Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Caps Lines?

I know popular opinion when creating lines for next year’s Caps squad always starts with “Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble” and works its way down. I’m wondering whether we might consider another option:


Followed by:


No? Give me a sec here…

If Morisson is back to being healthy (which his last 25 games with Dallas showed me to be true), he has the speed to keep up with Ovie. He has also shown that he plays his best with premier talent, as the Naslund-Morisson-Bertuzzi line in Vancouver was probably the league’s best for a few seasons. And I notice big similarities between that line of old and this proposed one: a speedy shooter on one side and a garbage goal grinder on the other. I think this could work.

As for line two, I think Semin’s game is aided by a great passing center. Ovie usually gets the puck at mid-ice and takes it in, using the D as a screen. Semin’s game is all about trickery and his amazing release. Having a center of Backstrom’s ability would allow Semin to move more freely in the neutral zone and, hopefully, avoid the contact that has caused him past injuries.

As for Bourque, I think all he needs to have a break-out year is solid complimentary players. I think he could be a 20-30-50 guy NEXT SEASON if you put him on a skilled line. Plus, he gives the line a tenacious pest to create turnovers. If you’re not sold on him playing here, I’d substitute him for Eric Fehr. I like Fehr’s size and shot on a skill line. I think, with time, he could become a Bertuzzi type. And having Knuble’s game to watch, I think he becomes more of a presence in front of the net.

Small Guys

Martin St. Louis. Mike Cammalleri. Brian Gionta. Steve Sullivan. Paul Kariya. Theo Fleury. Marcel Dionne. All these players have two things in common: their height (or lack thereof) and their skill. With the exception of Dionne (from another era), each of them experienced doubt that their skill could overcome their shortcomings. But given the chance, each became a consistent point-producer.

In order for a short guy to make it to pro hockey, he has to have some skill. Clearly a 5’7” physical player will probably be outplayed by a similar player over 6’. These small guys usually have tons of speed, very good hands and vision and a knack for the net. They create space, rarely place themselves in harm’s way and make their teammates better. But they can only do so much.

The Caps have a few good small guys. Keith Aucoin, Chris Bourque and Mathieu Perreault are all diminutive but packed with skill and hockey smarts. At the AHL level, they excel. Their offensive up-side would lead people to believe they can contribute at the NHL level. Eventually, they earn a call-up to the big team. Then they’re faced with a major obstacle.

AHL call-ups are rarely dropped on a top-two line. They’re relegated to third or forth line minutes, and more importantly, third or fourth line teammates. In the AHL, these players are teamed with skilled players who may have the size and hockey-sense, but a lack of defensive ability or some other trait preventing them from making the jump. These small guys are used to making passes to where teammates should be (or getting there themselves). Playing with 4th line guys in the NHL, that hockey sense in missing; they put up lackluster numbers and are sent back down.

Last year, there were 64 players 5’10” or shorter and who played a minimum 50 games last season in the NHL. Of those players, 34 (53%) had produced a +50 point season at some time in their careers. 11 players (17%) had produced at least 1 season in which their points exceeded their games played. The group also included two 50 goal scorers and three 100 point scorers. For the most part, these players took some time to catch on in the NHL (with some obvious exceptions…Paul Kariya anyone?). All they needed was a chance to play with similarly skilled players and log some quality ice time.