June 30, 2015

Mike Green won’t be back and that’s a good thing for him and the Caps

Mike Green (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Mike Green (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The pending list of free agents for the Washington Capitals includes several big names, but while there is little question that players like Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov will be re-signed, the future remains much more cloudy for defenseman Mike Green.

Green was selected 29th overall by the Caps in the 2004 draft and has spent his entire NHL career with the organization. He will turn 30 in October so while his 30-plus goal seasons are likely behind him, he still has plenty of good years left in his career.

Yet, the final year of Green’s contract has now come and gone with no extension in place. While there remains time between now and the start of free agency for the team to work out a deal, the chances of that happening seem unlikely.

But why? [Read more…]

Report: Washington Nationals sign Max Scherzer

According to the Washington Post, the Washington Nationals have completed a deal with free agent starter Max Scherzer. While terms were not revealed, Scherzer rejected a $160 million dollar offer and reports earlier Sunday evening indicated the sides were contemplating a seven-year deal for $180 million.

Barring any other moves (which seems unlikely), the Nats rotation is, in a word, fearsome. Scherzer joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark in a deep, talented and expensive rotation.

Even before talk of Scherzer came to light Sunday, the Nats were rumored to be entertaining offers on Zimmermann and Ian Desmond, potential free agents at season’s end. It becomes likely, if not prohibitive, that one of the potential free agents (including Doug Fister and Denard Span), or another expensive player — such as Strasburg — could be moved for prospects or to bolster the roster.

Or, GM Mike Rizzo could very well keep everyone in an effort to capture the World Series for 89-year-old owner Ted Lerner, then deal with the repercussions following the season.

Scherzer, 30, was simply the top free agent on this year’s market and one of the top five pitchers of the past two seasons for the Detroit Tigers. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.

In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).

Additionally, moving back to the N.L. at this stage in his career should be a boon to his strikeout numbers.

There will be plenty more written about this mega-deal, but the fallout — if there is any — will be fascinating to watch. Rizzo had some big decisions even before this happened, and they become even more intriguing.

It’s been no secret around Nats Park that Jordan Zimmermann would test the free agent waters when he became eligible. Scherzer could very well be Rizzo’s idea to replace the stoic right-hander.

There were plenty of rumors and suggestions by national media Sunday evening that Strasburg could be dangled as a trade target, as he’s due for free agency in the very near future.

Or, Rizzo (and potentially more likely, Scott Boras — Scherzer’s agent) got to the Lerners and said ‘You’ve got a chance here to win it all’ and convinced the wealthy but cautious family to go “all-in” and give themselves the best chance at a championship over the next couple of seasons.

Either way, a competitive and interesting team got more so on Sunday, when most of the country was watching the NFL Conference title games. What comes next could make for spectacular drama, adding to this fascinating and intriguing development.

Nats, Scherzer “close” according to sources

Late Sunday, the internet blew up. Yes, most of it nationally was centered around the Seattle Seahawks kind of ridiculous comeback against the Green Bay Packers. But locally in DC, it’s when first rumors, then unconfirmed sources, then actual reports surfaced: the Washington Nationals were indeed “in” on free agent starting pitcher Max Scherzer.

Scherzer, 30, is simply the top free agent on this year’s market. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.

In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).

If you’re going all-in on a guy that you think puts you over the top as a contender, there are none better available.

Of course, there are repercussions.

All winter long, Mike Rizzo’s been making moves that appeared to be stabilizing salary. He didn’t chase down a big bat to fill the second base hole, rather he traded one of the most reliable set-up men in the country for an average at-best shortstop (with a maturity history) to do so. He stayed out of the bidding when other big-name free agents came off the board.

In fact, everyone knows the Nats have some hard choices to make with Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Denard Span all free agents after the season is over, and with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper approaching that status more quickly than any of us would care to think about.

Adding Scherzer to the equation would change the calculus dramatically.

It would seem that by adding a pitcher for seven years at $180 million (the rumored offer at this point), the Nats are making the decision an offseason early, and that they’d allow all that money to come off the books.

There have been trade rumors flying around all winter regarding Desmond and Zimmermann, and if this deal goes through, we can expect those to intensify. Rizzo could use either/both to restock the system with close-to-MLB talent to fill the holes created when those players walk.

Or, Rizzo could stand pat with a rotation of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister, move Tanner Roark into the bullpen, and try to win a World Series before the “group of four” go out as free agents.

By the time you read this Monday morning, we may already have an answer. But this will be fascinating to watch play out.

Washington Wizards Wisely Lock Up Marcin Gortat on Day One of Free Agency

On the morning of July 1, the opening day of the NBA free agency period, The Washington Post reported that the Washington Wizards had already reached out to their two most important free agents, Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza. By the time day one of free agency was over, Gortat had himself a new deal to remain in Washington. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals make big moves in free agency to address defensive depth

The opening day of free agency has traditionally not been a day when the Washington Capitals have made much of a splash. This year, however, was a different story. New Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan has already proven himself unafraid of taking risks – and spending a little money in the process.

Signing former Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen – and effectively locking up $68 million dollars between them — represents two of the largest deals of the beginning of free agency. Orpik’s contract was five years, $5.5 million and Niskanen’s contract is for seven years at $5.75 million. Both contracts contain a limited no trade clause as well.

Todd Reirden, newly appointed assistant coach in charge of defense, who worked with Orpik and Niskanen in his former position in Pittsburgh, was speculated to have influenced the signings of both players, but MacLellan told reporters the two players were on his radar long before Reirden’s hiring.

“It’s a big commitment by our organization and hopefully the players see the commitment by both ownership and management to address perceived needs that we do have,” MacLellan told reporters. “I’m excited about it and hopefully they are too.”

The money spent was also prioritized for Orpik’s signing, not Niskanen, as has been speculated. Orpik, according to MacLellan, was always the main target for the Caps. That Niskanen, who was courted by at least 10 teams, chose Washington as his destination was icing on the cake for the Capitals.

“The total dollars were centered around Brooks,” said MacLellan. “We needed to get him in first because we thought that was our greatest need. We tried to get him to stay as low as possible. We struggled with that first year for a while and then we ended up we felt we had to go there because it was getting so competitive.”

MacLellan feels that the Capitals addressed their greatest needs via free agency – goaltending and defense – not the draft, as had been widely panned. “I think we had some needs and we addressed them,” MacLellan said. “We had cap room. Ownership gave the green light to get to the cap and we spent the money where we thought we needed to spend it the most.”

“I like our defense. We have six really good defensemen. I think we have good balance now. I think we’re gonna let it play out and see how we’re doing,” said MacLellan. “We’ve added two new guys and I think it might take a little time to get the chemistry going.”

He elaborated a bit on what defensive pairings might look like with the additions of Niskanen and Orpik, as well. Orpik and Carlson were mentioned as a possible shutdown paring. Add Alzner/Niskanen and Orlov/Green to that equation, and the Capitals blue line looks the best it has in years.
________________

 Katie Brown is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Capitals. She grew up in Virginia and Maryland, currently resides in Arlington, VA, and developed a love for the sport of hockey as a youngster while watching her brothers play. She is co-host of Girls Just Wanna Have Puck podcast. You can follow Katie on Twitter @katie_brown47.

Washington Capitals add defenseman Matt Niskanen

From the press release:

The Washington Capitals have signed defenseman Matt Niskanen to a seven-year, $40.25 million contract, senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan announced today.

“We are very excited that Matt Niskanen has chosen to sign with Washington,” said MacLellan. “At 27 years of age, he is just entering his prime for a defenseman. We feel he will be a staple on our blueline for many years to come. We have stated all along that upgrading the defense was our top priority this offseason and we feel we accomplished our goal with our signings today.”

Niskanen, 27, set career highs in points (46), goals (10), assists (36), games played (81) and game-winning goals (6) in 2013-14, led all NHL defensemen in plus/minus (+33) and was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year. He also recorded a career-high nine points (two goals, seven assists), led the team with six power play points and was first among team defensemen with 29 hits in 13 playoff games.

Washington Capitals add Orpik, Peters in free agent frenzy

On the first day of the NHL free agent signing period, the Washington Capitals address two major needs, adding veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik and backup goalie Justin Peters. Orpik, 33 and two-time U.S. Olympian, signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract, while Peters inked a two-year, $1.9 million deal. Caps GM Brian MacLellan announced both deals.

From the press releases:

“We are very excited to welcome Brooks to Washington,” said MacLellan. “We feel Brooks’ leadership and experience will greatly enhance our defense for years to come. Brooks plays tough minutes against the opposition’s best players.”

-snip-

Orpik played in 72 games for the Penguins in 2013-14, earning 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) and 46 penalty minutes and ranked first on the team in blocked shots (143) and first among Pittsburgh defensemen in hits (221). Orpik was drafted by the Penguins in the first round, 18th overall, in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

and…

We are pleased to sign Justin to a two-year contract,” said MacLellan. “We feel he is just entering his prime and has a tremendous upside. We look forward to him working with our goaltending coach Mitch Korn to reach his potential.”

Peters, 27, appeared in a career-high 21 games during the 2013-14 season, recording a 7-9-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. The Blyth, Ont., native also represented Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Championship. Peters has posted a 22-31-8 record with three shutouts, a 3.05 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage in 68 career NHL games with the Carolina Hurricanes.

In addition, the Caps re-signed forward Michael Latta, 23, to a two-year, $1.15 million contract.

Big changes needed for Caps to contend for Cup in balance of Ovechkin’s career

Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin and Alternate Captain Nicklas Backstrom presented Mike Knuble and his family with a Sea-Doo on behave of the Caps players (Photo by @jlrpuck))

Will Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom ever play for a Stanley Cup? (Photo by @jlrpuck))

With the postseason slowly slipping away from them with every loss, the Washington Capitals have quietly put themselves in prime position for the offseason. With the NHL’s salary cap expected to go up and major revisions to the defensive corps on tap, the salary restraints being lifted could not have come at a better time.

How they use that cap space, and who makes those decisions, will shape whether this team will contend for a Stanley Cup during the balance of one of the greatest goal scorers in the history of the league’s career with the Caps.

CLEARING THE DECK

GM George McPhee essentially pulled off the world’s quietest fire sale during last week’s deadline. He shed the team of Martin Erat’s $4.5 million and Michal Neuvirth’s $2.5 million. Both players wanted a fresh start where they could be a bigger part of a team’s plans; the team wanted to shed their salaries. McPhee moved both players without acquiring NHL contracts they’d be on the hook for past this season.

In the process, the team acquired UFA G Jaroslav Halak and LW Dustin Penner. Both veterans were immediately inserted into the lineup with the idea they could add a presence to help the Caps qualify for the playoffs this season. It hasn’t really worked out that way as the Caps have lost five of its past six games — and now stare a three-game west coast swing right in the face.

The organization can spin the trade deadline acquisitions all they want, but the moves were all about clearing cap space for the offseason.

THE LOOSE ENDS

With the Caps locking up D Dmitry Orlov to a two-year deal on Thursday — and finally bringing on forward Evgeny Kuznetsov after his contract expired in the KHL, the Caps have just three free agents heading into the offseason: the aforementioned Halak and Penner, and C Mikhail Grabovski, the past offseason’s major acquisition. Grabovski, who has been hurt much of the second half of the season, signed a one-year, $3 million deal to come to D.C. this year to re-energize his career after being relegated to the doghouse in his last season in Toronto. He was hopeful to put up big numbers and earn a multi-year deal.

It looked like he was well on the way to driving his salary up into the $5-6 million range, with a hat trick on opening night (courtesy of a couple of tip-ins) and 12 goals and 21 assists in 50 games. But the injury that has kept him out of the team’s past 17 games has really hurt him, which may make him easier to re-sign as the season nears its conclusion.

As for Halak and Penner, it’s debatable whether the Caps have any interest in re-signing either one. Halak is a good, dependable starting goalie in the league, but he’ll be expensive as a free agent. He’s of the age where he’ll want a 4-5 year deal, and with Braden Holtby (and Philipp Grubauer in the wings) it doesn’t seem like that’s the route the Caps would go, unless they have a major change of heart.

Penner is a big, rugged winger who has failed to register a point in five games since joining the Caps. In 49 games with Anaheim this season, he had 13 goals and 19 assists and hasn’t eclipsed 20 goals since the ’10-’11 season. He’ll be 32 at the end of the season, and has spent his entire career up until the past week and a half in the Western Conference. With Adam Oates’ reluctance to play him on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom, it isn’t a stretch to see the Caps allowing Penner to walk without so much as a second thought.

ELEPHANT(S) IN THE ROOM

The Capitals have one more buyout available (they used their first on Jeff Schultz) and it’s quite possible they might exercise that buyout this offseason. They have two prime candidates: F Brooks Laich ($4.5 million cap hit) and D Mike Green ($6 million).

Laich, 30, signed a long term deal a couple of seasons ago when he was a 20-goal scoring, two-way forward capable of playing on the power play as well as the penalty kill. He was a versatile player, able to move among the top three lines in a variety of positions. But the groin injury that’s robbed him of most of the past two seasons has really cut into his availability and reliability, as well as his production. This season, Laich has eight goals and seven assists in 50 games and is currently not practicing at all while trying to remain available for games.

Green has always been a liability in the defensive end. The fact that his possession numbers remain decent is hidden by the fact that when he gets beaten, it’s often ugly. He’s a target for opposing forecheckers, and that wear and tear has resulted in several head injuries in the past three seasons. In the past, the Caps were willing to live with Green’s inadequacies, but he’s just not putting up the kind of numbers that made him a two-time Norris Trophy finalist. His eight goals and 27 assists this season are nothing to sneeze at, but hardly worth the $6 million per annum Green counts against the cap.

BALANCING THE CAP

According to Capgeek.com, the Capitals — with Orlov’s new contract and the Laich/Green albatross contracts — will have a little over $14 million to spend under the expected cap available to sign free agents or bring in players via trade.

Obviously, it the team buys out either Laich or Green, they’ll have even more money to spend. Buy one out (Laich) and trade the other (Green) and the Caps would have a cash bonanza to work with.

CALLING THE CAVALRY

So if the Caps have all this money to play with in the offseason, where should they spend it? The simple, fast answer is on defense. The Caps have a dependable pair of defensemen in Karl Alzner and John Carlson, even if the opinion of the two is a bit inflated within the market. We’ve detailed Green’s shortcomings. If he was paired with a reliable, dependable defense-first partner, his shortcomings could be mitigated better. Right now, he’s paired with Orlov, who’s prone to his own bouts of turnover-itis in his own end.

The rest of the staff has been filled with has-beens (John Erskine), never-weres (Alexander Urbom, Tyson Strachan) and youngsters just barely out of high school. The Capitals have some promising young blueliners, but Connor Carrick, Nate Schmidt, Cam Schilling and Patrick Wey have all been overmatched, and Madison Bowey is still a couple of years away in the grand scheme.

A cursory glance at the top UFA defensemen provides a sobering moment when considering how the Caps should spend their money. There’s just not that much available on the open market that one might consider a “Top-4″ defenseman. Certainly there are some useful players out there that could bump Carrick, et al. back to Hershey for another year of seasoning to seriously upgrade the bottom pair. But how likely are the Caps to lock up an older player for several seasons to play in the third pairing, blocking the youngsters?

The Caps need to get better on the blueline from the top down, not the other way around. And it’s going to take going to the trade market in the offseason to do that.

If the Caps want to add to the forwards roster (and if Laich is let go, they would certainly be in the market) there are some interesting players still in their prime available, including Thomas Vanek, Paul Stastny, Jussi Jokinen and Matt Moulson, in addition to their own Grabovski and Penner.

CALLING THE SHOTS

The biggest question might be: Who will make these decisions? It’s no secret that both GM George McPhee and coach Adam Oates (and the rest of his nascent coaching staff) are on the hot seat. McPhee has build this team into a seasonal playoff team, if not a Stanley Cup contender. If the Caps were to miss the playoffs this season, the organization would miss out on that nice chuck of playoff revenue, which in turns hurts the bottom line throughout the system.

There are plenty of folks inside and outside of the Beltway that wouldn’t mind seeing a new manager put in charge of re-energizing this franchise. McPhee’s detractors point to exactly zero trips past the second round since the team’s Finals appearance in McPhee’s first season at the helm. At some point, just making the playoffs isn’t good enough.

But McPhee has overseen a rebuild before. And the moves he made at this past trade deadline didn’t seem like the moves a man in fear of his job security would make.

As for Oates, everyone wants to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially the way he was able to help Ovechkin get back to being the most lethal goal scorer on the planet. But the fact of the matter is that the Caps have steadily been in decline in terms of puck possession since he took over. The puck movement in the Caps’ own end has been amateurish at times. And instead of playing dump-and-chase, too often the Caps are relegated to playing dump-and-change, taking so long to get out of their own end that all they can do at the end of their shift is head back to the bench.

Add on the fact that the Caps aren’t above 50 percent in the faceoff dot, and it all adds up to a team that seems to still be searching for an identity under the first-time head coach.

Head coaches in this league have been let go for less.

THE BIG PICTURE

With 15 games left in the regular season, it’s still early to write this team’s epitaph. But the writing’s on the wall. Losses in five of the last six games and the brutal schedule ahead leave the Caps solidly behind the eight-ball in terms of postseason play. Most simulators have them with less than a seven percent chance at qualifying for the playoffs.

Whether they sneak in or not, big changes are needed if the Washington Capitals indeed want to compete for the Stanley Cup in the near future. Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom aren’t kids anymore. Every year that this team can’t truly compete in the second season is wasted. The Caps need to make some big changes soon, or the duo will go down not only as the best players in this generation to not win a Cup, but not even play for one.

And that would be a shame for all involved.

Washington Redskins jump in with both feet on day two of free agency

The Washington Redskins, fairly quiet in the first day of the free agent signing period, were quite a bit more active in day two.

The Skins added four players, including former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Jason Hatcher.

The team also added defensive end Clifton Geathers, linebacker Darryl Sharpton and cornerback Tracy Porter.

Hatcher, 31, enjoyed his best year in the league last season, recording 11 sacks. He spent the first five seasons of his career as a backup and broke the starting lineup in 2011. He played right defensive end in the Cowboys’ 3-4 system that year before switching to tackle last season in a 4-3. He’s expected to play end for the Skins.

Hatcher represents a huge upgrade along the defensive front for the Skins. Not only did Hatcher have more sacks than the entirety of the Skins defensive line last season, he’s also adept at putting pressure on the offense in the running game.

Geathers, a massive 6’8″, 340-pound fourth year defensive lineman, appeared in 16 games with the Philadelphia Eagles last year, recording 13 tackles.

Sharpton recorded 87 tackles for Houston, starting the final eight games of the season. He should compete for a starting inside spot next to Perry Riley Jr., re-signed by Washington on Wednesday.

Porter started 16 games for Oakland last season with 67 tackles, two interceptions and a touchdown. Porter has had injury troubles in his seven-year career, playing just one full season as a pro. He can play against both wide and slot receivers.

Washington Redskins venture into free agent waters, but not too far

The first day of NFL free agency is in the books, and the Washington Redskins did indeed pick up a couple of useful pieces, but did not make a headline-grabbing splash as they’ve done in years past.

The Redskins used the first day of the signing period to bring back two of their own: LB Perry Riley and WR Santana Moss; and added G Shawn Lauvao, slot WR Andre Roberts and special teams standout LB Adam Hayward.

Lauvao, a 2010 third round pick out of Arizona State, started 11 games for the Cleveland Browns last season and started all 16 in 2011 and 2012. ESPN reported that he signed a four-year, $17 million contract. Lauvao is graded as a good pass blocker but not as strong on run blocking.

Roberts, who spent his first four seasons in Arizona, is a 5’10”, 195-pound slot receiver. He caught 43 balls for 471 yards and two touchdowns in ’13. Roberts signed for four years and $16 million.

Heyward is 6’1″, 240-pounds and has played primarily as a special teamer in seven season in the NFL. He played for current Redskins secondary coach Raheem Morris in Tampa Bay.

 

 

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