Archive for January 2008

No Mo

January 31, 2008

The scratch list is out and Shaone Morrisonn is on it. He won’t be able to go tonight against the Habs and will be out for the fourth time in the last five games. Tom Poti and Milan Jurcina will comprise the starting pair on D.

Too Soon to Tell

January 31, 2008

Just came back from the pre-game press chat with Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, and he is still unsure as to Shaone Morrisonn’s status for tonight. And if Morrisonn is able to go, Boudreau is unsure as to which blueliner would not get a sweater tonight.

What we do know is that Olie Kolzig is in goal tonight. More after the warm-ups.

The Caps’ Next Goalie

January 29, 2008

Where will he come from? Is he in the system now? When will he be ready to take over the reins? Will the Caps need to trade for a goaltender to serve as a “bridge” between the Olie Kolzig/Brent Johnson duo and the next goalie to come out of the Caps’ system?

I dunno, I dunno, I dunno. I dunno.

With Kolzig approaching his 38th birthday and still unsigned beyond this season, it’s certainly safe to say that we don’t know what the immediate future of the Caps’ goaltending situation will be. I believe these last 32 games of the season will be telling. If the Kolzig/Brent Johnson tandem proves reasonably effective, the Caps could re-sign Kolzig for another year and go with a similar split/rotation next season. Several teams have had varying degrees of success with this type of system this season, most notably Detroit with Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood.

If the Caps’ braintrust deems the Kolzig/Johnson duo untenable for an up-and-coming Stanley Cup hopeful team in 2008-09, then perhaps a trade might be in the offing this summer. Washington has a burgeoning stable of young prospects at many positions, and it has three second-round choices in addition to a first-rounder in what is generally regarded as a deep 2008 NHL Entry Draft. The Capitals have also drafted four goaltenders in the past three drafts. Daren Machesney (2005), Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth (2006) and Dan Dunn (2007) are unlikely to have an impact at the NHL level anytime soon. But it may be worth a look at past drafts to see when we might expect one or more of these young netminders to be ready make the jump.

In the interest of time-saving, I went back as far as 1989, the draft that brought Kolzig to town.

1989
Washington chose Kolzig with the 19th overall pick, and he was the first goaltender chosen. The Caps also grabbed the second goalie taken in the draft, tabbing Byron Dafoe with the 35th pick. Both went on to enjoy successful careers in the league, but it would be eight years before Kolzig was able to take the starting job and record double-digit wins in a season. Dafoe didn’t blossom until he got out of Washington in 1995, and he didn’t truly “arrive” as an NHL goaltender until 1997-98, the same season in which Kolzig began his run of success. Of the 17 goaltenders taken after Kolzig and Dafoe in 1989, only Arturs Irbe (196th overall to Minnesota) had any notable NHL prosperity. Irbe played in 568 games and recorded 218 wins over the course of a 13-year NHL career.

1990
Trevor Kidd (to Calgary 11th overall) was the first goaltender chosen but it was Martin Brodeur (New Jersey, 20th) who went on to become one of the greatest of all time. The second round produced Felix Potvin, the third Mike Dunham and the sixth Roman Turek. All three had their moments but none ever sustained the type of long-term success that every team is looking for from its goaltender. Aside from Brodeur, Potvin had the best career in the league. He was 266-260-85 with five different clubs over a 13-year NHL run.

1991
No goaltenders were chosen in the first round, and a guy by the name of Andrew Verner was the first goaltender chosen (Edmonton, 34th overall). He never made it to the NHL, playing three seasons in the AHL before moving on to Europe where he is still active professionally. The third round of that draft produced journeyman backup Jamie McLennan and Osgood (54th overall), who is on the Hall of Fame track. The Islanders took Milan Hnilicka in the fourth round, Buffalo selected Steve Shields in the fifth. None of the other netminders taken later on had any noteworthy NHL success.

1992
Once again, no goaltenders were chosen in the first round. Once again, the Capitals took the first netminder of the draft, taking Jim Carey with the 32nd overall choice. Carey was a Calder Trophy runner-up in 1994-95 and he won the Vezina Trophy in 1995-96. Nearly half (35 of 79) of Carey’s NHL wins came in his Vezina season and his pro career was over before his 25th birthday. During Carey’s Vezina season, he saw more than 30 shots over a full 60-minute game just four times, and never faced as many as 40. Washington opponents averaged 24.9 shots per game that season.

Manny Fernandez went to Quebec in the third round and Winnipeg made a strong choice with Nikolai Khabibulin (204th overall) in the ninth round. Khabibulin would backstop the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 2004 Stanley Cup championship, joining Dominik Hasek as the only European-born and trained goaltenders to backstop an NHL team to a Cup title.

1993
Quebec took Jocelyn Thibault with the 10th choice. Still active in the NHL as a backup in Buffalo, the 33-year-old Thibault has fashioned a 237-238-74 record in 13 seasons with five clubs, a similar career line to those of Irbe and Potvin. Thibault has won as many as 30 games in a season just once. Florida chose Kevin Weekes in the second round (41st overall) and he has spent several seasons toiling for seven different NHL teams. Weekes has never won 30 games in a season and has won as many as 20 just twice. The Islanders got Tommy Salo in the fifth round (118th overall). A serviceable No. 1 backstop on some dismal Islander teams, Salo later had a pair of 30-win seasons in Edmonton. He finished up with a 210-225-75 NHL record.

Pittsburgh chose Patrick Lalime late in the sixth round (156th) and Hartford chose Manny Legace early in the eighth (188th). Both are still in the league, and Legace was an All-Star this season. Lalime made it to the NHL at 22 and won 21 games as a rookie. He then disappeared into the AHL for the next two seasons before resurfacing with Ottawa where he had a strong five-season run. He is now a backup in Chicago. Legace was 25 when he made it to the NHL and 27 when he won as many as 20 games for the first time. His first season with 30 or more wins came at the age of 32.

1994
When the Kings chose Jamie Storr with the seventh overall pick, it marked the earliest selection of a goaltender since Buffalo took Tom Barrasso fifth overall in 1983. Storr’s career was nowhere near as good as Barrasso’s. Storr knocked around the NHL and the AHL for the better part of a decade and never had a 20-win season in the NHL. He finished his career with a record of 85-86-23. Now 32, Storr is still active as a pro in Germany.

Three more netminders were taken in the first round: Eric Fichaud, 16th; Evgeni Ryabchikov, 21st and Dan Cloutier 30th. Cloutier (137-138-36) has had the best career of that trio. The oft-injured Cloutier did stay healthy enough to record three straight 30-win seasons with the Canucks before the lockout.

The Canadiens found Jose Theodore in the second round (44th overall) and Dallas drafted Marty Turco in the fifth round (124th). Theodore won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2002, but he has a sub-.500 career record in both the regular season and the postseason and has never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs. Turco is closing in on 200 wins (194-93-40) and has been excellent during the regular season. But he has gone as far as the second round of the playoffs only once and has a career postseason mark of 11-18.

The first eight rounds of the 1994 draft produced 15 goaltenders, and then a late run had nine goalies going in the ninth round. The noteworthy ninth produced Frederic Cassivi (210) and a run of three straight (217-19) that yielded Tim Thomas, Johan Hedberg and Evgeny Nabokov. The 226th pick produced Tomas Vokoun and the 229th turned up John Grahame. That’s a pretty remarkable ninth round, even without speedy winger Steve Sullivan (233rd).

Thomas is a late bloomer who didn’t reach the NHL to stay until he was 31. Hedberg is a serviceable backup who has one 20-win season to his credit. Nabokov was almost 19 when he was drafted. He turned pro in North America at 22 and needed three full seasons of AHL seasoning before he was ready to assume the No. 1 job in San Jose in 2000-01, at the age of 25. Nabokov is on his way to a fourth 30-win season in 2007-08. He has had a pair of second-round playoff runs and one third-round playoff run.

Vokoun was a capable support goaltender in the NHL at the age of 22 and a bona fide No. 1 guy by the time he was 26. He has had some good seasons, and the four-year deal he signed in Sept. 2006 gives him financial security. He also has a 3-8 career playoff record.

1995
Hartford chose J-S Giguere with the 13th pick and Buffalo grabbed Martin Biron with the 16th. Brian Boucher (22nd) and Marc Denis (25th) went later in the first round. Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy has won a Cup and Biron has had some regular season success but has yet to appear in a Stanley Cup playoff game. His most recent postseason experience came in 1999 when he helped Rochester win the Calder Cup. Boucher and Denis are currently toiling in the AHL after having had modest and sporadic success in the NHL.

J-S Aubin went late in the third (76th) and Vesa Toskala (90th) went in the middle of the fourth. The fifth round turned up a pair of current No. netminders in the league, Miikka Kiprusoff (116th) and Chris Mason (122nd) as well as the Caps’ Johnson (129th). Kiprusoff is regarded as one of the best in the business and he led the Flames to within a whisker of a Stanley Cup title in 2004.

1996
One of the weaker drafts in recent vintage yielded just one first-round goaltender, Craig Hillier (23rd), who never played in the NHL. Righty-catching Mathieu Garon went in the second round (44th) and Robert Esche was chosen in the sixth (139th).

1997
Chosen fourth overall, Roberto Luongo joined Ray Martynuik (fifth in 1970), John Davidson (fifth in 1973) and Barrasso as the only goaltenders in the modern draft era (post-1969) to be chosen among the top five. Arguably the best goaltender in the league, Luongo has lived up to his advance billing despite toiling largely for mediocre clubs. None of the other three goalies drafted in the top 30 (Mika Noronen, 18th; J-F-Damphousse, 26th; J-M Pelletier, 30th) has made an impact.

The final pick of the sixth round (161st overall) turned up Swiss netminder David Aebischer. Johan Holmqvist, now on the outs in Tampa Bay, went in the middle of the seventh round (175th).

1998
Patrick DesRochers (14th) and Mathieu Chouinard (15th) went back-to-back in the middle of the first round. They combined to play a dozen games in the NHL. This draft also produced Jason LaBarbera (66th), Dany Sabourin (108th) and Andrew Raycroft (135th) but the best of the bunch is probably Antero Niittymaki (168th).

1999
First-rounders Brian Finley (sixth), Maxime Ouellet (22nd) and Ari Ahonen (27th) combined to play just 16 NHL games. Second-rounder Alex Auld (40th) had a 30-win season and is a reasonably competent backup. The lone capable No. 1 guy to come out of this draft was Ryan Miller in the fifth round (138th).

2000
Rick DiPietro became the first goaltender ever chosen with the first overall pick. He is 109-98-28 lifetime, an impressive record given the quality of the teams he has played for. The 26-year-old DiPietro is 2-7 in playoff competition. Calgary chose Brent Krahn with the ninth overall pick. Now in his fifth season as a pro, the 25-year-old Krahn has yet to play in the NHL.

Ilya Bryzgalov (44th) and Dan Ellis (60th) were both second-round choices. Bryzgalov spent four years honing his skills in the AHL before he was deemed ready for an NHL apprenticeship. Now 27, he is in his first year as No. 1 guy. After four seasons in the AHL, the 27-year-old Ellis is an NHL rookie backing up Chris Mason in Nashville.

Michal Tellqvist (70th) is Bryzgalov’s backup in Phoenix and Roman Cechmanek (171st) was a sixth-rounder with plenty of European pro experience who had a short run of NHL success. Seventh-round sleeper Henrik Lundqvist (205th) is on his way to becoming one of the NHL’s elite goalies. He came to the NHL as a 23-year-old with a good deal of European seasoning and has been solid right from the start of his NHL career. Lundqvist is 6-7 in the postseason.

2001
The first round yielded Pascal Leclaire (eighth), just coming into his own this season; Dan Blackburn (10th), whose career was prematurely ended by a nerve injury in his shoulder; Jason Bacashihua (26th) and Adam Munro (29th). Bacashihua is a sixth-year pro who is now with his third NHL organization. He has a 7-17-4 lifetime mark in the NHL, and is now in the Avs system. Munro is a fifth-year pro who is 4-10-3 in the league.

Colorado plucked Peter Budaj with the final pick (63rd) in the second round. He debuted in 2005-06 and won 31 games for the Avs last season, but has been inconsistent in 2007-08. Ottawa grabbed Ray Emery early in the fourth (99th). Emery helped the Sens to the Cup finals last spring, earning a big contract in the process. He has been troubled by off-ice issues this season.

San Jose chose Dmitri Patzold in the fourth round (107th). Now a fifth-year pro, Patzold turns 25 next week. He made his NHL debut this season, getting into three games. He has yet to make a start, however.

Capable NHL backup Mike Smith was chosen late in the fifth round (161st) and Euro vet Pasi Nurminen went in the sixth (189th). Two more Euro vets who went in later rounds are still enjoying NHL success. The Kings chose Cristobal Huet in the seventh round (214th) and Anaheim picked Martin Gerber (232nd) in the eighth round. Neither the Kings nor the Ducks kept their late-round finds long enough to see the rewards, though. And the Kings could sure use Huet about now.

2002
The Thrashers took Kari Lehtonen second overall and the Hurricanes selected Cam Ward 25th. Both netminders have had some ups and downs, but are considered the current and future No. 1 goalies of their respective franchises. Ward helped lead the Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup championship, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in the process.

Boston chose Hannu Toivonen late in the first round (29th) and made him its backup after two years in the AHL. Now with St. Louis, Toivonen has spent parts of each of the last two seasons back in the AHL, but he is still only 23. Second-rounder Josh Harding (38th) is proving to be a capable backup in Minnesota, and is thought of as a potential No. 1.

Euro vet Fredrik Norrena came out of the seventh round (217th) and has played well for Columbus over the last two seasons.

2003
The only goalie chosen in the first round was Marc-Andre Fleury, who went first overall to Pittsburgh. He has had his ups and downs after being rushed to the NHL as a teenager, but he won 40 games for the Pens last season. The jury is still out on Fleury as a playoff performer. He has a 3-10 mark as a pro in the postseason, including 1-4 in the NHL.

Montreal found Jaroslav Halak in the ninth round (271st) and he has had some early success in the NHL.

2004
Six goaltenders were chosen in the top 38 picks of this draft, but but only the Blues’ Marek Schwarz (four games) has had a taste of the NHL to date. The Lightning grabbed Karri Ramo late in the sixth round (191st) and he has played on parts of two NHL seasons goaltending starved Tampa Bay.

2005
Carey Price (fifth overall) turned pro late last season and helped the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup championship, winning the Jack Butterfield Trophy in the process. The 20-year-old Price spent the first half of this season with the Canadiens, going 9-7-3. Tuukka Rask went 21st overall. Although he has already been traded once, he has also had a taste of the NHL this season, earning his first two NHL wins.

Atlanta chose Ondrej Pavelec in the second round (41st overall) and he picked up his first three NHL wins earlier this season. Third-rounder Johnathan Quick (72nd) also had a cup of NHL coffee and recorded his first win in the league early in the campaign. Quick is playing in the ECHL right now. Fifth-rounder Tomas Popperle (131st) made a pair of relief appearances with the Blue Jackets last season.

2006
The Kings chose Jonathan Bernier 11th overall as the first netminder taken in the draft. Bernier began the 2007-08 season with Los Angeles before heading back to the QMJHL to continue his junior career.

Given the track record at the position, virtually any of the goaltenders drafted in this century still have a chance to make an impact and have a career for themselves in the NHL.

Conclusions
Rarely does a single draft produce more than one elite NHL goaltender.

Several of the early- and middle-round goaltenders put together a few strong seasons, but few delivered Stanley Cup playoff success.

Late rounds definitely turn up the occasional gem, and first-round pedigree is no guarantee of NHL success.

Several goalies from the last four or five drafts have been given a look in the league, but precious few have had any impact to speak of.

The List (goaltenders chosen in the draft by Washington since Kolzig and Dafoe in 1989)
Jim Carey, second round (32nd) in 1992
Mark Seliger, 10th round (251st) in 1993
Sebastien Charpentier, forth round (93rd) in 1995
David Weninger, third round (74th) in 1996
Curtis Cruickshank, fourth round (89th) in 1997
Pierre-Luc Therrien, eighth round (200th) in 1997
Jomar Cruz, second round (49th) in 1998
Rastislav Stana, seventh round (193rd) in 1998
Robert Muller, ninth round (275th) in 2001
Maxime Daigneault, second round (59th) in 2002
Robert Gherson, fifth round (145th) in 2002
Justin Mrazek, eighth round (230th) in 2004
Daren Machesney, fifth round (143rd) in 2005
Simeon Varlamov, first round (23rd) in 2006
Michal Neuvirth, second round (34th) in 2006
Dan Dunn, sixth round (154th) in 2007

I’ll have more on goalies in a couple of days, but that’s more than enough to chew on for now.

A Night to Remember

January 28, 2008

Ten middle school kids and two adult chaperones from Costa Rica made the trip to Baltimore two weeks ago, some seven months after their exchange student counterparts from Charm City ventured south for two weeks in Central America. The Costa Rican visitors have taken side trips to the White House, New York City, Philadelphia, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and a tubing excursion in southern Pennsylvania.

Last Thursday when the Caps hosted the Leafs at Verizon Center, the group from Costa Rica and their host families were the guest of the Capitals. Team president Dick Patrick graciously accommodated the group in adjoining suites, the Caps’ community relations department outfitted each of the kids with a goody bag of souvenirs to take back to Costa Rica, the game ops staff gave the exchange students scoreboard recognition and the caps.com video crew paid a visit to the suite to see how the kids were enjoying their first NHL experience.

A few of the kids counted the Caps game as “the” highlight of their visit to the Eastern Seaboard. The group has packed a lot of sightseeing and a lot of cultural absorption into a short (and very sleep-shorn) amount of time. They’ll head back home tomorrow with a lot of memories, some souvenirs and a new school year just a few days away. And the Caps have a few more fans in another spot on this planet of ours.

Backstrom Becoming More Artful on the Draw

January 26, 2008

Before I delve into today’s topic, I want to alert you to washingtoncaps.com’s ongoing coverage of the All-Star festivities in Atlanta. The Caps’ Nate Ewell is on the scene along with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and he is chronicling the events and exploits of the two Washington participants in the weekend’s activities. You can check out Nate’s writings here.

One of the real benefits of watching a young team evolve, develop and blossom is watching young players evolve, develop and blossom right before your eyes over the course of games, weeks, months and seasons. Those of us who’ve seen the Caps play regularly over the last two and a half seasons have marveled at the growth of several players, but I wanted to point out a bit of growth that has gone completely unnoticed locally as far as I can tell.

Backstrom’s hockey sense, poise, puck and passing skills have been evident from the start of the season, and they were also evident to those of us who were fortunate enough to see him play before his NHL career got underway. A teenager when the 2007-08 season got underway, Backstrom was far from a finished player. One of the areas of the young center’s game that needed improvement was his work in the circle. Earlier in the season, he struggled with face-offs and was barely over 40%.

“Face-offs have been the biggest difference,” he said, back in early December. “Here it’s more like in every practice you practice face-offs. At home in Sweden, you don’t do it so much. You just go into the circle and drop the puck. Here it is more like a fight for the puck. That’s actually the difference. It’s tougher. I’m not so good at face-offs right now. I have to be better at that type of thing.”

Here we are nearing the beginning of February, and already the improvement in Backstrom’s faceoff ability has been revelatory. He has climbed to 45.7% on the season. For comparison’s sake, other highly touted rookies Sidney Crosby (45.5%) and Evgeni Malkin (43.3%) did not fare as well on the dot during their freshman seasons.

Even more impressive is Backstrom’s face-off work during the month of January. As the team’s No. 1 center, he has taken more draws than any other Caps pivot during the month. He has won 51.5% of his draws in January, including some key face-offs.

During Washington’s 5-3 win over Florida on Jan. 19, Backstrom won two offensive zone draws that led directly to goals within mere seconds of the puck drop. After that game, I told Backstrom that it seemed as though he had turned a corner in his face-off work and wondered if he felt the same way.

“I think we met the same teams [from earlier] in the season so I know a little bit what a couple guys are doing,” he told me. “It’s important with face-offs, especially in the offensive zone. I think tonight was okay from my side. I haven’t seen [the stats] yet.”

He won 9-of-20 on the night in that game, but two of those wins were huge. And he has been better than 50% in three straight games and four of his last five. What impresses the hell out of me is this: here’s a 20-year-old kid playing in a foreign country, and he has the mental wherewithal to “study” what his opponents are doing in the face-off circle to the point that he is using that information to win face-offs later in the very same season, his rookie season. And those face-off wins are leading to goals. And those goals are leading to wins.

That’s the sort of thing you can’t teach. That diligence, that desire to make yourself better and in the process, making your team better. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, this kid is something special. He has a great head for the game, and a quiet but fiery determination that burns within. I saw George McPhee quoted recently as saying that Backstrom is the type of player who helps you win Stanley Cups. I agree with that.

********

While we’re on the subject of face-offs, it’s worth noting that Washington has won the face-off battle in nine of its 11 games in January. In each of the games in which the Caps did not win the majority of the draws, their opponent won only two more draws than them. For the month, the Caps are at 56.5%. That’s an impressive win ratio and it basically means that the Caps are coming up with 56 and a half pucks to the opposition’s 43 and a half. For a young team, that’s a big plus. And every center on the team is contributing to that success.

We outlined Backstrom’s numbers above. Before Michael Nylander went out for the season, he had a 49.2% face-off win rate but won 53.4% of his January face-offs.

Boyd Gordon is at 55.6% on the season and is 58.1% during January.

David Steckel is at 54.2% on the season and is 59.6% during January.

Brooks Laich is at 51.4% on the season and is 60% during January.

Finally, as Laich recently related to us, it’s worth noting that the Caps’ wingers also play an important role in winning face-offs. If the Caps are able to maintain this trend of winning the majority of their draws — even at a lesser rate — for the remainder of the season, it will go a long way toward keeping pressure off their goaltenders and their young defense, and fueling what has been a very potent offensive attack of late.

Six Degrees of Chris Chelios

January 25, 2008

Detroit Red Wings defenseman and Chicago boy Chris Chelios celebrates his 46th birthday today. The leader among all active players in regular season NHL games played, Chelios is also the second oldest man ever to play in the league. Only a 52-year-old Gordie Howe played at a later age in the NHL than Chelios.

Chelios is seven games shy of becoming just the eighth man ever to play as many as 1,600 regular season games in the league, and with reasonably good health he could climb to sixth on the all-time list by season’s end. He is still averaging 17:13 a night and is plus-9 in 46 games with the Wings this season.

When the Caps were in Detroit last month, I had a chance for a quick chat with Chelios after the morning skate. Here’s how it went:

We don’t see you that often, but can you tell us how the Wings stay so consistent from year-to-year?
“We’ve got some pretty good depth. The transition from three or four years ago with the loss of veterans like [Steve] Yzerman, [Brett] Hull, [Brendan] Shanahan, they brought these younger kids along pretty well. They didn’t just throw them into the fire. Now you’re seeing players like [Henrik] Zetterberg and [Pavel] Datsyuk and even [Dan] Cleary getting an opportunity and really stepping up and taking advantage of that opportunity.

“[We’ve got] solid goaltending, that’s always a great start. With [Chris] Osgood — not that it is a surprise — he picked up where he left off last year. But to have him come out and play the way he has this year and then obviously Dom [Hasek] when he is on, there is nobody is better.

“We get a pretty good effort from everybody. We rarely get outshot, we don’t allow a lot of scoring chances and we play very well defensively because of our system.”

How important is it having guys like yourself and Nick [Lidstrom] and Brian Rafalski to help bring along young defenseman like [Niklas] Kronvall and [Brett] Lebda?
“Yeah, and there are other kids like [Derek] Meech and [Kyle] Quincey that have also had the opportunity once in a while. Like I said, it’s tough when you get thrown into the fire. These kids, as much as they want to play, we’ve had the luxury at least to this point of the season of having that 10-point gap being in first place of giving these guys an opportunity to play but also not to put too much of a burden on them. There is not a lot of pressure on the young kids. I learned from watching the veterans and hopefully that experience will help them along and when they do get their opportunity to play a regular shift they’re going to be ready.”

They say that defense is one of the hardest positions to play at this level. At what stage in your career or how many games into your career did you feel like you really felt confident and felt like you had it under control defensively on the ice?
“I think up until five or six years ago I was still improving defensively. Really, that’s my role now with the Red Wings. Before, if you always had the puck and you were on offense, you didn’t have to worry about playing defense. That was always a good way to solve the defensive problems. But with the new rules, obviously it’s not an advantage to defensemen. The forwards are allowed to get in on the forecheck on you a lot quicker and you’re getting hit a lot more because of that. The battles in front of the net, it’s more of a position/zone type of game you have to play, and if you don’t figure it out, you’re going to be in trouble.

“I’m still learning now with the new rules, too, and it’s an adjustment. It’s tough for every defenseman.”

When you were a kid coming into the league, who was the one guy who helped you out the most?
“Rick Green and Craig Ludwig. Craig Ludwig was my partner. But Rick Green had a simple philosophy of the game. He made it sound kind of dumb almost. He’d say, ‘I’ve never seen a puck come out of the corner by itself.’ Little things like that. And when we were up 5-1 he’d also say, ‘We never needed that sixth goal,’

“Rick Green was really a good mentor and a teacher of being more patient and knowing when to have to maybe go out and trying to do something a little extra, but at the same time trying to be more efficient.”

Chelios has had three “minus” seasons in his 24 years in the league and is plus-349 for his career.

Finally, you can trace Chelios’ NHL lineage through a “six degrees of separation” series of Hall of Fame Canadiens defensemen that go back nearly 70 years.

When Chelios broke in with the Canadiens in 1983-84, Larry Robinson was the elder statesmen on the Montreal blueline. In Robinson’s rookie season of 1972-73, it was Jacques Laperriere. When Laperriere debuted with the Habs in 1962-63, Montreal still had veteran Tom Johnson on its defense corps. During Johnson’s rookie season of 1950-51, Doug Harvey was a stalwart on the Montreal blueline. In Harvey’s rookie season of 1947-48, the Canadiens had Ken Reardon among their rearguards. Reardon broke into the NHL in 1940-41.

Reardon, Harvey, Johnson, Laperriere, Robinson and Chelios combined for 13 Norris Trophies, 11 of them for the Canadiens. (Two of Chelios’s three Norris Trophies came while he was with the Blackhawks.) The six defensemen have also combined for 27 Stanley Cup rings, with Chelios’s 2002 title with the Wings standing alone as the one outside the Canadiens organization.

Chelios is now passing along that lineage and knowledge to a handful of young Detroit defensemen, and who knows? Maybe 15 years from now one of them will in turn be passing the torch to another young stud blueliner. It finally worked its way outside the Canadiens’ system, but it took about 50 years for it to happen.

Beech is Back

January 23, 2008

This just in: the Capitals have claimed center Kris Beech off waivers from Vancouver. Washington will then place Beech back on waivers with the intention of re-assigning him to Hershey of the AHL, assuming he clears waivers.

This would be Beech’s third tour of duty with the Washington organization. The Caps drafted him with their first choice (seventh overall) in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft and subsequently swapped him to the Penguins in the July, 2001 deal that brought Jaromir Jagr to the Caps. 

Beech was re-acquired from the Predators in the Mar. 2006 trade that sent defenseman Brendan Witt to Nashville. Beech was a key cog on the 2006 AHL Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears team.