Number of People Nice Enough to Stop By....

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Will Caps Fans Laich the Deal? This one doesn't.

Twenty-seven million dollars...six years.

What could possibly go wrong?

Doing the math, that works out to $4.5 million a year.  This for a guy who has the potential to provide 30+ goals a year and provide the sticks-like-glue tenacity to help keep out untold more goals in his own end.  Stuff like that is something that hasn't been seen on the Caps since one Steven Reed Konowalchuk wore the colors.

But can he deliver?

A look at the positives says yes: He's durable, playing all 82 games last year and missing only four games in the last four seasons.  He plays a solid two-way game, ranking high in several offensive categories and leading the team's surprising penalty killing unit in ice time.  He's versatile, he can play any position on any line...except the first.   And he's the glue guy when the chips are down...or is he?  I've touched on this before--if his leadership has meant something,  why hasn't the team gotten any further these past few years.  I will touch on this more at the end.

I have to admit I'm of two minds about his guy.  Before you ask--no, I do not have an agenda against him.  I happen to think he's one hell of a hockey player.  But is he REALLY worth $4.5 mil a year?  Let's compare that number with some forwards from the two Cup finalists.  You're telling me that Brooks Laich is worth more a season than the following players: Milan Lucic, Marc Savard, Nathan Horton, David Krejci, and Manny Malhotra?  And worth ALMOST as much as Ryan Kesler?  Think about that one...

What I can't stand about him is that he could stand to play smarter in the other team's end.  He has a penchant for driving past the blueline and then just shooting from the tops of the circles.  It just seems like anytime he's taking a shot, it's from the tops of the circles or from the perimeter.  Personally, I think he does his best work grinding it out in front of the net.  This goes along with what I was saying about how the team should adopt a more hard-hitting style.  Goals that are pretty make the highlight reel, but goals that are earned, truly earned by hard work, drain an opposing team's morale.  Would Laich be willing to contribute to a self-sacrificing style?

Lastly, what I find most questionable is his leadership skills.  He's certainly not lacking.  It's just you find him doing a lot more talking than most.  Sometimes he backs it up with action, such as when he scored a game-tying goal against the Lightning in Game 2.  But a lot of the time you find him doing a lot of talking after the fact.  Consider this quote from Joseph White's article at Puck Daddy, when the deal was announced:
“I think this year there’s got to be a lot more accountability amongst our players to each other, and to the coaches,” he said. “It’s up to every single player—doesn’t matter how much you make, or how long you’re been here or what your name is—to practice as hard as they can, to practice as a team, to work as a team."
Now you could say that, yes, now that he's making some serious spondulicks, he's calling himself out along with Ovechkin, Green, Semin, et al.  Well, you could say that, but in reality you can't, because Brooks Laich's leadership still isn't worth a Continental Dollar .  It just isn't.  If it was, why did the team have to go get Jason Arnott for the playoff run?  If he is truly worth the contract he just signed, why then the the trade for Troy Brouwer beforehand--who, for all intents and purposes is a younger and more intense version of Laich?

Sorry, but I think this is just another example of GMGM overpaying for what he was led to believe would be a cornerstone of the franchise much like Tom Poti. Can't blame Laich for going for the big contract when the time is ripe.  But is he worth it?  And more importantly will it pay dividends in the form of Stanley Cups down the road?  The answer to both questions is no. 

One last thing to consider--a leader often has to do something to help his team, no matter what. Looking back, Dale Hunter did it many times throughout his career.  Dale Hunter would have been worth this kind of a contract even in his declining years.  Brooks Laich isn't.  He's got his big contract...let him prove he's worth it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Brouwer or Brooks?

No doubt all of Caps Nation has heard of the trade that pretty much made Day One of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft a Day Off.  The first pick, which was going to be the 26th anyway was traded for Troy Brouwer of the Blackhawks.

I like this trade, and not just because of Katie Carrera's point that GMGM may be able to fill two roster spots with one with this guy.  Of course that begs the question--one that I have raised already this summer.  Who is on their way out?  According to capgeek.com, Marco Sturm, Jason Arnott, Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon, and Matt Bradley all have expiring contracts come July 1.  The numbers and the intangibles tend to speak for themselves--all but the first person on that list have earned at least a second look.  Let me spell it all out in case you're still not sure:

Marco Sturm--never seemed to get his legs under him, no pun intended and doesn't seem suited for the new hard-hitting style we need to implement.  Best bet is that he'll end up on a Western team that needs secondary scoring.

Jason Arnott--carried the team through a potential disaster in Round One but seemed to run out of gas in Round 2, but that may have been a team-wide malaise.  In any case he seems to have enough in the tank for one last run. 

Boyd Gordon--with David Steckel gone, he is the only consistently above-average faceoff man we've got.  Enough said.

Matt Bradley--has the ability to turn the game around, more with his fists than anything.  For that reason he'll probably be kept, though his playing time may diminish. Won't command a lot for salary so the savings won't be much there either.

So we're down to Brooks Laich and we're down to Troy Brouwer. To be sure they may both be kept if injuries have a part to play in all of this. But is seems unlikely. 

I mentioned before that chemistry plays a part in a team's success.  Well then consider this--Brooks Laich's vaunted leadership skills have earned raves from his peers, but have they translated into on-ice success?  Don't get me wrong I think Brooksy is a great player and a hell of an example both on and off the ice.  But if his voice really carried that much weight, how was it that things have gone so flat in the playoffs lately?  It doesn't matter if you're a great guy, you have to be something of a jerk sometimes to get your mates to wake up. I haven't heard anything about his personality, but maybe Troy Brouwer is that guy.  His 262 hits this past season sure couldn't hurt, so you know he will play with an edge.

I'll close with this, and this might spin some heads even further.  It is possible that both players are kept, just not likely.  If that happens, next year certainly somebody will have to go, even if the cap is raised again.  If you do some quick research into Brouwer's history, you will see that the he was the top scorer in the WHL (Junior leagues) in 2006. Guess who was the winner the year before? Eric Fehr, who just happens to be in the last year of his contract.  Barring a bust-out 30+ goal year I think it's a safe bet both he and his 2.2 million dollar cap-hit will be gone after this year.

Funny how things just fall into place.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rolling up the Sleeves on 2011-12

Another hockey season over.  A new Cup champ has been crowned, with a freshly painted target on their backs.   The hunters become the hunted...or something like that.  And we've got a whole year of hearing how wicked good Tim Thomas is.  Which, actually, he is.  But anybody who's had at least one eye on this game knows one thing--this is the time where the real work begins.

It's the time for figuring out the boring stuff (to some fans anyway) like who fits under the dreaded salary cap and into the long term plans and who doesn't.  Who deserves a long look come training camp and who will get a one-and-done and go back to riding buses. Who deserves a raise and who doesn't--and those who don't, do you let them walk if they're due for a qualifying offer?  As of this article there are exactly 11 days before the July 1 shopping, er, free agent period begins.

The tweaking  has already begun with a change in the job of prepping the goalies.  Dave Prior returns for a second stint at the job.  To help him out, the popular former Cap Olie Kolzig comes back to where it all started...sort of.  His primary responsibility will be to help out with the development of the goalies in both Hershey and South Carolina.  Looks like all has been patched up between Godzilla and the Caps, namely GMGM.  Good for them them.

I'm just going to go ahead and admit I'm not up on potential prospects that would be good for the team, or even all the different free agents-to-be who should and shouldn't stay.  One thing's for certain--this season proved that the parity among the teams means the margin for error is razor thin.  I mean, if the Caps can come back from an eight-game losing skid to overtake the division leaders only to lose to that very same team in the playoffs?   So for that reason, I believe chemistry, more than anything, may dictate the choices made from now until opening night.

I call on my sense of hockey history for my reasoning.  Conn Smythe--that's the former coach/GM/owner of the Maple Leafs who the playoff MVP trophy is named after--once said that youth was the key to winning in hockey.  He always figured that the younger guys were hungrier than anyone because they wanted to prove themselves.  While this might have been in the 1940's when he said this, not much has changed--your rookies and second/third year players don't make anywhere near the cash other players do.  So yes, doing well and/or winning is a motivating factor because it can lead to bigger and better things.

What has changed is the fact that coaches have more of an impact on the game than players do.  Which, I feel still has to change.  Look at Tyler Seguin--benched for the first two rounds, then comes on to score 7 points in 13 games on the way to the Cup.  What does this have to do with the Caps?  Especially since we already have one of the youngest average age rosters in the league? It has to do with this team being in need of new blood, and not a veteran either, although Jason Arnott did a wonderful on-ice job of stewarding the team into the playoffs and past the first round.

So why not take a chance on a Cody Eakin or Dimitry Orlov?  Can they last the entire 82-game grind?  I don't see any reason why they couldn't, but the only trade-off would be where would you put them (and who would you sit?).  I would think it's worth injecting their enthusiasm and energy into the lineup.  Orlov in particular has already proven that he can't wait to be a Cap.

To be sure, there's a lot more to do and an injection of "youth" would not be a cure-all.  But for a team that looked like it could have used a tune-up in the second round, that kind of a spark might be a good weapon to roll out.  Taking notes, Mr. Boudreau?  I hope for your sake you are.  Because a coaching change would mean the opposite of progress at this point.  But that's for another day.  And besides, that was the first choice made.  Nope, we may as well get used to it--all the decisions will have to do with on-ice personnel from here on out.

So let's get to work.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Game 7, the Ultimate Rush

First off, yeah I know--I blew the prediction.  That's why you don't see me on some four-letter network spouting off about what will happen in the game.

That said, I still think the 'Nucks will pull it off.  Home building and all. You know how it goes...

But I just wanted to throw in a quickie about perhaps my favorite Game Seven of all.  Yes folks, if you've been a Caps' fan as long as I have you know what I'm talking about--the one against the Flyers in 1988 in the First round.

Ah yes....April 16 and I still remember it well.  I was shaking with anticipation when they dropped the puck...HTS had Mike Fornes and Smokin' Al on the call.  Through the magic of some strange glitch (who the hell could figure out cable back then?) I was able to catch the ESPN feed on delay even though blackout rules were in place then too.  So I'm going back and forth between Mike Fornes' call and Mike Emrick and Bill Clement  on ESPN.  I was in heaven.  Except the score after the first period was 3-1 Flyers.  Yuck.  I tried not to get too down about it.  After all, the Caps WERE down 3-1 and managed to tie the series.

As Jiggs McDonald (one of the all-time great hockey names) noted, the Caps were capable of a comeback--and did.  They even pulled ahead with a few minutes left to go in the third.  but then a Brad Marsh goal sent it to OT.  I had a REAL bad case of the shakes then.  And not like the year before either--do a search on the Easter Epic for that story.

It only lasted 5:57 but that OT felt like forever.  Especially that one sequence where the Caps had flurry in front of Ron Hextall and he swung at the puck wildly like a deranged baseball player.

And then...one brief shining moment...

The Flyers had set up in the Caps' end but couldn't get anything going.  Larry Murphy ended up with the puck just past the half-boards, saw Dale Hunter streaking towards the red line and zipped it to him with a perfect pass.

The rest is history.  You can view it all here.

I can still see then-goalie coach Warren Strelow, his arms waving in triumph...and then the two fist pumps.  Images burned forever into my mind, especially now that he's gone.

I'm no expert in mathmatics, but multiply that by at least 1000 and you have what Vancouverites and Bostonians are going through tonight.

Nothing like it in the world.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Last of 2010-11?

Hello again hockey fans (hope some Caps fans are out there as well!!)

Been a while I know, but I couldn't stay away for too long.  Hockey, like life, does go onward. And it's gone onward to what has been what has been a surprisingly competitive Stanley Cup Final series.  No, I haven't forgotten about my team's meltdown against Tampa Bay.  And let us not kid ourselves folks, it was a meltdown.  More on this later.  Now that the Vancouver Canucks have proven to be the team to beat all season long we have to ask--is this their time to fulfill their destiny?  I say yes.

And why is this?  Because they have the one thing that other teams haven't seemed to hold on to, at least not long term--tenacity.  Want a better word for it?  Look here.   Trust me, if it's one thing I've learned, you've got to have it to succeed both in hockey and in life.  You can even call it resiliency if you want, given that they've now had two different teams come back to either tie or be within one game after being up 2-0.  Not an easy thing to do.

What is this quality?  Simply the ability to make the adjustments necessary, be they mentally or physically to correct mistakes made coupled with the fortitude to get up one more time.  No matter how mundane and annoying things tend to get for you.  Sound like a motivational speech you might have heard at work?  Maybe.  But at least here you don't have the guy next to you drooling on you because he's asleep!

But seriously it is a quality that, while it gets its due, it doesn't get the glory until all is said and done.  Toughness is a great quality but unfortunately isn't measured by goals, assists, or plus-minus.  That shouldn't diminish its worth, however.  Because it is a quality that leads to winning. It is the building block you have to have underneath you if you're to get anywhere.  You cannot point to one Stanley Cup winning team that didn't have some element of toughness on it.   Some of these teams may not have had the type to bring Don Cherry out of his suit, but it was there.  I'm not exactly an expert, but I've seen enough hockey to know that much.

Now the Capitals seemingly have this resiliency, having been through an eight-game losing streak, a spotlight brighter than Venus on them, and all kinds of changes, good and bad throughout the year. Lest we forget Alexander Ovechkin turning in his usually astronomical season numbers for more modest (for him anyway) figures in a team-oriented game. All in a march towards what we hoped for to be more playoff success.  And we all saw what happened.  The first round could not have gone any better, it was like a dream.  The second round was morel like a nightmare.  Certainly we all knew Tampa wouldn't roll over, but a sweep?  Even if the Caps had only won one game the discussion would be different .  We wouldn't be all talking another year of:  Fire Boudreau!  Trade Semin!  Trade Whoever!

As I always do I'll leave the deep analysis to others--although I plan to do my own analysis in a different way later on.  Some of those close to me already know about this.  But my point is that, while yes, we should demand more of the team top to bottom, we were in fact beaten by a better team.  A team that the Capitals nonetheless had a chance of beating, but didn't adjust to very well as the series went forward.  My observations looking back is that it was the late-period collapses that cost them.  Not a sign of a lack of toughness for sure.  But while a lack of mental toughness may have been what cost them against the Canadiens 2 years ago, a lack of general focus may have been what cost them this year against the Lightning.

Alan May on the last episode of  Japers Rink Radio said a good slogan for this year would be "Crack the Whip!"  He may have been only half-joking at the time but I don't think he was too far-off.  More focus at just the right times by everybody and who knows?  I will take into account that this does not take into account several previously unknown injury issues unbeknownst to us but knownst to the team at the time.  Even so...the core was still there, all the key players.  One spark earlier in the series, like a fight or a goalie change--SOMETHING--and things may have changed.  As it happened, the team was beyond help and it was too late by game four.

Which brings me back to Vancouver.  You see, even with their injury issues and sometimes questionable goaltending--they still manage to find a way to win.  Do they have a world-beating coach leading the way?  Not especially, though Alain Vigneault is no slouch, winning the Adams (coach of the year) award once. And I think they'll find a way to close out the series tomorrow night.  You know me and predictions, I hate them, they're useless.  But a lot of people had the Canucks as a shoo-in.  A lot of people were wrong.  Doesn't matter because they'll find a way to win, whether it's Ryan Kesler with his presence in front of the Boston goal.  Or Alex Burrows just plain being a pest.  Or Henrik and Daniel Sedin creating havoc from red line to goal line with their dazzling pass-shoot-and-score show.

And when these haven't worked they can always rely on the stable play of Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa on the backline.  Or a Raffi Torres hit to swing the momentum the other way.  And say what you will about Roberto Luongo...he's been good when he's been needed most--in overtime.  Which don't be surprised if that's where this game ends, because the Bruins have hung tough.  There's a lot to like about this team.  So much so that I'm going to make a confession....

Yes I'm a fan, though the Caps are still my number one.  If you've read the blog regularly you know that one of my all time favorite hockey people is Roger Neilson.  Well the year he helped introduce Towel Power into the hockey world was the year he led the Canucks into their first Stanley Cup Final.  That was 1982.  And while I was a fan of the Caps first years before that, I've held a special place in my heart for the Canucks ever since.

(This one's an inside joke for fans of the Puck Podcast)

So yes....I have to admit it...publically <sigh>.  I have a girlfriend....................team.

Now like all men who have been caught, let me explain, though on the surface it seems simple enough...a "girlfriend" team is one that, openly or whatever, you root for, just not as hard as your "wife" team.  Sooooo, had it been that the Caps wound up in the Final against the Canucks there would have been no question whatsoever of my allegiance.  Sorry Caps (and fans)...but at least now you know.

Going to be a good one, hate to see hockey end for another year, but there will be plenty to talk about I'm sure...

Aw hell....Canucks 3-2.....on a Daniel Sedin goal......in Overtime.

See you at the Draft.