Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nurturing Optimism (even if only brifely)

Missed this one from a couple of days ago: an actual call to 'tism from Nationals Journal! Chico Harlan has brought plenty of snark to the program since taking over, but here he actually encourages Nats' fans to share their optimistic thoughts on the team, looking away from things like (now) seven-game non-winning streaks and to focus on what is good about the franchise and its future. Of course, he's probably just giving the fans what they want instead of completely changing his ways, but the effort is certainly appreciated. We certainly wouldn't rank him up there with some of the great optimism-haters of all time, though on occasion his little editorial jabs irk us somewhat.

The fans seemed to respond in kind. The comments section filled up with flowery optimism, proving again that not every Nats fan (or alleged fan) is a downer. This comment from "masnstinks" nicely captured the spirit:

A. We have a baseball team in DC!
B. We have a new stadium in DC!
C. St. Claire and his pitching staff
D.Ryan Zimmerman
E. our minor leaguers
F. Jesus Flores
G.Just realizing that I could complete the alphabet if I wanted to -priceless!

Reference to tired credit card commercials aside, it just shows that once you start thinking about all that is good with the Nats, instead of dwelling on the easier-to-think-up (and nicely hammered home by every hack analyst out there) negatives, it's hard to stop.

Also encouraging: judging by Monday's attendance of 34,039, fans are decidedly NOT staying away in mass numbers despite the 38-68 record of a team still trying to recapture the run-scoring magic so recently discovered in Atlanta. Sure, maybe an unwanted Philly fan here or there, but there were some solid numbers for the series against not-in-proximity Houston a couple week ago too. In short, we see again that there is 'tism out there amongst the people, even if it's only rarely and briefly encouraged by our local correspondents.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rattled Collins Signifies Stout D

Apparently Todd Collins had some difficulties this morning in practice. Words like “frustration” and “pain” dot the Redskins Insider report of the backup quarterback’s dealings this morning.

Is this bad? Is it an omen of doom that the man ready to step in should Jason Campbell’s knee pop again is so out of sorts running the offense? NO. Instead, it is a sound indication that the Redskins’ defense is ready to pick right up where it left off last season. That is, dominating.

The same Todd Collins who came in cold vs. the Bears stout defense to orchestrate a victory, the same Todd Collins who was utterly unflappable in the Meadowlands vs. the Giants and their heralded D, the Todd Collins that came within one fraction of one bad quarter of leading Washington through the playoffs in Seattle: this same previously un-rattleable Todd Collins was rattled by the ‘Skins ready-to-explode defense.

This impressive statement with Jason Taylor still “adjusting” to the team. Once he is comfortable with the program, we’ll doubtlessly see more rattled quarterbacks with names such as E. Manning, D. McNabb, and T. Romo.

SSpeaking of Mannings, this rising defense (and team) may get a series or two on Sunday against the other Manning to benefit from a Super Bowl MVP bestowed by a media horde overly anxious for a touching angle. The Hall of Fame Game vs. the Colts should feature a good opening salvo by this defense ready to retain its Top 10 form, even if the pre-season game stays true to form and gives us about as much physical play as your average non-Sean-Taylor-attended Pro Bowl.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ranking Dan Snyder

Earlier this week while perusing Yahoo! Sports I saw a link for NFL Owner’s Rankings. It was Part I, ranks 32-17. My head was immediately filled with “here we go” thoughts, believing that, upon clicking this link, I would be treated to some piling on action vis a vie Dan Snyder. Words like “meddling”, “over-spending”, “wasteful”, and “incompetent” would surely fill some sort of zinger-filled paragraph next to the number 32. When the teaser line said something to the effect of “there’s someone worse than Al Davis” my suspicions rose even higher. I clicked anyway.


Snyder’s name was nowhere to be found in this bottom half of NFL owners. Nowhere amongst true perennial bottom-feeders like the Lions, Vikings, Browns, and Jets. My heart soared at the proposition that Yahoo! Sports writer Michael Silver might rank my team’s owner somewhere in the mediocre middle, away from the slinging barbs reserved for the lower rungs, but still not approaching the sainthood destined to be attributed to the name Rooney.

So yesterday Part II came out and I clicked to read the lukewarm analysis of how terrible Snyder was, but he’s improved, but he still has those control issues, etc..

Imagine the shock of scrolling past the heralded name of Rooney at #15, Mara at #11, Irsay at #6 (six spots ahead of Baltimore…just sayin’), to see emblazoned at #3: Daniel Snyder.

He’s given the most text of any owner, the first part explaining how he’s usually reviled. Then comes the ‘tism-like praise. Words and phrases like “awesome”, “eventually he’ll get the rings” and “hoists the Lombardi Trophy” follow. The non-smear-job details the wondrous way in which Snyder treats his players, deeply cares for the team, desperately wants to win, and did not hesitate to make a bold, necessary move when faced with an injury-depleted defensive end position.

Sure it’s just one Yahoo! column, but it’s perhaps a sign that the perception of this owner and this franchise is turning around. It might have taken eight years since the Sanders/Carrier/Smith spree to turn the corner, but the corner has been turned.

Of course, there was the requisite buzzkill in the very next ranking with Jerry-Jones-fawning in full swing. The two paragraphs dedicated to this Romo-enabler quashed burgeoning predictions that Michael Silver might be on the fast track to DCO Hall of Fame induction for his courageous bucking of the anti-Snyder trend. As it is, such induction will have to wait for such heresies as predicting a fourth Super Bowl ring in the near future for the Pizza Hut shill. That and calling the new Cowboys’ stadium the greatest arena since the Roman Colosseum. However, if J Taylor vs. Romo works out as well as prisoner vs. lion, all will be forgiven.

Despite this downer of a Top 2 selection (and with Vladimir Putin’s favorite owner taking the top spot), we salute Michael Silver for not lazily falling back on the same tired anti-Snyder rants of years past and illustrating the ways in which he’s matured as an NFL owner. Now to just wait for that inevitable hoisting of the trophy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

No Bad References to Bad TV Shows Here

How many naysayers did you encounter after this weekend? How many told you Jason Taylor (#99, pictured, in a scene never to be repeated again) was “past his prime”, that he would be “invisible” this year on defense? That this windfall of the elite defensive pass-rusher the Redskins have “lacked” for so long was nothing more than another “mortgaging” of draft picks? A few such naysayers voiced thief opinions to DCO headquarters (email account).

Of course, this is all nonsense. The trade, of course, is a stroke of brilliance, even if it were born of semi desperation. Plus, it’s nothing like the star-grabbing, true future-mortgaging, draft-disrespecting strategies that may have occupied these parts in years past. Those days were officially put to rest in the refusal to overpay for Lance Briggs. No, this addressed a true need, one that was “ignored” in the draft, bemoaned the second-guessers. With Phillip Daniels and his backup down for the season (first day of training camp; first day of training camp), something had to be done, and the loss of a couple of draft picks for a guy who piled up 11 sacks last year was the right price. Yes, 11 sacks. How can that be “past his prime”? It’s even a prime number, for the love of ‘tism! Maybe ‘skins fans have just been hurt too much by prime in the past.

Here’s a number that won’t be prime: the number of insufferable “Dancing With the Stars” references this season. Mike Wise kicked us off nicely in that regard (we cringe to think of any Chris Berman coverage of the Redskins in the coming months). Though the next day he did reward us with a almost embarrassingly gushy piece about Taylor that reminded us again of his remarkable turn from chief optimism-hater to embracer of all things ‘tism. Fans apparently share the optimism, as evidenced by the poll showing 74% expect to see 8 or more sacks from him this season. With he and Andre Carter bookending the line, it would not be surprising to see 20 sacks off the ends this fall/winter.

It had to be done. The ‘skins rescued Taylor from the perma-frown clutches of Bill Parcells. He has responded in kind, lending credence to V. Cerrato’s prophecy that Taylor would play more than one year. Prime years they will be indeed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Scouts Jealously Tremble at Might of Future Nats

After throwing in the requisite schtick-y shot at the team ("the District's alleged major league team" STOP IT!!), this morning's Nationals Journal entry detailed some tepid praise for current and future Nats players. The sources of the praise are non other than scouts for other MLB teams. The praise and its tepidness show the underlying fear (and envy) of these executives towards the Nats' now highly touted system. There's also a little indirect love for rotation mainstays Jason Bergmann and John Lannan.

Just about every piece of praise from these scouts is qualified. Yeah he's great but he's no more than a #3 starter. Sure he's got a good arm but all his pitches stink. Good stuff but he's a career minor leaguer. That sort of thing. One can read between the lines to sense the fear these experts have when the Nats' kids are ready for the big leagues. One also easily grasps the jealousy that these teams possess because they do not have such touted prospects. The best way to deal with that is to talk down the player, reduce their perceived value, in a desperate gambit to perhaps acquire one for reduced value in a trade.

It's subtle, but here's a good sign the rest of the league knows what's coming from Washington in a few years.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dick Heller Declares War on Optimism

It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these: some columnist yucking it up that the Nationals are just ever so bad. Oh the wacky zaniness that can be had with such a topic; the jolly mirth-making; the astoundingly horrid mis-statement of fact.

While the Post was busy ignoring the existence of the Nationals and again pretending the Orioles are our team, Dick Heller of the Times was busy with the above-mentioned skewering of our already put-upon-enough Nats.

Heller whips out the latest edition of Unfunny Cliches for the Uncreative Sportswriter and drops these hilarities throughout the misguided column (his presumed reaction to each of his zingers in parentheses):

- Calls the team, get this, the “Gnats” (guffaws)

- Refers to All-Star Break as the team’s “hottest four-day stretch of the season” (chortles)

- Makes tired joke about “36 years and counting” without major league baseball in DC (slaps knee)

- Makes forced Election 2008 reference involving Ralph Nader’s electability and Nats’ Gnats’ ability to not finish in last place (fills out application to join The Capitol Steps)

- This one’s not directly Nats-related, but he mentions “these United States”, a phrase comfortably nestled in the 19th century (nods smugly at cheeky wordsmithing ability)

- Says Chipper Jones could outhit eight Natioinals combined (chuckles wistfully)

- Follows above winning line with quip that “eight guys from the nearest bar” could do the same (ROFLMAO [Ed note: I hate such acronyms, but hate optimism-hating more, thus its usage here])

- Calls national anthem “dramatic highlight” of recent game (slaps both knees, feeling downright patriotic at the same time)

- References some sort of Frank Sinatra song (pines for old days and “real” music)

- Says “Alf, Barry, Jimmy, and Fritz" should race instead of the presidents (???????)

- Makes another forced current events-type reference, this one to “House”, in discussing Nats injuries (admits to self he’s never watched “House” but heard it’s popular and has something to do with medicine)

- Recycles “eight guys in a bar” routine with dagger that uninjured Nats could not “win…on the nearest sandlot” (calls friends to brag about this golden line he just wrote, wonders where nearest sandlot is). One is shocked to find no mention of Sandlot the movie

- Questions the managing acumen of Manny Acta (forever damns his soul)

- Tells some anecdote from the 1920s (destroys fragile reputation of having knowledge of pop culture gained from earlier “House” reference)

- Jokes that the fans in the stands are asleep (hoots and hollers, shouts "Well if that don't beat all")

- Starts wrapping it up by suggesting the Nationals “Throw up a white flag before your remaining fans throw up period.” (writes to Sports Illustrated about starting a column, written by himself, with something like a “Dan Patrick meets Rich Eisen meets Rick Reilly meets Dennis Miller” vibe)

- Deploys word “ennui” (pats self on back for versatility of vocabulary/writing style)

- Just so Nats aren’t alone in his mocking, makes sarcastic ending note of the “almighty” Redskins starting camp soon (submits column and practices Pulitzer acceptance speech)

In all, possibly the worst article to appear in print since Linton Weeks’ similarly awful piece in May of last year.

Back to that “mis-statement of fact” we mentioned earlier. Heller, in his quest for only the most stinging of zingers, claimed the Nationals finished last in the NL East in each of their first three seasons in DC. Well, he can pull out some obscure tale from 1920, but he can’t pull out a copy of last year’s final standings to see that Washington, despite all odds and predictions, finished on top of Florida and securely in fourth (read: not last) in the East.

Those last few “give up now” because you’re “not gonna win anyway” paragraphs are truly the most galling. It’s pure concentrated disdain for optimism. Recently we stated the Nats might simply be destined for suffering this season to bring about a far greater good, that the team is much too resilient for Fate to allow to be healthy, thus the mountain of injuries begetting the non-winning of recent weeks. Heller just advises quitting, and presumably rooting for the darling Rays.

I generally don’t have a problem with the Times. I even enjoy reading DC’s second paper sometimes, but it seems to me the best advice for Heller and his colleagues is to give up now. Since their paper falls far short of the Post in circulation, readership, recognition, and relevancy, and has no hope of ever catching up, they should throw up that white flag now before we all…you know.

More Evidence Nats Fans Love 'Tism

While we wait for the second half of the season, and while we still bask in the glow of Cristian Guzman’s game-saving plays at third base in the All-Star Game (third base; the versatility!), a quick look at the Nationals Journal Midseason Report is in order.

This came out a couple days ago, but it’s worth looking at, even belatedly, for many of the same reasons as the Journal poll a week ago: it shows a burgeoning sense of ‘tism amongst Nats faithful despite the franchises various travails.

The overall thesis of the report? “…the typical Nats fan is both upset and ever-optimistic.” Nothing wrong with being upset when your team is not winning. It’s the focusing of that distress into pure optimism that’s the key (rather than home team abandonment and frontrunner-finding).

Some other key hope-inducing points: fans are already hopeful for some free-agent-type help this offseason, they see a healthy Ryan Zimmerman in the All-Star game next year (perhaps playing shortstop for an inning or two, completing the Guzman-to-third circle), and they see Elijah Dukes completely avoiding the self-and-team destruction so many forecast for him.

Again, it’s helpful evidence you can use to know you’re not alone, even if everyone around you is telling you your team stinks and is destined to always stink. You know it’s not true, but it’s nice to know not everyone out there is an optimism-hater.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Once More Re-Enforcing the DCO Mantra

Ernie Grunfeld is a believer. George McPhee likewise is with the program. Now, in just two weeks, a third DC sports mainstay has joined the ranks of those publicly adhering to core DCO philosophy.

Mere days after his biggest downer of a column since his DC Baseball is Dead tantrum of late 2004, Tom Boswell came back with a piece that was (eventually) more uplifting.

Sure, he lead with the approaching-dead-horse stat of 9,000, that sickening alleged number of DC-area TVs tuned in to a Nats game on average, following up with a rent dispute or two, succeeded by cheapskate innuendo directed at the owners, topped off with two fans’ tragic deaths and an encore involving an FBI investigation.

Wow. Guess the team is headed for retraction, right? At least relocation certainly.


Finally, Boz gets to the good, or at least the this-is-not-the-end assurances that so eluded him during his Linda-Cropp-induced lunacies of that dark winter of 2004. He states, for the sake of ship-jumpers and knee-jerking Nats-buryers everywhere: “…the life of a franchise is measured in decades, not in weeks.” And he’s right. Let’s all remain calm.

Within the last six years, the Mets (back on the track to darlingism post-Willie) endured seasons of 86, 95, and 91 losses, with significant drops in attendance to go with them. Go back ten years further and you see more losses, and worse attendance. In short, the Nationals are hardly the first team to ever go through a few seasons lacking 90 wins and 3 million fans.

Boz nicely wraps it up with a summary of the quality sub-3.90 ERA starting rotation the Nats are boasting, with a tip of the cap to “quiet progress.” His penultimate sentence is one word, the same word that adorns DCO’s humble little masthead: Relax.

Good advice. Sound philosophy.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rooting for the Home Team Guilt-Free

Back in April, when Mrs. DCO and I moved to SE Connecticut, I vowed to continue to root for my beloved DC teams and to forsake all NY-area teams as the enemies they have always been. I’ve maintained that healthy and natural animosity, spurning the advances of friends trying to convince me to adopt the Yankees, Mets, Giants, etc. as my new teams. Those franchises remain unpalatable to me.

I have found, however, an exception in the non-MLB-affiliated minor league Bridgeport Bluefish. The physical proximity of this team and it’s complete lack of relationship with any team that would ever play the Nationals make it the perfect adopted team to root for, completely guilt free. No feelings that I am betraying in any way my loyalties back in my boyhood home.

Last night was my first experience seeing the Bluefish play, and my first in-person baseball experience since mid-April when my only trip to Nationals Park resulted in witnessing an ugly drubbing handed out by the Marlins. Bridgeport’s game against the Newark Bears, though in name and stature nothing akin to a major-league game, nonetheless presented striking and eerie parallels to watching the Nats play (one thing presenting absolutely no parallel: our $14 tickets two rows behind home plate).

First, there were a healthy number of errors, which would make any Nats fan feel at home. A total of six (three by each side). A bit ahead of the pace of what we might see any given night at Nationals Park, but somewhat reminiscent of home. Second, the Fish’s fine third baseman (still trying to learn names) pulled off a fine Zimmerman-ish backhanded snag down the baseline/firing perfect of strike to get the out at first. Very nice. Third, as if to personally remind me of the wonders of attending a Nats’ game with Phillies’ fans, some loudmouth backers of the Bears sat just a few rows behind. “Eeeeeeeeveryone gets a hit! Wwwooooooooooo!” This every time Newark got on base, becoming progressively more slurred and insistent as the game wore on.

Finally, perhaps most endearing and most brining me back to DC was the ending. A Bluefish 8-2 lead in the 7th inning shrank to 9-6 by the top of the 9th, by which point Newark had loaded the bases with two outs. With the closer struggling, another pitcher came in to throw three strikes to end the game, mercifully ceasing a very long top of the 9th, and ending an exciting, suspenseful contest that until that inning had been a blowout. Ahhhhhh, that takes me back.

The Fish play next door to an arena housing another local minor league team: the American Hockey League’s Sound Tigers. This presents a more complex situation than the straightforward no-problem-to-root-for-them non-conundrum of the Bluefish. The Sound Tigers are, unfortunately, affiliated with an NHL (that is, potentially Capitals-competing) team: the Islanders. While not as gaggingly awful as a partner of the Penguins or Flyers or even Rangers, it’s still potentially distasteful to root for a group of AHLers that could possibly one day threaten the Caps’ coming dominance of the Eastern Conference. I’ll likely end up pulling for them anyway, just to get in a live hockey fix this fall that cannot be completely satisfied by the Center Ice package. I will simply root for the Tigers to send out a team of career AHL players every night (a squad full of Frederic Cassivis), and when the Hershey Bears come to town, all loyalties to Bridgeport are out the window. There you go. Proper traditional loyalties maintained, new loyalties justified.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Optimism in Numbers

Perhaps you have a pessimistic, optimism-hating, naysaying friend/co-worker who loves to revel in all things negative regarding the Nationals. Perhaps they decry the struggles of Austin Kearns while brushing off the accomplishments of All-Star and NL hit leader Christian Guzman. Maybe they even forward to you one of the most glum Boswell columns in recent history. In short, they ignore the scraps of good out there and bask in the bad.

If you know such a person, especially if they are one to audaciously claim to be a Nats fan in the midst of their constant naysaying, rest assured this day that they are in the apparently vast minority of Nationals fans, and that the majority, like you, maintains a sunny outlook on the franchise. The proof for such a statement? The current poll on the Nationals Journal.

As of 12:30 this morning (love the three day weekend), fully 84% believe Manny Acta will one day lead a Nats team with a winning record, and 62% believe The Plan will, within five years, result in a playoff contender.

These numbers are a fresh, if surprising, indicator that most believe the team is ultimately pointed in the right direction, even if we have to suffer through an injury-addled season such as this one to get there. It’s the big picture over the short-sighted obsession with finding every last drawback, like pointing out the Nats’ ultimately losing last night’s 11-inning game without seeing the hope-inducing comebacks in two consecutive innings that kept the game alive (that awful Austin Kearns throwing in a 2-run double in the bottom of the 10th to tie).

So do not be discouraged, optimists. There are evidently more of us out there than anyone would have previously thought.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fate Strikes Again

Aaron Boone joins the growing ranks of the DL. Insane theory of previous post gains credibility.

Nats Will Be #1 One Way or Another

It might seem hard to be optimistic about the Nats these days, with Elijah Dukes joining the mob of Nationals headed to or already on the DL, or with the team dropping six in a row, securing the least-good record in the majors. It seems hard, but it’s not impossible.

DCO has been silent on the Nats for a little while, searching for meaning. Meaning in things like 19 trips to the disabled list, 8 of 9 Opening Day starters missing time, injury diagnoses of 2-4 weeks or 4-6 weeks turning into 1-2 months (Zimmerman, Kearns, Estrada), or the entire season (Johnson, Cordero). Meaning in things like steadily improving players (Zimmerman, Milledge, Dukes) suddenly and freakishly encountering calamities taking them out of the lineup right when they were starting to make true contributions. Meaning in Shawn Hill straining his forearm yet again. Meaning in wondering if Ryan Wagner still plays baseball. Meaning in a Nick Johnson owie wiping out yet another summer.

Maybe there are a couple of larger forces at play here, providing a compelling explanation for this seemingly cruel injustice of a season being thrust upon the Nats. We’ll get to that. But first, let’s talk again about Dukes, he of the batting average surging to .263 in mere weeks after floundering in the sub-.100 arena for so long; he of the non-clubhouse-tearing-apart attitude since the forgotten brush-up with ManAct a few weeks ago. With his injury apparently comes great motivation, and Manny-like ‘tism, if his comments to the Nationals Journal from earlier this week are any indication. He wants to come back as soon as possible. He wants to continue to prove himself. He wants to help this team get better. Not the type of franchise disaster forecasted when he was first acquired and after his long-forgiven spat with the Master. This injury, while bad now, may yet serve to illustrate what a stroke of genius signing Dukes was for the future of the franchise. So there’s your optimistic take on that.

Now, the team as a whole.

It’s fairly obvious that this entire season is a design by God/Fate/Destiny to secure the #1 draft pick for the Nationals. With that draft pick, it is apparent the Nats are destined to select some sort of baseball #1 overall equivalent of Alex Ovechkin (it would serve as a nice tie-in to our analysis of last fall). This player will usher in a decade of dominance such as the one Ovie is bringing about, helping to lift the Nats from hacky joke to league-wide darlingism like that currently being enjoyed by the Rays. The Rays! Who saw that coming? The shock at Washington’s rise will be comparable.

To secure this pick/player for the Nats, it has been (painfully) necessary to inflict upon the team this utter cruelty of an injury-plagued (putting it lightly) campaign. It’s the only way. The team and its manager are too damned resilient to fall to the bottom of the league with anything short of extreme compulsion. This explains why so many rising youngsters have been cut down so relatively early in the season. If they were allowed to properly flourish, the Nationals would be back on last year’s track of shocking the league. Even Jim Bowden is taken aback by the unprecedented-ness of it all.

It may seem like DCO is throwing up their collective hands, merely accepting the Nats are the worst team in the majors with no hope. Far from it. Manny and the lads may yet pull it all together again, cruising into late summer and early fall with designs on ruining another Mets’ season (a snazzy performance from John Lannan and clutch pinch-hit home run by Jesus Flores last night provide hope for such a scenario). That would be wonderful. It may just be that all of this losing of players may be part of a PLAN even bigger than The Plan.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


So Karl Alzner is showing poise. The truly defensive defenseman drafted last summer is looking like he could make a run for the NHL this fall, if reports from development camp are any indication (that and the possible absence of Brian Pothier). A developing solid stay-at-home defenseman? Sounds like the home-grown version of every team’s summer free-agent dream.

This is why the Caps did not jump to overpay someone like Wade Redden until he is 37. Those dollars will need to be applied Mike-Green-like in a few years to keep the Rangers of the world away from the RFA temptation that will be Alzner.

It’s the kind of understated-yet-bound-to-pay-off offseason that leads experts to declare the team has ”been quiet” other than the re-signing of Mike Green. Quiet, of course, means lacking splashy, expensive signings (hello, Chicago) or mass signing of players by a team desperate to replace those that have skipped town (Pittsburgh).

Why pay someone like Redden into his late 30s when you’ll probably have to dish out similar cash to Alzner in his prime mid-to-late 20s? Why take on Markus Naslund and his five recent years of declining production when Nick Backstrom and Alexander Semin will need similarly priced contracts for better production in a couple of years?

Things should get a little louder soon with the apparently imminent keeping of Sergei Fedorov, stacking the Caps down the middle in ways we haven’t seen in probably ever, plus shoring up the penalty kill with his Selke-worthy credentials.

And don’t forget Michael Nylander and Chris Clark coming back to go along with those young prospects on the rise, a salary cap situation well-accounted for in the future to keep the youngsters. Quiet offseasons like this are fine with us.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Another Reason for Celebrating the 4th

The actual vote for independence from Britain came from Congress on July 2, 1776, though we celebrate this glorious freedom on July 4, the date on the Declaration. Let’s apply (stretch??) this to the NHL and in particular our nation’s Capitals. While we Caps fans may trace our team’s independence from the shackles of Jaromir Jagr’s contract to the May 5th realization he would not win the Conn Smythe and therefore become an unrestricted free agent, it is also possible that henceforth we will celebrate freedom along with the rest of the nation on July 4. For on this day, we see the once-and-always moody Czech officially leave the NHL, bound for Russia.

No more paying his contract. No more watching him (briefly) play better and seemingly more inspired on another team. No more rumors of a nightmare return to Pittsburgh. No more having to remember to boo him every time he touches the puck. No more Jagr. Independence!

Free from such tyranny, the Caps have extra salary to pay to those who deserve it. A hard worker like Brooks Laich; a rising Orr-ish defenseman like Mike Green; a crafty and still-skilled veteran leader like Sergei Fedorov. The list goes on, and will positively affect this franchise for years to come. All this thanks to blessed release from the oppression that was the deal sending Jagr to the Rangers, wherin a Washington franchise, desperate to slip the bonds of an ineffective and overpaid winger, agreed to subsidize his canoodling in New York, forcing years of wasted salary.

Thus, every year hence, while we’re lighting our snakes and sparklers on 4 July, let us remember Avangard Omsk along with the Second Continental Congress as enablers of our freedom.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

More Calming Perspective

Some of the early free agent period (and it is still early in the free agent period) angst rising amongst Caps fans with signings of Brooks Laich, Sergei Fedorov, Shaonne Morrision, that ever-so-easy-to-find-and-sign elite defenseman, etc. not yet in the books, it’s time to pause for a moment for some (final) thoughts on the Cristobal Huet non-signing, and to put some perspective in place.

Huet is now making more money with his non-Vezina-winning resume than Martin Brodeur is with his multiple-Vezina-winning ways, including one the year just past, in which Huet apparently earned his big contract for his post-trade heroics. That being said, he is, as we know, still not the highest-paid goalie on the Blackhawks. That distinction goes to $6.75 million lottery winner Nikolai Khabibulin.

This headlong recklessness is clearly not the operating style of the Caps and GMGM, and we should be grateful. Plus, the more we hear about how the Huet negotiations went down, the better it seems the Caps are for walking away. Getting desperate and panicky to offer up market-shifting sums to a player based on a few months’ of work (no matter how blissfully memorable those months were) would not serve us fans well in the future. Chicago may well learn that when their salary-throwing puts them in Penguins-like crunches a year or two from now. If Brian Burke is peeved at Kevin Lowe for driving up salaries last year, he surely must be saving some ire for Blackhawks’ GM Dale Tallon now.

Speaking of the Penguins, how about that Marian Hossa? Swell guy, that one. He makes a case for being the first non-DC sports figure inducted into the DCO Hall of Fame. But we’ll show some non-Tallon-like restraint and simply salute him for his choice of Detroit over Pittsburgh. That while we wait for the chorus of praise for Evgeni Malkin, he who unselfishly accepted $8.7 million a season to join the martyr Crosby in putting team above contract. They, of course, being the superior team players for not grabbing for Alex Ovechkin’s selfish $9.5 million (that cad; when he’s not being “selfish” getting a big contract he’s being “selfish” scoring too many goals and not compiling enough secondary assists, right?). Why with all that extra cap space the Pens might just be able to replace Hossa with Ben Clymer!

But back to perspective. With reports of Laich not being close to signing, let’s not assume the Caps are being cheap and not trying to get the deal done. It’s more likely that, as with the Huet dealings, they want to keep this guy. DCO loves Brooks Laich and wants his net-crashing acumen around for a long time. DCO also loves Nick Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and other Caps or future Caps who may need to be signed in coming years. Thus, panicky money should not be thrown at Brooks in a desperate attempt to keep him here, much as we would be pained to see him go. But we don’t expect it to come to that, and remain optimistic it will get worked out, unless Chicago or Edmonton throws a 5-year/$25 million contract at him.

Some admiration this free agency period should also to go Mats Sundin. While certainly no one would begrudge him from jumping at 2 years and $20 million from Vancouver, it’s heartening to see that gaudy figures alone do not drive this scorer of 78 points last season (34 fewer than previously mentioned “money-grabber” Ovie). Such a contract precedent might push similarly aged Fedorov out of the Caps’ reach. We still hope to see him around as well, dishing to Laich in front of the net and centering a third line of quality we have not seen since the Kono-Halpern-Dahlen days. Mrs. DCO pines to see Fedorov remain as well, as she will miss his "cute striped hat” if he’s not here.

Calm perspective. It’s still early and these things will work out.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

McPhee Also Practicing DCO Philosophy

Marge Simpson once said to her husband, “Homer, you know how unpredictable the French are. One minute they’re kissing a woman’s hand, the next they’re chopping off her head!” Put another way, one minute you’re offering your starting goaltender and top free agent priority exactly the contract he asked for, the next he’s signing a ridiculous deal with another team. A team, incidentally, seemingly hell-bent on digging itself straight into salary cap, well, hell.

So you’re George McPhee. Cristobal Huet has asked for three years and $15 million. Great, you say, that’s exactly what we’ll offer you. But wait, sayeth the goaltender, let me see what’s out there. Before you know it, there he is working out a four-year deal with the Blackhawks at $5.6 million a season. Such a deal cannot and should not be matched, for any number of reasons. So Huet bolts for Chicago, where he will watch management first fumble around trying to reconcile his contract along with Nikolai Khabibulin’s $6 million plus contract this season, and the sure-to-be high demands of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in two years (just to make things really interesting, Chicago threw 8 years, $57 million, and Brian Campbell into the mix).

What do you do? Panic? Call it a day and stumble into the season with Brent Johnson and one of those prized-but-not-yet-ready goaltending prospects? Johnson and Frederic Cassivi? Johnson and Alex Auld??? No, no. You sit back and calmly repeat the DCO mantra, recently invoked by Ernie Grunfeld: Relax. Everything’s going to be fine.

Not missing a beat, GMGM snaps up Jose Theodore, he of the Hart and Vezina earlier this decade. The terms, two years at $4.5 million per, gain in brilliance every time you stop and think about them. It’s not a bad salary for a starting goaltender, particularly one who is apparently reviving his career like Theodore. It leaves extra money for other desired RFAs and one UFA named Fedorov (and, if you’re to believe the boards, Brooks Orpik). Perhaps best of all, it expires in two years, being the perfect timespan for that goaltending “bridge”, plus freeing up needed millions for a potentially big-time contract to Nick Backstrom, amongst others. At that time, we can thank Jose for his services and move on. Or perhaps offer him a nice veteran/mentor backup role at reduced cost (Hi, Olie). Chicago, meanwhile, will be doing its own version of the Pittsburgh conundrum Malkin vs. Hossa, entitled Kane vs. Toews.

Fan reaction was a bit shocking, with message boards reading like something out of the “Redskins About to Hire Jim Fassel” days. Sure, Huet was great and we’ll always have fond memories of nine-game winning streaks and a division title, but here was not a player to have at all costs. There apparently was a Plan B, and a suitable one. It might be (past) time to cut McPhee some slack, after his brilliant engineering last offseason and at the trade deadline brought the Caps one penalty-free OT from the second round. And at least he’s not acting like they are in Vancouver, offering up $10 million a season for an aging someone who didn’t crack 80 points last season.

So it’s not so bad. A key component of the young core was signed yesterday, and the first choice of goalie walked away after being offered precisely what he wanted with no hesitation. Time to move on. Huet is dead. Long live Jose.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ernie Grunfeld Practices DCO Mantra, Resigns Key Cog(s)

Surely the latest playoff non-triumph delivered via the whimpering LeBron James and his striped cronies would cause the Wizards' certified Genius Manager (GM) Ernie Grunfeld to destroy anything even remotely resembling the 2007-2008 Wizards in lieu of a newer, younger, bigger, playoff-winnier, internet-friendlier team, right? Wrong. Grunfeld, a certified practicer of the DCO's patented mantra ("Relax, everything is going to be fine") has instead decided that the team that again almost beat the cohesive basketball-destroying floppers from Cleveland should remain pretty much intact, brilliantly re-upping all-star awesome Antawn Jamison for four more years, and working towards locking up Gilbert Arenas for what's looking like six years, after which both of their jerseys will mine the rafters next to all of those Mystics attendance championships.

And before you complain-blog about "keeping intact a mediocre team," and blaspheme this brilliant managerial move towards stability, which did not involve acquiring some aged, broken down center as some doofus suggested back when he still maintained a regular position at this blog, keep in mind that this team has yet to truly harness their combined worth. I'd tabulate all of their actual games played together, but then I'd just take work away from Bullets Forever, or I guess I could just link to some post where they have already postulated on this topic. Anyways, while the big three were intact, the Wiz were in first place, and while the wiz were in pieces, they beat the vaunted best team in the league. (Jamison in particular was beasting on the "intense" Garnett) Maintaining the structure of a first-place team is something that highly-approved team-constructors do.

Another thing highly-approved team constructors do is draft well. And after taking in every lamely protracted draft ranking and draft diary, I must say, new Wizard 7-footer JaVale Magee is certified grade-A draft earning material. Why? Naturally, with the Wiz having solid contributors to just about every position combined with a draft that is noticably lacking in talent outside of the first three studs, the predilection for finding a real contributor in these meandering rounds resembles a crap shoot. Thus, taking on a seven foot project, who has an insanely strong basketball pedigree (hmm, what other DC-based superstar has a hoops-playing Mom? Did he just pwn the entire NHL last year?) a wingspan that rivals secret covert ops planes housed in Langley, and an ability to "run the floor" that causes stiffs in Charlotte to cower, was a great decision that smart, foundation-building planners routinely take. Of all people to agree, Michael Wilbon was even on board, not so much as applauding the Grun-trust's decision to go with a Dwight-stopper, as he was hoisting the Wizards' decision-making prowess to the levels of their lauded playoff neighbors. With Magee, Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Domenic McGuire, and Oleksiy Pecherov, there are enormous, young, talented ballers that could cause match-up problems for entire seasons. The buying and selling of tweening prospect Billy Walker to the Celtics was a blip on the radar that likely registers more in De Moines' NBDL plans than in DC, where Ivan Carter assured the 90-thousand or so freaking out in the comment section, that Walker had no chance of cracking the lineup.

Plus, with the selling of this chip, Grunfeld opens up the possibility of retaining the only other questionable piece to this puzzle, the supposed odd-man-out, Roger "The Wheaton Weapon" Mason Jr. According to everyone, like much of the home-grown business that will soon be jettisonned from my 'hood in favor of sleeker, chain-ier stuff, Mason is likely not going to hang around. But with the cash saved in both Jamison's team-first paycut, and the dealing of Walker, Mason could, maybe, be retained.

Stability, punctuated with ground-building efforts from the bottom up. A great gameplan for both your sub-prime mortgaged house and for the construction of the Wiz, whose foreman continues to display traits of brilliance influenced by the 'tism. Here's to the Wiz making some serious noise in 08-09, and not of the "Ow I have torn my crucial joint thingy!" variety.

The Answer Was "A"

The first of yesterday's presented eventualities is in the books, according to TSN. Mike Green stays for at least the next four years.

Now, time for another bet. Considering his reported average annual salary of $5.25 million, how many "Green Makes the Green"-headlined stories will we see today? The over/under is 50.