Sunday, June 24, 2018

John Carlson becomes highest paid second pair defenseman in league history

In signing an 8 year contract worth $64 million, John Carlson surpassed Dion Phaneuf as the highest paid second pair defenseman in league history.

We like Carlson.  A lot.  He is a great powerplay quarterback (that is, he shoots right handed) who lays down precise passes to #8.  His slap shot is hard and accurate.  He is a good skater.  Quite frankly, he is the model of defenseman that seem to be all the rage these days.

What he is not, though, is a top pair blueliner.  Why he is paid that way is beyond me. 

Carlson, for all his worth, is not a complete defenseman.  The coaches recognize this: he has never ranked above third in ice time at evens.  He has a negative career corsi, despite playing in an offensive role for a three time President's Trophy winning perennial contender.  In fact, his career relative corsi is also negative, meaning, the team has better possession stats when he is off the ice rather than on.  The same is true of fenwick, both his personal and his relative numbers are below par. 

The team consistently scores more goals at evens when he is on the ice, with the Caps controlling 53% of the goals throughout his career. That is driven by outstanding goaltending play behind him, along with well above average on ice shooting percent, not by Carlson's positional dominance.

John Carlson is a very good defenseman, and deserved a considerable pay raise.  But beware of the contract year fallacy: players with expiring contracts who perform exceedingly well above career averages often are signed to deals that hamper the team long-term.

Unfortunately, we think this will be one of them.  $8 million for a second pair defenseman is outrageous.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Draft Results

The Capitals made clear that Philipp Grubauer was getting moved on or before the draft, with an ask of a first round pick.  Logically, GMBM decided to add Brooks Orpik, to get a lower return (47th overall), but clear much needed cap space.

Here are the results thus far, along with a brief analysis:

Round 1, pick 31:

Alexander Alexeyev, D, Red Deer, WHL

Injuries may have caused Alexeyev to slip a bit, since the big left handed defenseman with some offensive punch was projected to go slightly higher, or at least before a few blueliners who were picked before him.  No matter; the Caps made a safe pick on a well-rounded player who projects as a top 4 physical defenseman - think Josh Manson without as much of a mean streak.  It might take a couple years, especially with the logjam of prospects ahead of him, but Alexeyev is a solid selection.

Grade: A

Round 2, pick 46:

Martin Fehervary, D, Oskarshamn, HockeyAllsvenskan

Maybe a bit of a reach, as he was projected to be available in the third, but he is a solid pick as the Capitals look to restock the cupboard.  The smooth skating Fehervary projects to be a solid NHL contributor, when and if he makes it across the pond.  While left defense was not a point of weakness for the team, overstrength on defense is usually a good problem to have.

Grade: C-

Round 2, pick 47:

Kody Clark, RW, Ottawa, OHL

The son of Wendel was also projected to go a little later than 47th, but we like this pick.  A two-way forward who plays with grit and tenacity, Clark should fill a middle-six role after he puts on some more weight.  At it currently stands, his offense leaves room to be desired, but with a couple more years of conditioning and preparation, we expect Clark to be a solid offensive contributor too.  He fits a need and plays the part that helped the Caps win the Stanley Cup.

Grade: B+

Round 3, pick 93:

Riley Sutter, RW, Everett, WHL

The Caps dipped back into the 'Dub, this time selecting the last member of this generation of Sutters.  Riley projects to be an agitating bottom-6 forward, who can chip in offensively, and fill in at center if he needs to.  He has NHL size already, but his skating needs work, so we expect some more seasoning before he advances to the AHL.  Sutter does play a strong two-way game though, so depending on player movement on the Capitals, he may get a cup of coffee sooner rather than later. 

Grade: A

Round 4, pick 124:

Mitchell Gibson, G, Lone Star, NAHL

We like this pick.  Gibson dominated in juniors, albeit in a lesser league, and is heading to Harvard to major in government and hone his craft between the pipes.  The Capitals have a long and well stocked pipeline and a history of both drafting and developing goaltenders well, so we expect to see this pay off in due time.  Both Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer were 4th round selections, too.  So there's that.

Grade: B+

Round 6, pick 161:

Alex Kannok-Leipart, D, Vancouver, WHL

The Caps traded up 25 picks to snag another guy from the WHL, this time a RHD (thankfully) with a heavy right hand.  He looks to play a physical game, apparently, as both of his fights last season started with him landing a solid bodycheck (here's video proof of his second fight: http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/139179).  Otherwise, I cannot find much else on him, so we will just assume he will become an overager in the WHL before we see him make a serious roster push.

Grade: C

Round 7, pick 217:

Eric Florchuk, C, Saskatoon, WHL

Notice a trend here?  The Capitals again went west for the draft pick, again selecting a versatile forward who can play center and wing.  Drafting in the last spot in 2018, the Caps may have found some sleeper value, as Florchuk was consistently ranked in the mid- to high- 100s.  He projects as a bottom-6 forward who won't turn heads, but he shouldn't disappoint either. 

Grade: A

Overall, the Capitals drafted 3 forwards, 3 defensemen, and a goalie, and while they probably could have swung for the fences with one of their second rounders, the team had a solid draft.

Grade: B+

Friday, June 22, 2018

And they're off!

Per the Capitals Twitter handle, Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik were traded to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2018 2nd round pick, 47th overall.

Obvious cap dump is obvious.

More to come.

Draft Day

Having finally earned hockey's highest honors, your Washington Capitals are drafting in the enviable (if only symbolically) 31st slot.  Following this, the Caps have Florida's middle of the round 2nd pick, the original 3rd, 4th, 6th, and Mr. Irrelevant 7th.

Rumors are abound, however, that Philipp Grubauer will be on the move today, with an ask of a first rounder.  While goaltenders have traditionally not fetched top dollar, the thin goalie pool should help bump up the return.  Though, Grubauer is a pending RFA with one year before unrestricted free agency, so either the team trading for him would probably want to work out a contract first, or the Caps will have to do a rare sign and trade.

That being said, the Caps have more picks than in recent past, and if they need to sweeten the pot to pull in a mid-high first, it would be reasonable.  Throwing in the statistically lackluster 31st makes sense.

The Islanders, Red Wings, Hurricanes, Senators, and Blackhawks should all be looking for answers in goal.  The Hurricanes will not trade their 2nd, and it is hard to envision a scenario wherein the Caps trade a young goalie within division, but the Isles draft at 11th and 12th, and may be willing to part with one of their picks if it means solving the Tavares crisis.  The Sens, Wings, and Hawks draft 4th, 6th, and 8th respectively, which are probably a bit too much for Grubauer straight up. 

If the Caps are able to move up to 11th, the top target would be Barrett Hayton, who projects like Patrice Bergeron, though if the Isles trade for Grubauer, I would imagine they move the 12th and keep Hayton for themselves.  Higher, at 4th, the Caps could target Brady Tkachuk, and at 6th or 8th, any of Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist, or Noah Dobson would be a good match. 

Traditionally, the Caps have drafted the best player available, and this year we should expect no different.  With plenty of talent in the first half of the draft, and being well positioned to move into the top 15 selections, we expect the Capitals to walk away with at least one really good player who can make an immediate impact.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Kovalchuk Sweepstakes

Most of the NHL coverage after the Stanley Cup naturally surrounds the draft and free agency, as teams look to rebuild or otherwise restock the shelves.

This year is no different.

The three biggest prizes in free agency this year are John Tavares, John Carlson, and Ilya Kovalchuk, the latter notably having played the last five seasons in the KHL after breaking his 400 year contract with the New Jersey Devils.

It has been widely reported that Kovalchuk is only interested in joining a serious Cup contender, and only then, on a two-year pact.

With that in mind, here are the candidates, and a dark horse:

Los Angeles Kings:

Why:  This one makes sense.  The Kings were a middle of the road offensive team, finishing 16th in the league, but once again dominating defensively, allowing the fewest goals league-wide.  Kovalchuk could add some speed and size to an already heavy team, one that was swept by a faster and equally heavy Golden Knights squad.

Why not:  The Kings are tight against the cap, and if Kovalchuk signs for the expected two years, it would severely limit the ability to re-sign Adrian KempeAlex Iafallo, and Drew Doughty, all of whom will be free agents after next season (the former two will be restricted and likely due for a big raise; Doughty is unlikely to receive too sizable of a pay hike on top of his $7MM).

San Jose Sharks:

Why: Why not?  The move would reunite Kovalchuk with Peter DeBoer, who coached him on the Cup run in New Jersey in 2011-12.  It would also add scoring depth to an already deep Sharks team, and too much scoring depth is never a bad thing.  The signing could also provide insurance in case Joe Thornton struggles to recover from another injury (provided he signs), or if Evander Kane fails to meet lofty expectations.  Plus, after Paul Martin gets bought out, the Sharks should have plenty of cap space - if they are unable to land the biggest fish on the Island, that is.

Why not: Does anyone think the 2017-18 San Jose Sharks were a 35 year old money grabber away from a Stanley Cup berth?  Probably not. 


New York Rangers:

Why:  Kovalchuk played for years across the river, and it will be hard to dismiss the draw of the New York spotlight.  With lots of speed up front, Kovalchuk could be a good fit, but without another major draw, too much of the offensive burden could be borne by the 35 year old.  However, they have plenty of cap space to target everyone on the market, and it is not inconceivable for the big game Rangers to land both Tavares and Kovalchuk.  In that case, the results should follow.

Why not:  See above.  Also, the Rangers Stanley Cup window is probably already closed, and while adding Kovalchuk might give Henrik Lundqvist one last shot, it is fair to question how much of an uplift Kovalchuk will bring. 

Boston Bruins:

Why:  The Bruins were one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals, and have showed that their core is solid enough to justify the cost of bringing in Rick Nash.  Kovalchuk might be enough to take them to the next level, or at the very least, resurrect David Krejci's career.  We like this fit, so naturally, we hope it does not happen.

Why not:  The Bruins are tight against the cap and might be ill-advised to bring in another veteran.  The kids can play, and while Kovalchuk will be an obvious upgrade up front, the question of whether to go all-in for one more run with Zdeno Chara persists.

Detroit Red Wings:

Why:  The Wings have a ton of cap space, and plenty of draft picks in the next two years, so the future looks bright in the Motor City.  Adding a premier talent like Kovalchuk to the fold could obviously help.

Why not:  The Wings are not a playoff team with this roster.  Kovalchuk would be no closer to a Cup in Detroit than in any of the other cities in this list.


St. Louis Blues:

Why:  The Blues have an A+ top line, and are certainly in the market to bring back Paul Stastny to anchor the second unit.  Kovalchuk fits in nicely on a heavy and skilled team, one which may be stuck at the kids table in a top heavy Central Division without at least one more piece. 

Why not:  If the Blues are sticking to the youth movement, adding Kovalchuk does not make sense.  Never mind - it still makes sense.  He is a great fit in the Loo.

Dallas Stars:

Why:  Joining one of the best one-two punches in the league in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov showed that a heavy player can spend a long stretch in the KHL and meet NHL success (granted he played a season in Montreal first, but he was much more productive in Dallas).  But Dallas is in desperate need of secondary scoring after a season in which only three forwards managed 35 points.  Kovalchuk seemingly solves that problem immediately.

Why not:  After giving Martin Hanzal a whale of a free agent deal, the Stars may be reluctant to shell out too much. 

Anaheim Ducks:

Why: If the Ducks decide to move Corey Perry, a fading light, they can afford Kovalchuk.  If not, forget about it.  But does the team walk away from a 32 year old sniper on the rapid decline only to replace him with a 35 year enigma? 

Why not:  John Gibson is due a monster raise after next season, and the Ducks may not want to commit to Kovalchuk's salary demands if it means having to pick between Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg (we are assuming Gibson is signed at all costs).

The dark horse: Pittsburgh Penguins:

Why:  Could you imagine Kovalchuk with Evgeni Malkin on the second line?  Assuming Phil Kessel is moved, as rumored, the Penguins would have the cap space, the shoes to fill, and with GM Rutherford committing to a more competitive squad next season, the obvious need.  But that is a big assumption - why would they move the 7th leading scorer as reliable as Kessel to begin with?

Why not:  Kovalchuk is probably not an upgrade over Phil Kessel.