Remembering Steve Oleksy’s Time in Washington

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Oleksy as a kid. (Photo credit: Steve Oleksy)

When you examine the Washington Capitals roster and pore over every player on defense, Steve Oleksy feels like a name that belongs. After signing with the organization as an unrestricted free agent in 2012, Oleksy worked his butt off in Hershey and earned a call-up to the Caps in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

During that year, it appeared that Oleksy, receiving 17:16 of ice time per game, solidified himself as a solid third pairing NHL defender. When Oleksy was playing, he tilted the ice in the Caps direction. Plus, he was a physical defender that would stick up for teammates and even chip in with some clutch offense. Did we mention he was physical?

Even after getting sporadic playing time this season under Adam Oates, Oleksy still has better possession stats than John Erskine and Connor Carrick. Yet, we’re here.

Monday morning, Renaud Lavoie of Journal de Montreal broke the news that Oleksy was placed on waivers. At 12pm tomorrow, Oleksy could be claimed by another NHL team and gone from the Caps organization forever. That would be a total bummer.

In his short time in DC, Oleksy has managed to become a fan favorite. He showed heart on the ice with humility and humor off of it.

Here are some of my favorite moments.

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wilson-hit

In the first period, Washington Capitals fourth-line winger Tom Wilson did what he usually does: attempt to bring energy to the team with some physical play.

Unfortunately, the six-foot, four-inch rookie delivered another questionable hit — this time to Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jamie McBain — and was given a two-minute minor for charging. The hit seemed like a less violent version of Wilson’s crushing check of Brayden Schenn from a month ago, which Brendan Shanahan later deemed a legal play.

Let’s take a look at what happened.

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Over the summer, general manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates worked together to land arguably the most talented player on the free-agent market, Mikhail Grabovski.

Grabo, who was bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs because they don’t understand teh corsis, signed a short, cap-friendly deal with Washington: one year for three million dollars. He did so, presumably, to maximize his value as a free agent heading into the 2014-15 season.

We knew all that coming in. Let me repeat: we knew this already. But, like finding a lost puppy in the woods and feeding him, it’s now hard to think of parting company from him. We want to keep Grabo forever and ever and dress him up in cute outfits.

Washington Capitals’ senior writer Mike Vogel broached the whole re-signing thing to Grabovski on Sunday. The Belarusian’s answer was telling.

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Crowdsourcing an Opinion on the Tom Wilson Hit

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Everyone’s got an opinion about Tom Wilson‘s hit on Brayden Schenn. While some might quote that old aphorism about how everyone has an opinion and a certain private part, I think it’s good to understand the variety of perspectives out there. By hearing each other out, we can learn and synthesize and think critically and become more tolerant of people with whom we don’t agree.

And then, maybe, we can all stop sending mean tweets to @russianmachine.

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Kuznetsov is unlikely to don red, white, and blue anytime soon. The Russian team that is. What did you think I meant? (Photo credit: Alexei Kudenko/RIA Novosti)

The Russian National Team has listed 33 players for its preliminary roster at the Channel One Cup, an annual international tournament for pro European players to be held in Sochi on December 19-22. In a surprise to many observers, including me, Evgeny Kuznetsov is not on the roster.

The young forward, a veteran of the World Juniors and World Championships with Sbornaya, seems to have fallen out of coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov‘s good graces. Even when Kuznetsov was playing well, Bilyaletdinov hadn’t hesitated to put Kuznetsov on a checking line. In the last 18 months, now that Kuznetsov is struggling, he seems to have lost his spot altogether.

Previously, Kuznetsov had explained that his decision to wait to come to the Capitals was to secure a spot on the Russian Olympic team this February. That decision is looking a bit less wise right now.

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Things We’re Thankful For

The Caps are a bunch of Turkeys! Get it???

Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators was awful. The Capitals are now barely about .500 and haven’t won a game in 11 days. But despite all that, we are filled with gratitude. The world isn’t so bleak as their W-L record or their Fenwick Close possession score.

Please join me while we take stock of the things we are lucky to have in our hockey lives. And then let’s eat!

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Execution

sad caps - Rob Carr

Sad Caps (Photo: Rob Carr)

There’s a lot of conclusions you can draw from Wednesday’s night’s obliterating defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. One might look at that loss and decide that the lack of experience on Washington’s defense corps is untenable. Or maybe you could decide that the continued pairing of Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer is bad news. It’s conceivable that a studious person could calculate that the Capitals are on-pace for the most shots against in a season since 1987 and decide that something must change.

Those people, however, are all wrong. The true problem with the Capitals last night was just a lack of execution.

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Photo credit: Dave Sandford/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals have a very busy week: four games in six days. As Alex Ovechkin returns to the line-up, Capitals head coach Adam Oates decided to shake-up his lines. The changes are drastic.

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Latta poses with his milestone puck. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)

The Washington Capitals have had a wealth of fourth line enforcers over the last decade: Stephen Peat, Donald Brashear, Matt Bradley, and even Matt Hendricks. But don’t lump center Michael Latta, the other guy in the Filip Forsberg/Martin Erat trade, into that category.

Over the first month of the season, Latta has been playing some of the most inspired hockey of his career. And it’s because he’s doing a little bit of everything well.

Latta is irritating to play against. I’d even call him a pest. He constantly runs his mouth on the ice (like Tom Wilson) and is a physical, hard-hitting player. He sometimes plays on the edge, delivering cheap shots behind the play, but rarely is a penalty called on him. Usually he draws retaliatory penalties from the guy he’s terrorizing. And if Latta’s challenged to fight, he can back it up.

None of that is too uncommon, but Latta also has some offensive talent. He had 38 points in 76 games between AHL Milwaukee and Hershey last year. This season, he has been Hershey’s second leading scorer before getting called up to the Capitals. He is blossoming as a player, translating the finishing ability he’s been developing in Hershey into his first NHL point: a beautiful assist on John Carlson’s goal.

When the Martin Erat trade happened last year at the trade deadline, many people (including me) criticized George McPhee for trading away the team’s second best prospect for an aging forward and a nobody. Latta is belying that descriptor, and he may yet have a long career in the NHL– just like Forsberg.

Take a look at Latta’s week and you’ll see why I’m excited.

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Photo credit: Eric Hartline

Fighting in the NHL has been on the decline. It might be on its way out of the sport. Roster spots for goons are dwindling. Nerds have found no evidence that fighting impacts winning.

Yet on Friday night in Philadelphia, the Flyers decided the only way to save face after a figurative beatdown from the Caps was a literal beatdwn. Once Joel Ward scored his hat-trick goal, Wayne Simmonds threw an elbow to incite a fight with Tom Wilson. Ray Emery, Flyers back-up goalie and trained boxer, skated all the way down the ice and started throwing punches at Braden Holtby — even though Holtby declined to fight.

Steve Oleksy then dropped Vincent Lecalvier. Alexander Urbom fought Brayden Schenn. There was also a bit of loud noises from John Carlson.

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