orpik-ovechkin

The Washington Capitals were aggressive on the first day of free agency, adding three players to their roster: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and Justin Peters. Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog that the Caps “added offense, versatility, and experience in Niskanen and signed a shutdown D-man in Orpik.”

He also added, “priority No. 1 was to upgrade our defense, and we made significant strides today.”

I agree. The Capitals will dress better defenders next season. The team’s defense in 2013-14 lacked a true top pairing and the third pairing hemorrhaged shots on net all year, no matter who was put on the ice. The Caps were either going to have to be aggressive via trades or free agency, or they’d have to wait a few seasons for prospects to mature (Nate Schmidt, Patrick Wey, and Connor Carrick).

Caps GM Brian MacLellan decided to go the UFA route. Despite spending a ton of cash (nearly $70 million) and landing perhaps the best defenseman on the market, the mainstream hockey media filleted MacLellan for his moves.

Let’s review.

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Words are Wind

“It’s going to be hard to take advantage of me.” – Brian MacLellan

Orpik. Five years. $5.5 million AAV.

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calle-johansson

Calle Johansson is one of my all-time favorite Washington Capitals players. He’s one of the most consistent two-way defenseman I’ve ever seen play and one of the gosh-darn nicest and funniest guys in the world.

That’s why this is so awkward. Around 8:50 PM on Monday night, tucked in between Alex Ovechkin’s media presser and the NHL Awards tomorrow, the Capitals’ Mike Vogel released the news that Johansson will not return next season as an assistant coach. He has stepped down and will be returning to Sweden.

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steve-oleksy-racketball

Photo: @StevenOleksy

When I think of hockey players training in the offseason, I imagine iron, ice, and sweat. I don’t imagine safety goggles and balls bouncing off walls.

A few weeks ago, Steve Oleksy revealed his newfangled training technique: playing racquetball with Braden Holtby.

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Olie Kolzig (1 of 9)

Photo: Chris Gordon

Nashville beat reporter Joshua Cooper shared some pressing news on Twitter just now. Per a “source close to the situation” (how DC is that phrase?), new head coach Barry Trotz intends to bring goaltending coach Mitch Korn to DC along with him. That would mean Olie Kolzig is out.

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Zubarev hoists World Champions trophy (Photo: AP/Darko Bandic)

Andrei Zubarev, a 27-year-old defenseman with the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa, recently told Business Online that “it’s entirely possible” he’ll be coming over to play in North America next year.

Zubarev, who was a first-time KHL all-star as well as a World Champion this season, already had one unsuccessful stint in North America during the 2010-11 season. He played only four games with Atlanta Thrashers, who drafted him in the sixth round in 2005, and 51 with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves.

The Caps would be wise to give this late-blooming defenseman one more shot in the NHL.

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Former head coach Adam Oates was on Hockey Night in Canada radio a couple weeks ago to talk about his new role as an HNIC analyst. At the top of interview, Oates dropped this wisdom: “You wouldn’t like it if someone said something about you.”

So true. Please keep in mind as we move along.

Oates went on to discuss what it was like to coach known coach-killer Alex Ovechkin (“Just to set the record straight, I loved it… For me he was very coachable.”), how every detail of the game is not scrutinized (“It’s blogged. It’s twitted.”), and what team he likes in the playoffs (the Kings). Then, at the end of the interview, Oates told a story, ostensibly about how much he misses playing.

Oates:

When we played Toronto this year, we went to the shootout. I had Grabovski on my team. And he grabbed me right away and he said he didn’t wanna shoot. And I’m like, “Why not?” I didn’t tell him if I had him in my list or not. Obviously, he was a little nervous against [his former team] Toronto. So I didn’t put him in, and after the game I went up to him and I went, “Hey, if you skated down the ice and you fell down and they laughed at you… They all wanna be on the ice, man, and I miss it. I miss that feeling of nerves every day.”

Rob Pizzo responded, “That’s a great story.”

No, it’s not.

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Failure in Sochi brought big changes to the Russian hockey team. Zinetula Bilyaletdinov and the whole coaching staff (except one guy) were sacked, as was the general manager. The Russian Federation of Hockey (FHR) didn’t stop there: they also changed the team’s PR man, Mikhail Zakharov. Stepping in for him was a controversial figure: Sport-Express’ Igor Larin.

Choosing a member of the press to run media relations is already questionable (it’s like hiring a pilot to be an airline operator), but Larin’s candidacy seemed a bad idea from day one.

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brian-maclellan

It’s hard to know exactly what you’re going to get out of a general manager, especially one that has never been a general manager before.

After spending the past thirteen seasons in DC, seven as assistant general manager, Brian MacLellan has been promoted by Ted Leonsis and Dick Patrick on Monday.

Does GMBM have the credentials? It’s hard to know exactly. The Caps tell us he’s won a Stanley Cup as a player, though he was a bit of a passenger on that Cup-winning Flames team in 1989. He played 606 career NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Minnesota North Stars, Calgary Flames and Detroit Red Wings. MacLellan was also a teammate of McPhee’s at Bowling Green for four seasons.

The Caps tell us MacLellan oversaw the club’s professional scouting staff (the evaluation of dudes at the NHL level) and worked closely with the Hershey Bears, who won Calder Cups in 2006, 2009, and 2010. The Bears, who dominated in the early years of their affiliation– when Washington was rebuilding– have faltered since – missing the playoffs completely this season after aggressively signing minor-league free agents last summer. The Bears watched head coach Mark French leave the organization, who has since gotten rave reviews leading the KHL’s expansion Medveščak Zagreb. Medveščak made the KHL playoffs last season.

On Monday, Leonsis– as open and upfront as he can– wrote a long blog post about the hiring, hinting that MacLellan winning the job was a surprise even for him.

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Willie Desjardins of AHL’s Texas Stars is one of the best coaches not currently in the NHL (Photo: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The common thought among Capitals fans is that the team’s new coach must have NHL experience. The Caps last five hires — Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, Bruce Boudreau, Glen Hanlon, and Bruce Cassidy — were all rookie head coaches. This time around, names like Barry Trotz and John Stevens are getting a lot of buzz, whereas Willie Desjardins and Phil Housley are getting little.

Experience matters. All other things being equal, you should hire the guy with more experience, but that does not mean the Caps should discount what a rookie coach might bring. Because if a coach’s best quality is his experience, that’s not a great sign.

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