Preparing for a Caps First Round Exit

These playoffs hit differently. Obviously. But as a Caps fan, I didn’t have big expectations for them. There didn’t seem to be too much buzz coming from their camp, this is a team that’s family oriented, and there wasn’t the jump in their game it seemed.

When their round-robin games happened, people were lamenting the reason for a slow start was because the team needed more games in a time-frame so they can get a rhythm. Well, now they’re down 0-3 to a hungry team with plenty to prove to the conference. You can see how the Caps have gotten outworked in in their series and you have to tip your hat to the Islanders– they’re buying into Barry Trotz’s message and it’s paying off. Same way it did with the Caps in 2018.

At the start, I didn’t want to say that the Caps saw these playoffs as an obligation to play, but it does feel a little that way. Five months off for an older team to have however many games with them away from their family is not the most ideal situation in these trying times. Every team and every player has to go through it, but there’s something about the Caps when looking at their games that seems off and seems like they’re going through the motions in this.

This isn’t supposed to be a team where John Carlson gets completely beat on a wide-angle carry-in, leading to an OT goal. This isn’t supposed to be a team where Alex Ovechkin had five games until his first two goals and then really hasn’t been all that noticeable. This isn’t supposed to be a team where the depth of the team has gone completely silent. Tom Wilson had a good game Sunday, but guys like Jakub Vrana hasn’t been great, Michal Kempny got sat, and other have just been there.

You can chalk that up to the Islanders style of play, sure– but usually teams would adjust to that, whether it’s coach’s orders or not.

Which brings us to Todd Reirden showing that the student still is not able to best the master. Ted Starkey had a great note on the Caps coaches saying that head coaches who haven’t been able to advance out of the first round in two seasons didn’t make it to a third. I’m sure Brian McLellan won’t can Reirden just yet, given the circumstances of the playoffs, but we’re on short-leash watch for next season.

Is Reirden a bad head coach?? It sure looks like it. It’s kind of hard to believe the Caps low-balled their Cup winning head coach just because they signed this assistant out of Pittsburgh to a lower deal and thought he was ready for the bench. With Trotz’s troops– Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn– leaving as well, you almost wonder what could have been if they give him closer to what he wanted rather than being about $3.5M apart on a deal.

That all said, I can’t take away credit from the Islanders this series. They’ve played a great team game, they’ve been physical, they’ve worn down the Caps, and they seem to have much more of a jump in their step than the Caps have all series. They’ve done most everything right as much as the Caps have one most everything wrong. While it might not be a sweep and the Captain says they have nothing to lose, you almost feel like this first round ouster is all but official. So it goes.

NHL Playoffs 2019: Round Two

Photo via the NHL Media Website

All the top seeds are out. The NHL scurried to get a “Second Chance” bracket thing to make people more engaged. Here’s my picks after going two for eight in the first round….so bet against me.

BOSTON vs. COLUMBUS
Prediction: Boston in 7
Reason: The long layoff will help Columbus, while the old guard will hinder Boston to start. The Bruins may get another life in the middle of the series, especially if Brad Marchand can keep his pace up, while also hoping Patrice Bergeron can find some scoring touch and Zdeno Chara can not break. The Blue Jackets are driven and it’s interesting to see what John Tortorella does to keep his team rolling, but I think the Bruins could be a bit much for them.

NY ISLANDERS vs. CAROLINA
Prediction: Islanders in 6
Reason: Another team with a long layoff, but it could help the Islanders focus more and be able to breakdown what the Canes did to beat the Caps, especially with Barry Trotz at the helm. Robin Lehner needs to have a repeat of the first round, while the Canes will need to find an extra gear in their quick turnaround. This will be the series with the worst ice conditions, though.

DALLAS vs. ST. LOUIS
Prediction: Dallas in 5
Reason: Much like Johan Hedberg before him, the rookie sensation that is Jordan Binnington is primed for a falling and with the Stars looking like world beaters and a healthy Ben Bishop in net, it could be quick work for the Stars moving forward.

SAN JOSE vs. COLORADO
Prediction: Colorado in 6
Reason: As great as the comeback of the Sharks were, you could see there were cracks. With that, it just gives more time for Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and the crew to rest. Though it’ll come down to which Martin Jones shows up for the Sharks and if Philipp Grubauer can keep it going for Colorado.

NHL Playoffs 2019: Round One

Since no one asked– here’s my picks and a reason.

TAMPA BAY vs. COLUMBUS
Prediction: Tampa in 5
Reason: As much as I may no believe in the Lightning down the stretch, the Blue Jackets were too hot going into the playoffs to have much left in the tank. Also, Nikita Kucherov will most likely continue to step-up his game in the second season.

BOSTON vs. TORONTO
Prediction: Boston in 6
Reason: We’ve seen this song before and Toronto isn’t that great against Boston in the playoffs. Goaltending is a disaster for the Leafs, while their defense isn’t much better.

WASHINGTON vs. CAROLINA
Prediction: Washington in 6
Reason: Give the Jerks credit, they clawed back to get in this spot. However, the Caps seem to enjoy feasting on the Canes in life. Plus, the Caps want to get back to the Promised Land to hoist the Cup again, so they’ll do whatever it takes to win it again

NY ISLANDERS vs. PITTSBURGH
Prediction: Penguins in 6
Reason: As much as I want to believe in Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss; Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and a somewhat healthy Evgeni Malkin trump that. Only hope is Matt Murray stinking up the joint

CALGARY vs. COLORADO
Prediction: Calgary in 6
Reason: Goaltending aside, the Flames won the Western Conference for a reason. Especially with Mikko Rantanen just coming back from injury– who knows how effective he will be. Though, some pressure may be on Johnny Gaudreau and friends to make an unexpected run.

SAN JOSE vs. VEGAS
Prediction: Vegas in 5
Reason: Playoffs is about defense and as much as the Sharks have Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson to add some punch offensively, Martin Jones hasn’t been great. The Knights enjoyed a nice taste last year and probably want to make people know it wasn’t a fluke.

WINNIPEG vs. ST. LOUIS
Prediction: St. Louis in 7
Reason: I don’t know why, but the Blues could be a sleeper team to make some noise. They weren’t even supposed to be here, but Jordan Binnington decided that he’d show Jake Allen how to play in net. They’ll be a tough out with JB in net.

NASHVILLE vs. DALLAS
Prediction: Nashville in 6
Reason: With the window for the Preds and all their talent, it could be the perfect time for them to run wild in the West. They probably still feel the sting of the lost to Winnipeg and want to make a statement run at the Cup this year.

2018-19 Preview….Kind Of: Eastern Conference Edition

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Okay– time to shake the dust off this thing and get into some NHL previewing. We’ve got 31 teams in four divisions, so the only way to do this right is to do it as half-assed as ever. If you’ve been following me for the last 17 years of writing– you know it’s the only way to go.

First, the Metropolitan Division; the division with the worst name, but boasting the last three Stanley Cup Champions. The Washington Capitals kept the band together, save for Philipp Grubauer. Other than that– the big concern here is the short off-season (which has been seen with the lack of Devante Smith-Pelly), but the hunger to keep the winning going could fuel this team. Alex Ovechkin is back in the best shape of his life part 2, while the rest of the team– despite a subpar preseason– will be looking to keep the good vibes going into this season.

It won’t be easy– the Penguins will want to get some revenge on the Caps since they won the Cup and rekindled a bit of the rivalry. With a longer time to rest, you can bet Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel will be ready– but will Matt Murray be durable or not?? The Columbus Blue Jackets will want revenge on the Caps, but their house is a mess with both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky really not having a great off-season and signalling their tenure in C-bus may be soon over.

The New York/New Jersey area is full of “The hell??” vibes, especially with the Rangers retooling rather than rebuilding, the Islanders losing John Tavares, but gaining Lou Lamoriello, and the Devils being the best team out of the three since they made the playoffs last year. The Rangers will go as far as Henrik Lundqvist takes them, the Devils will have to rely heavily on Taylor Hall to keep his MVP form, while the Islanders will be…something. They at least have Barry Trotz and a whole slew of….oh, right they sent a lot of their prospects back to Bridgeport. Oh boy.

That leaves Philadelphia and Carolina. The biggest thing for the Flyers this offseason was the introduction of Gritty the Mascot. While James van Riemsdyk is back, that’s not really getting the juices flowing when you don’t know who will end up as your goalie by the Thanksgiving break. The Hurricanes have a revamped everything– new owner, GM, coaches…it’s a new team….minus the same Scott Darling, the same lack of depth scoring, the lack of stable defense. Maybe Dougie Hamilton can change that, but maybe not. A near-perfect preseason gives them some momentum…as much as you can with preseason results.


When you think of the Atlantic Division, you think of two tire-fires and a team who is planning the parade route thanks to a single signing of a local player. First, the Maple Leafs, who have already been given the Stanley Cup by their fans and some pundits due to the John Tavares signing….totally forgetting their defense is suspect at best and Freddy Andersen can only do so much with that suspect defense in front of him. But– it’s Toronto, so hype is always around.

The other Canadian teams in the division are just plain garbage. Ottawa is just bad news all around thanks to the Erik Karlsson deal– which sealed the summer of drama for the team– on top of Eugene Melnyk not getting out of his own way. Montreal, however, traded their captain and a young forward while also naming a guy who has been more injured than not during his Canadiens tenure the captain of the team. Wonder if Carey Price is regretting signing long-term or if he’s just getting his money and not caring about the outcome.

Looking around, the Buffalo Sabres are poised for either a break out year or another disappointing season looking towards the lottery. Rasmus Dahlin aside, the attitude of Jack Eichel seems to be about winning now, Carter Hutton could be a breakout start in a starters role, the the Sabres could just decided to say the hell with it and go balls to the wall in order to win. That or they’ll have to deal with a lot of injuries and then get frustrated and fold up into a shell again.

While Tampa Bay didn’t lose too many big names, the loss of Steve Yzerman could very well hurt in the long-run. Though, Julien BriseBois has been under Yzerman’s learning tree, the moves that Yzerman were able to get may just be the respect factor of the man who is revered in the hockey world. Yet, a team that was one win away from the Cup Final shouldn’t have to do much more than they did, especially in a weak division.

People sleep on Boston a little too much, especially when you think they have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on their offensive side. Tuukka Rask is due for a bounce-back year, though the defense will rely heavily on Charlie McAvoy, especially with Torey Krug out for the start of the season. It will be scoring by committee after the first line in Boston, but Bruce Cassidy seems like he can holster all the firepower he can in order to get this team back to the playoffs.

Florida and Detroit are also in this division. The Panthers keep getting closer and closer then further away, while the Red Wings could be in the midst of a long playoff drought in their new building. Of the two, MAYBE the Panthers could come close to being in the Wild Card discussion, but it’s a very long-shot at that.

Summer Reading: Barracuda Nostalgia Sparks Idea For Other Retro Nights

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With the announcement of the San Jose Barracuda having jersey/theme nights to honor the affiliates of the San Jose Sharks past, it made me wonder if more teams should go and do it. Nostalgia is a helluva selling point for people, both in-arena and online. A gimmick like this creates a lot of buzz and could move a lot of tickets and a lot of merchandise to help out a team.

On the flip side, it’s a bit morbid. It’s a showing of failed teams, possibly failed markets, and while it’s nice– could rub some people the wrong way if they are bitter enough about losing their team.

Regardless of that, however, and regardless if you asked my opinion or not– but here’s some teams who I’d enjoy seeing honor their old affiliates. Of course, my top pick would be the Capitals to show off the old Richmond Robins, Baltimore Skipjacks, and Portland Pirates jerseys….but a team like the Hershey Bears wouldn’t give up their tradition to honor someone else’s– especially since they have outlasted those teams.

So– in no particular order:

ANAHEIM DUCKS: First in the alphabet, first one on this list. The Ducks have had some great affiliates– the short-lived Baltimore Bandits and Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, but they weaved their way through some solidly established teams, like the Syracuse Crunch and Norfolk Admirals. However, if there’s one team I want to see again, it’s the Iowa Chops. One season wasn’t enough and if the San Diego Gulls wanted to move merch, that’s the way to do it. Of course, the Gulls are at the top of attendance and probably merch, so they don’t need that big of a boost.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: While the Bridgeport Sound Tigers are the longest affiliate the Islanders have had, the stops they’ve had along the way has been great and aesthetically amazing. The Thoroughblades are represented again (as seen above), but also the gaudy Salt Lake Golden Eagles jerseys, the early Lowell Lock Monsters jerseys, and the Utah Grizzlies‘ jerseys with a giant shoulder patch would really steer the memories, especially from the IHL fans.

CAROLINA HURRICANES: Including the Charlotte Checkers, the Hurricanes have only had five affiliates– but what affiliates they have been. The Beast of New Haven could have the worst logo of all time, the Cincinnati Cyclones, Lowell Lock Monsters, and Albany River Rats add to the memorable logos of affiliates past for the Hurricanes.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: What’s not to like about the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as the Muskegon Lumberjacks, the Baltimore Skipjacks, or the Broome Dusters….jacks. While the motif is pretty much the same in the black and gold, the older logos would be solid in a modern setting.

MINNESOTA WILD: While the Iowa Wild is the third of the AAA-affiliates for the Wild, the Houston Aeros look would be nice– but why not add some ECHL flavor?? The Louisiana IceGators looks would be solid, same with the Texas Wildcatters, Mississippi Sea Wolves, and Johnstown Chiefs; though it seems like a better option for the Allen Americans to do with their new ECHL affiliation with the Wild.

There’s plenty to go around. Minor league teams change like the tide, though thanks to teams owning their affiliates and markets being very solid in the industry– that’s slowed down a bit. Maybe there’s entire weekends that could be “Turn Back the Clock” weekends to bring back a little retro flavor and put some much needed attention onto the minor leagues. Anything in the name of a good gimmick.

Summer Reading: Iginla’s Retirement and Player/Fan Loyalty Relations

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With the announcement of Jarome Iginla retiring in Calgary, it allows Flames fans to truly celebrate the man who pretty much was the face of the franchise (and some could argue the face of the NHL at the time) throughout the 2000s. He was the player and leader everyone wanted on the ice, as well as an ambassador and community leader off the ice. Having lived in Calgary during that time, Iginla was The Man for the team and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone to say a bad word about him in the area.

At the time that Jarome Iginla was traded away….the fans were ready. Not because they wanted to lose their franchise player, not because they wanted to rebuild– but they wanted what was best for a guy who gave his all and more for that team. He had a no-movement clause that he didn’t have to lift, but with the rebuild under Jay Feaster not going as planned, they moved him to help the rebuild and to help Iginla get a better shot at a Stanley Cup.

Iginla didn’t get his Cup with the Pens or other teams he went to, the prospects back from the Penguins in that 2013 trade didn’t help at any point in the rebuild for the Flames, and we’re all none-the-wiser to this whole deal working out for either side.

But in the end, there wasn’t a big uproar from Flames fans of Iginla wanting to move on and win. They were resigned to the fact that the Flames weren’t going to be the best place for Iginla to get a Cup win, and they didn’t see like it was a big slap in the face for their top guy to want out.

While you could link this to some of the happenings in the John Tavares situation with Islanders fans– you could almost say that the Iginla situation was worse because it was the middle of the season, he had the chance to stay with his no-movement; but he wanted to go elsewhere and fans loved him enough as a player and a man to let him go because they didn’t need to be owed anything else. Whereas the reaction of some Islanders fans makes it seems like a free agent picking their spot is the most traitorous thing to happen in the sports landscape.

Granted, you could say that a small few idiots ruin the other Islanders fans who have been a bit more respectable in the situation, but fan is short for fanatical; thus leading to the crazies leading the asylum.

Is there such a thing as loyalty anymore though?? Sure, a long-term contract to a team could be a kind of loyalty, but is there someone out there like a Jarome Iginla who can punch his own ticket as he sees fit?? Is there someone out there who is given the blessing of the fan base (like they needed it) to move along and not get ridiculed for it??

I’m sure there’s people who would be given a pass if they haven’t won a Cup despite being stellar with their individual numbers– like a Steven Stamkos or PK Subban– if they haven’t won it yet. But by and large, there’s not a lot of people who would get a big pass after years with one team if they haven’t won a title with the team they’ve been at for so long. Fans feel like they’re owed something– which could be partially true in their own minds, but isn’t the reality of the situation.

Players don’t owe fans anything in loyalty because most the times fans will rip on the player if they have a couple of down years– like when many Caps pundits and fans wondered if it would be better to trade Alex Ovechkin away. Loyalty is only as good as the last season’s results and the attitude of the fan base when it comes to the reality of their own team and the franchise player who may deserve more. They don’t owe fans the prime of their career for some arbitrary loyalty clause because they stuck it out so long with a middling team, they shouldn’t want to leave now– especially with a no movement clause.

Flames fans realized that with Iginla and though it didn’t work out– they knew what his goals were and they knew their team didn’t have what they could give him as far as results. That should be taken into account the next time a franchise player gets dealt or signs elsewhere– take a step back and look at the reality. If you feel wronged– that fine, but that’s the business of sports.

TEPID TAKE: 2018 NHL Free Agency Edition

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The first day of open market in the NHL pretty much brought us everyone waiting for John Tavares to finally decide where he was going. The other signings meant nothing until he signed– it was all about JT today.

-So, JT did sign with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs– making their fanbase even more insufferable when it comes to players who were born in the GTA coming to their Cup-drought filled team. Good on JT for making this decision, though– to walk into the lion’s den freely to achieve a goal to play in your hometown. It’s a comfort for him…for now. Ultimately– he makes the Leafs that much better despite the lack of defense for now.  Maybe this will take some of the pressure of Auston Matthews of being the first-line center and perhaps help him get out of whatever doghouse Mike Babcock has Matthews in.

-When it comes to Islanders fans, though, it’s natural to feel pissed at this– especially with JT dragging this process on and really making people wait. The problem is that JT doesn’t owe the fans anything and you should really be mad at the dysfunction in the front office for years rather than the player who wanted to play on a contender. The legacy Garth Snow left is being barely mediocre while not really getting Tavares the support he needed. With Lou Lamoriello being at the helm, we’ll see if he’ll build around Mat Barzal or some other wacky stuff to keep the Islanders middling for years to come.

-The move I liked the least had to be Petr Mrazek going to Carolina. We all are aware that the Scott Darling project hasn’t worked out after the first year, but to get a guy who will be a challenger to Darling’s starting spot could go one of two ways– really good by pushing him and making him better or really bad by having two goalies too tense to make a mistake that their nerves get shot. With two goalies who are better off as a back-up coming in to start a string of games rather than be a starter– the Canes are playing with fire in hopes this will really work out this time.

-Bruce Boudreau really loves former Capitals and grit guys that the Wild signed a lot of them. Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, JT Brown, and Greg Pateryn are joining Minnesota for the next season. For what reason….character?? I really don’t know what these moves are about, but if grit is the one thing the Wild thing was missing– then they are sure to get further now.

-Most people hate the Jack Johnson deal. I think the tenure of the deal is what gets me, but overall– it’s not HORRIBLY BAD. Especially in Pittsburgh, Johnson could get back into the groove of things with his boy Sidney Crosby around and Mike Sullivan working him until turns it around in a big way. It could turn out to be a very big value deal if Johnson can actually get his game back.

-Speaking of tenure deals I don’t like– Jay Beagle to Vancouver. I’m glad Beagle got paid somewhere. He was a folk-hero in Washington for years, but he couldn’t have been expecting that money in DC. Four years for Beagle at $12M is something I shook my head at for Vancouver. Good on Beagle to get his money, Jim Benning better hope it pans out for the team and gets them closer to another level.

-One of the busiest teams was the Dallas Stars. They picked up Anton Khudobin, Blake Comeau, Roman Polak, and Val Nichushkin. A decent amount of depth there– Khudobin hoping not to be another in the junkyard that is goalies of Stars past, while Nichushkin comes back after a two-season hiatus in the KHL putting up 27 goals and 51 points in 86 games. Polak will be another veteran presence on the blueline next to Marc Methot and help tutor the younger defensemen in the Stars line-up.

That’s the moves that stand-out to me that need talking about. We’ll cover more of these on Face Off Hockey Show Wednesday night live and on podcast that weekend. After Tavares, things kind of cooled down. Which is fine for a holiday week and reporters wanting to actually enjoy it for a change. That said, there’s probably going to be small moves here and there as teams address their depth needs and wants.

Age of Superstar Trade Rumors

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Remember when the “Face of the Franchise” was untouchable and the only way you would get rid of him would be in a Ray Bourque kind of fashion?? Blame the salary cap, extremely long-term contracts, or just knee-jerk reactions, but the idea of teams trading away their most valuable asset has been a very vocal part of the off-season for some fans and pundits alike.

Firstly, the Alex Ovechkin rumors and the ideas of trading the face of the Capitals comes more and more to the forefront after the Caps still haven’t been able to get out of the second round in Ovechkin’s tenure. This is definitely a hard-sell now considering this past season, Ovechkin had a personal-worst season in goals and points for his career during a full-season. Of course, he had only 32 goals during the shortened season of 2012-13, but that was just one-less goal than he had last season. Ovechkin turn 32 when training camps open up and this past season, you could see he was a bit human as his breakaway speed seemed to not be as it once was. For a player who may be starting to trend downward, it’s obvious some people think the Caps would be best to cut their superstar and see what they can get for him.

Name value alone would intrigue some fan bases, sure, but when you look at the long and short of it– I don’t know how much Ovechkin to truly bring back from another team given that the Caps may know something in his attitude or what-have-you off the ice that would make some teams leary. Plus, in a salary cap world, would you want to trade away some of your blue-chip prospects for an aging superstar who could be bottoming out on his career and still has four years (at $9.5M per) on his contract?? Unless you need the boost at the box office, I don’t think it’d be a smart move for the long-term.

Another name that has come up is John Tavares. Granted, Tavares’ situation is much different than Ovechkin. Tavares is on a team that seems to be getting worse before getting better. Couple that with the front office not getting him much support on the ice and his contract coming up at the end of next season, the young sniper will have his name amongst the trade bait heading into next season if a deal is not done with the Islanders before then.

Not only that, but former Islanders star Mike Bossy said that he could see Tavares going to Montreal for a big bunch of young players going the other way to the Islanders. While it is a big lot to get rid of, especially when you look at what Alex Galchenyuk, Mikhail Sergachev and Charlie Lindgren could become; but it does fill the void that the Islanders need for their future. Yet, how productive could he be in the Montreal system and limelight. That said, he does have many years left, as Tavares is on the cusp of his 27th birthday and does have some years left to give.

It’s an interesting time we live in for hockey players being dealt. It used to be that if Wayne Gretzky could get traded, anyone could. However, that adage could morph into, if PK Subban can get traded for Shea Weber– no star player is safe….or something much less clunky.