September 20, 2019

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part VII: How will the Caps finish?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?
Part V: How many games do you expect Brooks Laich to play?
Part VI: Which young player makes a bigger impact this season, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

Part VII: How many points will the Caps finish with, their place in the standings and playoff result, if any?

Dave: I have historically been pretty terrible at picking the Caps record, so I don’t expect to be any better at it this year. Realistically, you have to look at last season and think the Caps are trending down, but considering they missed the playoffs, how much further down could they go. They you look at the early season success they have in the possession game and Mike Green’s apparent rejuvenation and think, well, they might not be so bad. The difference a good coach makes?

Honestly, one can envision this team gelling and getting better throughout the year, or just as easily struggling with having to depend on rookies to provide the bulk of secondary scoring and a goalie that tends to fight himself when he struggles.

I’m gonna say 94 points (41-29-12) points, third place in the Metro and bounced in the first round. Just like old times.

Katie: The Capitals could feasibly finish in the top 3 of the Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs, but I’m already worried that they’ll end up with too many games going to shootout (they’ve already had 3 of 5 games go to SO). Sure, it’s point padding, however, they need regulation wins to prove they are a team that can go places in the playoffs. I’d like to see them make it past the first round if they do make it to the playoffs, but I think it’s too soon to predict what kind of team they’ll be just yet as far as playoff longevity. The overall picture looks far more promising than last season, by a country mile.

Eric: I think they’ll get back in the playoffs this year as the champions of the Metropolitan Division. They’ll finish around 47-23-12 for 106 points because of the improved defense, resurgent forwards and stable goaltending, as well as the steady coaching hand of Trotz. In the playoffs, they’ll get through the first two rounds and get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, where they’ll fall to a more experienced Montreal Canadiens squad.

J.J. : 44-30-10, 98 points, third in the Metropolitan Division. They will lose in the second round to Pittsburgh (who else?). The Caps were the first team out of the playoffs last season, missing the cut by only three points. This team has a better coach and better defense. If the Caps can come that close to the playoffs with Oates as coach, then they should be able to easily make the playoffs this season.

Abram: 42-29-11, 95 points, 4th in the Metropolitan (by a point or two), 1st wild card in the East. Lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs in six games.

Harry: 43-30-9; 95 standings points; 4th in Metro; Lose to Pittsburgh in first round. Ultimately, this team is slightly better than they were last year. They’ll get better goaltending (probabaly some of the best in the NHL because Holtby is that good), but they will struggle on offense. Trotz is a good enough coach that he’ll be able to maximize the team and they will make the playoffs, but don’t expect much once they do. They’re just not deep enough.

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part VI: Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?
Part V: How many games do you expect Brooks Laich to play?

Part VI: Which young player makes a bigger impact this season, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

Dave: I think eventually Kuznetsov will be the most impactful player of the trio, but I think all three have solid futures as NHL players. Kuznetsov has an intrinsic, dynamic element to his play that you can’t teach and once he develops some of the secondary attributes that Barry Trotz wants out of all his players, he’ll thrive at this level.

That’s not to take anything away from Burakovsky or Wilson. In fact, I can envision the three of them playing together as a second line in the not-too-distant future. It’s not hard to look at Kuzy and Bura and not envision them developing chemistry like another Swedish center and Russian winger on the team. Wilson could be the prefect complement to the duo with his size and skill level.

Katie: At the end of last season, when Kuznetsov finally arrived in Washington, he had all the hopes of an impact player placed upon him. Now that Burakovsky has made the team, is playing second line minutes, and is clearly extremely skilled, I think Burakovsky will outscore Kuznetsov. I’m not so sure about Wilson’s role this season, once he returns from injury, but I think it would be fair to predict he won’t be doing fourth line time. Ideally, it would be nice to see all three young players in the top-6 at some point this season, and there’s certainly room for that.

Eric:  I think it’ll be Kuznetsov, barely. He looked good in the games he played toward the end of last year and has gotten some valuable advice from Ovechkin.

J.J. : Burakovsky. He is getting his shot at second line center and he has responded well. Kuznetsov will move up from the fourth line sooner rather than later, but he will likely be moved around as a wing as he continues to adjust to the North American game. As for Wilson, I would not be surprised if he spent some time in Hershey this year. The Caps want to see him develop into a top six forward, but given the number of players the Caps have on offense right now, he might be better served to get top line minutes in the AHL before taking a more significant role with the Caps.

Abram: Burakovsky. The kid has a magical touch with the puck, and will singlehandedly carry the fourth’s line offensive output, assuming he stays there. If he develops the way the team hopes, he’ll drastically improve the offense. From what we’ve seen early on, the skill is there, he just needs to not be tied down on a line with some combination of Beagle, Latta, O’Brien, or Volpatti.

Harry: I think Evgeny Kuznetsov will have the biggest impact on this team. As good as Burakovsky has looked, he will almost certainly slow down a little bit and is still learning a new position. Wilson, even when healthy, won’t see a lot of ice time with the players he deserves to play with because of how many highly-payed veterans the Caps have down the right side. Ultimately, Kuznetsov has the most polish, is probabaly the most talented, and is likely to see the most opportunities. A top-four finish among Caps forwards in scoring is not out of the question.

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part III: Projections for Ovi

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?

Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season? [Read more…]

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part II: Area of Concern

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?

Dave: The company line for area of concern is secondary scoring — specifically the second line, which seems to be a mixed jumble of part that didn’t fit elsewhere. There’s no veteran 2C, but Andre Burakovsky so far has done a bang up job and has much promise. I don’t like seeing Evgeny Kuznetsov buried on the fourth line like Tom Wilson was last season. If you’re in for a dime on Bura, might as  go for the dollar and put Kuzy on his right wing.

I also have concerns about the goalkeeping, which we’ll discuss in depth in a few days. This is a make-or-break year for Braden Holtby to prove he can carry a team as a clear-cut No. 1 goalie.

Katie: The top 6 forward depth. In signing Orpik and Niskanen, the Capitals spent money that could have been used to retain Mikhail Grabovski or sign a capable 2C. Though it appears that youngster Andre Burakovsky has adapted to the center position–and quite well, so far- the lack of an established 2C is a bit worrisome.

I don’t doubt Trotz’s judgment here, but it seems that now Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was supposed to be the Next Big Thing, has been left out in the cold a little, playing 4th line minutes more often than not. I’m unsure if this this because Trotz hasn’t figured out where to put him, or if he’s somehow in the doghouse. I’m sure it’s the latter, as Trotz has hinted that some of the guys playing less minutes right now will likely move up to larger roles as the season progresses.

Eric: I’m still concerned about the second-line center situation. This isn’t a knock on Eric Fehr, as his line has been very productive through the first five games, but there’s still a hole there after the departure of Grabovski.

J.J.: Secondary scoring. The Caps could not rely on their second line last season and did not sign a center to replace Mikhail Grabovski. I like what I’ve seen from Andre Burakovsky so far, but can he play at this level for 82 games? There’s also still no clear right wing for the top line. And just where does Marcus Johansson fit in? Clearly Trotz is still constructing the offensive lineup. It looks like the talent is there, he just needs to find the right combinations.

Abram: The second line. As others have noted, this is a team with a first line, two third lines, and a fourth line. We all know that Ovechkin’s line can score, the trio of Ward-Laich-Chimera can pin the puck in the opponent’s zone, and the current fourth line doesn’t seem to cause too much damage, although we’ll see once Aaron Volpatti returns. There’s not really a second scoring line on the roster.

Troy Brouwer and Evegeny Kuznetsov are capable scorers and Marcus Johansson is a fair set-up man, but no NHL team is quivering in their skates when they see Washington’s second unit hit the ice. Head Coach Barry Trotz has already begun tinkering with lines, and his task is to find a potent second combination without neutering the first line. That said, as long as he doesn’t have Jay Beagle centering Alexander Ovechkin, it’s an improvement over last year.

Harry: Consistency on offense.  The Capitals have a bad combination up front of relying on young players forced in to spots that they probably are not ready for (Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov) and overpaid veterans who will either regress or are not very good (Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich).  The top line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Fehr will be great, but after that there is not a whole lot to be very excited about.

Washington Capitals Postseason Roundtable Part IV: The Coaches

As we’ve done in year’s past, District Sports Page staff and a couple friends in the industry conducted a roundtable to rate the recently completed Washington Capitals season. Obviously, with the changing of the guard over the weekend, the season was in no was satisfying of satisfactory, and our grades this season really reflect where our contributors to the roundtable sit with regards to the changes necessary to make the Caps true contenders again.

We’ll rate the offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and administration throughout the week.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, beat writer for DSP; J.J. Regan, contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan; Harry Hawkings, RockTheRed.com.

Part III: Rate the coaches (with grade an explanation):

DAVE: F. This team got progressively worse in the two years Adam Oates was in charge. It’s not even a question. The puck possession was abysmal, the systems were almost indecipherable, the rigidity was patently absurd, and the personnel mismanagement was shockingly amateurish. I’m also choosing to believe the power play’s return to the top of the chart was regression to mean with the talent available.

Ever since Bruce Boudreau was dismissed, the Caps puck possession has taken a nosedive, bottoming out at the end of this past season. You simply cannot regularly win games giving up more shots at even strength than you take. The bigger the differential, the worse of a team you are. It’s just math. And the Caps were one of the five worst teams in terms of puck possession in the league.

For long stretches of this season, it seemed the Caps preferred method of getting the puck out of their own end was to fumble it around, then bat it to center ice and hope to be able to dump it to get a line change. Preferring players skating on their strong hand is okay in theory, but when you rigiditily insist upon it and it forces you to play John Erskine in a second-pairing role (among many misaligned), you need to re-think what you’re doing.

Oates tried to make natural wingers into centers and centers into wingers. For two seasons, he ignored George McPhee’s biggest trade deadline acquisition, banishing first Martin Erat and then Dustin Penner to the Siberia of the NHL — a fourth line assignment with Jay Beagle. Then, for periods in both seasons — including down the stretch this season when fighting for their playoff lives — he moved Beagle up to center the greatest goal scorer in this generation. Surprisingly, Alex Ovechkin did not have a single point — let alone goal — while being centered by the offensively challenged Beagle.

Maybe the biggest dereliction of duty came by wasting a season of Tom Wilson’s entry-level contract so Wilson could earn more penalty minutes fighting than he was allowed to skate at even strength.

The bridge-burning Oates did in the media with Ovechkin, Holtby, Halak and Green was simply unbecoming of an NHL head coach.

Oates has a reputation as having an incredibly gifted hockey intelligence. He was one of the greatest playmakers this game has ever known. He was also known as a stubborn, selfish and petulant player, wearing out his welcome when coaches got fed up with his schtick. Hopefully the damage he did here isn’t permanent and can be overcome by the next administration.

KATIE: D-. At first, the changes Adam Oates was making seemed to make sense, even if they were a bit puzzling. It devolved into Oates needing to tinker with literally everything – including goaltending – to the team’s detriment. Do I think the Capitals would have been better off if he’d let his assistants do their jobs instead of trying to fix things that weren’t broken? Yes. Let the goalie coaches do their jobs. Let the defensive staff do theirs. That’s why you hire assistant coaches in the first place, right?  I don’t have much to comment on as far as the assistant coaches because I don’t think they hold much responsibility for many of the things that Oates wished to do during his tenure as head coach.

What Oates was able to do with the Capitals’ power play and with Alex Ovechkin was terrific, but he struggled in just about every other area. There is something to be said about sticking with things, even if they don’t work instantaneously, but even the worst coach in the NHL could realize that pairing Alex Ovechkin, an elite player, with Jay Beagle, a minimally skilled fourth line player, wasn’t a good idea. It took Oates six games to separate them. Now, maybe he was trying to get Ovechkin to be more defensively responsible, but that is not the correct way to do it.

Oates was stubborn and inflexible, and instead of modifying his system to accommodate and accentuate the skills of players in order to have the greatest possible chance of success, he tried to squeeze them into ill-fitting holes, which often backfired. Not to mention breaching the confidentiality of private conversations with players, in Halak’s case. No matter what transpired, the bottom line is that he shouldn’t have aired that dirty laundry to the public. There was dissonance between George McPhee and Oates, and it was never clearer than in the mishandling of Martin Erat and Dustin Penner. McPhee deserves the credit for acquiring quality players in an effort to help the team win, futile as it may have been, but Oates let personal bias, or perhaps just ignorance, dictate his utilization of these players.

J.J.: D-. The only things keeping this grade from an F are the power play and the third line. The Caps were tied with Pittsburgh for the best power play percentage in the league and the third line looked fantastic. Otherwise, Adam Oates laid an egg this season.

In his second season as head coach, the Caps lacked an identity and were awful at even strength. Oates was also responsible for bizarre personnel decisions, the Jay Beagle debacle, pushing a goaltending philosophy counter to the strengths of the team’s top netminder, and switching multiple players away from their natural positions. He also stubbornly refused to adapt when the team struggled under his theories.

Given that Oates had a full offseason and training camp to work with, I expected the team to get better in his second season, not worse. I’m not surprised he was let go.

SKY: D.  Defensively they were awful.  Adam Oates was stubborn in making adjustments.  Alex Ovechkin went a career high 15 games without an even strength POINT in the most important part of the season because Oates was so worried about his +/- that he put Jay Beagle with him.  Oates never even put Dustin Penner with Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin and that’s the only reason he was brought in here for!

Also Oates was neurotic with his right shot being on the right side and left shot being on the left side…many other teams are in the playoffs right now that don’t have that problem.  Also Calle Johansson might not have had the greatest players, but you can’t just blame the players for being a disaster on the defensive side.  The Caps never won a game in regulation/overtime under Oates at the helm in two seasons in the regular season when scoring two or fewer goals.

HARRY: I give the coaching an F. Coming in to this season I had tentative optimism that Adam Oates would learn from his mistakes and start to maximize the talents of his players instead of putting them in situations in which they were destined to fail and then criticizing and benching them for said failure. I was wrong.

Oates’ decision to consistently bury Martin Erat despite his status as one of the team’s top possession players made one of the worst trades of George McPhee’s tenure worse, culminating in a salary dump at the trade deadline.. His insistence on playing Aaron Volpatti, who was quite literally one of the five worst players in the NHL this year in terms of possession, for almost half the season, was inexcusable.

His role in keeping Tom Wilson up with the big club, therefore burning a year of his valuable entry-level contract, was also made worse by the fact that he buried Wilson with bad players and ice time almost every night. This forced Wilson to fight to try and make a name for himself.

His meticulous and obsessive desire to control everything on offense, defense, and in goal – detailed by Katie Carrera in a lengthy post around the end of the season – alienated players. Lastly, as the season came to a close, Oates’ line juggling became a punch line. such as Mikhail Grabovski on the wing, Jay Beagle with Alex Ovechkin, and Dustin Penner on the fourth line made no sense and didn’t put anyone in a position to succeed.

One of Oates’ deputies, Calle Johansson, was also likely directly responsible for this calamitous season as his defensive system and rules are not suited to this roster. The only coach who seemed to have a good year was Blaine Forsythe, as his primary responsibility – the power play – remained great. I’m legitimately starting to wonder if it’s him, not Oates, who deserves credit for turning Ovechkin around.

Washington Capitals Postseason Roundtable Part I: Rate the offense

As we’ve done in year’s past, District Sports Page staff and a couple friends in the industry conducted a roundtable to rate the recently completed Washington Capitals season. Obviously, with the changing of the guard over the weekend, the season was in no was satisfying of satisfactory, and our grades this season really reflect where our contributors to the roundtable sit with regards to the changes necessary to make the Caps true contenders again.

We’ll rate the offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and administration throughout the week.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, beat writer for DSP; J.J. Regan, contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan; Harry Hawkings, RochTheRed.com.

Part I: Rate the offense (with a grade and explanation):

DAVE: C-. Alex Ovechkin had a 51-goal campaign. Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward has career-highs in goals. Jason Chimera had a career-high 27 assists. You’d think by those numbers it was a banner year offensively for the Caps. While scoring goals, especially on the power play, wasn’t necessarily a problem, the Caps struggled all season at 5v5 and with puck possession — and got worse as the year went on.

How much was structure? How much was design? How much was players out of position? How much was on the players themselves? It’s hard to tell. As we go through this exercise, it’s hard to differentiate between struggles on the ice and the direction the players were given off the ice.

Offense starts on the back end, and the Caps defensemen were really handcuffed this season from playing to their individual strengths. John Carlson had some success on the power play and Mike Green had a decent season offensively, but nothing to compare with his back-to-back Norris Trophy finalist seasons — or his paycheck. Dmitry Orlov showed flashes of his puck-carrying talent. But those were the only offensive contributions from the blueline.

Brooks Laich, Martin Erat, Dustin Penner — all invisible. Eric Fehr was pretty good when allowed to contribute. And Marcus Johansson still remains a mystery.

The team shuttled players in and out of the top two lines all season, never finding any chemistry or consistency, while keeping the hard-working third line mostly intact to good results. But with everything else on this team, the sum was not as great at the individual parts.

KATIE: C+. Alex Ovechkin may have scored 51 goals, but Jason Chimera led the team in even strength points, with 36. Chimera also had a career-high 27 assists. That is a great accomplishment for him, and I don’t want to take away from that, but when you consider that the Capitals’ third line of Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward (who also had a career year) produced much of the team’s offense at even strength, you know something is off.

Secondary scoring is great, but you want that in addition to your top lines contributing to the offense. The Capitals simply weren’t able to consistently score at evens and relied too heavily on the power play (as efficient as it was, tied for first in the league with Pittsburgh at 23.4%), which wouldn’t have served them well even if they had made the playoffs anyway.

The Capitals were also a poor puck possession team, which tells you a lot about why they had trouble scoring at even strength — they simply did not have the puck enough. They were consistently outshot, which is one symptom of poor possession.

J.J.: C-.  The Caps were 13th in goals per game this season. That doesn’t sound that bad, but they were also 21st in five-on-five goals. The offense was completely reliant on Alex Ovechkin and the power play. Even if they had made it to the playoffs, they would have struggled to score.

While fans and analysts alike advocate trading Ovechkin, take a minute to think of where this offense would be without him. The Caps did not have a single player besides Ovechkin score 30 goals this season; Brouwer was the closest with 25. Ovechkin and Backstrom both had 79 points on the season. The next highest? Joel Ward with 49.

With all due respect to Brouwer and Ward, they’re not good enough to carry the offense when Ovechkin is on the bench.

SKY: C+.  They were amazing on the power play.  They ended tied for #1 in the NHL at 23.4%.  The problem is, besides the third line, they didn’t play well at even strength.  Alex Ovechkin had 51 goals, 24 came on the power play.  A year ago 16 of his 32 goals came on the power play.  Center depth continues to be an issue, will be interesting to see if Mikhail Grabovski comes back, and Marcus Johansson has been a bust for the most part.

This team needs to improve even strength, I think you move Ovechkin back to LW with the depth on the right side.  They need a 2nd line center if Grabovski leaves and they need to figure out what to do with Marcus Johansson.  Good defense breeds good offense and if the defense improves, the Caps will improve on their even strength play.  That’s where offense begins, it’s all about getting out of your own zone.

HARRY: C+.  The Capitals were sixth in the conference in goals for overall because of their excellent power play, but 12th in the conference in even strength goals for.  In addition, they placed 24th in the NHL in even strength shots for with the score close, at only 27.5 per 60 minutes.  This overreliance on the power play signals a generally poor offensive club.  The Capitals were unable to generate consistent even strength offense for long stretches in games themselves or in general, and a significant portion of their offense – about 43% their goals – came from three players: Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer.

That doesn’t scare anyone.  This team was poor at even strength on offense, and that is not going to cut it.  The power play is great, and it can be a weapon, but you cannot rely on it to win games.  It’s not a recipe for success over a full 82-game season – which is why we saw no playoffs this year despite the team making the postseason last year.

Washington Capitals 2013-14 Preseason Roundtable Part 2

Opening night of the 2013-14 season for the Washington Capitals is finally upon us! With that in mind, the District Sports Page Caps staff and contributors will take a look at several key areas that will affect the Caps season as they get ready to start play in the newly-formed Metropolitan Division.

The first half of our roundtable posted Friday.

Also, for your enjoyment, here are links to out position previews:

Left Wings
Right Wings
Centers
Defensemen
Goalies

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, Caps Staff Writer for DSP; Abram Fox, former Caps Page Editor at DSP, Erika Schnure, RinkRebel.com and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, Caps author and contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.com.


5) Where will Brooks Laich spend the majority of his time this season (wing, center, second line, third line, infirmary, whatever)? [Read more…]

Washington Capitals 2013-14 Preseason Season Roundtable, Part I

Opening night of the 2013-14 season for the Washington Capitals is less than a week away. With that in mind, the District Sports Page Caps staff and contributors will take a look at several key areas that will affect the Caps season as they get ready to start play in the newly-formed Metropolitan Division.

The second half of our roundtable will post Monday.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, Caps Staff Writer for DSP; Abram Fox, former Caps Page Editor at DSP, Erika Schnure, RinkRebel.com and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, Caps author and contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.com. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals End-of-Season Roundtable, Part VII: How would you rate Oates, McPhee and management this season?

With the conclusion of Washington Capitals season, too early yet again, it’s time for appreciation, evaluation and critique. In this seven part series, the Caps staff at District Sports Page, and a few friends, will be taking an in-depth look at what went right, what could be better, suggest some changes and grade out the team position-by-position.

Our panel: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of DSP; Abram Fox, Caps Team Editor of DSP; Katie Brown, Caps Beat Writer for DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, SBNation.com and DSP contributor, Adam Vingan, NBCWashington.com; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.net.

PART I: What was the Capitals’ biggest accomplishment this season?

PART II: What was your biggest disappointment about the Caps this season?

PART III: What single adjustment would you advocate for next season?

PART IV: How would you rate the offense this season?

PART V: How would you rate the defense this season?

PART VI: How would you rate the goalies this season?

PART VII: How would you rate Adam Oates, George McPhee and the Caps management this season?

DAVE: Oates: A. McPhee: D. Adam Oates is one of the smartest hockey guys I’ve been around. From his interaction with players at practice to his thoughtful and thought-provoking answers to the media, it’s apparent this guy eats, sleeps and breathes hockey. He’s an able communicator in a business that doesn’t always promote that concept. It took a while, but once the Caps felt comfortable in his systems, they really took off, rebounding from the miserable start to win the Southeast. He jump-started the power play and inspired the “old” Alex Ovechkin to lead the league in scoring again. Oates was measured with how he used his goalies, leaning on Braden Holtby, and did not panic when things went south at times. I look forward to what Oates can do with a full off-season and training camp.

As for the management, organizationally I felt the Caps were not prepared to start this season with the player personnel they had on hand, almost as if they didn’t expect the lockout to end and actually have to play a season. When Eric Fehr, Wojtek Wolski and Joey Crabb are your big free agent additions at winger, you’re grasping at straws. McPhee pulled the trigger during last summer’s draft to finally acquire a legitimate second line center in impending free agent Mike Ribeiro, but then allowed Alexander Semin to walk via free agency. I have no complaint about that actually, but McPhee did not take the necessary steps to replace Semin’s 25 goals. Rather, the organization hoped that the scoring difference would be made up from within. It didn’t work. Only Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer, amongst wingers, scored more than 10 goals.

At the trade deadline, McPhee traded one of his two top prospects, Filip Forsberg, for veteran winger Martin Erat. In nine games with the Caps, he had three points — and just one goal — then zero in four playoff games before he was injured. There’s some disagreement on what type of player Forsberg might turn out to be, but we know what Erat is, and in two years he’ll be even less of what that is and the Caps are on the hook at $4.5M per declining year.

I’m a big fan of McPhee, but he has some work to do this off-season. The Ribeiro decision could very well shape this franchise for the four years. He needs to find a scoring winger, some toughness, and an able blueliner in the very least. His grade for the past season would have been lower had Oates not worked out so well.

ABRAM: 7/10. Tricky question. Oates performed extremely well this season, given the stresses of the lockout on top of being a new coach. He won a division title, his team won 27 games in a 48 game season, and he finished ninth in the NHL in points despite posting a 3-8-1 record over the first quarter of the season. Management’s season was less of a success. McPhee struck out with the Wojtek Wolski signing and the Aaron Volpatti waiver claim, did alright with the Jack Hillen signing, found a gem when he recalled Steven Olesky, and hit a home run with Mike Ribeiro.

At about 3 p.m. on trade deadline day, McPhee would have been judged for this season based on whether or not he re-signs Ribeiro in the next month. Then GMGM dealt prized prospect Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat, a proven veteran usually good for 20 goals and 50 points a season. Erat flopped posting just one goal and two assists in nine regular season games, and zero points in four playoff games. Truthfully McPhee couldn’t have won the deal unless Erat was a major player in a Stanley Cup run, as Forsberg’s potential would always trump consistency. The Erat trade does reflect uncertainty in Washington’s direction. It’s often unclear if GMGM considers his team a pretender or contender – the Erat trade and Ribeiro signing said contender, the Wolski and Hillen signing said pretender. Washington’s second-half surge says they can be contenders, and McPhee will likely get at least one more offseason to make that a reality.

KATIE: Adam Oates was the reason the Capitals were able to attain any sort of success this season. That’s not to negate any of the talent on the roster whatsoever, but what he was able to do with no training camp, a short season, a terrible start and successfully transition Ovechkin to the right wing as a first-year head coach is nothing short of impressive and is a testament to his ability to cultivate a relationship with his players and articulate his systems to the team.

George McPhee deserves all the props in the world for hiring Oates as head coach, his third in two years. Whereas Dale Hunter’s hiring was merely a stopgap, Oates’ hiring was one designed to be long term. The management did well in that aspect, but when it comes down to taking risks to improve the roster, it is less successful. I admire that McPhee doesn’t make knee jerk reactions to remedy things, but there’s such a thing as having too much confidence in the team you’ve assembled, and not doing enough to improve and upgrade it.

SKY: Oates: B+. Management: D

TED: B-. A mixed grade results from Adam Oates’ performance (A-) and George McPhee’s (C-). While Oates’ experiment to move Ovechkin to the right wing was a success, landing the captain back in Hart voting, McPhee’s lack of having a Top 6 forward hampered the Caps for most of the season. The trade for Erat on paper was expensive and may be something that comes back to haunt Washington.

ADAM: Considering all of the obstacles placed in front of him (a lockout, a truncated training camp, a horrible start), Adam Oates did a fantastic job in his first season as head coach. To borrow some of my own work from earlier this season, Oates provided the steady presence necessary to right what had become a rudderless ship with so much turnover behind the bench.

His even-keeled nature and reliance on positive reinforcement rubbed off on his players and provided them with a low-pressure environment. Of course, Oates also revitalized Alex Ovechkin’s career, which cannot be overstated. All in all, Oates is the coach that this team needs to succeed in the future.

As for management, I’ll get into that later…

HARRY: I give Adam Oates an A this season for what he did to revitalize Ovechkin, which had to be his primary job, as well as what he did to the power play, and the fact that he got the team to the playoffs despite their brutal start.  Sure, he was aided by some luck and some hot shooting at the end, but some of the things that he did really helped the club recover and bode well for their future.  He is an infinitely better coach for this team than Dale Hunter.

I give the management a D-plus.  They made the playoffs, and George McPhee made some good bargain moves to get them there.  All of this would have been okay had the Capitals not made that Erat deal and waited for younger, cheaper, enforcements to bring them to the promised land and not went for it by buying at the deadline.  But I simply can’t condone trading away a top prospect for a winger on the wrong side of 30 in an attempt to “win now” when you don’t come close to winning.  Especially because anyone could see it coming from a mile away.  You have to take this move with a small grain of salt because of the way Mr. Leonsis runs his teams, but it’s still very difficult to see a positive.

Washington Capitals End-of-Season Roundtable, Part VI: How would you rate the goalies?

With the conclusion of Washington Capitals season, too early yet again, it’s time for appreciation, evaluation and critique. In this seven part series, the Caps staff at District Sports Page, and a few friends, will be taking an in-depth look at what went right, what could be better, suggest some changes and grade out the team position-by-position.

Our panel: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of DSP; Abram Fox, Caps Team Editor of DSP; Katie Brown, Caps Beat Writer for DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, SBNation.com and DSP contributor, Adam Vingan, NBCWashington.com; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.net.

PART I: What was the Capitals’ biggest accomplishment this season?

PART II: What was your biggest disappointment about the Caps this season?

PART III: What single adjustment would you advocate for next season?

PART IV: How would you rate the offense this season?

PART V: How would you rate the defense this season?

PART VI: How would you rate the goalies this season? [Read more…]

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