Friday roundup: Caps beat Lightning

Bruce Bennett/ Getty Images

Bruce Bennett/ Getty Images

Let’s start the day off with the Caps victory over the Lightning. The Lightning are a truly pesky team, that has been a thorn in the side of the Caps over the years (never more so than their second-round playoff sweep a couple years ago). The team has a ton of talented players, from Martin St. Louis to Vinny Lecavalier to Steven Stamkos. That talent hasn’t translated into a hot start yet, but this team did beat the Caps on opening night, and the level of competition was a clear upgrade from the ragged Panthers team the Caps had beaten the last two games.

With that in mind, it was a really good victory for the Caps. For fifty minutes, they played their best hockey of the season, in my mind. The action was end-to-end, Caps hockey, but the Caps got the better of the exchanges. Most of the Lightning advances were harmlessly defused and led to odd-man breaks for the Caps forwards (and Mike Green who really jumped into the attack last night). It looked like the counter-punching style that head coach Adam Oates wants to play.

Then the Caps took their foot off the gas (to use the most tired of cliches), and allowed the  Lightning to get back in the game, scoring twice and cutting the deficit to 4-3. It took a mad scramble at the end to stave off a heartbreaking loss.

Eric Fehr was the obvious star of this one, scoring two goals, one a grind-it-out goal and another a beautiful snipe-shot on a mini-breakaway. I think people forget that Fehr was once a first-round draft pick and top prospect for this organization. Obviously, he’s never going to be a superstar for a team. But it was another shrewd move by GMGM to pick up Fehr just before the season started. I don’t know if he’s ready for top-six playing time, as some have suggested, but he’s definitely a solid third-line option (seems like the Caps have a lot of those these days).

Alex Ovechkin was active offensively in the game, while being held without a goal. However, on Tampa Bay’s first goal, Ovechkin was lazy in his backcheck, allowing the Lightning to get a 3-on-2 advantage. He followed it up by standing around occupying space in front of the goalie, while the Lightning poked away at the puck and eventually scored. Great effort from the captain.

At this point my biggest concern for the Caps is that they’re going to be an average team. I think most can acknowledge that the worst position for franchise building is to continually be drafting in the 10-15 range. It’s the area right on the cusp of the playoffs, but good enough that you’re not acquiring top-notch talent to put you over the edge in the draft. Unfortunately, there is a legitimate possibility that both the Caps and the Wizards enter into this territory in 2013.

If the Caps turn it around this season and get in tune with Oates’ system, great. I’m all for winning. But, if not, let’s be real bad, ok? If the Caps go in that direction, here would be my plan of attack:

  • Trade Mike Ribeiro at the deadline.
  • Get a top-five pick in one of the best drafts in recent memory, according to experts. Draft Nathan MacKinnon or Seth Jones, if you can get one of the top two spots.
  • Bring Filip Forsberg over from Sweden at the start of the 2014 season
  • Bring Evgeny Kuznetsov over from Russia the INSTANT the 2014 Olympics are over
  • Allow Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth to work through their issues with playing time, and allow Philipp Grubauer to continue to develop at Hershey. Hopefully, one of these guys will seize the golden opportunity that has been placed in front of them.

At this point, you could have a forward lineup along the lines of:

  • Ovechkin-Backstrom-Brouwer
  • Forsberg-MacKinnon-Kuznetsov
  • Ward-Laich-Chimera
  • Perrault-Beagle-Hendricks

That lineup looks a lot better to me, where you have third-line guys playing third-line roles, instead of first-line roles. This doesnt’t take into account potential return for Ribeiro, or possible (ok, doubftul) improvement from Marcus Johansson.

Hopefully, Dmitry Orlov will be helpful in 13 months, so your defense corps looks something like this:

  • Green-Alzner
  • Carlson-Orlov
  • Schilling-Kundratek

The goalie situation is basically the same, with one of Grubauer, Neuvirth and Holtby presumably saying, “Hey, I’d like to be a starting goalie in the NHL. That’d be cool, right?”

That looks like a pretty damn good team to me, and one that is sustainable for years to come. The only player who will be getting up there in age will be Joel Ward, who is 32 currently. But Joel Wards grow on trees (no, that’s NOT racist, you jerks). You can easily find someone to fill that role. Heck, maybe Tom Wilson is ready to take that spot. Everyone said he was going to be a project offensively when he was drafted, but Wilson has impressed so far this season, so much so that he earned an invite to Caps big-league camp this preseason.

And what did I do to get to this magical team? One year of tanking. That’s it! Again, that doesn’t even take into account potential return for Ribeiro. It’s just allowing GMGM’s smart draft moves to play out.

That’s one of the reasons that I think people who compare McPhee to Ernie Grunfeld are nuts. McPhee is constantly winning at the draft (Anton Gustafsson not withstanding). McPhee got Kuznetsov in the late first round, Holtby and Grubauer in the fourth round, Orlov in the second and the list goes on. Grunfeld is the opposite of that. The POLAR opposite of that.

(Another sneaky smart move of McPhee’s: acquiring Kundratek last year from the Rangers in exchange for Francois Bouchard. Kundratek is playing regularly for the Caps. Bouchard is in Europe somewhere. I’m telling you, this guy FLEECES other GMs when it comes to young prospects.)

Maybe none of this is even necessary and the Caps will keep playing like they have the past three games. But my point is that the Caps do have an extremely bright future if things don’t go their way this year. The only bad things that could happen to the Caps are:

  1. They fall into the abyss of mediocre and finish like 9th in the East
  2. GMGM, under pressure from Leonsis, under pressure from fans, is forced to blow up the team at the deadline
  3. GMGM, under pressure from Leonsis, under pressure from fans, is forced to make a panic, buy-now move at the deadline, mortgaging the team’s future in the process.

But that probably won’t happen right?

Anyways, sorry for the rant.

  • Standings Update: the Caps (with 11 points) sit in a five-way tie (!!!) for last in the Eastern Conference. In the Southeast, they’re six points back of the first-place Hurricanes.

Other recaps of last night’s action from people better than I:

Wizards:

The Wizards are off for the all-star break, but that doesn’t mean that yesterday was uneventful day. Most of the action stemmed from agent David Falk slamming John Wall in comments made to the Post’s Mike Wise (troll harder, Mike).

My take: Falk’s comments were out of line to be said publicly, but not SO far from the truth.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what John Wall has done for this team since his return. He’s a nice player to have, and certainly a monumental upgrade over A.J. Price.

However, a franchise player he is not. He has had trouble defending such offensive stalwarts as Isaiah Thomas and Will Bynum in the recent weeks. If the team gets in trouble, his go-to move is to dribble out-of-control and wildly throw up a shot in the lane, hoping he gets a foul call. That’s just not how franchise players get their teams out of a rut. If the Wizards are in trouble right now, Nene is the guy that the team looks to for the “run-stopping” basket.

I don’t think Falk fairly judged Ariza and Okafor. I think, being an agent, he fixated on their contract numbers and not their recent performance. Are these two living up to the massive amount of money owed to them? Of course not. But each has played a critical role in this team’s recent turnaround.

On Nene, how in the world does falk know he doesn’t want to be in Washington? Does he have some sort of wire-tap set-up in the locker room? That doesn’t seem to mesh with the guy who was sitting in the locker room after losses, taking the defeats personally.

Finally, it’s not earth-shattering that the rest of the roster (minus Bradley Beal) is a work in progress.

And now that I’ve finished evaluating the article, I’ve realized that the trolls won. Great. I guess I’m the troll-bait (something you would never want to be called in high school).

  • Standings Update: The Wizards are the third-worst team in the NBA, 11 games back of the eighth-place Bucks in the Eastern Conference.

Some relevant links:

Bullets Forever’s Jordan Crawford midseason report card; Trevor Ariza

Nationals: 

I love the beginning of spring training. I love the intimate access that players grant the media, and the pictures and videos that accompany this access. And if you want to get really fired up, read the first Boz column of the spring.

More interestingly, although along the same lines, was this column from Jon Paul Morosi about Strasburg wanting to be the lead donkey.

I think there is an important point, which was raised in last year’s divisional round, that this rotation just fits better personality-wise when Strasburg is at the top. He genuinely WANTS to be the lead dog. The guy that takes all of the pressure and then rises above and beyond the expectations (see, his Major League debut).

Gio is a happy-go-lucky guy, who didn’t quite fit the bulldog/ace mold last October. Similarly, I think Zimmermann and Detwiler fit better as No. 3 and 4, than 2 and 3. Hopefully, all will be right in the world (or at least the Nationals’ starting rotation, now that Strasburg is back at the top).

Other links worth perusing:

Denard Span is scared of fish

A guess from the Nats Prospects blog about low-A Hagerstown’s pitching staff

  • My quick take: looks like there isn’t going to be anyone worth watching on that staff. Lot of organizational guys, not so much on the real prospect side. The one name to watch would be last year’s third-round pick, Brett Mooneyham, who has good raw stuff, but needs better command.

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