Saturday, May 24, 2008

Season in Review: Forwards (Pt 1)

Time to do what we do best as fans - judge, analyze, and at times mock our favorite players. How did they perform this year? Did they disappear in the playoffs or step up? Underachieve or exceed expectations?

Up first, the forwards - Backstrom to Gordon.

Nicklas Backstrom - Backstrom's journey this year may not have started with the instant spark of his teammate Alex Ovechkin; his skills were evident but adjustments to a new country, a new system and for awhile a new position were tough. By the end of the season, though, it was clear that this kid had the type of skill and hockey sense that foretold a great future in the league.

And it was his return to his natural position at center along with a new coaching staff and system that really let him show what he could do. He earned 13 of his 14 goals and 47 of his 55 assists (a new franchise record for a rookie) following Boudreau's insertion as head coach, including the overtime game winner in the first game of the new coaching regime. Backstrom proved himself a legitimate playmaker and demonstrated great chemistry with his wingers - first with Ovechkin and Kozlov, then with Semin and Laich in the postseason.

He'll need to work on his faceoff prowess (a skill he was already starting to improve on throughout the season) and maybe add some muscle down the line, but as rookie seasons go Backstrom's was certainly Calder Trophy worthy.
Grade: A-

Matt Bradley - Every team has their goofball, the guy who everyone loves, who keeps things light in the locker room and on the bench and with the media. Bradley has so often been that guy for the Caps - but he's also a player who has proven his ability to come through in the clutch and provide an extra boost when the team needs it most.

He's never going to score 50 goals in a season; he'll be lucky to crack double digits, and that's not a knock on Brads. It's just not his role, it's not the type of game he plays. This season Bradley picked up 7 goals and 11 assists, but he was loaded with intangibles. So many times he would come out for a shift and at best he would create a scoring chance; at worst he would keep the other team penned up in their own zone for almost a minute.

Bradley knows how to hit and do it in a timely fashion. He's not afraid to drop the gloves if necessary. And none of us will soon forget his late round shootout heroics against the Oilers (or the quotes that came after).
Grade: B

Donald Brashear - Brashear always seems to be as advertised - a gritty, hard-hitting, hard-working player who will use his limited ice time as best he can. And if that means going ten rounds with the other team's heavyweight, so be it. Once again this season he did his job, got a couple of timely goals, more than a couple of timely fights, and kicked off the postseason offense with the first goal of the Caps-Flyers series.

If there's one area he always needs to work on it's his discipline. Referees in this league know Donald well and many times it seems like he's given "reputation" penalties - but he has to learn how to control himself. We all remember that horrific unraveling in the Bruins game that led to extended 5-on-3 chances for Boston and eventually cost the Caps the game in the final minutes. While instances like that have been less prevalent for Brash in recent years, he needs to stay out of the box in order to help his team.
Grade: B-

Chris Clark - It's hard to judge Chris Clark on this past season since so much of it was spent on the sidelines with injury. In fact, Clark only dressed in 18 of the 82 games this year, missing almost a month after taking an Ovechkin slapshot to the ear and then a month later saw his season basically end because of a strained groin tendon. When healthy, he picked up 9 points in his 18 based only on the games he played we could give him an A; after all, a point every two games is a great pace. As it is though...
Grade: Incomplete

Matt Cooke - Cooke is probably the member of the trade deadline trio who got the least amount of acclaim and attention for his contributions this year, but what he brought to the team shouldn't be overlooked. He filled a role that had been left vacant for a long time, the role of the pest - the guy who isn't afraid to get under the other team's skin and into their heads.

He's another one who will never be an offensive threat. But Cooke's goals, like Bradley's, were often timely. He was a surprise threat shorthanded and had the speed to keep up with whatever linemates he was given, whether it was Steckel or Fedorov or Semin. And his willingness to play physical hockey often opened up the ice for others - which is exactly what we got him for.

There was no question that he had a blast playing here, and you can't really blame him. More than one player flourished after leaving a defensive-minded system for a more free-flowing, offensive one and leaving the Canucks for the new look Caps was no exception. Whether that translates into him re-signing here in the offseason remains to be seen, but in his short time here he certainly won over the fans and his teammates.
Grade: A-

Sergei Fedorov - At 38 years old, Fedorov appeared to be something of a bizarre trade deadline acquisition, one that GMGM seemed to pick up in the hopes that he still had a little left in the tank.

But not even McPhee could have predicted the rejuvenation that the future Hall of Famer would undergo upon arriving in DC. Playing alongside Semin and later Ovechkin, there were times that Fedorov looked ten years younger. He blocked shots, cashed in on breakaways, and seemed to be loving the game more than he had in years. Fedorov was a huge part of the push the Caps made to make the playoffs and was a huge part of the postseason success, as well. And we all saw what he did for Russia in the World Championships.

Another UFA come July 1, it'll be interesting to see whether his newfound youth will lead him to re-sign with the Caps. If he does, it will certainly bode well for the Caps chances at taking another run at the Cup.
Grade: A

Eric Fehr - It seems like Caps fans have been waiting a long time for Fehr to make his presence in the NHL known, to see if the highly touted prospect will make good on everything we'd heard about him. And this season, after finally shaking off the injury that has plagued him for the better part of a year, Fehr made his way back to DC and quickly began showing the great potential he has.

As predicted, he demonstrated a willingness to go to the net but also a set of skilled hands that could make something out of nothing, creating scoring chance after scoring chance and getting a few pretty goals.

Fehr's only hindrance is his inexperience, something that should be taken care of with a full season and playoff run under his belt next year. While he showed potential this year it was clear at times that he'd been out for a long period of time and was also still adjusting to the speed and strength of the NHL. When he gets more comfortable, though...look out. He's going to be dangerous.
Grade: B

Tomas Fleischmann - "Flash" was really nothing more than that this season - a flash, a moment of greatness surrounded by game after game of ineptitude. There are times when he shows us exactly why he was such a touted prospect and a key part of Hershey's Calder Cup run; there are others, more frequent moments, where we just see that he's not quite there yet. He still gets pushed off the puck a little too easily. He still isn't able to cash in on the great scoring chances he's given every night. He still hasn't found his consistency as an NHLer.

There's hope yet, of course. Flash is still a youngster and what he learned this past year (and hopefully in the World Championships) is that raw talent alone isn't enough. He'll need to pack on some more muscle and build on some promising signs he was starting to show toward the end of the season.

Initially when he was signed to a two year deal it seemed like a good move - keep the depth, hang on to him a little longer, and if he's not up to the challenge it's an easy contract to dump. Now it's time for him to pay up, though. The Caps have more forward depth than they used to and no shortage of young kids in Hershey chomping at the bit to take his spot. What he does this offseason and in training camp will determine just how quickly his rear end is out the door.
Grade: C-

Boyd Gordon - With the talent pool deepening on the first and second lines, Boyd Gordon still managed to prove himself an invaluable part of the team with his style of play, a faceoff specialist and penalty killer who works the boards extremely well. The guy plays better on his butt than some guys do on their skates, that's for sure.

Hampered by injuries all season, Gordo still managed to make his presence known and was an extremely capable penalty killer and third/fourth line center. He was never able to get the offensive side of his game going as much as we would have hoped, though - 16 points in 67 games is decent but not great, even for someone in his position.

Still, it's hard to question the heart; playing through a torn hamstring in the playoffs (an injury that kept Mike Knuble out of the final few games of the series) is pretty impressive.
Grade: B-

Next...Kozlov to Steckel

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As long as the choice isn't Bourque over Flash... I'd give you a Beagle first.