Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I'm unsure about this tanking idea for the Caps.

It makes pretty intuitive sense. They have a slim shot at the playoffs, needing to play at a 100-110 pt pace the rest of the way (probably), and given that they've only had about six weeks with this system and are still working on it, well, I'm not super optimistic they'll play like a top seed from here on out.

Even if they do make the playoffs, if they don't win the division--Carolina is pretty good, after all--they'll end up as a 6/7/8 seed. I see two legit contenders in the East, Pittsburgh and Boston. So the reward for that run to the postseason, last playoffs notwithstanding, is a likely first-round exit.

Edit: after the win over Carolina, a division title is a little more likely. Regardless, though, I doubt the team will be this far down the standings with less than 30 games to go regularly. The circumstances necessary for a good team to even consider tanking don't come around all the time. This season, they have.
So why not tank for a draft pick? Grab one of the top six--Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, and Jonathan Drouin appear to be the best prospects since John Tavares, while Elias Lindholm, projected in the 4-6 range, is putting up Backstrom-level numbers in the SEL--and it seems like you've added someone who can step into the lineup within two years and be a top-six forward or top-four D, with elite upside.

So say the Capitals opt for that path and try to tank. What has to happen?

Well, they've been playing better lately. That needs to stop. So do we ask the team to just stop learning the system and freelance or trap like it's in style? That is, ask the players to play bad hockey on purpose. That defeats the purpose of tanking--the draft pick would help for the future, but erasing the progress of the last six weeks does not.

Do we get rid of talent? The idea is to make a roster so bad that even if it executes its system well, it simply can't match up to NHL teams. Ribeiro is an easy trade option and should be able to fetch a first-round pick. After that...you're not trading Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich, Carlson, Alzner, Orlov, or Holtby. Aside from maybe Johansson, Neuvirth, and Brouwer, no one else is going to fetch anything worthwhile on their own. I think this roster, minus Ribeiro, still is good enough to end up in 9th or 10th, maybe just two or three points back of where it would be with Ribeiro.

You could package the depth together and trade it away en masse, but that's a bad idea. The 3rd and 4th lines and the 3rd pair (when the D is healthy) are real strong suits on this team. Trading away guys from those lines means you have to rebuild them this summer, probably with overpriced UFAs. It's not worth it.

The only other option I can think of is to hope players get injured and place them on IR for the rest of the season. That could work. Start with Green the next time he gets hurt, let Laich and Orlov stay out, and if both goalies get hurt, fantastic. But that's a longshot, I think. As long as Ovechkin, Backstrom, one goalie, and Carlzner are healthy, I don't see injuries being enough of an issue to keep this team at the bottom of the standings.

As currently constructed, I'd say the team is very likely to end the season around the playoff border, either just in or just out. Just out means poor draft position, just in means that and getting destroyed by one the two true contenders in the East (Pittsburgh and Boston...I'm not a believer in NJ and NYR), unless Washington takes the division.

I think the best course of action is to accumulate picks for this season. Quantity over quality. Get a first for Ribeiro, see what you can get for Neuvirth, Johansson, Hamrlik, and Schultz, as well as others who you don't see fitting Oates' system. Four or five picks in the first two rounds gives McPhee some nice assets to use at the draft.

And make a hard push for Ryan O'Reilly--he's a better player than everyone on this team save Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Carlson if his head is in the game. (Carlson's contract is a huge plus in his favor, too, compared to O'Reilly, who's asking for closer to market price.) Trade for him, give him what he wants, and suddenly you have the best 1-2 punch down the middle outside of Pittsburgh, Detroit, Tampa Bay, and St. Louis. Maybe you have something like this (via Capgeek):

Alex Ovechkin ($9.538m) / Nicklas Backstrom ($6.700m) / Troy Brouwer ($3.667m)
Jason Chimera ($1.750m) / Ryan O'Reilly ($5.500m) / Joel Ward ($3.000m)
Cheap and skilled, a la Wolski / Mathieu Perreault ($1.050m) / Filip Forsberg ($1.492m)
Fast, gritty 4LW / Jay Beagle ($0.900m) / Fast, gritty 4RW
Karl Alzner ($2.500m) / Mike Green ($6.083m)
Tomas Kundratek ($0.800m) / John Carlson ($3.967m)
Dmitry Orlov ($0.900m) / Cameron Schilling ($1.775m)
John Erskine ($1.963m)
Braden Holtby ($1.850m)
Michal Neuvirth ($1.500m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled with the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $60,000,000; CAP PAYROLL: $54,934,295; BONUSES: $1,710,000
CAP SPACE (18-man roster): $6,775,705

-->traded Laich and Johansson (plus picks, maybe) for rights to O'Reilly.