Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Best Television Commercial of ALL TIME

Like anyone can even know that, Napoleon.

My friend Abram IMed me today with this gem of an advertisement for the NHL on NBC featuring Washington's own Alex Ovechkin and about half a dozen other NHL stars. (I wouldn't have pointed out that Abram sent it to me but he demanded that I give him credit.)

For anyone who's been on a hockey road trip -- or even lived in a college dorm -- this should bring back some pretty great memories:

The only thing missing is in the knee hockey part. Where's the one jackass with the sawed off street hockey stick instead of the little plastic souvenir thing that all the normal kids used?

(YES, your eight inch blade with a boomerang curve DOES give you a significant advantage over my inch-and-a-half wide cheap plastic stick. And is there some requirement that every rink hosting a tournament has to sell those plastic souvenir sticks with logos from random teams like the San Jose Sharks, even if located on the east coast nowhere near San Jose, inevitably leaving everyone in the hotel playing knee hockey with San Jose Sharks sticks by the third day of the tournament because they've all broken the sticks they brought with them by then?)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Kolzig Injured In Practice, Out At Least Three Weeks

The Post's Tarik El-Bashir is reporting that Olie Kolzig hurt his knee in practice today. General Manager George McPhee said Kolzig would be out at least three weeks but at the moment it does not look like he will need surgery.

For a team that needs every point it can get, this is not good. The Caps have called up Frederic Cassivi from Hershey, but Olie's backup, Brent Johnson, is expected to see a bulk of the goaltending time in Kolzig's absence.

Image from washingtonpost.com
Johnson is an unimpressive 4-7-3 this season with an .885 save percentage and a 3.86 goals against average. Late last year, however, he performed admirably with semi-regular playing time from mid-March to the end of the season. In his last seven starts of the 2005-2006 campaign he went 4-2-1 with a 1.96 GAA.

I know a lot of people have written off Cassivi as a career-AHLer, but I'd like to see him get some playing time in the next three weeks. He's had plenty of success in 10+ seasons in the AHL, but he's never really had a shot at the big time. He's only played 9 NHL games (8 with the Thrashers -- 6 in 2001-2002 and 2 in 2002-2003 -- and 1 with the Caps last season) and they haven't exactly been stellar ... or even close (3.93 GAA, .892 SV%). But maybe he's a guy who, with a few starts to adjust to the faster NHL competition, could become at least a decent stop-gap if it takes longer than expected for Caps goalie prospects Maxime Daigneault and Semen Varlamov to prove themselves in the AHL.

And no, I'm not kidding about Varlamov's first name.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Another Argument Against The NHL's Division-heavy Schedule

Anze Kopitar.

Heard of him? He is the 19-year-old rookie center who represented the L.A. Kings in this year's YoungStars game.

The 11th pick in the 2005 draft, he is the first Slovenian player to play in the NHL and he made an instant splash this season when he scored two goals in his NHL debut on October 6 in Anaheim, then followed with three assists in his home debut the next night.

Image from TSN.ca
He currently has 13 goals and 33 assists for the last place Kings.

If you're only a passive NHL fan -- or a die hard Washington fan devoting all your NHL-watching energy on the Caps -- you're forgiven if you have no idea who Kopitar is.

Actually, you can blame the NHL and its ridiculous schedule that pits teams against divisional opponents a total of 32 times a year.

Every hockey fan should know who Kopitar is, but why would Eastern media outlets write about Kopitar if he never pays a visit to their cities? Similarly, I don't think I've seen the Sharks' Jonathan Cheechoo play for more than a total of two minutes, and he led the NHL in goals last year.

When Kopitar and the Kings leave Verizon Center after the game tonight it will be the last they see of the place until the 2009-2010 season unless the NHL votes to change the schedule in the meantime, which they failed to do just last month.

Kopitar and 24-year-old teammate Alexander Frolov (28 goals, 27 assists) are two of the more exciting players in the game, playing on a team trying to build itself from the ground up much like the Capitals.

If you want to see Cheechoo or Sharks teammate Joe Thornton, you better buy tickets for the Feb. 21 game at Verizon Center -- otherwise seeing them before 2009 will require plane tickets.

Only six Western Conference teams make it to Washington this season (Minnesota, Dallas, Anaheim and Phoenix have come and gone), so if you were really hoping to see the red hot Predators or you're still holding on to fond memories of Peter Bondra even though he's in a Blackhawks sweater, better luck next year -- maybe.

But don't worry, the NHL is letting you get all the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers you can handle -- four times each at the Verizon Center every year, to be exact.

The worst part for the Capitals (and Caps fans who like to travel) is that the weighted schedule also cuts down on the number of games that the Capitals play against other divisions in the East.

The beneficiaries of the current schedule setup are teams in the Atlantic division, where every team is in Pennsylvania, New York or New Jersey. But the closest team to the Capitals in their own Southeast Division is farther away from Washington than the farthest Atlantic Division team. (Raleigh, N.C., where the Hurricanes play, is about 260 miles driving from Washington, whereas the Islanders home in Uniondale, N.Y., is about a 250 mile drive from the District.)

But division alignments are an argument for a different day -- one that many Caps fans longing for the good old days of the Patrick Division would love to make to anyone who will listen.

The schedule doesn't even make financial sense, though. The idea was to create intradivisional rivalries and capitalize on those match-ups the maximum number of times, but most Capitals fans still feel their main rivals are the Penguins and Flyers (again with the Patrick Division...). Plus the NHL is sending Alexander Ovechkin to non-hockey towns like Tampa, Raleigh, Atlanta and Miami a total of 16 times a year while depriving fans in Canada and the Northwest U.S. who are clamoring to see the young star.

As for Kopitar and Frolov, there's no reason to think Washington will see more of the L.A. Kings or their Western Conference counterparts any time soon.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Reality Time: The Capitals Have To Trade Ovechkin

I've been doing a lot of soul searching after the Capitals devastating shootout loss last night to the Bruins – their staggering first loss in a row – and after grappling with it I've decided it's time to blow up the team.

The Caps are 55 games into the second not-locked-out season of its sweeping rebuild, and all we've seen is marginal improvement over last year. How long can I possibly be expected to wait before seeing some results?

Alex Ovechkin, probably hanging his head because of his many disappointing years in the nation's capital.
Image stolen from Puckhead's Thoughts, who likely stole it from somewhere else.
So with that in mind, I think it's time to say what's been on everyone's mind for several days now:

The Washington Capitals need to trade Alexander Ovechkin.

They brought him in as the alleged savior of this franchise, paid him the big bucks to lure him away from perennial Stanley Cup contender Dynamo Moscow, built a supporting cast around him with solid NHL veterans like Matt Bradley and Ben Clymer, hired defensive stalwarts Brian Muir and Mathieu Biron Ivan Majesky Milan Jurcina to police the blue line, and still Washington has no Cup.

Even the scrappy group of never-weres that General Manager George McPhee astutely rescued from the junk heap several years ago managed to make the playoffs in 2003, shocking teams who had left players like Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander and Robert Lang for dead or wrote them off as classic cases of "project" players that never panned out. Those guys had heart, though.

Legendary coach Bruce Cassidy pulled that team together and led them on a surprising run that saw them get six games deep in the playoffs.

Now what do the Caps have? A bunch of overpaid guys slacking off and keeping the team from going out and acquiring that 38-year-old once-superstar, now "gritty veteran and true leader" that could put them over the top.

Damn this salary cap.

That's why the team needs to trade Ovechkin. He's an albatross. With incentives he can make almost $4 million a year. That's slightly more than the Caps are still paying Jagr! Ridiculous.

I know Ovechkin's value isn't high right now, what with him mired in an extended scoring drought of three games that would make even Joe Reekie and Brendan Witt blush, but it's time for action and the Caps can't afford to wait and hope his value magically goes up. How many players can you remember who improved after turning 22? Without doing the research, I can tell you the answer is "not many."

Alex will be on the wrong side of that hill in just a shade over seven months.

I'll wait while you let that unnerving reality set in.

As the days go on, it's becoming increasingly clear that the Caps will never win a Cup with Ovechkin logging 25+ minutes per game, only barely clinging to the league lead in goals as his salary bumps the team dangerously close to the salary cap.

And let's not forget the locker room squabbles – it's been literally minutes since I've read an article about how genuinely nice and well-liked Alex is. Not a good sign.

I know it's difficult to let go, but you have to use your head, not your heart. Yes, it will be odd to see all those number 8 jerseys around Verizon Center that were foolishly purchased by overzealous fans who failed to realize that Ovechkin could not possibly be in the long term plans of this franchise when he was inked to a deal at 20-years-old – well after he had surpassed his prime – but that's the reality of the situation.

Professional sports are a business, and sometimes you just have to put a player out to pasture. Better to do it now when you might be able to sucker some team into giving you something of marginal value in return.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Week Has Passed, But The Story Remains The Same

The Maryland Terrapins basketball team, which I will admit I had left for dead after their loss at Florida State dropped them to 2-5 in conference, once again has a huge game tonight. And every time I say that they seem to go out and lay an egg.

But here I am saying it again. Send the hate mail to cstone@beltwaysportsbeat.com.

After bouncing back (sort of) with a win over a dreadful Wake Forest team, the Terps are once again two games under the break-even point in the ACC -- only now they have two less games to make up the difference.

Tonight is a home game against Virginia, who beat the Terps, 103-91, in Charlottesville three weeks ago today. Virginia went into that game on a three game losing streak, but that game ignited the Hoos' current six game winning streak that has catapulted them to a tie atop the ACC standings with Boston College. The Terps are tied for eighth with N.C. State.

Game time is 9 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.