a junior hockey record last night with their 41st consecutive victory, breaking the mark held by both the 1989-90 Sudbury Cubs and 1999-00 Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats.

To notch their 41st W in a row, the Vees had to squeak out a 10-0 decision over the Trail Smoke Eaters in a game that was a lot closer than the final score suggested.

“It’s unbelievable. Not many people get to do this and not many people achieve this,” Vees defenseman Mike Reilly said. “It’s something that’s never going to happen again in your life, so we’re just kinda taking it all in and going day by day with it.”

The Penticton junior team (it’s been known as the Vees, Broncos, Knights and Panthers) boasts a number of former and current NHL stars on its list of alumni, including Brett Hull, Paul Kariya, Duncan Keith, Ray Ferraro, Andy Moog, Brendan Morrison, and, of course, Tanner Glass.