Friday, August 31, 2007

Hockey Players in Cyberspace

I'm sure many of you did what I did upon hearing that Alex Ovechkin had ventured into the blogosphere - you went and looked at it. And then you said a silent prayer of thanks for Babel Fish's existence, because even though the translation provided by this language-swapping phenomenon is a little rough, at least now you can kind of figure out what Alex is saying.

Sort of.

Obviously there's not much on his blog yet, so I started looking around at the various links and I saw a few that looked like names. To my delight I discovered one that sounds familiar - Alex Kovalev. Well, naturally I had to go check out his site as well, right? All in the name of research...a blogger's work is never done.

A little more help from Babel Fish and I've discovered Kovalev is a big soccer fan. He is conducting youth hockey camps in Russia. He's got a book coming out with a terrifying picture on the cover (for details on purchasing this treasure visit his official website). He's a fan of the :=) smileys like Alex.

And my favorite part, very roughly translated from his first post:

It is very glad, that Ilya bryzgalov intends to bring in Togliatti, from where we are both by birth, Stanley's goblet. When I won its s "New York the Rangers", the possibility to transport it into Russia not it was. Give god so that this would come out in Ilya.
Ah, yes...Stanley's goblet. The ultimate prize for the medieval hockey team.

I could spend hours mocking Babel Fish translations, but I do have a point here. I just find it really fascinating to see how the explosion of various online communities and user-generated content have suddenly given us access into our favorite player's lives. When the internet first emerged we saw a few scattered player sites, licensed by and produced for players, but even those were rare because they took money and time in order to look somewhat presentable. Rarely was the content entirely written and generated by the player himself, save for a token greeting message and maybe an occasional letter to fans.

Now (as I prove every day) any idiot can have their own little corner of the web. LiveJournal, WordPress, Blogger, Facebook, MySpace, etc. - all provide anyone with a computer and a little spare time an outlet for their opinions, a means of communication with friends and family, a gallery for their photos. It's a new media that frankly isn't that new, just relatively untapped by the public...until now.

Now there are handfuls of younger NHL players all over Facebook and MySpace (although you obviously have to be able to distinguish the real ones from the fake...) Team sites often feature player blogs or diaries where we get to see just how good a writer these jocks really are. Already it seems like it's becoming common practice for Russian athletes to go on LiveJournal and I wouldn't be surprised if in the next year we see more and more NHLers following Ovechkin and Kovalev's example.

And why not? It's easy to do and it gets you a little closer to the fans that make your profession possible in the first place. For a sport like hockey where the players tend to be a little more humble, a little more gracious to fans than other professional athletes, it seems a natural progression that every player will soon have some sort of blog-esque site.

At a time when the league and the teams are looking for ways to reach out to the fans and make the game more accessible, it looks like everyone else is catching on to what our owner has known and preached for years - the technology is out there waiting. You just have to use it.

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Dallas Advertising Stars

In a sport like hockey where your audience is small but passionate, shunned but loyal, you have to have a sense of humor - especially when trying to add to your audience. Hockey and humor have long gone hand in hand when it comes to advertising and while we can debate the relative effectiveness of these ad campaigns one thing is for sure...they're darn entertaining.

Observe, for example, the only living remnant of the Caps' ingenious marketing campaign, "Always Intense":




Then of course there are the NHL's new ads showing players acting just like you and me:





The latest in this fine tradition is a series of billboards appearing in and around Dallas promoting the Stars. With the tagline "come into the cold", these boards skewer everyone - including the NFL, MLB, and the NBA. You can view all nine of them as a PDF but here are a few of my favorites, the ones that take on the big three:

Incidentally, the Stars' marketing department decided to show a little restraint and leave Michael Vick alone...for now. Said Stars' president Jim Lites, "it's a long life. We can take these billboards down and start over."

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Capitals: This Year's Sleeper

According to the Canadian Press, the Caps are going to surprise a lot of people this season and could challenge for a playoff spot - something we Caps fans have been predicting ourselves for a few months now, but hey, it's nice to have a little validation.

The part I found interesting was McPhee discussing the possibility of Backstrom on the wing, something I don't remember seeing elsewhere:

"We know we have a very smart player, a very responsible player, someone who can make a play, someone who is good on faceoffs and really sharp defensively," said McPhee. "But you just don't know if they're ready to handle that centre-ice position."

McPhee points out that rookies Jordan Staal of the Penguins and Phil Kessel of the Bruins, both natural centres, played the wing most of last season.

"We'll just have to see where Backstrom fits," he said.

By the way, it's stuff like this that reminds me exactly why I love Olie Kolzig so much:

For Kolzig, the positive buzz surrounding his team is validation of his decision two years ago to sign a two-year extension (he's signed through this season) rather than jump ship. It's the only NHL team he's ever played for and while it would have perhaps been easier to join a contender, he believed in McPhee's vision.

"Hopefully at the end of the day, I do get my name on that Cup and it would make the ultimate storyline," said Kolzig. "But if we fall short, I'm going to have no regrets because it was my decision and something that I believed in."

He just gets it. There are no guarantees in this game, and he'd rather have a shot at the Cup with this team than with any number of goalie-deficient "contenders" out there. If that doesn't make you love him as a Caps fan, I don't know what will.

I've said it before and I'll say it a million times more - Olie's one of the classiest guys in the league. We're extremely lucky to have him.

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Future Watch

Other than the big news that Steve Czaban will have to find a new team to pick on, there's not too much going on in NHL world. So let's shift gears a bit and look at some junior hockey with more than a few ties to the Caps...

- We'll start out west with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, who have had a huge turnout at their annual rookie camp. Roughly 80 youngsters turned out for the opening of the camp yesterday despite the fact that the Hitmen have very few roster spots left. Calgary and the Caps have a relatively rich connection over the past few years, with current Caps Matt Pettinger and Jeff Schultz both putting in some games with the Hitmen and recent draftees Karl Alzner and Keith Seabrook expected to play for them this season.

One name of note among the rookie hopefuls is Ian Schultz, little brother (a relative term at 6'2") to Caps d-man Jeff and draftee of the Hitmen in the 2004 Bantam draft. If he makes the squad he'll be following in his big brother's footsteps just as they planned when Ian was drafted three years ago, a wide eyed kid of 14 who looked up to Jeff as a role model. Apparently Jeff was pretty helpful with the advice at the time:

"He tells me to use more than one move because he always stops me on it," Ian admits.
Hey, who knows - if the kid heeds the advice of his elders and if the Caps continue their penchant for drafting WHLers, we may soon see a Schultz brothers reunion here in DC...

- On to another Caps' connection - the London Knights of the OHL, headed up by coach Dale Hunter and GM (and Dale's brother) Mark Hunter. The Knights are also in the midst of preseason preparations, with 60 young talents competing for a spot under Huntsy's watchful eye this season. Most notable among the training camp attendees are this year's number one pick Patrick Kane, buzzworthy Akim Aliu, and Cornell standout Tony Romano.

Anyone taking bets on how long we have to wait before Dale Hunter takes over as bench boss in the NHL? He's making quite a name for himself with those Knights.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wednesday Quick Hits

- Part two of everyone's favorite hockey satire is up and is just as funny as part one, so check it out...and if you missed it last time, read part one first. Totally worth it, I assure you.


- Conflicting reports out of Russia are saying that Ovie punched Evgeni Malkin's agent, injuring his jaw...or that he didn't really. Or that he did.

So...maybe?

Considering his past fighting experience, you can judge for yourself how true that is:



- And finally, per the Caps' website, there appears to be a training camp logo:


Not sure why I found that newsworthy, but there you go.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Training Camp Schedule

The rookie and training camp schedule has been released - check out the details on the website, including information on the Caps FanFest to be held opening day of camp, September 14. (Guess none of the top Caps' brass are Jewish...)

Remember, all on-ice activities are open to the public, so I hope to see a lot of you out there getting a quick fix of hockey before the season mercifully gets underway!

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No Tux Required

On NHL.com today Paul Kukla offers up his choices for what he calls the Tops with a Twist, a set of "awards" that don't get a shiny trophy and a big awards ceremony but probably should. He had some interesting selections...but here's what I would pick:

Best one-on-one offensive player: Vinny Lecavalier. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, and he'll score on you ten times before you figure out he's got the puck in the first place.

Best one-on-one defenseman: Nicklas Lidstrom, because at 37 years old there's still no one who cuts down the angles quite like he does...although if you're looking for pure fear factor, ain't nobody getting by Dion Phaneuf.

Assist man: Crosby my rear end. Give me Joe Thornton dishing the puck any day over ol' puffy lips, at least for now. Call me when Sid hits puberty, then we'll talk.

Best pure goal scorer: Have to agree with Kukla here - Ovechkin wins it, hands down (although there's another guy named Alex whose goals can be just as much a thing of beauty as AO's...)

Power-play specialist: I'm going off the beaten path a bit to say Marian Hossa; between him and Kovalchuk the Thrasher's power play was pretty scary, but give me a guy who can dish the puck as well as shoot it (and without the diva-like antics of Kovy, thanks).

Shorthanded specialist: Jordan Staal. He was robbed of the Calder, he deserves at least a little recognition for the fact that 7 of his 29 goals came when his team was down a man. Even more spectacular? He scored them sober. That's a good underaged boy, Jordan.

Need one save: I'm going to agree with Kukla again and say Marty Turco, especially after watching him in the playoffs. After years of playoff misery and "pulling a Turco" in the postseason he was, hands down, the best player on the Stars and was severely let down by his team. Caps fans, I would also say Olie but...well, it's pretty rare that the Caps ever need just one save to win a game, am I right? Maybe next year.

The guy you never heard of: Uh...the entire Caps roster beyond Ovie? I kid, I kid. I'll go with Boyd Gordon. Not so much in DC anymore, as we've seen what kinds of unheralded things he can do night after night, but I'd be willing to bet few people outside the beltway have heard of Gordo. Hopefully that will change when he raises the Selke in a few years.

Biggest impact on a new team: It pains me to say it, but the combined forces of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger would have to take this one in a walk. I didn't see Tkachuk making that big of an impact, to be sure.

When it gets chippy: Kukla said Boogaard, but clearly he's never heard of a man named Donald Brashear. The guy doesn't even have to drop the gloves anymore - he just says 'boo' and the opponent drops to the ice. Think I'm kidding? Ask Montreal's Aaron Downey...if he can still remember his name. (If you're faint of heart you may not want to watch that, by the way.)

Coach for a must-win game: Scotty Bowman. I'm probably supposed to pick an active coach, but none of them even hold a candle, sorry. And Kukla's choice of Tortorella? Please. The man's seen his team blow more "must-win" games in the last two years than anyone else. Clearly that traveling torture chamber has lost its shine.

Get under your skin guy: Sean freakin' Avery. I haven't seen such a talented pest since Dale Hunter...although at least Huntsy had a little class.

The home crowd: Montreal, tenez et prenez un arc. Vous êtes le meilleur.

...and a few new categories of my own:

Most overrated player: Gosh, so many to choose from out of this year's UFAs, but I'll go with Daniel "the magical spearing Hobbit" Briere. Sabres fans claimed he had heart but I'm convinced that was just reflected glow from Chris Drury. Too bad the Rags will probably beat that out of him soon enough, too.

Most underrated player: Olie Kolzig never quite seems to get the love and respect he deserves, and I'll wager a bet that playing in DC has cost him a bit of panache over the years. I don't care, though - Zilla, we love you.

Worst arena to play in as a visitor: There's no place scarier than the Joe in Detroit. Any place that you're surrounded by Red Wings fans and at constant threat of being beaned with an octopus is a scary, scary arena.

Worst arena to play in as the home team - Philly. I've heard rumors that the first word of young Flyers' fans is "booooooo".

Next contestant on Project Runway - Guess who? (Oh, come on, you know I had to. )

Any suggestions for more? Comments? Thoughts? Leave 'em!

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Last Pink Rant (For Now...)

In honor of my 500th post and on the heels of a brief rantlet about pink hockey shirts, I thought it would be fun to go on a little tour of the league to seek out those truly horrific things for which they expect smart women to pay money. Because the problem here isn't necessarily the pink or sparkles (both of which, in the right place, aka not a hockey arena, are fine, I guess) - it's when the NHL insists on underestimating not only the number of true hockey fans who are women but women's intelligence in general. Selling pink crap to the so-called "fairer sex" is one thing; shamelessly talking down to them is another. Observe:

First up we have a pink tee with every woman's fantasy - a glitter logo on the chest. That's bad enough, but then there's the marketing language: "Look cute while rooting for your favorite team..." Yeah, because that's my goal when screaming and yelling, jumping up and down while surrounded by beer-bellied, mulleted hockey fans. Looking cute.

Incidentally the picture is an Anaheim shirt but this one popped up in many team's baskets. It's called the "Sugar Logo" t-shirt. Indeed.

And then there's this beauty courtesy of the Sabres. Oh, good, I was hoping for a shirt that combines pink, hearts, and the hideous Buffaslug. And once again we get the 'c' word: "You will look cute rooting for the Buffalo Sabres..." Vomit. Also available in Red Wings pink, Devils pink, Rangers pink, Penguins pink, and Sharks pink. Next?

Excellent - a hat, complete with the assurance that it "proudly displays the embroidered pink and white team logo on the front." Proudly? Not the word I would use there...as for the pink and white team logo, last time I checked Stan Mikita wasn't wearing pink on his jersey. I could be wrong about that, though.

Now here's an interesting piece, despite the logo actually being in the correct colors. Ignore for a moment the emaciated model wearing this latest piece of crap, which is an issue for another day (and probably a different blog). My favorite part is how they try and sell it: "You will be cool and comfortable wearing this officially licensed Minnesota Wild Spaghetti Strap tank top..." Because I hear in Minnesota in the wintertime, it's really hard to stay cool. Especially in an ice arena.

Philly came up with an interesting way for women to shout "I love my team!" by rolling out these sparkly accessories for the well-heeled woman. Quote NHL.com, "[s]porting these Philadelphia Flyers Rhinestone Flip Flops...will show everyone you're a loyal fan." Or something.


Okay, I know this isn't pink...it's just ugly. I am impressed that they managed to do the impossible and make an already hideous logo look worse.

Moving on...

Ah, the rhinestone-covered travesty. Most teams had this one, and I'll give them credit - at least they use the actual colors. In fact, if you pick off the all bedazzling these shirts are pretty cute. But until I see Markus Naslund sporting rhinestones on his jersey, these have got to go.


And of course, the beast that started it all:

So who got it right? Every team had the requisite tiny tees in team colors and the hideous jewelry, but there were a few things that worked. One in particular was a long-sleeved shirt cut for women in *gasp* the team colors. Of course, only 5 teams even offer this - Atlanta, Colorado, Montreal, Phoenix and Chicago. Fascinating.

Oh, and if you're looking for a female jersey, keep looking...I found one and it was a St. Louis Blues jersey, marked down because naturally it's the old style jersey and no longer "official".

I applaud the NHL for at least attempting to market to women, I really do. But maybe they should try getting some female fans, women who actually buy tickets to and watch games, into a focus group. Show them something with pink hearts on it. Show them your rhinestone-encrusted and glitter-covered shirts. Show them the *shudder* butterfly sweatshirt. And then, and here's the tricky part...listen to what they say.

Or what about this - send all the players into the streets wearing nothing but these and see how many women start going to games...just a thought. Ladies, you with me?

I guess I'll end my rant with a question to all you hockey fans out there, male or female: when you see someone wearing a pink, sparkly shirt, do you think "serious hockey fan"...or someone you're going to need to explain the meaning of tripping to?

I know what my answer is.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Sid Better Work

Okay, I know I promised a Sidney-free zone for a while but I couldn't resist a follow-up to my initial discussion of Sid the Kid launching a clothing line. Check out a video featuring bits of the launch with some of his trend-setting designs modeled by real live people as well as ol' puffy lips himself, at Reebok's Sidney360.com.

By the way, those atrocities being marketed to women should not be viewed while eating. Why does everyone think girls, especially girls who like hockey, wear nothing but pink?? Guess what, Sid. Guess what, NHL. We don't - and we're pissed.

I guess it could be worse...

Nothing says "I'm a serious hockey fan" like...butterflies.

Happy Friday.

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Friday Around the Interweb

Boy, those calendar pages are flying off reeeeally slowly, aren't they? Here's some more good summer reading for you:

- Show of hands, who here thinks this would ever happen in the States? TSN, Canada's answer to second rate ESPN, discovered that a scheduling conflict with football would prevent them from airing all eight games of the upcoming Super Series. Rather than leave a nation without coverage of this event, which commemorates the 35th anniversary of the Summit Series, TSN did the unthinkable - they turned to a rival network to pick up the slack.

And so it is that TSN will air games 1, 4, 5 and 6 with Rogers Sportsnet carrying 2, 3, 7 and 8. The two will share commentators, analysts, and online streaming (which we here in the States should keep our fingers crossed that we'll be able to access) throughout the series. Sure, they'll do the same for the Olympics in Vancouver, and yes, it's been done before. But that still doesn't detract from what it is - a truly amazing sign of sportsmanship and yet another reason why Canada is truly the first nation of hockey.

- The Caps' website has a Q&A with Karl Alzner with his thoughts on the new practice facility, rookie development camp, and his style of play. Anyone else just loving this kid?

- Kevin Hatcher Fan Club has uncovered a hidden corner of Alex magic on CCM's website with some funny videos of our young superstar and step-by-step instructions on how to score "The Goal"...for those of you practicing at home. Admit it, you know you've wanted to try.

- Check out what's going on with Al "Wild Thing" Iafrate (sans the long flowing locks) over at Japers' Rink.

- Thanks to super junior reporter in the field, Chris, for passing along this article about Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL who is speaking at the Black Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame conference in Nova Scotia today and tomorrow. Interesting fact - the NHL didn't get a second black player in the league until 1974, 16 years after O'Ree made his debut...and he pulled on the red, white and blue - Mike Marson, original member of the Washington Capitals.

- Just a reminder that preseason tickets go on sale today, so get those phones dialing and those buttons clicking. Sure, they're meaningless games with less intensity than a box of Saltines and a roster more closely resembling the AHL...but its hockey!

- And finally, more treasures plumbed from the depths of YouTube for your Friday viewing pleasure. Today we'll go with a compilation that's a little older - check out Jagr with his mullet, Stevie Y. with some sick moves, a little love between Detroit and Colorado goalies, and a Hurricane tripping headfirst into the bench. Ah, memories...

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Satire At Its Finest

Need a laugh?

I have just the thing.

In my random trips through the interwebs I stumbled across the piece below and, intrigued by the title, couldn't resist reading through the whole piece. Don't be deterred by the fact that it revolves around a certain team from Steeltown...it's funny anyways. To be honest I'm not even completely sure if the author is mocking or celebrating Sid and his teammates, but I am pretty sure it doesn't matter either way. Fans and foes of the team will find it funny, I promise.

Just be sure to read it all the way to the end, stage directions included. You won't be sorry - and if you're like me, you'll be eagerly awaiting the next chapter:

Captain Crosby and the Penguins of Tomorrow - Part 1


Incidentally, this is the second time in three days that Crybaby has graced the Cheap Seats in some form or another...and I sincerely apologize. We're fumigating and laying down traps as we speak, and we hope to be Sid-free as soon as possible.

You know, unless he launches a fragrance or something.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Olie Merits Column Inches

Hold on to your hats, folks, because there was actually...hockey coverage...in the paper.

Okay, so it was basically Tarik's interview with Olie in a slightly longer format, but still - the Washington Post is actually giving up precious space they've been using to cover 300 lb football players running around in 100 degree heat for hockey.

Check it out here - I have to go faint.

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Blogs and Bloopers

Take a stroll around the blogosphere for some good stuff today, kids:

- Peerless Prognosticator continues his really nice analysis of benchmarks for winning teams (top defensemen, power play, etc.) with a look at penalty killing for this season. Be sure to flip through the archives for the Peerless's always entertaining and usually spot on breakdowns of what it takes to win.

- J.P., another king of hockey analysis, has a post that can only be described as intense as he breaks down every player's stats and production on a per-shift basis to see what they do with the ice time they're given.

I'm actually convinced he and Peerless are not humans but machines who do not sleep...they simply make a whirring noise and go into standby mode for a few minutes.

-
Ever wonder what your favorite HLOG ladies are really like? Ever even been to HLOG? If not, now is the perfect time...especially if you want to find out the truth behind the ladies who love hockey. Eye-opening, to be sure.

- Be sure to stop by Capitals' Insider where Tarik has a little chat with the big man himself, Olie Kolzig. You just don't find many guys as classy and well-spoken as Zilla, its well worth a read.

- And lastly, in my desire to continue the high level of analysis that has taken place here in the Cheap Seats these past 11 months few weeks, I give you...old hockey bloopers.



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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sid the Clotheshorse

This is just too funny not to mention:


According to the article
Crosby is working with Reebok to develop his very own line of clothing, which in itself is a scary thought. The forthcoming line includes
his own logo in Penguins black and gold and a couple different styles of shirts adorned with his name and familiar No. 87. There's even a modest women's line that includes a pink baby tee featuring the words: "I (heart) Crosby." [Excuse me, I have to go throw up now.]
Said Sid,
"It was something I was comfortable with and more than happy to partner up with them and do. It doesn't mean I'm going to go and do everything there is else out there to do. This is just something that's a pretty easy fit."
I don't know if I want to dress in anything approved by Crosby, especially after reading this little tidbit:
"It's pretty simple, pretty casual," Crosby said of his own style. "I don't like to get too dressed up unless I have to. If I had the choice I think I'd wear sweatpants every day to be honest with you."
Oh, Sid. Sweatpants? NO. I assure you, as soon as I can get pictures of this abomination I will post them.

Up next for Crosby...a line of lipsticks and glosses for men guaranteed to give you that Sid the Kid glow.

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Q&A Day

This will be a short one because there is nothing going on in the NHL. Nothing.

Oh, look, was that a tumbleweed?

- Tarik's got a few good Q&A's with some of the boys who are hanging around DC before training camp. Nothing earth-shattering in either one, obviously, but still worth a look.


- Check out Vogel's interview with former accident-prone Cap (and one of my favorites) Pat Peake on the Caps website.

- And finally, because there's nothing better to do, watch some grown men running into each other. Only two hits featuring the Caps but one of them is Ovie on a Penguin...frankly that's all I need. Enjoy!

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Game Diary: Caps-Lightning

After doing some market research, conducting focus groups, and generally testing the waters, I've discovered that my game diaries are not the most popular features here in the Cheap Seats...so naturally, I'm doing another one.

Just because I can.

If you're bored (and it's August, so of course you're bored) I highly recommend checking out this game, even without my witty and intelligent commentary. It's guaranteed to make you happy and put a smile on your face - at least if you're a Caps fan.

This game diary is dedicated to my good friend, HG, as a special birthday treat - a little V/B action topped off with plenty of Semin smiles, just for you! Happy Birthday!

Lightning @ Caps 3/18/07
Capitals 25-34-13, Lightning 39-29-4
In goal: Olie Kolzig (WSH), Johan Holmqvist (TB) / Marc Denis (TB)
Watch along at home

At this point in the season the Caps had already been eliminated from the playoffs for what felt like months, but Tampa Bay was still fighting for a spot and potentially the division title. Going into this game the Lightning were 4 points back of Southeast-leading Atlanta with 10 games left and a game in hand.

So naturally you'd expect the Bolts to show up with fire in their stare and winning on their mind. Nowhere near comfortably positioned they were taking on a Caps team that had won only once in their last ten games, five times in their last twenty-five, and Tampa had already won five of the last six meetings between these two teams. All they had to do was show up and they'd get the win, right?

Enter the Capitals...and a few youngsters looking to light the lamp.

We are treated to a montage of great moments in Caps-Lightning history as Comcast opens their broadcast. Ooh, I'm all atwitter - what goodies will be rolled out from this past season of battle between these two somewhat bitter rivals?

There's Vinny making a routine pass. Brashear hitting someone. More routine passes. A Tampa player flying through the air for no apparent reason, that's good. Goal celebrations from both sides...okay, I'm done. Drop the damn puck already.

19:42 Joe B. reminds us (a little too cheerfully, might I add) that this is game number seven on the year between these two teams and Tampa has won five of the first six. That's just some spectacular suckitude, boys.

19:35 Here's a fascinating first line - Ovie, Novotny and Giroux. Second line consists of Semin, Beech and Fleischmann, then Laich, Gordon and Clark, and bringing up the rear we have Brash, Clymer and Bradley. Novotny on the first line? Clymer playing center? How the hell did we win this game??

17:39 Gordo's so cute - he does this adorable little move where he tries to check Lecavalier and ends up bouncing awkwardly off Vinny, off the boards and onto the ice. So precious.

16:34 Beech mercifully finishes a shift after falling down, almost turning over the puck, and taking an "accidental" hip check from his own teammate...enjoy Columbus, Beechie.

Oh, good...a look at the Eastern Conference standings. Know how to tell when your team sucks? They list everyone but you. Seriously. 14 teams, the Caps conspicuously absent. We see that Tampa is not in the playoffs yet. Locker: "This Tampa Bay team has not won a playoff series when they started away from home. " It's nice to know that some things never change, isn't it?

15:10 Clarkie is skating along and stumbles a little. Looking under his skate he realizes that he's stepped on St. Louis; disgustedly he wipes his foot off on Laich's sweater and keeps going.

14:36 Semin gets the puck away from a Tampa player by, from what I can tell, merely saying "Boo". It's a good idea, but it backfires as he appears to have scared himself as well and the puck dribbles out of the zone anyways.

14:20 Fleischmann spots daylight under Holmqvist's arm and makes him pay, 1-0 Caps. The crowd goes...moderately wild. Ah, the energy and excitement of a post-St. Patrick's day, March Madness Sunday, Verizon Center crowd.

Our Toyota Ones to Watch: Marty St. Louis vs. Milan Jurcina. Place your bets, folks.

11:27 Not much suspense on that one as St. Louis foolishly decides to take the puck up the boards and Jerky is there to show him the glass.

Smokin' Al behind the bench is talking about the young guys fighting for jobs next year and we pan the bench just in time to see Brooksie yawning widely. Oops. Way to show that enthusiasm, kid.

9:33 So I'm watching Eminger fight for the puck along the boards and I'm thinking to myself, huh, he's doing well. Wins the battle, gets the puck, good job, Emmy. Cut to two seconds later, when he takes a lazy holding call. Oh, Steve. Luckily the penalty is killed off and no harm is done.

6:57 As Ovie loses a footrace in an attempt to wash out icing, Locker is in shock that with all the changes made to the rules no-touch icing remains an urban legend. Shock? Really? But that's a rule that would benefit the game and the players...why would they add it? No, no - better to change the jerseys...

Van Massenhoven wipes out in front of the Caps bench, causing the players and coaches to have a little chuckle at his expense. Hanlon even takes a moment to point and laugh at him, proving once again why I completely adore him.

6:22 Fleischmann with a sneaky shot for his 2nd of the game, Caps up 2-0. Aw, Flash - you're just trying to get back at me for calling you useless and inconsistent, aren't you? Keep it up.

5:56 Joe B. mocks Holmqvist a little, and rightly so - in three games against the Caps this season he has two wins...and a save % of .823. Ouch. Those are Esche-esque numbers.

More picking on Tampa's goaltending as we get a split-screen look at the Lightning tandem. The numbers are scary, but scarier are Denis's darty eyes as he sits on the bench. It's like he knows danger is coming...

3:21 Here comes darty-eyes! Let the wheel o' goaltenders commence! (Don't get too comfy on that bench, Johan.)

2:14 Brashear "races" for an icing and decides - nah. I'll just cream the guy instead. Apparently the Bolts aren't too pleased with this so they send in...Nolan Pratt? Ooh, I'm so scared. Don't worry about Donald, though, he has fellow heavyweights Greenie and Novotny backing him up.

Comcast takes a brief moment to plug Washington Post Live, the exciting premiere of which will be the following day with Alex Ovechkin as one of the guests. Except its not exciting and Ovie won't be there due to something that happens later...0 for 2, guys.

1:15 Boyd Gordon, meet Jason Ward. Boyd Gordon's ass, meet the ice. Ouch. Poor Muffins.

0:07 That was the most graceful faceoff I've ever seen. Novotny is tripped by his own player off the draw (again, "accidental", I'm sure). Jiri then takes down the Tampa center, who proceeds to take down one of his teammates. And the league-wide mocking of the Southeast Division continues.

Second Period
19:23 In trying to catch up to Ovie, Perrin hooks, holds and interferes with him before being simply pushed to the ice by #8. Embarrassment and a minor penalty? That's a rough shift. The Caps gear up to take on Tampa and their powerhouse 28th ranked penalty kill...

18:46 ...and it looks it. Semin winds and fires while the Tampa PKers are staring at something shiny to make it 3-0. Locker: "This is everything and the kitchen sink." Indeed it is, Locker. Indeed it is. We get a look at the torque on Semin's stick as he shoots, the second time we've had a slow motion view of the relative whippiness because Locker is weirdly obsessed today. Fill in your own Freudian jokes at your leisure.

16:23 Locker mentions that the Caps are passing like the Lightning usually do. Now Craig, are you suggesting the Caps don't usually pass well? I've always been partial to their affinity for stick to skate, stick to open ice, and stick to opponent's stick passes, myself.

13:16 Did I ever mention that Semin has sick hands? No? Well, Alexander Semin...has sick hands. That's just not normal. 4-0 Caps as we pan the half-full crowd and...hey, it's my parents! Cool. Anyways.

11:43 Semin makes it 5-0 on what can only be described as a completely incredible one-legged, off-balance rifle. Ready? Wait for it, my favorite Joe B. call...HAT TRICK ALEXANDER SEMIN! Time to switch goalies, here comes Holmqvist.

Just a quick aside as we wait for the crew to clear off the hats - for anyone who remembers Semin during his first year, when he never seemed to be having fun, there is just nothing nicer than seeing him laugh and smile with his team on the bench. Am I right? Moving on...

9:54 Joe B: "They [Tampa] look flatter than milk on a plate right now." That's a new one.

8:26 Pothier's stick is about an inch off the ice when St. Louis runs into it, taking it in his midsection and sending Potsie to the sin bin for hooking. (St. Louis is short...you catching on?)

7:36 Bradley with "a head of steam" (uh-huh) gets held by Boyle and thus endeth the Tampa power play. Torts looks ready to take someone into that scary torture chamber I know he brings to every game. There...will...be...punishment.

2:45 Shane O'Brien has been sniffing around for a fight all shift long and finally gets one when he takes on Bradley, always willing to drop the gloves. Pretty even throwdown, although Brads gets the upper hand at the end when O'B falls to the ice. We'll give that one to Brads just because I'm feeling ornery.

2:16 Kuba spoils our good time and Olie's shutout bid, ripping a shot over Olie's glove to make it 5-1. Um...phooey, I guess.

Third Period
18:02 Time for my favorite Ovie move. No, it's not his wicked curl and drag or his blazing slapshot. It's when someone foolishly thinks they can hit him and they end up being the ones on their rump. In this case we have ourselves a two for one special, as Tarnasky pays the price and then flies into Richards, sending them both to the ice. Awesome.

16:43 Clymer in the box for holding...and our crack announcing team takes this opportunity to remind us, in case we've forgotten, that Benny was a member of the Lightning when they won the Cup. Good to know.

14:56 Rough penalty kill for the Caps as the Lightning seem to finally have found their ice legs. Hockey 101, boys - when shorthanded you want to clear the puck. The penalty expires, the Caps survive, and Olie puts a voodoo curse on every single one of his teammates for the two minute shooting gallery he just had to endure.

12:11 A little bit of a flurry around Olie causes Joe B.'s blood pressure to rise dramatically. Gordo with an amazing defensive play to keep Vinny from scoring - step back, Brind'amour, I give you Boyd Gordon: your 2008-09 Selke winner!

10:38 UVA Pep Band in the house...faaaantastic. Bad luck for the Bolts, as the band is stationed on the visitor's side of the rink and doesn't quite grasp the fact that no music plays while the puck is in play. Worse luck for the Cavs, who saw themselves eliminated from the NCAA tournament during this game.

9:26 Giroux with the shot, Holmqvist with the save. But enter O'Brien to make sure it's a goal by careening into the net and taking the puck with him, 6-1 Caps. Meanwhile Boyle gets the stick up high on Ovie (no call) and Alex is spitting mad...and spitting blood. Ew. Go get stitched up, Alex.

9:15 Laich puts the play offside and then does a little pirouette spinny thing. Aw, our own little Brian Boitano! Yes, clean your blade off, Brooksie - that was the problem.

St. Louis vs. Jurcina update - decision: Jurcina. The big man renders the little man absolutely useless (-1, 1 shot) while putting together quite a nice game for himself (1 assist, +2, 5 hits).

8:58 Wow. In the long and storied franchise history of the Bolts, they've played in DC 36 times and won a grand total of 9. Brings back memories of those good ol' days when the Caps were division leaders just for showing up, remember? *Sigh*

6:45 Olie makes a great save on Jason Ward by essentially doing the splits. After play stops Ward goes over to Olie and bows in reverence, tossing a sacrificial lamb at his feet and kissing his skates. Or maybe he just said nice save - I've never been good at lip-reading.

4:25 St. Louis gets away from Brash's hulking body but then shaking with fear turns over the puck to...Kris Beech? Um, I mean, sure...Beech. Grr, scary.

3:44 Sarich with the hook and, brace yourselves - Semin with the dive. Someone's getting a letter. On the replay it's not his most spectacular dive - it almost looks like he really did just fall, this was definitely not a Crosby caliber dive by any means.

More useless helpful trivia - Olie trails only Martin Brodeur for all time wins vs. the Bolts, Marty with 24 to Olie's 21. And man, is that a roster of old farts...Brodeur, Kolzig, CuJo, Hasek and Belfour. Also known as the Old Goalies Home.

2:05 Shortly after Mo learns he should never lead the offensive attack, Flash sets up behind the net and feeds Gordo to make it 7-1. We hear the haunting strains of a trumpet playing Taps in the crowd (no, really).

0:32 Joe B. shows off his mad math skills by pointing out that 2+2 indeed equals 4...and scores of mathematicians sleep easy in their beds knowing their jobs are safe.

The horn sounds but with Brash and Clymer on the ice, there's no way Tampa is leaving the playing surface before taking out some frustration at having, well, sucked. A couple of 27s are yelling at each other - I think Clymer could take ol' Tim "the Toe" Taylor any day, don't you? Cooler heads prevail, the players head back to the locker room, and the Caps' role as perennial thorn in the side of playoff-bound teams continues.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Balding Eagle Has Landed

Ed Belfour has left the country.

Okay, not yet. But soon, maybe, as according to the Canadian Press Belfour is very close to signing a contract with a league in Sweden. Oddly enough no one in the NHL was interested in signing a 42 year old goalie on the downswing of his career...you know, now that Detroit has already re-signed Hasek.

Oh, Eddie - we'll miss you so and yet not at all. Good luck in the land of the meatballs and remember, we'll always have this very special moment:

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

What Balanced Schedule?

With all four major networks releasing their broadcast schedules yesterday, I thought it would be fun to look at how each team is represented from coast to coast...fun being a relative term as I've basically just run out of things to talk about.

It is, overall, a slightly more balanced schedule than last season, but again that's a relative term.

I was all set to complain about how underrepresented the Caps (with a maximum of 14 games airing nationally in the US or Canada) are this year until I realized it could be much, much worse. Look at the Islanders, with 9. How about Florida, with only 6? Poor little Columbus, Nashville and St. Louis with 4, 3 and 4 respectively.

A few things jump out at me right away - first of all, obviously, is the prevalence of Penguins games. I get that Sidney Crosby is the anointed one, the holy spirit, the second coming, whatever you want to call it. But this is also a team whose greatest achievement in the last five or six years is not getting swept in the first round of last year's playoffs. Do we really have to see them 35 times? That's behind only Toronto and Montreal, whose numbers are artificially inflated because they obviously dominate CBC broadcasts.

Think of this fact: the Penguins appear on CBC 7 times (same with the Rangers); that's more than Boston, Buffalo, Colorado and Minnesota, each of whom is actually in a division with three other Canadian teams. They appear on TSN 13 times; that's more than Ottawa and Toronto combined.

Does anyone else find that strange?

Okay, so my second issue - Detroit. They are, for whatever reason, the Pittsburgh of the Western Conference. They're not young or exciting, but they apparently have a lot of fans. And it is because of them that some teams even get on TV. Just go back to Nashville, whose 3 games are the fewest in the league - 2 of those games are against the Wings. Columbus and St. Louis each have 4 games, tied for second fewest, and they also have 2 apiece versus Detroit.

I understand the limitations of marketing in these so-called "non-hockey towns". I get that your ratings are theoretically higher when, say, the Rangers, Penguins or Red Wings are playing versus when Tampa Bay or Phoenix is playing. But that still doesn't completely excuse the totally unbalanced menu we're being given this year. If that's the case, explain the 11 games going to New Jersey (3 against the Pens, by the way); give me a reason for 9 games for the Islanders. Detroit may call itself "HockeyTown" but Minnesota is and always will be the State of Hockey...and the Wild has only 7.

Buffalo, a team that has reached the Eastern Conference finals 2 years in a row, has 19 - that's the fewest in a division whose other teams haven't made a playoff splash in years. Carolina and Tampa? 7 games, and those are two of your last three Stanley Cup Champs. Ottawa was a Finalist this year and yet they have only 1 game in the States.

Oh, yeah, and that reminds me, what about those 2007 Cup Champs? 10 games. 10.

Way to go, NHL.

If you're a numbers geek like me, enjoy:
Atlantic Division - 103

NJD
VS 3; NBC 1; CBC 3; TSN 4 = 11 (3 vs Pit)
NYI VS 5; NBC 0; CBC 1; TSN 3 = 9 (2 vs Pit)
NYR VS 8; NBC 8; CBC 7; TSN 5 = 28 (7 vs Pit)
PHI VS 8; NBC 4; CBC 3; TSN 5 = 20 (6 vs Pit)
PIT VS 8; NBC 7; CBC 7; TSN 13 = 35

Central Division - 42
CHI VS 2 ; NBC 2; CBC 3; TSN 2 = 9 (1 vs Det)
CBJ VS 1; NBC 1; CBC 1; TSN 1 = 4 (2 vs Det)
DET VS 8; NBC 7; CBC 3; TSN 4 = 22
NSH VS 1; NBC 2; CBC 0; TSN 0 = 3 (2 vs Det)
STL VS 3; NBC 0; CBC 1; TSN 0 = 4 (2 vs Det)

Northeast Division - 144
BOS VS 6; NBC 4; CBC 5; TSN 9 = 24 (1 vs Pit)
BUF VS 7; NBC 3; CBC 2; TSN 7 = 19 (1 vs Pit)
MON VS 5; NBC 1; CBC 17; TSN 13 = 36 (2 vs Pit)
OTT VS 1; NBC 0; CBC 20; TSN 6 = 27 (2 vs Pit)
TOR VS 3; NBC 0; CBC 28; TSN 7 = 38 (2 vs Pit)

Northwest Division - 88
CGY VS 1; NBC 0; CBC 14; TSN 6 = 21 (1 vs Det)
COL VS 8; NBC 1; CBC 3; TSN 8 = 20 (2 vs Det)
EDM VS 1; NBC 0; CBC 13; TSN 5 = 19 (1 vs Pit)
MIN VS 3; NBC 0; CBC 1; TSN 3 = 7 (1 vs Pit)
VAN VS 2; NBC 0; CBC 14; TSN 5 = 21 (1 vs Pit, 2 vs Det)

Southeast Division - 44
ATL VS 4; NBC 1; CBC 2; TSN 3 = 10 (2 vs Pit)
CAR VS 5; NBC 0; CBC 1; TSN 1 = 7
FLA VS 1; NBC 0; CBC 2; TSN 3 = 6
TB VS 2; NBC 0; CBC 2; TSN 3 = 7
WSH VS 4; NBC 3; CBC 2; TSN 5 = 14 (2 vs Pit)

Pacific Division - 38
ANA VS 4; NBC 2; CBC 2; TSN 2 = 10 (1 vs Det)
DAL VS 4; NBC 2; CBC 2; TSN 2 = 10 (1 vs Det)
LA VS 1; NBC 0; CBC 3; TSN 2 = 6 (1 vs Det)
PHO VS 1; NBC 0; CBC 5; TSN 0 = 6
SJ VS 2; NBC 1; CBC 1; TSN 2 = 6 (1 vs Pit)

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Assorted Hump Day Goodies

After a few weeks of minimal news there is oddly enough a surplus of information to talk about today, so let's get started:

- First off the blocks, the national broadcast schedules for the upcoming season have been released from both Versus and the CBC. The Caps will appear on Versus 4 times this season, only one of which will be against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins (January 21); the other three are Nov 26 when the Caps host Buffalo, Dec. 17 when the Caps visit the Joe to face the Wings, and at home with the Bruins Mar. 3. As for the CBC, the Caps will appear on Hockey Night in Canada twice, Dec. 29 in Ottawa and Mar. 1 when the Leafs visit DC...so technically that's a Hockey Night in Canada in Washington for those of you keeping track at home.

Naturally we're all wondering just how many times the two networks kiss the, er, rears of the Pens - eight times on Versus and another seven on the CBC. Overkill? Sure. Ridiculous? Absolutely. Surprising?

...no.

Update: TSN has also released their broadcast schedule, with the Caps making 5 appearances. That's good. 5 is a lot. But wait...Pittsburgh is on 13 times. 13? 13? That's a 6th of their season! Again, though, anyone surprised?

Yeah, didn't think so.
H/t to Caps Nut for the tip.


- Congratulations to Bobby Carpenter, who will be enshrined in the US Hockey Hall of Fame in October. The first American-born player to score 50 goals in a season, Carpenter played just over five seasons in Washington until issues with coach Bryan Murray led to his suspension and eventual trade in January of 1987 - a deal which incidentally brought Kelly Miller and Mike Ridley to the nation's capital. He returned for a brief stint in 1992 and retired in 1999 after 19 seasons in the NHL. Bobby will enter the US HHOF with 320 goals, 728 points, and one Stanley Cup ring from his tour of duty with the Devils in 1995.

- Mark Bell, acquired by the Leafs along with Vesa Toskala this past offseason, was sentenced to six months in prison stemming from a drunk driving and hit-and-run incident last September. He will serve his sentence in Santa Clara, CA following the end of the season. Wait, a professional athlete actually having to serve time for doing something wrong? This really isn't the NFL.

- Ron Low, aka "Red Light Ronny", has been officially announced as one of Ottawa's new assistant coaches in a statement released by the team today. Low, 57, had the misfortune of protecting the net during that infamous first season with the Caps, although he was between the pipes for all 8 wins that season. He played 3 seasons here in DC, combining for 30 wins, 94 losses and 9 ties in his 145 games as a Cap. After leaving DC he played one season in Detroit as a starter and then spent the rest of his career bouncing around the NHL and AHL until his retirement at the end of the 1985-86 campaign. Since then he has been an assistant and head coach in the NHL and joined the Sens as a goalie coach after the lockout.

- And finally, because no day would be complete without a little Ovechkin news, check out yet another interview with Ovie at OnFrozenBlog or Dump and Chase.

Whew! Okay, that's a lot of news for an August Wednesday - happy hump day, everyone!

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hockey and Frilly White Dresses

It's mid-August.

Training camp is four weeks away.

So what's it time for?

Weddings, of course! The offseason is the time for NHLers to tie the knot - after all, no bride wants to squeeze her nuptials in between road trips - and apparently this past weekend was a very popular one to get those vows in under the wire.

DCSportsChick has the latest word on Brent Johnson's marriage to native Virginian (and fellow Lake Braddock alum) Danielle Ence this past weekend. And if anyone wants to go in on a belated wedding present with me, we can peruse their registries. Congrats to Danielle and Brent!

Also tying the knot this weekend? US Women's Olympic hockey player Krissy Wendell and Toronto forward John Pohl, who were married in Minnesota on Saturday. Check it out at People.com (hockey? in People magazine? Stranger things have happened...) for what is actually a pretty cute story, even if he is a Maple Leaf.

...okay, so this doesn't have a whole lot to do with hockey. I'm a girl, weddings are fun - sue me.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Take Me Where the Hockey Players Face Off Down the...Aisle?

August is traditionally the slowest month of the year when it comes to the hockey world. For those of us who take no vacation from our insane passion for the game, survival of this barren time takes a little creativity and a great sense of humor. It is in the strangest times and most unlikely places that we find the love of hockey, tucked away in the cracks and crevices of our daily lives. This weekend was one of those times.

Yesterday my cousin and his fiancée were married in a beautiful ceremony in Virginia that brought friends and family from all over the world together to celebrate. There was no question in my mind that these two people really belonged together and truly understood one another to begin with, and it was a point that was underlined in many ways throughout the weekend - but one particular moment stood out in my mind that I just had to share.

As those of us who are passionate about the game know, it isn't easy to put up with people like us. Friends, spouses, significant others - they are dragged to games and subjected to incessant discussions about the latest hockey news, and I'm sure it is in spite of our love of hockey rather than because of it that they stick around. Basically they have to be people of great strength, character, and patience just to survive the experience.

My cousin happens to be an avid hockey fan, a fan of the Caps and, sadly, the Red Wings (for which I forgive him because...well, he's family and I have no choice). Naturally he stops short of my level of insanity, as most people do, but he still loves the game and he has been lucky enough to find a woman who has the aforementioned qualities to spare.

During the reception the band announced that the bride had requested a special song just for the groom. Being a wedding, I'm sure most people thought, as I did, that it would be a ballad or a love song of some kind...and I guess in a way it was.

Just not the kind we expected.

For right there, in a room full of smartly dressed, half tipsy wedding guests, the band broke out the opening chords of none other than Stompin' Tom Connors hockey classic, The Good Old Hockey Game. Those people who recognized it (namely myself and my immediate family) instantly cracked up, and as the song progressed and people heard the lyrics the laughter spread. A few brave souls even sang along (again, namely myself and my immediate family). It was a truly incredible experience - I promise you that you've never heard that song until you've heard it played by a wedding band.

I point this out not only as a moment that shows the many ways in which the love of hockey lurks where you would least expect it, but also as a moment that shows the true meaning of love itself. Because none of the little stuff matters if at the end of the day you can come home to someone who understands you, someone who cares about you, and most of all someone who makes you laugh.


Congratulations, David and Sabrina - I wish you a lifetime together filled with hockey, happiness, and laughter!

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Yeah, They're Pretty Good

So it's Friday and I'm heading out for a weekend away from the computer. Naturally in my absence I could leave you with some deep analysis, some number-crunching, some thought-provoking commentary...but why start now?

Instead here's a little look at our two Russian superstars in all their glory. Enjoy!




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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Caps on the Cusp

The other day I talked about the Caps' overflow of what is known as the role-player, the guys who do a lot of little things well but may not get the glory of say, an Ovechkin. In my little fantasy world we would keep all of these guys, and any that are scratched could come and sit with me during games.

Alas, it probably is not to be. Returning to the real world its obvious that somethings gotta give, whether it means shipping someone off to Hershey or shipping them off to another club. OnFrozenBlog recently did a great rundown of the forwards and defensemen in the system as we head into next season, but here's a look at just the guys on the cusp:

Brian Sutherby - His scouting report says that he "will be limited in terms of offensive production at the NHL level", aka checking line forward. Limited is one thing, 7 goals is another. Still, I've always defended Sutherby on the grounds that the organization and his teammates love him and there is more to a player than offensive production. Brian is one of those players the Caps love to develop, the gritty players with loads of heart; having said that, the recent one year deal given to Sutsy and his declining numbers seem to signal that he has one more shot at proving himself.
Verdict: He'll crack the opening night lineup; whether he's here come the trade deadline remains to be seen.

Steve Eminger - Like Sutherby, Eminger is one of those players who has been "developing" for a long time but has yet to really break through. In drafting him 12th overall the Caps put their hopes into Eminger one day becoming a top two defenseman. But injuries and mistakes cost Emmy a lot of playing time last year and there were many nights when he was watching the action from the press box while a youngster took his roster spot. Signs of improvement towards the end of last year and a desire to prove himself could make him a dangerous contender in September. He'll still have to fight it out in training camp and his one-year deal, like Sutherby's, is a sign that he's using the last of his nine lives.
Verdict: Look for him to hold on to his spot come October, but he could be potentially packaged with other prospects/picks for that stay-at-home defenseman everyone seems so high on.

Matt Bradley - Bradley is always good for a funny quote or a nice black eye, and his effort and his willingness to drop the gloves when necessary make him a perfect checking line forward. However, he faces stiff competition for his role-playing slot from current and future Caps and there doesn't seem to be much room for him anymore. 13 points in 57 games just may not be good enough.
Verdict: As sad as I am to say it, I don't see Bradley being with the organization much longer.

Dave Steckel - Having really achieved everything he could at the AHL level, Steckel will be looking to make the jump to the big club this fall. His penalty-killing and leadership skills are not in question, but its his mobility that raises some eyebrows and he'll need to learn how to use his body and his legs more effectively if he wants to stick around in the NHL.
Verdict: He may need a little more time to cook in the AHL but look for him to be a frequent call-up and potentially a mid-season roster addition a la Brooks Laich two years ago.

Brooks Laich - Called up to fill a roster spot in December of '05, Laich took his opportunity and made the most of it, earning a permanent spot with the club through the end of the season then returning to Hershey in time for their Calder Cup run. Last year he admittedly had a slow start and paid for it with a run of healthy scratches and limited ice time. Still, he started to pick up the momentum mid-season and was showing definite improvement. He's versatile in his ability to play center or wing but will probably be relegated to wing with the sudden glut up the middle, and he has developed an edge to his game that makes him a much more attractive third or fourth line candidate.
Verdict: He'll be in the red, white and blue when the season opens and should maintain his position on either of the bottom two lines.

Boyd Gordon - Last year was definitely Gordon's coming out party, as he put together a fantastic season and proved why he made the roster in the first place. His 7 goals were nice, but its the 22 assists and the +10 on a team that routinely was a minus squad that really make him stand out. And if you've never seen him out there killing penalties, you haven't seen it the way its supposed to be done. He made a believer out of a lot of us.
Verdict: Definitely a lock for third line center, and look for his offensive numbers to increase as his confidence and ice time go up.

John Erskine - Erskine is the kind of defenseman that Caps fans love in the sense that he'll drop the gloves at any time or just lay someone out with a monster hit. He started last season as a welcome surprise, turning a lot of heads as he came out of nowhere to establish himself as one of the top defenseman - and helped boost defensive partner Eminger's game, to boot. Still, the shine started to wear off midseason and a series of injuries including a devastating foot fracture really seemed to take him off his game.
Verdict: Will probably make the roster, but may spend many nights as the 7th defenseman in the press box.

Ben Clymer - Its hard to judge Clymer for his rocky season last year - after a failed experiment that saw him back on the blue line, Clymer had to readjust to his forward position and then found himself hampered by an abdominal injury that nagged him all season before finally electing for surgery in the last month. He's got the physical aspect down and, as we all remember from that infamous Atlanta game, isn't afraid to drop the gloves with someone much bigger and nastier than himself. I don't think the Caps are giving up on him just yet and will be looking for him to replicate his numbers from his first year in DC now that he's healthy again.
Verdict: Third or fourth line winger, will be around for opening night.

Tomas Fleischmann - Flash has shown, well, flashes of brilliance at the NHL level but has yet to find his consistency that made him so potent in Hershey. He's got talent but seems hesitant to shoot the puck - something you can get away with in the AHL but in the faster, bigger world of the NHL that just won't fly. He needs to find his game and quickly or he'll be another prospect who just didn't pan out.
Verdict: Could start the season with the Caps if his training camp is spectacular, but may be shuffled back and forth from Hershey or could be packaged with another player for a veteran.

Jakub Klepis - Poor Jake. First no one could pronounce his name, now no one wants to. A lot of people were high on Klepis for a long time but he's really just never shown that he's ready to make the jump. Besides a lack of offensive production he has an annoying tendency to take ill-advised penalties at bad times, putting his team at risk too many times.
Verdict: Back to Hershey with Klepis, with the possibility of a trade somewhere down the line.

Eric Fehr - For a long time Fehr has held the mantel as the Caps' bright new future and showed some signs of this in the few stints he had with the Caps last season. Still, hampered by a nagging back/hip injury and unproven at the NHL level, his time may be running out.
Verdict: Could potentially crack the lineup but needs to have a spectacular camp and start to the season if he wants to make it permanent.

Jeff Schultz - Schultz is one of those defenseman the Caps really need to hang on to. He does the little things correctly and quietly, becoming invisible on the ice in all the right ways. Towards the end of last season he really started to show what he was made of as he gained ice time and confidence in his abilities. If he can learn to use his size and develop a snarl he'll be very scary to play against - and that can only be good for the Caps.
Verdict: May fall victim to the fact that he's not forced to clear waivers and could see another year in Hershey, but there's a spot for him if he earns it in camp.

Mike Green - Its hard to figure Green out sometimes. There are times when he makes an absolutely brilliant defensive play; there are times he makes a completely bone-headed mistake; and there are times when he shows an offensive brilliance that makes you wonder if he's forgotten he's a defenseman. A full season in DC may have been a bit much for him last year, considering he's just 21 years old and defenseman take quite a bit longer than forwards to develop.
Verdict: Probably returning to Hershey for more development and more minutes, but could be a frequent call-up should one of the top 6 d-men go down with injury...or just go away.

Josef Boumedienne - Um...he's Swedish, right?
Verdict: Sorry, Boomer - back to Sweden with you, one-way contract in your hot little hand.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

GMGM is Old School...and Hanlon's a Loon

This is fantastic:



Even if you don't like fighting (or the Rangers), there's just something satisfying about seeing little GMGM taking on Tocchet.

Even more satisfying? Hanlon.

Trust me, you won't want to miss the last minute of the video.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Bonds Makes History

I happened to flip to the Nationals-Giants game just now and, as luck would have it, I tuned in just in time to see Barry Bonds smash his 756th career home run to surpass Hank Aaron's longtime record.

It is a huge accomplishment, yet it is one that will be in the history books with an asterisk. It has nothing to do with hockey and perhaps very little to do with baseball - but you have to wonder, in a stadium full of screaming fans and flashbulbs, what the reaction would have been had this mark not been achieved under the shadow of controversy. No one will remember the pitcher who gave up the run and I'm sure few (except Nats fans, of course) will even remember what team it was scored against. What people will remember is that Bonds' record will be held up to speculation as to the fairness of how that goal was achieved.

People will have plenty of time to talk about that over the coming days, weeks and years. For now though, I have to let the sports fan in me appreciate the achievement and give in to the sight of a tearful Bonds watching a special message from Aaron himself and thanking his fans.

It almost makes me happy for him. So congrats, Barry...I guess.

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The Camera Adds 150 Years

Aw...it's nice that Grandpa Hasek gets out for a little day on the links. Senility is a bitch, though - he appears to have forgotten his shoes!

h/t to Kukla's Korner for the pic

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The Recipe for Success

Creating a championship team is like making a stew - all the ingredients have to simmer just the right way, you have to find a balance of flavors...and everyone thinks they've got the best recipe.

The team that the Caps are building right now is starting to look, at least on paper, like it will be a force to be reckoned with. No one's saying this is a Cup-ready team, but for the first time in a long time training camp will be highly competitive and only about a third to a half of the roster spots can conceivably be called "taken". This backlog of talent is largely created by the third and fourth liners in the system - the type of guys that the Caps have historically stockpiled, your gritty, hard-working trench guys who may not wow you with sparkling tricks or post huge numbers but whose presence means something.

A lot of people question the value of having too many of these guys floating around, and have questioned it for many years. Its becoming a Capitals trademark to overload the team with guys having a ton of heart but not as much talent. I've heard the questions about their contribution to the team and the comments about how you don't win championships with your third and fourth lines - and I think that couldn't be further from the truth.

Obviously you wouldn't want an entire team of Matt Pettingers, no matter how much we may love him; but for that matter, would you really want to see a team of Ovechkins? Sure, they'd be flashy and probably score 20+ goals a night...but they'd allow 75.

Those trench guys are the ones who block shots, kill penalties, make the big hits. They may not always show up on the scoreboard but if you watch them you can't deny that they've had an impact on the outcome of the game. Watch Boyd Gordon killing a penalty or look at Brian Sutherby mix it up in front of the net and tell me they don't have an important role. What's more, you only have to look at the Cup winners and the playoff-bound teams over the last few years to see that these third and fourth liners are often the difference between hoisting the Cup in June and swinging a golf club in April. How many people knew who Travis Moen was before the Ducks won this past June? What about Kevyn Adams? Ben Clymer, anyone?

No one really seems to know what the magical recipe is for success, but a few key factors start to pop out when perusing the rosters of these championship squads:

Veteran Leadership
Bolts: After 22 years in the league, the last season before the lockout saw Dave Andreychuk hoist the Cup for the first time. There's no question that his leadership on and off the ice was a crucial part of the Bolts' Cup run and in their push from league-wide joke to champions.
Canes: Rod Brind'amour may have set the record for the most broken noses in the league, but his leadership and consistency won him a Cup...and the hearts of his fans and teammates alike. There's a reason ol' Roddy's been locked up to back to back multi-year contracts in Caniac country.
Ducks: When you talk about class and leadership, it doesn't get much better than Scott Niedermayer. He may or may not be hanging up his skates come fall, but when he finally steps back he'll leave behind not only a legendary career but a legacy as the first man to bring Lord Stanley's Cup to the sunny beaches of CA.

Caps: You can keep your Brind'amours, your Sundins, your Modanos. For my money it doesn't get much better than Chris Clark. If the Caps look to make a serious run in the coming years you can bet Clark's leadership will be a crucial reason why they do. He's got heart and class, he's the hardest-working player on the ice every night...and let's not forget those thirty goals he picked up last season.

Goaltending
Bolts: Khabibulin isn't nicknamed "the Bulin Wall" for nothing - his arrival in Tampa signaled the beginning of a new start for an oft-mocked Bolts team, and his departure has sent them scurrying around for his replacement ever since. How do you fill the void left by a wall?
Canes: There are tales of playoff greatness filling the books of NHL history, but usually the guys achieving that greatness have a little bit to show for it in the regular season. Enter Cam Ward, who played 28 games in the regular season as Martin Gerber's backup, then stepped in as a reliever in the playoffs and played 23 games, putting together a Conn Smythe performance en route to Carolina's first Stanley Cup. While his less than stellar follow-up season had many questioning his talent, he's only 22 - let's not cart him off to an old age home just yet.
Ducks: Anaheim boasted what was arguably the best one-two punch in net of any playoff-bound team last season, with Giguere taking the lead and Bryzgalov being no slouch himself in the backup role. Giggy will be remembered as the goalie who stymied a potent Ottawa offense in the Finals, but this Ducks team doesn't even get to the Finals without their two stalwart goalies backing them up.

Caps: Ask any Caps fan who the most underrated goaltender in the league is and they'll tell you its Olie Kolzig. For almost twenty years he's been a part of the Caps, but it was his outstanding play when then-starter Bill Ranford went down to injury that propelled the Caps to their first Finals in franchise history. Since then he has continued to be a rock; however, at 37 he's likely only got a few years left and until the Caps begin to play the same in front of Brent Johnson as they do in front of the big guy, the Caps have to address their goaltending situation. A handful of prospects in the system give us hope - now we just wait and see how they turn out.

Flash and Dash
Bolts: It doesn't get flashier and dashier than the combined talents of Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Vinny Lecavalier. These three truly broke out in their championship year and have caused quite a stir since, be it with dazzling moves on the ice or their (at the time) jaw-dropping contracts following the 2003-04 season.
Canes: Eric Staal was supposed to be the bright new star of the 'Canes and he didn't disappoint, with 100 points during the regular season and another 28 points during the playoffs. But the bigger story was Erik Cole, whose breakout season at the tender age of 27 and whose dramatic return in game 6 of the Finals provided the Canes with that extra lift.
Ducks: Teemu Selanne...I don't think I need to elaborate.

Caps: Please. Ovechkin and Semin alone are enough flash and dash for a century, and with each posting 40+ goal seasons last year, the future of flash and dash in the Nation's Capital is in good hands.

Top Defensive Pair
Bolts: Dan Boyle and Pavel Kubina were consistently solid for a Bolts team on their way to the Cup, and it didn't hurt that each of them chipped in on offense, as well.
Canes: Carolina boasted a suddenly talented blue line, with Kaberle, Hedican, Commodore and Wesley providing a nice combination of youthful exuberance and veteran wisdom to shut down the opposing team.
Ducks: When you bring in Chris Pronger, that's one thing. When you bring in Scott Niedermayer, that's another. Together? Unbeatable.

Caps: We've got a few potential names, but let's face it - we're still waiting...

And the Rest...
Bolts: Tampa had their share of gritty, no name guys who just came to the rink to work. Afanasenkov, Clymer, Cibak, Cullimore...all of them get their names on the Cup as well, regardless of whether you've heard of them, but they weren't just along for the ride.
Canes: This Canes team was full of guys no one had heard of before the playoffs, but you certainly know them now - guys like Chad LaRose and Andrew Ladd, Josef Vasicek and Niclas Wallin. Key players, all of them.
Ducks: The Ducks may have ridden to the Cup on Niedermayer's shoulders, but they did so with some pretty important guys who became more important as the postseason went on. Take Samuel Pahlsson and Travis Moen out of the mix, and a few games swing the other way.

Caps: Do I have enough space to fit them all in? Pettinger, Sutherby, Gordon, Clymer, Bradley, Steckel, Laich...these are the worker bees, the guys who will do everything that's asked of them and more yet won't crack the spotlight nine times out of ten. They may not all be around come October, but the mere idea of so much depth gives me a warm fuzzy feeling for the future.

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