Hockey At The Disco: NHL Under the Vegas Lights

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“If you only knew what we’ve been up to, I’d guarantee you’d keep a secret.”

Whenever you walk down the Vegas Strip, or even on Fremont Street downtown, you feel like you’re experiencing something that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.

The same can be said inside and outside of T-Mobile Arena leading up to a Vegas Golden Knights game. In toe with two friends and over 100 other Capitals fans from the Caps Road Crew, invading this house wasn’t easy. The building is sold out with a majority of Golden Knights fans, who are riding a high on an unprecedented success for a modern NHL expansion team.

The restaurants and bars around the arena has embraced the team, too. Of course, you’d expect so since all of the adjacent casinos are owned by MGM Resorts, which helped develop T-Mobile Arena along with VGK owner Bill Foley and AEG. Knights-themed bar games are all around, with plenty of specials. The Shake Shake around the corner from the arena even has a hat trick special. After the game, you can head into the Monte Carlo (soon to be Park MGM) for a free drink with your game ticket. It pays to be a hockey fan.

Show up early to hang out on Toshiba Plaza, where there’s always someone running a promotion or game. Hey, it’s an open container city, so pre-game a bit outside before heading in. It felt a little like Amalie Arena’s Thunder Alley, where you can party a bit before the game in the sun before heading inside, but with much more room to spread out.

Once we got inside, everything felt brand new, as it should. Riding up the escalator takes you to the main concourse to access both the lower concourse and some upper sections — maybe club? — had stairs leading down to the lower concourse for convenience. Walk enough around the concourse, and it will split and open up into an even wider concourse, similar to the upper deck concourse at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., which once hosted hockey. It felt a little busy with the sold out crowd, but you didn’t have to push through bodies to move.

Another Tampa reminder was the outdoor deck you could overlook Toshiba Plaza as a way to get out of the building and chill for a bit. Now, don’t go out seeking fresh air. All the smokers are taking advantage of it like the Heineken Rooftop at Amalie Arena but with the approximate dimensions of the Bud Light Party Deck.

The hottest night club in Vegas? The Armory. It has everything: Pucks, T-shirts, and those things that you put on when you play hockey. Jerseys? No. Cups.

Seriously though, there was a well managed line to get into the store. Tell the nice bouncer how many in your party and he’d get you in as others would leave. As much as we all hate lines, more team stores should think about doing this. One, it prevents from being squished against other people in the store not being able to get from one end to another. Two, it deters shoplifting since employees can better see what people are doing with their hands.

“In the Vegas lights! Where villains spend the weekend. The deep end. We’re swimming with the sharks until we drown.”

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Riding high in the Western Conference, the fans have quickly taken to talking trash.

Once we settled in our seats, we’ve heard it from the fans about the Golden Knights being in first place and how the Caps can’t get past the second round. Ah, yes. And sir, who is your general manager who put you in first place? George McPhee. Obviously you know how that worked out for the Caps  in the playoffs after being in first place during the regular season. Best wishes to Vegas on its second-round playoff exit this season.

The city is so fortunate they haven’t had to languish through a struggle of mediocrity for a first-year expansion team. Nashville Predators lost 47 games in its first year. Atlanta Thrashers lost 57 games in its first year. Minnesota Wild lost 39 games. Columbus Blue Jackets lost 47 games. Going further back, you’d see that the Ottawa Senators lost 70 (!!!) games in 1992-93.  The Lightning lost 54 games. The Mighty Ducks? 46 losses, but won as many as the Florida Panthers (33), which is a shared record for wins by a first-year expansion team. The Florida Panthers only had 34 losses and holds the record for most points by a first-year expansion team with 83.

About a week after the Caps game, the Golden Knights are 25-9-2 with 52 points and are on a six-game winning streak and are first in the Western Conference. Fans have the right to cheer that kind of performance in their home building.

We were doomed from the start.

Your hockey dinner theater starts out with a high-tech ice projection show, finishing up with a man in black waving a Capitals fans being defeated by a Golden Knight by taking a sword from the stone. High up above our section, a castle stands guard with a bunch of drummers to make it feel like a college atmosphere.

At the same time it felt like Vegas with the many cheesy comedy videos and acts. Did I laugh? Of course. It took all of my being to not laugh at the Carrot Top segments. Yes, we had a marriage proposal on the big screen masked through a word jumble game. Best of all is the nice rotation of Vegas bands being used throughout the game. They’re quite heavy on Panic at the Disco, Imagine Dragons and The Killers.

My favorite part? The in-game host who was dancing down the aisle during a commercial break doing like a strip tease and EVERY LAYER WAS A GOLDEN KNIGHTS JERSEY HE WAS THROWING OUT TO THE AUDIENCE. Free Chipotle doesn’t feel the same anymore. He had to of thrown out at least six jerseys.

“The Vegas lights. The lies and affectations. Sensation. We’re winning ’til the curtain’s coming down.”

IMG_4262As for the game itself, it was a dud. The Vegas touch. The magic. Whatever you want to call it, it was in full effect. The speed, pressure and execution of this team reminds me of last year’s Columbus Blue Jackets during its ridiculous win streak. Or the Tampa Bay Lightning on its best days. Or with Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, like a loaded Penguins team still putting the puck in the net without needing Malkin and Crosby.

Before you knew it, the Caps were down 3-0 within the first 15 minutes of the first period. The Caps had little life closing out a three-game road swing and a back-to-back. 3-0 would remain the final score, preventing the hundreds of Caps fans in all at the game from cheering.

It’s prophetic that the Golden Knights’ goal song is Panic At The Disco’s “Vegas Lights” because somehow, they’re winning ’til the curtain’s coming down. That’s all they do.

And what happens when they do win? The King honors his Knights with “Viva Las Vegas” over the speaker system.

No win, no goals and no dice for me but hot damn, was it ever an entertaining experience. I had no complaints or suggestions on presentation, arena layout, service, fans or anything. I’ll take the loss.

Elvis has left the building.

Souvenir of the Game: Retro Brand baby blue Golden Knights T-shirt purchased for my sister.

Updated List of NHL Arenas I’ve Attended a Game In

Arena Total: 15.

Individual Home Teams Visited: 13

T-Mobile Arena — Dec. 23, 2017 (Golden Knights 3, Capitals 0). See, this is why I try not to visit the Caps on the road. Because I like to be happy for the home team and the city. Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have to do much except in the third period to shut the door on the Caps like he would in Pittsburgh when he was on his game. Alex Tuch, Oscar Lindberg and William Karlsson all score for the Golden Knights. Former Capital Cody Eakin notched an assist. Nate Schmidt was a +1, with 20:59 of ice time with 2 hits, 1 takeaway and 2 blocked shots. Attendance: 18,025

Gila River Arena — Dec. 22, 2017 (Coyotes 3, Capitals 3 OT) After a snoozefest of a first period, T.J. Oshie gets the Caps on the board with his first goal after returning from a concussion. Caps led 1-0 after two.  Christian Dvorak ties it up for the Coyotes before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three minutes later. Coyotes put on a flurry of pucks on Phillip Grubauer, with Christian Fischer getting the tying goal with 1:01 to go in the game. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller buries the puck with 27 seconds left in OT for the come-from-behind win.  (12th Home Arena Visited/14 including Mellon Arena and US Air Arena)

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4.) Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. )Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4.) Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO.) Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

 

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Hockey Tripping Through The Desert

DSC08404Thank God, or at least the NHL, for hockey in Las Vegas. Without it, I’m not sure I’d ever be able to see hockey in Arizona, let alone Nevada.

I was able to double up on rink visits for an incredible trip with friends even though the Capitals lost. When I sat out to make it a goal to see a game in every NHL arena in my life, there was no Vegas Golden Knights. And for several years, I kept worrying there might not be the Phoenix Coyotes. And then when they changed their name, I kept worrying there wouldn’t be the Arizona Coyotes.

If your schedule and budget allows, make sure to pencil in to visit Phoenix and Vegas on the same trip. Look for back-to-backs or even better, two games in three nights. This entry is just going to focus on the Gila River Arena visit to give each venue room to breathe.

I’ve never seen canyons, the rigid cliffs and chiseled bluffs of the west other than from an airplane on my way to somewhere else. To drive through the valleys along US 93 is something you have to do at least once. Hoover Dam is on the way, which was time well spent seeing natural and manmade beauties collide.

Every hour of the four-hour-plus drive changes features new scenery. Canyons, mountains, desert, Joshua Trees and larger than life cacti, a nice old western town thrown in between and finally, an oasis for hockey.

DSC08374I arrived in Glendale just after the purple skies over the mountains gave way to nightfall.    Approaching from the northwest, the location felt more remote than trekking across Alligator Alley to get to BB&T Center to watch the Florida Panthers. You think Florida feels like the final frontier? Go to Arizona.

Suddenly, five streets from the Westgate Entertainment District entrance, you’re quickly in a metropolis. Traffic comes out of nowhere as cars jam to get into the shopping center three days before Christmas that happens to house an arena and football stadium. (Pro tip: Follow the signs to 93rd Avenue and avoid all the congestion trying to get down 99th Avenue.)

Walking to the arena, you’re suddenly in a well designed arena district with plenty of bars and restaurants. It reminded me of Channelside Plaza in Tampa, if there was an arena where the Carnival ships were docked. It opens up perfectly to the entrance of the arena with anything you want to inhale just steps away.

Even the furthest parking spot doesn’t seem so far. Despite the signage posted, there is free parking for the game at the shopping center. Study the online parking map to figure out where to go.

DSC08390I managed to get inside in enough time before warmups after hauling ass from the Hoover Dam and the arena is impressive. The seating design and features don’t feel like a cookie cutter arena. There’s a puck with a crescent moon hanging down above the glass during warmups that lights up red.  Four corners of the arena have a tower design with two of them featuring extra levels of suites. Keep looking up and you start to see the struggles of this franchise.

DSC08392One seemingly undersized Pacific Division Champions banner. An older center-hung scoreboard with the dot matrix screens above the jumbo video screen made this feel like a throwback arena. Perhaps to compensate for empty seats, what appears to be the largest American and Canadian flags in the NHL.

The concourse felt somewhat dark thanks to the low ceilings, but it also felt more comfortable and roomy to walk around. Sure, the building was half full, too. That helps. My ticket has suite level club access, which while it sucked it didn’t come with food, it was clutch for having a bathroom with zero lines and zero people inside. No worries because the carving station selling thick, hot turkey BLTs was one of the better arena sandwiches I’ve chowed on. Wash it down with a SanTan Brewing Yotes Pale Ale. Yes, it’s a beer made especially for the Coyotes. Yes, it’s delicious. And who knew Hibiscus flowers  tasted great as a beer ingredient?

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The game itself was a bit of a drag for the first period. The Caps couldn’t score and only had two shots on goal for a better portion of the frame. Eventually, the Caps woke up and made it an exciting game, eventually losing the lead, seeing the Coyotes head to overtime, where Clayton Keller scored the winner.

It was disheartening to see so many empty seats, especially in the lower bowl. I’m not going to rehash 20 years of playoff futility, the move from downtown to Glendale, bankruptcy and constant relocation concerns. All of those factor in to why there were so few fans at a Friday game before Christmas against Alexander Ovechkin and company. Also, the team only won 7 games up to that point. The announced attendance was 10,904. I’m sure several of those paid tickets didn’t show up either. The arena holds 17,125 for hockey.

Let me give you some prospective here, too, on people attending the game. The Capitals Road Crew advertised for tickets to bring out a group to both the Coyotes and Golden Knights games. The Golden Knights game brought in over 100 Caps fans from the Road Crew ticket sales. In addition to the non-Road Crew fans, the Caps had a clear and large presence in the stands. Glendale was a different story. You could spot Caps fans there, but  there was significantly less. I think there was an attempt to chant once but you couldn’t hear very well from across the arena.

The Coyotes ought to be taking advantage of the Golden Knights success and market and advertise to visiting fans going to Vegas to come down and see a game in Glendale. The arena experience is wonderful—nice ice projection system, wonderful concourse and amenities.  The tickets are extremely affordable on the secondary market (especially with a SeatGeek promo code). And did I mention free parking if you show up early enough?? It’s an incredible deal.

Now, there are a handful of things I would change. The in-game entertainment needs to be beefed up, even a little bit, to get fans engaged. Make Mites on Ice a regular feature like several rinks, to get kids to come to the game with their parents and play on the ice during intermission. Tout your youth hockey initiatives and encourage parents and kids to sign up to play. The grassroots programming needs to be robust to keep growing the game. Let’s say the team is able to find a home on the other side of the valley. You still need to grow the game in Glendale because you will still have fans playing and making the drive to go to the game.

At this point, it’s hard to commit dollars and all to that when the team is adamant about not playing in Gila River Arena any longer than they have to in order to be closer to their original Arizona fanbase. And if that doesn’t happen, they might not be in Arizona any longer, which would be a damn shame. Every hockey fan should take that drive down U.S. 93 for the most scenic drive for hockey you’ve ever seen. (OK, the drive from Seattle to Vancouver is also pretty but on most days fog ruins the view.)

Souvenir of the Game: Arizona Coyotes ugly Christmas sweater.

Updated List of NHL Arenas I’ve Attended a Game In

Gila River Arena — Dec. 22, 2017 (Coyotes 3, Capitals 3 OT) After a snoozefest of a first period, T.J. Oshie gets the Caps on the board with his first goal after returning from a concussion. Caps led 1-0 after two.  Christian Dvorak ties it up for the Coyotes before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored three minutes later. Coyotes put on a flurry of pucks on Phillip Grubauer, with Christian Fischer getting the tying goal with 1:01 to go in the game. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller buries the puck with 27 seconds left in OT for the come-from-behind win.  (12th Home Arena Visited/14 including Mellon Arena and US Air Arena)

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4.) Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. )Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4.) Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO.) Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

 

Responsibility in Blogging

This is sort of a PSA to any hockey blogger who cares to read. It’s some inside journalism stuff, so feel free to move along if this minutiae isn’t your lede.

Blogging is often a place to provide added analysis, arguments, pleas and an aggregated potpourri of the internets so you’re kept in the loop. Sometimes that requires actually talking to someone to enhance the story.

Sports blogging has found a way to find 10,000 niches in an individual sport or league, whether it’s the jerseys and logoswhat refs are officiating the game  or strictly how the farm system is faring.

Several of those blogs mix quantitative, qualitative and opinionated analysis. Some on a higher level than other.

Most sports blogs hone in on their favorite team, though.

There can only be so many fan blogs that aggregate what the mainstream media or team embedded media reports only to be “enhanced” with their own roasting hot takes. Some focus on the mix of People magazine meet TMZ aspect of the team but at least use its credentials to gather original reporting  to enhance the blog (and sometimes photos/videos) on their slice of hockey life reporting.

Blogs often critique player performances, propose trade scenarios and even have the open letter—a definite no-no on editorial pages because it’s basically a column. Don’t try to cheat.

Most of that can exist in somewhat of a vacuum, but certain blogs may need a question answered to give a fair analysis. You know, acknowledge that someone from the organization you are writing about is affected in all of this. Or that we can’t pontificate from the keyboard and may the internet kingdom hear all. (This entry is one of those pontificating blogs.)

I ran into that issue recently about the Washington Capitals decision to move its equipment sale and Fan Fest from a Saturday to a weekday.

The basis of the blog was going to be that popularity comes at a price and it’s difficult to make everyone happy. The solutions are few to make it better for everyone, including those working the event.

I needed to ask the organization why the move was made. The reason could be very different from what I thought the reasons would be and I’d have to start from scratch. You cannot assume what the answer is. That’s how you get sued.

However, I was asked not to contact the Capitals media relations department on behalf of the credentialed blog because they wanted to keep a positive relationship with the team. If you fairly offer critiques about player performance and front office decisions on players, coaches and prospects, then the marketing and fan experience items are fair game. Every event is a money-making opportunity for the team, even if admission is free.

Some aspects managed crowds better by allowing season-ticket members priority access to certain activations and the equipment sale.

I could have contacted the organization myself, but while my track record and reputation is good in several journalism circles, the Capitals media relations department has no clue who I am. Most Caps fans don’t know who I am either on here, or that they come here for news. This site is a hobby. Other sites were opportunities, even though as a professional journalist I should not be working for free, for anyone.

I asked the Caps PR twitter account about the change but I didn’t receive a response. It was a long shot but contacting them that way would get things in the open. Anything beyond that, phone calls, emails, I’d leave for something I’d be getting paid for.

Here’s what I would have asked:

  • Why was the Fan Fest and equipment sale moved from a Saturday to a Wednesday?
  • Depending on the answer, then I’d follow up with, Was it because the event tends to be crowded, verging on overcrowding, each year? (It’s held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where reminders are frequent to not stand or sit in the bleacher stairways because of the fire code.)
  • Did the Metro construction on the Blue/Orange lines happening that week affect the decision? (It would have proved troublesome on a weekend to get there for some fans.)
  • Is this a one-time decision or likely be repeated in future years?
  • Do you keep track of the crowd or attendance at Fan Fest? Has it increased or decreased or stayed the same each year?
  • If crowding continued to be an issue, would returning the Capitals Convention help lessen the crowd at Fan Fest?
  • Regardless, are there any plans or talk that the Capitals Convention to return? What would it take for that event to return?

That helps cover a lot of areas, helps build rapport with an organization giving you access and helps form an informed opinion. You don’t want to risk a libel lawsuit or even be forced to write a correction or retraction because you didn’t ask the source for their side of the story.

The organization can chose to not answer any and all requests (keep records), or answer some but not all, but it still helps with building a story. With as many national and international media properties cover NHL teams, a blogger or freelance request could seem like a headache to them that they can brush off. But you never know how many clicks certain posts can produce, so at times you have to at least acknowledge the request.

I blame some of my journalism brethren for a habit by columnists to creep into blogging. I’ve seen too many columnists in daily papers, mainly at smaller circulations, hypothesize and place blame on someone or something without asking the person they’re hurling suggestions (or blame, maybe even praise) to in 550 words. The best practice in columns is to ask that source of the issue what they think, even if it leads to an awkward conversation, to get a complete view of the issue. Your thoughts may change, maybe backing down from what you originally thought, but it makes a better piece.

Your source continues to trust you. Your readers continue to trust you. And that’s not something you can easily reacquire after it’s lost.

Conflicted About Kraft Hockeyville

Kraft HockeyvilleI’m having mixed emotions about what rink I’m supporting for this year’s Kraft Hockeyville.

The Rockville Ice Arena here in Maryland is one of the top 10 finalists. It boasts quite a success story and quite a few of the Capitals players’ children have played there over the years. One of them being current Maple Leaf William Nylander and his little brother Alex Nylander when their dad Michael “Circles” Nylander played here…twice.

There’s also, nearly the same amount of a drive away from me, the Twin Ponds East Rink in Harrisburg, Pa. It’s close to Hershey, Pa., where the Caps affiliate Hershey Bears play in the Giant Center.

Here’s the deal: Rockville, and Montgomery County for that matter, is probably the most affluent community in the Kraft Hockeyville Top 10. Montgomery County consistently ranks high nationally for its household income thanks to cities like Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac.

I haven’t played in that rink since high school, but looking in the photos it looks well maintained. Probably just cramped and I’m sure they’d like to build new, larger locker rooms to benefit the elite teams.

Given the demographic of the families who play there, I’m sure the community could easily come up with the money itself through philanthropic partners and patrons.

Just by being in the top 10 the rink is guaranteed $10,000. I think they’d be happy with that. Moving on would mean $25,000, if they are runner-up it’s $75,000 and top prize is $150,000.

Also, one of the grand prizes is a pre-season game held in the rink. It’s too small so it would have to be played in the next closest arena…which is the Verizon Center.

This isn’t as cool of an experience as last year where Johnstown and its Cambria County War Memorial Arena was a runaway favorite. The county-owned and privately-managed rink was in danger of shutting down the last few years because of the financial challenges. The county has the largest population loss of any Pennsylvania county in the last five years, too.

The “Slap Shot” history made it endearing, and fortunately the county and state were pumping money into it anyway for a new subfloor, which couldn’t be installed in time for the pre-season game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning.

The NHL and its partners went above and beyond, providing additional improvements beyond the grand prize money to make the rink safe to play in for NHL players.

A year later, a competing rink across town, Planet Ice, announced it will shut down. If you’re a reader of this blog, you know that isn’t too much of an issue because the North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg was being used for maybe three hours a day and somehow stayed open. It is also owned by the county and managed by the same firm in charge of running the War Memorial. A new general manager was brought to remedy scheduling issues and the Planet Ice closure solves all of that.

That community is definitely facing economic woes where they’re lucky to make ends meet let alone have enough money to play hockey. So, even rink upgrades can’t solve bigger issues regarding hockey and rink availability in the community.

I haven’t been in Twin Ponds in ages either, but the rink’s owner Reed Patton told The Sentinel in Carlisle, Pa., he has a growing list of things to replace. Really, any rink hitting the 20-year mark has growing projects that they have to tackle:

“These things are very difficult to run,” Patton said. “This is the hardest thing I’ve done. There’s stuff that just gets worn down — compressors, roof, things like that that need attention. One of the items is the roof has been leaking as it gets older. There’d be some attention to the roof. Then for the rest of it, we would have to find out what Kraft Hockeyville would allow.”

What I like the Twin Ponds nomination is the game could potentially  be held in either the Giant Center or the “old barn” Hersheypark Arena. I could easily see a Capitals-Flyers match-up in the old arena, which has been recently renovated and is still used for Bears practices and community hockey games.

And actually, Patton also told The Sentinel, that after speaking with the Bears, the game would likely be put in Hersheypark Arena:

“We would probably do that at the Hersheypark Arena,” Patton said. “We talked to the Bears about that. It’s just a bigger venue and that would hold more people. It would be a free game, too, and we’d probably end up with some kind of lottery for tickets because there’d be so much demand for them.”

 

Some of the other nominees have really, really nice rinks.

I’m sure the historic Olympic Center in Lake Placid will get some votes for the history, but with a venue that big, I feel like the money won’t go that far.

There’s another rink outside of Chicago on the list that looks posh and well manicured and another that wants to build a third ice sheet.

The only one on the list that features Jeremy Roenick narrating the poor conditions is Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Mich. They show how the roof leaks and the compressor is about shot and the glass supports are rusted.

Since I can vote 50 times a day online and another 50 via text, I think I’m going to be splitting my votes in the first round. There are some communities that need the help more than Rockville.

Duplicate Blue Jackets’ Winter Park on the National Mall

If Washington couldn’t host a Winter Classic on the National Mall, hosting some shinny could be a nice consolation prize.

The thought that a marquee event like the Winter Classic would ever be on the Mall was somewhere between daydreaming and lunacy and the Caps dismissed that idea back in 2012. The reason being is that there would be no way to get 20,000 to 40,000 quality temporary seats placed on the Mall.

But you still could put an ice rink there for a couple of months.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have brought outdoor hockey to the city’s downtown this year after trying it out in 2015 to build excitement for the All-Star Game. The team calls this regulation size rink and its environs Winter Park.

Here’s what the Jackets said back in 2015 about the rink:

It features everything you’d see in a normal hockey rink or hockey arena, except for a roof. Locker rooms, skate rentals, concessions, merchandise tents, a broadcast perch for the FOX Sports Ohio “Blue Jackets Live” broadcast team of Bill Davidge and Brian Giesenschlag…this rink has it all, and it figures to be the centerpiece of a one-of-a-kind experience that the Blue Jackets and several of their local partners want to bring to the city.

I saw a few flyers about the rink when I saw the Caps play in Columbus on Jan. 2 and was both super pumped about a regulation rink with all the proper dasher boards and glass in place for public use and super bummed that it wasn’t going to be open until after we left town.

The Blue Jackets have not only hosted public skating, but team practices (where John Tortorella earned his fractured ribs) and pick-up hockey for the public (!!!).

Yes, it’s $25 but shit, they have heated tents to get changed in. Well worth it, boys. Even if it means having to play at 6 a.m. I was amazed at the accessibility of the rink being across the street from Nationwide Arena in McFerson Commons.

(The Blue Jackets also had another idea that’s on-point: Dad’s Charity Game. Alas, this wasn’t at the outdoor rink and instead at Nationwide Arena where the players’ fathers played against First Responders.)

The Caps have held outdoor practices when they could at the Chevy Chase Club, but that’s not quite accessible given the private club atmosphere. With the Caps Convention gone for a couple of years now, this would be a neat way to do something different in the District and more for the community.

The National Gallery of Art has an outdoor ice skating rink, but it’s strictly for skating. You won’t see a full-on game going on here or Ovi working on his shot here.

The Mall is just as accessible with a Metro stop on the west end, is relatively flat and D.C. is definitely a walking city. If a budget team like the Blue Jackets are able to find sponsors and build a full rink, then the Caps could and have Kettler in charge of managing it.

The only thing is I don’t know how much the National Park Service would charge to rent out that large enough of a space on the Mall.

Cost may not be the issue, really. It’s probably the incredible restrictions for special events on NPS land. The chief one is about the storage of propane cylinders and restrictions of storing fuel on NPS property.

That could cause an issue if the only Zamboni you have uses propane as a fuel source. And then there’s the electrical access.

Marketing and advertising restrictions would mean the Caps would have to be careful how they use it and market it. Strictly promoting a commercial brand (NHL, Capitals) is a no-no. A special event featuring advertising of sponsors? It’s OK.

Oh, and this part won’t help you sign up season-ticket holders:

Soliciting personal information such as names, addresses, telephone numbers, zip codes, etc., or any other such information which may be used for future solicitation or marketing purposes, is strictly prohibited.

Sigh.

OK, I’m not so sure now. I don’t even know how you’d be able to do this for a weekend rink if D.C. ever gets an All-Star Game. There would have to be a huge community or charitable cause, like raising funds for the National Mall, to mask this as in order to work. Exactly the mission of the rink. The community part—not the part about hiding under the guise of a charity.

It would probably be less restrictive to do something like this on the West Potomac Park, which is south of the Lincoln Memorial along the Tidal Basin. This is where you’ll see some major concerts like the Landmark Music Festival which was like a D.C. Lollapalooza with a charitable cause (though how much it ultimately raised, who knows).

Hey, nothing’s going on in RFK during the winter anymore other than using its parking lots to deposit snow. The stadium has way more space than you need, but you’re not staffing the whole stadium for this. You’re closing off access to the upper bowl, and really, any bowl. Just get people access to the locker rooms to change and a way to walk out to the rink.

(Honestly, I know that’s a pipe dream. But maybe offering to do an outdoor World Juniors or NCAA game there would be a way in.)

D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation has ballfields that could work but with them mainly being in neighborhoods and beside schools it doesn’t have the same sort of ambience or access.

All that leaves you with is fields at American and Howard universities. Ehhhhh.

None of those other choices have the allure or accessibility of the National Mall.

Mr. Leonsis, it’s time to Rock the Rink on America’s front porch.

 

 

A Unicorn NHL TV Market and Why NHL Network Is Blacked Out in Frostburg

NHL Network LogoUpdate 2: I realized I never provided an additional update. Sorry.

The technician visited and explained that as I originally thought, the NHL Network is not available to Frostburg area customers.

However, the tech added that if I was in the Garrett County side of Frostburg instead of Allegany County, I would have access to the NHL Network, and many more channels in general. Of course that doesn’t make a lot of sense because Garrett County is as rural as you can get. It has more than 76,000 acres of public lands and lakes, which I believe is the most in the state.

 

Update: After asking NHL Network via Twitter to help fix this issue, another agent from @ComcastCares reached out and he believes the station is actually available in the Frostburg market.

After testing a different package not shown on the website, the channel didn’t appear, so they are sending a technician on Friday.

The technician will examine if they have my box on the right program guide (I don’t know why there are two different channel line-ups for one ZIP code), examine signal flux and my box.

This ought to demonstrate to the NHL Network to barter a bit better to be included in a lower tier of sports channels to have more viewers because other people would give up at this point to subscribe.

Original: Trying to watch hockey on TV shouldn’t be all that hard.

Given the battles to make it easier to watch games online, you’d think the TV end would be mainly issue free.

Not in Frostburg, Maryland, where territories of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins converge in the mountains.

Frostburg is a unique National Hockey League television market where you can watch both the Washington Capitals on ComcastSportsNet Mid-Atlantic and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Root Sports. It’s a swing county when it comes to hockey allegiances for these bitter rivals, to be honest.

I decided that this year I was going to go without a NHL GameCenter Live subscription. It didn’t make any sense to me anymore despite the new single-team packages being offered thanks to a class-action lawsuit. Broadstreet Hockey exceptionally covered the problems with GCL’s new set-up that’s supposed to be consumer friendly.

When I moved to Florida four years ago, I watched both Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals games, and while I enjoyed the idea, it didn’t quite work out for me, outside of the constant video buffering.

The Lightning and Caps would often play on the same nights and start a half-hour apart. And when they didn’t, one of the two teams were blacked out (typically the Caps) for being on national TV. And the Lightning would mainly be blacked out for being on the NHL Network.

And nothing ticked me off more than being blacked out for a “national” game on the NHL Network, considering it’s not in standard sports channel packages. It’s included on DirecTV (which if they had broadband Internet and not DSL here, I’d be there in a heartbeat).

So, I opted to dive in an extra $9.99 a month to get NHL Network with my current Xfinity package along with some other sports channels like NBA TV (that I’d never watch) and Encore that are included. I figured the NHL Network should be a better deal this year with a new operator taking over, new talent and better programming.

What comes next is five hours of hopelessness between three Comcast agents, one in an online chat, another on the phone and a third via the @ComcastCares Twitter account. And oh yeah, the NHL Network’s website.

Let’s cut to the chase first: The NHL Network is not available on Comcast Xfinity in the Frostburg market. The channel is advertised as part of a Digital Preferred Package when ordering on the Comcast website and three agents fist believed that I should have the channel until they dug deeper to find out that it isn’t available after all.

Now, look at this map of NHL TV territories made in 2013 by Mile High Hockey. Do you think this same issue would lead the NHL not to provide the NHL Network in Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis and New York City where other teams share TV territories? Nope.

2013 NHL TV Territory Map

2013 NHL TV Territory Map

This is a Direct Message from a @ComcastCares rep “DB” who spent several hours trying to fix my issue, including resetting my box for a signal flux issue:

A Comcast rep explains why the NHL Network isn't available after several hours thinking it was.

A Comcast rep explains why the NHL Network isn’t available after several hours thinking it was.

If you can’t read the picture, it says:

“Sorry for the delayed response, I just got confirmation that the NHL isn’t available in your region. I wasn’t able to confirm this earlier. I do suggest still sending a tech out to resolve the signal flux so you don’t experience any issues in the future. ~DB @ComcastCares

“Was there a reason given why it is not available”—@ImYourChuck

“Just that there hasn’t been an agreement reached yet to provide it in your area. Requesting it thru the feedback link will let your region know that it is in demand. Which could make it possibly available later. ~DB @ComcastCares”

Why did I deal with three reps? The first one tried to resolve the issue and couldn’t find the channel. Because I grew tired, I called to speak to someone so I could remove the service. That was relatively quick. The rep, a hockey fan, tried to help but figured out that it’s not available because the NHL decided it shouldn’t be. I spent from 5 to after 11 p.m. going through all of this.

I vented on Twitter and a @ComcastCares manager decided to reach out to me and figure this out in DMs.

Worse, is that when I enter my ZIP on the NHL Network website, it says I should have it. See below:

The NHL Network shows that the channel should be available in Frostburg, Md., on Comcast cable. However, it is not available.

The NHL Network shows that the channel should be available in Frostburg, Md., on Comcast cable. However, it is not available.

The passive way to resolve this, as suggested by Comcast is that I need more people in the Frostburg area to request the NHL Network be made available through both the NHL’s website and Comcast Xfinity feedback. However, that’s a daunting task considering the small population in this region.The FSU student population from Central Maryland helps, but those students are opting for either GameCenterLive, Center Ice or going to the bar.

This isn’t the first delivery issue I’ve had with NHL games in Frostburg. I’m looking forward to the Oct. 31 Caps vs. Panthers game on CSN+ to check to see if I don’t have another channel I’m supposed to have.

I wonder how much of all of this has to deal with this unique territory where rival NHL teams from two markets are shown on local TV channels. And how much has to deal with Xfinity not being able to separate this tiny market from its Pennsylvania customers because its local office is based in Meyersdale, Pa., after shutting down its Frostburg office last year.

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I want to know.

But really knowing why not is not as important as knowing when I will get the NHL Network.

Old Washington Capitals in New Places as NHL Training Camps Begin

It’s too real, guys.

Like seeing your girlfriend with another guy in the case of Mike Green with the Red Wings.

Or something more subtle, like asking Curtis Glencross “Did you get new glasses?” when you see him on a PTO with the Maple Leafs … but can’t even seem to find a photo of him as a Maple Leaf invitee.

So, here’s a photo and video round-up of Caps from last season, along with some other prominent ex-Caps, in strange new surroundings:

Mike Green, Red Wings

Mike Green practices with the Detroit Red Wings (Instagram @detroitredwings)

Mike Green practices with the Detroit Red Wings (Instagram @detroitredwings)

Green Life 52 is now Green Life 25, a number he was more familiar with while playing in Hershey.  Squeezed out from his contract and depth in the organization, Greenie gotta go.

Two to three seasons ago, Caps fans would be less disappointed if Green was traded, having his value somewhat decrease from injuries and the defensive mistakes he was making while his offense dipped. Last season, he really turned things around and we had to let him walk and not get anything in return. Godspeed on your Vespa, sir.

Troy Brouwer, Blues

Troy Brouwer [Video Screenshot: St. Louis Blues]

Troy Brouwer [Video Screenshot: St. Louis Blues]

The 2015 Winter Classic hero was traded in the offseason for T.J. Oshie and is also sporting No. 36 instead of No. 20 that he wore in D.C., because it’s worn by captain Alexander Steen.

Pheonix Copley, Blues

Mainly forgotten in the Brouwer/Oshie trade is goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley, who went from raw prospect to someone who could be a stud in the stable after his past season with Hershey.

Couldn’t find any good photos of Copley practicing, but we have his new pads, which is enough said for a goalie:

Michal Neuvirth, Flyers

Neuvy bounced around last year, splitting time with the Sabres and Islanders while dealing with injuries. Now he’s with yet another bitter Caps rival:

Eric Fehr, Penguins

Here’s a bowl full of awkward. Fehr scored in the 2011 Winter Classic against the Pens in Pittsburgh. Before he even landed in Pittsburgh, he stopped in Cincinnati to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play. The black and gold is striking enough even if it’s one of the other Steel City teams.

Because Fehrsie is rehabbing an injury (look at my shocked face), there aren’t any good photos of him on the ice other than this Sasquatch sighting:

Steve Oleksy, Penguins

Also joining the Dark Side is Steve “Binky” Oleksy, who mainly played with the Hershey Bears during his five years in the organization, managing to fit in over 60 games spread out over two seasons yet only saw one game with the Caps when Barry Trotz took over.

Joel Ward, Sharks

J. Randal Ward will always have a place in Caps lure for years to come and when he retires one day, I’m sure he will be welcomed with open arms back in D.C.

Wardo was the closest thing we had to Justin Williams before we got Justin Williams, scoring an OT GWG in Game 7 against the Bruins in 2012 and the amazing GWG with 1.3 seconds left in Game 1 against the New York Islanders.

He’s looking sharp in teal, especially in these throwback sweaters that will be worn in San Jose this year.

Alex Semin, Canadiens

Sasha Cares. At least on the first scrimmage of preseason. Semin, a sniper sorely missed in D.C., despite his perceived shortcomings. OK, a little soapboxing right now. Yes, he took a lot of slashing penalties. And he was hot and cold, but I remember another Cap great who had the same issues: Peter Bondra. /endrant.

After being bought out by the Hurricanes because he lost a step and didn’t buy in. From looking at how the Hurricanes played last year, a lot of guys didn’t buy in. Now he’s in Montreal on a one-year deal, wearing lucky No. 13.

And he’s sniping Carey Price in practice:

Tomas Fleischmann, Canadiens

Joining his one-time Caps line-mate in Montreal is Tomas Fleischmann, but Flash is in a tough spot. He’s on a pro tryout. Semin has a perception and baggage, but he has skill and proved he can pot 40 goals.

Flash is a good two-way player but the expectations always have been he should be producing more offense, whether that was in Washington, Florida, Colorado, Anaheim and now he has to prove it in Montreal. This is his sixth NHL Club, being drafted by the Red Wings.

Boyd Gordon, Coyotes

One of the Capitals who had to survive through the ugly rebuild, Gordon overcame groin injuries during his time in D.C., and was a face-off specialist until younger, cheaper options came through.

He’s returning for a second tour of duty in Glendale thanks to a trade from the Edmonton Oilers, which is probably the worst time to be traded from the Oilers given Connor McDavid is now on the team with essentially, an all-new team.

So again, Gordon plays on a team that is in the midst of the rebuild, does OK, and is dispatched before the team will get better. And now he’s on the very much so rebuilding Yotes.

Dishonorable Mention

Curtis Glencross, Maple Leafs

A trade-deadline acquisition from Calgary, he started off well in his first couple games then fell off a cliff. One-hundred percent bust, from regular season through the playoffs.

He went from scoring .58 points per game in Calgary to .38 with the Caps in 18 games. Then he was scratched in a few games in the playoffs, and scored one meaningless goal in 10 games.

Now, he’s on a PTO with the Maple Leafs. Not only couldn’t he find the net, a scoresheet or a team that wanted to sign him, I can’t find footage or photographic proof of him in Leafs attire at camp.

As much as the Caps wanted to forget his time here, nobody even wants to remember

Oshie to Caps: It’s a Great Day For America

I’m glad I reserved judgment of the Caps’ moves, or lack thereof, until Thursday.

In consecutive days, the Capitals signed Game Seven Hero Justin Williams and traded for All-American Hero T.J. Oshie. 

I was afraid general manager Brian MacLellan would fall back in a conservative mode like his predecessor and former boss, George McPhee, and be reticent to make major offseason trades, so the young players would replenish the stock with the core.

MacLellan is definitely bold but let’s see what the results are before we proclaim victory.

My concern about the lack of big movement wasn’t solely motivated by what Pittsburgh did bringing in Phil Kessel. But instead looking at what the Tampa Bay Lightning and others did to rectify postseason failure in a hurry.

It’s scary to see how machine-like Yzerman moved through last summer to get rid of deadweight and use the return, even if it was just draft picks, to identify the exact type of player he needed in free agency and trades. The deft hand got the Bolts within two wins of the Stanley Cup.

What helped Yzerman was that the Bolts were swept out of the first round the previous season. Despite the close games on the scoresheet, it was clear what he needed and went out and got it. (Except a healthy goalie all the time when Ben Bishop’s groin broke down at the worst time.)

For whatever reason, the Caps convinced no matter what, they were only just one or two players away.

Smart general managers know they can’t buy their way into the Stanley Cup via free agency. They need to draft, develop and have smart trades. Sure, a couple free agents help in the process.

For whatever reason, changing the core with the Caps has taken longer.

At the same time, we all wish that giddy feeling when in 2009 Sergei Fedorov scored the GWG in a Game 7 against the Rangers would last forever, especially into the next round against the Penguins.

The last time the Caps were swept out of the playoffs, by the Lightning no less in the second round, was in 2011.

Here’s what McPhee did:

  • Traded for Troy Brouwer
  • Signed prospect Mattias Sjogren, who didn’t pan out and didn’t want to play in the AHL to get to the Caps
  • Signed Jeff Halpern after being away from the club for years
  • Traded Varlamov for picks, which one of them ended up being Filip Forsberg
  • Signed Joel Ward
  • Signed Roman Hamrlik
  • Signed Tomas Vokoun
  • Traded Eric Fehr to Winnipeg for prospects who haven’t panned out
  • Acquired depth defenseman Tomas Kundratek, who was useful for a season.

So that year after bringing in Marco Sturm, Scott Hannan, Dennis Wideman and Jason Arnott—all veterans needed on a young team—it didn’t cut it.

McPhee went out and got a young player with a Cup ring for the young core to relate to, a faceoff specialist for the bottom six, a clutch playoff performer, a stay-at home defenseman to counter having Green and Carlson and another veteran goaltender to continue the carousel.

All of those types of players were what the Caps needed but it’s clear that McPhee didn’t go out and be aggressive enough to get the best players available that fit that mold. You’d think by that time his reputation with player agents and some GMs caused issues with acquiring players either via trade, even if they had to waive a NMC, or by free agency.

This all would lead to Bruce Boudreau being fired the following season and by then, there should have been turnover of the core, core and not the outer fringe of the core.

Alex Semin, Mathieu Perreault, Mike Green and Michal Neuvirth would all eventually part and all without any significant return. Two of those players lost to free agency. Perreault let go for a minor leaguer and a pick and Neuvy brought back a shaky Jaroslav Halak, who didn’t even get the Caps to the playoffs.

After Hunter got the Caps into the playoffs for two rounds, Adam Oates came in and salvaged a poor start to get the Caps into another seven-game defeat with Mike Ribeiro, Wojtek Wolski, Aaron Volpatti, Steven Olesky…and Martin Erat for the ride. Sigh.

In came Mikhail Grabovski, who was pretty good for the Caps, then deadline acquisitions Halak and Dustin Penner and an Oates disciple in Alex Urbom…who definitely er… bombed. That all exploded the careers of Oates and McPhee.

MacLellan has so far, made moves getting the Caps back to the right direction. He can’t do everything as GM and certainly can’t undo everything in his first season. It look awhile for Yzerman to undo his previous regime’s mess, but that included having to stockpile picks. Once he had those picks he could wheel and deal hard.

MacLellan’s moves to get the Caps at least back in the playoffs brought both Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen at a steep price but absolutely the right players. Taking Justin Peters as a back-up was a sacrificial lamb having to pick someone who was OK to not play so Holtby can get his game on track. It worked. Worked so well that Philip Grubauer had to spell Holtby in the playoffs because it was ages since Peters played any game.

As for Tim Gleason and Curtis Glencross…I’d give a B for Gleason and a D for Glencross.

GMBM: Year Two

Now what we’re looking at is Year Two GMBM Retool.

There’s enough turnover here saying goodbye to Joel Ward, Eric Fehr and Mike Green combined with the other players the Caps parted ways with from the former Young Guns Gang where he has to see what he has now.

He upgraded in the Playoff Clutch Scorer Category.

In Oshie, he’s great in the shootout but that doesn’t count in the playoffs. Can this finally be the winger we’ve always wanted? Can he reach that ceiling that everyone expected him to hit?

Evgeny Kuznetsov, drafted by McPhee, is finally on the team full-time and showed in the playoffs he can be a No. 2 center. Can that be sustained?

Can Burakovsky be a dominant Top Six forward that can finesse? It looks like it.

Can Tom Wilson be a Top Six Forward—the next Milan Lucic? He’s got until the trade deadline to figure it out. Right now he’s the Caps’ Brett Connolly.

Can Brooks Laich finally not put so much pressure on himself and perform? Hopefully, because we need him to be healthy enough to trade him. I don’t expect a good return on him, but at least a pick to help clear space for a bigger move.

Is Braden Holtby the franchise goalie for the Capitals? Will the Capitals be good enough for him to not play 70 games so he can rest for the playoffs?

Is Justin Williams going to be a better Mike Knuble and sustain production beyond his first season here?

Here’s what I see shaking out in the season ahead:

  • Tom Wilson is traded for a veteran bottom-six winger who has more offensive upside.
  • Justin Peters is waived before the start of the season and is either claimed or buried in the minors
  • Brooks Laich is traded to Anaheim or Los Angeles for a pick or prospect since he won’t command more thanks to his health and declining production
  • Justin Chimera will have a rebound season and be kept in Washington for his seventh season here.

Back to Brouwer, Brooks

When McPhee brought on Brouwer, everyone was excited because the team was getting a young player from the Stanley Cup champ Blackhawks. I was pumped, too, because sending a first-round pick must have meant there was a high ceiling for a player who was drafted in the sixth round.

Brouwer played well, setting career highs in Washington, but everyone thought he’d get more than 43 points. Nobody thought he’d be so healthy as to play all but one eligible game for the Caps in his four seasons.

But he became duplicative with Brooks Laich, who came up with the Bears and was still part of that core. Didn’t matter he started with the Ottawa Senators—he barely got a sniff with them before we traded Peter Bondra for him. (Funny because Blues GM Doug Armstrong said Oshie duplicated other players on his roster.)

You’d think Brooks Laich would be the better one to trade with a higher cap hit, declining results and diminishing returns in the post season. You’re not going to get good value for that in return if you want to compete, and interested teams would be wary of Laich’s rash of injuries over the last few seasons.

Instead, you load up and give up the player who makes less, plays all 82 games, contributes much more than Laich on the PP over the last few seasons.

And how can you not forget the beauty of a goal Brouwer scored in the Winter Classic this year?

If we’re comparing the past, well, Oshie isn’t all that much different on straight stats and advanced stats. Biggest difference is Oshie gets more shots to the net, unblocked, and Brouwer is better on the PK. Even that is slight.

Here, the expectations of the guy coming in are even higher. Oshie never played with guys with skill of Backstrom, Ovechkin, Kuznetzov and Burakovsky. The only player coming close to that group is Vladamir Tarasenko, who Oshie hardly played with.

Pheonix Copley shouldn’t be lost in this, but he’s expendable after the Caps selected the best available goalie in the draft. He surprised a lot of people when had to be relied on in Hershey making him wanted in St. Louis where they’re still searching for a franchise goalie.

 

For what it’s worth

After the Lightning was bounced out of the first round in 2014—after not making the post-season the year before—here’s what Yzerman did last summer:

  • Acquired Jason Garrison and rights to prospect Jeff Costello for picks
  • Traded Teddy Purcell to Edmonton for Sam Gagner, flipped Gagne for a sixth-round pick while shipping out B.J. Crombeen to clear salary and contract counts
  • Traded Nate Thompson to Anaheim for fourth- and seventh-round picks in another salary dump and to clear contracts to do the following:
  • Signed Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman,Brenden Morrow and Evgeni Nabokov—the last two to one-year deals
  • Bought out Ryan Malone following his cocaine arrest and trial

Then to round-out the team:

  • Waived Richard Panik following opening night
  • Traded Eric Brewer for a pick
  • Traded once heralded prospect Brett Connelly to Boston for picks
  • Traded promising defenseman Radko Gudas for Brayden Coburn
  • Forced Nabokov into retirement

That’s how you shake up your core, shed salary and use prospects and young stars wisely thanks to a well-stocked system of even younger players waiting for a roster spot. And all of that was after saying goodbye to Marty St. Louis and previously, Vincent Lecavalier.

I don’t think anyone can mirror the Blackhawks no matter how hard they try. It takes a lot of luck with loaded contracts panning out into championships paired with incredibly smart amateur and pro scouting.

It’s been Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Seabrook, Keith and anyone else along for the ride for at least two of the three Cups.

Final Thought

When we’re talking teams in the Stanley Cup Finals—win or lose—are we ready to say this group of defenseman, without Mike Green now, is better? Or is worthy of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance?

Right now it’s floating somewhere in between the 2012 New Jersey Devils, 2011 Vancouver Canucks, 2008 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2013 Boston Bruins. The Flyers, Rangers and Lightning all had better bluelines that still lost out.

Without any changes you have Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, hopefully a health Dimitri Orlov and Taylor Chorney with Connor Carrick and Sean Collins filling in when necessary. Hell, we may even have a Christian Djoos sighting.

A healthy Orlov could have made Green expendable earlier in his career. Now, I don’t even remember how the guy plays and don’t know if he still has it. I sure hope Orlov does.

At least in that Top 4, do you equate them with Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Doughty, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Zdeno Chara and yes, even Andrew Ference who’s had three SCF appearances?

Not until they get to the finals.

 

Sin Bin: The Washington Caps Bar That Isn’t and May Never Be

Last year, I was incredibly jealous reading the news that D.C. would finally get an official hockey bar of its own.

The Washington Post reported in February 2014 that Sin Bin Bar and Restaurant would open as a Caps-themed hangout at 1336 H St. NE in D.C., thanks to David McQuaid and Naveed Ashraf:

“Ultimately we’re going to be a Caps bar,” said McQuaid, a mid-30s D.C. native who, like Ashraf, is a Capitals fan. “We’ve had kind of mixed input on whether that’s a smart idea or not. … We did some nominal market research, and we were just thinking that if there’s any area that would support kind of a bottom-up effort for the Caps, it’d be H Street.”

Nothing online points to this place ever opening or still being in the process of opening. I’m going to try to drive by the address on Saturday to see what it is. It was first pegged for a June 2014 opening according to published reports then November 2014…then…?

From my experience covering retail and restaurants, this ain’t happening. At least not at that location. Photos on blogs showed renovation work being done but there’s a lot of work to be done after the interior and exterior shell is touched up.

The bar’s liquor license was protested but ultimately approved in March 2014 after a settlement, according to public documents. It’s possible that the owners found the settlement too restrictive despite agreeing to the terms and decided to ditch the plan. I’m not sure how well you can control crowd noise on a rooftop bar area that’s operating until midnight on the weekends and how profitable that would be considering it would be blocked off before closing time.

There are bars to watch hockey but there are no hockey bars in D.C. The Greene Turtle at the Verizon Center caters to all and the Chinatown bars are an everyman’s place, in certain situation an every douchebag’s place.

First of all, do you count Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken as a hockey hangout because it’s owned by Jeff Halpern? The menu rivals some items found at Krustyland at Universal Studios. (I see you Lard Lad Donuts and Chicken and Waffle Sandwiches.) Because it doesn’t feature an abundance of hockey memorabilia, or dozens of flat screen TVs or a bar, no.

Could we make this a thing regardless? Because Caps fans are quirky enough, sure. And if Halpern doesn’t have a donut sandwich called the Schoenfeld and Koharski, he is missing out on some menu marketing that writes itself.

Virginia has a hockey-themed bar called Bugsy’s Pizza in Old Town Alexandria, as the Post inserted at the end of its story but there’s nothing actually in D.C., or on the way in Maryland that I know of. At least it’s owned by a former Cap, Brian “Bugsy” Watson.

There’s no way I’d go to Bugsy’s pre- or post-game because it’s out of the way for me and half the Caps fans. (Still, I need to go there regardless.) Riding the Red Line from Shady Grove, Sin Bin would still be pointless for me unless I would go to a game on the weekends. It’s two miles east of Verizon Center and 1.3 miles from the nearest Metro stop at Union Station. In city traffic, that’s still a 30-minute walk.

It’s a great idea but not the best location. It ought to come as close to Chinatown and Verizon Center possible.

Hell, if there was something in Rockville, I’d still go.

Tampa’s Hattricks Tavern is just down the street from Amalie Arena and if you couldn’t guess by its name, it’s absolute a hockey bar. Sure, Gator football will fill airtime when no hockey games are playing, but you won’t find University of Florida gear on the wall. It’s all hockey. There used to be a bar called The Luxury Box in front of Amalie Arena but that shuttered after the lockout and is now an impressive open-air bar with shipping containers called Ferg’s Live.

Brandon Ice Sports Forum has a hockey bar inside of it, too, as an alternative, when open. In Bradenton and Sarasota, former minor league hockey player Tommy Denis and family own a Chicago-themed pizzeria called Joey D’s where the Blackhawks are predominately featured. He’s friends with Mike Peluso and has plenty of memorabilia and in his south Sarasota location, there’s a penalty box bar at the entrance.

Anyway, Russian Machine Never Breaks reported later last summer that Sin Bin would open in November and the general manager needed some ideas.

The manager, Chris Conner, seemed to never get to implement those ideas. On December 5, 2014, he tweeted “I need a job! Someone hire me!!!!”

Tweets from the past few months included showing off his pot collection thanks to the decriminalized marijuana laws in D.C. Not judging, just showing that the feed isn’t filled with Sin Bin Coming Soon tweets.

I reached out to Chris on Twitter asking what happened and will update if he responds. I can’t find reliable contact information for the developers/owners either. Ashraf at least appears to be an active real estate owner from online records.

[Update: Conner confirmed Sin Bin never opened: “nope kinda sucks.” Still would be interested in the whole story.]

At this point, I ask Caps fans and bartrepreneurs to huddle together and open a proper Caps bar once and for all in D.C. or Maryland.

What would you name it? Unleash the Beery? Weagle’s Pub and Grill? Clutch and Grab Bag?

And what should be on the menu? Bonzai Burgers? Zilla Ziti? Dad’s Swedish Meatballs?

Your call. Let’s hear it!