Friday, July 31, 2009

Jurcina Nets Raise in Arbitration

The result of the Milan Jurcina arbitration case was handed down late yesterday, and the defenseman was awarded a healthy raise to $1.375 million, and the crowded Capitals blueline figures to change before the puck drops on October 1st.

The raise wasn't enough to trigger a "walk-away" clause for the Caps, meaning they couldn't just opt not to pay him and let him become an unrestricted free agent (as ex-Capitals forward Dmitri Kristich was several years ago when Boston let him go after being unhappy with an award).

So, now with the full compliment of defensemen from last season, and Brian Pothier healthy heading into camp, as well as John Carlson and Karl Alzner fighting for spots, there figures to be some trades as the Capitals will need to shed some salary before the season begins.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

No 'Low Blows'

Arbitration is always an awkward process for players and their teams, since while the player puts the best light on their performances to get a raise, their club essentially makes the case why their skater isn't that valuable.

Fortunately for the Capitals, the latest Washington player to go through the process, Milan Jurcina, went through relatively unscathed after his hearing Tuesday, per In the Room.

Per Jurcina's agent, Allan Walsh:

"It was very professionally presented by both sides," he said. "There was some strong advocating by both sides, but certainly there was no nastness [Ed note: sic] or low blows as has occurred in some other hearings."

As the post notes, last year's hearing with Shaone Morrisonn became rather ugly, as the team reportedly called the blueliner "one-dimensional."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ovechkin Says He'd Skip NHL to Play in Sochi

While the NHL will take a break this February to let its players participate in the Vancouver Olympics, one player already is looking four years down the road to when the Winter Olympics is held on Russian soil for the first time in history.

In an interview with Russia Today, Caps star Alexander Ovechkin certainly looks like he'd throw his weight around if the NHL and the NHLPA don't come to an agreement to extend participation in the 2014 Olympics.

Unfortunately we don’t know whether the NHL players will be allowed to play in Sochi. How are you going to feel if you are not allowed to play in Sochi?
I will be there.

Even if that means you leaving the NHL?
(Nods)

So if push came to shove, you would leave the NHL to play in Sochi?
Yes.

Playing in Sochi certainly figures to be a sticky issue down the road, as while the players overwhelmingly want to take part in the Olympics, the NHL's owners certainly don't care for shutting down the league for three weeks in February - particularly when games are being held in a time zone that is eight hours ahead of the Eastern seaboard and would likely be relegating live games to the early morning time slots as it was in 1998 from Nagano.

Part of the payoff for NHL owners to deal with the odd time slots in Nagano and Turin (2006) was the promise the next games would be held in North America, in Salt Lake (2002) and now Vancouver (2010). While 2018's site won't be determined for two more years, Chicago is a strong candidate to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, so the United States isn't submitting a bid for the Winter Olympics until 2022. Quebec City could be the lone North American site considered, but the odds are it won't be held in a TV-friendly time zone.

The NHL hasn't seen a great payoff from having its players participate in the Olympics, so it's very much in the air if they'll yield to the NHLPA's wish to shut down again in February in four seasons. Adding to the complication is insurance issues which is keeping some players off the ice in summer orientations as they don't want to risk their multi-million deals in auditioning for roster spots.

For his part, Ovechkin has been promoting the 2014 Olympics, appearing in Bejing last summer and certainly will be pushing hard for the players to head to his native land. However, if that bid falls short, it'll be worth watching if Ovechkin - and others - decide to try and take leave of absences during the Olympics to play for their home countries.

Nylander Rumors Resurface

The constant presence of the Capitals' offseason is the white elephant that is Michael Nylander's $5.5-million contract, which despite months of rumors that it would be paid in rubles next season, is still Washington's property at the moment.

According to Capitals Insider, another rumor has surfaced about interest in Nylander from a KHL squad, a report that his agent denies is true.

"For a year I've been hearing the [rumors]," Bill Zito told me earlier today. "Michael called me a couple times and asked, 'Have you talked to these guys?' In the past it's been Yaroslavl, then it was Moscow, then it was St. Pete. We haven't spoken to them, and anyway, he has a contract with Washington."

Despite falling out of Bruce Boudreau's favor during the playoffs where he spent more time in the press box than on the ice, it's clear Nylander wants to return to the NHL and will use his right to veto a deal to another club - in North America or otherwise.

Despite George McPhee's public support of his signing, the Capitals certainly could use the money in cap room to upgrade the team's roster, but is hamstrung for this season to do anything without Nylander's approval. Compounding the problem is that no other NHL team would take on his contract, especially since the player that Nylander meshed best with - Jaromir Jagr - is now plying his trade in Russia.

So, as much as fans would like to see Nylander's deal wiped off the books, the odds that the team won't have to find a role for No. 92 besides munching on press box popcorn appear very slim, leaving the team with some decisions to make before the puck drops on Oct. 1.

Jurcina's Arbitration Hearing Set for Today

Barring a last-minute settlement, the Capitals and defenseman Milan Jurcina will head for arbitration today, with the blueliner seeking a raise from the $912,500 he earned last season.

Jurcina, who will be battling for ice time in what figures to be a crowded camp of contenders in September, will submit his case for a substantial raise while the team will attempt to keep his price tag down in what usually is a awkward excercize for both parties.

The hearing will be held in Toronto, with the results coming on August 6th.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

'It’s Their Decision and I Won’t Judge Them'

While the Capitals didn't do too badly for themselves replacing Sergei Fedorov and Victor Kozlov with Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison, one factor that the Caps have to face is that Alexander Ovechkin's core of Russians is now down to Alexander Semin and Simeon Varlamov.

The Caps' star says it was a shame he lost his comrades to the KHL, according to Russia Today.

"My attitude towards their departure is negative. We became great friends – that's why I was a little upset when they left. But it's their decision and I won't judge them."

However, armed with his big contract, don't expect Ovechkin to be joining them in his homeland anytime soon.

"It'll happen only in case of an NHL lockout, if there'll ever be any, of course."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer Housecleaning

With the development camp over and arbitration still around the corner, the Capitals did a bit of odds and ends this week, apparently picking its new radio home as well as deciding to extend its affiliation with South Carolina.

First of all, the Capitals reportedly are going to be broadcast on WFED (formerly WTOP) 1500 AM, per the Examiner. With WJFK changing to an all-sports format this week and signing the Wizards, there was a question if the Caps would go to 106.7 or stay with Dan Snyder-owned 980 AM, but Washington selected to remain with WFED.

The Nationals are still up for grabs, but having the Wizards and Capitals on different stations makes sense, since there certainly would be a number of conflicts between the NHL and NBA schedules, and it's easier to have a consistent station to catch the games, particularly with interest in the Caps at an all-time high.

The other item of note is the Capitals extended their affiliation with the South Carolina Stingrays for the 2009-10 season. The Stingrays won the Kelly Cup last season, meaning both of Washington's affiliates took the hardware in their respective leagues.

South Carolina has been Washington's affiliate since 2004-05, and has produced seven players who have played for the Capitals.

Capitals' Goaltending Situation Clears Up

While Brent Johnson was the odd man out among the Caps' netminders following an injury down the stretch, he heads north to join the Pittsburgh Penguins next season, and leaving the likelihood that Jose Theodore and Simeon Varlamov will be the two netminders in Boston Opening night.

Johnson, when healthy, was the most effective of the Caps' goaltenders during the regular season, posting a 12-6-2 record and a 2.81 goals-against, but he was bothered all season by a hip injury that forced him to miss back-to-back games. He also only played in three games for Washington during the calendar year 2009, last appearing on February 1 before he was sidelined for the rest of the campaign.

So, with him looking to win the Penguins' backup role, it would be unlikely the Capitals would carry a pair of rookies in net, so Theodore looks like he will be challenging Varlamov for the starting role in camp, with Michal Neuvirth ready to step in if either falters.

With one year left on his contract, Theodore's contract would be potentially easier to move as the season progresses if the team so chooses, and he also might perform more consistently in a contract year with Washington. In his own right, Varlamov certainly was terrific in the postseason, but now will get his chance to prove he belongs as a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL as he also competes for a spot on the Russian Olympic team.

And Neuvirth, after an impressive run to the Calder Cup with Hershey, likely will be the Bears' Opening Night starter with potential to move up should Theodore be dealt before the deadline or the begininng of the 2010-11 season.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Caps Wrap Up Development Camp

In front of a jam-packed Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the Capitals wrapped up their development camp with a scrimmage, with Michael Dubuc scoring twice for the white squad in a 4-2 win to wrap up the week-long audition for consideration for spots in Hershey and Washington next season.

A crowd estimated at more than 1,500 left fans in every corner of Kettler, and got to see some of the potential Caps of the future play one last time before some will be back in juniors, overseas or perhaps in training camp that will open in September.

With the team not needing to put as much emphasis on the NHL Draft with the team picking much later lately, the development camp has become more of the unofficial gathering spot of the summer for fans, becoming a small dose of hockey in the four-month stretch between the team's playoff exit and the upcoming camp that will open in less than two months in Arlington.

As for the action on the ice, after a good stint in the Calder Cup with Hershey and a good showing at camp, John Carlson may challenge for one of the spots on the blueline.

One of the weak spots during the second-round loss to the Penguins, now with all the defensemen returning with Schultz, Morrisonn accepting their qualifying offers as well as Brian Pothier now healthy enough to skate, it will be a tight battle with Karl Alzner and Carlson garnering serious consideration for a spot on the roster. The only loose end on the blue line is the outcome of Milan Jurcina's arbitration hearing on July 28th, but Washington is bringing back all of last year's blueliners with some of the prospects looking to displace some of the incumbents.

Dmitri Orlov also might be in a Capitals sweater in the near future, as the Russian second-rounder impressed with his skill, with his stock dampened with the lack of a transfer agreement with the KHL. He played well this week, and certainly will be worth keeping tabs of his progression.

Joe Finley will certainly get a look as well, as the 6-foot-7 defenseman was pretty solid, and most likely will be in Hershey to begin next season with a chance to move up - depending on the logjam on the Caps' blueline.

Up front, Dubuc certainly was the star, scoring seven goals in three games after spending the season with the Stingrays (and scoring 35 goals in 49 games), and his eye-opening performance certainly will earn him a good shot at the AHL club this fall.

Mathieu Perreault, who spent most of the season with Hershey last year, certainly showed his extra seasoning in the AHL, and he certainly hopes that he can get a shot at the big club sometime next season.

With the team nearly at the salary cap, and only Milan Jurcina's arbitration hearing to come this month, it figures to be much quieter for the next couple of weeks before some of the veterans start to return back to town and begin workouts before camp officially kicks off in September.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Convention a Hot Ticket

If you need any proof on the Capitals' surge in popularity (and noticing the much higher profile this week's development camp is getting from the local press), there's this piece from the Washington Times on the planned Capitals Convention.

According to the Caps, they have already sold half of the 5,000 tickets the team has allotted to sell to the event at the Gaylord Convention Center in Maryland, and expect to sell out - even with the tickets being almost as much as some of the regular-season tickets the Caps will sell next year.

"It's one thing to sell out the event, but it's another to make sure everyone has an awesome experience," said Tim McDermott, Caps senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "We just decided to make sure we put on a first-class event. We'll probably have more demand for tickets than we'll have tickets, but we want to make sure everyone has a great, great time, and maybe next year we'll consider doing it over several days."

The team certainly has come a long way in a short period of time with their popularity, as it wasn't too long ago that they'd have trouble having that many fans in the seats for a preseason or early regular-season weeknight contest. But now, with the attention of the region squarely on the Capitals, it's clear the team is certainly more popular than it's ever been in its 35-year-existence in the nation's capital.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Caps Sign Five Restricted Free Agents

The Caps had five players accept their qualifying offers, with Shaone Morrisonn, Eric Fehr, Chris Bourque, Steve Pinizzotto and Kyle Wilson inked to deals.

Morrisonn will vie for a spot on what is an increasingly crowded blueline with Karl Alzner expected to compete for a top six slot, and perhaps John Carlson getting an extended look with an impressive development camp so far. Morrisonn had three goals and 10 assists with Washington last year, including the game-winner as the Caps erased a four-goal deficit to the Rangers on Dec. 23rd.

Fehr is also looking to land a spot in training camp, as he and Mike Knuble will be up for the second-line center role. Fehr had 12 goals last year along with 13 assists, with the Caps going 10-1-1 when he lit the lamp.

Bourque will look to crack the Washington roster this fall, as the son of the Hall of Famer played a key role in Hershey's Calder Cup run this spring, notching 21 points in 22 games.

Wilson was fifth in Hershey's scoring last season, notching 28 goals and 30 assist on the Bears. The Bears also will get some muscle with Pinizzotto back, as the rugged forward delivered some key hits and eight points as the Bears won the Calder Cup.

Capitals Release Schedule

The NHL unveiled its slate for 2009-10 on Wednesday, and the Capitals will open their 35th anniversary season on October 1st at Boston, where the top two regular-season teams from last year will clash to open their campaigns. Washington and Boston will also match up to close the regular season, as the Caps host the B's on April 11th before what the team hopes is another extended playoff run.

The Caps then open at home two nights later, hosting the Maple Leafs to kick off the 41-game home schedule.

There certainly are some quirks to this year's schedule, as with the Vancouver Olympics causing a break between February 13th and March 3rd, the season starts a bit earlier than usual.

Fans also will be able to see the top three teams from last year's Western Conference visit Chinatown as well, as the Sharks, Red Wings and Flames will pay a visit to Verizon Center.

The Caps also will have to wait a while to exact some revenge on the Penguins following last year's playoff loss, not facing the Penguins until January 21st at Mellon Arena, and then the Pens pay a visit to Washington on Super Bowl Sunday.

One quirk with the schedule is that not only did the Capitals get passed over for the Winter Classic, they won't even be in the same time zone on New Year's, playing in San Jose and Los Angeles over the holiday break and idle on January 1st.

October

Thurs., Oct. 1 at Boston 7 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 3 Toronto 7 p.m.
Tues., Oct. 6 at Philadelphia 7 p.m.
Thurs., Oct. 8 N.Y. Rangers 7 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 10 at Detroit 7 p.m.
Mon., Oct. 12 New Jersey 7 p.m.
Thurs., Oct. 15 San Jose 7 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 17 Nashville 7 p.m.
Thurs., Oct. 22 at Atlanta 7 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 24 at N.Y. Islanders 7 p.m.
Tues., Oct. 27 Philadelphia 7 p.m.
Thurs., Oct. 29 at Atlanta 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 30 N.Y. Islanders 7 p.m.

November
Sun., Nov. 1 Columbus 5 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 4 at New Jersey 7 p.m.
Fri., Nov. 6 at Florida 7:30 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 7 Florida 7 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 11 N.Y. Islanders 7 p.m.
Fri., Nov. 13 Minnesota 7 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 14 at New Jersey 7 p.m.
Tues., Nov. 17 at N.Y. Rangers 7 p.m.
Fri., Nov. 20 Montreal 7 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 21 at Toronto 7 p.m.
Mon., Nov. 23 at Ottawa 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 25 Buffalo 7 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 28 at Montreal 7 p.m.
Mon., Nov. 30 at Carolina 7 p.m.

December
Thurs., Dec. 3 Florida 7 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 5 at Philadelphia 7 p.m.
Mon., Dec. 7 at Tampa Bay 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Dec. 9 at Buffalo 7 p.m.
Fri., Dec. 11 Carolina 7 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 12 at Toronto 7 p.m.
Tues., Dec. 15 at Colorado 9:30 p.m.
Fri., Dec. 18 at Vancouver 10 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 19 at Edmonton 10 p.m.
Wed., Dec. 23 Buffalo 7 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 26 New Jersey 7 p.m.
Mon., Dec. 28 Carolina 7 p.m.
Wed., Dec. 30 at San Jose 10:30 p.m.

January
Sat., Jan. 2 at Los Angeles 4 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 5 Montreal 7 p.m.
Thurs., Jan. 7 Ottawa 7 p.m.
Sat., Jan. 9 at Atlanta 7 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 12 at Tampa Bay 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 13 at Florida 7:30 p.m.
Fri., Jan. 15 Toronto 7 p.m.
Sun., Jan. 17 Philadelphia 3 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 19 Detroit 7 p.m.
Thurs., Jan. 21 at Pittsburgh 7:30 p.m.
Sat., Jan. 23 Phoenix 7 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 26 at N.Y. Islanders 7 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 27 Anaheim 7 p.m.
Fri., Jan. 29 Florida 7 p.m.
Sun., Jan. 31 Tampa Bay 3 p.m.

February
Tues., Feb. 2 at Boston 7 p.m.
Thurs., Feb. 4 at N.Y. Rangers 7 p.m.
Fri., Feb. 5 Atlanta 7 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 7 Pittsburgh 12:30 p.m.
Wed., Feb. 10 at Montreal 7:30 p.m.
Thurs., Feb. 11 at Ottawa 7 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 13 at St. Louis 8 p.m.

March
Wed., March 3 at Buffalo 7 p.m.
Thurs., March 4 Tampa Bay 7 p.m.
Sat., March 6 N.Y. Rangers 7 p.m.
Mon., March 8 Dallas c 7 p.m.
Wed., March 10 Carolina 7 p.m.
Fri., March 12 Tampa Bay 7 p.m.
Sun., March 14 at Chicago 7 p.m.
Tues., March 16 at Florida 7:30 p.m.
Thurs., March 18 at Carolina 7 p.m.
Sat., March 20 at Tampa Bay 7:30 p.m.
Wed., March 24 Pittsburgh 7 p.m.
Thurs., March 25 at Carolina 7 p.m.
Sun., March 28 Calgary 3 p.m.
Tues., March 30 Ottawa 7 p.m.

April
Thurs., April 1 Atlanta 7 p.m.
Sat., April 3 at Columbus 7 p.m
Mon., April 5 Boston 7 p.m.
Tues., April 6 at Pittsburgh 7:30 p.m.
Fri., April 9 Atlanta 7 p.m.
Sun., April 11 Boston 3 p.m.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Scheduling Fun for Everyone

As Capitals prospects will arrive tomorrow for the team's week-long development at Kettler, thoughts also will turn to next season's schedule in the middle of the week.

Some NHL teams have released their pre-season slates already, although strangely enough, the Capitals aren't on the preseason list of any of their other four division rivals (including the Hurricanes, which the team usually plays regularly in September due to the proximity). The Capitals aren't on the Senators or Bruins' slates either, and those are two of the teams they battled in home-and-homes during 2008-09's exhibition season.

The Capitals also aren't on the Penguins' pre-season schedule either, although the Flyers, Rangers, Devils or Islanders haven't released their slates yet, perhaps meaning a couple of those Atlantic Division teams will be meeting Washington in September. Philadelphia's a strong bet due to the proximity and the fact the team's rookies usually hook up for a game during the pre-season, and the Devils are also attractive due to the short travel between Verizon Center and Prudential Center.

There could be a possibility the Caps might also meet Buffalo, as that has been another club the team's battled in September in the past, but barring a random Western Conference foe, it appears the Caps will draw their slate from the quartet along the Eastern seaboard.

Striking also is the variance in exhibition games by some teams, as while the Hurricanes only have four games total, other teams like Boston have twice as many tune-up contests.

Since the Caps haven't shown up on any other team's pre-season slate, that probably indicates a couple of home-and-homes with Philadelphia, New Jersey or the New York teams may be on the horizon.

The regular-season schedule will be released Wednesday afternoon as well, and while it appears the Capitals won't be involved in this year's Winter Classic at Fenway Park, it should be interesting to see how the new season shapes up - particularly with the break for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Morrison Shoots for Second-Line Role

Hours after picking the Capitals to try and see if he can win a Stanley Cup ring, Brendan Morrison spoke with reporters about coming to Washington.

The big question is if Morrison is healthy after a series of surgeries over the past two years, and the British Columbia native said he feels better than he has since the surgeries.

"When I started [last season], I thought I was healthy but my legs didn't start coming around until probably the three quarter mark of the season," he said. "Skating had always been one of my assets and I was having real difficulty getting to places and challenging guys and beating guys. It was frustrating. But I felt the last 20 games of the season my legs started to come back. I have no doubt that I will be back and be skating well and feeling strong. The last couple of summers, because of the surgeries, I haven't been able to work out the way I had been accustomed to in the past. This summer I'm back on track."


Capitals George McPhee told Capitals Insider through the spokesman the center got a clean bill of health after a visit to Washington last week.

"He has a clean bill of health and is committed to coming to camp in great shape," GM George McPhee said through a team spokesman. "We think he could really flourish here."

Coming into camp, Morrison will be one of the candidates to take the second-line center role, and he said that's the spot he's shooting for.

"That was the initial talks we've had and kind of what we've discussed," he said. "Obviously, I know nothing is guaranteed and they don't hand out positions. But if I get my game back in order and play the way I'm capable of playing, then that's the role I want and the role I hope to fill."

He also said he and Mike Knuble were excited at the prospect of playing together as they had for two years at Michigan, as well as in the Swedish Elite League during the lockout.

Morrison also said all the offers he got this summer were one-year deals, and he looked forward to trying to win a title and looked forward to seeing if he can get a bigger deal down the road. After earning $2.75 million last year with Anaheim and Dallas, Morrison reportedly took a pay cut to $1.5 million for the upcoming campaign.

"To be frank with you, the one-year deal is the best option for me, too," he said. "It's a big year for me personally."

Capitals Sign Morrison to One-Year Deal

As the team is set to open development camp next week at Kettler, the Capitals added a bit of veteran presence on Friday by signing center Brendan Morrison, who spent time between the Ducks and Stars last season.

The one-year deal is reportedly worth $1.5 million for one season, and also puts the team near - if not over - the salary cap.

Morrison, who will turn 34 in August, scored 16 goals and 15 assists between Anaheim and Dallas, changed hands when the Stars claimed him off waivers in March. He is expected to be a candidate to fill the center slot left vacant by Sergei Fedorov's departure to the KHL.

His best years came as a member of the Canucks, where he scored four 20-goal seasons between 2001 and 2007, and netted a career-high 71 points in 2002-03.

Strangely enough, Morrison is the second Michigan Wolverine the Caps have signed this summer, with him a being a teammate of Mike Knuble for two years at Ann Arbor in 1993-94 and 1994-95 before Knuble graduated in 1995. Morrison spent two more years in the CCHA before the second-round pick of the New Jersey in 1993 joined the Devils in 1997-98.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Capitals Convention Coming in September

Following in the footsteps of some other teams, the Capitals announced they are going to be holding the first Capitals Convention on Sept. 26 at the Gaylord Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Md., giving fans a chance to meet the 2009-10 Caps and other alumni just before the new season kicks off.

The Cubs and Blackhawks have used this format before, and now Washington will try its hand to see who will plunk down between $40 and $350 for autographs and a chance to buy game-used items at the team's annual equipment sale.

The afternoon will also feature panel discussions with the coaches, media and front-office personnel, as well as games and other displays.

Tickets go on sale to season-ticket holders on July 9, with the general public getting a crack on July 14.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Obama Breaks His Ovechkin Silence

Because it's July and because it's Washington, the tempest in a teapot that is Barack Obama and him not attending a Capitals game this past season starts up again with the President in Moscow.

D.C. Sports Bog has the details of the visit - and the tough questioning - over the First Fan missing out on the two-time MVP performing just blocks away from the White House.

The whole scene started when Obama put Ovechkin on a list of great Russians at a talk with students at a Moscow elementary school.

"As a resident of Washington, D.C., I continue to benefit from the contributions of Russians -- specifically, from Alexander Ovechkin," the President said. "We are very pleased to have him in Washington, D.C."

However, NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd wasn't about to let Obama skate without committing to a visit to the Verizon Center without the hardwood on the floor, but the President was deft in his deflection of the issue.
Todd: You mentioned Ovechkin in there, our friend in Washington. Do you think should you have been transparent and said you've never been to a hockey game? Are you going to fix this?

Obama: The truth of the matter is is that i have watched this guy play, and he's outstanding. But you know, Chuck, I grew up in Hawaii....

Todd: Don't tell those Blackhawk fans that. You became a Bulls fan!

Obama: We have basketball [in Hawaii]. We didn't have hockey. I love watching hockey.

While setting a record for sports-related starts to a Presidency, everyone from Ted Leonsis to Dick Vitale have been asking Obama to come to a Capitals game.

A sitting President has attended a Capitals game just once, as then-president Bill Clinton attended the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals between the Caps and Sabres, and former Vice Presidents Dan Quayle and Al Gore were regulars when the team played at the Capital Centre.

Ovechkin, Semin, Varlamov to Russian Camp

Like their North American counterparts, the Russian squad for the Vancouver Olympics is being assembled, and a group close to the final Olympic roster was announced, which includes three current - and two former - Capitals.

Not a surprise were the invitations extended to Alex Ovechkin - who was named an ambassador to the 2014 Sochi Olympics even before it's been determined if NHL players will participate - and Alexander Semin. Simeon Varlamov also was invited to be one of the three netminders based on his terrific playoff run, as he will battle with veterans Nikolai Khabiboulin and Evgeni Nabakov for time in the net.

Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov, who will spend next season in the KHL, also were part of the 23-man group that will gather in Moscow in late August.

Featuring all three of this year's Hart Trophy candidates, the Russian squad is expected to be a strong challenger for the gold medal. In 2006, the Russians ousted Canada in the quarterfinals in a terrific game, but fell in the semi-finals to Finland and lost the bronze medal to the Czechs into fourth place.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Development Camp Dates Announced

Fans looking for a glimpse of the Capitals' prospects (or just needing a hockey fix in July) can head out to Kettler on July 13-18, as John Carlson, Anton Gustafsson and Joe Finley will be skating in the team's development camp.

While the roster isn't finalized yet, some of the team's recent draft picks will look to impress Bruce Boudreau and the rest of the coaching staff.

The schedule is below:

Sunday, July 12:
Players arrive

Monday, July 13:
Group A on ice at 10 a.m.; Group B on ice at 2:30 p.m.

Tuesday, July 14:
Group B on ice at 10 a.m.; Group A on ice at 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, July 15:
Group A on ice at 10 a.m.; Group B on ice at 11:15 a.m.; scrimmage from 3:30 – 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, July 16:
Group B on ice at 10 a.m.; Group A on ice at 11:15 a.m.; scrimmage from 3:30 – 6:30 p.m.

Friday, July 17:
Group A on ice at 10 a.m.; Group B on ice at 11:45 a.m.

Saturday, July 18:
Scrimmage from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.; players depart

Caps, NHL Well-Represented on ESPN's List

If there was any doubt people outside the Beltway noticed hockey's renaissance in the nation's capital, a check of ESPN's latest "Ultimate Standings" which ranks all the teams in the four major sports, the Capitals finished sixth overall, highest of any local team and third among NHL squads.

In fact, six of the top 11 teams in the list are from the NHL (the Hurricanes, Red Wings, Penguins, Blues and Ducks are there along with the Caps), highest of any of the other sports. No other sport has more than two in the top 11.

The Caps scored highest for ownership (fifth overall), coaching (10th overall), bang-for-the buck (11th), fan relations (11th) and players (12th). The only categories Washington wasn't quite in the top tier was affordability (31st) and titles (47th).

As for D.C.'s other team, it wasn't quite as rosy a ranking, as the Redskins were the next-highest Washington franchise at 92nd, then followed closely by the Nationals (97th) and Wizards (98th). If you throw in the city up the Parkway, the Caps finished ahead of the Ravens (29th) and well ahead of the Orioles (81st).

ESPN's full assessment is here.

Green Invited to Canada's Orientation Camp

With the Canadians expected to be a strong candidate for gold in Vancouver in February, one Capitals star will get a chance to make the roster.

Hockey Canada announced the 46 candidates for its roster - which includes 16 defensemen - and not surprisingly, Norris Trophy-runner-up Mike Green is one of the invitees.

Green, a Calgary native, had a tremendous campaign this past year, leading all blueliners with 34 goals and adding 42 assists and was the runner-up to Zdeno Chara for the honor of being the league's top defenseman.

Should Green make the final squad, he would become the first Capital to represent Canada in the Olympics since the competition added NHL players in 1998.

The host Canadians are one of the favorites to medal, although the Russian squad - presumably that will be featuring Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and perhaps Simeon Varlamov - could be the big obstacle in their way.

The Canadian camp is being held August 24-27 in Calgary. USA Hockey, which announced its 34 camp invitees earlier this week, holds its camp outside of Chicago in mid-August.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

'We Got the Right Guy'

Washington General Manager George McPhee said yesterday he didn't think the Capitals would do much in free agency, but he said he was very pleased that the team was able to grab the one forward that the team had highest on their wish list just hours into the signing period, as the Caps signed Mike Knuble to a two-year deal worth a reported $5.6 million and apparently leaving both sides very happy.

"I guess you don't know who's serious [about signing you] until noon on the 1st, and it's a close East Coast club and one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference," the newest Cap told reporters via conference call Wednesday afternoon. "I think the team's on the verge of something good and probably something great, and if I left Philly, I wanted to go somewhere I had a chance to do something great with a team on the rise."

McPhee noted that Knuble was their No. 1 free-agency target once the clock struck noon.

"We had four or five wingers we identified in free agency, and you don't know which one you're going to get," the Caps' GM said in the call. "We went through everything and we got the right guy for us. So we got the right deal done for him, and we're pleased with the results for today. We got our No. 1 guy, and we replaced a 13-goal scorer with a 27-goal scorer, and are even better as a result."

McPhee said he expects Knuble to play on the top line with Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and also get some time on the power play.

"Although I'm happy the way we played [the last few years], I felt we needed someone else on that [top] line with Ovechkin and Backstrom that will go to the net. Ovechkin and Backstrom will have the puck a lot, and [Knuble] goes to the front of the net and makes his living there."

Knuble was asked about the chance to play with the two-time Hart Trophy winner and Backstrom this season.

"It's a chance to play with [Ovechkin and Backstrom], there's no guarantee you'll mesh with them... I feel confident in what I can do for these guys and win battles in corners to get those guys the puck. I don't think anyone needs to tell me how to play with these guys."

McPhee also praised Knuble for having a strong reputation around the league for being a good locker room presence, noting he was the kind of personality that could fill the leadership void left by Sergei Fedorov's departure to the KHL.

"We felt it was important to our organization to have good players on the ice, and all the people we've talked to says this is an ideal free agent signing for us."

Knuble, for his part, was humble in his response to the importance of his signing with Washington.

"I'm not a solution, I'm a piece to the puzzle." Knuble said. "Whether the parts are there or not, it's going to be a great run and I look forward how we shape up this season. They're a young team, and I want to see if we can get the next step."

Although Knuble said he would have liked to stay in Philadelphia where he had spent four seasons and scored 114 goals, he realized the cap room wasn't there for him to stay after the team made some expensive moves on draft day. However, he was excited to come to an Eastern Conference contender and one on that he got the better end of during the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs.

"It's a great place to play, the place is electric. It's good to see hockey on the rebound there."

When asked about his age - Knuble turns 37 on July 4th - Knuble mentioned that playing on the fourth-line with Detroit and the Rangers so often early in his career was a blessing, noting that he didn't have the wear and tear that other players his age have suffered.

His career only really started to take off at age 30, once Sergei Samsonov was injured in Boston, giving the then-Bruins winger a chance to play with Joe Thornton and record the first 30-goal season of his career in 2002-03. He hasn't scored less than 21 goals in six-straight seasons since.

"I got a good chance with Joe Thronton... I auditioned at the beginning of the season I was still have a healthy scratch and Sergei went down, and things went off from that. I hadn't played enough to establish any confidence, I hung around and kept believeing in myself. There are chances to grab and do something later in my career."

When asked if the Caps might do any more signings in free agency, McPhee said the team would be patient and see what trades come down the pike, presumably waiting to see what trades develop as camp approaches in September.

"I said yesterday that we're probably not going to do a lot in free agency unless there was something there that made sense. We did it.

"We'll spend the next couple of months talking to clubs and seeing what other things can be done out there."

He also noted that Brooks Laich would likely get a shot to be the team's second-line center barring more moves down the road.

McPhee also said some of Wednesday's long-term deals made him "shake his head" - presumably referring to Marian Hossa's 12-year deal with the Blackhawks - but noted most of the contracts being handed out were short-term contracts.

When asked about Donald Brashear signing with the Rangers, McPhee was complimentary towards his now ex-enforcer.

"We're happy for Brash. We couldn't pay that number. He did a great job for us the last three years, we have nothing but good memories of him playing well for the Washington Capitals."

But looking forward, McPhee was very happy to add a piece to the Caps that they sorely needed, a gritty veteran forward who can crash the net.

"He's someone who will go to the front of the net and will make that power play even better."

Knuble Signs Two-Year Deal With Caps

The Capitals got the gritty top six forward they wanted, inking Mike Knuble to a two-year, $5.6-million deal, according to TSN.

Knuble scored 27 goals and 20 assists with Philadelphia last year, as the Toronto native is a forward who goes to the net and gives the Caps the type of forward they needed during the postseason.

The forward, who turns 37 on Saturday, has scored at least 20 goals in his last six seasons, potting a career-high of 34 in 2005-06 with Philadelphia. He also had two goals and an assist in six games during Philly's loss to the Penguins in the first round.

He also had three goals and three assists in Philadelphia's first-round win against the Caps in the 2008 playoffs, and also scored the game-winner in overtime of Game 4.

Knuble is averaging 21.5 goals per season in 820 career games, and also has 21.4 assists per season, and combining for 56 goals and 56 assists in his last two regular seasons in which he played all 82 games. He also has spent time with the Rangers, Red Wings, Bruins and Flyers.

In other Caps news, Donald Brashear signed a two-year deal with the Rangers for $2.8 million per season per TSN, and now will head to the team that he earned a six-game suspension against in Game 6 of the first round.