George McPhee as general manager of the Washington Capitals had a well earned reputation for loving Russian players. It’s no surprise there are reports he’s slid his finger into every vatrushka in Russia to see which he likes best. For years it seemed there more Russians than North Americas in the Capitals lockerroom. Don’t be surprised if there are two, three or even five Russian players on the ice when the Vegas Golden Knights go for broke on the very first night they play for real.

But he’s not going to build a cap complaint, or more importantly a competitive NHL team out of KHL dissidents. He needs to take a look at talented players in the NHL right now, who for one reason or another aren’t a fit in the city they are playing now. For all the rumors and swirling talk about players like Eichel wanting out of Buffalo or Kucherov calling out his team in Tampa, no one seriously thinks either of those players is being moved.

But there are a pair of forwards, both on the opposite end of the continent from the Golden Knights that might just be perfect for a team that needs youth, skill, hope, and names the fans and media are familiar with. The elder of the two is a geriatric twenty-five year old who has speed and agility that easily place him in the top five percent in both categories league wide, passing ability that puts him on an even more exclusive, and no end of frustration on the Boston Bruins. The younger of those players reminds many observers of a larger Sergie Samsanov. He’s thickly built without any excess, he’s agile, he’s got a dynamic scoring touch, and speaks with a nearly palpable accent, despite where he was born.

It’s impossible to wander onto any Canadiens or Bruins focused forum and avoid links, rumors, and stories about the imminent trade of Ryan Spooner and Alex Galchenyuk. These two have for varying reasons managed to disappoint in the markets that drafted them. I think the case against Spooner is probably a better one, but even there when he played with guys who could skate with him, and were active shooters and didn’t possess the same pass first (and second, and third, and possibly fourth) mentality he does he did really well. A lot was made over the downturn in Galchenyuk’s production this year. After a 30 goal season I think many expected him to eclipse the forty goal mark in short order. He didn’t, and while his goal scoring was down, his actual points per game production was up.

Then came the playoffs. His first taste of post season action where Galchenyuk had to be considered in the top two or three as offensive threats, and he got smothered by Ottawa, he still produced at half a point per game, but that wasn’t enough to mollify Montreal observers. Spooner who has playing between guys who are more grinders than finesse players and who haven’t a hope of keeping up with him in speed was supplanted by Sean Kuraly in the playoffs and has likely played his last game in a Boston Bruins uniform.

McPhee could do so very much worse than to acquire this pair of forwards. The two have name recognition, playoff experience, are old enough to have passed through Vegas as adults a couple times, and both are almost certainly in need of a fresh start. I can’t imagine GM GM building a team that wasn’t speed and skill based, and these two fit the bill. I doubt the Bruins would expect to get more than a second round pick for Spooner who is an RFA with arbitration rights this summer. A Galchenyuk acquisition might take a little more, but is even a first and a third too much to pay for a 23 year old who leads the 2012 draft class in points and has a 30 goal season on his resume?

Duke Reid and Vadim Shipachyov need team mates, Vegas needs skill, recognition, and youth. Galchenyuk and Spooner likely need to play for their second NHL team. Together they could make beautiful hockey.

Here’s a roundup of some of what’s going on in the hockey world:

I’m a bit surprised we haven’t seen this one from Patrick Kane or Alex Ovechkin.

General Manager Jim Benning is on record as saying the Canucks still need a top six winger. This is not a shock to anyone given that their second and third highest scoring wingers last season didn’t even hit 40 points. Not surprisingly they were second worst in goals for last season with a flaccid 186 goals for the season.

Kirk Luedeke has a look at the impact of undrafted free agents in the Boston Bruins system.

The Franchise To Be Named Later headed for Las Vegas is supposedly held up, in part by the London Knights, a junior team, located half a continent away. Maybe, just maybe for future NHL expansion prospective team owners should have a list of names to hand in with the rest of the paperwork. Personally if they can’t settle up with London, maybe go with Nevada Nighthawks. Seriously, the CFL had two teams with the same name, and somehow we can’t have an NHL team and a OHL team with the same name? How does that work for the Rangers?

It still looks like Vladimir Sobotka should be back in the NHL this fall. The gritty forward has had two solid years in the KHL. Last year he finished second on his team in scoring, up from fourth in his first year playing in Europe.

Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames gets some love, or at least respect out of Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks.

So who is the best Nashville Predator? For my money, I want to see a full season of Subban and Johansen before I make up my mind.

Good-bye Antoinne, and hello Dylan, or maybe Christian, watching the Coyotes off season just got a bit more interesting.

Goalie may be the most important position in all of sports. In hockey they are not only the last line of defense, playing more minutes a year than any skater, they are often the spark plug for offensive breakouts. Some teams have impressive goaltenders who not have played well in the past, but have done so in their system.

Philadelphia Flyers

The last half dozen years have served as a great example of why this team needs solid goaltenders who can play that way in their system. Ilya Bryzgalov was great in Phoenix. In Philadelphia he was bought out two years into a forever contract. When they squared off with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals a few years back they used three different goalies in one post season. It isn’t hard to make the case that a goalie better than Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher or Johan Backlund might have had them hoisting the Cup and not Chicago. This year we will see if their cursed crease can bring down the resurgent Ray Emery, and Columbus Blue Jackets discard Steve Mason. I doubt either goaltender gets taken in first five rounds of any fantasy hockey draft.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The serial meltdowns of Marc-Andre Fleury are too much for all but the willfully blind to ignore. If once is chance, twice is coincidence, and three times is a certainty, four consecutive playoff flame-outs should be enough for anyone. In the last four seasons his save percentages are .891 following the Stanley Cup win, .899, .834, and most recent .883. Those numbers won’t keep you employed in the regular season. Last year Fleury forfeited the crease to the 36 year old Vokoun who’s first playoff appearance came the year Fleury was drafted, turned in a Sv% of .933 behind the exact same defense, Vokoun is now out recovering from a blood clot.

Calgary Flames

When most of your fans can’t name your goaltenders you’ve either found the new sexy netminder or you found someone willing to get peppered for a pay check. Joey MacDonald is career backup who since entering the NHL in the 2006-7 season has only played in 122 games. Forty-nine of them were in 2008-9 for the New York Islanders. He has a career save % of .903. The likely starter broke into the NHL the same season. He then spent three seasons on the shuttle between the AHL and NHL before fleeing to Europe. While in the KHL Karri Romo never topped 45 games. In the KHL playoffs, all but one post season his Sv% dropped from the regular season. To make it worse, Romo and MacDonald are playing behind a defense that just isn’t good. You could as accurately name the player best in their own end with stats as by picking a name from a hat.

Florida Panthers

New owners, old owners the story has been the same in Sunrise for years: not much quality. If the aim is to improve, at minimum a quality, healthy backup for Jacob Markstrom is needed. Last year Markstrom split 56 games between the AHL and NHL, and tacked on three more world cup games for good measure. The other goalie under NHL contract is Scott Clemmensen the less said about his play last season the better. They’ve brought in Tim Thomas on a professional tryout, but however good he has played in the past hasn’t been signed, and hasn’t played in a year.

Some o these teams are doomed from the start, for others their weakness won’t be exposed until the post season, all of these teams have some form of crease crisis.

This past season was interesting. With the compressed schedule it is hard to keep track of all 30 teams, or even just three or four. There were however been a few noticeable things that have crept into regular appearances in games league wide.

The first is plain and simple stupid that creeps into the play of otherwise sensible players. There is no other way to describe Volchenkov’s suspend-able hit on Brad Marchand. Volchenkov will play his 600th NHL game sometime early next season, he handily dishes out over 100 and often close to 200 hits a season, and yet has just 404 minutes in penalties in his career including the five he was assessed for trying to crack open Brad Marchand’s skull.

The second thing about this season that isn’t surprising, is the absolute collapse of good teams late in games. This season saw numerous games turn around completely not because one team got early bounces and the other got later game bounces, but based on who had played and traveled the least in the past week. If the NHL really wants to be the worlds top skill league, another lockout will damage that as much by talent bleed to the KHL and SHL as by turning in a season of supremely ugly hockey. The third period of games across the NHL were purely ugly this year, it didn’t matter if it was the eventual champions in Chicago, the slick skating Carolina Hurricanes, the lionhearted Columbus Blue Jackets or one of the leagues lottery teams.

Perhaps the biggest thing to suffer in the NHL this season was the officiating. Consistency didn’t exist call to call much less period to period or game to game. In a lifetime of watching the NHL,  can honestly say I’ve never seen the leagues officiating at such a low water mark. The only comparable for NHL Officials this season would be the NFL’s replacement referees, and it probably does the NFL scabs a disservice. Interference calls that were made on a regular basis the first three weeks of the season were weeks dead at the trade deadline. All season long you had as much chance of nailing jelly to the wall as pinning down exactly what was and wasn’t goaltending interference. Some games you could get away with what looked like full stride charges into the crease from the faceoff dot, other games getting pushed into the opposing goalie by their teammate would land you in the sin bin for two minutes.

None of these defects is something you want to sell the game to new fans. Bad hockey, isn’t endearing to existing fans. As the league prepares for its near inevitable expansion, these things have to be addressed. When the NHL sets up it tent in new cities, it needs not just the national sponsors who can be sold on the sexy numbers of big markets and 32 or more major markets, but the local business communities wherever the new franchises land. Why should an advertiser spend millions of dollars to advertise in an arena that isn’t going to see many ticket sales because the product is uncertain, and the market as of yet has no loyalty to it?  There are very few major corporations that don’t pay attention to who they are tying their name to, the recession that has gripped North America and much of the world has weeded out many of those who didn’t. The bottom line is that advertising decisions are made by people, the best people to have making those crucial choices for the NHL and its franchises are fans.

The Washington Capitals are in last place in the NHL. The Columbus BlueJackets who shipped out Rick Nash over the summer are ahead of them. The New York Islanders who struggle to hit the salary cap floor are in playoff position. The Washington Capitals with one of the highest salaries in the NHL have the worst goal differential, sit in last, and worse do so in a division that has been widely regarded as the weakest division in the NHL for a decade.

Current General Manager George McPhee has been with the club since 1997. During that time, despite numerous high draft picks, the Capitals have not achieved as much under his leadership as they did in the past. Since McPhee took charge of the team they have never made it out of the Conference, most years they don’t even make it past the first round. This despite having had incredibly potent offenses year in and year out.

Over the sixteen years of GMGM’s tenure six coaches have been named. Ron Wilson who has had success elsewhere, Bruce Boudreau who probably spent more time trying to figure out the fastest way to get to his new office than he did looking for a job when he was relieved of his duties in Washington, Dale Hunter of major junior’s model franchise the London Knights, who after sixty games and a playoff round won bid sweet adieu to McPhee’s house of madness.

In drafting they’ve had both good and bad, but the bad certainly outweighs the good. Under McPhee, they’ve cashed in on can’t miss first round talents like Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, John Carlson, Carl Alzner and Nicklas Backstrom. It’s hard to say that that missed on the top end of the draft. Sure things that any of them were, its not hard to see how this could be conflated with general draft success. But taking a look a bit deeper in the draft shows the McPhee administration has done little more than cash big checks made out in their name and delivered by courier directly to their hands.

Real draft success isn’t just what you get in the first round. Take a look at the Vancouver Canucks, like the Caps nearly all their most impactful players are from the first round. When they faced off against the Bruins, they had little in the way of grit, plenty of skill but aside from Bieksa and Kesler, nothing and no one who knew what adversity was or how to overcome it. The Washington Capitals have added players who have both grit and ability, but no impact players with it.

The Los Angeles Kings, like the Pittsburgh Penguins before them, turned to Rob Scuderi to help out their blueline, and the delivered to the tune of nearly 22 minutes a night through the playoffs. Where’s the gritty cornerstone for the Caps? More importantly, where’s the stability behind the bench to point out that person as a rock and roll model and take push other players to be more like them.

Coaches aren’t alone in being run out of town on a rail. Alex Semin spent two years in the KHL, likely in part to avoid the scapegoating for all the teams ills that became the norm that saw him depart the team for a second time, on this occasion signing with division rivals the Carolina Hurricanes. Then Captain Chris Clark was traded during the 2009 season, in fact he was dumped to the bottom feeding Columbus BlueJackets. Then Captain Jeff Halpern was allowed to walk away in free agency. In all there have been seven captains of the Washington Capitals during the reign of George McPhee. In the same time period the Los Angeles Kings have had three, the Montreal Canadiens have had three, and even the Boston Bruins who are on their fifth general manager since McPhee took office have only had three captains.

What has taken place for many of the last sixteen years in Washington has been shuffling the deck chairs as the ship sinks. The guys on the ice don’t play like a team. Sure Chimera and Ward are guys who get it done and leave nothing on the ice unless it’s blood and teeth, but they’re not going to get the team to a championship by themselves.

Ovechkin who has been played on his off wing is the current scapegoat. People are saying he doesn’t care (after years of complaining he enjoyed goals being scored too much) and yet in addition to his thirty plus goals a season, he puts his body on the line to well over 200 hits a season a number about 50 higher per than Shea Weber and eclipsing Zdeno Chara as well. Additionally, year over year his blocked shots count has climbed steadily. While it is doubtful that Ovechkin will be shortlisted for the Selke award anytime soon, it is worth noting his blocked shot totals have been comparable to Jonathan Toews, who plays a lot more short handed than does Ovechkin, meaning that Alex is doing more at five on five than he’s being given credit for in some circles.

The question for Ted Leonsis isn’t what player or coach is failing him. The question isn’t even if the person currently assembling all the bits and bobbles is capable of creating a winner, that answer is readily apparent. What the Capitals owner needs to query himself and his advisors over is what to do with the man who has had far longer than most general managers to produce and not only failed to do so, but failed to recognize the underlying problems with his own system. Whoever follows McPhee, and for Caps fans, may it be soon, will have a huge task to shoulder.

Matts Zuccarello is leaving the New York Rangers. While reasons are specified in the article, it would appear playing time and possibly system were at the root of it. The young forward is jumping to the KHL. The twenty four year old played in just ten regular season games under the bellicose John Torterella who also drove out Sean Avery, and Erik Christensen this season on the teams way to being run over by the cross river rivals the New Jersey Devils.

Zuccarello leaves the NHLwith just 131 games of North American experience after two years in the Rangers system. Three of those games were in the playoffs. Metallurg Magnitogorsk is his new team. he’ll be living in a much smaller city than New York as his new homes population is estimated at under half a million.

Zach Hamill who the Boston Bruins drafted in 2007 in the first round is no longer a member of the Bruins organization. The first few years of his stay were more eventful for their injuries than their production. Two years ago he emerged to lead the Providence Bruins in scoring. Last season he spend a good deal of the season with the Boston squad, but was in and out of the lineup. His role was undefined (as were many this year) and he was played up and down the lineup. He may not have managed to score, but I can’t think of a single game he wasn’t all in. That was highly unusual for the 2011-12 Boston Bruins.


Chris Bourque, yes son of The Bourque was a fourth pick in 2004 of the Capitals. Taken at #33 he was off the board 30 and 31 picks before the Bruins first two selections of that draft, David Krejci and Martin Karsums. Bourque accumulated 93 points to lead the AHL in scoring in the regular season in just 73 games for the Hershey Bears. In what seems to be a common occurrence for Capitals picks, the former Cushing Academy and Boston player, absconded to the KHL for a season. Well, part of a season. He only played eight games for Mytishchi Atlant before once again decamping, his next landing spot was the Swedish Elite League, and their Lugano team where he put up 33 points in 39 games.

In a head to head comparison the two are pretty similar, although Bourque is the elder by a couple years. Bourque carries a bit more bulk and has had more success (with better teammates) in the minors than Hamill. However in the NHL while neither has been in danger of needing to book a flight to Vegas for the NHL awards, here Hamill shows better. In 33 career NHL games Bourque has just four points. Those four points would have been garnered during the Capitals offensive high point under former coach Bruce Boudreau. Hamill in 20 games under the defensive thumb of Julien has also accumulated four points and one third the penalties.

The question of what happens next is still well up in the air. Hamill will be an RFA in need of a qualifying offer and contract with by July first. Bourque will be a UFA on the same day. At this point neither player has covered themselves with NHL glory, and both organization could be ready to move on entirely. The Bruins brass include Cam Neely and Don Sweeney who both played with Chris’s father, and would have known him for years, but that doesn’t mean either is ready to do anyone any favors. The Capitals have had yet another early end to their post season, and have had a decidedly mix bag from former Boston Bruins. Hendricks and Knuble have contributed, Wideman is unlikely to be resigned, and Jurcina for example spent time with the Capitals before going to the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders.

It is entirely possible both players will not be playing for the teams that just traded them. The Bruins for their part could be looking to clear contracts, the Capitals while arguably in need of depth centers, might not be looking in exactly the direction of Hamill.

With the first two rounds of the playoffs gone and done, it’s time to look at the tenure of some people who might be gone and done where they are.

1: Brandon Dubinsky, has not had a good year. Injuries haven’t helped. But thanks to lower production of his own, and the surprising contributions of Hagelin and Kreider, it might be time for the Alaskan to find a good real estate agent and queue up some moving companies. The worst points total of his career is only marginally abated by the best plus/minus. His cap hit is manageable, and a change of scenery could reinvigorate him. The Rangers could use the cap space, and lots of teams could use his two way play.

2: George McPhee, this was to many a make or break season for the Capitals general manager. He’s fired a coach, shuffled players and still not managed to get the team a cup or even a finals appearance. Spotting talent isn’t the problem, stirring the pot appears to be.

3: Alex Semin, as has been rumored forever the pending UFA might just get an offer he can’t refuse from a KHL team. As little success as the Capitals have had in the playoffs, and as much of the blame as he gets it would be a surprise to see him back in a Capitals uniform next season, particularly if McPhee is not in the corner office.

4: Jason Garrison burst onto the scene this year and scored goals seemingly at will for the Panthers. He’s a UFA this summer. While Dale Tallon has shown a willingness to spend to get the guys he wants, if the GM goes big game hunting Garrison might be better served to sign elsewhere early before he gets left out in the cold.

5: Carlo Colaiacovo the Saint Louis Blues rearguard got just his second taste of the NHL playoffs this year picking up three points in seven games. With new ownership coming in it’s hard to imagine they won’t make upgrading the regular season’s 21st ranked offense a priority, which could squeeze out even valuable talent.

6: Dale Hunter, even if McPhee stays, its an open question as to if Hunter wants to come back. He was part of the most successful major junior franchise of our era, and took a job managing some misfits at the NHL level. He did as good a job as you could expect with that cast of characters, but still didn’t take them any place they haven’t been.

7: Keith Aucoin, as a career AHL player who finally got called up to the big dance and played respectably, he should get some calls from a few teams looking to sign him to an NHL deal next season. The Capitals could be that team, any franchise looking for some character depth guys could take a one or two year flyer on him too. Who could blame him if a team calls him and says “two years one way one and a half million”?

8: Dennis Wideman, it is of note that none of the NHL teams he’s played on has ever reached the conference finals, Boston, Washington, St Louis, Florida have all been halted in the second round or sooner with him on the roster. The pending UFA and All Star is part of a very crowded blueline, and looking to split the Caps available money with Mike Green, John Carlson, and others.

9: Sergei Kostitsyn probably managed to avoid any of the muck his brother splashed about, but his contract is up and Nashville will soon be doing whatever it can to retain at least one of it’s stud defensemen, that probably does not include extending large contracts to players who put up 17 goals in the regular season, and then collect just two points in ten post season games.

10: Brad Boyes someone looking for a rehab project should look no further. There are very few players in the NHL with a better wrist shot than Brad Boyes. There are also very few players in the NHL more inconsistent. Yes injuries have been a factor, but at some point it’s time to cowboy up.

11: Nail Yakupov the consensus number one pick is unlikely to end up back in juniors next season. Currently the Edmonton Oilers (again) hold the first overall pick. With their lack of true defensive power, will they decide to move the pick if it will land them one or more solid defenders?

Goaltending wins championships.  Both teams have championship worthy goaltenders this season. The difference will come from the rosters between the masked men in this matchup. The two teams are quite similar. Both are built from the back out with the blueline and net minders making up the highest profile players. No one should expect this series to end early.

The Coyotes find themselves in highly unfamiliar territory. Not just in the second round for the first time since the franchise made tracks out of the great white north. But they are hosting a playoff series for the second time. While doubting the nerve of Doan is probably not the smartest bet, you have to wonder if the pressure will begin telling on young gun Oliver Ekman-Larsson, or if Mike Smith’s phenomenal run will come to an end.

The Nashville Predators revamped their lineup and altered their team chemistry hugely around the deadline. They brought back a KHL escape artist, a well traveled defensive guru, and the brother of a player. They had a stumble or two, but managed to finish off the shaky road warrior Red Wings. The Predators hope Gabriel Bourque can continue making hunting down goals, but will need Erat and Fisher to not merely step onto the ice but take it.

The Predators have a bit more depth, but the two teams finished very close in goal differential on the season with the Coyotes getting the nod although both special teams categories belong to the Predators.  Fun series in the offing.