27 Thoughts: The Lockout, Around the League, and the Capitals

Photo from the Los Angeles Times

As the NHL lockout drags on in North America, I have spent the last five weeks studying abroad in London, England.  With just about seven weeks left on my ticket, I’ve decided to break my silence with a variation of the great Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts – with a number of my own.  And so, without further ado:

1. Regarding the lockout – It is remarkable to me the amount of people that think that these labor negotiations are simple and that they could do better.  Bottom line: if this were simple, there would be a deal already.  There is absolutely nothing basic or easy about this, and if you think otherwise, you are wrong.

2. Donald Fehr is not an idiot for doing his job.  Fehr is paid a lot of money by the NHLPA to get the best deal he possibly can for the players.  Not get a month into a lockout before rolling over and saying “Okay, Messrs. Leonsis, Leopold, and Jacobs.  I give up!  Take these concessions from the union that I lead without giving us anything real in return!”

3. Gary Bettman is not an enemy here.  He is the mouthpiece of the owners, not a decision-maker.  He has no say in what the owners want to do, he just stands in front of the media to take the beating.  No wonder he makes so much money.

4. The NHL’s offer last week was nothing more than a public relations ploy.  It was not a last gasp to save a full 82 game season.  It is not a coincidence that the owners released the offer right after Deadspin broke the story of Frank Luntz’s focus group.  The “50:50 split” was not an actual 50:50 split, and the devil was in the details.  Again, it asked the players to give far too much without any concessions to them.

5. It’s remarkable how fast hockey fans have turned against the PA in light of last week.  It’s almost like Luntz is paid millions of dollars to swing public favor to the elite, or something…

6. I don’t see how anyone can give the majority of the blame to the players for this lockout.  Yes, both sides deserve blame.  But to act like the players are “dumb” for wanting their employers to honor signed contracts is simply beyond me.

7. When I was in Newark for the Stanley Cup, almost everyone I talked to predicted a late-November deal and an early to mid-December puck drop.  It certainly seems like we are heading for that, and it still seems very unlikely that the whole season is missed.  There is still time, it is not all or nothing this week.

Please read on for more thoughts and analysis.

8. A puck drop that late would mean a shortened season, which I think is in the best interest of everyone.  As we saw with the NBA last year, crunch a ton of games into a shorter span leads to a slew of injuries and bad play.  And to be honest, I’d rather not see a season than see more players getting hurt because of a rushed schedule.

9. What could that schedule look like?  There are several options, including Ryan Lambert’s over at Puck Daddy and Jesse Spector’s at the Sporting News.  Mine goes like this: 5 games (instead of 6) against every team in your division – that’s 20 games.  3 games (instead of 4) against the other 10 teams in your conference – that’s 30 games.  Then one game against each team in the opposing conference (either down or the same from 2 or 1, respectively) – which is 15 games.  That’s a total of 65 games, and it keeps balance in your conference and also avoids oddities like the Canucks playing Winnipeg twice and the Penguins playing Edmonton twice.

10. A shortened regular season does not tarnish the credibility of a Stanley Cup victory.  Unless playoff series magically shift from best of 7 to best of 5 or playoff games start getting decided by shootouts, a Stanley Cup is a Stanley Cup.  Anyone suggesting otherwise is trying to create drama.

11. On the league in general – if you’re an Oilers fan, you have to love the lockout.  Your great young players are getting to play in the AHL, honing more of their skills.  Justin Schultz is getting a grace period in order to acclimate to the professional game, (and absolutely tearing it up) which is excellent for him.  Could be real fun in Edmonton once we start playing again, especially if the Oilers can get Devan Dubnyk to play to his potential.

12. …Unless you’re a voting member of the Edmonton city council.  I won’t act like I even remotely know the specifics of this arena deal controversy in Alberta, but to act like the Oilers are going anywhere I feel is just silly at this point.  They’ll figure it out – they have to.

13. As the lockout goes on, Zach Parise’s prime continues to wilt away.  That 13-year contract is going to look like an albatross so fast I can’t even stand it.  Oh, and there’s something mildly hilarious about Parise saying he is going to stand up for “what’s right” after signing a huge, front-loaded deal and cashing a big signing bonus three months ago.  But whatever.

14. The Rangers are going to be in quite the salary pickle in two years.  New York currently has $11 million to work with under the $70M cap, but we all know that is coming down.  Even with a rollback, the Rangers will have to fashion new contracts for UFA’s Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, Henrik Lundqvist, and a new backup goaltender.  Add that to new RFA deals for Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, Michael Del Zotto, and Ryan McDonagh in the next 20 months or so and you have quite the dilemma.  Oh, and the Rangers’ top two offensive scorers are past their prime and eat up $14.45M annually on the cap for the next half-decade.  Tick-tock, Torts.

15. On the Caps – the Hershey Bears played their first two home games over the weekend, dropping both and conceding 10 goals in the process.  Hershey has just one win on the young campaign.  Eesh.

16. Still, German goaltender Phillipp Grubauer was excellent by all accounts on Sunday night.  Grubauer has been money whenever he’s been healthy in his career, and it’s good that he’s getting a chance to prove himself at a higher level – he ate the ECHL’s lunch last year.  His presence will force a decision on Michal Neurvith vs. Braden Holtby, and it could come as soon as the end of this season.

17. Speaking of Holtby, the Caps’ 2012 postseason hero is out with an undisclosed injury at the moment for the Bears.  Certainly not encouraging for a player who’s had some injury bugs in the past.  Hopefully Holtby can get healthy soon, the battle between him and Michal Neuvirth for the starting job in camp should be fascinating.

18. Speaking of Neuvirth, he’s been pretty mediocre in the top flight of Czech hockey, posting a 1-8 record with a 3.51 GAA and .906 save percentage.  Those ratios show you the amount of defense being played in front of Mikey, so I’m not even remotely worried.  Neuvirth will be back and ready when camp opens, and I am confident he will play well when called upon.

19. Take a look at this Bleacher Report article about five players that won’t be with the Caps when the season starts.  Apart from Ward’s health having nothing to do with whether he is “on the team,” Dmitry Orlov’s qualities that likely make him a dream player for Adam Oates, and the legal obligation Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Neuvirth have to be here when the season starts, looks like you nailed it, bud.

20. I am very happy to see Backstrom playing again, although it makes me very uneasy that it's in Russia away from the Caps' doctors.  I would be lying if I said that I was not a bit nervous about him playing anywhere, and I understand his need to remain in shape.  But he can do that in a place that isn't halfway around the world, as we know, concussions are notorious for flaring up at the worst possible times.  I do not have the best feeling about it.

21. On to prospects – 2012 sixth-rounder Riley Barber is some kinda hot.  I watched some highlights of Miami’s games over the weekend and he looks very good.  The Pittsburgh native is tied for his team’s lead in points with five through four games and is just one off the pace in goals with three.

22. Connor Carrick, another late-rounder in 2012, has played very well for Plymouth of the OHL so far, seeing consistent time in all facets of the game and lacing them up for all 11 contests so far.  The 18 year-old is not only playing junior but also attending the University of Michigan, befitting of a kid who was near the top of his class in high school.  His seven points put him atop Whalers defensemen in scoring, and he could be a real steal.

23. In June, I criticized Tom Wilson’s selection at 16th overall, especially because the Caps left two very talented Finns in Olli Määttä and Teuvo Teräväinen on the board.  Wilson, who was decidedly underwhelming for Plymouth last year, has two goals and 10 points in 8 games this year.  It’s a great start for the big, physical winger, who is averaging more than a penalty a game.

24. Filip Forsberg had quite the week – scoring this ridiculous goal for his Swedish team early on and then dancing to Gangnam Style over the weekend after another marker.  The Caps’ top pick in June has seven goals and 11 points in 13 games and has been as advertised.  Still can’t believe 10 teams passed on this guy.  He’ll be in America at the end of this year and could be an impact player as soon as next fall.

25. In closing – Belated congrats to Troy Brouwer and wife Carmen, who welcomed a healthy baby girl into the world last week.  Brouwer has spent his lockout in Chicago skating with some of the players he won the 2010 Stanley Cup with and giving CSN’s Tracey Myers some good quotes on the lockout.  Read up, you’ll be smarter for it.

26. I understand his need to posture, but I find Alex Ovechkin’s talk that he will stay in Russia if the NHL rolls back its salaries significantly to be insulting.  I touched on this above – the Captain has a legal obligation to be in Washington when the season starts.  Maybe he just should play hockey, which is what he is best at.

27. Predictions for the 2012-13 season, when it is played: Hart Trophy – Sidney Crosby, Art Ross – Crosby, Rocket Richard – Steven Stamkos, Norris Memorial – Shea Weber (finally), Vezina – Carey Price, Jack Adams – Glen Gulutzan, Calder Memorial – Chris Kreider.  Stanley Cup – Vancouver Canucks, Conn Smythe – Ryan Kesler. First Overall Selection, 2013 Draft – Seth Jones.

That’s all for now.  I hope to do this again soon, and thanks for reading!

Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR.  Follow him on Twitter here.

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