The Capitals are Basically on Furlough


Photo: Frederick Breedon

After Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, I figured their four days off this week would be a good thing. The team would get a chance to work on its 5v5 play, and the distance of time would give us a bit more clarity on a chaotic, young season.

Nope. I was wrong.

The Capitals don’t intend to tinker with their lines just yet, while the rest of the league seems dedicated to making Caps fans miserable. It’s been a four-day break in which players are still getting paid, but everyone still seems as grumpy as a non-essential government worker.

It all started after the last Caps game. Mathieu Perreault scored his first goal — an OTGWG — for his new team, Bruce Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks. Perreault, a proven NHLer, had been traded away in exchange for nothing particular except salary cap space. On Monday’s episode of Marek vs Wyshynski, Boudreau admitted that he and his successors in Washington did not use Perreault effectively (about 29 minutes in):

He’s extremely skilled, and sometimes even when I had him Washington or when they had him after I was gone, we didn’t utilize his skill well enough. He was a guy we always thought could break out. He makes other people better. Alex Semin loved to play with him.

(He just had to namedrop Sasha there, didn’t he?)

Then on Tuesday, former Caps prospect Filip Forsberg scored his first career goal for the Nashville Predators. Forsberg was dealt away at the deadline in April in exchange for Martin Erat. The trade remains controversial: Forsberg’s upside is still unknown, whereas Erat– although a sturdy forward– has missed crucial games due to injury and has just one year remaining on his contract.

Erat, the player acquired in exchange for Forsberg, is currently sharing the fourth line with Tom Wilson, the player made possible by dealing Perreault. Erat is playing under 8 minutes a night, where he will contribute nothing close to what he was purported to bring, and Wilson has yet to make an impression nearly one-third of the way through his big-league audition.

Wilson was drafted 16th in the 2012 NHL draft, one spot before Tomas Hertl. If you don’t know who Hertl is, that’s only because haven’t had a chance to catch up on Tuesday’s hockey news yet. The 19-year-old rookie scored four goals for San Jose in his third game ever, vaulting him over Alex Ovechkin to the top of the NHL scoring race.

Instead of snatching up the Czech phenom, George McPhee picked Tom Wilson, who shall remain under the goon classification until otherwise proved.

I know that all sounds dire, but I’m just making a point. All of this happened in the absence of Caps hockey. Four days without a game is like four days without food. The fasting has made us hypersensitive, aware of all stimuli– including those we’d best ignore.

Mathieu Perreault may continue to do well in Anaheim, particularly when paired with Jakob Silfverberg, but Tom Wilson may yet become some version of a power forward as well. And while Forsberg had one big night in Nashville, he is still a green player on a struggling team with a coach whose name is still a homophone for the biological consequence of eating wild fruit. My suspicion remains that Martin Erat on the fourth line is a temporary affair.

The Capitals play the Hurricanes tomorrow night, and while that team won’t be subsidizing the Caps to score a hat trick against themselves, the Capitals have a good chance of winning. The Capitals have a good chance of winning a lot of games in coming weeks: Avalanche, Oilers, Blue Jackets, Jets, Oilers (again), and the Flames (again).  The Capitals should exit October with a harvest of wins and a flourishing of confidence.

The hockey furlough may get us down, but unlike the real one it is temporary. The games are coming back, and all these conclusions will seem absurdly premature in the fullness of time.

We’re only three games in. Forsberg and Hertl may be just flashes in the pan, and McPhee and Oates may yet be vindicated for their choices.

Let the games decide.

  • Man, oh man. These are still some tough trades to see play out. With all the hype around Forsberg and all the talk about how this was going to be Perry’s year, it’s a bit deflating to see them having (even limited) success elsewhere. Not that I would ever wish anything but success for them, but I wish it could be here with us!

  • Go Caps

    Can we go one day without whining about the Forsberg trade? We got a proven NHL player rather than a prospect, and our window is closing as Ovi and the core get older. GMGM let Perry go because he had to, because Oates clearly decided there was no room for him on the roster. If we chose Latta over Perry, shouldn’t that tell you something? At least we got something for Perry, rather than just waiving him.

  • Dave

    It’s one thing to say that Hertl was available when the Caps drafted Wilson, but do we *know* that Hertl was the Caps next choice? In other words, if Wilson didn’t exist, would GMGM just have drafted some other guy instead of Hertl anyway? Just because player B went next in the draft after player A doesn’t mean that in absence of player A the team would definitely have player B instead. Every draft has players that outperform or under perform their draft position, and many teams every year can potentially regret not taking a player they passed up and turns out to be good ex post.

  • “GMGM let Perry go because he had to”

    Well, that’s just not true. Didn’t have to put Wilson at NHL level. Had lots of bottom-six depth already.

    “If we chose Latta over Perry, shouldn’t that tell you something?”

    Not necessarily, no.

  • Priscilla Villanueva

    yuck. i hate seeing happy sharks fans.

  • I know there’s a lot packed into a little there, and I don’t assume you’re correcting me, so lemme clarify:

    a) Caps definitely had Wilson over Hertl
    b) That might be unwise
    c) Or not
    d) We don’t really know yet
    e) No idea who the Caps had next in their draft pick list
    f) I’m okay with not knowing yet

  • BaconSkittles

    This feels like the NHL’s equivalent of the Bye Week.

  • 5manfront

    Your man-crush on MP is starting to make things awkward.

  • VirginiaPatriot

    I get that this is a hockey blog. And I get that much of this should be taken with humor and lightness. But with thousands, tens of thousands in the DC area seriously impacted by the real furlough, not receiving paychecks (nor going to receive any backpay, many fall under that group, including myself), it’s a little raw to us to be saying that these highly paid athletes are on “furlough”. Some of us starting to seriously worry about how we will be paying our mortgages if this furlough continues. Sorry to be a little sensitive, but that’s how this is affecting us working stiffs.

  • I hear ya. I wrote a piece about how fans are affected by the furlough last week. And I did point out how different this is in the 4th paragraph: “It’s been a four-day break in which players are still getting paid.”

    Hope you don’t think I’m making light of the situation. I think it sucks, and you have my sympathy (and anger too).

  • starting?

  • yv

    Just to correct and add into the possible sad story, Erat and his 4.5M$ salary cap hit is in Caps for this and next season also, plus he has NMC (no move clause!). But I think tomorrow’ game would be the last when we will see him playing 4th line minutes.

  • VirginiaPatriot

    No, no, didn’t think you were making light of it. And your piece a few days ago was excellent. Just sensitive and a little pissed that I’m unloading game tickets. I probably should have just let it go. BTW, the Preds are my “second” favorite team. Wishing the best for Filip (well, as long as the “best” doesn’t impact the Caps).

  • Caps397

    Forsberg has more goals than Erat…I would rather have Forsberg

  • David Rothman

    He was my man crush first.

  • Sorry I shoulda said one year remaining AFTER THIS ONE

  • OlietheGoalie

    What, McPhee making dumb choices in hindsight? No…

  • Eddie

    I have to say you’re being unfairly hard on Tom Wilson. I sometimes think you’re actively hoping he fails, which, if you are, is totally lame. Give the kid a chance. I understand you’re not a big fan of fighting, but calling him a “goon” is unacceptable. Yes, fighting is part of his game; but it’s only one aspect, and he brings a lot of other skills to the table. A huge portion of Hendy’s and Brads’ role on the team involved fighting, but I never once saw you refer to them as goons.

    I totally get you’re upset with MP being traded to make a spot for Wilson; but the NHL is a business, and a highly-touted prospect is an investment. He had a great camp, and it’s better to find out what you have in him sooner rather than later. He’s only played 3 real NHL games and he’s getting 4th line minutes; it’s hard to light the world on fire in that role.

    Like it or not, player like MP, as much as I liked him, are not exactly a rarity in this league. If Wilson does not pan out and we decide we need to replace him with a Perrault-like player to refill that role. Again; I’m not trying to degrade MP’s value or skills; I’m just reminding you that he’s not an elite player and can be replaced somewhat easily if necessary.

    Now, having said all that, I’d like to mention that I’m a longtime reader/fan of this site and I typically agree with what you guys say, so please don’t take what I said too personally; just some constructive criticism and observations.

  • Tom Wilson has played 3 regular season games. He’s done nothing of note except fight. I didn’t say he is a goon– I said he’ll be known as a goon until he proves otherwise.

    Later in the same post I say he could become a power forward.

    I actually wasn’t full of praise for Hendy personally, and I was honest about my affection for Bradley being based in sentiment, not play. Either way, both of those characterizations were based in PERFORMANCE, not reputation (all we have of Wilson so far). That’s exactly the point of the whole article: we don’t know nothing yet.

    And no, Perreault actually is a rarity in the league. He’s an undersized possession-hog who was routinely undervalued (even by us at times). A fourth liner making less than 1 million is the un-rare thing. Wilson has the opportunity to distinguish himself and become something else; but the onus is on him, and it’s foolish to assume he’s anything else until he does so.