The praise poured in pretty much all weekend for the Washington Capitals after they signed Mikhail Grabovski to a sweetheart $3 million, one-year deal on Friday, bringing the long-rumored contract into the realm of reality.
As well they should have. The decision to amnesty Grabovski was a comically bad one from Toronto, the kind you should have already come to expect from the Randy Carlyle/Dave Nonis two-headed-and-no-brained collective, and every team could use a player like him. That Washington won the sweepstakes with a relatively low bid of $3 million (and the apparent promise from Adam Oates that he's free to take all Kovalchuk-length power play shifts he wants) came as little surprise. The Caps are of course always trying to be in the Eastern European market and Grabovski seems, on the surface, to be a pretty good No. 2 center option behind Nicklas Backstrom. He certainly serves as an upgrade, in terms of both production and price point, from the now-departed Mike Ribeiro.
But the problem with the signing, and more importantly what people seem to think it means for the Capitals, is that it doesn't seem likely to matter very much. This does not instantly make the Capitals anything besides a borderline playoff threat at the absolute and very best, if everything breaks their way.
Let's not forget, this was a Capitals team that needed a resurgent MVP performance from the ghost of Alex Ovechkin (32 goals in 48 games after posting 32 and 38 in the previous two 82-game seasons, respectively), the highest power-play shooting percentage in the league (20.1, compared with an average of 13.6), the third-softest schedule in the league (behind only Winnipeg and Florida, and tied with Carolina and Tampa), just to get to 57 points.
That's the same number as Toronto got, and only two ahead of the Islanders, who finished eighth in the East.
Even supposing that the first two factors can be replicated — that Ovechkin will be able to score 0.82 goals per game for any reasonable stretch, as he did in March and April, and that the Caps power play can keep putting the puck in the net once on every five shots — the fact of the matter is that the days of wailing on three or four non-playoff teams, at least one of which always seems to be in the lottery, as part of their divisional schedule.
Recall if you will that the Capitals conceded 130 goals in 48 games last season, good for 16th in the league (only four better than everyone's favorite "Their defense is holding them back!" poster boys in Edmonton) against a division featuring offenses that averaged 2.69 goals per game.
By contrast, that horrific Flyers defense and goaltending situation last season, which gave up 141 goals, did so in a division in which opponents averaged 2.84 a night.
That latter fact is important because of that whole thing where the Caps, along with the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets, are coming into that division. The Southeast has, since the 2004-05 lockout, sent an average of 1.6 or so teams to the playoffs, compared with 3.4 for the Atlantic. Not once since they instituted the six-division system has the former sent more teams to postseason than the former.
What it all boils down to is that Washington beating a slew of crap divisional opponents this past season — that'd be 15 of their 27 wins against the Southeast in just 18 games — is something on which they cannot count going forward. The Flyers and Devils were the two Atlantic teams not to make the playoffs last season, and the Caps still only beat them once in three tries each (2-2-2, six points, who cares?). Against the Rangers, they gave up five of six points. Same goes for the Islanders. They didn't beat the Penguins once.
A guy like Mikhail Grabovski, or even a defenseman who is as proficient at his position as Grabovski is in the middle, doesn't solve the problem here. This is a team that scores a lot of goals, historically, and it's probably built to do that again next season. It doesn't play to defend, and that's a reasonable thing to do when your division is that bad. Whether allowing 32.3 shots a game, as they did last season, is a recipe for success against teams that can actually hurt you with goals of their own remains to be seen.
But you can make your own guesses about it. The Rangers showed in the playoffs what the Caps can really do against even underwhelming teams outside the Southeast, and while Ovechkin was more or less nowhere in evidence during that series, it seems unlikely that adding Grabovski does little to cure the team's ills.
That doesn't mean it wasn't a good signing. It just means it was a mostly inconsequential one. That's how it goes sometimes.
What We Learned
Boston Bruins: Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight spent all summer at an Ottawa-area hockey school trying to improve their games so they can stick in the NHL this season, but the fun part is they're probably competing for the same spot.
Buffalo Sabres: "Can Mikhail Grigorenko bounce back?" What, from being mishandled by both a coach and GM who completely mishandled him as a rookie and burned a year of his ELC for no reason? Sure, I bet he can.
Calgary Flames: Sean Monahan won't go to Ottawa 67s training camp, but will instead attend the NHLPA Rookie Showcase next week. If Calgary burns a year of his RFA eligibility on a season in which they'll finish with roughly 75 points and a lottery pick, I'll never stop laughing.
Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward "wants to prove he’s an elite goaltender in the NHL." And I wanna be an astronaut. It's nice to have unobtainable goals.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets tried to sign Douglas Murray this summer. You know, to get better? "Losing out" on him might be the best move they made all year.
Detroit Red Wings: A Grind Line reunion at the alumni game could happen. In that none of those guys have anything better to do.
Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, among others, will be at the Panthers' rookie tournament with Tampa, Boston and Nashville, so at the very least they don't have to worry about scoring goals.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild have close to $2.8 million in cap space. Will they use it to make any last-second improvements to the team? Well hey remember how the Wild lost all that money last season? Yeah exactly.
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Everyone had a lot to say about Barry Trotz's assertion that the Wild "stole" Ryan Suter, most of it along the lines of "Well hey they didn't STEAL him, he just signed as a free agent fair and square." Except he more or less circumvented the salary cap to do it and thus Barry Trotz is right.
New York Rangers: Apparently a lot of teams are sniffing around Brian Boyle, but Glen Sather is loath to offload him because he's a "great team guy" who still has "an upside." Brian Boyle is 28, so that latter part isn't true, and as for being a great team guy, well, lots of not-great players are.
Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux's golf-induced wrist injury is keeping him from this Canadian Olympic orientation camp which is fine because he's going to make the team no problem. He is, after all, the Best Player In The World.
Phoenix Coyotes: Five for Howling is trying to figure out who had the best rookie season in Coyotes history and the answer is Teemu Selanne when he scored 76 but he's not on the list for the reason that they are reverse-Winnipegging this poll and pretending the Jets didn't exist. Which is funny because when the team moves in five years its new city might do that with Phoenix and they'd be doing it with good reason.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The media is hoping so hard that Marc-Andre Fleury turns it around thanks to his new sports psychologist and goalie coach so it validates all the crap they spewed about how great he was right up until Tomas Vokoun stole the starting job from him. If it somehow happens (it won't) the told-you-sos are going to be out of control.
St. Louis Blues: Talks with Alex Pietrangelo are still "ongoing." Oh just sign him already. Give him what he wants. Just do it.
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin and a few other Russian Olympians had a look at a bunch of the Sochi sites dressed like a tour group from the mid-1990s.
Gold Star Award
Minus of the Weekend
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "friendpatrol" has my favorite swap of the summer.
Don't smile, son, you're a workin' man.
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- Washington Capitals
- Mikhail Grabovski
- Alex Ovechkin