The old standby. The last four seasons, no matter what happens, there the Caps are, finishing first in the Metro. There’s always a portion of the season where it feels like it’s gone on them, that this is finally where they’ve gotten too old and too predictable and too comfortable, and yet the season ends and here we are. Coaching change doesn’t seem to matter much. Whatever player turnover doesn’t seem to matter much. There seems to be things you can always count on. Alex Ovechkin will lead the league in goals, he’ll score from his post-up spot, and the Caps will finish first.

Will it be true again? There are a couple challengers, but maybe we’ve gotten to the point where we just take the Caps as a given until they say they’re not.


48-26-8  102 points (1st in Metro, lost in 1st round)

3.34 GF/G (5th)  3.02 GA/G (17th)

49.1 CF% (18th)  47.1 xGF% (25th)

20.8 PP% (12th)  79.9 PK% (24th)

Goalies: You think of Braden Holtby as another given for the Caps, along with Ovie and Backstrom. Still, the past two seasons he’s only been ok, and you’ll recall the Caps’ Cup run started with Philip Grubauer in net in the playoffs before he gave way to Holtby. Holts put up a .911 last year, which was only a touch above league average. He hasn’t been near his Vezina form for two seasons now, but this is his final one before hitting free agency. Tends to motivate some players. He’ll be 30 when the season starts, which means whatever comes after this is probably the last big contract he’ll sign, wherever that might be. There’s no reason to think the .908s and .911s of the past two seasons are now the norm. If the Caps get another .920+ out of Holtby, then they’ll almost certainly be near the top of the standings again.

He’ll be backed up by Pheonix Copley and his misspelled first name, who was your run of the mill backup last year. The Caps can’t afford an injury to Holtby, that’s for sure. Then again, do the Caps want Holtby to prove he’s worth $8M or $9M for the next few years?

Defense: The Caps mostly return the same outfit on the blue line, except they’ve swapped out Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas. At first that sounds like a major downgrade. It’s still something of one, but Gudas is actually effective when none of the bullshit is on display. Sadly, there’s always some bullshit on display, so the Caps will be killing off some dumbass penalties. John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Michal Kempny (sigh) will be doing the heavy lifting here, They’ll hope for development from both Christian Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler, and both were good in sheltered roles last year. If they get that, they can reduce what they need out of Gudas, which should always be the idea. They may get minutes from prospect Lucas Johansen as well, but they shouldn’t need it.

Forwards: Along with Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom is going into his free agent year at 31. Just like the goalie, this is probably his last big contract, and it’s a question if he’ll get it from the Caps with Evgeny Kuznetsov pretty much taking the #1 center role, or poised to. Backstrom is a lock for 70 or more points every year, and that should get him a deal nearing eight figures next summer, even at 32. Kuznetsov and him down the middle is just about as good as it gets. Lars Eller does the dirty work, and you know what Ovechkin is going to do no matter how old he is. He’ll be scoring 45 when he is 45. Beyond that there’s TJ Oshie, who if healthy he’s probably good f0r 30 goals again. Big if, though.

Beyond that, the Caps might be a touch short on scoring forwards. If they get a step forward from Jakub Vrana and his 24 goals last year, they’ll be ok. Carl Hagelin is around for a full season this time, and though he’s getting up there he still that brain and those feet. If the top six do top six things, the Caps are fine as they have plenty of foot soldiers in the bottom six to carry through. They always do, don’t they?

Prediction: You know what the floor is with the Caps. It’s incredibly hard to envision them slipping out of the playoffs unless Holtby goes full poltergeist in net or getting hurt. Ovie will score. So will Kuznetsov and Backstrom and Oshie. They’ll get contributions from elsewhere. The defense is solid if not spectacular, though it could start to approach that if the two kids become things. They have the Penguins and Hurricanes to outlast, but they always seem to. Maybe they’ll fall all the way to second. It’s hard to see anything worse.

Previous Team Previews



New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers



Everything Else

I don’t know what the hell the Hawks were doing at the beginning of the game, but a slow start pretty much screwed them. They followed that up with a lot of dumb penalties, making life harder for themselves, but had it not been for some abject stupidity right after puck drop we may have had a game. Oh, and Michal Kempny exacted his revenge, that did it too. To the bullets:

Box Score


Natural Stat Trick

– Of course it was Tom fucking Wilson taking advantage of the Hawks looking drunk and clueless at the start of the first. Of course it was. And not only did this anthropomorphized turd score less than a minute in, he also made sure to barrel over Crawford and knee him in the head. Fuck Tom Wilson. The fact that he’s even playing right now is an affront to decency. This league is a toilet.

– Something ridiculous happened to me the other day: I walked into an elevator at my office building, the lone dude who had been in it walked off said elevator, and as I went in, pressed the button and breathed, the smell of fart was unmistakable. As the doors closed he looked fearfully over his shoulder and definitely saw my twisted, disgusted face looking back at him with an “I know what you did!” expression. The Hawks were that guy in the first period. They laid a huge fart, and then tried to coolly walk away pretending like nobody noticed. Once the first couple minutes were over and Andre Burakovsky made it 2-0 with a power play goal, the Hawks pulled it together and got a flurry of shots on goal (after having none for about half the period). They ended up only slightly underwater in possession (47.5 CF%, all day not just evens), which was quite the accomplishment given the way it started. And yet just when it seemed like they were bouncing back, Saad high-sticked Nicklas Backstrom, which inexplicably was called an elbow, and inexplicably was argued by both Saad and Toews. Whatever.

– I’m dismissive of that silliness because Brandon Saad continued his resurgence with his third goal in as many games. It was a beautiful move just de-pantsing Orlov about mid-way through the second period. At that point the Hawks were down 3-0 so not only was it great to see Saad doing what we’ve been waiting for him to do (and consistently), but it briefly gave us, and the Hawks, some hope. And that was the mistake.

– You know how it was 3-0 when Saad scored? That’s because Michal Kempny got his first goal of the year against the Hawks. And later, in the third, he made a great play in the neutral zone to prevent a breakaway (by Anisimov who would have tripped over his own dick anyway but that’s beside the point), and it led immediately to the fourth goal, effectively ending the Hawks chances at making it a game. Well, they had in fact made it a game with Gustafsson’s goal in the third, but Smith-Pelly’s just moments later, thanks to Kempny’s defensive prowess, crushed the Hawks. And I can’t even be mad at him for it.

– This isn’t a hot take, but jeebus the Hawks are top heavy when it comes to offense. The Saad-Toews-Kane line led all four lines with eight shots, and they had over a 60 CF% at evens. Loading up on the top line isn’t necessarily wrong—it just underlines how empty the rest of the offense is. On the bright side, the second line of Schmaltz-Anisimov-DeBrincat generated the pass that led to Gustafsson’s goal, so at least Wide Dick and Nick Schmaltz got assists.

– And that’s good for Schmaltz because, if the broadcast is a reflection of the company line, then the organ-I-zation hates him these days. I know it’s a little conspiracy-theorist of me, but Eddie has been unrelentingly bad-mouthing Schmaltz these last few games which just makes me think they’re priming the ground for getting rid of him. It’s no secret Schmaltz has been struggling lately, with only nine points on the season so far. Yet seven of those points came when he was on the ice with Patrick Kane, so the source of the drought seems to clearly be sticking him on the wing and on a line without a top scorer where he (Schmaltz) can be a playmaker. I get why Colliton is going with Toews and Kane on a line, and the change doesn’t absolve Schmaltz of all responsibility for generating SOMETHING on offense. But the ire over Schmaltz from the broadcast really needs to be put in perspective, and unless they can package him as part of a season-changing deal, launching a young guy out of frustration is probably not the ideal move here.

– The power play still sucks. In case you were wondering.

We shouldn’t be all that surprised that the current Stanley Cup champions beat this group of schlubs, even if those champions are still drunk from the summer. But still, the sloppy start is maddening, and for a team with talent issues like the Hawks, having to dig yourself out of a hole basically as soon as the game starts just isn’t acceptable. And now it’s on to an even better team in the Lightning. Just get drunk and the weekend will go by in a blur. Onward and upward.

Beer: Totally Naked by New Glarus, followed by Myrcenary from Odell when I really needed a higher alcohol content.

Line of the Night: “Here’s your so-called second line…” —Foley throwing shade at Schmaltz, and Wide Dick and Top Cat by association.

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

Everything Else


Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
What A Bunch Of Clowns: Japer’s RinkRussian Machine Never Breaks

Though the Circus Trip is now a thing of the past, the Black Wednesday/Black Friday two-fer for the Hawks still remains, and the past to years things have been set out east rather than in California. And the earlier start time is probably better for all involved on one of the biggest drinking nights of the calendar year, but given the state of things with the Hawks, that probably won’t stop anyone reading this from getting after it and ending up at White Castle/Burrito House/Bacci’s Pizza by 9:30, not that anyone here would know anything about that.

Everything Else

You knew it was going to happen. From the second the Hawks traded Michal Kempny for a conditional third-round pick from Washington (which in an annoyingly roundabout way turned into Niklas Nordgren, who might be a scoring threat in 2021), he was destined to play a noticeable role in getting Washington its Cup. You’ll remember three of his five playoff points (one goal, two assists) coming when the lights shined brightest as we all pondered how often he must have “run over” Q’s “dog” to have himself relegated to a position in which trading him for a pick that won’t matter until people stop caring about the Hawks again seemed appealing. But you’ve read this crown of sonnets before, so what’s he doing now?

Since departing, Kempny has had two things break his way. First, he’s simply getting more playing time, primarily because he hasn’t been the Lionel Hutz to Todd Reirden’s (and Barry Trotz’s before him) Judge Snyder. Through 17 games this year, Kempny is averaging well over 18 minutes of ice time, by far the most of his career. Second, he’s played a good chunk of his time with John Carlson instead of whichever one-legged vagrant Q demanded he drag around in the three-legged race Ulf Samuelsson and his hairpiece called a defensive strategy in his time with the Hawks.

Over the past few games, though, Kempny has found himself away from Carlson, instead pairing with Matt Niskanen and taking more dungeon shifts than just about anyone expected. In the last four games in which they’ve spent most of their time together, they’ve started in the oZ 25%, 80%, 25%, and 0%, respectively. This weirdness seems like a consequence of the Caps’s hot and cold start to the year. It makes some sense, since dungeon starts have been Niskanen’s MO since he got to Washington and Kempny has always shown a penchant for possession. In theory, it should work.

Perhaps most interesting about Kempny’s rebirth in Washington is how he’s been used since arriving. Over his last five games, Kempny has played at least one minute and as much as 5:55 (against Arizona) on the PK, which was rare in his time in Chicago. Both Trotz and Reirden have tended to use Kempny more often in the defensive zone. In Kempny’s 31 games with the Hawks last year, he started in the offensive zone at an enviable 54+% rate. Upon arrival in Washington, those starts plummeted to around 43% over 22 games, which has continued into this year. And though that put a dent in his CF% (from 53+ to 47+), his high-danger-scoring-chances-for percentage stayed at a constant 52% after the trade, bolstering the argument that when Kempny was on the ice, scoring chances tended to crop up more often than not.

But for all the kisses we’ve blown Kempny’s way, there’s been the nagging fear that last year’s performance was more a dead cat bounce than a sign of tapped potential. And early on, you can use the primary stats to pad that fear. He’s got no goals and just three assists (one of which came in 3-on-3, so who fucking cares?) in 17 games. Though Kempny’s never really lit up the stat sheet, you wouldn’t be off in expecting a few more points from him having played a decent amount of time with Carlson and behind the Alex Ovechkin line. He’s also got 16 PIM early on, good for third on the team behind Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller. Though Kempny’s always had more snarl than his Werewolf of London hairdo would suggest, the 77 PIM pace doesn’t really bode well for a guy whose appeal lies in his puck possession abilities.

Still, when you look at the peripherals, it’s hard not to ask “What if?” A 50.3+ CF% despite starting in the oZ just 46.4% of the time is strong, especially since that’s never been how Kempny’s been used until now. His 2.1 CF% Rel trails only Christian Djoos and Carlson for Caps D-men, and they start in the oZ at respective 57+% and 54+% rates. And there’s still time for him to find his stroke, especially if he’s still shaking off rust from the concussion Robert “Big Pussy” Bortuzzo doled out in his efforts to elbow his way to the last slice of gabagool earlier in the year. At the very least, it’s safe to say that Kempny’s four-year, $2.5 million per against the cap and ability to skate and puck-handle without circumcising himself would look a lot better than Brandon “It’s the Zone-Defense Scheme’s Fault I Suck” Manning’s albatross (and given how bad he’s been, even two years at $2.5 million per is an albatross) any day of the week.

All of our eyes will be on Kempny in a sweater he wants to wear, wondering why he never got the shot we’d all love to see now.

Game #22 Preview Suite




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else has been a quality Caps outlet for as long as we’ve been doing this. Follow them @RussianMachine. 

It’s odd for a Cup-winning team to lose its coach. What really happened with Barry Trotz and has it made any difference so far this year?

There’s probably less to the story of Trotz’s exit than meets the eye. Trotz’s contract was up at the end of last season, but he had a provision that would have extended him with a modest raise if he won the Cup. Trotz felt he deserved more than a modest raise, and the Caps felt they should not commit upwards of $20 million on a coach that would likely be fired before full term. Trotz had come very close to a firing this time last year, and Todd Reirden had been groomed to take over for a couple years now. It was an awkward split, but this is sort of the way it had to go.
The team is mostly the same, but they’re having massive trouble with team defense, especially on the PK. New AC Reid Cashman is reportedly in charge of the defense, and they’re certainly struggling so far.

Much like last year, Braden Holtby can’t seem to stop a sloth. He struggled last season, and then was excellent in the playoffs. What’s the deal here?

We think Holtby’s doing okay, but “okay” is sub par for Holtby. Instead of saving around 93% during 5v5 play, he’s barely saving above what we’d expect given his workload — and that’s the rub. Holtby’s job has gotten much harder in the last year: more shots and more of them from close up. The team needs to do slightly better for him, and then I suspect Holtby will climb back up to that 93% range.

Feel free to go ahead and taunt us about Michal Kempny. We’ve lost all feeling anyway. 

Kempny literally saved the Caps season. He replaced Madison Bowey in February and immediately transformed the blue line. He seemed just as happy about the change of scenery as we were. Flat out: the Caps could not have won the Cup without him. Thank you for sharing.
Actually, Kempny got a concussion in the preseason and hasn’t quite been on the ball yet this year. I hope he’ll get back to it soon.

With the defense this team still has, why do their metrics underwhelm?

A bunch of factors, but here are a few: they stink without the puck. They are way too passive on the forecheck, which leaves the potential of dangerous floaters like Ovechkin and Kuznetsov unexploited. Orlov and Niskanen seem to be having down years, and depth forward Andre Burakovsky can’t seem to get his scoring touch back after an injury-riddled season. Still, I expect the Caps to outscore their shot-attempt stats by a fair bit just on the strength of their shooting talent.

If the Caps went 0-82, would anyone around there really care?

In the words of JP at Japers Rink,


Game #22 Preview Suite




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Oh yeah, these guys. While the Capitals finally hoisting the Cup last season was basically the equivalent of Denzel winning an Oscar for Training Day or Scorsese winning for The Departed, they certainly didn’t celebrate like a team that beat an expansion franchise, and to be fair, they did take out the top seed in the conference Lightning and the two-time defending champion and arch-nemesis in the form of the very tired Penguins, so the names won’t be ground out of the silver any time soon. Last season’s champions return mostly in tact, if more than a little bit dehydrated.

’17-’18: 49W-26L-7OT 256GF 239GA 22.5%PP 80.3%PK 47.96%CF 9.19SH% .9248SV%


Goaltending: Last year was finally the year that Braden Holtby broke under years of tremendous workloads, with sub .900 months of January and Febrary, ceding much of the home stretch of the season to Philipp Grubauer, who even started the playoffs in Round 1 against Columbus. But as Grubauer faltered, a somewhat rested Holtby was able to return to form and posted a .922 overall the remainder of the post season. With Grubauer shipped to Colorado for a second round pick, Holtby will now be backed up by something called Pheonix Copley (yes, that’s how his name is spelled) who has allowed 6 goals on the 35 shots he’s faced in the NHL since 2016. While Barry Trotz and his propensity for grinding goalies into dirt might be gone (due to some of the dumbest ass reasons ever), Holtby might have to play 70 games again out of necessity. He’s always generally been up to the task as one of the most consistent and stable goalies in the league and has a Vezina to prove it, but the modern game just simply can’t ask goalies to play that much.

Defensemen: Someone was going to pay John Carlson an exorbitant amount of money this past off season, particularly after the playoff run he had where he scored 5 goals and 20 total points from the back end, and given that the Caps actually walked away with hardware this time, it makes a certain degree of sense that it would be them to keep the home grown product in the fold. Carlson is the de facto #1 defenseman here, and he’s certainly paid like it, but it’s the goddamnedest thing that his game picked up right around the time that the Capitals acquired Michal Kempny from a long-out-of-it team with a coach that somehow couldn’t or wouldn’t figure out how to properly use him. Kempny’s coming out party in the post season earned him a contract of $2.5 per over four years, which will be an absolute steal if he plays the way he did in Washington post-trade. Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov provide a fair amount of offensive punch themselves, however one of them is still going to be dragging around what’s left of the wheelbarrow full of cinder blocks that is Brooks Orpik. Orpik was traded, bought out, and resigned back with Washington for $1 million for this year, which probably figures to be his last as he turns 38 a week from today. It’s a solid grouping, but it still kind of hinges on Michal Kempny not being a fluke.

Forwards: The strong suit of any team that has Alexander Ovechkin on it. The sheer firepower that Ovechkin has produced in his career, particularly having occurred in this era, has been poured over at length in this space. Having just turned 33 on Monday, he’s not quite the force of nature that he once was, but he can still basically get whatever he wants on the ice whenever he wants it, even if he probably didn’t fully deserve the Conn Smythe he was awarded in June, which should have gone to Evgeny Kuznetsov and his 32 post season points. Kuzya’s emergence has given the Caps some true center depth as Nicklas Backstrom ages gracefully into a slighly reduced role as a #2 center, and Lars Eller slots in nicely as a #3. Timothy Jimothy Leif predictably did not put up the Mike Bossy-esque shooting percentage numbers last year that he did in his contract year, and the game he plays at 31 would indicate that age is going to hit him in a hurry when it finally catches up, and a summer of being dick in the dirt drunk probably won’t help that. Andrei Burakovsky will be counted on to take the next step while providing some size on the wing, and Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana will certainly contribute some zest from the bottom six. Tom Wilson is now paid $5.16 million dollars a year to attempt to injure other players and generally be a pus-seeping carbunkle on the ass of the league.

Outlook: After the absolutely boneheaded decision to not pay Barry Trotz like the top tier head coach that he always has been in the wake of his and the franchise’s first Cup, and Todd Reirden has subsequently been giving his first ever head coaching job as Trotz has fucked off to Long Island/Brooklyn/wherever they play. Given how publicly and infamously the Capitals partied this year, having a rookie coach in the room doesn’t exactly seem like a great way to get everyone back on task to making another run at things. This team is still stacked given the restraints the salary cap imposes, but it took a lot of tread off the tires just to get to #1, and they may just not have it in them anymore. Given the personnel, the team can only get so bad, and they’ll probably ride Holtby until he collapses in the regular season which could very well win them an iffy division, but in all likelihood everyone will probably run out of gas by the time the inevitable post-season matchup with the Penguins comes around again.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Everything Else

As we move down the Hawks’s agonizing back-end, which at this point resembles someone who’s fallen into a porta-potty in a Super Mario Bros.-esque attempt to warp to a different place after the mushrooms really started to kick in, we reach a relative bright spot. We often bemoan the fact that the Hawks don’t have a puckmover on defense anymore, given Duncan Keith’s wrestling match with the ravages of time and Joel Quenneville’s hatred of everything beautiful in Michal Kempny. But if you squint, Erik Gustafsson can maybe fill that need.

2017–18 Stats

35 GP – 5 G, 11 A

55.4 CF%, 57.4 oZS%

Avg. TOI 18:33

A Brief History: You may remember Erik Gustafsson from such films as Signing a Two-Year, $2.4 Million Extension in the Middle of March and Scoring 11 of His 16 Points After the Extension. (What do you know? A guy scoring a bunch after his extension.) While that’s clearly a coincidence, Gustafsson does bring some intrigue.

In 35 games in 2017–18 (all of them post-Corey Crawford), Gustafsson posted a 55.4 CF%, good for second among all Hawks D-men in that category, behind Cody Franson (58.44 in 23 games). Couple that with his 54.0 CF% in 2015–16 over 41 games and you have a D-man with a cumulative 54.7 CF% over 76 games. That’s a pretty good start.

Additionally, Gustafsson’s xGF% last year sat at a robust 52.78, meaning that the Hawks could expect to score more than their opponent when he was on the ice. Even better, Gustafsson’s Rel xGF% was an obscene 8.42, meaning the Hawks were 8%+ more likely to score as a function of Gustafsson’s presence. Small sample sizes be damned, those numbers portend potential at the very least.

It’s important to look at whom Gustafsson played with to get those numbers. Last year saw Gustafsson skate a glut of his time next to Brent Seabrook and behind the Patrick Kane line, which you may have deduced based on his 57.4 oZS%. And really, it’s been that way his entire 76-game career: Gustafsson has skated with Seabrook and Kane more than anyone else.

Gustafsson also contributed a bit on the power play, which is where he has the potential to be most intriguing. In just over 49 minutes of PP time, Gustafsson racked up four assists—two primary and two secondary. For comparison, it took Keith almost 213 minutes to rack up two goals, three primary assists, and five secondary assists. It took Seabrook 171 minutes to post two goals, one primary assist, and five secondary assists. So, the rate at which Gustafsson contributes PP points vastly exceeds the rates Keith and Seabrook—Q’s go-to guys on the PP—contribute. Granted, the sample sizes are askew, but it’s something interesting to consider, since the Hawks PP has been beaten around the head with an oversized marital aid the past two years.

Of course, Gustafsson did all of this while spending nearly 60% of his time in the offensive zone. And there are legitimate questions about his defensive abilities: Namely, does he have any? But some of the fancier numbers show that he might not be a total loss on defense. His HDCF%—the measure of high-danger chances for vs. high-danger chances against—was 51.03% last year. His CF% Rel was a robust 6.6. And his 2:1 giveaway/takeaway ratio at 5v5 was the best among Hawks defensemen (Keith, Murphy, and Forsling were the only other D-men who had ratios under 3:1, not counting Franson).

Make no mistake: Gustafsson is an offensive defenseman. But he’s not the worst defender the Hawks have ever seen. With the right pairing and more exposure, the Hawks might have an advantage in Gustafsson’s offensive skills.

It Was the Best of Times: Best-case scenario, you pair Connor Murphy and Gustafsson, which essentially makes them your top pairing. This creates another problem regarding whom to pair Keith with, but pairing Gustafsson with Murphy gives him more range to be creative with the puck and start rushes with the Nick Schmaltz line while Murphy hangs back. I don’t have any proof of this other than my eyes, but Gustafsson and Kane look to have natural chemistry on the ice.

In this scenario, Gustafsson is your PP1 unit’s QB. For nearly a decade, we’ve screamed into the rain about how for all of Keith’s greatness, he’s never been much of a PP QB. Handing the reins to Gustafsson can’t possibly make the PP worse, and it has an added bonus of relieving Keith of his duties, giving his legs a couple hundred minutes of desperately needed rest.

With more time and more responsibilities, Gustafsson becomes a 40-point contributor and puts the Hawks’s PP in the Top 10 for the first time since 2015–16.

It Was the BLURST of Times: Quenneville’s galaxy brain does what it did to Gustav Forsling and uses Gustafsson as a defensive defenseman alongside Jan Rutta. Gustafsson struggles horribly, and halfway through the year, the Hawks trade Gustafsson to St. Louis for the rights to install three Imo’s stands in the concourse where Bobby Hull pisses and pukes on himself when he’s not on camera. He goes on to score 20 points in 30 games, vaulting the Blues to the playoffs. He proceeds to develop into Duncan Keith Lite, spending the rest of his career assisting Vladimir Tarasenko and posting 30–45 points regularly.

Prediction: Gustafsson plays most of his time on the second pairing with Seabrook, but moonlights with Keith for a few small stretches. Barring injury, he contributes 25–30 points over 75 games, most of which come playing with the Schmaltz line. He splits time with Seabrook as the PP2 QB and still manages to contribute 10 PP points.

Of course, Quenneville finds a reason not to like him at some point, and there are spots where Brandon Manning plays instead of him, especially in games when Gustafsson posts a 60+ CF% but happens to be on the ice when, I don’t know, Artem Anisimov pukes all over himself in the neutral zone, leaving Gustafsson alone to defend a 4 on 1.

I think Erik Gustafsson will be good. I sincerely believe that he has Top 4 potential (though he’d be the fourth man in the Top 4). I think I’m the only one here who believes that.

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Cam Ward

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Brent Seabrook

Brandon Manning

Jan Rutta

Everything Else

It’s something of a spring tradition, at least it is when your team doesn’t go anywhere or misses the dance altogether. There’s always a player or two or six who make it to the Final and some of those even win it (funny how that works). And you sit there and curse the brainpower of your local/favorite organization, and are convinced if only they saw the world they way you saw it, there’d be a never-ending parade. Often, this involves a player you didn’t even like when they sported the colors you prefer, and what you often do is lament that your coaching staff doesn’t know how to get the best or even good out of said player.

The case of Michal Kempny is a little more tasty than that.

Most players don’t get a 180 from one Edward Olczyk. And yet that’s what we had last night, as Eddie lauded Kempny’s performance in Game 7 and throughout the playoffs, and remarked he was more comfortable in Washington because he knew “one mistake wouldn’t mean getting benched.” That certainly wasn’t the theme in the booth when Kempny was here, and Eddie wasn’t alone as pretty much everyone covering the Hawks leapt to point out his foibles when the coach was basically throwing him under the bus. And the mistakes weren’t always there.

There is more to unpack here than the untrained eye might guess. And we’ll get to all of it. But let’s not bury the lede.

Michal Kempny’s resurgence, or I guess simply “surgence,” with the Capitals would raise the curtain or lid on what was and might still be a dysfunctional system between the Hawks front office and behind their bench. While we try and guess or claim we know what goes on, it’s probably safe to conclude the Hawks always try and reach a consensus. They have many voices in there, Bowman and Quenneville are the two biggest, but MacIassac and Maciver get heard as well (Irish much?), as well as Kelley, the elder Bowman (even if he’s what they’re moving Sue over at the Field to display), Stewart, Hallin, et al.

Still, Kempny was a player that Bowman clearly wanted, given that he signed him twice, and their European scouting recommended. As as we’ve said in previous posts, the Hawks’ European scouting is probably the strongest of the three areas (pro and amateur the others). They had clear plans for Kempny.

And yet he could never win any affection, or barely attention, from Quenneville. We rarely saw him in anything more than a third-pairing role, even though this was a blue line that’s been screaming for mobility for two seasons. He even played with a snarl in his own end that Q supposedly loves. Kempny only played more than 18 minutes with the Hawks five times this season, and he exceeded that six times with the Caps in just a quarter of the season, basically. In these playoffs he’s exceeded 20 minutes five times, with only one of those being an overtime game. It is clear that Barry Trotz is not a moron, so what does he see that Q couldn’t.. or more to the point, wouldn’t?

We had written at many points last year how Kempny’s pairing with Seabrook, despite all logic, actually worked. The dude carried a 58% share with Michal Rozsvial for fuck’s sake! He clearly had use.

And yet he was another player that the front office, whoever were his fans and whoever weren’t, had to toss overboard because they knew simply the coach would never give him a chance. And because of that, they had to know he wouldn’t re-sign here and had to cash in whatever they could. Most players the Hawks have lost over the years were due to cap considerations, but their coach’s use and view of them always played a part. And for the most part, the Hawks have gotten it right. Kempny now, Teuvo this season are generally the exception of who’s gone on to be successful. And we’ve written this article before.

It’s the sideswipe from Olczyk that makes this more interesting, however. It’s not something we’ve ever heard, and there’s been no bigger water-carrier for the organization and how it sees its players than those in the booth. From protecting Marcus Kruger in his rookie year to the over-the-top criticisms of Teuvo to the shielding of Seabrook this year, to his one-man band that basically handed Duncan Keith his second Norris with the Leddy-bashing thrown in, this list could go on. Where Eddie was getting his info is up for endless debate, but clearly this one didn’t come from the coach. Does Eddie perceive a less secure Q, one that he doesn’t have to cozy up to quite as much now? Does he just disagree with his methods more than he did?

If I can put my tin foil hat on–the sun is out after all–I’m curious what Eddie is getting at. Sometimes I wonder if Eddie hasn’t looked at Q’s job with envy, and wouldn’t mind positioning himself in line should it finally become open. But that seems far-fetched, though he’s stated his desire to try coaching again. Perhaps he just became frustrated, like a lot of us, at the handling of the lineup on a nightly basis and couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe he’s just like a lot of fans who want to criticize after a season gone wrong, even if it involves players he himself criticized when they were hear and now the winds have shifted. I don’t really know.

What we can do is be wary of how things are going to go from here. Because the Hawks aren’t going to get older, and they’ve said as much, as far as how they want to develop the team under the aging core. Sure, they may make a splash or two in free agency this summer, but the fortunes of this team are still greatly dependent on Schmaltz, Top Cat, Sikura, Ejdsell, Duclair, Hinostroza, Saad, Murphy, or at least whoever among them sticks, to go along with other kids through the system and signed out of Europe (Ian Mitchell and Jokiharju would be the two names at the top of that list). And at the very least, Eddie is pointing at a disconnect in how the front office and scouting wants players developed, and how they’re actually getting used and developed.

Everything Else


SCHEDULE: Game 1 Friday, Game 2 Sunday, Game 3 Tuesday, Game 4 Thursday

They’ve broken through. After more than a decade in the Ovechkin Era, and repeated attempts to run head-first (sometimes literally) through the forcefield between the second round and the conference final, the Caps finally found the weak point and got into the back half of the journey toward the Cup. Good for them, Ovie certainly deserves it. Seems a shame it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a very long stay, because they’re going to find an unholy machine waiting for them.

Goalies: Before this whole thing started, we said it might be better for Braden Holtby, who’s not ever really been a playoff dog except for last season, to come in and be the white knight to bail out Barry Trotz and the Caps after trying Phillip Grubauer in the first two games against the Jackets. That didn’t work, this did work, and now Holtby is playing awfully well. He only gave up 13 goals in the six games against the Pens, but then again he wasn’t asked to do all that much. The Caps only gave up more than 25 shots twice in six games, and that’s just about the best they can do. Holtby isn’t going to have a full-out meltdown with that kind of workload, but sadly that workload is probably going to get a whole lot heavier in this round.

You could say Vasilevskiy has had even less to do. He only had to face one player in the first round in Taylor Hall. He only had to face one line in the second round against the Bruins, and after Game 1 he gave up only seven goals in their four wins. He only saw over 30 shots once in those four wins, but the Lightning can probably hold the Caps to the same kind of output which certainly isn’t the case vice versa. Neither Holtby or Vasilevskiy have been here before so we have no idea how they’ll react. When this is all over, I doubt it’ll be because of either goalie primarily.

Defense: The Caps defense in the second round was basically what it was all season. John Carlson scores a ton on the power play, some at evens, and then they kind of turtle well enough to keep the other side from tearing the walls down. Orlov and Niskanen have been more than just useful, and basically nullified Crosby and Guentzel when the last series got decided. They’ll get the Stamkos and Kucherov assignment you’d think as often as possible, and based on how the last series ended the Caps are probably going to send their stall out to help them as much as possible with a trapping style that’s going to make you really understand Ibsen and welcome the void into your life.

I’m still not totally convinced by the Lightning’s defense, but because it hasn’t been seriously tested, and the Caps are likely to play this very conservatively, I don’t know that I have to be. Hedman might be enough, and will see plenty of Ovechkin with McDonagh you would think. Or if they wanted to play a funny joke they could throw McDonagh and Girardi at Ovie’s line just like the Rangers did and it always seemed to work even though everything tells you it shouldn’t. Also, Dan Girardi sucks. Anton Stralman isn’t much better these days as he gets older, but he’s enough. What the Bolts do have that the Caps don’t is a young, third-pairing bum-slayer in Mikhail Sergachev who has run wild most of these playoffs. That is when he’s played which really has been barely at all. Cooper needs to let this guy off the hook because the Caps will not have an answer and they’re probably going to need all the neutral zone busters they can find as the Caps dig trenches and set up barbed wire there.

Forwards: Even if the Caps were fully healthy, this is where the Lightning have the biggest advantage. And Backstrom and Burakovsky are not healthy. If they could not make the bell for an elimination game against the Penguins, only Washington’s Sisyphusian boulder they finally got up the hill, you have to imagine they’re really hurt. They’ll suit up at some point in this series, though Backstrom’s status for Game 1 is up in the air. Without him, this team is really just one line, and we saw what the Bolts did to a one-line team the last round. Lars Eller is great and all but he’s not enough. Especially when Tom Wilson is assuredly going to give away a couple dumbass power plays to the Lightning by trying to eat someone’s face in a bid to one-up Marchand or something.

We derided Swingin’ Jon Cooper’s choice to send Brayden Point and Palat and Johnson out against Boston’s main threat after Game 1. They spent the rest of the series giving that line a swirly. That goes with Stamkos and Kucherov and Miller (who’s been great) on the top line. Killorn and Gourde are a very decent third line. Basically, the Lightning are two to three times deeper than the Caps, and there just isn’t much they can do about it.

Prediction: The Caps have to gum this up as much as possible. They cannot run with the Lightning in any fashion. They don’t have the depth at forward. They’ll get outscored. So they’ll have to make everything 2-1 and hope Holtby goes nuclear or Vasilevskiy goes blind. They’re counting on Ovechkin or Oshie getting really hot, but if neither do they just don’t have the goals. The Lightning have the guns and they have the numbers. Crash before my eyes…Lightning in 5.