Friday, May 16, 2008

Khornball Sells Bought Out

Those in the Greater Washington, D.C. Area sports market seem to be bemoaning the buying out of Khornball by the (Com)Post. We wouldn't be surprised to see the usual suspects pointing to this (either publicly or privately) as another sign of the apocalypse for the Print Media industry and they're right.

But that's not the point of this post or really Khornball's buyout in our opinion. We hear at Bleatings from a Caps Nut prefer to look at this as nothing more than a formality. It has been years since Khornball ceased to be a serious sports journalist. No further evidence of this is needed other than a link to his current archives. That's right folks, here we are over 4 and half months into 2008 and Khornball has banged out only two columns. To his credit, it is two more than he wrote in all of 2007, but just what in the world was he doing for the (Com)Post to earn his salary? Sure, he has the pithy little blurbs recycled from the World Wide Leader in Schlock show he co-stars with Michael Wilbon running on a somewhat daily basis. But Wilbon has written five columns this month alone for the (Com)Post and seems to have little problem blending his job as a sports columnist with his other duties as a TV show host, NBA "Expert," and general know-it-all-with-a-chip-on-this-shoulder.

It is sad really, Khornball at one point in time was a worthy columnist worth reading. Most Caps fans will never forgive him for his skewering of the Caps in the 1980's but can any honest Caps fan dispute his "choking dogs" monniker for those teams? We certainly can't because we honestly believe that the Caps should have won at least one if not two or more Stanley Cups in the 1980's but for one reason or another, never got the job done. (It forms the basis for our irrational hatred of Bryan Murray) There is also the disgust over his abuse of the NHL over the years. Khornball however openly admits that he knows nothing about hockey and as is a natural defense to ridicule something when you know little about it in order to avoid being mocked yourself for being ignorant. (Mike Wise knows that feeling) Though we do give Khornball credit for writing about hockey on a regular basis because it is more than his buddy Wilbon does who knows as much about hockey as Khornball does and is too scared to write about it.

But his ignorance of hockey doesn't mean wasn't a great writer at one point in time. Driving down memory lane and reading his Bandwagon Columns, you see just how good Khornball once was. One could easily look at those and wondered just what happened? How did a guy who was funny, sarcastic, witty, clever, and just plain good turn so bad. The irony is, those columns right there were the beginning of the end. They mark is decent into a guy more committed to shtick than substance.

By that point in time Khornball had been a semi-regular on local TV and radio and appeared on ESPN's Sports Reporters (A side note here, while we were intially intrigued and for a point in time, addicted to watching the Sports Reporters, we've always wondered why Sports needed their own version of "The McLaughlin Group.") frequently but nothing big. But it was the Bandwagon Columns chronicling the 1991 Washington Redskins that really launched him into national fame. Khornball was booked on TV and Radio more often and it was only a matter of time before he got his own microphone when Sports Talk Radio finally made its way into Washington, D.C.

Since the last Redskins Super Bowl Victory, Khornball has "written" three books, started his own show on ESPN, is a panelist on two local sports shows, started, left, and then returned to his own nationally syndicated radio show, and is now unquestionably running the Monday Night Football Production. For a guy who ""all [he] ever wanted to be was a newspaper writer," he's strayed rather far. It is also telling that presented with a buyout offer, Khornball took it instead of giving up everything else that has taken him away from his first love.

This our friends is what we call "a teachable moment." Yep this is another sign of the demise of print journalism because companies like the (Com)Post can no longer afford to keep distinguished veterans like Khornball around. But this is also a warning to members the "new media" (aka Bloggers) who could very easily fall into the same trap. It starts out innocently enough with an appearance on a local TV and/or radio show. The first time it happens you really don't do very well because you're so excited and nervous about being on the air. But you don't do so bad that you don't get more invitation to appear on the local media outlets. You become more and more confident with each and every apperance and that leads to national exposure and you pinch yourself again as the big guys are now asking little old YOU for your opinion on various matters. You gain confidence there too and before you know it, you're getting programs all to yourself and you've come so far from what you were originally doing, you can't believe it. You begin to believe that because you're getting airtime in the Mainstream Media that your opinions and views cannot be questioned by anybody. You believe that you are capable of changing the world and so and so forth. (We know what you're thinking, we're not just about certain sports bloggers out there, we've seen this creep into bloggers in other realms such as political and gossip sites. Sports bloggers are not alone in this.) You then reach a point where your blog really isn't your blog anymore. Somebody else is writing the majority of it for you and/or what you do happen to write is so self absorbed that it really isn't any good. It is more about you than it is what you're writing about.

This our friends is pretty much what happened to Khornball. He isn't the only sports columnist to have this happen to him, he just happens to be the Washington, D.C. example. Michael Wilbon could qualify for this too but Wilbon again continues to actually write columns for the (Com)Post. But what took place this week with Khornball and the (Com)Post was started a long time ago. The sadness is not that Khornball is leaving, but that he made the decision to never return to what made him good in the first place.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Farewell to Kolzig

It's been almost a week now since Olie Kolzig, to the surprise of no one, announced that he does not plan on returning to the Capitals next season. He's closes the book on a 17 year career with the team that drafted him and held onto him through thick and thin. In the process, he's established just about every Caps Goaltending Record that a goaltender who appeared in 711 games for the team, 442 more than the nearest competitor, should hold.

His famous temper prevented him for many years from reaching his potential. This is why in the early parts of his career many thought that the Kolzig would be nothing more than a backup goaltender in the NHL. He was loaned out during his AHL days to make room for other goaltenders in the Caps system and when he did make it to the NHL full time as a backup; the Boston Bruins selected Jim Carey over Kolzig in the Adam Oates trade because of the belief that Kolzig would be nothing more than a backup goaltender.

Of course, we all know that exactly seven months after that trade was made; Bill Ranford took a puck to the man region in Toronto and Kolzig was pressed into action. Kolzig took the #1 goaltender spot that night it was almost 10 and half years before somebody would seriously challenge Kolzig for the #1 goaltender spot in Washington, D.C. (Ironically, Ranford left Washington in a huff after that season ended) But in that time, Kolzig took the Caps to their first and, to date, only Stanley Cup Finals appearance. He won the second Vezina Trophy in Franchise history and is second to none in not only appearances, minutes played, wins, shots faced, saves made, shutouts, and save percentage in Caps history. Kolzig became the face of the franchise and was the last of the players from that 1998 squad still on the team. Kolzig also became a large part of the community as well with his Olie and Idiot's Great Saves Program raising $$$$$ year after year for Children's Hospital in addition to his work with Athletes Against Autism (as opposed to Athletes For Autism...)

However, we can't say we're too surprised at the way Kolzig broke the news because this isn't the first time he's aired his dirty laundry in the media this season. To his credit, Kolzig waited until after the second round of the playoffs were over before he aired this dirty laundry, but what can you say about a player who tells a reporter his intentions for next season before he tells his bosses? Kolzig's biggest complaint is the lack of communication from General George McPhee about his future in Washington after the acquisition of Cristobal "WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE" Huet at the trade deadline. (A trade that NOBODY was expecting to happen including McPhee himself who had told Kolzig prior to the deadline that he would be the guy to carry the team the rest of the way.) Because Kolzig's bosses found out about his intentions through media reports; Kolzig himself loses some of the moral highground he's been busy trying to claim in our book.

We understand that Kolzig remains an emotional guy. There's nothing wrong with that and there's really nothing wrong with an athlete who thinks they're still capable of competing at a high level when the stats along with their performance say otherwise. It was clear that Kolzig could no longer handle the load that he had been accustomed to in his 10 year run as a starter. Kolzig was no longer taking the morning skates on the days he was starting and before the trade was giving up more starts to Brent Johnson in an attempt to improve is performance.

Kolzig's better days are clearly behind him and it is our hope that he decides in the coming days and weeks to retire. We do not see a situation where he could go to another franchise, take over as the #1 goaltender, and seriously compete for the Stanley Cup. The only team even remotely close is Ottawa but they're a franchise in disarray right now and we cannot imagine a worse move for a player like Kolzig. Furthermore, should Kolzig go to another franchise, he'll betray his often stated goal of playing with one team for his entire career and could only win the Cup as a backup goaltender.

Should Kolzig play for another team though, he'll make himself into another Peter Bondra in our minds. Bondra hung on too long in the NHL and in the end tarnished his legacy in Washington with his antics after the lockout. While Kolzig is making it clear he isn't looking to return unlike Bondra, Kolzig has caused plenty of problems for the franchise during his career like Bondra did. While Kolzig never held out or publicly demanded a trade like Bondra did on more than one occasion, but Kolzig did phone in the remainder of the 2003-2004 season after being one of only two veterans to survive the firesale. (Why do you think Matthew Yeates made five starts at the end of that season?) Kolzig's play was completely uninspired once the firesale began. Unlike Brendan Witt, Kolzig did not demand a trade after the lockout but did insist upon "competitive improvements" with his soon to expire contract extension. Some could say that it is wrong that now that those improvements are in place, that Kolzig is being moved out, we prefer to look at it as ironic. There's no way that the Caps would have made the playoffs this season had the Caps not had UA fall into their lap. Kolzig was standing in the way of this team reaching its goal of making the playoffs this season and had to be replaced in order for this team to continue its improvement.

There is of course always the possibility of Kolzig returning to the Caps next season. Stranger things have happened and should the Caps fail to come to an agreement with UA, Kolzig may be the only viable option out there. But we don't think that's very likely. The best thing for not only Kolzig but for the fans and the Caps franchise is for Kolzig to retire. For Kolzig to sign with another team and come back into the Phone Booth and play against the Caps is something that nobody but hardest of hardcore Kolzig backers want to see. We would bet on Kolzig playing the game of his life should that happen and he'll have to with the lineup he'd be facing. A player like A.O. would chew up that notorious short side hole over his blocker.

What we would like to see though is for Kolzig to announce his retirement and join the Caps broadcast crew. Kolzig is a natural in front of the camera and with a microphone. While we're in no rush to dump Craig Laughlin or create a three man TV booth, we think he would be the perfect compliment to Steve Kolbe in the radio booth. Ken Sabourin can only do home games and Kolzig could be there to shut Kolbe up for all 82 games. This isn't likely either with Kolzig's roots back west but we can always dream right?


Saturday, May 10, 2008

2007-2008 Season Wrap Up Part III: Coaching and Front Office.

Before the season even started we questioned whether or not Glen Hanlon was the coach to get the Caps into the playoffs. We got a resounding answer before we sat down to dinner on Thanksgiving Day. General Manager George McPhee pulled the trigger that morning and we all know the rest of the story.

McPhee's bashers (and there is no shortage of them) of course turned to Hanlon's firing in November and wondered why Bruce Boudreau wasn't brought in sooner. We ask, what did Hanlon do before this season that deserved being replaced? (Minor details) The McPhee bashers point out McPhee's comment during the Detroit game in December when he said on Versus "we're finally playing the way we thought we should be playing" but the Caps got off to a 3-0 start. There was talk of not just making the playoffs, but of getting to the Stanley Cup Finals. How much of chance should Hanlon have been given to turn the team around?

Beyond the coaching situation, there was also the sticky situation in goal. The McPhee bashers still have not forgiven him for passing on Ilya Bryzgalov when the Anaheim Thug Ducks waived him in November. However, they also question his acquisition of Cristobal "WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE" Huet at the deadline and creating an untenable three goaltender situation for the final month of the season, never minding that Bryzgalov would have been brought in for the same reason (taking over for Olie Kolzig) and would have created the same untenable three goaltender situation earlier in the season. Imagine what the McPhee bashers would have said he denied Kolzig a chance to get his 300th win with the Capitals?

But the CW was that the Caps had to make the playoffs this season in order for McPhee to keep his job. While by all accounts the UA trade fell into his lap, the remaining trades turned out to be shrewd gambles that paid off. The George McPhee Watch may be over for now, but it is not being forgotten. McPhee has assembled a nice core of young players and has a nice pipeline of young talent ready to come up. It was also his management of the salary cap that allowed the UA trade to fall into his lap. There weren't many contending teams that could afford to take on a large amount of salary at the deadline but the Caps were one of them and that helped to make all the difference.

We don't hide from the fact that when Bruce Boudreau was originally hired, we openly questioned the wisdom of hiring another minor league coach. It turned out to be a wise move but despite the success, there were still things that concerned us. A forward was still manning the point on the Power Play which went from merely bad to very streaky. 5 on 3 Power Plays continued to be exercises in frustration and the first Power Play unit was given almost 3/4's of the advantages to work which was too much time. With the talent on the roster, there's no reason why the Caps can't ice two potent Power Play units that don't need a forward manning the point for the entire time.

However Boudreau's biggest challenge now is what might be called the "Ron Wilson Syndrome" around here. In his first season as Head Coach, Ron Wilson got the Caps to the Stanley Cup Finals. He never got close after that season and the while Boudreau has a lower bar to clear, a pretty high standard has been set. He's been able to win at every level but at some point, he's going to have to learn that a strong defense is needed in the NHL. It was his refusal to learn that lesson when he was a player that cost him a long NHL playing career and it could be the exact same thing that costs him his NHL coaching career. He can hide behind having a young hockey team but at some point, these guys are going to be considered seasoned veterans and if their play in their own zone hasn't improved, people are going to properly question the coach for that.

And speaking of high expectations, Ted Leonsis boldly declared that "the rebuild is over" and that this team would make the playoffs. By Thanksgiving, it wasn't looking too good and a seven game winning streak to end the regular season along with some huge help from other teams made Ted good on his word. Like Boudreau, the Caps too have now set a limit. Just winning the Southeast Division and going out in the first round won't be enough next season. Some are already comparing the Caps to the Penguin Scum and by extension, predicting at minimum, an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals next season. But there's plenty of work to be done in order to make that a reality.

Finally, some of you might be a little miffed at why we're still so angry and bitter at how this season ended. You're thinking "if we told you that the Caps would win the Southeast Division, make the playoffs, force a Game 7 after going down 3 games to 1 in the first round, you would have thought we were crazy" and you're right. This was a great thrill ride and it came to an end too soon. Now it is time for you to be honest. You were looking forward to playing the Penguin Scum in the Second Round. After watching that four week stretch of hockey, you wanted to see the Caps spit in the eye of the Penguin Scum Curse. You just had a feeling that this fairy tale wasn't going to end so soon and so ugly. That there was nothing that could stop this "team of destiny." Yet, if you and the team are complacent with what happened, if you look back on this season and the way that it ended and say "those are the breaks" and "we just need tomove on," you're setting yourself up for failure.

We've never had the chance to watch the thing from the beginning but we occasionally catch the NFL's Greatest Games presentation of the 1984 NFC Championship Game when the Redskins beat the San Francisco 49ers for a trip to Super Bowl XVIII. We don't know what year the interviews with the players were done but we were amazed as how angry and bitter the 49ers were all those years later over some of the close calls that went against them in that game. As a matter of fact, some of the 49ers said that their anger and bitterness over that game fueled them during the 1984 season when they lost only once en route to winning Super Bowl XIX. They flat out felt as if they had been cheated that day and took it out on everybody else the next season. If the Caps are able to use their disappointment over the way this season ended as a motivator for the upcoming 2008-2009 season; there's no reason to think that they couldn't do some serious damage next season and prove that what happened over the last month of this season was not a fluke. But if the Caps remain complacent, they'll never fulfill the promise that exists right now. Don't get us wrong, we're not coronating the Caps Stanley Cup contenders after a first round exit, this is still a young hockey team and some of the young players who emerged this season have to continue to improve and get better. But there's no reason why we can't expect this team to become a serious Stanley Cup contender in the next few seasons.


Friday, May 09, 2008

2007-2008 Season Wrap Up: Part II Defensemen and Goaltenders

We've been preoccupied with other things recently which is why these posts have been so few and far between. We're not THAT angry and bitter...

Steve Eminger INCOMPLETE, Emmy barely gets this grade and we wonder just how much fault it is of his own versus the organization. He was placed on IR at the start of the season and once declared "healthy" he barely saw the ice as he became the 8th and even 9th defensemen on occasion. When he did get into the lineup, he had precious little icetime in order to make an impression. We've heard that his problem is that he wasn't doing what the team was telling him he needed to do but it doesn't make any sense to us because why would the Caps keep him around under those circumstances? He may luck out with the issues surrounding Pothier but he can't be too sure of his long-term future here in D.C. He's an RFA if he gets the qualifying offer that the Caps say they'll give him.

John "Coach's Pet" Erskine Bowles F, It should be no secret how we feel about this slow footed dim witted player. We've heard other Caps fans describe him as "a complete waste of icetime" and we don't disagree. The most damning evidence going against him is that he's advertised as a "Rugged Defenseman" yet the #1 item on our off season shopping list is a "Rugged Defenseman." Case closed. The worst news, he's under contract for another season.

Mike "BEAM ME UP" Green A-, A year ago, it looked as if Green was a long way away from doing what he did this season. The Illegitimate Son of James Traficant however had a breakout year and it couldn't have come a better time. But what wasn't as noticed was his improved play in his own zone. He is a defenseman after all. He posted a +6 after being a negative player in his first two NHL seasons but still has room to improve. He's a classic finesse defenseman, a guy who won't throw the big hit or clear out the crease. But Green is young and should be a Norris contender someday. He's also an RFA and the most important restricted free agent we have to sign this summer.

Milan Jurcina C+, He's more of a stay at home type of a defenseman and despite his size, he isn't a physical force on the blueline. Jerky seemed lost out there from time to time this season and ended up being a healthy scratch a few times. He's got a good shot from the point but hardly ever uses it. He could end up being an odd man out with the prospects in the pipeline and should the Caps sign another free agent. But for now, he's under contract for another season and we'll have RFA rights once this contract expires.

Shaone Morrrissonnn B-, Kind of the forgotten man on the Caps blueline, but his stay at home play was very instrumental in Mike Green's breakout season. In terms of games played as a Cap, he's now #2 behind A.O. He hasn't seemed to reach his potential on the offensive end but with some of the other defensemen on the team, that isn't much of a problem. The Caps could use a little more offensive pop out of him, but for now, his commitment to his own end is very much needed. He's an RFA and the Caps should qualify him but he won't break the bank.

Brian Pothier C+, Last year he was asked to play out of position and this year he was adjusting back to his usual role when he took another concussion. The bad news for Pothier is that career could now be over, the good news for the Caps is that it could free up the $2.5 million of cap space he currently occupies for the next two seasons. With the younger players coming up through the system and the likely addition of another blueliner through free agency, it's sad to say but the Caps may have caught a break here.

Tom Poti B-, Like most free agents, Poti had a hard time adjusting to a new team. Throw in a lingering shoulder injury that he played through and Poti didn't register the points that the Caps were expecting. He also didn't quarterback the Power Play as he was expected to but was still able to skate a lot of minutes and allowed the Caps to move Pothier to a more familiar role. With three more years at $3.5 million per season left on his contract, Poti isn't going anywhere and it could be interesting to see what he does next season when he's more comfortable and healthy.

Jeff "Sergeant" Schultz C, A favorite whipping boy of many Caps fans this year, Sarge actually lead all of the Caps defensemen in the regular season with a +12, Poti was second to him with a +9. The big complaint Caps fans have is that despite his size, Sarge isn't very physical and the legitimate complaint is that he doesn't move the puck very well. We wouldn't mind at all if Sarge spent this offseason doing whatever it was Mike Green did last offseason. Schultz isn't going to be the next Scott Stevens but he could certainly become the shutdown guy we've been looking for. His goal scoring run was fun to watch as he has another year left on his rookie contract.

Cristobal 'WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE" Huet A, Practically given to the Caps by Montreal, there was nothing more you could have asked out of UA as he backstopped the team into the playoffs. Once the playoffs began his play slipped a little but he was by no means the reason why we lost in seven games. As a matter of fact, he came up with the saves we needed to get to Game 7. UA certainly is a change of pace from what we're used to seeing in Kolzig but he got the job done where Kolzig didn't. UA is a UFA this summer and is very much open to the idea of staying put in Washington. He's the only player that the Caps need to resign more than Mike Green as he not only represents the bridge to our developing prospects, but the goaltender that has the potential to carry the Caps deep into the playoffs the next few seasons.

Brent Johnson B, He's a backup goaltender and if he didn't know it before he knows it now. The team certainly looked a lot more comfortable playing in front of him this season than they did last season which is a plus. How much longer he'll last in D.C. remains a bit of mystery as while he's the only NHL caliber goaltender on the roster under contract, he only has one more year left on it. With UA's injury history, he could see some more playing time next season and let's hope he does a better job with it than he did two seasons ago now when he was plugged in as the starter when Kolzig got hurt.

Olie Kolzig C, This is another "Gentleman's C" we are very much aware of today's developments and we'll comment on them at another time in another post. Kolzig's numbers continued their decline despite playing behind an improving defensive corps. His rebound control is inconsistent and his recovery ability shows his age. Kolzig also made some impolitic comments this year when it was clear his influence in the locker room was beginning to wane. To his credit though, he kept his mouth shut and, to date, did not rip the team over the awkward situation created by the acquisition of UA.

Overall, we'll give the defense and goaltending a C- for the season. First of all, the Caps allowed 55 fewer goals this season than they did last season and actually scored more than they allowed for the first time in 5 years which was also the last time they made the playoffs before this season. The blueline is better than it has been since the lockout but still needs improvement. First the Penalty Killing was not up to par all season long. That has to improve if the Caps are going to be serious contenders for the Cup. Some of that will come with better goaltending but the defensmen need to continue their improvement as well. Secondly, the Caps need more offense from their defense. Only Mike Green (and to a much lesser extent Tom Poti) saw regular time on the Power Play as both coaches like using forwards on the point all season. There's more talent on the way and the Caps are expected to be looking for another UFA to install back there. Hopefully that will bring an end to Erskine Bowles stinking up the joint but we aren't holding our breath.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

2007-2008 Season Wrap Up Part I: The Forwards

We're still angry and bitter at how the season ended but let's take a look at how the individual players shaked out this season and grade each one as if we actually know what we're talking about...

Nicklas Backstrom A-, His rookie year got off to a slow start but picked up when Bruce Boudreau moved him off the wing and had him center the fourth line. It wasn't long before he was centering the top line and one wonders just what he could have done centering the top line all season considering that he set the team record for assists by a Rookie. He picked up a Calder Trophy nomination but isn't favored to win because of who his linemates were most of the season and the fact that there is an Original Six Franchise rehabilitation program going on. He should have a fine career with the Caps and his playoff performance could be easily attributed to hitting the wall. Though he once again came to life after being shifted to another line. However, Backis played in all 89 games this season which is 21 more than he's ever played in his career. Our only complaint is that he needs to shoot the puck more. We know he's a setup guy and isn't a goal scorer, but we're only asking him to shoot once maybe twice more out of every ten chances. He's signed for another two seasons on his entry level contract.

Matt "Omar" Bradley B+, We had some harsh words for Omar last year but he deserved them. This year, Omar returned to form and provided some nice energy on the fourth line while also doing some good work on the Penalty Kill. He's still a dime a dozen mucker and grinder so if he's allowed to walk as a UFA this summer, we wouldn't mind in the least. But something tells us that he'll be back. As long he remains on one year deals, we'll be happy.

Mr. Donald Brashear C+, Early in the year, Mr. Brashear looked old and slow but when the coaching change was made, he seemed to pick up his game. Down the stretch his line provided a jolt of energy for the team and you could easily argue that he was one of the best forwards for the Caps in the series against the Flyers. However, we should also note that he wasn't leading the physical assault for the forwards with guys like Alexander Semin taking a stand against the Flyers. He's already been given a modest raise and will be back for another season but he's getting up in age and won't be around for very much longer.

Captain Chris Clark INCOMPLETE, Poor Clark. First he was expected to put up first line numbers on the third line which ended in total disaster. Finally put back on the first line, he got injured and couldn't get back into the lineup. The good news is that the Caps were able to do so well this season without out him. The bad news is that it showed how expendable he is, at least in the regular season because the Caps certainly could have used him in the playoffs. He starts a new three year contract next season and his cap number more than doubles to $2.633 million.

Matt Kent Cooke C, A spare part player acquired at the deadline from a team that he fell out of favor with; Cooke showed his excitement at a change of scenery. If there was a player on this team that we were looking forward to seeing in the playoffs more than A.O., it was Cooke. However, Cooke disappointed us in the playoffs. Cooke wasn't brought in to score goals but he didn't provide the energy and spark against the Flyers that he did down the stretch of the regular season. As a matter of fact, we thought he mostly disappeared in the playoffs. Cooke is a UFA this summer and while he wouldn't mind seeing him come back, we don't want a contract longer than two years and he'll need to take a paycut from his $1.5 million salary.

Sergei Fedorov B+/A-, We will admit that we didn't like the trade that brought Federov here. We thought that this was a good move if the Caps were guaranteed a playoff spot. But it is tough to deny just what Federov did while he was here. Federov unlocked the riddle, inside the enigma, wrapped in a mystery (or something like that) that is Alexander Semin. The late Dave Fay once wrote that the Caps needed a leader; a guy who will do whatever he needed to do in order to for this team to win and rally everybody behind him. Federov proved to be that guy down the stretch and in the playoffs. He got and kept the team's attention upon arrival by all accounts and certainly looked reinvigorated playing on a young team heading into the playoffs. Federov has cleary lost a step or two and is not the player he once was. However, he's a player with knowledge and experience that the Caps still need going forward. He's another UFA after this season and is considering retirement. Should he decided to return, the Caps should offer him a contract, two years if they absolutely positively must but he's going to have to step way down from the $6 million+ he's earning right now.

Eric Fehr C, Fehr gets the "Gentleman's C" because he did appear in 23 games this season. However, his season was mostly lost because he showed up at training camp injured and didn't get back onto the ice until over halfway through the season. When he did get back on the ice, he was rushed back to the NHL and was thrown in on the top line. We thought he actually acquitted himself well on the top line but was having a hard time keeping up because he was rushed back into the lineup. Fehr seemed to find his groove in the playoffs scoring a goal in Game 3 and put together some nice games on the third and fourth lines against the Flyers. Next season will be the big one for Fehr as he's an RFA this summer that the Caps are certain to qualify.

Tomas Fleischmann F, Flash entered training camp without a contract and played well enough in camp to warrant a one year contract. Once the regular season started, it is pretty safe to say that he began to disappoint. He rang up 10 goals and 20 assists but with the amount of time he spent on the top two lines, he should have done better than 30 points in the 75 games he was dressed. Flash was dropped after two games in the playoffs in favor of Fehr because Flash couldn't handle the increased physical nature of the playoffs. The club is convinced he's on the verge of a breakout and that's why they inexplicably gave him a two year contract for next year along with a raise. However, it's looking more and more like he's another Dmitri Khristich. The sooner he's gone, the better off we'll be.

Boyd Gordon B+, Employed on the third line and used as a penalty killer, El Gordo continues to show that he belongs in the NHL. However, he's another dime a dozen, mucker and grinder who is certain to stay with the Caps because of his young age and his status as an RFA. He won't hit a home run in contract talks so the Caps can afford to keep him around.

Viktor Kozlov C-/D+, Kozlov was a guy brought in to improve the Caps in the gimmick but he scored just three times in seven attempts this season. Even more troubling is that Kozlov pulled his usual disappearing act in the playoffs. He did register three assists in the seven games but was a team worst -4 after being tied for the team lead with a +28 in the regular season. He performed about as well as could be expected despite being a UFA pickup in the offseason but it should be interesting to see what he does next year now that his one year adjustment period is over. The Caps have him for another year and would be wise to see how he does in the playoffs next season before deciding to give another contract lettalone a raise.

Brooks "and Dunn" Laich A-, With the impending departure of Olie Kolzig, Laich is now the third longest tenured Cap on the roster. Laich did what Matt Pettinger couldn't go which was pick up his game when given the chance to skate on the second line. Laich posted career highs in goals, assists, and points and could very well cash in should he decide for arbitration again this summer. Laich though should be careful as he isn't totally inexpendable and will find himself in Pettinger's shoes should his production fall off the way Pettinger's did.

Quintin "The Human Bruise" Laing B-, A career minor leaguer who only stuck around as long as he did because he was willing to block shots. We certainly salute his courage and don't mean to downplay his contributions. However, he became the odd man out down the stretch and the Caps really didn't miss a beat with him out of the lineup. He's a UFA and should he return, we won't be upset but we'll feel just the same if he ended up somewhere else.

Michael Nylander C, In order to get an incomplete, you have to play less than a quarter of the season and Nylander appeared in 40 games. We could give him an incomplete and want to give him an incomplete because it is debatable as to how many of those 40 games he actually played. This is another "Gentleman's C" because he was apparently injured when he signed his contract here and finally shut things down when it was obvious he was hurting the team more than he was helping it. We've got three more years of Nylander and his role on the team is greatly diminished by the presence of Sergei Federov. If we had to choose between Nylander and Federov, we'd choose Federov and trade Nylander. Backstrom isn't going to need a mentor for another three seasons and and a 38 year old Federov is still better than a 36 year old Nylander.

Alex Ovechkin A+, The numbers speak for themselves. Career high and team record 65 goals this season that also won the Rocket Richard Trophy leading the NHL. Career high and second highest point total in team history with an Art Ross Trophy winning 112 points. Career high and second most game winning goals in team history with a league leading 11 game winning goals. Career high and tying the team record for Power Play goals in a season and leading the league with 22 Power Play goals. He should be the runaway winner of the Hart and Pearson Trophies and a unanimous selection for this third First Team All-Star in three years. A.O. has cracked the Top 20 on the Caps All-Time Scoring list and the Top 10 on the Caps All-Time Goal Scoring list. He could conceivably move into the Top 3 on the Goal Scoring list and stalk the Top 10 on the Scoring list by the end of next season. There is no debate in our minds who the best player in the league is right now but A.O. could actually be better. First of all, he needs to stop blowing the zone defensively and we would love to seem him improve his defensive play to the point where he can be trusted to kill penalties. Everybody was wondering how he'd do in the playoffs and he led the Caps with 4 goals, tied for the team lead with 5 assists, lead the team with 9 points, and also lead the team with two game winning goals. Once Kolzig goes, nobody else on the Caps roster will have played in more games for the Caps than A.O., but the best part is, we'll get to see him for at least the next 13 years.

Alexander Semin B-, His season started off slowly with a high ankle sprain suffered in the preseason. Once he did return full time, it took some time for him to regain his form which only drove his critics even crazier. His game greatly improved under the tutelage of Federov and but Semin is still prone to the lazy hooking penalty and stretches of lackadaisical play. That being said his 26 goals and 16 assists in 63 games was impressive as his 3 goals, 5 assists in 7 playoffs games were. We were also very impressed with his willingness to physically stand up to the Flyers and his +2 rating in the playoffs which was second on the team to Backstrom's +3. There's a great debate as to how much longer he's going to stay with the Caps but we do know that a new two year contract comes in next season and his cap number increases dramatically to $4.6 million while he retain his RFA rights.

David "Bolt Cutter" Steckel C+, If it weren't for his ability in the faceoff circle, we'd wonder why he was on the team in the first place. He led the team in the regular season but was by far the worst of the bunch in the playoffs. Maybe it was the broken finger but we really weren't impressed with him unless we were playing the Ning. He's under contract for another season and then a UFA.

Overall we'll give the forwards a B- for this season. Without A.O. this bunch would have had some serious trouble. The Caps scored a grand total of 7 more goals this season than they did last season. While the Power Play was improved over last season, it ran way too streaky and couldn't be counted upon to produce the big goals that the team needed on a consistent basis. With the talent among our forwards, that is inexcusable though there is some blame that should be placed upon the shoulders of the coaching staff who put all the best players on one unit and then played that unit too much.