Archive for May 2008

Bradley Back in the Fold

May 27, 2008

Even as the Stanley Cup finals continue, the Caps’ roster for the 2008-09 season is beginning to take shape. Right wing Matt Bradley inked a three-year deal to remain in Washington today. He would have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Bradley just completed his seventh NHL season and his third with the Capitals. he finished the season with seven goals, 11 assists, a plus-1 and 74 PIM in 77 games while averaging 9:59 in ice time per game. The Caps won 15 of their last 19 games to earn the Southeast Division title, and Bradley was one of several unsung players during that stretch.

He totaled four goals, three assists and was plus-4 with 21 PIM (including three fighting majors) during those final 19 games. A healthy scratch five times during the season’s first 21 games, Bradley quickly became a fixture after Bruce Boudreau took over behind the bench on Nov. 22. The (almost) 30-year-old native of Stittsville, Ont. is a tireless forechecker with speed and grit who can always be counted on to stand up for his teammates.

When the 2004-05 lockout finally ended, the Caps had only a handful of players remaining from their 2003-04 roster. Bradley was one of several veteran players Washington brought in to help instill a hard-working culture. Just over three years later, he and Chris Clark are the only remaining players in Washington from that group. That tells you all you need to know about his contributions on and off the ice here in the District.

Alzner Terms

May 22, 2008

As you no doubt know by now, and as I wrote about on www.washingtoncaps.com, the Caps signed defenseman Karl Alzner to a three-year entry-level deal today. The base salary of the contract is $875,000, which is the league maximum for rookies in Alzner’s draft year. With incentives and bonuses, the most Alzner will count toward Washington’s salary cap total for each of the next three seasons is $1.675 million.

Under the terms of the CBA, teams have until June 1 to sign players who were drafted in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. But because there is no agreement between the IIHF and the NHL for 2008-09, there is uncertainty as to whether the June 1 deadline applies for European players at the moment. 

This wrinkle most notably impacts Florida, which chose Czech winger Michael Frolik with the 10th overall pick in 2006, and Buffalo, which selected Swedish defenseman Dennis Persson with the 24th choice. The Caps are also impacted; they drafted Finnish winger Oskar Osala with their fourth-round pick (97th overall) in 2006. As it stands now, those teams will be able to negotiate beyond the June 1 date with those players. More on this issue as it becomes available.

Washington chose defenseman Keith Seabrook in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2006 draft. Seabrook played a season at the University of Denver before leaving school and opting to play for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen in the WHL last season. As a result, Washington has until 2010 to sign Seabrook to an entry-level deal.

Caps, Bears Keep Connection

May 22, 2008

You had to figure this one was just a matter of time; it makes way too much sense. The Washington Capitals and Hershey Bears today announced that the affiliation agreement between the two teams has been extended for two more seasons with an option for a third. The two clubs will remain affiliated through the 2009-10 season. If both sides are in agreement, the pact will carry through the 2010-11 season as well.

Both clubs, both cities and both fan bases have benefited greatly from the arrangement in the first three years of its existence. The Caps and Bears linked up immediately after the 2004-05 AHL season had concluded. Hershey missed the Calder Cup playoffs as an affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche that season, and the Caps’ entire season went by the wayside as a result of the lockout that led to the loss of the ’04-05 NHL season.

With no NHL games to watch, Caps general manager George McPhee found himself in Hershey frequently as he scouted the AHL that season. He learned that the Bears and Avs were unlikely to continue their partnership beyond that season, and began exploring the possibility of shifting Washington’s affiliation from Portland to Hershey. In late April of 2005, a press conference/luncheon was held at the Hershey Hotel to announce the partnership between the Caps and Bears.

A year later, the Bears were in the midst of their run to a ninth Calder Cup championship. Led by then-Bears coach Bruce Boudreau, Hershey clinched the championship in Milwaukee in mid-June. In 2007, the Bears returned to the Calder Cup finals before being ousted by the Hamilton Bulldogs.

During the 2007-08 season, the fruits of the affiliation began to ripen in Washington. Thirteen members of the Bears donned a Capitals sweater last season, and the group accounted for 70 of Washington’s total of 238 (29.4%) goals. Hershey made the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

In November, Boudreau was promoted to Washington. He led the Caps to a 37-17-7 record the rest of the way, piloting the team to its first division title in seven years. He is now a finalist for the 2008 Jack Adams Trophy.

Caps fans find it convenient to travel north and watch future Capitals as they develop in a terrific hockey atmosphere that is teeming with tradition. Bears fans also find it feasible to head south and watch their former Hershey heroes playing for the big team in Washington.

For those of us in the Caps’ front office, we’ve been blessed by the opportunity to associate personally and professionally with our counterparts up in Hershey. They’re a great bunch of people, and we’ve had a terrific time with them in and away from arenas all over the continent for the last three years. I eagerly anticipate doing so for the next two years and hopefully much longer.

The Caps and Bears were affiliated from 1977 to 1984, and the Bears won a Calder Cup title during that span (in 1980). The coach of that Calder Cup championship team (Bryan Murray) was promoted to Washington where he led the Caps for the better part of a decade and remains the winningest head coach in franchise history.

Here’s to hoping the current relationship extends well beyond the length of the previous one between the two teams and that it includes multiple championship seasons for both clubs.

Ovechkin, Green Earn Sporting News Recognition

May 20, 2008

Based on a vote of NHL players, The Sporting News has named Alex Ovechkin its NHL player of the year. Ovechkin was named at the top of 250 of 287 ballots. Expect a similar margin next month when the Hart and Pearson balloting is revealed.

Ovechkin and Caps defenseman Mike Green were also named to TSN’s NHL all-star team, also by a vote of their peers. Individuals could not vote for themselves and players could not vote for their teammates.

Chicago’s Patrick Kane was named TSN’s NHL rookie of the year, with Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom placing second in the balloting.

 

Four Caps Vie for World Gold

May 18, 2008

On the 17th and final day of the 2008 IIHF World Championship, it has come down to Russia against Canada for the gold medal. Washington is represented well in the title game; Russians Alex Ovechkin, Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin comprise a forward line for Team Russia, and Caps defenseman Mike Green in Team Canada’s leading scorer from the blueline.

The championship game is at 1 p.m. on Sunday and it will be streamed live on www.wcsn.com.

Canada is a perfect 8-0 in tournament play. Russia is also 8-0, but it needed overtime to defeat the Czech Republic and a shootout to prevail over Belarus. The Canadians have outscored their opponents by a combined 48-16, including 13-6 in two medal round games. The Russians are up 38-14 on their foes and have authored two shutouts in the medal round, outscoring their opponents by 10-0. 

Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov joined Team Russia after the San Jose Sharks were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs and he has two shutouts, a 1.25 goals against average and a .949 save pct. in four games played. 

Canada has split its goaltending between Pascal Leclaire and Cam Ward. Both netminders are 4-0 with a 2.00 goals against average, but Leclaire’s .925 save pct. is a touch better than Ward’s .918.

The Russians will have their hands full trying to shut down three of the tournament’s top four scorers, Dany Heatley (11 goals, 18 points, +13), Rick Nash (six goals, 13 points, +9) and Ryan Getzlaf (three goals, 13 points, +10). Green leads all tournament blueliners in scoring (four goals, 11 points) and is fifth overall.

With 10 points each, Ovechkin, Fedorov and Semin share the Russian team lead in scoring and they are tied for sixth overall. All three of Washington’s Russian players are a plus-9. Ovechkin has six goals, Fedorov five and Semin four.

Canada is looking to defend its 2007 title while Russia looks to improve upon last year’s bronze medal showing.

On Saturday, Finland defeated Sweden 4-0 to win the bronze at the 2008 tournament.

Sami Does in Uncle Sam

May 14, 2008

Caps defenseman Sami Lepisto lifted Team Finland to the semifinals with his overtime game-winning goal against the young and plucky Team USA earlier today in IIHF World Championship action. 

Lepisto’s goal came after the Americans erased a 2-0 deficit in the final five minutes of regulation on goals by Phil Kessel and Drew Stafford. The two Team USA tallies came just 37 seconds apart. The Americans then managed to kill off a 5-on-3 man-disadvantage for three minutes to get the game into overtime.

Lepisto ended the proceedings at 3:59 of the extra session with a blast from the right point, and assists from a couple of Finnish heavyweights, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne. It marked the second year in a row that the Finns bounced the Americans in the quarterfinals, needing overtime to get it done both times.

It’s not the first time Lepisto has starred while representing his country.

After being passed over in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Lepisto totaled eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games at the 2004 World Junior Championship in Helsinki. He was named to the All-Tournament team and was also named the tournament’s Best Defenseman.

Finland will face Team Russia in the semis on Friday in Quebec City. Russia blanked Switzerland on Wednesday, getting a goal and an assist from Sergei Fedorov, a goal from Alex Ovechkin and a goal from Alexander Semin. All three Caps were a plus-3 in the game.

Mike Green had two assists in Team Canada’s 8-2 win over Norway and Nicklas Backstrom had a helper in Sweden’s 3-2 overtime win over the Czech Republic. Canada takes on Sweden on Friday in the other semifinal match on Friday.

More From Ovie at the Worlds

May 12, 2008

Thanks again to our friend Dmitry Chesnokov for sending in this translation of Alex Ovechkin’s Saturday interview with Sovetsky Sport.

As a result of a poll conducted by “Sport” [Russia’s public sports channel] and Sovetsky Sport [Russia’s largest newspaper], Washington Capitals and Russian national team forward Alexander Ovechkin was named Athlete of the Month in April. Alex received 51.4% of the vote, overtaking Evgeni Malkin who received 48.6%. This interview Alexander Ovechkin gave to Pavel Lysenkov and Vitaly Slavin of Sovetsky Sport in Hotel Concorde two hours after the end of the Russia-Sweden game [3:2], where Alex the Great scored the game winner.

I WOULD START BEATING THE SWEDE TOO

Honestly, we did not expect Ovechkin to give a candid interview. Right after the game Ovechkin entered the mixed-zone [you all know that access to players in the NHL is way better than the IIHF regulations], but he looked so tired that he only gave interviews to TV crews. When Ovechkin saw dozens of print media reporters, he sighed and went back to the locker room. Such incidents are very rare for Ovechkin, who always finds time to talk to the media.

What saved us at Sovetsky Sport was that a day before Alex promised to give us an interview. And he always keeps his word. 

Are you getting ready to go out for dinner? Let us wait for you at the hotel.

“No, let me wait for you,” Ovechkin replied. “How much time do you need? Twenty minutes? Let’s sit down right here then, on this couch, and talk.”

Congratulations on becoming Athlete of the Month!

“Thank you, fans. But I would give it to Evgeni Malkin. He is still in the playoffs carrying Pittsburgh on his back. In my spare time I watch the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I am happy about the way Malkin is playing. What a goal he scored against Philadelphia! He was hit, but still made it and slapped one behind Biron … I stand by my prediction that the Penguins will win the Cup this year.”

And what will you say about the game against Sweden?

“That the Swedes played very dirty in the first period and did not give us a chance to play our game. They started hitting us right away. As a result, we lost Morozov due to injury, and then Kovalchuk for fighting. Kovy was absolutely right when he stood up for his captain. If I were him, I would also show my fists to the Swede.

“I was very surprised that Ilya got a game penalty. Why? Kovalchuk didn’t even drop his gloves. If he  did drop his gloves, only bits and pieces would be left of the Swede … I also think that Sweden intentionally went for this exchange – sacrificed this [Doug] Murray  to injure our captain and rid us of our best scorer.”

Did you miss Morozov on the ice?

“We were left with only 6 wingers instead of 8. All the other guys had to work more. But Nabokov played very well and saved us.”

Was it hard for you?

“For me personally, no. I played every other shift. Same way I play in Washington.”

Do you think Murray did it on purpose?

“I am absolutely sure. The puck was nowhere near. Morozov was turning trying to get back into his own zone, but was hit.”

After that you started playing very physical …

“I started playing very physical. And I didn’t care whether I get a game misconduct penalty or 2+10. I was very angry that the Swedes cowardly rid us of two players.”

But if you had got a game misconduct, our team would have been without our third leader!

“I didn’t think about it at the time. My mind was fixed on hitting someone and splashing them across the boards.”

Did Bykov calm you down during the intermission?

“Not only him, but Danny Markov who told me: “We have to beat the Swedes. No one needs this two minute penalty exchange.” Then everyone calmed down and got back to their game.”

Did Sweden with a cold head provoke Team Russia to act recklessly?

“Yes, in the first period they achieved this goal. It was our fault too. We had to play simple, for example during power play. We had to score, but it was a chaos after Morozov got injured. Emotions took over us.”

Did you see Alexei [Morozov]?

“He said he was alright. There was headache and pain in his chest … Although how could he be alright when he was spitting blood in the locker room?”

It seemed that Team Russia was not prepared for such aggressive game from the Swedes.

“We were prepared. But the Swedes and the Czechs are always like this … pests. Do you know what I mean? Yes, we were expecting a more skilled game from Sweden because they have great players. But the opponent started hitting us with sticks, and do God knows what.”

Do you remember your game winning goal that you scored with six seconds remaining in the third period?

“Six seconds? I didn’t even notice that. I was trying to shoot on goal, because Sema (Alexander Semin) passed to me quite hard. If the pass was ordinary, I would shoot a one timer. But I had to skate towards the goal trying to control the puck. I shot, it ricocheted off Lundqvist’s pad, and the puck went up … “

And what were you thinking?

“I didn’t even see it flying. There were a lot of people in front of the crease. If I had seen the puck, I would have tried to hit it in the air. Actually, I thought the puck had landed behind the goal. And only then did I realize it was a goal. I raised my hands, and in the next second Sema [Semin] was jumping on me with excitement.”

What are your relations like with Lundqvist?

“We’re not friends … On the ice? I scored two goals against him. Not the most difficult ones, but very important.”

Nabokov and Lundqvist are finalists for the Vezina Trophy this year.

“I would give the trophy to Zhenya [Nabokov]. Lundqvist was good [today], but Nabokov won us the game.”

Let’s get back to the topic of “exchanges.” Has it ever happened in your career before? We remember the final of World Juniors when one of the Canadian players injured your shoulder, and Team Russia lost easily.

“This example is not very good. That time I was hit cleanly but was not prepared for it. It was my fault. Now I play different and don’t get lost in the physical game.”

What moments in today’s game were key?

“When Nabokov did not let in a goal when we were 3 against 5, when he made a save after one on one … “

We could play Sweden in the quarter final. Will there be some special motivation?

“We will motivate ourselves for the quarterfinal. We are not going to plan revenge and kill someone. Victory is our main priority, and not to  injure the opponent.”

We saw two fans holding a sign “Ovechkin for President.”

“Interesting, what did they mean by that?”

One of two: either the Washington Capitals win the President Trophy as the best team in the NHL, or Ovechkin will one day become the president of the United States.”

“I definitely don’t need the second. I am Russian.”

We spoke to some Quebec City residents, and they say that they support Team Russia [They love Radulov there.]. Do you feel as if you’re playing at home?

“Absolutely not. We feel like we’re playing in Canada.”

It is interesting that after the game against Belarus, Afinogenov’s goal was given to you. Why did this happen?

“I have no idea. Here’s what happened: I shot the puck, Max [Afinogenov] touched the puck and it ricocheted into the net. It was obvious that Afinogenoc scored that goal. When I found out about the news from papers the next morning, I immediately went to Max and said: “I don’t know what’s going on. We are supposed to be in Canada, home of hockey. And there are such mistakes. [The decision was eventually overturned again, and the IIHF gave the goal back to Afinogenov.]

“And here is another interesting situation. Mozyakin was scratched for the game against Sweden, but in the official statistics he is listed as having played 10 minutes. Very funny. Did he get all this ice time while sitting on the bench?”

You were yelling at the referee for giving penalty to Zinoviev.

“It was amazing, because a Swedish player hit our defender after the whistle provoking him. Zinoviev approached him and didn’t do anything simply pushing [the Swedish player] away with his stick. It is very common. But somehow he went to the penalty box and not the Swede.

“To be honest with you, I don’t understand sometimes what’s going on at this World Championship.”

Do you want to say that last year in Moscow the tournament was organized better?

“That’s not the point. The refs are the same. They make the same mistakes and don’t call when they’re supposed to. I think that right now there is absolute bias [provocation] against Team Russia.”

Russian head coach Bykov thinks that this situation should be addressed and handled by our IIHF representatives. Alexander Steblin, for example.

“I don’t know about Steblin. But I am telling you what I see. If this continues, it will be very difficult for us. There are situations when refs are simply killing us.”

Maybe it’s because they want to see Canada win gold, and Russia is the main challenger?

“When the Worlds were in Moscow last year, not one ref was trying to “drown” Canada. And here we see every attempt to leave Russia shorthanded.”

For example, in the game against Belarus, Fedorov got hot in the face with a stick. The ref was quiet.

“If we combine all questionable situations against our team in this tournament, we will write a book.”

Do we have a chance to win this tournament with such officiating?

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But right now I see that the refs can do a better job. No one is asking to pull Russia by their ears.”

What would you like to tell your fans?

“Thank you so much for voting for me as the Best Athlete in April … But I read our newspapers on the Internet and see the comments left by readers. After every game there are comments about Team Russia such as: we played bad, no one is scoring, someone made a mistake in defense … It sounds as if we’re not a team but a pillow on the couch. Guys, relax! We are playing for our country and are doing everything possible to win! We want to see good comments and feel your support. Notice the positive too! We have not lost a game yet. And if we beat an outsider 10:0, it won’t mean we’re Worlds Champions. Once again, let’s take it easy. Let’s cheer on Russia all together! We are playing for you!” – Ovechkin concluded his speech.

After that he left an autograph and wrote: “For Mor and Kovy!” No explanation is needed who Ovechkin dedicated his game winner to. [Morozov and Kovalchuk]