Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Debate About Defense

The Washington Capitals have made their mistakes in the past. Prior to the lockout, they acquired Jaromir Jagr, marking an unprecedented commitment to winning for the team. They signed the former Penguins winger to a landmark contract, which was one of the major reasons the lockout occurred. The team then sought to surround Jagr with other talented players, bringing in Michael Nylander, Sergei Berezin, and most notably, fellow countryman and Olympic Gold Medal winning teammate Robert Lang.

The payroll was higher than ever, and so were the expectations.

The team never gelled, the hook and hold aspect was too much to overcome, and the team collapsed. Then began the firesale.

The team added draft picks that became Jeff Schultz, Mike Green, and John Carlson, and they also traded for Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina.

A young defense corps was established, or so we thought.

The defensive roster from last season included:

-Brian Pothier, who while serving as an inspiration, is not a good defenseman. He is a good skater who handles the puck well and makes a good first pass out of the zone, but that is it. He is physically inept, even before he got destroyed with yet another unavenged hit on a Capital.

-Tom Poti, a defenseman who was drafted and lauded for his offensive play in college, and who had decent success as a point man for the Rangers and Oilers, signed a large deal worth $14 million to play for the Capitals second pair, and to serve as a top penalty killer. No idea what the thinking is on this one.

-Tyler Sloan, who is just awful, and was embarrassed by Rene Bourque in his first career game. This is a defenseman who, at every level in his hockey career since Midget, has posted well over 1 PIM per game, prior to joining the pacifist Capitals. What happened? No one knows. But it is not winning us playoff games.

-Mike Green, a top notch skating defenseman who does his best to imitate Scott Niedermayer, less the defensive aspects of the game. He is good at defense by virtue of his ability to prevent the other team from having the puck, but is a third pairing defenseman once they do get it. Green was also famously blasted from behind by David Koci, partly because the Capitals are used to making dangerous plays with no fear because "it leads to more powerplays". The only good thing to come from this hit was Erskine's instinctive reaction to fight Koci. "You've got to stand up for your teammate," Erskine said. Lesson learned.

-Milan Jurcina, a great hitter with a booming shot, who unfortunately does not use his shot nearly enough. He is huge, and not that mobile, but for a guy who racks up the hits as he does, he should get into a fight or two. Maybe he will with the Islanders in the rough and tough Atlantic Division.

-Shaone Morrisonn, one of two true stay-at-home defenseman who was a regular for the team. He is also one of the few Capitals who was willing to stand up against a real fighter, getting mixed up with Colton Orr twice, losing both fights (obviously). It is good to show heart against one of the league's toughest, but why should the best defensive defenseman on the roster be the one doing this?

-John Erskine, one of my favorite Capitals, the other true stay-at-home defenseman. Shows a lot of heart and grit on every shift, and has an exciting fighting style that has caught up to him with a ton of injury time in the last three seasons. He is a shell of his former self, and like Todd Fedoruk, should not be handling the load against top heavies. Maybe the middleweights like Aaron Asham, Sean Avery, and Milan Lucic. Defensively sound, but his skating could improve.

-Jeff Schultz, the towering enigma. Has all the size in the world, but refuses to use it. He posted a huge +50 rating this season, but he did not have the top defensive assignments, and often played with Ovechkin's line. Definitely a benefactor of the system, but is sound positionally, albeit afraid of physical play. If Schultz could develop a mean streak, he would be a top notch defenseman, in the style of Pronger, although obviously not as gifted.

No one else played enough to be considered, even though there are two glaring omissions who are sure to be regulars next year.

Morrisonn, Pothier, and Jurcina are gone. That leaves Green, Erskine, Schultz, Sloan, and Poti, along with the additions of Carlson and Alzner. Erskine and Sloan are the 6/7 defensemen, although I would bet that Sloan's ability to be equally putrid on the left wing also will make him get the nod more often.

The Capitals lost in the playoffs in 08-09 because they were unable to stop the Penguins in the slot, specifically Sidney Crosby. This year, they just had no heart whatsoever, expecting to coast on through, relying on six powerplays per game to power their offense. Both times, the team failed, and both times, the team failed to address the issues the following offseason.

Boudreau pompously [and incorrectly] asserted, "A lot of people were pretty negative about the way it ended and everything. But we did lead the league. So there's not a lot of holes."

Yet, this team with few holes burned out in seven games to the Mite-y Canadiens.

Now, the Capitals have a ton of cap space, and McPhee has indicated that he will address any issues that arise at the trade deadline again, and he has the picks and prospects to pony up for a defenseman. But there were a few guys available that would help the team moving forward. Tom Poti is not the veteran answer, even if he is great in the locker room.

Assuming no deadline deals are made, we will not make it to the Conference Final. So we shall look at next offseason's UFA market, including the cap space afforded by Poti's expiration.

Bieksa, Marc Stuart, O'Brien are young semi-long term (4 years) options, and McCabe and Brewer are cheaper alternatives who will command far less than they are earning now. There are some interesting potential RFAs, including Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty from the Kings, Shea Weber from the Predators, Zack Bogosian from the "rival" Thrashers, and Josh Gorges from the Canadiens (way to stick it to 'em for knocking us out this year!). All of them would cost at least a 1st and a 3rd, but are well worth it, especially if that first is 30th overall. There are also some depth options, like Hal Gill, Sami Salo, Craig Rivet, Steve Montador, and Brent Sopel, but they will probably command too much money to be considered for even a one year deal.

So what happens? We probably stand pat, knowing that there are options out there that will take us to the next level.

Your optimistic blogger


  1. GO CAPS!! WOOOOO!!!

  2. Great write up, agree completely with everything. GMGM has been here 13 years and hasn't had a team go past the second round. In places like Philly, they call that unacceptable. But Ted's happy, so i doubt anything will change. BB is in over his head

  3. I don't count 97 team as GMGMs by the way. That was Poile's team.

  4. Thanks for the comments guys.

    I like what GMGM has done, to an extent. He has the right idea, and has shown to make good decisions with personnel, but he is using the wrong team as an example - Detroit. Sure, they won a Cup post lockout, and lost another, and did so with a soft defense, but they had two world class, Olympic defensemen. The Caps have none, but the defense is just as soft.

    BB is in over his head. He is a great AHL coach, but not so much in the NHL.