All posts in hockey

21Nov

redskins rock the red

(photo by Brian Murphy)

The Washington Capitals are good. And chances are, they’re going to be really good for a while. Their top four players – left wing Alex Ovechkin (23-years-old), left wing Alexander Semin (24), defenseman Mike Green (23) and center Nicklas Backstrom (20) – are young and seem poised to lead this team to heights D.C. has never seen.

After scoring an NHL-best 65 goals last season, Ovechkin won every conceivable award possible. He took home the Lester B. Pearson Award as the league’s most outstanding player (voted by the players), the Hart Memorial Trophy as the Most Valuable Player, the Art Ross Trophy and the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. Additionally, coach Bruce Boudreau took home the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach.

This season, Semin has managed to take his game to the next level – even managing to outplay fellow-Russian Ovechkin many nights early in the year. In just 16 games, Semin has scored 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points. His wristshot is so nasty that it ranks among the best in all of professional hockey. Oh, and he became even more popular with locals when he decided to basically call Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney “Cindy” Crosby overrated.

Pairing a motivated Semin with Oveckin, last season’s league MVP, as well as Green, the NHL’s top goal scoring defenseman and Backstrom, runner-up for rookie of the year, easily gives the Caps the most exciting offense in D.C. sports. And folks seem to be taking notice.

Maybe its due to the addition of the Red Rockers, but the Caps’ average attendance at the Verizon Center is over 17,700 (97 percent capacity) this season. (Quick sidenote on the Red Rockers link: can you say one of these things is not like the other?) And the team has rewarded those in attendance with the Caps undefeated (7-0-1) at home in regulation thus far this season. What’s more, even the other sports stars in town are “rocking the red” with the Caps this year.

Earlier this month, Redskins tight end Chris Cooley officially became a Caps fan after attending his first hockey game, a 3-1 Capitals victory over the New York Rangers. While Cooley is new to the hockey bandwagon, quarterback Jason Campbell is not.

The face of the franchise has been spotted at the Verizon Center enjoying Caps games for a couple seasons now, so we caught up with Campbell earlier this week to ask him how someone from Laurel, Mississippi becomes a hockey fan.

What is it about the Capitals and the game of hockey in general that appeals to you?

“I just like the intensity of it,” Campbell said. “It’s kind of like football, except its on skates. Guys are hitting each other and they’re playing hard and getting physical. It’s a tough game. You definitely respect the guys who play that game because it is so physical.”

Had you ever been to a hockey game before you came to D.C.?

(Laughs) “No, I’d never been to one,” he said. “This was my first time going to one and its fun.”

What’s kind of cool for local fans is we’ve got guys like you going to Caps games and now we’ve got Ovechkin and some of his teammates showing up at FedEx Field. Have you had a chance to meet some of those guys and get to know them?

“Yeah, I know Ovechkin real well,” Campbell said. “I also know Ryan Zimmerman [of the Nationals] and a couple of the other guys in the area. I always know when they’re coming to our games and if I go to their games, I always see them before or after the game. We all try to get out and support each other. It’s definitely nice because we’re all in this city together. If we can all get on a winning track this city can really be live.”

What kind of hockey player would Jason Campbell be?

“I’d probably be a bad hockey player,” Campbell said with a laugh. “I’d probably have to be a goalie or something.”

Can you skate?

“I’ve never skated in my life,” Campbell admitted.

Goalie is probably a bad place for you to start then. If someone like Ovie fires a 100 mile an hour shot at you, its probably not going to end well.

“I know, right,” he said. “I’ll probably just have to stick with football.”

Dear Ted Leonsis, if you’re as smart as we think you are, you’ll immediately invite Campbell out to Kettler IcePlex or the Verizon Center to skate with Ovechkin and friends. You don’t have to put him in net, but this is an opportunity too good to pass up.

[Update: Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has taken our advice and extended an offer to Campbell to come out to skate with his team. Here’s hoping Jason won’t be available to do so until after a deep playoff run.]

20Nov

batch of links

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Believe it or not, but some high-quality reading actually comes from outside of Homer McFanboy. Just in case you missed it, here’s some of what caught our attention this week:

  • Redskins blogger Matt Terl thinks it’s a good idea to give Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot some additional exposure (apparently he’s not familiar with Smoot’s time in Minnesota). Either way, Terl is pushing for fans to vote for Fred in the NFL’s Super Ad campaign. If Smoot wins, his commercial will play during the Super Bowl. We recommend you check it out, if for no other reason than to learn about Smoot being duct taped to the goalpost by former teammate Champ Bailey and friends and left there for two hours back when he was a rookie.
  • Elsewhere, ESPN the Magazine has a feature on how Sean Taylor’s death has affected the NFL. While they went to great lengths to interview numerous players throughout the league, the part with ‘Skins running back Clinton Portis is a must read. And if you take nothing else away from it, please – do not walk up to him, throw your arm around him and tell Portis you pay his salary. Trust me on this. Also, ESPN blogger Matt Mosley covers how Taylor’s loss has affected the ‘Skins locker room.
  • A website called Fast Company has an article listing the six best sports bloggers, which naturally shows some love to the D.C. sports scene. Both Redskins tight end Chris Cooley and the formerly relevant Gilbert Arenas are listed, as well as pitcher/blowhard Curt Schilling, L.A. Dodgers manager Joe Torre and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (whose just glad to be making headlines for other reasons). Now, if only someone could explain how they forgot to include the blog of Caps owner Ted Leonsis
  • Finally, we point you to one of our favorite blogs, Mister Irrelevant, who stumbled upon proof that the Redskins apparently at one time had a mascot. No, not Chief Zee. Not the Hogettes. An actual mascot. Go see for yourself.
14Oct

unleash the fury, version 2.0

(courtesy photo)

All apologies are due up front, as I hoped to get this up prior to the Washington Capitals’ season opener late last week. Unfortunately, things got hectic on the McFanboy front and our 2008 season preview was put on hold for a few days. What’s lacking in timeliness will hopefully be made up for in quality (or maybe word count). So here are the top five questions facing Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals as they head into their most anticipated season in recent history:

What will Ovechkin do for an encore?

Last year, Ovechkin led the NHL with 65 goals and 112 points to capture the Rocket Richard and Art Ross Trophies. He also won the Lester B. Pearson Award as the top player voted by the NHL Players Association and the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player (making him the first Washington-based athlete to be named a league MVP since Redskins QB Joe Theismann back in 1983). Oh, and he signed a 13-year contract extension worth a record $124 million and was even given a key to the city by D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty.

There’s absolutely zero chance Ovechkin turns dumb, fat and happy with his new contract. He’s much too talented and driven to go into cruise control. And unlike when the team dished out big-time money for moody diva Jaromir Jagr, Ovechkin is only 23. As good as his numbers were a year ago it’s safe to say his best days are ahead of him, which is why Caps fans are already convinced he’s the best player to ever play for the franchise.

Who will take the next step?

Whether we’re talking about defenseman Mike Green, center Nicklas Backstrom or center Brooks Laich, a host of players took a big step forward last year. Green went from scoring just two goals and 10 assists for 12 points in 70 games during the 2006-07 season to recording 18 goals and 38 assists for 56 points in 82 games as the Caps sure-fire number-one defenseman. His 18 goals were tops in the NHL by a defenseman and his eight powerplay goals a year ago helped anchor the Capitals’ lethal powerplay unit to a top 10 ranking mostly because opposing players were afraid of Green. Don’t believe me? Let me put it this way – would you want to pull a Patrick Thoresen and take a Mike Green slapshot in the beanbag? Me neither.

Backstrom started the 2006-07 season slowly (although an argument could be made that the entire team started slowly), but stepped up after two key moments. The arrival of head coach Bruce Boudreau and an injury to fellow Swede Michael Nylander that elevated Backstrom to the top line with Ovechkin kick started the rookie’s inaugural season. Backstrom finished his rookie campaign with 14 goals and 55 assists for 69 points in 82 games, which was good enough to earn him runner-up honors as the NHL’s rookie of the year.

In his previous two seasons with the Capitals, Laich scored 15 goals and 24 assists for 39 points in 146 games. Last season however, Laich tallied 21 goals and 16 assists for 37 points in 82 games. What the stats don’t show was that on a team comprised mostly of finesse players, the guy known as the “Ladies Man” was the one player in the Caps lineup that showed a consistent willingness to stand in front of the crease and do the dirty work. (Seriously, if you missed it, go back and click the “Ladies Man” link. You’ll thank me).

During the off-season, Green signed a 4-year contract extension with the Capitals, which averages $5.25 million a year. Backstrom is still playing out his rookie contract, but Laich signed a three-year, $6.1 million deal. Can any of these three players build upon their highly-successful 2006-07 seasons or will it be someone like Nylander, left wing Alexander Semin or right wing Tomas Fleischmann who takes their game to the next level?

How much of a concern is the defense?

Make no mistake about it, rookie defenseman Karl Alzner should be playing in the NHL right now. For those not familiar with Alzner, he was drafted in the first round, fifth overall, by the Capitals in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. After leading Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2008 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, Alzner captained the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, where he was named defenseman of the year and WHL player of the year.

Right now, without having played a game at the NHL level, Alzner is a top four defenseman – especially on the Capitals. So why is he starting the season in the minor leagues? While general manager George McPhee would have you believe otherwise, he’s hanging with the Hershey Bears for salary cap purposes only, which is unfortunate considering that many of the diehard Caps fans we’ve spoken with don’t trust defensemen Milan Jurcina, Jeff Schultz or John Erskine at all. Let me put it this way – if things were so rosy with the Capitals on defense then why exactly is a first-ballot Hall of Fame center like Sergei Fedorov spending time back on the blue line?

Will the puck stop here?

Last season, the Capitals traded for goalie Christobal Huet and rode his incredibly hot play all the way to the team’s first division title since 2000-01. By all accounts, the team did everything they could to resign Huet during the off-season, but he opted for a bigger payday in Chicago. The Capitals quickly turned to Plan B, announcing the signing of free agent Jose Theodore before the news of Huet to the Blackhawks was even made public.

But what does the team have with Theodore? Is he the goaltender who earned the Vezina and Hart trophies back in 2001-02, or is he the goalie known more for his erractic play and his choice of off-rink compainionship? With both Huet and long-time crowd favorite Olaf Kolzig elsewhere this season, it’ll fall on Theodore and backup goalie Brent Johnson to keep the Caps competitive in the Eastern Conference this year.

If you build it, will they come?

As the Washington Nationals clearly proved this season, D.C.-based sports fans will find better ways to spend their time and money than watching a deadbeat team get trounced on a nightly basis. Before there was the pitiful Nats, there was the rebuilding Caps, who sold off players like Jagr, Nylander and Peter Bondra (for Brooks Laich) in an effort to tear it down and build it back up. Instead of going the Wizards route and building a team good enough to make the playoffs annually but never win anything, the Capitals went the unpopular route by cleaning house and starting over.

Now, with talented youngsters like Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and Green, our nation’s capital is routinely treated to one of the youngest and most talented squads in the NHL. Add in veterans like Fedorov, Nylander and captain Chris Clark, and this is clearly a team that can compete with anyone.While the team once struggled to barely meet the league’s minimum salary cap, owner Ted Leonsis has stepped up and put his money where his mouth is, green lighting general manager George McPhee to spend as he sees fit (which has put the Caps near the max in terms of salary cap spending). But will the fans continue to embrace this team, especially when money is tight and the economy is less-than-ideal?

Actually, yes. The Caps season ticket sales are apparently up 4,000 from a year ago to around 10,000. Even on a Monday night against a rebuilding Vancouver Canucks team the Caps are drawing solid crowds, with D.C. enjoying the chance to “Rock the Red.” And if you’re one of the last kids in town to jump on board what could be possibly be the Caps’ first Stanley Cup championship season, then please, buy a ticket and join the party now. Trust me, you’ll want to be around when Ovechkin and friends unleash the fury.

(And finally, for an explanation of the photo at the top of this preview showing one D.C.-based heavy hitter embracing another, click here).

19Sep

shock jock

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Chris Cooley’s nude study habits aside, the talk of the town this week is Vinny Cerrato, and the announcement that the Redskins’ executive vice president of football operations is ESPN 980’s newest radio host.

Starting today, Cerrato will host Inside The Red Zone With Vinny Cerrato, which is scheduled for two hours every Monday and Friday. Apparently, many folks in town feel that Cerrato, whose job description includes personnel decisions, directing the Redskins’ draft, identifying free agency needs and acquisitions, coordinating all pro and college player evaluations, and day-to-day football operations, should concentrate more on football and less on … well … anything else.

Honestly, I don’t get the big deal. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons completed a fantasy football trade on his podcast this week. How great would it be to hear Cerrato on the horn with the New York Jets or the Denver Broncos chatting about possible trade scenarios? If people are willing to listen to Clinton Portis and Brian Mitchell bicker on air, then they’d definitely tune in to hear Cerrato on the phone with player agents working out when would be best to fly in clients for the suddenly vacant punter position. There’s no real way I see this show not being a hit.

Actually, that’s not true. History shows that Washington-based general managers rarely succeed as radio hosts. Fans might not remember, but each of the other three local GMs had a short stint as a radio host, with all three shows failing to catch on in the local market. For those who don’t remember, here’s a recap:

Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden’s radio show never got off the ground because they refused to put any money into it. They showed up in a brand new market in the middle of the night, tried to get by on the cheap using a handful of nobodies off the street and expected a steady fanbase to appear over night. To read more about the show’s failures and terrible ratings, please read the next “kick ‘em while they’re down” piece by Dan Steinberg.

Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld’s radio show never lasted because he continued to bring back the same mediocre cast season after season. Sure, it was offensive, but it didn’t bring much else to the table. If an angry caller ever phoned in with a negative opinion, there wasn’t anyone on the roster capable of coming to Big Ern’s defense.

Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee’s radio show failed because … um … have you heard the man? Whenever GMGM appears on the John Thompson Show they refer to him as the “Undertaker.” He might be able to put together a competent hockey team, but apparently personality costs extra. For what it’s worth, I hear his show always did well in Russia.

For more info on Cerrato’s new show, click here.

14Jul

breaking the ice

In hockey by b murf / July 14, 2008 / 1 Comment

Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals and the most accessible sports owner this side of Mark Cuban, has focused an entire blog post on something called the Capitals Spirit Squad, in which he goes to great lengths to assure those concerned that these fine folks will not be “ice girls.” He went on to explain what these people will do, but to be honest – no one cares.

My question for you is this – when did “ice girls” become bad people? Raise your hand if you’d rather see a handful of youngsters playing glorified pond hockey during intermission rather than scantily-clad sluts with ice shovels? Again, we’re raising hands for kids versus sluts.

If your neighbor just raised their hands, then please, put a sign in their front yard or alert Chris Hansen.

09Jul

long live the ladies’ man

(photo by Brian Murphy)


When you want it done right, you gotta go north of the border.

While that may not be the case in most instances, it definitely applies to all things hockey. And that is why, I would like to turn your attention to a few articles currently featured on the TSN Canada website (think ESPN, without the suck). For starters, the Washington Capitals have re-signed Brooks “Ladies’ Man” Laich to a three-year deal worth a little over $6 million. On top of that, TSN is also reporting that the Caps have re-signed Sergei Federov to a one-year deal worth $4 million. This, my friends, is what we in the business call “great news.”

Laich, whom some of you may remember the Caps acquired in the Peter Bondra deal, posted career highs in goals (21), assists (16) and points (37) last year. And while the ladies may love him for different reasons, Caps fans embraced the 25-year-old for being one of the few players in our nation’s capitals who showed a consistent willingness to post up in front of the net, even if it meant taking a beating from opposing defensemen. On a team largely comprised of finesse players, Laich isn’t afraid of doing the dirty work.

Speaking of finesse players, how great is it to have Federov back in town? The 17-year-veteran may have only been a Capital since the trade deadline, but I’ve yet to find a Caps fan who didn’t want him back for another season. The guy will forget more about hockey than most players will ever know, and the fact that he’ll head into next season as the third center (behind Nicklas Backstrom and Michael Nylander) is a wonderful luxury that most teams simply cannot afford.

And finally, I would like to direct your attention to this feature story on the Capitals’ next star, Karl Alzner. If you’re looking for a young stud defenseman to complement Alex Ovechkin and friends, this is your man. As a member of the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, Alzner earned defenseman of the year and player of the year honors. Oh, and he captained Canada’s gold-winning squad at the world junior tournament too. Needless to say, this guy is the real deal.

Unlike the Nationals, the Caps are quickly becoming must-see TV.

02Jul

never a dull moment

A day after the Wizards brought back Antawn Jamison, the Capitals stepped up and re-signed a vital piece of their roster, by inking offensive defenseman Mike Green to a four-year, $21 million contract. The budding superstar led the NHL in scoring by a defenseman, and although he was a restricted free agent, other teams were still very much interested in the youngster. That’s probably because at 22 years old, Green was the youngest player to lead defensemen in goals since Paul Coffey back in 1981-82.

With lesser names earning bigger bucks on day one of free agency, the longer this dragged out, the more costly it would have been for the home team. There’s always going to be a need for a blueliner who can play defense and light the lamp, and the Caps should be commended for getting this done quickly.

Then, came the big swerve of the day – the Caps signed Colorado Avs goalie Jose Theodore to a two-year, $9 million deal. This happened because Christobal Huet, the guy the team traded for Feb. 26th last season, spurned the team in order to grab a few extra bucks elsewhere. Turns out that Caps general manager George McPhee called Huet’s people and said, “We want Huet back in town, so what’s it going to take to get this done?” Huet’s agent said they were looking for a three-year, $15 million deal, and so that’s what McPhee offered them. Instead of taking the offer they asked for, they shopped it around for more money, ultimately netted a four-year, $22 million deal courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks. Feeling used, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis blogged to let folks know that the only reason Huet left town is greed, and not because of a lack of effort on the team’s part.

Rounding out the day, former face of the franchise Olaf Kolzig signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning worth $1.5 million plus incentives. I love Olie, but I can’t help but think he and former Caps captain Jeff Halpern can room together on the road next season and enjoy another year of playing on a rebuilding hockey team. At least new coach/old talking head Barry Melrose will be able to break down their post-game highlights after losing another 6-2 game to teams actually capable of playing defense.

All in all, things worked out well for the Caps. They got one of the two guys they targeted, but more impressively, the moved quickly to lock in Theodore as soon as they figured out Huet was playing games. There were only two game-changing goalies available this offseason, so when one guy tried to screw them over, McPhee acted swiftly and brought in a former Vezina Trophy and NHL most valuable player. As far as backup plans go, that’s about as good as it gets. And for a team that promised to be quiet this offseason, that’s an awfully exciting day one.

All that’s left to do before next season is:

1. Re-sign Brooks Laich for me.
2. Re-sign Sergei Fedorov for my main man, Steve.
3. Take Brian Pothier out back, shoot him and put him out of his misery (and more importantly, get his $2.5-million deal off of the books).

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