Archive for July 2008

Pre-Season Sked Update

July 30, 2008

The Capitals recently released their pre-season schedule for 2008-09, but the venue for one of the dates was noted as “TBD” at the time of release. The big news today (can you tell it’s still July?) is that the TBD has been determined. 

On Mon. Sept. 29 the Caps will travel north to the Prudential Center where they will take on the New Jersey Devils in what will be the fourth of Washington’s seven-game pre-season slate.

Tomorrow … it will still be July. After that, not so much.

Decision

July 26, 2008

The salary arbitration case for Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn has been decided. The arbitrator has ruled that the 25-year-old blueliner will receive a one-year contract for $1.975 million for the upcoming 2008-09 NHL season.

How Much for Mo?

July 24, 2008

As you know, the Caps and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn went through the salary arbitration process today in Toronto. Within the next day or two, we will learn Morrisonn’s salary for the 2008-09 season. The 25-year-old blueliner is the last remaining player unsigned by Washington for next season.

The arbitration process can be a bit murky for those of us who’ve never sat in on a session. Both sides use “comparables;” players they deem similar to the player in question. For the purposes of arbitration, those players are not necessarily comparables in the sense that they’ve played a similar number of games in the league and have posted similar numbers.

If that were the case, the Caps could say that Morrisonn is similar to Kurt Sauer in terms of stats and such. Sauer has four goals, 26 points and 214 PIM in 288 career NHL games. Morrisonn has six goals, 45 points and 278 PIM in 278 career games. Sauer recently signed a four-year deal with Phoenix, a contract that will pay him $1.75 million for each of the next four seasons.

And if the Caps were to use Sauer as a comparable (again, they can’t), the Morrisonn side might like to use Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik to bolster their own case. Orpik was chosen 18th overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft; Morrisonn was chosen 19th overall in 2001. Orpik has four goals, 36 points and 392 PIM in 297 career NHL contests. Orpik recently re-signed with the Penguins for six years. His deal will pay him $3.75 million per season.

There is a huge difference between what Sauer and Orpik got on the open market this month. On the very surface, neither player seems terribly different from Morrisonn, either.

I’ve poked around a bit and I can’t find a guy that I can safely say would qualify as a Morrisonn comparable. In other words, a guy who earned his next RFA contract at the age of 25 and in doing so, had career numbers similar to what Morrisonn’s are right now. 

Given the wide disparity in salaries for defensemen (and not just the two examples I used) it’s not surprising that the Caps and Morrisonn went to arbitration before ironing out a contract agreement on their own. As far as what the arbitrator decides, none of us has any idea, either. But we’ll know in a day or two. I’m thinking it could be anywhere between $1.5 and $2.5 million.

Fedorov: The Cutting Room Floor

July 18, 2008

Like a lot of people (including Fedorov himself and probably the Caps, too) I figured veteran center Sergei Fedorov was a short-term addition here in the District when he was acquired from Columbus at the Feb. 26 trade deadline. When he showed up at Kettler the following day and held an introductory news conference, I still didn’t think any differently. But I was struck by his presence and his command, and marveled at how much better he was at dealing with the media than in his earlier years. That’s not surprising; most players follow the same curve.

As the days and weeks and games went by, I began to sense (again, like a lot of people, including Fedorov himself and the Caps’ braintrust) that this alliance of the veteran pivot and the young, emergent team might have more life in it than just the 2007-08 season. With that in mind, I began to save snippets of conversations, scrums and the like. Seeing the impact he had on this team, and knowing his history and background, I thought it would make a great story for the summer if the Caps were able to re-sign him.

I approached Fedorov in Tampa one morning late in the season, and discussed the idea with him. I asked if he’d be willing to sit down for an inordinately long interview at some point, and if he’d be willing to discuss a wide range of topics going back to his days in the Soviet Union. He said he would, but politely asked if he could be allowed to focus on the matter at hand — namely, getting the Caps into the playoffs — for now. I told him that was fine; I just wanted to chat before he got out of town for the summer. We’d talk once the Caps had cemented their spot. 

The media demands on Fedorov are a lot more than you’d imagine, especially those last few weeks of the season. It seemed that every night, multiple media/blog outlets requested an audience with him. Sometimes he’d speak three or four times a day on game days. Once the playoffs rolled around, writers were sitting with him in the room at Kettler for 30 minutes at a time. Given that environment, I felt bad about requesting a half hour to myself. 

I wrote and posted the story the other day on caps. com. I ended up getting some short one-on-one chats with Fedorov over the season’s final two months (including the playoffs), a handful of postgame and post-practice scrums, and one long interview (more than 30 minutes in length) in which I took turns asking questions with The Post’s Mike Wise. 

In writing my piece, I tried not to used bits of Fedorov quotes that I had used in various writings during the season and the playoffs. I also tried not to use the quotes that Wise had used. Believe me when I tell you, Fedorov gave us enough good stuff that day for four or five writers to write great stories on him without any overlap.

When a player has a career as long and storied as Fedorov’s, it’s hard to get your arms around the whole of it. So the story itself ended up being more than 4,000 words. Even still, I didn’t get a chance to ask about the Carolina offer sheet or the five-goal game against the Caps.

It’s not my style to ask about a guy’s personal life. If he wants to volunteer stuff on the record, that’s fine. But I’m old school. For me, it’s about the game. I don’t give a rat’s ass about who he’s dating or who he was married to. Tarik and I have this argument all the time. He thinks fans love that kind of stuff and eat it up. He may be right. Hell, he probably is right. But as long as he and his cohorts are digging up all that good stuff for you readers who can hardly wait for it, I can concentrate on the rest of it. The hockey.

So with that lengthy explanation out of the way, here’s the cutting room floor stuff from the Fedorov piece. Again, you may have heard some of this before if you watch postgame and post-practice video on caps.com.

On his feeling about the possibility of getting back to the playoffs for the first time in five years:

“I think playoffs for this team is now. It’s a huge goal for this organization at this stage of the season. I’m in the playoffs. In my mind, I’m in the playoffs.

“It’s been more than a couple years. I’m excited for the opportunity that’s been given personally to myself. The way we play on this team, we create our own bounces and breaks. We have to control things we can control which is winning games.”

 On how his body and legs are holding up at this stage of his career:

 “I think I feel comfortable enough on the ice in game situations, hockey situations, that I can skate myself out of trouble or skate the puck out of trouble, yeah.”

On the team’s play during it’s run to the division title:

“We created that certain urgency. I think game-in and game-out we realized as a group how important this is and how much focus we need and how much energy we need to get this done. I think it’s a very positive experience. I like the way we’ve responded. We’ve had our letdowns, but it’s a part of the experience.

“We found a way to turn things around. I would say, ‘You don’t do those things during the playoffs.’ But unfortunately, we’ve done them and we’ve turned things around. It’s a tradeoff. The depth on the team is good, but I prefer not to play and get down a goal and have to come up with a great effort to win it. I prefer to have a solid 60 minutes. But we found a way and that’s important. That response is more important than anything else.”

On Scotty Bowman:

“He was quite strict. He knows what he wants out of his group. He knows how to manage his players. It was difficult at times, no question about it. But the most important thing is how we reacted to it. And we reacted well most of the time. And that’s what brought us [to Stanley Cup championships].”

On the Detroit area, where he lives in the off-season:

“Living in the area doesn’t give you a chance to miss anything. Hockey is hockey. Your career happens the way it happens and you go with it. I live still in Detroit. I come back in the summer and I have all my friends there. I’m having a great time and great experience there. I’m not missing Detroit because I live there.”

On Wayne Gretzky’s comment about athletes reaching their mental peak years after they reach their physical peak (Wise used most of this one as the lead to his story):

“That’s right, you don’t enjoy it as much. You don’t know how. It comes with experience. Is that what you’re getting at? You’re happy, you’re excited at that particular moment but you don’t understand. You don’t know. Because you don’t have that experience that creates that positive wave to most of the people who are around you; your teammates, fans, your family. You just go about your business.

“In playoffs, it’s a very hard and fast pace. You only have seven games to do something. Or four or five or six. So, he’s right.”

On the string of Nike commercials he filmed and/or was referenced in:

“It was funny. I remember that time. It was fun to see commercials where you’re not part of it but they’re talking about you, especially goalies. It was pretty funny. I think Nike did a great job back then. I thought it was funny and realistic. Our business is not show business, but from that point of view, it kind of mixed together real well.

“I remember spending two days – eight hours each day – skating around and doing all that show-off stuff. It was not easy; you become an actor eventually after spending 16 hours on the ice doing fake stuff. But it looks really good on TV after they edit it. It had a funny edge to it.”

On winning the Cup in Washington with Detroit in 1998:

“It’s 10 years later. It doesn’t matter. And I’m playing for this team now, so I have to earn my wings.”

On how long he thinks he can play:

“After this year I have to sit down and think really hard if I have the fire still to play. The body is halfway there. It’s all here (tapping on his temple).”

On whether he can see himself making the late-career transition from scoring line center to checking line center a la Igor Larionov:

“Not really. I don’t think it’s similar to the style we play. I already made a transition to stay in the game. I’m not running myself to be a leader. I can play that role, second or third center, that’s no big deal for me actually. It would be a little bit easier, maybe. But people still will take shots at me because they expect the best and nothing but the best.

“So what’s the point to waste your time being a second or third center, if you’re not performing even the way even coaches expect you to perform? They think you play second or third center and do exactly the same damage as if you played the top role. And that’s miscommunication, completely. You know what I’m saying? If you have influences, it’s different than actually to play on the ice and be a game-breaker. It’s a big difference.”

Momentum

July 14, 2008

For those of us who follow the Washington Capitals, last week was an oasis in the desert that is the NHL off-season. The Caps hosted their annual summer development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex last week, culminating with a scrimmage and the team’s Summer FanFest in front of a packed house on Saturday. Development camp is always a fun week, but this year’s camp and the flock of folks who came out to watch was another sign in an ongoing litany of good things for this team and this franchise.

Word leaked out in the middle of last week that Washington had come to contract terms with center Sergei Fedorov on a one-year extension; that deal was made official this morning. Also during the week, new Caps goaltender Jose Theodore came into town for a visit and Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr signed contracts for 2008-09.

Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn is the only player who is unsigned, and he has an arbitration date set for later this month. That means he Caps won’t have to worry about any contract distractions at training camp this fall.

The Caps ended last season with a great deal of momentum both on and off the ice. They’ve been able to maintain the on-ice momentum by getting players signed and returning largely the same team that finished last season, with the notable exception of Theodore.

For the Capitals at this stage of their development cycle, momentum is critical. The 2007-08 team captured the interest and the imagination of the fan base and re-ignited a passion for the game and the team that was dormant for a few years. History has shown that fans support good hockey here, but past teams have failed to keep momentum going and as a result, the attendance waned. A fun and thrilling 2008-09 season will go a long way toward keeping the big crowds in the building beyond this season.

The Caps made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, the same season in which they moved to the Verizon Center in downtown D.C. The team set an attendance record the following season, but was unable to keep that momentum going because the 1998-99 team suffered 511 man games lost to injury and finished with a dismal total of 68 points. 

A few years later, the Caps created a big summer splash when they made a swap for superstar right wing Jaromir Jagr on July 11, 2001. The Capitals again set an attendance record (averaging 17,341 fans per game) in 2001-02, but they failed to make the playoffs. A coaching change followed, and the team never again consistently and routinely hit the 17,000 mark in attendance until the second half of this season.

After the announcement of the Ovechkin contract this past January, the Caps drew an average of 17,219 for their final 21 home dates of the season. They attracted crowds of 17,000 or more for each of the last 15 home regular season games, and sold out seven of the final 11 dates. As those of you who were in the house know, the place was loud, raucous, exciting and fun. And in the four home playoff games against Philly, there were few Flyer fans in sight.

The recent turnaround has been swift. It started in November when Bruce Boudreau was named head coach. It climbed when Alex Ovechkin signed a 13-year contract extension in January. It picked up a head of steam when the team got hot in February and March. And it reached a crescendo in April when the Caps finished the regular season at home and earned their first playoff berth in five years, playing to packed houses bedecked in red. I routinely ran into longtime Caps observers who said they’d never heard the building so loud, and never had as much fun at a Caps game.

Keeping the team together is important. Unlike that aging team that made the finals in 1998 and was mostly kept together for the following disappointing season, this bunch is young and on the rise. They like playing in Washington and they love playing with and for each other. And they can reasonably be expected to improve as most have yet to reach their prime years.

Keeping the fans’ interest piqued is also a key. Filling the Kettler Capitals Iceplex for a development camp scrimmage on a Saturday in July is a great sign. The atmosphere was fabulous all last week, but particularly so on Saturday.

All week plenty of folks took the time to come up and introduce themselves, which I always appreciate. I love meeting passionate hockey people, and spending a few minutes chatting. I got the chance to do a lot of that last week, and there was one recurring theme that kept surfacing in my conversations with fans, bloggers and other media types:

September can’t get here fast enough.

We’ve killed a lot of the off-season, but we’ve got two months to camp and three months till meaningful hockey. The preseason schedule will be released later today, and the regular season slate follows on Thursday. 

And yeah, September can’t get here fast enough.

Blackjack for Brooks

July 9, 2008

At this time last year, some of my media pals and some of the fans out there with whom I regularly converse were wondering just what the hell Brooks Laich was thinking. They wondered why a guy with eight goals and 18 points would choose to have his salary for the upcoming season decided via the arbitration process. As with many things in this great game, it’s never as simple as the numbers.

A few months later some of these same folks crunched the numbers again. Looking at the training camp depth charts, they couldn’t see how Laich would make the Caps roster last fall. I told anyone who was willing to listen that Laich would make the team (duh), and that he would flourish afterwards.

He played all 82 games and scored 21 goals.

I guess Laich’s 2007-08 season surprised a lot of people. But good young players get better. They’re not necessarily the same player you saw at age 21 or 22. Throw in a good work ethic and a willingness to go to the net, and you’ve got a pretty well-rounded NHL player. Laich can play all three forward positions, he can kill penalties and he can play on the power play. He’s worked very hard to shore up some of the areas of his game that sagged earlier in his career, and today it paid off when he signed a three-year contract with the Caps.

No arbitration required this time around. The salary cap hit for the Laich deal will be just under $2.1 million. That leaves only defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and forwards Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr unsigned among Washington’s group of RFAs. Morrisonn has elected for arbitration, but a deal can be struck before it gets that far, as with Laich.

The Caps are also still discussing a possible pact with UFA center Sergei Fedorov. To the best of my rudimentary calculations, Washington now has 21 players under contract for a total of about $50.1 million for the upcoming season. The NHL’s salary cap for 2008-09 has been set at $56.7 million.

Net Gain or Loss?

July 7, 2008

Tuesday was a tough day to be on the road. I got off an airplane in Jacksonville just after 1 p.m. and quickly exchanged a few text messages with friends and contacts around the league. Not much was going on at that point. The Caps had already agreed to terms with Mike Green, but I had written about that before leaving Baltimore in the morning. I was hoping for a relatively quiet day on the Caps front, but it turned out to be anything but quiet both in Washington and around the league.

Since then, many words have been written, but few by me. More guys have signed. I’ve had a hot water heater blow on Independence Day (hours before hosting a party here at stately Vogel mansion) and I’ve had some serious wireless woes at the homestead that finally got ironed out yesterday. I’ve got some thoughts on what happened Tuesday, and I started writing them on Wednesday, including the first paragraph of this mess. The thoughts should still hold up; there are no games in the off-season.

Get a seat and a beverage. This one won’t be short.

As we all know, goaltending is important in the NHL. (Which is like saying, “Having tires on a car is important for driving.”) For the last decade, the Caps have gone into every season with Olie Kolzig as their starting goaltender. As the 2007-08 season wore on, it became apparent that Kolzig would likely not be the guy the Caps relied on as their starter in 2008-09. That made getting their next No. 1 netminder a priority.

During the season, the Caps’ pro scouting and hockey ops staff identified a couple of impending UFAs who might fit the bill, namely Cristobal Huet and Jose Theodore. When a trade to obtain Huet became possible at the Feb. 26 trade deadline, the Caps paid the reasonable price of a second-round draft choice to the Montreal Canadiens for the goaltender.

The plan at that point was to have Kolzig and Huet share the netminding duties the rest of the way. The Caps also saw the acquisition of Huet as a nice dovetail into their plan to secure their next No. 1 goaltender. In getting Huet from the Habs, the Caps would now own the exclusive negotiating rights with the goaltender until Jul. 1. This same scenario worked out well for the Philadelphia Flyers a year earlier. The Flyers acquired goalie Martin Biron from Buffalo at the 2007 trade deadline. The Flyers auditioned him and he auditioned the team and the city, and the two sides came to agreement on a multi-year contract before Biron made it to the free agent market.

In a perfect world, the Huet scenario would have played out similarly. Reality is far less than perfect, and the scenario obviously played out far differently. 

Huet and Kolzig shared the netminding duties for the better part of a month after the former’s arrival, alternating starts. Both played well; Huet played better. The team thrived.

Kolzig lost in Chicago on Mar. 19, and Huet started and won the following game. Needing points and wins, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau stuck with the hot hand and Huet started and won each of the final seven games of the regular season to push the Caps into the playoffs.

After winning 11 of 13 regular season starts with the Caps, Huet was not as sharp in the playoffs. (How could he possibly be?) The Caps were ousted in the first round. In the two months since, Huet and the Caps had ongoing discussions about the possibility of a multi-year extension in Washington, but ultimately it did not get done. (For more on the discussions, you can listen to general manager George McPhee’s July 1 media conference call.)

Huet decided to test the market, and who can blame him? He’ll be 33 in two months and this was possibly his best shot at a home run contract. Here’s a question for you: If the free agency period began on Feb. 26, what kind of contract would Huet have gotten? He would have likely fared well, still being one of the more attractive UFA goalies on the market. But had he finished out the season as a backup to Carey Price in Montreal, would Huet have gotten four years and $22 million? We can only speculate, of course, but by helping the Caps to the playoffs he may have simultaneously priced himself out of the range of what Washington could reasonably be expected to pay.

Keep in mind the high number of young players on the Caps roster who will need to be paid going forward. Keep in mind the mass exodus from Pittsburgh this summer. Keep in mind that the salary cap is also capable of going down at some point.

I was hoping the Caps would re-sign Huet. He seemed to me to be the best of the available options in goal this summer. Jose Theodore was the second guy on virtually everybody’s list of UFA goaltenders, and maybe a few would have had him at the top. Theodore was another guy whose stock rose on the basis of a strong late surge. At any rate, the Caps liked Theodore a few months ago, too. It’s not like we woke up on Wednesday to read that Ray Emery or Marc Denis will be the No. 1 guy in the District this season.

Contracts are always going to be signed on the basis of past performance. But the ONLY thing that matters is future performance. Since the Caps missed out on Huet and settled for Theodore on Tuesday, there has been a sharp difference of opinion among some Caps followers and fans as to how the Caps fared in the swap of ex-Canadien goaltenders. That’s not surprising; it was the same way last season when the Caps signed free agents some of the fans perceived as stiffs.

What is surprising is that some are painting the situation black (and bleak) despite the relatively small difference in the two goaltenders statistically. (Japers does a better job than anyone of illustrating the statsitical differences.) Let’s face it, neither Huet nor Theodore has ever won a Stanley Cup. Hell, Huet’s next Stanley Cup playoff series win will be his first.

What’s a little untoward (to me, anyway) is that some are using the Theodore situation to point out how negligent the Caps have been in not having addressed this goaltending issue years ago via the Entry Draft. To me, that kind of thinking is misguided. Here’s why.

Washington has drafted several netminders (six in the last five drafts) in the hope that one of them will emerge at some point down the line. Over the years, the Capitals have chosen 36 goaltenders in the NHL draft, an average of about one per year.

Two of the 36 have played as many as 100 games for the Caps. Two. Still think they should have been poking around looking for their next goalie in the draft for the last decade?

Kolzig (19th overall in 1989) was the 19th goaltender drafted of these 36. The 20th was Jim Carey (32nd in 1992). He was drafted three years after Kolzig, yet he reached the 100-game level before Kolzig did. Carey was out of town (traded to Boston) by the time Kolzig played his 100th game for Washington. Only two of the other 34 (Peter Sidorkiewicz and Byron Dafoe) ever played as many as 100 games in the NHL. Most of the Caps’ prominent goaltenders over the years — Ron Low, Wayne Stephenson, Mike Palmateer, Al Jensen, Pat Riggin, Pete Peeters, Clint Malarchuk, Don Beaupre, Bill Ranford — came from other organizations.

And guess what? That’s the rule around the NHL these days, too. Looking at the 30 starting goaltenders for NHL teams at the close of the 2007-08 season, how many of them were continuously with the team that drafted them?

Eleven out of 30. Meaning that nearly two-thirds of the teams in the league either made a deal with another team or signed a free agent to get their starting goaltender. Meaning the way of the world is to let someone else draft and develop your goaltender. Until Kolzig and Carey came along, it was how the Caps operated for the first two decades of their existence.

Some of those folks who say the Caps should have been more diligent in finding Kolzig’s replacement say the Caps should have been actively drafting goaltenders five years before 2006, when Simeon Varlamov was chosen in the first round and Michal Neuvirth in the second round. But here’s another eye-opener for you.

How many goaltenders from the last five Entry Drafts (2003-07, since the ’08 class has not yet had a chance to play in the league) are now among those 30 starters? Two. Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price. Price is the reason the Caps were able to get Huet in the first place. Fleury and Price were both top five picks, too. And they were the only goaltenders taken in the top five from 2003-08.

Al Montoya went sixth in 2004. He has played three years pro and has already been traded once, but his next NHL game will be his first one.

Here are a few more interesting (I think so, anyway) facts that should tell you quite a bit about the science of drafting and developing goaltenders.

* Twelve of the aforementioned 2007-08 starting goaltenders were drafted in this decade. One of them (Ward) has won a Cup. Eight of them have yet to win a playoff series.

2000: Rick DiPietro, Dan Ellis, Henrik Lundqvist, Ilya Bryzgalov.

2001: Pascal Leclaire, Martin Gerber, Mike Smith, Cristobal Huet

2002: Kari Lehtonen, Cam Ward

2003: Marc-Andre Fleury

2005: Carey Price

* Half of those netminders (DiPietro, Leclaire, Fleury, Lehtonen, Ward and Price) were first-rounders.

* All the others were drafted in the 1990s. 

1990: Martin Brodeur

1991: Chris Osgood

1992: Nikolai Khabibulin

1993: Manny Legace

1994: Jose Theodore, Marty Turco, Evgeni Nabokov, Thomas Vokoun, Tim Thomas

1995: J-S Giguere, Miikka Kiprusoff, Martin Biron, Vesa Toskala

1996: Mathieu Garon

1997: Roberto Luongo

1998: Jason Labarbera

1999: Ryan Miller

* Twelve drafted in the “oughts,” 17 in the 1990s (only three of those 17 were first-rounders) and one (Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom) was not drafted at all. I’m counting seven Cups and some long playoff runs from those 1990s-drafted goaltenders.

* Two of the starters (Giguere and Legace) were drafted by Hartford. One (Khabibulin) was drafted by Winnipeg. One (Thomas) was drafted by Quebec. That’s four of the 30 who were drafted by teams no longer in existence. 

* One more for ya. Fleury was chosen with the first overall pick in 2003. Him, you’re familiar with. The next 24 goalies drafted that year (in rounds 2-9) have combined to play a total of 27 games in the league. Then there’s the guy Montreal took with pick No. 271 in the ninth round. That would be Jaroslav Halak, who has played 22 NHL games.

How prepared have other teams been for similar situations? Who is the heir apparent to Martin Brodeur in New Jersey? Did the Blackhawks really just “replace” Khabibulin (one Cup) by signing a guy who no playoff series wins who is about three years younger? Detroit has Jimmy Howard in the pipeline, and Dominik Hasek just retired. Perfect situation to work the kid in as Osgood’s backup, right? Nah, they signed Ty Conklin.

I guess what I’m saying here is when it comes to goaltending, it doesn’t always make sense. On or off the ice. Goaltenders who succeed are first-rounders like Brodeur, undrafted guys like Eddie Belfour, and late-round finds like Khabibulin. The roadside is littered with first-round failures (Jimmy Waite, Eric Fichaud, Maxime Ouellet and Brian Finley, to name a few) while late-rounders often prosper. Though they may prosper late.

Which leads me to my final point here. 

You draft a goalie. He’s 18. Let’s say he plays two more years of junior. He’s 20. Now, he signs a three-year entry level deal. He might need all three of those years pro (as we’ve seen, Fleury and Price are the exceptions) to determine whether or not he’s capable of handling the job at the next level. He’s 23 now. Is he ready to start in the NHL? How many guys are ready to excel in the NHL at 23?

Since the Caps came into the league in 1974-75, here’s a list of goaltenders with the most wins between the ages of 23 and 25:

1. Martin Brodeur (114), 2. Mike Vernon (106), 3. Henrik Lundqvist (104), 4. Chris Osgood (95), 5. Tim Cheveldae (93), 6. Grant Fuhr (91), 7. Patrick Roy (89), 8. Nikolai Khabibulin (86), 9. Pete Peeters (85), 10. Mike Palmateer (83).

Four guys still active. The Caps have the guy who’s fifth among active goalies (and 19th overall) on that list. His name is Brent Johnson (69 wins). Theodore is 28th with 62. Only nine of the top 30 are still active (and the Caps have two of them), but two of them (Emery and Jocelyn Thibault) aren’t guys you want right now.

If the Red Wings really believe Howard (the third of the 24 goalies chosen between Fleury and Halak in 2003, by the way) is Osgood’s eventual replacement, then Conklin doesn’t make the team this year. Howard’s entry level deal is up; he has played three years pro and now has to clear waivers to go back to Grand Rapids. Three years (and 82 games) at U. of Maine, three years (and 141 games) in the AHL and eight NHL games. Howard is 24 now. Is he ready?

Chicago’s Corey Crawford was drafted a dozen slots ahead of Howard in the same draft (second of the 24 between Fleury and Halak). How ready is he? He has seven NHL games under his belt. And he has Huet and Khabibulin (for now, anyway) ahead of him on the depth chart.

In many — if not most — cases, three years won’t be enough. The goalie will be cast aside and he will prosper elsewhere. Like Giguere, Kiprusoff, Khabibulin, Vokoun, Ellis, Bryzgalov, Legace, Toskala and Huet.

Carey won 70 games for the Caps before his 23rd birthday. And none after. Kolzig won two games for the Caps before his 25th birthday. And 299 after. We’ll see soon enough how Theodore fares in the District now that he has become the latest in a long line of goaltender imports here in D.C.

While we all watch, we’ll root for Daren Machesney. We’ll urge Simeon Varlamov to greatness. We’ll follow the exploits of Michal Neuvirth. We’ll trace the doings of Dan Dunn. And we’ll hold out hope for Braden Holtby.

Even though history and the odds say that the Caps’ goaltender of the future is currently minding the twine in another NHL organization.

Two Caps File

July 5, 2008

Today was the last day for NHL players to file for arbitration, and two Washington players did so. Center Brooks Laich and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn both opted for arbitration, while center Boyd Gordon did not. Those three players along with right wing Eric Fehr are the Capitals’ only unsigned restricted free agents.

By virtue of filing for arbitration, Laich and Morrisonn are no longer eligible to receive RFA offer sheets from other NHL clubs.

The arbitration schedule will be set later this week with all hearings scheduled between July 20 and Aug. 4.

Big Day Coming

July 1, 2008

“Let’s be undecided, let’s take our time
And sooner or later, we will know our mind
We’ll be on the outside, we won’t care
Cause we’re together, that’s somewhere

And there’s a big day coming, about a mile away
There’s a big day coming, I can hardly wait”

– From “Big Day Coming” by Yo La Tengo

Canada Day also happens to be the opening of the free agent shopping season in the NHL. While the rest of the world sleeps tonight, 30 NHL GMs and hockey ops staffs are putting the finishing touches on their plans to assemble the best hockey team possible for 2008-09. But not every team can have Marian Hossa or Brian Campbell. And the teams that miss out will have to scramble and settle for Plan B. And Plan B might be palatable, but will it be enough to win the Cup?

Here in Washington, the start of the free agent shopping/hunting season has a bit of a different paint job on it than it has had in recent years. The Caps spent the first two summers after the lockout dabbling in the market, but smartly preferring to rely mostly on younger players. Last summer, Washington sprang into action and inked defenseman Tom Poti and forwards Viktor Kozlov and Michael Nylander in the first two days of action. 

This summer, the idea is to keep together the team that came from nowhere to win the Southeast Division. That means doing their level best to re-sign goaltender Cristobal Huet, who went 11-2 during his 13 starts as a Capital. That means keeping Mike Green from the clutches of preying GMs (Do GMs have large talons?) who would fiendishly poach him for their own. That means trying to find a palatable middle ground with veteran center Sergei Fedorov, who seemed to drink from the fountain of youth in his two months in a Washington sweater last spring. That means getting signatures from Shaone Morrisonn, Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr with a minimum of drama.

Getting all that done successfully would be quite a feat. And would likely bumper the Capitals up pretty tightly against the 2008-09 salary cap of $56.7 million. Which may mean the only shopping the Caps do this summer would be window shopping. 

But we’ll see. (My kids say “We’ll see means no.” I’m old enough to know it doesn’t always.) Trades seem to be a bit more in fashion these days, and the Caps certainly have piled up some attractive assets over the last few years. I’ve said for the last few years that teams need to find ways to get back to making hockey trades if they’re seriously serious about improving their teams, and the best time to make hockey trades is when hockey is not being played. 

I think most Caps fans would be happy with Huet and Green in the fold, but again, we’ll see. There’s a Big Day Coming, about a mile away.


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