Monday, April 30, 2007

Vicarious Adventures in Swampland

Here's something to talk about - check out Mike Vogel's recap of a father-son trip up to the Swamp for Saturday's fantastic double overtime game:

This is both a great summary of a great game and just a beautifully told story of a father, a son, and hockey. I think it can also serve as further proof that the way playoff games are decided is perfectly fine - those of us who watched those extra periods Saturday night can testify that it was some of the best hockey we've had all postseason, a sentiment I'm sure is enhanced when viewed live.

I wish I could say that I was on Vogel's payroll or got some other benefit out of constantly praising him, but unfortunately neither is true (at least not yet - any job openings, Mike? Need an assistant?). I think we're so lucky to have someone writing about our team who is so obviously passionate about hockey. Hopefully next season he'll be writing about the Caps postseason triumphs, but until then its nice to be continuously mesmerized by the magic that is playoff hockey, no matter who the teams are. It's almost enough to make us forget that his son is a Devils fan. Yikes.


This is Ovie's SportsCentre

Ovie's new promo for TSN is now available on the Caps website:

(to view the actual video, go to the home page and click on the video button when you see Ovie's smilin' mug come around)

Not bad, not bad...just kind of makes you wish you lived in Canada, doesn't it? Or maybe that's just me.


Sloooooooow news day around here.

Anyone have anything they want to discuss? Ovie's pretty red skates? Clark's continued offensive output even without one red skate-wearing teammate? Zubrus's delicious hit on Jagr? The price of popcorn on the 400-level at Verizon Center vs. the price of caviar on the club level?


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Way Down South

Let's see, I've talked about our buddies in the Northeast Division. I've gushed about my love for the Atlantic Division. I guess that just leaves...

...ah, yes. The Southeast Division:

Florida Panthers - Of all the Southeast Division teams, Florida probably draws the least amount of ire among the Caps faithful. That may be changing if the Cats continue to beat up on the Caps, a disturbing trend over the last two years, but even those games have been for the most part mind-numbingly boring. They may not have Luongo anymore but the fact that they have Ed "the Balding, Drunken Eagle" Belfour doesn't help their case too much. Given his age and penchant for being stun-gunned, even his tenure in the Sunshine State may not last too much longer. Bottom line? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Tampa Bay Lightning - I find myself both equally repulsed by and enamored of the Lightning. On the one hand, having missed the one postseason matchup between the Caps and Bolts I probably don't harbor the same resentment towards the bolts as others. I also admit to being a fan of one Vincent Lecavalier (and feel free to rant and whine all you want, he's a damn good hockey player). On the other...well, their coach is certifiably insane, they insist on playing 3 players until they fall down from exhaustion, and their captain is a tool (man). So, tough call. I may need another 8 games to make up my mind.

Carolina Hurricanes - For whatever reason, the league and/or the scheduling gods seem to be trying to shove this rivalry down our throats. Two years straight we've had to play the 'Canes multiple times over short periods, creating mini-playoff series that have been anywhere from boring to great. Whether their little plot has worked or not remains to be seen, but I don't think many Caps fans were shedding too many tears when the 'Canes found themselves outside the playoffs looking in this year. Schadenfreude aside, there are any number of players in the red, white and black with the ability to get under the skin of DC residents, so stay tuned.

Atlanta Thrashers - Once again, I'm saving the best for last. This has been an interesting rivalry to watch, particularly in the post-lockout era. Many of the Caps have expressed their hatred of the Thrash, and let's face it, every good rivalry has to have the hate both in the stands and on the ice. We can all point to that infamous throwdown back in November and the ensuing hype for a graphic illustration of how much Atlanta is hated around here, but I think it goes back at least to the beginning of last season. There just isn't much respect among Caps fans for the team itself or the way Hartley coaches.

So there you are - hatred up and down the East Coast. Doesn't it give you a warm, fuzzy feeling to see it all spelled out?

It's interesting looking over the Southeast Division, the division with which we are supposed to have the strongest rivalries, one key thing seems to be missing - the fans. It's what makes the battles with the Penguins, the Flyers, even the Sabres, go from just another hockey game to all out war. When you're battling on the ice and in the stands, it just takes things to another level. The atmosphere is electric and hopefully it's something that, in time, we'll start to see develop below the Mason-Dixon line.

Because if we're going to be stuck playing these guys 8 times a year, I want a recognizable group in the stands each time that I can aim my beer at.

Just kidding.

Kind of.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Paying the French-Canadian Piper

You may recall that a handful of our bloggers were selected by our winning pool entrants, Matthew and Duncan, to submit lovey-dovey posts about the Flames and Habs. Like the good sports that they are, our chosen few have responded...sort of.

Read Sherry's love letter to the Habs...then check out Bleu, Blanc et Rouge's response for an extra little giggle. Witness the unbelievable, a Detroit fan praising the Flames, as Steph pays up over at No Pun Intended.

Now JORDI on the other hand has been commanded to redo her post, which was hysterically funny but not exactly nice. I don't think she's taking it all that well (poor Duncan), and now she's just delaying the inevitable.

That just leaves...hmmm. Oh right, me!

This shouldn't be too hard, because as most of you know, my Habs-love is second only to the pure love I hold for the Caps.

I didn't go to Montreal searching for another team to root for. I had my hands full with the Caps and the last thing I needed was a second group of guys who would steal my heart, then break it repeatedly. Habs fandom was something I kind of fell into, led by the forces of fate, la forza del destino if you will.

When I first arrived in Montreal the Canadiens were pretty far off my radar. I knew of them, recognized a few names, but that was it. Instead I listened to as many Caps games as I could on my computer, Steve Kolbe's soothing voice providing the background noise for many a study session. I would see the headlines in the daily newspapers about the Habs but largely ignored them in favor of my hometown team. My only connection to the team was in my proximity to the Montreal Forum, on its way to being converted from a historic hockey landmark to an entertainment complex swathed in red white and blue.

Fast-forward a few months to the 2001 trade deadline, a day spent glued to TSN's all-day coverage in the faint hope that no one would be departing DC. I was watching in horror as the announcement came across the bottom of the screen: 'Washington trades Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis...' I couldn't believe it. My Zed, my Buli, were gone! Then I read the rest ' Montreal for Dainius Zubrus and Trevor Linden'. My disbelief turned to joy - two of my favorite players were now in the same city as me. Coincidence? I'd like to think not.

And so it began. My loyalty to these two players, as foolish as it may seem, was my entry into the crazy world of Montreal hockey. I started reading about the Habs a bit more, scanning the articles for their names and silently cheering them on. I would get excited when I saw that Montreal had won a game, and sad when they lost. It was a very confusing time, to be sure.

Finally I decided it was time to go see the Habs in person. It was, quite frankly, among the most amazing hockey experiences of my life. If you've never been to a game in Montreal, I urge you to do so immediately. It's like nothing else - the atmosphere is pure saturated hockey. I loved every minute of it. I loved the goal song (which has since been replaced by a U2 song, an absolute disgrace). I loved the little truck that shot t-shirts during intermission. I loved the Canadian anthem sung in French and English. It was so exciting, so electric, and there was a roar in the stands from the moment the puck dropped to the final buzzer.

As a Caps fan, it was a truly eye-opening experience; as a hockey fan, I was home. Over the next few years I immersed myself in Canadiens hockey. I went to as many games as possible, learned the names of the players, cheered them on in the playoffs, and developed a deep hatred of the Maple Leafs. I would put it all on hold only for those times when my two teams met in battle, those brief moments where the Habs t-shirt would proudly be replaced by a Caps jersey. As soon as the game ended, my dual loyalties returned unaffected by the previous 60 minutes.

I've tried many times to distance myself from the Habs since returning to DC. But for whatever reason I can't seem to shake them, almost three years later. They've got a scrappy demeanor about them that I love and an endless cast of characters led by a feisty little Finn that just keeps me hanging on. Huet, Komisarek, Higgins, Ryder - all entertaining in their own way. Even Kovalev, a bastion of evil for so many years, became lovable once he pulled on that Habs sweater (although not so much anymore...).

Anyone will tell you that it's nearly impossible to root for two teams with the same fervor, especially when they're in the same conference, and its true. I could never fully support the Habs with the same passion I reserve for the Capitals; one team always has to win out, and that team will always be the Caps. Still, I stand by my Habs and hope that, like the Caps, next year will bring better fortunes and greener pastures.

I just hope they never meet in the playoffs. I don't think I could take it.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Give Ice Girls the Cold Shoulder

The boys over at OnFrozenBlog have revitalized the debate about one of my least favorite things, the Ice Girls - buckle your seatbelts, word on the street is that they're coming to DC. Rather than clog their blog with my soapbox rants I figured I should use my own space and my own captive audience. Oh, you lucky people you...

I've made no secret of the fact that the idea of Ice Girls makes me nauseous. Women hired to either "clean" the ice or lead cheers in the stands all while wearing midriff-baring tops and short's just a disgusting, sexist display. Not to mention the fact that it's impractical - don't they get cold? If they're really Ice Girls, shouldn't they be wearing down parkas and snow pants?

Someone commented on OFB that the Verizon Center could use a little atmosphere, that the arena needs something to get rid of the "cemetary" moniker that has so often been attributed to ye olde phone booth. I actually couldn't agree more. If you go to Caps games frequently, you know that when the Horn Guy and Goat do their thing, the crowd responds...for a moment. It's an amazing phenomenon to behold; one minute the arena is echoing with the chants of "Let's Go Caps", the next minute you can hear the conversations going on down on the ice. It's like people need to be told when to cheer or else they sit on their hands.

The problem I have is with the idea that the organization should do anything to correct this, especially when that anything includes degrading women for the sake of a few cheers. And what message do you then send to the little girls who fill the stands right alongside their male counterparts? That men belong on the ice playing hockey, while women belong on the ice merely to clean it and provide a little eye candy for the menfolk? Might as well tie the apron on them and send them right into the kitchen now, the '50s are back.

It honestly bothers me, and I'm running low on ways to show my disappointment with this growing trend. I love this team too much to be turned away by something like Ice Girls, and I'm not going to stop going to games because of it, as much as I would love to stand up and make such a statement. I'm just not that I doubt it would make much of a difference. I'm sure that's what the organization is banking on - that there will be some disapproval, but not enough to hurt the fan base. I'll tell you this much, though; I'll damn sure bitch about it ad nauseum here, because it's just wrong and people should know that it's wrong.

(By the way, I get that men like to look at beautiful women; I like to look at beautiful men, it's natural. But I hate when the women are pranced around in skimpy outfits. For some reason it's okay for the men to drool over them and make inappropriate comments. When I so much as casually mention a certain hockey player is hot, suddenly I'm a puckbunny. Double standard, thy name is sports.)

Look, if you want to liven up the atmosphere at VC, bring in a co-ed troop of cheerleaders - college-aged kids, male and female, to whip up the crowd. If the women are good-looking, fine; if the men are good-looking, fine. If the whole darn group could compete in the Ugliest Dog competition and win, FINE. Just make them energetic, enthusiastic and if possible, excited about hockey. I promise if you trolled the many college campuses that are sprinkled throughout this city you'd find at least a handful of kids who could use some extra cash and who love hockey. Bring in these kids and their youthful energy and get the crowd into it - this team is exciting to watch and deserves at least that much.

Just leave the halter tops and the mini-skirts out of if you'll excuse me, I have to go put on some pearls and bake a pie.


From Russia to Toronto

- Thanks to the live streaming efforts of, I caught part of Team USA's first game at the World Championships in Moscow - and before you ask, yes, I was at work, and no, I probably wasn't supposed to be watching hockey while at work. Happy?

The US looks like they're off to a good start. Now, to be fair, comparing the Austrian national team to the US, Canadian, Russian or Czech teams is like comparing my high school orchestra to the National Symphony. Still it was an interesting game from what I saw, capped off by a goal by our captain and theirs, Chris Clark.

As we speak I have just started watching Russia vs. Denmark - and before you ask, yes, I'm still at work, and no, I still probably shouldn't be watching hockey while at work. I'm at least doing work at the same time, so I think that counts. Anyways, it's 4-1...oops, wait, make that 5-1, just about 6 minutes into the 2nd period. Thank you, Andrei Markov. Ovechkin just finished a shift where he was hitting every one in sight, and the Russian fans are doing the wave.

6-1. This is going to get ugly. Of course, if Austria's team is equivalent to my high school orchestra, Denmark's is a group of two year olds with kazoos. And thanks to some early playoff exits, the Russian team is brimming with talent and looks very scary. Seriously. I think the Danish goalie is crying.

I'm just continuously amazed at the technological advances that help crazy hockey fans (oops, 7-1...) like me watch hockey live from Russia. It's just amazing that techn-OVECHKIN! 8-1! (sans the blue visor, by the way...)

Anyways, was I saying?

Oh, right. Technology. It's a great thing.

You know what's really amazing? I am able to get live, fairly clear, buffer-free footage of a tournament happening halfway around the world...yet for some reason I can't get Center Ice online to work consistently. I couldn't get the Ottawa-New Jersey game last night, and that was just happening up I-95.

Crazy, crazy world.

- So I'm taking a very brief recess from my Penguin-hate and diverting it north, just for a moment...and for no apparent reason. Don't worry, we'll get back to the random acts of violence against all things Penguin-esque soon enough, and my ongoing look at teams we hate will continue later. There's just a lot of love to go around, y'know?

To anyone reading this who happens to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan...look away now. Everyone else, enjoy!

Special thanks to my favorite Canadian expatriates, Chris and Sarah, who have earned the title of super junior reporters in the field for their hard work uncovering random stories and videos. Thanks guys!


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sailing Across the Atlantic (Division)

The reception towards Northeast Division teams may be a bit lukewarm here in CapsLand, but I guarantee emotions boil a little hotter when it comes to those friendly foes, the Atlantic Division:

New York Islanders - Although the heated battles of the 80s and 90s have given way to a much less heated rivalry, the hatred of the Islanders will probably never fully go away. From the Easter Epic to the Hunter-Turgeon incident to the sudden flood of former Caps to the Isles, there's something about the blue and orange that elicits bile among the Caps faithful.

New York Rangers - The Caps played their very first game in franchise history against the Rags and its been downhill ever since. Year after year we're subjected to not only the Rangers but their hordes of fans who fill the VC, and year after year we're treated to some great battles. The Caps and Rangers have only met 4 times in the playoffs and have split those series, but there is an inherent animosity that even the newest players can feel. And as if the drunken fans and natural hatred weren't enough, they have Jagr. That's the nail in the coffin for even the nicest teams.

New Jersey Devils - Is it just that Martin Brodeur has so easily manhandled this team over the years that makes us hate them? Or is it the fact that they put us to sleep whenever they roll into town? Take your pick, but there is no sympathy for these Devils. I honestly don't even remember a time before Marty came along, he's been so dominant. 30-11-5 with 6 shutouts. Are you freaking kidding me? Ugh. And don't even get me started on Visorgate.

Philadelphia Flyers - I hardly know where to start with the Flyers. It's just all bad. Broadstreet bullies. Ugly orange and black jerseys. Ron Hextall. Bobby Clarke. Philly fans. Years and years of suffering through home games with so much orange you think you're in a tanning salon. It's what makes that Dale Hunter OT goal so sweet; it's what makes the first season series sweep by the Caps so sweet; and it's what made us shake our heads in pity while covering up giddy smirks of joy as we watched them wallowing at the bottom of the standings.

Pittsburgh Penguins - Oh, you knew I had to leave the best for last. I almost feel like I should dedicate an entire post just to my disdain for...oh wait. I do that all the time. It's hard to boil down exactly what it is about this team that just gets under my skin and turns my stomach and makes me want to drink heavily and gives me the urge to hurl things across the room. How do you sum up years of heartache, of annoyance, of anger, of teeth-gritting, fist-clenching, stomach-churning hatred? Like the Flyers, there are oh so many parts to the equation. So I made a list.

Lemieux. Jagr. Lemieux and Jagr. Mullets. Crosby. Mullets. Playoffs. Nedved. Mullets. Invading Penguins fans. Invading drunk Penguins fans. Invading drunk Penguins fans in Steelers gear. Pee-pads. Yellow and black. Playoffs. Crosby. Mullets. Jagr.

...I don't think I need to go on, although it's hardly a comprehensive list. Bottom line? BOOOOO. This is a rivalry that is in no danger of dying anytime soon, at least as long as I have the ability to type and yell and hurl things across the room.

Next up...our beloved Southeast Division.


Pirates and Animosity

It's been awfully quiet here in the Cheap Seats lately, save for a little admin update on the blogger playoff pool - which for most of you is probably just a momentary distraction, nothing more. I don't know if I've just watched too much hockey lately or what, but somehow I've lost a bit of my babbling mojo. Scientists are currently working 'round the clock for a cure, but in the meantime I've decided to resort to outright stealing.

That's right, having lost my own creative spark I am going to become a blogger pirate, sailing the interweb seas in search of insightful posts that I can tweak and call my own.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of...whatever makes this loooong summer a little bit shorter.

My first adventure in plundering comes from my good friend Elly over at No Pun Intended. With the Penguins out of the playoffs she finds herself faced with the same dilemma so many of us face - who do you root for in the postseason when everywhere you turn, you see evil? As a way of sorting out this conundrum, she helpfully breaks down the Eastern Conference on the piss-off spectrum. No verdict was reached, but it was interesting to see how a Pens fan views the conference foes.

As Caps fans, though, I think we probably see a few things differently and so I've made a few adjustments. We'll start with the Northeast Division:

Buffalo Sabres - One of the more recent rivalries to emerge, stemming from a series of unfortunate incidents and lopsided wins this season. Throw in a few thousand friendly drunken Sabres fans filling the Phone Booth with "Let's Go Buff-a-lo" chants and you've got yourself the makings of something good...or horrific. Of course, let's not forget the way the Caps smacked them hard back in the 1998 playoffs. Hasek's blocker being hurled at Bondra's head is a particularly vivid is Juneau's glorious OT winner. In Buffalo. Ah, memories.

Ottawa Senators - Aside from a few scuffles in recent games and one playoff meeting, there doesn't seem to be much bad blood between the two nation's capitals. We've got our yokes of shame, they've got theirs.

Toronto Maple Leafs - This may be the Habs fan in me, but...ick. Any team that has Darcy Tucker automatically takes a step down on the hatred scale anyways, and Mats Sundin has decided to make the Caps his own personal chew toy (as so many others have). Hard to like the Laffs, that's for sure.

Montreal Canadiens - I'm recusing myself from this one. I don't think I can provide an accurate snapshot of the Caps-Habs relationship, but if anyone has any thoughts please toss in a comment.

Boston Bruins - Not so much a rivalry per se, but the synchronized sucking of the Caps and Bruins has led to some entertaining games with a few fireworks. It's hard to tell if the games have just been so evenly played or if both teams were just so bad that you couldn't tell the difference. Either way, there's not really hatred as much as a mutual understanding that better times have to be on the horizon.

...don't they?

Next up...the Atlantic Division.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Standings and Forecasts, Round 2

Now that the second round is underway, it's time to check out where our bloggers stand after the first round and see who they picked for the Conference Semifinals! Unfortunately Google Spreadsheets aren't being nice to me, so you have to go out in search of it:

Those top four participants by the way are separated by one point in the overall standings and have startlingly similar responses. Those of you in that top group, I'll be in touch within the next few days with the tie-breaker's tie-breaker - hopefully that will help uncover one winner this time around.


Just a reminder, the full list of bloggers and their sites can be found here. (And yes, I know we're missing one...*ahem* Steph...Update: Steph was kind enough to send me her picks after I openly mocked her, so everyone is on there now. Boy, I miss being a student!)

Peanut gallery, any comments? Thoughts? Musings to be read aloud in mocking tones?


Paying the Price, Blogger Style

Oh, this is going to be fun. Our first round winners have made their choices and the following people will be paying the price:

Duncan's Picks:
Jordi @ Girls Don't Love Hockey (our resident Edmonton fan)
Steph @ No Pun Intended (one of our Detroit fans)


Matthew's Picks:
Sherry @ Scarlett Ice (Ottawa Senators faithful)
CapsChick...yup, that's me. I figured that would happen at some point

The lucky ones should be posting within the next week or so - check back for links to their posts, I'm sure they're all anxious to get started!


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Round 1 Playoff Pool Champion REVEALED

Now the moment you've all been waiting for - it's time to announce our first round winner in the 2007 Blogger Playoff Pool!

Drumroll please...

Wait, wait, stop the drums. What is this I see? Two winners? That's unpossible!

And yet, that's what happened. You see, I had a tiebreaker built in for exactly this occasion, backfired. Turns out I needed a tiebreaker for the tiebreaker. What are the odds, right?

Okay, kick up the drums again.

The winners:

Duncan from FlamesBlog


Matthew Macaskill from Current Habs History

Congratulations, guys!

As their prize, each winner will get to select two of the other pool competitors to write a loving and heartfelt post about their respective teams - that's a lot of Flames and Habs love out in the world! I'll announce the "winners" as selected by Duncan and Matthew here as soon as they make their decisions.

We kick off the second round tomorrow night and all 34 poolers' picks will be available right here for your perusal and general entertainment, so be sure to stop by and see everyone's predictions.

Oh, and for anyone who wonders if I tried to rig this thing in my favor...I finished 30th. Out of 34 players. Yay.


Monday, April 23, 2007

New Caps, New Threads

New uniforms are on their way, kiddies! Mark your calendars for the Caps' Draft Day Party out at KCI, June 22nd, for a peek at the new duds our, er, old duds will be sporting next season. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) I'll hopefully be there and I'm sure all your favorite Caps bloggers will be there as well, ready to report back with snarky comments and style critiques a-plenty.


April 23, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals will unveil their new uniforms at a special Draft Day Party on Friday, June 22, held at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. The event will be held in conjunction with the live broadcast on Versus of the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, which takes place that evening in Columbus, Ohio.

The new uniforms will mark a return to a red, white and blue color scheme – the colors the Capitals wore from their first season in 1974-75 through 1994-95. The Capitals are the first team in the NHL to announce their plans to unveil their new uniforms, which are produced by Reebok and feature the Rbk EDGE Uniform System technology that was introduced at the 2007 NHL All-Star Game in Dallas. The Capitals are the first team planning to have their new uniforms on hand at the NHL Entry Draft.

Further details about the event will be announced in the coming weeks.
Are you excited? I'm excited.



Wings over Flames in 6. Phooey.

I hate having to be all logical and rational about hockey, but I'll grudgingly admit that the better team won tonight.

Good luck to the Wings...and more luck to whomever they face in the next round. May Hasek get scored on so often he gets whiplash from checking the net behind him.

Hey, I said I was being logical - not that I was going to stop being bitter.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Seventh Heaven

No Game 7's on this coast - with the elimination of the Lightning earlier today, round 2 is all set in the East...and no nailbiting, triple-overtime, guaranteed elimination games necessary. And out in the west, two of the series have ended long before that pivotal seventh game; depending on how the Flames fare after their little Broad Street Bullies impersonation last night, we may find ourselves looking at only one series going the full seven rounds.

Darn it.

It doesn't matter what sport you follow, playoffs are always more exciting when they're pushed to the final match. Any elimination game is exciting, but when both teams are facing the end of their season in just one game it ups the ante that much more. Some of the classic moments from NHL playoff history and from sports playoff history in general come from Game 7.

In 1942 the Toronto Maple Leafs rebounded from a 3-0 series deficit to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. With the win they became the first team to win the Cup in seven games, as well as the first professional sports team to come back from being down 3-0 in a series. The feat has been repeated only twice more since, by the 1975 New York Islanders and most recently by the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

The Montreal Canadiens have appeared in Game 7 104 times in their storied history, the most by any professional sports team. They also have the most wins of any sports team, with victories in 71 of their 104 appearances. The Boston Bruins, meanwhile, hold the dubious distinction of the most losses in Game 7 across the board with 42.

For their part, the Washington Capitals have appeared in 24 Game 7's, going 8-16. And it seems that they always make these already intense moments even more so. Take the triumphant victory over the Philadelphia Flyers back in 1987-88 when they came back from a 3-1 series deficit to win it all off of Dale Hunter's OT winner. Then there was the so-called "Easter Epic", the marathon 1987 Game 7 against the New York Islanders - it was the first game since 1951 to go four overtimes and ended with defeat for the Caps, 6 hours and 18 minutes after the opening faceoff.

So far we have just one Game 7 on the horizon - a thrilling matchup to come between the Vancouver Canucks and the equally stimulating Dallas Stars, who have staved off elimination not once but twice over the past few days. The Calgary Flames have a chance to force the second 7-game series later tonight. After that, it's anyone's guess - however, it should be noted that the last two Stanley Cups have been decided in Game 7.

And if that's not playoff poetry at it's finest, I don't know what is.


CapsChick's Brief Foray Into the Real World

I'm here, I swear.

I was just taking a self-imposed hockey sabbatical to mingle with the three-dimensional people. Thought I'd give it a try for a while, take a break from the playoffs and give my roommate a chance to reclaim the TV.

In my absence the Flames forgot they weren't a goonie team (and apparently forgot how to play hockey again), Jeff Halpern scored another goal, and the Sabres put the Hill-less Islanders out of their misery. Meanwhile I got to see Great Big Sea live in concert, which was a fantastic show - and say what you will about them, but any band that drinks pints of beer and engages in random sociables during a concert is officially awesome. I also got dizzy from the smell of the Swiffer WetJet and saw George Carlin, still filthy-mouthed and hilarious at the glorious age of 69.

But now I'm back and ready to ramble on as the playoffs continue. I'll have plenty of things to discuss in the coming days, including all of these fun things:

- Sidney Crosby's poor widdle footsie
- The Flames' homesickness
- Thrilling eliminations and disastrous defeats as the conference quarterfinals start to wind down
- First Annual Blogger Playoff Pool - Round 1...our first winner will be revealed!
- and (maybe) much, much more!


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Now Who Will They Talk About?

With all of the media attention and hype swirling around Sidney Crosby and his band of merry men, it was easy to forget about the Ottawa Senators. But watching their series-clinching performance tonight and in fact their performance all series long reminds us of exactly how dominating they can be, how deep they are...and how close our own Mike Vogel and Ted Leonsis may have been in their predictions.

It's really amazing to see what the Sens have accomplished since the start of the season. If you remember, back at the beginning of the year the Sens looked like their evil twins. Nothing was going right. They were fighting with Boston for the bottom spot in the Northeast Division. Their fans were wearing paper bags on their heads when they played the Caps.

Flash forward to December. The team is struggling through injuries to some of their key guys when something odd happens. They start winning. It's a strange phenomenon for a team to lose their starters and suddenly improve, but it all comes down to one thing - depth.

The Versus guys were pointing to the depth on this Ottawa squad all night long, showing the production the Sens were getting from their 3rd and 4th line. By contrast, you look at the measly 2 assists produced by Pittsburgh's 3rd and 4th lines and there is no question why the Penguins were unable to overcome the onslaught and ultimately fell in five games.

It's not that the Penguins weren't talented or didn't try hard. The fact is that they struggled because of the same problems that stymied the Caps - when the bulk of your offense comes from your top two lines, you may win games...but only in the regular season. Postseason requires all out efforts from all four lines, and both the Pens and the Caps have too much youth and potential talent instead of actual, NHL proven talent to succeed just yet.

But back to Ottawa. Tonight's game was just a massacre, a systematic destruction of everything the Penguins had going for them. Pittsburgh was simply unable to respond to the talented Senators' attack. Every Ottawa pass was on the tape, every check was finished, every penalty kill solid. The Sens worked every angle, took the body, played their positions spot on, and frankly looked more like a championship team than any other team I've seen thus far in the playoffs.

The question now becomes, can they shake the eternal choking dog collar that has held them down for so long? Will they be able to take their game to another level and meet the challenges of whatever team awaits them? If their showing in this first round is any indication, I'd say they're ready to shake that moniker for good.

Of course, this means that now NBC and Versus will have to find a new cover boy. It's a rough life.


The More Things Stay the Same

I have nothing of value to say today except to point out that my brief attempt at change has crashed and burned. If you were here yesterday or earlier today you may have noticed the pigeon went away - she's back now. Apparently people liked the pigeon. Go figure.

There is one small change...tiny really. You have to look closely to see it. But I know it's there and that's what matters.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Caption This...Again!

Time for more hilarious pictures from around the league...

Do you get the feeling that's not what they meant to do?

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs continue their glorious postseason run.

It's Miller time.

"Maybe if I punch backwards I won't get hurt this time..."

"Flying V!"

"Oh god, where's the puck...Oh GOD, WHERE'S THE PUCK??"


Jeff Halpern demonstrates the power of his mighty Sedin-deflecting rear end.


Captions? Comments!


Semin Situation Getting Bizarre

So this whole Semin situation just gets weirder and weirder, rendering my earlier tongue-in-cheek attempt at being witty and urbane completely lacking, a little mean, and if you read the comments, pretty much inaccurate. Except for the flight info, which I stand by.

But I leave it up here for public scrutiny - here in the Cheap Seats I accept when I have been wrong and choose to dedicate myself to spreading the correct information.

Anyways, according to
this report and this one, things are not as the Russian Federation would have us all believe. What was first seen by many as just another example of Semin's need to mature and learn his place is now appearing more and more like he just got royally screwed. It's a bizarre thing for the Russian team to do and you have to wonder not only what their real motivation was but also what the impact will be on the morale of the Russian team. It seems that Ovechkin, at least, is taking it pretty hard. They're professionals and I'm sure they'll play hard, but they may find it difficult to go all out for a man who cut their teammate so suddenly.

Semin for his part seems to be responding in a mature and professional manner (so take that!), and in an interview with a reporter from Russia's Sport Express he said the following:

I wanted to play at the World Championships very much! I came to Moscow on the day I was told, but I couldn't make it to Novogorsk in time for the start of the camp because of the problems with tickets. I'll repeat again: Coach has the right to decide who to take and who not to take.
This story is far from over...we'll see what happens in the next few days.


Fading Youths

WARNING: What you are about to read is a rare kind word about a certain team in yellow and black. The comments and opinions listed below do not represent a sign of insanity on the part of the author, nor should they be mistaken as a permanent recommendation that anyone become a fan of said team - it is merely the recognition of recent events and nothing more.

Please do not continue if you are a Caps fan with a heart condition or prone to bouts of nausea. Do not combine with alcohol or operate heavy machinery while reading.

Scott Burnside has a very interesting piece out today about the Penguins' loss to the Senators. In it he theorizes that the team will not be able to bounce back and will likely fall to Ottawa when the two meet up in Canada's capital tomorrow night. While I tend to agree with him, I also have to give the Penguins a lot of credit.

I know. Ugh.

I jumped on their backs a bit after their lackluster performance in Game 1 and rightly so - it wasn't the type of game I wanted to see. I wasn't speaking as a Caps fan but as a hockey fan. I want to see good hockey, tough battles, tight games...which frankly is why I'm ignoring the Rangers-Thrashers series altogether.

Since then, however, the evil ones have put in a good showing against what has turned out to be an extremely tough Ottawa team. The games have been close, physical, and above all else, entertaining. Some players have disappeared in the series as so often happens (Malkin?) while others like young Jordan Staal have stepped to the forefront and really taken the team on their shoulders. It's fun as a hockey fan to watch a battle that pits the best against the best, with the occasional unscripted and unexpected hero rising from the group...and that's exactly what we've gotten in these four games.

I've echoed the sentiments of so many others all season long, sometimes even without gagging, when I've said how talented this team really is. It's actually part of the reason I dislike Crosby and all the media hype that follows him around - it's unfair to overshadow a team with so much young talent that will in a few years be a consistent contender. Crosby is good. We get it. What about the others?

So it may very well be the end of the line for the Pens, and if so it is as it should be. The NHL might have been drooling over the idea of Sid the Kid in the Finals but those of us who watch hockey religiously understand that taking a young team all the way through the postseason is an almost impossible task. Better that they take the early exit this year and use it to build on for next season.

In a few years the Pens will be ready and will be good...scary good. My only hope is that they keep their core group of guys together so when the Caps reach their level and then surpass them, we can say our team is the very best.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Penguin-hate.


A Close Bond

You can say all you want about Alexander Semin and his occasional lapses in judgement. What makes me willing to look past it, past the silly penalties and the apparent lack of travel awareness, is the fact that he seems happy here. We all remember him in his first season in DC - sullen, standoffish, lazy...yet showing glimpses of brilliance that made us yearn for more.

Now here he is, his second full season behind him, and there's a definite difference. Sure, the lazy penalties are still there from time to time, and sure, this latest glitch makes me want to buy him a new watch. But it's not hard to see that he's trying harder, he's producing more, and he's fitting in.

Nowhere is that more evident than in his relationship with Ovechkin. The two have really become inseparable this year and I'm certain that it's Ovie's influence that is partially responsible for Semin's 180 degree shift. All you have to do is look at the most recent interview with Ovechkin to see how close these two are (kindly interpreted for and posted by Mike Vogel, as usual).

To all those who take great joy in knocking Semin down and picking at him, enjoy it now. I think we'll start to see a new Alexander Semin emerge over the next year or two - one who will take his rightful place alongside Ovie as one of the league's elite players.

Totally off-topic, but *ahem*...GO FLAMES GO SENS!
What a great night!


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Caption This...

A picture is worth a thousand words (which is still shorter than most of my posts) so I'm taking a break from my mindless babbling about how much I love the playoffs and how great this first round is and blah blah blah...and showing it to you instead. The camera catches those little moments the naked eye so often misses - the facial expressions, the body contortions, the puck frozen in midair. It's the little nuances that make this game so enjoyable...even long after the game itself is over.

All photos courtesy of the Associated Press

1. It's important to stretch before Gymboree, kiddies...


3. Tackled at the 2-yard line

4. "Light as a feather, stiff as a board...light as a feather, stiff as a board"

5. "Yes! I stopped i-...oops. Ohhhh. That's what a goal looks like. Huh."

6. "Pantene Pro-V keeps my hair silky and smooth!"


8. "I got him..." "No, I got him..." "No, no, I got him..."


And for those people who say I'm too mean to Sid the Kid, a special commemorative Crosby Album...just to show I care.

SC1. "Over, under, around the...DAMMIT! Mario? Help!"

SC2. "EEEEEEagle!"

SC3. "What? It's just a little water weight, I swear!"

SC4. Pffft...too...funny...can't...caption...

SC5. Um, yeah. No comment.

For whatever reason, hockey photos just always strike me as funny. Got a caption? Toss it in the comments!


Semin a Spectator

I'm sure everyone has heard by now that Alexander Semin has been cut from the Russian squad at this year's IIHF World Championships for failure to report to training camp on time. In fact, Mike Vogel has a great rundown today of all the details.

I think we can all agree that Semin probably should have just booked his flight to meet the Russian team's schedule. But we all know that Semin has had his share of travel, er...issues. Back in 2003-04 he missed the team plane (how do you miss the team plane??) from New York to Pittsburgh and was scratched for the final game. So there's a history there - maybe Ovechkin should give Semin the Rolex he won for being the #1 star this season...

BUT here's the thing - according to Vogel, Russian coach Sergei Nemchinov called Semin Sunday to remind him he needed to arrive at 4:00 pm the next day. When Semin informed Nemchinov that his flight didn't arrive until 7:30 pm, the coach told him to get an earlier flight. I thought that seemed odd...I mean, there can't be that many flights from DC to Moscow, right? Depending on when Nemchinov contacted Semin, what are the odds he could have even changed his flight at that point?

I decided to serve as Sasha's imaginary travel agent and do a little investigating.

- The average flight from DC to Moscow is about 13-14 hours, although depending on how many transfers you have and how much time is left between them, the trip can take up to 20 hours.

- It took Semin a little less than an hour to get on the road from the airport - therefore we can assume that to make the 4:00 deadline he would need to land before 3:00; 18 flights would get him there before then, all of which leave before 7:00 pm the day before.

- Changes to international flights need to take place at least 4 hours in advance to insure adequate time for security checkpoints.

- Last minute fares from DC to Moscow increase by up to $1000 over fares booked at least two weeks in advance.

- On any given Sunday there are between 50 and 60 flights from Dulles International Airport to Moscow. I'm sure the equivalent number is available from BWI, as well as Reagan National (although you'd have to add a transfer at an international airport).


Uh...yeah. He should have just gotten his rear in gear and booked an earlier flight to begin with.

*SIGH* Sasha, Sasha, Sasha. Have fun watching the game from the stands, kiddo.


Monday, April 16, 2007

RIP, Gaets...

Per Former Capital Gaetan Duchesne has passed away at the young age of 44 after suffering cardiac arrest while working out.

It's a very sad day indeed... I may have been very young when he played for the Caps but I remember him in his last season here and with other teams later on. And it was only last week I was watching him skate around in the Caps' Alumni game, his hair thinning but his legs still those of an NHLer.

How very surreal and shocking that someone so young could be taken from us. My sincerest sympathies go out to the Duchesne family in this tragic time.

Special thanks to Hockey Amor for the heads-up...


Motown Needs a Straitjacket & So Do I

- The NBC commentators mentioned that some teams intimidate their opponent with physicality, while others use talent to intimidate. Detroit has gone a whole other direction...make 'em think you're CRAZY! Tomas Holmstrom demonstrates:

- it just me or are most of these series getting downright exciting? Forget the fact that only three of the sixteen teams have yet to win a game. Most of the games have been really exciting, and with each game the play gets more intense, more physical. Guys are already playing with serious injuries. Bad blood is boiling between more than a few teams. Sidney Crosby has gotten punched in the face at least twice already (which means I have fallen off the couch laughing at least twice already). This is just some darn good hockey.

No point to make, no sweeping generality or lesson for the day - just that. It's been some darn good hockey...and we're not even done with the first round.

- In case you haven't noticed by now, I LOVE the playoffs. And if you think I'm nuts this year, wait until the Caps venture into the postseason again. I kid you not, this blog will literally explode with insanity.

Here are a few of the things I love about the NHL's Second Season:

Playoff beards • Sweeps • Underdogs • Battle scars • 4-OT games • Unexpected heroes • Stars playing like stars • Impossible saves • Impossible goals • Bone-rattling checks • Monochromatic clothing in the stands • Home ice advantage • Stealing home ice advantage • Hockey 7 nights a week • Bonus CBC coverage • Cinderella stories • #8 seeds in the Finals • A rookie winning the Cup • An aging veteran winning his first Cup • Sportsmanship • Post-series handshakes • The championship team photo •The Stanley Cup

I know I'm not alone here. What do you love about the playoffs?


The OT Zone

Regulation has just ended in Game 3 of the Dallas-Vancouver series. And so I find myself faced with the classic conundrum that all hockey fans must wrestle with at one point or another. Do I hang in there for what could potentially be a repeat of Game 1, where the result wasn't determined until the wee hours of the morning? Or do I slink off to bed, defeated by the gravitational forces that pull my eyelids lower and lower?

It's part of the beauty and torture that is playoff hockey. Because while overtime is some of the most thrilling and intense hockey of the's also some of the most thrilling and intense hockey of the playoffs. As you get more and more exhausted, as the hours tick on and the sun starts to rise, every nailbiting second becomes intensified until you are a bundle of nerves. And this is when I'm relatively neutral towards the two teams involved.

It's tricky - the sane person that occasionally surfaces is pleading with me to drag my tired carcass up to bed. Meanwhile the crazy, obsessive hockey nut that has most of the control is jumping up and down and clapping in excited anticipation. Overtime! Yay! Maybe it'll go two rounds...three rounds...even four! Bring on the sunrise, I'm not going to bed until there's a winner!

So who wins? Will it be sanity, logic, and rational thought? Or will it be the hockey fan dying to see the conclusion?

Tough choice.

Looks like I'll be awfully sleepy at work tomorrow.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

What the...?


Last seen March 31 in Vancouver.

Their failure to appear in Detroit for the first two games of Round 1 has caused great concern throughout the city of Calgary. If you have any information on their whereabouts, please leave a comment.
No reward for a safe return, just the grateful thanks of the "C" of Red.

Seriously, where are the Flames? Where is that plucky team of guys that wouldn't be denied back in 2004? Where is the club that saw the Avs clawing away behind them and responded with a string of wins, including 4 straight on the road and even one in the shootout???

The team that has taken the ice for these first two games in the Joe is not the same team by any stretch. It's hard to pin down what the problem is - could it be that Iginla's leadership isn't igniting enough of a fire under their butts? Is it the lack of discipline and urgency in their game? Or is it just the fact that coach Jim Playfair looks like he's sleeping behind the bench.?

I'm going with the third option for now, only because it's the easiest place to point. And the fact remains that if Iggy isn't getting the troops fired up and the team has no urgency, lack of coaching could be the problem. Let's face it, the Flames just seemed to have a spark when Sutter was manning the helm, and they really haven't been the same since he stepped back to a purely GM role.

So. 51-15.

That's the shots on goal differential from this afternoon's Detroit-Calgary game. That brings the total shots through two games up to 97-35. 97-35 and we still have at least two more games to play. Honestly, Hasek has to be one of the most overrated goaltenders in the league and there's no need for the Flames to make ol' Grampa Simpson look better than he actually is. You don't shoot, you don't score. Period. (Thus endeth Hockey 101...)

Tuesday night the series swings to Pengrowth Saddledome, boisterously loud with the crazy, red-clad Albertans who will pack its stands. The Flames were dominant at home this season, winning 30 of their 41 games in the Dome including both games against Detroit. If the roar of the home crowd and the magic of being in Calgary doesn't pick this team up, the Flames' playoff run is going to be over faster than Heather Graham's sitcom career.

*Sigh* go flames go...


Old and Busted vs. New Hotness 2

The Preschoolers:
- Henrik Lundqvist, 25 – You can say all you want about the importance of Jagr, Shanahan and others to the Rangers hopes. But goaltending wins Stanley Cups. Luckily for the Rangers, Lundqvist has recovered from a bit of a sophomore slump and is performing at the level he was in his rookie season.

- Ryan Hollweg, 24 – It seems only yesterday people were saying Ryan Who? But since the Chris Simon incident Hollweg has become somewhat infamous. He’s a model pest and the definition of an agitator – but those are often the unsung heroes who help teams win playoff series. (See Avery, Sean)

- Ryan Callahan, 22 – Callahan was called up from the AHL towards the season and was on board for the Rangers’ playoff push. Going almost directly from the minor league to the Stanley Cup playoffs has to be a little’ll be interesting to see how Ryan handles it.

- Ilya Kovalchuk, 24 – Although prone to bouts of divadom, Kovalchuk still shows flashes of brilliance that belie his #1 draft spot. The questions about his consistency and dedication will definitely come into play as he takes the ice for his very first playoff series. The Thrashers need him to play at top level if they have a chance of earning their very first playoff series win.

- Kari Lehtonen, 23 – Lehtonen has already been yanked in favor of backup goaltender Johan Hedberg after the Thrash dropped game 1, a somewhat bizarre move by seasoned playoff vet Hartley. Still, he can win games for Atlanta – if he gets another shot.

The Old-timers:
- Brendan Shanahan, 38 – His birthday was celebrated by two of the youngest players in the game at this year’s All-Star game, but at 38 Shanny is still going strong and has had yet another rebirth with the Rangers. And hey, any guy who throws down with Donald Brashear in defense of Jagr deserves a freakin’ medal, if not another Stanley Cup.

- Jaromir Jagr, 35 – That’s right, the former mullet king of Pittsburgh is getting on in years. Wearing the ‘C’ for the Broadway Blueshirts brings with it a lot of responsibility, which Jags reportedly is happy to take on. I guess it’s a good thing there’s no shootout in the playoffs to make him eat his words.

- Michael Nylander, 34 – Nylander’s puck-handling skills haven’t waned as he’s gotten older and he continues to rack up the points, registering in the top 20 in the league in assists with 57. That’s on top of the 26 goals he picked up over the season...not to mention the three points he had in Game 1.

- Scott Mellanby, 40 – Mellanby is one of those heart and soul, gritty kind of players that a young team desperately needs. He was named team captain in 2005 and continues to lead the Thrashers right into their first playoff berth. His 12 playoff appearances are impressive but his scoring touch has faded a bit with age and he may not provide the spark the Thrash need at this point.

- Keith Tkachuk, 35 – One of the more surprising trade deadline acquisitions, Tkachuk has had a rebirth after being plucked out of St. Louis obscurity. Like Mellanby, he brings 12 playoff appearances to the young squad and has proven a brilliant addition to Atlanta’s roster.

- Bobby Holik, 36 – Holik brings the wisdom of a multi-Cup winner to Atlanta and can provide the steadying influence to calm some first-time well as the occasional goal. His offensive production has fallen off a bit in recent years but he was never a 50-goal scorer and his ability to score the well timed goal far outweighs the fact that they don’t happen that often.

Up next - Buffalo vs. New York...


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Old and Busted vs. New Hotness

During the first period of the Ottawa-Pittsburgh game this afternoon they started talking about the team leaders – guys like Crosby, Malkin, Heatley and Spezza, all leading their teams and sometimes the league in various categories. It seems that this postseason, as it has been the whole season, the storyline that stands out above all else is the changing of the guard from generation to generation. There is a phenomenal amount of highly skilled youth in this year’s playoffs; on the same line, there is also a phenomenal amount of grizzled veterans who bear the wounds of many a postseason battle.

It happens every year, but there seems to be an inordinate number of players on both sides of the coin this season. It’s an interesting aspect of the playoffs that is heightened this year – who will overcome first-time jitters and who won’t; who will use the wisdom of age and experience and who won’t.

We’ll start with one of the most anticipated series of the first round, Ottawa vs. Pittsburgh.

The Preschoolers:
- Sidney Crosby, 19 – Did you know that Crosby is playing in his first playoff series? Did you know he’s only 19 years old? Did you know that he was the youngest player to lead the league in scoring? Yup, me neither. Luckily we have the helpful boys at Versus and NBC to remind us every 10 seconds. Anyways, he's an okay hockey player I guess.

- Jordan Staal, 18 – Staal has been overshadowed a bit by Crosby and fellow rookie Evgeni Malkin, but he has quietly scored 29 goals and become a key member of the Penguins’ penalty-killing crew, notching a league-leading 7 shorthanded goals. He was also arguably Pittsburgh’s best player in the disastrous Game 1 loss.

- Marc-Andre Fleury, 23 – Fleury’s inconsistency this season can largely be contributed to youth and not a lack of talent (as much as I’d like to believe the latter). When he’s shaky, not even the Penguins’ “defense” can keep the puck out of the net. When he’s on, though, very little will get by him. If he can find his groove the Penguins will be very hard to beat. That's if. If.

- Jason Spezza, 23 – Spezza was taken 2nd overall in the 2001 draft and hasn’t disappointed, quickly becoming a leader and a fan favorite for the Ottawa Senators. Despite missing 15 games with injury, he has posted a career high in goals (34) and was a +19 this season.

- Ray Emery, 24 – When Dominik Hasek was sidelined with injury last year Emery was forced to shoulder the burden and carried the Sens into the conference quarterfinals. He returns this year with a full season as the number one goaltender and a year of postseason experience under his belt but may still be prone to the mistakes of youth.

- Andrej Meszaros, 22 – The loss of Chara and Pothier in the offseason left a big hole on the Ottawa blueline, forcing rookie defenseman Meszaros to try and help fill the void. He had a decent offensive year but was a -15 on an offensively potent Senators team.

The Oldtimers:
- Gary Roberts, 40 – Roberts will turn 41 at the end of May and brings with him 13 trips to the playoffs, including a Stanley Cup victory with the 1987-88 Calgary Flames. He has 85 points in 115 playoff games and has experienced a resurgence of sorts since being traded from the Panthers at the deadline.

- Mark Recchi, 39 – With 22 playoff appearances and 2 Stanley Cups to his name, Recchi is the most experienced on either roster. He was picked up by the ‘Canes en route to their Stanley Cup run last season and returned to the team that drafted him for conceivably one last run, despite reports of tension last season between Recchi and pipsqueak Crosby.

- Daniel Alfredsson, 34 – For all the talk of youth and pre-teens on the Penguins squad, Alfredsson is the oldest player on the just 34. He has often been the target of some criticism, as the captain of a Canadian team is prone to be, but has continued to lead his team, picking up 87 points in 77 games. He has appeared in every single Ottawa Senators playoff game, the only Senator to do so.

Up next...Rangers and Thrashers...


Friday, April 13, 2007



The baby Penguins outshot the Bears 35-20 but could not overcome a five goal first period by Wilkes-Barre. You have to love that.

So with the win tonight, the Bears clinch not only the very tough East Division but the best record in the AHL. That's home ice all the way through the playoffs. Things are looking good in Chocolatetown!


An Interview with Ted Leonsis (Part 2)

Part 2 of my interview with Caps' owner Ted Leonsis...

CC: I have to ask you what your view on fighting in the NHL is since it’s kind of a hot-button topic right now.

TL: I think it’s an integral part of the game. The thing that I don’t think people understand about hockey is that it's so different than other games. I went to the Nats game the other day and from the dugout to the 3rd base line is about 40 feet...and you go to football game and you watch guys running out of bounds. And you go to a basketball game and you see basket-hanging or they’re resting during foul shots. You go to a hockey game and you realize there’s no place to hide. You’re not going out of bounds, you’re getting smashed into the glass. Your shift is 30 seconds long and you are expected to go hard for that 30 seconds.

Unlike some other sports, its such a unified team game. You can really let your teammates down by performing at 95%, and that’s why when you see teams really playing well they’re really tight, they’re standing up for one another, because they’re going 110% full out. There’s no gliding in hockey when you’re playing hard. Coming out of that I think you end up with personal strife, I think you end up with an in-your-face game. And then there’s a hundred years of code – who fights who, how you stick up for your team, and who goalies fight and what your enforcer does – it’s a part of the game.

Now when we played Atlanta [back in November] I was torn. On the one hand I understand exactly what happened. On the other, I received a lot of e-mails and letters from fans saying they were not in support of it. It does cut both ways.

CC: Do you think it has a positive or negative effect on ratings and attendance, or no effect at all?

TL: I think they cancel each other out. You get ten e-mails that say ‘how dare you, I’ll never go to another game’ and you get ten e-mails saying ‘thank Donald Brashear for me’ or ‘can we chip in and pay for the fine’...

CC: You seem to really understand the game. Did you grow up watching hockey?

TL: I did, I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, then Lowell, Massachusetts. I got to see a lot of original six games. We'd go see the Rangers play Montreal and Toronto and Chicago and the like. Then I moved to Massachusetts during the Bobby Orr [era], those great Bruins teams. I didn’t play ice hockey. We were too poor to pay for the ice time but I did play a lot of roller hockey growing up if you can believe it. And then we played floor hockey in college, so I love the game and I love indoor sports.

As much as I am a student of the game I don’t think I know anything about the game professionally. The couple of times that I would say I’ve gotten into trouble were when I thought I had an opinion that mattered [laughs]. So now I let the professionals make the calls because they’re going to take the grief and the heat when it doesn’t work, so they should get the accolades when it does work.

CC: So are you able to enjoy the game as a fan or do you find yourself constantly focused on the fact that you’re basically signing their paychecks?

TL: No, I live and die as a fan when I go to the games. I watch the games and enjoy when we win and feel awful when we lose. From a business standpoint, in the offseason you work with the front office and they tell you here’s what we think we should spend and here’s what we’re going to try to do and here’s how we think it’s going to work and you say yes or no, and they execute on it. There’s not a lot or meetings during the year. If there’s a big trade George will tell ownership what he’s doing and why. You want to trade Dainius Zubrus, it’s your call...and it had better work. You just have to let them do that because if you don’t and it doesn’t work they’re not accountable.

CC: Along that same line, we saw the big contract Detroit gave to Datsyuk recently which will probably impact the prices of some free agents this offseason. Is there a spending limit for each position in the offseason or is it a little more flexible?

TL: I think the big decision that all teams have to make is what is your core for your team and which players are going to be consistent in the team. Olie is a core player and he gets a lot of money for us. He is well compensated. Alex [Ovechkin] will be coming off his contract and he’s going to make a lot of money. Semin’s probably going to make a lot of money. We have a lot of very young defensemen. We have players that’ll be growing up on the team, and if you want to keep them you’re going to have to be able to retain their services.

At the same time we have holes to fill and the levers you use are trades and free agency. We’re fortunate in that when we make a trade now we have some assets on the team. We have young, less expensive up-and-coming players we’ve drafted. There are some teams that might get themselves into cap trouble, where they’re not happy with their financial situation, and we may be able to make a trade and get a player that just signed and [has] two years left on their contract.

The biggest issue that I see with some of these signings is the length. If you’re signed for 6 years, for the most part that player’s contract won’t be movable because you can no longer pick up part of someone else’s salary. Take the Jagr contract for us as an example. We couldn’t have moved that contract – I had to pick up some of the salary, and you can’t do that anymore. So when you make a free agent signing for a big number and a long time, it had better work. And when you’re making a big commitment, what if that nullifies your ability to keep someone that have already that’s part of your core?

So it’s a balancing act with a hard cap. What George has to do is come to us and say here’s the players that we have and consider our core and then show what the next 3, 4, 5 years for them will look like. Here’s the holes that we have, here’s the need and how we think we can fill it, and here’s what the budget will be. Then you hope for health – I feel for these teams that sign a player to a big contract and then that player gets hurt, like Ed Jovanovski.

Drafting, developing and retaining your own players and making astute trades and then big free agent signings – it's statistically proven that the big free agent signings have the highest risk. Everyone likes them, they’re sexy. As an owner you want to do them because of the media coverage and you can get better without giving anything up. But every year there’s an analysis done [that looks at] the teams and the big free agent signings, and how they did. And if you look really carefully they didn’t really work.

The biggest spenders last offseason were Phoenix, Chicago, Boston, and Columbus – all out of the playoffs. When you look at the media reports from last summer, they were all dramatically improved, all brilliant moves. Then you look at the media reports when they’re not making the playoffs, and it’s ‘fire this guy, fire that guy, I knew this wouldn’t work...’ And some of these [teams] have players signed at a really high number and they’ll regret that move.

I’m not fearful of it. I’m a risk taker by nature; I’m just surprised at the media and frankly some of the message board posters and the e-mails that believe the only way to improve this team is by signing these three unrestricted free agents and you want to say, maybe, but there’s more cases of not achieving than achieving. And we know that developing players really works.

I did a blog post about Semin recently. We drafted him and the [scouts] loved him. I saw flashes of something great in him the last 10 games he played [before the lockout]. When he was playing in Russia, he looked good. I said I thought this guy would be a 30-40 goal scorer this year and he was. Then you look at the eleven people above him that led the league in goal scoring and there were no free agents. They were all home-grown people and so you think that was better than a free agent signing. I’m not saying we’re not going to pursue free agents – what we’re trying to do is get people to be realistic, that if you don’t have a strong core that grows up in your system you can’t add to it with free agents. That’s what we believe, and I believe that.

CC: Speaking of growing from within, what have you heard about Nicklas Backstrom? Any news on him coming over here next year?

TL: I’m optimistic that we can get him to play here next year. He is being called the best player in the world not in the NHL and I believe that. I’ve seen lots of video of him this year. He got another year of experience under his belt playing with men and that’ll be another example – we’ll bring him in and he’s very young but he’s going to be a very good, impactful player. We’ll add on top of him, too, but he’s better to us than a free agent signing. Someone who you drafted, he’ll be with you for hopefully a dozen years. I’d rather do that and then add a free agent than sign two free agents. I don’t think that’s the right way to build a team.

CC: You’ve mentioned the teams that have faltered a bit or maybe gone the wrong way since the lockout. Which teams have really impressed you since the lockout?

TL: Teams that have surprised me...Buffalo as a team surprised me. They got better faster and they’ve been a dominant team this year. They probably don’t have a single true breakout superstar – they’ve got a half dozen A-minus players and that was interesting. That’s a team with four lines that can score and when you watch them play and you study the game or sit up high, there’s five guys motoring down all the time on you.

Then there’s Tampa Bay who surprised me. Tampa went the other way. Three big, expensive players eating up the majority of their cap, their core guys, then they keep filling in around them. So it’s interesting that either way can work.

Now let’s see who wins the Cup...

CC: Which brings me to who do you think is going to win this year?

TL: I’m a contrarian, I think Ottawa will win this year.

CC: Mike Vogel said the same thing.

TL: Really? [Checks] Huh. He has Ottawa downing Nashville, that’s interesting. I think Anaheim will come out of the west just because I think they’re tough and they have defense and goaltending and they have those two key guys playing 30 minutes a night. But I just think for so many years Ottawa has disappointed people and I just think it’s their year – they’re like the Colts to me.

Again, thanks to Ted for taking the time to answer a mere blogger's questions. We're all looking forward to the change that's coming...and hoping it's clad in red, white and blue!

Oh, and Ted - in case you change your mind about offering an opinion on free agent signings...I thought Chris Drury looked really good against the Islanders last night. Just a thought