Archive for February 2007

The Root of the Rumor

February 22, 2007

Let’s assume two NHL general managers are talking to each other about a possible trade, formally or informally. How many other people are likely to be privy to the conversation? From what I know, just a handful. And they’re not likely to let it go any further than that room, which makes one wonder: where do these rumors come from?

The Caps annually convene their hockey operations and pro scouting departments a few days prior to the actual deadline. The boys will be getting into town soon for this year’s festivities. What follows are long days filled with phone calls, pacing, scrawling of scenarios, consumption of various local takeout cuisines and ultimately, decisions.

The Caps have a “war room” especially for this and other related hockey decisioning purposes. The seven, eight or nine guys basically sequester themselves in the room for days on end, leaving late each night and arriving early each morning. There is quite of bit of discussion that goes on among those men over those few days, but I don’t imagine any of them spends any time late at night phoning various members of the North American hockey media/blogosphere to inform them which teams they’re calling, which players they’re discussing and what moves they might make.

I’m guessing it’s fairly similar to this in the other 29 NHL cities, too.

But I don’t know. Maybe not.

Maybe in those cities, the GMs and assistant GMs and pro scouts discuss deals and then “leak” the particulars to office workers, media types, man-on-the-street-passers-by, and the delivery guys who bring the takeout vittles. That way, those people can spread the rumors like wildfire, passing them along to media types and bloggers, who in turn make charts and lists and predictions with them. Then, the NHL fans can fire up their computers, log on to message boards and weigh on whether they’d make that deal or not. The GM and his staff can then read those message boards, and use them as a trial balloon, thus using the sagacity of the masses to avoid a disastrous deal. Smart.

Actually, that doesn’t sound very likely either. So who are these “sources” who claim various deals are imminent, possible, dead, pending, or whatever? I don’t know that either, but they’re wrong far more often than they’re right. If you’re an employee of an NHL club, and you decide to leak some info to an “outsider” so you can appear to be “in the know,” well that’s the expressway to becoming an ex-employee of an NHL club. Nothing I have ever “learned” from various conversations here would be worth losing my job over. Even if it was Mike Wallace or Bob McKenzie doing the asking.

I understand that all this trade deadline rumor mongering is fun. It’s interesting. I’m a fan, too, but when so many of the “talks” that are rumored to be talking place have never even happened, it’s extreme.

You can bet that the Caps will be active between now and the Feb. 27 NHL trading deadline. But that’s all you should bet on. I asked Caps GM George McPhee this morning what was going on. He said it’s just a lot of talking, for the time being. He’s received what he termed “a few soft offers,” but nothing that feels imminent or even intriguing for now. Plenty of time, though. You can tell that by the bluster in the quotes of the “buying” GMs, who are currently blathering on about “prices being too high,” and how “we may do nothing.”

While you’re doing nothing, you might want to note that five of the last six Stanley Cup champions did “something” at the deadline. Just some food for thought. Here’s some more:

Last year’s NHL trading deadline was the most productive in terms of the total number of trades (25) and ranked second in terms of the number of players moved (40). The 2002-03 deadline saw 46 players change addresses.

The trade dealine of 1979-80 is considered the first, and the biggest and most far-reaching deal made was the one that sent plucky center Butch Goring from Los Angeles to the New York Islanders for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis. Goring helped the Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup titles, with the first coming mere months after the trade. Only five players changed hands on that deadline day, but three of them (Goring, Lewis and Ron Low) went on to become head coaches in the league.

That first deadline day also produced a very cautionary deal for the GMs and future GMs. In addition to dishing Goring to the Isles, Kings general manager George Maguire traded away the Kings’ first-round choice in the 1982 Entry Draft to the Buffalo Sabres for veteran defenseman Jerry “King Kong” Korab. The Sabres used the choice (sixth overall) to select high school hotshot Phil Housley, who went on to tally 1,232 points in a 1,495-game NHL career that spanned 21 seasons and eight different NHL teams (including the Caps).

A year later, Maguire again traded away his first-round choice of two years hence, and again sent it to the Kings. This time, he got former French Connection winger Richard Martin for a first-round choice in 1983 and a third-rounder in 1981. The first in 1983 turned out to be the fifth overall, and the Sabres chose goaltender Tom Barrasso. He won 369 games in his 19-season NHL career. Soon after the Sabres strolled to the podium to choose Barrasso, Maguire became the Kings’ ex-GM.

The first actual deadline day deal involving the Capitals was a whopper of a swap. It came on Mar. 9, 1982 when the Caps shipped left wing Todd Bidner to Edmonton for defenseman Doug Hicks. Bidner, who hailed from Petrolia, Ont. (the same hometown as Dale Hunter), never played another game in the NHL after leaving Washington, where he skated in a dozen of them. Hicks tallied one assist in his 18 games in the red, white and blue. Chalk one up for the Caps.

The seeds of Tampa Bay’s 2004 Stanley Cup championship were planted some six years earlier, in two seemingly innocuous deadline day deals. First, the Bolts traded defensemen Bryan Marchment and David Shaw and a first-round draft choice (later traded to Nashville) to San Jose for Andrei Naarov and a first-rounder in 1998. Then much maligned Lightning GM Phil Esposito shipped center Jason Wiemer to Calgary in exchange for winger Sandy McCarthy, a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick in 1998.

With the first-rounder from San Jose (first overall), the Lightning chose center Vincent Lecavalier. With the third-rounder from the Flames, Tampa Bay took center Brad Richards. Esposito converted a bag of shells and some magic beans into picks that turned into the team’s two top centers.

Sometimes, you can be buying when you appear to be selling.

Public Service Announcement

February 22, 2007

The NHL just released this handy little Q&A regarding the league’s annual trading deadline. In the interests of public service, I now cut and paste it here in its entirety:

How is a trade made?

After two clubs have come to an agreement on a trade, the clubs must advise the League office, either by telephone or by FAX, of the terms of the trade. The League office then schedules a conference call with the two teams to review the transaction and give final approval for the deal. Prior to the trade call, the League office will ensure that the team has the appropriate salary cap space to make the deal; if draft choices are involved, that the club has the available choices; and that the team has available space on its reserve list to add the player (s). It should be noted that the 23-man roster restriction is no longer in force from February 27 on.

On the trade call, the League will a) review the terms of the player contracts and ensure that teams are aware of their respective obligations to the player (s) involved; b) ensure that, should a player have a no-trade clause, that the player has waived that right; and c) ensure that any conditions to consummation of the transaction have been clearly defined and agreed upon.

The trade becomes official after the trade call has taken place.

What if a player involved in a transaction has a “no trade” clause?

No trade clauses can vary from player to player. For example, a player may have a list of teams that he has agreed to be traded to. The League requires written documentation from the player that he has waived his no trade clause. If applicable, the documentation must also stipulate which teams the player has agreed it is permissible for him to be traded to.

Can a trade take place after the 3:00 P.M. ET deadline on February 27, 2007?

Trade calls may take place after the 3:00 p.m. deadline but the League must have been advised of any and all transactions, including the specific details, prior to 3:00 p.m. It is not unusual that a number of trades are agreed to between the clubs just before 3:00 p.m. However, due to the volume of trades occurring just prior to the deadline, the League may not be able to conduct the actual trade call until after 3:00 p.m. There are four League officials that conduct trade calls and calls may last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on the complexity of the deal.

How is a player’s salary charged against a team’s salary cap when a trade is made at the deadline?

The salary that is charged against a team’s cap is the pro rated amount remaining of the player’s average yearly salary. For example, if a player has an average yearly salary of $2 million, the amount charged against the acquiring team’s cap is the pro-rated amount remaining of $2 million.

This is calculated by dividing $2 million by the number of days in the season (187). The amount ($10,695) is then multiplied by the number of days remaining in the season from the day the trade is made (41 days if trade is on deadline day) to ascertain the amount charged against the team’s cap ($438,502).

A Life Sentence

February 22, 2007

On game days, Caps coach Glen Hanlon holds court for the media three different times. He first addresses them after the morrning skate. He chats with them again a couple hours before face-off, and of course, he holds a post-game press conference.

Today’s pregame chat yielded a few worthy tidbits. Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post asked Hanlon whether he had given any thought to breaking up the team’s top forward unit of Alex Ovechkin, Dainius Zubrus and Chris Clark.

“There is never a discussion of moving,” said Hanlon. “You have to understand the Russian mindset. It’s like, you play with somebody for life. You don’t change people. The KLM Line, they start out on [the] Red Army [team] when you’re like 12 years old. You don’t even dream of changing. I’ve done that with our [national] team in Belarus. They just look at you like, ‘This is the weirdest doggone thing.’ So it’s kind of Ovie’s mindset that he plays with Zubrus and Clark.”

Hanlon intimated that he would give the trio a chance to work out whatever struggles it may be having on its own.

“I’ve said lots of times that I admire [Tampa Bay coach John] Tortorella’s persistence in [saying], ‘You guys sort this out.’ They’re not flipping lines every single time they get into a dry spell.”

Hanlon did add: “Nothing is forever. There might come a time when that would happen.

“That second line center has to establish himself as a top NHL player. He’s got to be a 60-70 point guy or I’m not too sure that the experiment is worth it to be flipping everybody around.”

Speaking of “that second line center,” there will be another change in that regard for tonight’s game with San Jose at Verizon Center. Brooks Laich will be scratched in favor of Kris Beec. Hanlon felt the need to establish a better presence on the power play, and believes Beech may be able to accomplish that.

“It’s not because of the way that [Laich] has played,” said the Caps bench boss. “We had a real good meeting with him. We’re putting Kris Beech in to try to generate some offense and to try to get a second unit on the power play. We’ve had three wingers out there and we’ve contemplated trying to just tell them to tie up an offensive zone face-off, but that hasn’t worked. Then they’re chasing the puck down. They only get 40 seconds and they’re using 10 of it to chase the puck. We’re hoping that Beech’s power play ability [will help].”

We’re minutes away from seeing how it all works out. One caveat: the power play may not see much action against the Sharks. San Jose has permitted five or fewer power plays in each of its last 16 games, and three or fewer in 10 of those tilts.

Scoring Change

February 20, 2007

Upon further review, as they say in the NFL, there has been a scoring change on the Capitals’ second and final goal in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Originally credited to Alexander Semin with assists from Matt Pettinger and Eric Fehr, the goal now reads Pettinger (his 13th) from Fehr (first NHL assist). Watching the game from the Giant Center press box in Hershey, it sure looked like it was Pettinger who poked it through Jocelyn Thibault’s pads after a frenzied goalmouth scramble.

More than a few have suggested that my presence in Chocolatetown this weekend must have been responsible for the Bears’ consecutive home defeats, a rarity. I can’t say it wasn’t me. I’ll try to wait until they’ve built up some first-place cushion in the East Division standings before I return. I think they’ll be okay. They’re missing their No. 1 netminder (Frederic Cassivi), their capitain and power play quarterback (Lawrence Nycholat), one of their top scorers (Eric Fehr) and a top six defenseman (Jeff Schultz). Such is the nature of life in the AHL.

Even with the less-than-desirable results, it’s always good to check in with the Bears for a couple days. Nearly 20,000 fans came out to see the two weekend games. The place jumps more when the Bears are winning, but they’ve only suffered four regulation losses in 26 Giant Center games this season. Hershey leads the AHL in attendance, averaging 8,628 fans per game. That’s more than 600 more than second place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Speaking of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Bears are back in action again on Wednesday when they host the Baby Pens at Giant Center.

My eight-year-old son had quite the hockey weekend. On Friday, he had a hat trick (his first ever) and got the game puck in his Mites game. On Saturday, his team recorded a 3-0 shutout. As soon as that game ended, he and I headed up to Hershey. He joined me upstairs for the Saturday game against Albany. On Sunday, he was able to skate for about an hour at Hersheypark Arena, the most hallowed hockey rink that still stands in the States (and maybe North America), for my money. He went right from “The Old Barn” to the Giant Center stands for Sunday’s game against Hamilton.

It will all come crashing down on him tomorrow when he goes to school for the first time in a week.

Lost Weekend

February 19, 2007

HERSHEY, Pa. — Frustration and lost opportunity were the watchwords of the weekend for the Hershey Bears. A 5-2 home ice loss at the hands of the Hamilton Bulldogs on Sunday left Hershey with its first back-to-back regulation defeats at home during the Bruce Boudreau administration. The Bears are still in good shape standings wise, but they missed a good opportunity to gain ground on the front-running Norfolk Admirals and to distance themselves from the third-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this weekend.

“For whatever reason, we don’t have the same jump we had two and half, three weeks ago,” said Boudreau after Sunday’s loss. “I don’t know if it’s the dog days, but everybody’s got to go through it. These are two wins we absolutely should have had this weekend, and we didn’t play like it. We didn’t play with the sense of urgency we needed. It’s almost like we have to go back to the drawing board.”

After playing a strong (and scoreless) first period against the Bulldogs, the Bears dug a hole for themselves in the second. Hershey goaltender Maxime Daigneault was nicked for four goals on just nine shots in a span of 11:04 of the middle frame. One of the goals was shorthanded, and two of the others came just seconds after the conclusion of Hamilton power plays.

Daigneault saw his first action in nearly a month, returning after being sidelined with a high ankle sprain since Jan. 20. He was not sharp, surrendering all five goals on 11 shots in a span of 18:14.

“When the team is not going good,” began Boudreau, “and I told [goaltender] Nolan [Schaefer] this yesterday, Sometimes you have to make the save until the team gets going. It’s like in baseball. If the team is not hitting, sometimes the pitchers have to hold the team together until things come in. That’s what goaltending is all about. The great goaltenders give your team a chance to win.

“I didn’t think we got great goaltending tonight. I’m not going to make excuses for him. He has practiced five days real hard. I asked him specifically, ‘Are you ready to play?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m ready to play.’ [He allowed] three soft goals and it’s got to get better. Our only goal is to win the Calder Cup again, and we have to have the good goaltending.”

Daigneault said afterwards that he felt fine, but admitted he wasn’t at his best after the first period.

“I’ll be better for the next game, for sure,” he said.”I’ll have a few more practices and get back into game shape and be fine.”

The Bears weaved in a pair of goals of their own among Hamilton’s four in the second period. Tomas Fleischmann made a brilliant play to set up the first one. He skated the puck in slowly from center point, making a little pump fake along the way. He then spotted and fed Joey Tenute in the right circle. Tenute was locked and loaded, and his one-timer got nothing but net behind Bulldogs goaltender Yann Danis.

That goal came at 4:19 of the period, and just 46 seconds after Hamilton scored on consecutive shots in a span of 62 seconds to open up a 2-0 lead.

Six minutes after his first goal. Tenute tallied again. He scored from behind the cage, lighting the lamp when his intended centering feed for Alexandre Giroux glanced in off a Hamilton defender.

“I knew Giroux was in front there and I just tried to kind of wrap it without the goalie looking,” explained Tenute of his second tally. “I tried to get it over to Giroux and I think it hit one of their players and happened to go in. It was a lucky goal. You’re going to take those.”

Tenute’s tallies came against his hometown team; he hails from Hamilton.

“You don’t really think about who you’re playing against or where you’re from or anything like that,” he said. “It was nice to get a couple goals. But that doesn’t matter whatsoever. Right now, we’ve got to get back on track and we’ve got to start doing the little things again. Once we do that, the team success is going to start coming again.”

The Bulldogs put it away when Dan Jancevski scored a power play tally just 45 seconds into the third period. It gave Hamilton its first three-goal lead of the night and ended the scoring for the contest. Hershey had a couple third period power play chances, but was unable to use those opportunities to cut into the Hamilton lead.

“Our special teams have been pretty bad since Christmas time,” said Boudreau, “when we were second in the league in power play and second in the league penalty killing. I think it coincides with [Lawrence Nycholat] going up [to Washington] and Freddie [Cassivi] getting hurt. We’ve tried a hundred different combinations and nothing seems to be going right. We’ll have to get back to the drawing board and try a different combination for the next game.”

Boudreau is right about the numbers. Hershey came into Sunday’s game with the AHL’s 11th ranked power play and ninth-ranked penalty killing corps. Since power play quarterback Nycholat was recalled to Washington on Dec. 23, Hershey is just 17-for-137 (12.4%) with the extra man. The Bears were 41-for-196 (20.9%) on the power play prior to Nycholat’s departure.

The difference in the penalty killing after Cassivi’s broken collarbone injury on Dec. 20 is also telling. The Bears’ penalty killing operated at an 86.2% efficiency rate before the veteran goaltender was sidelined; the rate has dipped to 83% since.

Down three goals in the third period, several of the Bears began to display visible signs of frustration, which is not a bad thing.

“It shows they care,” said Boudreau. “Fleischmann hasn’t scored in seven games. Giroux hasn’t scored in six or seven games. These guys are our go-to guys, and they have to score. You’ve seen frustration penalties from Giroux because he is not used to this. Once he scores a goal and Tom scores a goal, I think they’ll be fine. It’s [a matter of] getting that goal. And it doesn’t get any easier. You play a very good defensive team in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday. We’ve got to battle through this stuff.”

The frustration exists because the Bears actually lost ground on the first-place Admirals this weekend. Norfolk began a brutal stretch in which they must play 10 road games in 18 days, dropping two of three weekend games. But all the Bears gained was another game in hand. Hershey now trails the Admirals by seven points with three games in hand.

Good News/Bad News Bears

February 18, 2007

HERSHEY, Pa. — In the wake of tonight’s 3-1 Albany River Rats win over the Hershey Bears at Giant Center, there was good news and bad news for the homestanding Bears. The good news: Hershey did not lose any ground in the AHL East Division standings. First-place Norfolk suffered a 4-1 setback at the hands of the Binghamton Senators in Elmira, NY on Saturday. Philadelphia put a 3-1 hurting on the third-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday. The bad news: the Bears missed an opportunity to gain ground on both of their chief divisional rivals.

After a six-day layoff the Bears actually started strong, controlling the first four minutes of the game. They spent virtually all that time in the offensive zone, outshooting the Rats 4-1 and forcing Albany to ice the puck twice. But unfortunately for the Bears, Matt Hendricks was whistled for a high-sticking call in the offensive end at 4:03 of the first period, and the game was decided within the very next minute.

Albany’s power play, lifted by the presence of left wing Antti Laaksonen and defenseman Anton Babchuk, converted at 4:44 when Matt Murley pounced on a rebound in front and ripped it past Bears netminder Nolan Schaefer for his 14th goal of the season. Laaksonen and Babchuk both joined the Rats this week after reassignments from Colorado and Carolina, respectively.

Fifteen seconds and one shot on goal later, the Rats doubled their lead on Jakub Petruzalek’s eighth goal of the season. That would be all the offense the Rats and goaltender Tyler Weiman would require.

“I thought we played real well in the first few minutes,” said Bears center David Steckel after the game. “We came out hard and guys were excited. It was an unfortunate high-sticking call, but you can’t have offensive zone penalties. They did a great job on that power play. They got it in, they attacked the net and they got a great rebound goal. That goal just kind of took the wind out of our sails. All of a sudden we’re sitting back and we’re starting to panic, maybe because we haven’t played in six days. We have to turn that around.”

The Bears had a chance to get back into the game with a power play of their own just 28 seconds after Petruzalek’s goal, but weren’t able to sustain any sort of attack.

The normally buoyant Hershey crowd turned on the home team not even midway through the first frame, venting its frustrations with a throaty chorus of boos. That did not sit well with Hershey coach Bruce Boudreau, and he rightfully and honestly vented his own frustrations after the game.

“We’re halfway through the first period and I’m a little ticked off because we’re getting booed by 10,000 people,” said Boudreau. “Let’s give ourselves a break. We’ve only lost two games at home all year. [The Bears] play their ass off every frigging night and we’ve got some fair weather fans out there booing us and it just pissed me off quite frankly. Here we are in the first period. We’ve come back so many times and yet these guys have the temerity to boo the goalie, who had absolutely no chance on any of the goals and he played unbelievable to keep us in it in the second period. Those people, they can stay home if they just want to come here and vent. We’ve got the greatest fans in the world, I’m convinced of that. But these guys that come in and think that you’re going to win 40 [home games] in a row, and they don’t want to support the club, it just pisses me off. Sorry.”

Hershey had some shorthanded opportunities in the first, but was unable to get a clean shot on goal despite a pair of odd-man breaks. Another Hershey power play late in the first did not bear fruit, either.

The Rats caught the Bears napping in the early seconds of the second, increasing their lead in the process. Playing in just his second AHL game since he skated with Providence in 1999-00, Laaksonen scored his third goal in two nights, roofing a wrister that gave the Rats a 3-0 advantage. In two games with Albany, Laaksonen has matched the production (three goals, one assist) he delivered in 41 games with the Avalanche this season.

Hershey’s Louis Robitaille woke up the sellout crowd of 10,598 and his teammates when he decisively tuned up Albany’s Kevin Estrada eight minutes into the second period. From that point on, Hershey outshot the Rats 25-10, but it wasn’t enough. Several Bears shots whistled wide or high, some by narrow margins. Weiman was able to stop almost all of the others.

The lone chink in Weiman’s armor came with 2:28 left in the second. Hershey’s Jakub Klepis mugged Albany captain Keith Aucoin in the corner, stripping the Albany center of the puck. Klepis skated out and fed a perfect pass to Kip Brennan in the high slot. Brennan one-timed a wrist shot that beat Weiman high to the glove side, narrowing the Albany lead to 3-1.

The Bears outshot the Rats 19-5 in the third, but weren’t able to cash in on some strong chances. Chad Wiseman had two of the best opportunities, but he was unable to get elevation on a shot in a one-on-one situation with Weiman. Steckel had a one-timer bid shank off the heel of his stick late in the third.

“We had a lot of shots, even in the first,” stated Steckel. “I didn’t think we hit the net enough tonight, and we needed a little more traffic [in front]. As soon as they got the two-goal lead, it seemed like they sat back and they always had four guys [back]. It took us a while to figure out that we needed to get the puck deep and chase after it. They played a great game. They did what they needed to do and it’s a great road win for them.”

Albany’s victory on Saturday was its first over Hershey since March 28, 2004, ending a remarkable run of 19 straight Bear victories.

“You talk about the law of averages, but at the start of the game each team has a 50 percent chance of winning,” said Boudreau. “They don’t have a better chance of winning because we beat them 19 times in a row. If as a team we had come prepared mentally individually, then I think we’ve got a better chance. We didn’t wake up until halfway through the second period, and by then it was too late. Once you give a team that hasn’t won in a long time, you give them that little edge and they score the first goal, instead of going, ‘Aw man, here we go again,’ they’re going, ‘We’ve got a chance.’ They dig deep and they played a tremendous game from the goaltender on out. We didn’t deserve to win tonight, and I don’t know if it’s my fault — it’s probably a little bit my fault and a little bit the players’ fault — that we weren’t as well prepared as we should have been.”

The Bears host Hamilton on Sunday, bringing in a stellar 15-3-3-4 home record. The Bulldogs will be a formidable foe. The second place team in the North Division, Hamilton is three points behind frontrunning Rochester. The Bulldogs are 12-10-1-1 on the road this season.

“We have at least two games (actually, three) in hand on Norfolk, and Wilkes-Barre is just a game behind,” said Steckel. “It was a chance for us to pick up points and we needed to capitalize on that. Hamilton is not going to make it easy [on Sunday] coming into the building. We need to turn it around overnight and put a full 60 minutes together.”

Move Will Lead to a Green Spring in Hershey

February 15, 2007

I haven’t talked to anyone in authority about today’s re-assignment of defenseman Mike Green to Hershey of the AHL, but it doesn’t look like a very complicated move on the surface.

With Brian Pothier coming off injured reserve, and John Erskine about to come off injured reserve, and Bryan Muir hopefully getting closer to coming off injured reserve, the Caps would suddenly have a large number (10) of defensemen. Since neither Erskine nor Muir has officially come off IR yet, and since Green headed for Hershey today, the actual number of healthy defensemen on the Caps’ roster is seven. Given that the Caps are currently carrying a pair of spare forwards (Kris Beech and Ben Clymer, tonight) any number greater than seven would be an unwieldly number of defensemen right now.

But why Green? To put it simply (and perhaps cruelly), because they could. Of the 10 Washington defensemen, Green and Jeff Schultz are the only two who can be sent to Hershey without first having to clear waivers. Schultz has played so well of late that it would be even more cruel to send him out at the moment. When Erskine and/or Muir returns, the Caps may have to send Schultz to Hershey anyway.

There is likely also be an ulterior motive to today’s Green move. The Hershey Bears are again among the top teams in the AHL, and they’re hopeful of defending their 2006 Calder Cup championship. The two best defensemen on that 2006 Bears team were arguably Green and Lawrence Nycholat. Nycholat is currently Washington’s seventh defenseman. The Bears would love to have him, but he would need to clear waivers to be successfully reassigned and that would never happen. So Nycholat stays in Washington, and Green goes to Hershey for the short term.

Green needs to stay in Hershey only until Feb. 27 in order to qualify for the Bears’ postseason roster. There is no games played requirement; the only requirement for Calder Cup playoff eligibility is that the player must be on the AHL team’s roster on Feb. 27. So it’s really win-win-win. Green gets a handful of games with Hershey, games in which he can play 30 minutes or so and play in all situations. The Caps get some temporary roster relief, and one of their prospects gets a quick confidence boost. The Bears get a player who can serve as their No. 1 defenseman and power play quarterback throughout the playoffs.

A lot can happen in a period of two weeks, especially when the NHL’s trade deadline is at the end of those two weeks. Green is likely in Hershey only as a quick-fix to Washington’s roster issues, and to establish his Calder Cup playoff eligibility. He’ll be back.

Tire-Kicking Time

February 15, 2007

Trades are a rare and strange bird this season in the NHL, but they’re always a little on the strange side anyway. Fans don’t want to see their favorite players traded away, but I’m convinced that even the fans of teams that seem to have it all (relatively speaking, of course) like to see the occasional infusion of new blood in their lineup, a new guy or two in one of their sweaters. It’s something new, something different. A change. New curtains, a rearrangement of the furniture, if you will. But the NHL’s post-lockout salary cap environment has had a depressive effect on in-season trading in the circuit.

The salary cap stands at $44 million this season, and about two-thirds of the teams in the league were over $40 million to start out the season. I guess $44 million isn’t enough money to put together the perfect team, because even the teams that are in the upper echelon of the standings and pushing up against the cap seem to have holes they’re looking to patch.

Out west, the Nashville Predators have the best record in the Western Conference and the NHL as I type this. They’ve also made two trades in the last week. The first was to send center Josef Vasicek back from whence he came, to Carolina, in exchange for center Eric Belanger. A day later, the Preds shipped Belanger to Atlanta for defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski. (Maybe the Canes wouldn’t directly deal Belanger, now with his fourth team since the start of the season, to division rival Atlanta. Vishnevski is getting some frequent flier miles too; the Preds are his third team since last September.)

“With Vishnevski, we are adding a big, strong, physical defenseman with over 400 NHL games of experience and two deep runs into the post-season,” said Nashville GM David Poile. “We have been carrying 15 forwards on the roster for most of the season. This gives us some veteran depth on the blue line and gives our roster more balance.”

So even the best team in the league needed a burly blueliner and some balance. Anaheim, which got off to such a strong start but which has faded of late, has been blanked in three of its last five games. The Ducks are running second in the Western standings, but they’re only a point ahead of San Jose and three in front of Dallas (which just forked over a first-rounder to Phoenix for Ladislav Nagy) for the top spot in the Pacific Division. Anaheim’s payroll is around $40 million, but owndership has improved an increase if Anaheim GM Brian Burke can find something to his liking. So far, that’s not the case.

“We’re working the phones frantically and we’re kicking tires,” Burke said in a Thursday LA Times story. “So far, no one has made an offer that works for us.”

Anaheim is 5-11-2 in its last 18 games. The Ducks are 0-for-21 on the power play in their last five. It’s a wonder Burke isn’t slitting tires instead of kicking them.

Vancouver leads the Northwest Division, but has scored the fewest goals (147) of any of the teams currently in the playoff picture. (The Canucks are actually tied with Dallas for that distinction, but as noted above, the Stars have made a move to address that deficiency.) Only four teams outside the playoff picture have fewer goals than the Canucks. Vancouver may lack goals, but it has Roberto Luongo between its own pipes.

In the Western Conference, it’s all about goals against. New Jersey has allowed the fewest goals (129) in the league this season, but the top eight teams in the Western Conference standings all rank in the 2-9 spots in goals against, and those eight teams are tightly bunched between 138 (Dallas) goals against and 146 (Minnesota). How remarkable is that?

Of the seven teams on the outside looking in on the Western playoff chase, Edmonton (163) has allowed the fewest goals. They’re 14th in the league but ninth in the West in that department. The Oilers have been desperate for a defensive upgrade all season, but have been unable to convert their surplus of scoring forwards into blueline help. As Bob Dylan once wrote, “The hour is getting late.” The Oilers are seven points back of the last playoff berth with 25 games to go.

Edmonton might be the only team with a ghost of a chance at cracking the current top eight in the West. Colorado is nine points out, and the other Western clubs (St. Louis, Phoenix, Chicago, Columbus and Los Angeles) are all carcasses waiting to be picked over by contending clubs. Phoenix and Los Angeles have already made the painful decision to “sell,” and after a quick look in the mirror, the others will be soon to follow.

Out here in the East, it’s possible to give up goals by the truckload (Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay and, until recently, Pittsburgh) and still be firmly in the playoff picture. The Thrashers have allowed the 25th highest total of goals (186) in the league this season. Carolina ranks 22nd and Tampa Bay 20th in that department. It’s a bit odd that Atlanta would be moving a defenseman (Vishnevski) for a center (Belanger) at this stage of the season, but hey, the Thrashers are pretty thin up the middle, too.

While the top eight teams in the West seem to have separated themselves from the pack (if not from each other), there is still a lot of uncertainty in the Eastern Conference. Between the three clubs (Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Ottawa) tied for third place and the 14th place Capitals, only 15 points separate a dozen teams. Eighth place Montreal is as close to third place as it is to 11th. The 11th place Rangers are as close to 14th as they are to eighth. It’s all very fluid and can change in the course of one night’s league activity. The 2005-06 San Jose Sharks were 10th points out of the final Western Conference playoff berth at the trading deadline. The Sharks went 16-4-2 in their last 22 games, climbing all the way to fifth in the West. No one is forgetting that.

It could be that the bottom teams in the West will serve as the “fuel” for the top teams in the East in terms of the trading deadline. Only the Philadelphia Flyers are truly out of it in the East, though Boston has recently made moves that paint it as a seller. The needs of the Eastern teams are similar from club to club, and the group isn’t likely to want to trade with each other, help each other. The “help” is likely to wind up coming from the West instead.

Even the best teams will always be trying to get better. The more you watch, the more flaws you see. The trick is in determining which flaws are real and which are imagined. And then the trick is prioritizing the patches, and not “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” as they say.

How do you build the perfect $44 million hockey team? By drafting astutely and signing the odd free agent here and there to fill holes that can’t be filled from within the organization. The more drafted players you have in your lineup, the lower your payroll will be and the more money you will have to spend on players from outside the organization.

With only a third of the season remaining, the shackles will continue to loosen on the near-dormant NHL trade market. The hit to a team’s salary cap at this stage of the season is minimal, and even those clubs rubbing up against the salary cap ceiling will likely have enough wiggle room to make minor deals for depth and such. The deals have started trickling in since the All-Star break. They’ll likely start flowing even more freely as Feb. 27 creeps closer.

Only 12 shopping days remain.

King of the Red Light

February 8, 2007

When Mike Weaver’s hockey career is over, it’s likely he’ll be best remembered for being the guy who originally designed the best college hockey web site on the ’net: And that’s a good thing. That means he won’t be remembered for being the guy who went the most games in the NHL without scoring a goal.

Weaver’s hockey journey began in 1995-96 when he skated for the Bramalea Blues of the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League (OPJHL), based in his hometown of Bramalea, Ont. Ex-Cap Andrew Cassels (also a native of Bramalea) and current Cap Steve Eminger also played for the Blues. So did Weaver’s current Kings teammate Mike Cammalleri. Ex-Jet Luciano Borsato is also a Bramalea native who skated for the Blues.

Weaver was named the league’s Defenseman of the Year in 1996, and he went on to star for four years at Michigan State, playing alongside the likes of Shawn Horcoff, Mike York, Ryan Miller, Adam Hall, Andrew Hutchinson and John-Michael Liles. The half-dozen aforementioned Spartans were all chosen in the NHL Entry Draft; Weaver was not. Weaver was a two-time First Team All-American at MSU, and was named the CCHA’s Best Defensive Defenseman two years in succession (1999, 2000).

There wasn’t much demand for a defenseman who stood 5-foot-9 and tipped the scales at 180 pounds in those days, and there is only marginally more demand for that type of player these days. After getting his degree in Web design from MSU in 2000, Weaver signed a free agent deal with the lowly Atlanta Thrashers in June, 2000, just after the team had finished its maiden NHL season.

Weaver turned pro with the Orlando Solar Bears of the old IHL in 2000-01, the last season of the league’s existence. Among his teammates that year were Caps defenseman Brian Pothier, the late Dan Snyder, Darcy Hordichuk, Brett Clark and Norm Maracle. Weaver played 68 games for the Solar Bears that season, and did not score a goal. He also went without a goal in two of his four seasons at MSU.

Weaver and his Solar Bears teammates went on to win the Turner Cup that year, the last ever team to claim that championship trophy. He played in all 16 games, and did not score a goal. You may be detecting a pattern here, but there’s another pattern underlying Weaver’s lack of scoring prowess. He helped MSU finish with the best defense (1.52 goals per game) in school history in 1998-99, posting a plus-23 in the process. That was the second best mark in the CCHA. His plus-17 in 1999-00 and his plus-33 in 1997-98 also placed him among the top three in his conference for both seasons.

Weaver led the IHL with a plus-20 during that championship season of 2000-01. He played on another winner in his second season as a pro, helping the AHL Chicago Wolves to a Calder Cup title and also appearing in his first 16 games (without a goal) with the Thrashers. He posted an “even” defensive rating in his initial stint in the NHL, despite playing for a team that finished 28 games under .500 and was outscored by 99 goals.

Weaver spent three seasons shuttling between Atlanta and the Thrashers’ AHL farm club in Chicago. He got into 57 games, and picked up six assists. Still no goals, though. The Los Angeles Kings signed Weaver before the 2004-05 lockout, and he spent that season playing under Bruce Boudreau (now the Hershey Bears head coach) at Manchester of the AHL. Naturally, he finished third in the league with a plus-35 defensive rating. After the lockout ended, Weaver spent the 2005-06 season with the Kings. He picked up nine assists in a career high 53 games, but still no goals.

Heading into this season, Weaver had 15 assists in his 110-game NHL career. He began the 2006-07 campaign as a spare part, dressing for just one of the Kings’ first 11 games. Weaver had dressed for just 12 of the team’s first 43 games when he was loaned to Manchester on a conditioning assignment in early January. After seven games with the Monarchs, the Kings recalled Weaver. He was in the lineup on Tuesday in Tampa Bay, his first NHL game in nearly two months (since Dec. 7) and the 123rd of his NHL career.

The Kings trailed 2-0 going into the third period, but only until Weaver halved the deficit with his first NHL goal at 1:13 of the final frame. The 55th shot of his NHL career finally found its mark, more than five years after his NHL debut on Nov. 27, 2001. Less than seven minutes later, he fired another shot on goal and it also touched off the red light. Weaver’s apparent two-goal third period sent the game into overtime (the Kings lost in the shootout), and he was named the game’s No. 1 star for his efforts.

But wait. About 40 minutes after the game ended, off-ice officials in Tampa Bay instead credited the second goal to Derek Armstrong, with Weaver getting the primary assist instead. Weaver still has as many goals as the Bramalea Blues have wins this season (they’re 1-45-1-2).

“It’s about time,” said the solidly built defenseman after the game. “I was just like, ‘Get the puck. Make sure you get the puck from the ref,’” Weaver said. “Points are not my thing anyway, so when I do get them, it’s just a bonus.”

What if it had been the other way around? What if Weaver grabbed the puck from his first NHL goal, only to have the goal reversed and his second NHL goal (with the puck now long gone) suddenly become his first NHL goal? Fortunately for Weaver, needn’t worry about such a horrific hypothetical. He’s got that first one, and they won’t be taking it away from him. Too bad it happened on the road, though. The LA Times does not send a beat writer on the road with the Kings, so there was no local print coverage of Weaver’s feat.

With that goal on Tuesday, Weaver avoided any chance of achieving the ignominy reserved for Steven Halko, the former Carolina defenseman whose six-year NHL career ended with no goals in 155 games. Weaver had just passed former Caps draftee Dallas Eakins on the zero hero list. Eakins played 120 NHL games for eight different teams over parts of 10 seasons, but never found the back of the net. A few years back, ex-Cap Rick Berry tallied his first NHL goal with Washington, doing so in his 115th game.

Chalk one up to the good guy, to perseverance. Weaver’s claim to fame remains the INCH site, so he’s got that going for him. Which is nice.

Iron Man Irony

February 5, 2007

It has been nearly two decades now since former Caps center Doug Jarvis established the NHL’s iron man standard by playing in his 964th consecutive contest. He played that game on Oct. 10, 1987, the second game of the 1987-88 season. That game turned out to be the last one of his career. Whalers coach Jack Evans scratched Jarvis for Hartford’s Oct. 11 game against Boston, and he never got back into the lineup. Jarvis’s record consisted of playing in every game for 12 seasons, and the first two of 1987-88.

Jarvis broke Garry Unger’s mark of 914 consecutive games. Unger was a guy who was more likely to get hurt off the ice; his hobbies included calf-roping, speedboat-racing and water-skiing. He set the mark on Mar. 10, 1976, breaking Andy Hebenton’s record of 630. Like Jarvis, Unger wasn’t injured when his streak finally ended. Atlanta Flames coach Al McNeill benched Unger for one game during the 1979-80 season, putting a halt to the streak.

Hebenton debuted in the NHL with the Rangers in 1955-56. In those days, the season’s schedule was 70 games. Hebenton played eight seasons in New York and another in Boston without missing a single game, a total of 630 contests. His NHL streak was snapped at the start of the 1964-65 season because he was playing with the Portland Buckaroos of the old Western Hockey League. Hebenton played another decade in the WHL, and did not miss a game until 1967 when his father passed away, a streak of 1,062 games altogether.

Prior to Hebenton, the NHL’s iron man standard was held by Johnny Wilson, uncle of ex-Caps coach Ron Wilson. Wilson’s streak began when he was a rookie with the Red Wings in 1951-52 and stretched through the end of the 1959-60 season when he was with the Maple Leafs. Wilson missed the first game of the 1960-61 season because of a contract holdout, ending his consecutive-games-played streak at 580 games.

Murray Murdoch of the New York Rangers held the record before Wilson. Murdoch debuted with the Blueshirts in 1926-27, when the league’s schedule was 44 games. He played through the end of the 1936-37 campaign — by which time the schedule had increased to 48 games a season — on Broadway, a total of 508 games. When Murdoch’s streak reached 400 straight games in 1934-35, the Rangers brought in baseball’s “Iron Horse,” Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees, to help honor him. Murdoch’s streak ended at the start of the 1937-38 season because he was with the Philadelphia Ramblers of the AHL.

Murdoch held the distinction of “NHL Iron Man” the longest, a period of 22 years before Wilson overtook him in Mar. 1959. None of the five aforementioned streaks ended because of injury.

Why all this fuss about iron man streaks? Because a streak that is smaller than those of Jarvis, Unger, Hebenton, Wilson and Murdoch is about to fall. It’s a smaller streak — only about half the size of Jarvis’s — but it has lasted almost twice as long as Jarvis’s has. Colorado Avalanche defenseman Karlis Skrastins is poised to play his 486th consecutive NHL game on Tuesday against Florida. That would tie the all-time mark for an NHL defenseman held by Hockey Hall of Famer Tim Horton, who played 486 straight games from Feb. 11, 1961 to Feb. 4, 1968. Skrastins would break Horton’s record on Thursday when Colorado hosts Atlanta. That’s almost 39 years after Horton set the mark.

Fourteen NHL players have had streaks of 500 or more straight games, and 13 of them were forwards. The other was Hall of Fame goaltender Glenn Hall, who played in 502 straight games in the nets. That’s a record that surely will never fall.

It says a lot about the rigors of playing defense in the NHL that no blueliner in league history has ever surpassed the 500-consecutive-game plateau. Congrats to Skrastins on his significant achievement.


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