The Week That Was

We’ve had a wild rollercoaster of a week in Caps Land, and some of us are just now getting a chance to catch our breath. Road game last Saturday, overtime game at home on Sunday afternoon. Some internet woes kept us Web types at the Phone Booth for longer than we’d usually be there after a game, and the loss to New Jersey was a tough one, too.

Bruce Boudreau gave the boys the day off on Monday, which gave us a bit of time to catch up and take a look at what was out there and what might be coming down the pike. He also tabbed caps.com Web producer Brett Leonhardt as his second goalie for Tuesday’ morning skate, a move that turned Big Leo into a kid on Christmas Eve for the rest of the day.

I stayed in the office late on Monday, just in case something came up. Nothing did, but I was pretty certain something would happen on Tuesday.

Knowing that Brett was practicing with the team, and that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in town, and that it was deadline day, I left Baltimore early with the intention of arriving in time for the 10 a.m. skate. Rainy weather and snarled traffic conspired against me, but I got down to Kettler around 10:30. After talking to a handful of players and my media cohorts for half an hour or so, we started to make vague lunch plans.

Around this time, Nate Ewell surreptitiously grabbed me and pulled me aside.

“Are you going to the arena?” he asked.

“Not today,” I said. On game days, I’ll usually try to get to the Caps’ skate and Kettler and then head over to Verizon to watch the opposing team and chat up a few of their players and their coach. There would be no time for any of that today.

“Good idea,” came his reply, and I could read in his tone and his face that the Caps had already done something. I collected my laptop and other accouterments and headed up the stairs to the offices. Before I started up, I noted that Bryce Salvador was a Devil and Wade Belak a Panther, so I ducked into the locker room to pass that news along to the few guys still there.

I checked in with Nate a few minutes later, and he told me about the Cristobal Huet and Sergei Fedorov deals. The Huet trade took me completely by surprise, the Fedorov deal did not at all. Like many of you, I began to believe that another deal had to be in the offing, one that would relieve the goaltending logjam.

By this time, commissioner Bettman had arrived, and he was making his rounds in the offices. He even spent a while in the war room with Caps GM George McPhee and the Washington scouting staff. While I was starting to write a piece on the Caps’ deadline day activity, I was also jotting down notes for my interview with Bettman. He had agreed to join us on our Pre-Cap pregame podcast at 3 p.m.

You always hope you’ll be the one breaking the news of the trades, but it rarely happens anymore. We usually learn of Caps trades and signings well in advance of the announcement, and when two teams make a deal, they usually also agree upon a time to announce it. Part of the process also involves notification of the players and their respective agents, and that’s when the cat usually gets out of the bag.

I had been asked to appear on Comcast’s Washington Post Live from the arena before the game that night, so I knew I’d better start thinking about food now. There wouldn’t time later. A few of us went down to the Ballston food court and grabbed some sandwiches. By the time we got back upstairs, we were informed of the impending Matt Pettinger for Matt Cooke deal.

I knew it was a good trade for the Caps, but it was tough to see Pettinger go. I had watched him in Portland and Washington for the last seven-plus years, got to know his family a little bit and always considered him a top-notch, stand-up guy in a business that is teeming with them. I took a couple of minutes to wish him well and started scarfing a sandwich.

By now, the trades from around the rest of the league were coming in fast and furious. We had the NHL Network’s coverage on and were watching the sparks fly.

Our podcast usually runs 30 minutes, max. We did close to an hour on this day, talking trades for a bit, then interviewing Bettman, then going back to the trades. By then, it was time to high-tail it over to Verizon Center. Press conferences, etc.

McPhee spoke, and Boudreau spoke. Then I had to wander down to the Olympia corner and do my TV bit. By now, a problem had started to surface. I could not get on the internet. Not from the press room, not from the press box. Not via wireless, not via ethernet. Biggest day of the year, and my hands were tied.

I watched the game and took notes, did my usual radio bit (but did it during the second intermission instead of the first, yielding my normal slot to Bettman). Between the second and third periods, Spike Parker was able to get me some ethernet access. After the game, I went downstairs to get quotes and talk to players, then headed back up the press box and worked alone from there until I was done writing. Sometime around 12:30, I headed home.

Wednesday brought more of the same. Another hour-long podcast, a couple more press conferences, another practice at Kettler and more chit-chat with players and a large assemblage of media. Huet struck me as being thoughtful and quietly intense. Fedorov has a bit of a rock star aura about him, but he’s also very well grounded. He patiently answered questions and even thanked the media folks for coming out.

Thursday brought the first practices for both Huet and Fedorov, and another opportunity to talk to both. Lots of media in the house again, most wanting to talk about the unusual three-goalie setup.

Today, finally we have another game. Maybe the most anticipated Caps games (today’s and tomorrow’s at home against the Leafs) since the first game after the lockout. Eighteen games remain. Three new players have been brought in from three different rooms around the league. Chris Clark is skating again. Management has sent a message to the room: we believe in you, and we’re going to try to give you a push to get to the playoffs.

The forward ranks have been upgraded. The defense is still young and a bit on the green side, but few (if any) difference making defensemen were available at the deadline this year. Goaltending? An embarrassment of riches.

Huet was an All-Star last season. Olie Kolzig is two wins shy of 300 and is 12-4-4 since Dec. 22. Brent Johnson has been excellent for the past three months. The Caps have three capable goalies, but can only dress two. The youngest of these three is the only one who is signed for next year, and he has best save pct. and GAA of the three over the last three months. But he’s the one who’s not dressing, and the one who believes he is “the odd man out.”

Everyone seems to think this means the end of Kolzig’s run here in D.C., and maybe it does. But McPhee says otherwise and we’ve got a ways to go before any of these decisions need to be made.

The Caps have been a compelling team all season, and they’ve made themselves even more so for the last 18 chapters of this year’s book. We’ve had a lot of drama here in Washington this season, and we’ll be having a lot more the rest of the way. You won’t want to miss a single episode.

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8 Comments on “The Week That Was”

  1. Marks4Java Says:

    As always Mike, nice work.
    To your point about Fedorov’s cache (sp?) (think Yoo-Ayy)…
    You’ve got to think that just him simply being here, makes this team more capable of a playoff push. His presence must give the kids confidence. I can’t wait to see the first PP unit with Fedorov (hopefully) manning the left point. I can see a few PPGs between him and Ovy with that left-side combo.
    How cool…Fedorov…a Cap!

  2. Tom in FL Says:

    Was that pun intended, Mike, when you said the defense was a bit on the “green” side?

    I’ll be watching tonight with my Ovechkin jersey. I’m fifty years old and I still put on a hockey jersey to watch games. Young is as young does.

  3. Funkyglovefacewash Says:

    Contrary to what some people have said, George has once again made some shrewd moves that further solidify him as one of the leagues top GM’s,even if we don’t end up making the playoffs this year. Mike, I have to confess that I have yet to listen to your Bettman interview simply because I find him to be a lot like eggnog, difficult to swallow and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’ll see if one of my roommates has some antacid tabs.

  4. Mike L Says:

    Tonight is the beginning of the playoff push. The Rangers helped us out (the least they can do since we’re paying a goodly portion of the salary of one of their top players) last night in beating Carolina.

    The Caps magic number is 36. 36 points they get or Carolina doesn’t get and they win the division (this is assuming that Florida and/or Atlanta don’t go bonkers. Tampa is Done for this season..they’re going nowhere). What’s interesting is that due to head-to-head match-ups, both teams control their own destiny. If either of them win out (unlikely) they’re the division champions. My guess is that the Caps will be able to get about 24-27 points in the remaining games. The schedule isn’t all that rough, despite the 6 game road trip. There are four very winable games on the trip (Chicago, Atlanta, Tampa, Florida). Nashville is tough, as is Carolina. If we’re even with Carolina or just ahead of them coming into April, then we’ll win it with that three game homestand at the end of the year.

    New Jersey tonight and Calgary on the 12th are probably the toughest games coming up (although having 3 with Bostin is going to be tough too, they’re playing well.)

    This is the team to beat in the Southeast…and likely no one will be able to.

  5. Nick Says:

    Mike,

    I have a couple ways to get you internet access (no, not selling anything) that I’ll float to you next time capsreport is online. While I’m sure the Verizon press internet is generally good, I think I get you a good plan for a backup, provided you have a 20th(21st) century cell phone available.

    Cheers, and thanks for all the coverage.

  6. Tom in FL Says:

    First the positives: Very solid game. Huet not tested much, but made several big saves early. Federov played well, if a bit rusty, but the Federov to Semin to Green play was three world-class moves in a row, the only way some times to beat Marty Brodeur. Also, except for too many men and Steckel shooting the puck over the glass, the Caps made no mistakes. Obviously zero mistakes is better than two mistakes, but there’s still 17 games to refine what they are doing.

    The negatives: None, really.

    Can’t get TOO excited, the Devils didn’t do much offensively, but, then again, they rarely do. The Caps actually looked like they were the Devils tonight, which I’d say is a high praise for the team. All in all we can perhaps conclude that this was the Caps best game of the season. Amazing but the goalie stops everything, and the forward play a little better defensively Federov added an extra dimension, plus Kozzie stepped it up) and all of the sudden the blueliners look that much better.

    Tom in FL’s #1 star of the game: George McPhee
    Tom in FL’s #2 star of the game: Bruce Boudreau
    Tom in FL’s #3 star of the game: The 20 men on the ice.

    The Ovechkin jersey is back in the closet. See you tomorrow. I’m going to the beach tomorrow. Those of you still up north – have fun with your snow shovels. I’ll be home in time to see them take on the Leafs. Tonight the Center Ice package gave us the New Jersey announcers, and they were glowing on the Caps prospects over the next few years. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get the Hockey Night in Canada feed. Want to hear what McKenzie and those guys have to say. It’s been a great night though and the home-made margaritas with lemons from my tree are on me. Cheers!

  7. Anthony Says:

    Regardless of whether or not people wish to publically acknowledge it, if the caps had fired hanlon sooner , we would have a better record now. It doesn’t matter if its truly the coach or the message that it sent to the players. It almost cost us the playoffs.

    Now the caps are in the same position. They claim they are dedicated to winning, but I wonder if the desire to not upset Kolzig will cost us the playoffs this time. Regardless of this shot or that shot, or did Green not clear the puck or did it bounce off Morrissons stick, the fact is that there are a lot of fans who believe that Huet would of won us that game, or forced it into overtime. We only lost by one goal.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not placing all of the blame on Kolzig. The power play was horrible last night. It was embarressing to watch.

    I’m just saying that I am and I believe there are lots of others who are with me, who have an attitue of “here we go again”.

  8. Luc Bertrand Says:

    Excellent work, Mike. It was indeed a memorable week, but let’s wait and see how the Caps play will turn in the next month before drawing conclusions.

    The rest of the season won’t be easy, even though we feel the Caps have improved goaltending and added experience and skill in offense. It is almost sure only the first rank of Southeast Division will make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and the first four teams will battle until the very end of the season. No opponent is to be taken lightly, the loss to Toronto has proven it. Even the teams we think have not gained anything at the trade deadline can cause bad surprises, as the players who have deceived their fans will want to show they are still valuable, either for their team or anywhere else.

    My forecast doesn’t change. Unless the team rapidly gets a steady winning streak thanks to their latest additions, I don’t think it is likely to go far in the post season. The additions of a veteran like Fedorov and of extra depth in goals with Huet risk of jeopardizing Caps rebuilding plan should they fail to succeed in the playoffs. Let’s suppose that, at the very end of the season, the Caps fail to top the Canes as the division champions or are eliminated in the first round. The question that will raise will be that one: What will be the best move to do to make sure the Caps become the next Stanley Cup contender?

    Should the Caps disappoint their fans at the end of this season, they will have to decide whether they should try again with the same team (with more than a two million-dollar increase for sure) or seek for other high draft picks to bolster the club, using either Kolzig or Huet and Fedorov or Kozlov as trading money. The Caps are still closer to the 14th place in the Eastern Conference than to Carolina as division leader (and only playoff berth). There are only two teams in the whole NHL that are almost sure to finish behind the Capitals: Tampa Bay and Los Angeles.

    I mean that, should the Caps fail to gain a momentum likely to propel them not only as Southeast Division champion but as one of the top logical Stanley Cup contenders, they will spoil their chances of getting the best available prospects in the next amateur draft. Then, if the team doesn’t win more steadily in the next two or three weeks, we should try to finish the season well, but with as few teams as possible between the Caps and the last two (probably Tampa Bay and Los Angeles).

    As a Caps fan, for sure I would like the team goes as far in next playoffs it can with its actual roster, but I prefer it continues its rebuilding for another year if the Caps management doesn’t feel it has what is needed to win it all this year. It’s better to step back while unsure to move further for sure later.


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