21 April, 2014


Needed: An Oil Change and a New Set of Tires

Too often during the 2009-10 hockey season the Capitals rotated tires with well-worn treads when what they really needed — most especially back on the blueline — was a new set of Pirellis. A pair of Pirelli models named Carlson and Alzner arrived together late — too late (game 7) — to save the sportscar on its arduous journey. This week, bringing us July 1 and NHL free agency, affords general managers their greatest opportunity to tinker under the hood a bit. Mechanic McPhee has some work to do; the good news is he’s driving an elite sportscar.

The 120-pt.-plus Capitals need an oil change and a new set of tires in this inspection season.

It’s the Rangers who need an engine overhaul.

Automotive tinkering in hockey — new lubricant for efficient engine running, newness of tire treads — principally (but not entirely) arrives from the farm garage, I think. George McPhee has already inspected his engine a bit and identified some well-worn parts: Morrisonn/Morrison valves; a Walker spark plug; a Jurcina gasket; a Corvo thermostat; a Theodore muffler.

But there are two important parts George McPhee has to order on special, for they’re not in his garage: a second-line center and a shutdown Dman.

Let’s start with the most difficult part to replace.

Mike Green, methinks, is a hybrid of a blueliner, a designation that by now ought to be accepted and even celebrated by Capitals’ fans. He works well in this sportscar’s engine. He isn’t the type of part you put in the engine of a family sedan, but if you want to motor out on the Autobahn, spend the dough and rev it up. But accelerating as he does, he’s apt to run hot with overuse. He needs an important supporting part. It’s not in the best interest of this sportscar to treat his overuse with Schultz duct tape.

A Hockeys Future respondent ID’d as Atlas recently went a bit beyond the garage metaphor in describing this challenge:

“The problem with Green, IMO is the same as the problem with Semin. BB expected top production from both guys while matching them with subpar NHL players. Green’s interview after the loss to Montreal looks legit to me. He was pissed. He’s a Canadian boy who cares. I’ll take that. But if he’s gonna be the #1 D you’ve got to pair him with a stud defensive player who can pick up his slack a little. Schultz is a pylon. He doesn’t scare Richards, Carter, Malkin, Crosby. Schultz wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s a nice guy and I’d buy him a beer but in the NHL playoffs if he’s in the top defensive pair your team will lose. Pronger is on the other side killing babies and Schultz is baking cookies.”

A little vehicular manslaughter is in order on our roadtrip to glory, this HF poster might posit. I would agree that Chris Pronger is a Pirelli on grade A muscle car. Ready to add Pirelli models Carlson and Alzner on the back of their car this summer, can the Capitals locate a third opposite Green via free agency?

I think so. His name is Anton Volchenkov. He’s perhaps the premiere shotblocking blueliner on the planet (insomuch as he blocks every shot Alexander Ovechkin takes). He also likes to throw his weight around. There are reports that the Captials aren’t the least bit interested in his services. Maybe. But I wonder.

Volchenkov is 28, not in his middle thirties as were Michael Nylander or Brendan Morrison or Mike Knuble when they were acquired via free agency. While virtually universally regarded as the premiere UFA blueliner available this summer, Volchenkov’s not expected to command anything close to a Pronger salary or term. Given the Capitals’ glaring need at the top of their blueline, given the relatively little wear on Volchenkov’s tires, were the Capitals not to pursue him, whom exactly would they ever go after in free agency?

I also wonder this: just as George McPhee has acknowledged that he has an ace card to play with premiere Russian talent at every Entry Draft, could it not also be the case that he’d have one with premiere Russian UFAs? Could it not be the case that he could — were he interested — lure someone like Volchenkov to D.C. without necessarily ponying up the market’s best contract? I wonder.

It’s unfair to Jeff Schultz to place him again in the role demanded of him last season. He is serviceable rather than shutdown. He could excel in a more modest role on the Capitals’ blueline. He’s a spare tire of sorts.

A second-line center is another glaring part needed for a longer, safer roadtrip next postseason. In the unrestricted free agency market this summer, however, that candidate part isn’t nearly so identifiable. It’s highly likely that the Capitals have this player in their development pipeline (Mathieu Perreault; Evgeny Kuznetsov; perhaps Marcus Johansson), however in the here and now that part must be ordered.

A trade with another auto shop manager is probably required.

And in changing out his engine’s oil Mechanic McPhee likely has all the grades he needs in his Hershey garage. I’m not sure Andrew Gordon has any more to prove as a Bear. He’s a terrific skater and he uses his speed to deliver hard and bruising thumps. The Caps could use a little more thumping in their lineup. And speaking of bruising thumping, I’d really like to see Steve Pinizzotto given a real long look at fall camp. The road ahead is bumpy indeed; it’s good to have reliable shock absorbers.



9 Comments

  1. Hittman wrote:

    I predict 1) GMGM addresses the Center position with a player much like Morrison who will basically be on the bench come the playoffs, and 2) any addition to D will be a guy no one has ever heard of outside of psycho hockey fan circles. With Carlson, Alzner, Poti, Green, Schultz, Jurcina (still alive?), Erskine, Sloan and like 12 Hershey dudes in the wings (most of whom are not NHL quality), GMGM would have to trade away some dead wood just to make roster room for a D man. Then there’s that pesky salary cap. Caps have 14 mil to play with, but several raises (Schultz) and qualifying offers to dole out (Fehr, Flash, Bourque, Gordon(s)).

    We shall see what the cold blooded GMGM conjures in his cauldron.

    29 June, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink
  2. muddapucker wrote:

    For what its worth… I would like to see Garnet Exelby, UFA, on the Caps next year. For one reason and one reason only, he’s one tough SOB. He may not be the best defensive defenseman and we know his offense is virtually non existent, but he brings what the Caps lack… someone on the blueline that the opponent’s offense has to worry about because he plays a physical game.

    29 June, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  3. And then there’s Mike Modano suddenly available. Some wear on those tires to be sure. And yet . . . I wonder if GMGM sees any ’08 Federov in his game today?

    29 June, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink
  4. Scott wrote:

    I wish we could afford Volchenkov, but he apparently wants 5 mil a year. With 14 mil to play with and over 7 players that need signing, we can’t devote more than a third of that to one player. Also, Japers’ Rink had an excellent article on why Volchenkov is not necessarily the answer to our problems. He plays with Phillips, one of the best technical and positional D-men in the game. Phillips is underrated because of the attention the A-Train gets, but Volchenkov actually cheats and leaves his position to take away an angle very often. Phillips is almost always in position, so it’s not as noticeable when Volchenkov isn’t. If you pair him with Green, who cheats and moves up on offense with reckless abandon, that may hurt more than it would help. 5 million a year for a player who might not be the right answer is not a good price. If we could get him for 3.5 a year, that’s a different story. I think Michalek would be a good choice, he’s cheaper than Volchenkov so it’s not as huge an investment into one player.

    29 June, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  5. Hittman wrote:

    P&B: I thought the same thing. Would Modano be a good addition or a waste of time? I’m not sure he has anything left in the tank.

    29 June, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  6. xke4me wrote:

    GMGM – My 50th is on Monday – how about an early birthday present of a matching set of fearsome D-men? Alzner and Carlson still need some more aging in my book. I’m hoping that Varly is ready next year – isn’t much in the way of goalies out there.

    29 June, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink
  7. Geo wrote:

    I want a shutdown, crease-clearing, blocking, crushing-check, D-man as much as the next Caps fan but *nothing* in what BB and GMGM have said, or done in the draft, suggests they’re enamored of anything but more “puck moving defensemen.”

    They just keep saying “we only lost to Montreal because Halak stood on his head.” ShaoMo was clearly overpriced but there were times he seemed like the only D-man willing to hit ANYbody last season.

    Everything suggests they just don’t think classical “shut down” D-men have a role to play in their lineup, which is a crying shame imho.

    29 June, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  8. Got Stanley? wrote:

    Don’t be stupid, man. We can’t afford Volchenkov. $4.5 million under the cap or thereabouts? Volchenkov made $3.5 last year and is looking for $5, and we still need to provide for injury call-up room and space to pay the guys who can and might go to arbitration (Fehr, Flash, Schultz are all eligible for arbitration and had good years last year).

    If you’re looking for a D-man of that stripe, how about Willie Mitchell? He’s going to come rather cheaper and you don’t play minutes in Vancouver if you don’t play with some snarl.

    Garnet Exelby? Don’t make me laugh. You call Schultz a pylon? Exelby’s a brick! Exelby would be in the back of the play all right – lost at the defensive blueline wondering where everybody went!

    Something else to consider: you might get a better deal for what you are looking for midseason than in free agency. I’m not against seeing what Matty or Mackan have got before looking to the outside.

    30 June, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink
  9. Andy wrote:

    The more I think about the options at center, the more I’m interested in taking a run at Lombardi. Could be an interesting, reasonably priced (one would hope) option.

    As far as D, Michalek could be a bargain.

    30 June, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink