Thursday, December 7, 2017

Tom Wilson, MVP

Well, maybe not season MVP, but certainly last night's MVP.

Wilson notched his second career two goal game (his first being last month against Boston), and his first career four point night against the Blackhawks.  He also defended his captain in a big way from a potentially nasty knee-on-knee (but Russian machine never break).  RMNB had a great write-up.

We have long advocated for increased use of Wilson, to develop him into a complementary power forward, a la Scott Mellanby.  He has been long respected for his physicality, recently for his defensive play.  With a prolonged chance alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom, with whom he has played sporadically in the past, he should develop into a solid banger who can slam home rebounds, tip in shots, and cause mayhem in front of the net.

And as we have seen on numerous occasions, as well as last night, Wilson provides much needed muscle to one of the softer teams in a soft league.

It may have taken longer than expected, but Wilson is earning his draft selection.

Now if only the Caps still had the other guy they drafted that year...

Friday, December 1, 2017

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oil! Oil! Oil!

Nathan Walker, the first Australian-trained (though Welsh-born) player to make the NHL, who was waived yesterday, was claimed by the Edmonton Oilers.  The Oilers were #3 on the waiver wire.  Iiro Pakarinen was waived to make room for the Thunder from Down Under.

Badly underutilized, Walker became a casualty of Coach Barry Trotz's affinity for low line competition, and replaceable veterans.  Walker was lost in the shuffle, competing for bottom 6 minutes with Brett Connolly, Alex Chiasson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tyler Graovac, Chandler Stephenson, and Tom Wilson, with only Wilson's name in pen.  When fully healthy, the Capitals have 6 wingers competing for 3 roster spots.

Competition raises the level of play.  It forces players to be tight on their game, for fear of losing their roster spot.  Knowing that nothing is guaranteed demands that each individual takes every shift as their last.

This is good for the team.

This is not good for player development though, something Trotz has struggled with for much of his career (goaltenders aside).

Nathan Walker made the team out of camp, and played in a grand total of 94 minutes split over 7 games.  He needs to play more if he is going to develop.  No one gets better from the press box.

This begs the question:

Why was Tyler Graovac not waived instead?  He is listed as a center, but has taken a total of 3 faceoffs this year, and won 47.5% last year with Minnesota.  He does not penalty kill.  He does not score goals.  He does not hit much, averaging one per game.  He is not an energy guy.  He... does not impact the game in any meaningful way.  He is forgettable and unnoticeable.

Nathan Walker is an energy guy who plays more on the penalty kill.  He is one year younger.  He is smaller, but one cannot help but notice his presence on every shift.  And come on, he is a feel good story.  The additional $25,000 owed to Nathan Walker does not significantly affect the team.  The additional year of his contract does not either.

While not egregious, this was a mistake.  Walker should be on the roster, and Graovac should have been waived instead.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Capitals should trade Braden Holtby

Rarely will a team trade away Vezina-caliber goaltenders in their prime.  But the Capitals need to do just that.

Braden Holtby is one of the three best goaltenders in the league.  No one denies his ability to be a franchise cornerstone.  Most NHL GMs would kill for a player as talented as him.

But most NHL GMs draft goaltenders poorly, and develop them even worse.  However, this is probably the Capitals' greatest strength: goaltender development.  Adding the legendary Mitch Korn has a long history of developing quality starters; under his tutelage, his keepers have won a combined 5 Vezina trophies, with Hasek having won two more after Korn switched teams.  (This is also why I do not support the Capitals firing Barry Trotz: his assistant coaching staff is top notch).

Holtby was a steal in the fourth round, being the 9th goalie drafted in 2008.  Holtby has 17 more NHL wins than the first 8 goaltenders drafted combined.  In fact, Holtby has accounted for 44% of all of the goalie wins from his draft class.  There were 22 goalies drafted.

The last Cup-starting and winning goaltender drafted in the first round was Marc-Andre Fleury, who started in 2009's Penguins win: one of three since the 04-05 lockout to be drafted that high.

Goaltenders, more than any other position, have good value in later rounds.  Of the 14 goalies last year to win 30 games, three were first round draft picks, four were undrafted, and the rest fell somewhere in between.  The average draft number for the ten who were drafted is 102.

The Capitals also have a well stocked goalie cupboard.  Philipp Grubauer might not be ready to carry a team, but he has widely been pegged as the next great starter.  Pheonix Copley, whom the Capitals highly value, was a key part of the Shattenkirk trade last season and the Oshie trade before that- has absolutely dominated at the AHL level and should compete for the backup role in Washington.  Competing with Copley is Vitek Vanecek, who has performed admirably in both the ECHL and AHL.  Behind them both is Adam Carlson, who passes the eye test, when healthy.

But the biggest prize of all is Ilya Samsonov, the best goaltender outside of North America, who is expected to sign with the Capitals after his contract expires this upcoming summer.  Comparing him to other blue-chip Russian goalie prospects like Sergei Bobrovsky and Andrei Vasilevskiy, it is not unreasonable for Samsonov to quickly adjust to the North American game and compete for an NHL position right away.

This deep pipeline makes Holtby somewhat expendable- for the right price.  He has a friendly contract; of his cap comparables, fellow goaltenders +/- 10% of his cap hit of $6.1 MM, he is the youngest, and besides Carey Price, is undoubtedly the best.  However, the Capitals are desperate for cap relief, and trading away Holtby's $6.1 MM would go a long way towards a proper retool.  Holtby has been a workhorse in net, but his trade value is tremendous.

With no comparable trades of ace goaltenders in their prime with contract to spare, it is difficult to speculate on a return, but we can suspect that Holtby would bring in at least a solid starting player, a prospect, and a first round draft pick.  It might also be possible to use him to entice a team to pick up the last two years of Orpik's contract.  Who knows?  For a playoff team tight against the cap, but in need of a few solid pieces to become truly competitive, trading away the Beast might be the best move.  

Friday, October 13, 2017

Wilson's back! Notes and predictions

Tom Wilson will make his long awaited season debut tonight, skating on the third line alongside Brett Connolly and Lars Eller.  He will presumably return to the top penalty killing unit as well, although Devante Smith-Pelly has certainly made his mark.  In what promises to be a pivotal year for Mr. Wilson, fresh off of a suspension and making his season debut in Game 5, will need to finally justify his draft ranking.

Wilson was drafted 16th overall in 2012, just 5 slots behind a certain player who shan't be named, and was expected to bring a heavy game with offensive flair.  He followed up with 58 points in 2013, alongside 17 points in 12 OHL playoff games before making his NHL debut in the playoffs of that year in dramatic fashion.

He immediately made himself into a household name as a physical presence, sparking an ongoing rivalry with Brayden Schenn (then of Philadelphia), and drew the ire of just about everyone in the league for his explosive (yet clean!) bodychecks.  However, the Capitals did not draft a 4th line goon; they drafted a power forward in the same vein as Milan Lucic or Rick Tocchet.  Or so they thought.

Wilson's offensive game has not yet developed.  Although he has become a reliable two-way forward, even singlehandedly having the shift of the playoffs, he leaves us wanting more.  Needing more, actually.  With the departure of Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson, Wilson will be relied upon to add some offense to his game - or he will likely go the way of the dodo.  Fan favorite or not, he has tremendous trade value (Las Vegas anybody?), and the team will eventually run out of patience and cut ties.

With that said, we expect Wilson to get a healthy dose of ice time this season, in all-situations, even turning in a few powerplay shifts.  Starting tonight, of course.

Speaking of tonight, here are the predictions:

1. Marcus Johansson will immediately make us regret trading him

This isn't so much a prediction as an admission.  Evgeny Kuznetsov, TJ Oshie, and Dmitry Orlov all deserved huge pay raises, and no one can fault them for taking their deals.  But we can still be upset that Johansson had to leave as a cap casualty.  We wish Marcus all the best.  Well, at least for 78 games.

2. Braden Holtby will show us why he is the best goaltender in the world

Facing a tough test on the road against an upstart New Jersey Devils squad, Holtby will rise to the occasion.  After yet another hard loss to the Penguins, he should bounce back immediately, like he consistently has throughout his career.  During his dominating three year run, he has only followed up a loss with another loss 16 times.  In 202 starts.  This trend will continue tonight.

3. The special teams will bounce back

Looking for a spark following Wednesday's abortion of a special teams performance, the Capitals will look to get back to what they do best: dominate.  After mustering a paltry 5 shots on 4 powerplays, and allowing 3 powerplay goals, there is plenty of room for improvement.  We should see that tonight.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Washington Capitals fall 3-2 at home to Pittsburgh Penguins

Not surprisingly, the Capitals lost to Pittsburgh, at home, yet again.

Also not surprisingly, Matt Murray played out of his mind, making several dynamite saves, and furthering the story of Sidney Crosby's continual dominance over Alex Ovechkin.

The results:

1. The Capitals will win handily


2. A defenseman will score for the Capitals

Christian Djoos impressed, netting his first career goal in his first career game on his first career shot.  He also added a beautiful assist on an Ovechkin slamdunk.  

3. The Capitals special teams will continue to shine





Some assorted notes:

  • Aside from scoring his first two career points, Djoos impressed in his limited role.  Djoos began with Ness, but quickly found himself paired with John Carlson, who was on the ice for two of the Penguins three powerplay goals.  
  • Carlson led the team with 26:22 of icetime, the third time he has led the team this season.  Excepting the blowout win over Montreal, in which he played a measly 23 minutes, Carlson has played more than 26 minutes nightly.  For an all-situations defender this is to be expected, but one has to wonder how long this can be sustained.  Carlson is ostensibly the Capitals #3 defenseman, but plays on the top powerplay and penalty kill units.  
  • Speaking of #1s, Matt Niskanen should have played more (22:13), but he took two soft penalties, the first of which allowed Kris Letang to score (coincidentally, from a place which would have been otherwise occupied by Niskanen himself).  Again, excepting the blowout, in which the third pair received considerably more icetime than in a competitive game, Niskanen was on the ice less than usual.  For some reason, he only played 6 minutes in the third period of a 1 goal game.  Odd, to say the least.
  • Brooks Orpik continued to exceed expectations, posting an even all-situations CF and 58.62% 5v5 CF.  He also played 21 minutes, slightly lowering his average for the season, yet considerably higher than his career average with the Capitals.  
  • The Capitals were badly outshot (36-22), but that does not pass the sniff-test: Washington attempted 55 shots compared to Pittsburgh's 57.  It's not as if the Pens were profoundly better at blocking shots than the Caps; Pittsburgh blocked 17 compared to the Capitals 16.  They were just better at getting shots toward the net. 
  • The fourth line was particularly buried, totaling 4% CF.  Yowch.
  • Tyler Graovac was arguably the worst of the bunch, seeing 0 shots head towards Murray, while seeing 9 towards Braden Holtby.  This would not be that bad, but Graovac had less than 6 minutes of ice time.  
  • The remainder of that trio, Devante Smith-Pelly and Jay Beagle had rough games too, but they earned most of their shots against on the penalty kill.
  • Alex Ovechkin slammed home an easy goal on a brilliant tic-tac-toe play started by Nicklas Backstrom, the first of his league-leading 8 that were not off the tape of Evgeny Kuznetsov.  
  • Alex Chiasson continues to underwhelm.  He had negative possession numbers again, and with the return of Tom Wilson, should slide out of the lineup.
  • Speaking of Chiasson, we're not sure what's worse: Sidney Crosby putting his shoulder into Holtby, or the lack of a response by the Capitals.  Take a look below and let us know:

  • Should Crosby have been penalized for his headshot, or was it in the normal course of play?  Either way, should someone have retaliated, to show Crosby, the Penguins, and the rest of the league, that the goalie is off-limits?