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

Saturday, August 20, 2011


So it looks like Matt Bradley had some parting words for some of his old teammates, namely Alex Semin. The Swordmaiden has the story here in case you missed it. Let's cut through to what counts--forget about what he said about everyone else including the Coach and OV.  Semin is the one that has had the biggest target on him since the Caps turned into contenders three seasons ago.  All you have to do is look at the numbers to see why.  In his five seasons, his goal totals are: 38, 26, 34, 40, and 28.  Good numbers for a journeyman, bad for someone like Semin who came in with high expectations.  His playoff numbers are even worse as of late, though he improved on his abysmal performance of 2010 this past season.

I'll sum up Bradley's comments in one sentence:  Everyone's thinking it, he's just saying it.

We Caps fans are all aware that when Semin is "on" he is untouchable, easily the best player on the ice from the offensive blueline to the goal line.  Even better than Ovechkin as his shot is just about guaranteed to tuck underneath the sweet spot under the crossbar and the goalie's shoulders.  That there is my favorite aspect of Semin's game.  When "Good Sasha" shows up, no one can touch him, and he needs no help, especially on the power play.

But enough of the good.  We all know what the knock on Semin always has been--his heart, or lack thereof. We've seen it time and again, whether it was the 2010 playoffs, an extended drought following an injury in 2008, or just other frustrating fits and starts in production.  What is a bit shocking about Bradley's comments is that this is the first time an ex-teammate (to my knowledge anyway) has publicly taken Semin to task about his lack of desire.  Much was made about Jason Arnott and his ability to take someone under his wing and make them better.  Last year that someone was #28 and it had some effect, yet another reason I'm still scratching my head about the decision not to offer Arnott a contract.  I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Speaking of scratching heads, let's discuss another aspect of Semin's game--his emotion.  I know what you're thinking.  How can he have no heart but have emotion at the same time.  Lemme 'splain.  The man some of us lovingly refer to as Sasha has a tendency (at the worst of times, no less) to take a really bad penalty simply because he felt wronged on a certain type of play.  So while he may not have any heart while the chips are down, he's certainly no robot when it comes to rough play.   How about the hit from behind on Dan Boyle in the 2010 Olympics? And, lest we forget this?  Yes he does have emotion--which leads to a lack of discipline. Never confuse a lack of discipline for heart.  Some players have both.  Semin does not.

To close let's use the ultimate yardstick.  No, I don't mean goals.  I'm talking dollars.  What were you thinking this is Washington D.C.--EVERYTHING comes down to dollars here!  Semin's contract is a $6.7 million cap hit, and as we all know, the Caps are a chandelier on the salary cap ceiling.  At this point, nothing short of a 50-goal season would bring another year's extension.  With five other UFAs and John Carlson and Mike green to try to re-sign?  Don't bet on it.  Semin's never given us his money's worth come April and he's not about to start.  The chances are we'll be looking for more help on the backline anyway.  The smart money will be on Sasha, Good or Bad, being dangled as trade bait by around the deadline or even the All-Star break. There's bound to be somebody looking for offensive help willing to part with some valued asset in order to get him.  The last questions will be what that asset will be and will it be worth getting for what might have been.

Do svidaniya, was fun while it lasted.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Center Poker...Capitals Open with a Pair of Swedes

Without going into too much detail, I want to start things off by letting everybody know I've learned to see things in a positive light.  So right off the bat let me say that I believe in out heart of hearts--as all of us Capitals fans--that we have a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup this year.  Now more than ever.

BUT  (you knew it was coming!)

There is a question looming in the organization.  No, it's not "when with the coach be fired" although that may come as soon as the next losing streak hits.  It's the same question that went unanswered most of last season and for all of the season before that, and truly began the end of the season before that with the departure of Sergei Fedorov.  You and I know what it is, but it has been momentarily forgotten by the big splash made by the Capitals, they who are now up against the Salary Cap ceiling like white on rice, stink on garbage, peanut butter on.....well you get the idea.

Of course I'm talking about the lack of a true second line center.  Yes, it's time once again to bring up the subject of number two, but the emphasis is on true.  We're talking pure centers here.  Your top line center has to be one of two things: set up man for your No. 1 scoring threat or the havoc creating, crease crashing terror that will create scoring chances and put pucks in the net.   We already have Nicklas Backstrom, one of the niftiest set up men in the game, despite his down year.  Number 15 out of 25, my ass.

So it's on to number two... and who do we have?  A cursory look at the depth chart shows four names that stand out: Marcus Johansson, Matthieu Perrault, Brooks Laich, and Jeff Halpern.  Those first two names I'll get to in a moment--let's first eliminate the last two candidates. Brooks Laich doesn't cut it as he is a natural winger and Jeff Halpern is now a third-liner at best.  You folks already know what I think of Brooks Laich overall.  This has nothing to do with that--he is most effective doing what he does off the wing.  Halpie is great to have back and he'll provide a valuable veteran presence, but he has gotten on in years.  While his durability was once beyond question, one has to wonder if he can step up and take on the rigors of second line duty when and if he's called upon to do so.  Duties such as providing a consistent secondary scoring threat, taking key faceoffs, and keeping the other teams' lines in check when the matchups go the other way.  We'll see...

As well as the Caps played last season, you have to have all your bases covered.  A solid second line from wing to wing is one of those bases.   So why wasn't a true pivot part of George McPhee's quest to improve the team if Uncle Ted's vault was going to be opened?  It bothers me that for all their spending ways they only made a passing attempt to fill this hole with these moves.  It's as if we as fans have a genie who grants us wishes we never asked for; giving us things we don't need.  Don't even get me started on Brad Richards, that's one move I'm glad the Caps went nowhere near.

I just hope all these deals don't end up like cotton candy.  You know, sweet and fuzzy feeling at the beginning but dwindling to nothing eventually?

No, the reason they didn't go after anyone was because of the remaining two candidates, Marcus Johansson and Matthieu Perreault.  The Caps are pinning their hopes on these guys to fill in this gap that's been there a while.  These two are not bad players.  Johansson had his highs and lows all last season but ended up sticking with the team.  Perreault made a better overall effort than the year before, but still couldn't seem to overcome consistency issues as he went the yo-yo route between D.C. and Chocolate City.   We as Caps fans have to ask ourselves though--is this kind of stopgap measure going to get us over the hump?

We can hope that these two take that next step forward this coming season.  We could hope for that, but wouldn't it have made more sense to have a legitimate No.2 pivot already in place instead of praying one develops over the course of a season?  It's been said before--depth and chemistry are key.  While we may have plenty of the first part, the second part will be an ongoing experiment.  In other words a carbon copy of last year.  Not too sure if that'll work out so well this time.

Johansson seems most likely to take over the No. 2 slot so that would give the team a pair of Swedes as its top two Centers. While I like his upside and his quiet grit, I'm not too sure he'll be able to take the punishment that will surely come with the responsibilities he'll face.  I'll end with this--if you're going into a poker game with a pair, you better have a big pair.  Because it may not be enough to Sweden the pot!

Ut för nu!   (Out for now)