24 April, 2014


Hitting the Reset Button

Cup'pa JoeI commend to your attention the most recent fit of gutsy thoughtfulness from my blogger buddy Ed Frankovic, who with commendable clarity of consideration arrives at this sobering recommendation as it relates to the handling of the Capitals roster here in late March: tear it down, and quite a bit.

He’s right.

If you’re a regular reader here you’ve long known where I stand with this organization relative to its present configuration. When the Grand Plan was unveiled at the dawning of the Era of Ovechkin I bought in, and redded-up with everyone else for a fair portion of the past decade. But I began noticing grave trouble signs a couple of years back — Jose Theodore; Brinks truck for Sarge;  passing on Gill and Guerin; turning up our nose at free agent Willie Mitchell; hodge-podge offseason roster construction — and striving to be a commentator of integrity, I had to call out malfeasance where I saw it.

The Capitals this morning are very much on the outside looking in at postseason participation, and that’s neither accidental nor a natural inevitability. It’s the byproduct of how they’ve been assembled — over some years. I pilloried the organization for signing Theodore smack at the height of Alexander Ovechkin’s prodigious dominance, suggesting that no NHL club could be taken Cup-serious so back-stopped. I was right. I railed against Jeff Schultz skating in a top defensive pairing with Mike Green on 100-point Capitals clubs. Coach Hunter healthy scratched him a fair bit last season, and the Capitals have looked best in this shortened season when Adam Oates and his staff have also sat Sarge. The team is faster and more physical without him. There is today a vision for a productive and reasonably physical Capitals blueline in seasons immediately ahead, and Jeff Schultz isn’t a part of it. Still, seasons — and millions — have been wasted learning this lesson.

Bluelines matter.

Capitals management, in sustained spasms of unconscionable hubris, have long believed that a few good millionaire forwards, lavishly marketed, could be coached by just about anyone, surrounded by roster riff-raff, still win the beleaguered Southeast, secure a 3 seed in the East, and perhaps ride a hot young goalie to glory. Turns out, pro hockey today largely remains like pro hockey when your father watched it: You better be built well from the goal on out, you better be able to send a burly/bastard blueliner over the boards to protect a one-goal lead late, and yes it matters who skates in your top six forward ranks.

It was in recent seasons second line center by underwhelming committee here. Finally, and perhaps too belatedly, the Caps landed one in Mike Ribeiro. But by virtue of disadvantageous cap management, and the fortuitous free-fall of Filip Forsberg at last June’s entry draft, the Caps this season needed/could afford only a Band-Aid pivot on the second line. Ribeiro has been the Capitals’ MVP of 2013, and he’d surely help them significantly again next season. But he’s a 33-year-old UFA come summer, and for his contract year success it’s just and proper that he seek a term and compensation the Capitals can’t match. Early this spring Mike Ribeiro is an asset that has to be properly managed, in a way that Alexander Semin and Dennis Wideman last spring were not.

Here’s how Frankovic assesses the moment:

“[I]f you can get a number one draft pick or more this year for Ribeiro, then you should deal him. Sure you will definitely miss the playoffs but you also now have two first round picks and could package them to possibly move up to number one, two, or three and get one of Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, or Jonathan Drouin. Jones, according to my sources, is the best player in the draft and NHL ready now. He very likely will be a number one defensemen on a team in the NHL in a couple of years. He’s a team changer. Snag him and you suddenly have options to possibly move some of your other defensemen, like Mike Green . . .”

Immediately ahead of us we *do not* have a stellar entry draft. Instead, it’s seriously top-heavy. If the Caps over the course of the next 100 hours or so sagely deal their top performer, and if they standings plummet a bit and comfortably miss the playoffs, Frankovic’s right, the resources likely are in place to secure that which has so badly eluded them the past 10-plus years: the franchise rearguard. Reinforcements up front seem secured on the near horizon.

The Caps can of course hold onto Ribeiro, standings-lodge themselves ahead of two or three of their Southeast brethren at season’s end, likely miss the postseason, and ensure themselves of missing out on a difference-maker in the draft. Or, they could move Ribeiro — likely for a late no. 1-plus — and position themselves to right their wayward charter in short order. Help, from overseas, but also from Plymouth, is on the way. Asset management, and a little luck with the lottery ping pong ball come June, can right a lot of roster wrongs for the Capitals in short order.

Season ticket holders of course won’t be happy with meaning-less April puck. To them I’d direct these queries: Have you seen the Blackhawks and Penguins play this winter? What exactly are your delusions of grandeur this spring for this team? Our team has auditioned Joey Crabb, Wojtek Wolski, and Marcus Johansson on the first line this season; think we have any business being in the rink against the rosters assembled by names Bowman and Shero?

Instead, I, like Frankovic, say hit the reset button. Capitals management shouldn’t be absolved from putting this underwhelming product together, (and charging a king’s ransom to watch it), but the opportunity exists to rectify it in short order.



8 Comments

  1. HockeyCoachBen wrote:

    I posted this on the message boards at the beginning of the season…would love to hear your thoughts, Pucks…

    There’s an old hockey adage that says when building a team, your depth chart for D should look something like this…
    #1 – Defensive defenseman – Stalwart. Stay at home D. Tough as nails. Hard to play against. That’s not to say he can’t contribute on offense, have a killer shot, etc. but his primary job is his own end.

    #2 – Hybrid D with Offensive Potential (3/4 defense)(1/4 Offense) – Someone who compliments your #1 well. Someone who will eat minutes and be a rock but can also lead the breakout and move the puck up ice. Mentally tough, smart “professor” on the ice.

    #3 – Solid 2-Way D (1/2 defense)(1/2 offense) – More well rounded player who can handle his own in his zone but is also known to contribute often in the offensive zone as well.

    #4 – Variable Defenseman depending on team systems – If your team is a trapping, defensive team, you throw in another defensive defenseman here. If your team is more up-tempo, offensively free team, you can throw in a more wide-open D, someone who can take chances and put up points for your team.

    #5 – Variable Defenseman depending on team systems – If you team is a trapping, defensive team, you throw in another defensive defenseman here. If your team is more up-tempo, offensively free team, you can throw in a more wide-open D, someone who can take chances and put up points for your team.

    #6 – Role Playing D – some teams want a fighter here, some want a penalty killing specialist, some want the 3rd or 4th power play point man. Basically, this is the clean-up guy. He’s filling in minutes 5-on-5 while the top guys rest and picking up special team assignments as needed.

    Your #1 & #2 are your top pair and should be matched against the opposing team’s top forwards. You can’t stop the opposing team’s best players if your mental focus is more on scoring goals than stopping them. Simple.

    While this “depth-chart” doesn’t work for every team out there, it is a solid base to work from. It seems to me, when your #1 was contending a few years ago with some teams’ top forwards in the scoring race, you likely have problems in your defensive zone. Don’t get me wrong, its nice to have a D that can act like a forward. But, that guy is at best in the 3 spot and more likely 4 or 5 on your roster getting middle of the road minutes…not 25-30 every night!

    29 March, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink
  2. It’s a thought-provoking postulation, and I generally think adhering to it can do roster assembly a lot of good. I’d be somewhat less prescriptive after the first pairing, and generally suggest you’re looking for two-way ability, solid mobility, and a dash of Old Time Hockey ethos. In short: load up with the likes of Sylvain Cote/Ken Klee. Overall, *be tough* to play against.

    When I talk to writers about the “sudden” turnaround of the Habs, all I reference is the triangle they’ve formed at the back end: Price, Subban, Markov. Now they’ve added another big body with skill and vinegar — Jarred Tinordi. Three of those four pieces drafted. Markov fades out in the next couple of years or so and Tinordi slots right in. The rest of the East is looking at that for the next decade. Have fun. And understand: there isn’t a single “superstar” up front in Montreal. But their puck skills are dazzling, they are damned fun to watch. I envy.

    29 March, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  3. gs12 wrote:

    I guess i look at it differently. The Caps have sorely needed a 2C for a very long time, we finally have a very good one. There is NO guarantee we are going to get a top 3 pick, and even if we did, how do we know they will pan out? I would rather see the Caps keep Ribs, and try to add depth on the blueline at the draft. This team has the talent, it’s the effort that is always in question to me. WHEN they play well, they are still a force. Ask Boston/Rags/Jets.

    29 March, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  4. David Wolf wrote:

    The Pens are really making moves. 14 row and chasing the record of 17. Now, they go out and get Murray, Morrow, and then they add Jarome Iginla, who hand picked the Pens over Boston. Neil, Malkin, Crosby, Kunitz, Dupis, Letang, and Iginla. Caps also traded Vokoun who had a shutout the other night to record 50 career shutouts. Vokun even registered an assist against the Jets on a shorthandled goal. Everyone has offensive points….it is scary.

    29 March, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink
  5. morgan wrote:

    This article is spot on BUT, remember, we are dealing with GMGM here and as long as he is around the excellent advice will be ignored. GMGM has total control on personnel matters. In fact when Bruce was here he complained to friends he had no imput in personnel decisions. In fact he learned of a Cap’s trade from the media. Bet Oates doesn’t have a say in personnel decision. As I said, the joker in the deck is GMGM and it is too bad he didn’t serve his apprentership under a Shero instead of Brian Burke. Another mystery to me is why Ted has kept him this long. I think we will see the trade deadline pass as the Caps try to squeeze into the playoffs to give Ted two more sellouts. And we will see Riberio walk ala Semin and Widemen with no return fro the Caps except pious excuses from Cap management. I hope I’m wrong but I’m not holding my breathe.

    Good article P & B, keep up the good work.

    29 March, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Permalink
  6. HockeyCoachBen wrote:

    Pucks – dead on. You’re much more eloquent than me in how you describe it…but that’s why you are writer and I am “commenter”.

    In my top pair, I was thinking more along the lines of the historical top D-men in Washington…Stevens and Langway. Could handle their own on offense, had very good shots but you didn’t jack around with them in the defensive zone…or the neutral zone for that matter!

    I don’t see that on today’s roster!

    The other thing I’ll say is leave you with a bit of a conversation that I had with Locker earlier in the hockey (non-NHL) season…”Benny, if I’m building a defense, I walk into the locker room at training camp, pick the 6 ugliest guys and that’s my line-up. Pretty is for forwards, you want a D that scares zombies they’re so ugly and beat up. Some teams’ guys are too pretty with their pretty hair and modeling careers. (wink, wink)”

    Hard to argue with that, even if I wasn’t laughing so hard!

    30 March, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  7. Todd wrote:

    “…you also now have two first round picks and could package them to possibly move up to number one, two, or three and get one of Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, or Jonathan Drouin.”

    So, say you’re Buffalo, and you have the number 3 pick. Would you trade it to the Caps for the numbers, say, 8 and 18 picks? No. You wouldn’t. You’d demand those two plus, probably, Kuznetsov.

    Or, flip it. If you’re the Caps, do you give up the number 2 (for example) pick for the numbers 10 and 16 picks? Not likely.

    So, how much is it worth to get one of the top three picks and how much are you willing to give up?

    Nice thought, but not likely.

    2 April, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink
  8. Michael wrote:

    They say – buy low, sell high.
    It doesn’t only mean – sell Ribeiro high.
    It actually could mean – buy SC chances at the lowest possible price and resign contracts low.
    Nobody expects Caps to succeed this time. That’s good :-)

    3 April, 2013 at 4:56 am | Permalink