Monday, January 13, 2014

Is It Time For the Caps to Fire George McPhee?

Is a shake-up necessary in DC to get the Washington Capitals back on the right track? In a city where panic buttons are pushed after the first quarter of the Redskins season opener and coaches in the major sports hold shorter tenures than one term by the President of the United States the Caps are looking like a team that will be in need of a change to possibly get the team in gear. I don't usually write a team off from making the playoffs until certain points of the season.  For the Wizards, I can normally get a feeling 5 games into the season, the Nationals need to have a winning record by the trade deadline and the Redskins need to show me something by Week 8. The Caps however can rarely be written off because when they seem to be done, that's when they go on their run....until the playoffs then you can write them off.

Over the past five years I've been vocal  in my belief that the Caps window of opportunity to be a Stanley Cup contender was closing within the past two seasons. The team still has the talent to win and be a perennial playoff contender but at some point the current crop of talent would need to be broken up. As a fan its hard for me to want any member of the team gone, I'd be okay with some, such as John Erskine, being healthy scratches however. However also as a fan, I want to see this team achieve its maximum potential and for the past few years they haven't done that and while some of that falls on the players it also falls on management.

I believe many of the players have become complacent due to the success they've had finishing atop the Southeast Division for so long, even making a late season rally to squeak their way into a Top 3 spot in the playoffs last season. Once in the playoffs though the team, even when they had the best record in the NHL a few seasons back, looks over matched. Either opponents tighten up their defensive approach or the team gets away, ever so slightly, from what got them their success and tighten up a bit too much. Of course that late in the year injuries also play a role in many of the team's shortcomings but that happens to all teams so that excuse holds little water.

Over the past six seasons the team has made the playoffs every time, under three different coaches, 5 different goalies starting playoff games (Huet, Theodore, Varlamov, Neuvirth, and Holtby) and the many of the same forwards and defensemen while making a roster tweak at the trade deadline deal to upgrade a roster flaw. In the end its never just enough and the same issues come up, Ovechkin gets shutdown by the opponents, other players don't step up, mental errors pop up more, and a few unlucky bounces off of Caps players end up behind their own goalie (I'll avoid the yearly goalie interference calls that NEVER go in the Caps favor nor get called the same way twice). One other constant over the six seasons, and every year since 1997, is General Manager George McPhee.

Before I touch on GMGM lets look at how things have gone for the Caps since the start of the 2011-12 season. The team began the season with an amazing 7-0 start only to fall on hard times fast and by the end of November the team had fired head coach Bruce Boudreau. As the struggles mounted his coaching philosophy was called into question, as was his inability to get players to change or adapt come the playoffs and through this struggle. Boudreau had actually gotten the team to play differently in the playoffs the season prior but at the expense of their offense and it once again lead to an early exit. The fans and many of the players loved Boudreau but it appeared like he had lost the team, especially franchise player Alex Ovechkin. It was a shame because Boudreau held the best winning percentage in Caps history and while his offensive coaching style could be compared a bit to the NBA's Mike D'Antoni (circa Phoenix Suns) the difference was his style actually produced championships (in the US). When Boudreau was the coach of the Caps AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, he lead them to the 2006 Calder Cup championship and to the finals again in 2007. After being fired by the Caps Boudreau landed in Anaheim where he took over a struggling Ducks team (6-20-6) that went on to accumulate 38 points in its next 24 games before struggling and eventually missing the playoffs. During the 12-13 season the Ducks finished 30-12-6 and won the Pacific division but were eliminated by the 7th seed Detroit Red Wings. Currently the Ducks are 35-8-5 under Boudreau, the best record in the NHL.

Boudreau had been replaced by former Caps great Dale Hunter who was more of a defensive minded coach and maybe a tad less vocal than Boudreau when it came to ripping into the players. Hunter saw success in the OHL, winning one championship. Under Hunter's guidance the Caps got back on track and rallied to finish 2nd in the Southeast, 2 points behind Florida for 1st, and 7th in the Eastern Conference.  They got their with mainly Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth in net but when the playoffs came they turned to rookie goalie Braden Holtby. The Caps went to the second round of the playoffs before losing in 7 games to the New York Rangers and after the series Hunter stepped down. In all honesty he didn't seem to fit well with the team that had been assembled but the team did play better defensively under him. 

After Hunter left, the Caps hired another former Cap Adam Oates. Unlike the previous two coaches, Oates isn't a yeller and screamer, instead he prefers to teach the players the errors of their ways. Under Oates the Caps scored the most power play goals and had the highest power play conversion percentage of all teams in the 12/13 season. Once again the Caps needed a strong late season rally to make a playoff push before being eliminated from the playoffs in the first round, again by the Rangers. Holtby also firmly unseated Neuvirth as the team's #1 goalie. This season the Caps had managed to achieve the best record in the Metropolitan division, for about an hour, and the top Power Play and Penalty Kill in the NHL but since that time in late Novemeber the team has been average, at best and currently have the 5th most points in the East, but are only 5 points from being in 13th place so there is little room for error over the next few weeks before the break for the Olympics.

Once again this year there is goalie controversy. It happened with Boudreau (Kolzig/Huet, Theodore/Varlamov, Varlamov/Neuvirth, Vokun/Neuvirth) and Hunter (Vokun/Neuvirth/Holtby) and now with Oates (Holtby/Neuvirth, Holtby/Neuvirth/Grubauer). While its nice to have an abundance of young talent in net, they also need to be given regular starts. Since Kolzig left, the team seems to find a possible franchise goalie only to have him replaced by the next young glove that goes through a hot stretch. Neuvirth lost his spot as the back-up (he'd prefer starter) when he stepped on a puck during pregame warm-ups which cause the team to call up Grubauer. Holtby was unseated by Grubauer after a couple bad games and seems to not be able to stop much of anything. After getting his first start in I think 6 weeks Neuvy had a great game on Friday only to end up a healthy scratch on Sunday.

Another problem is line chemistry. All three coaches have been guilty of not sticking with their lines for more than a few games. If players can't build chemistry together its only going to make it harder for the team to find that winning formula. Add to it each coach has a player that ends up in the doghouse and eventually wants to be traded and it makes for a bad atmosphere. Currently the Caps have 3 players that requested to be traded, Martin Erat, Dmitri Orlov and Neuvy. I don't see Orlov going anywhere, in fact I think he's played himself into the Top 6 defensemen rotation. Neuvy could be a nice trade chip while Erat needs to just be dumped.

And that is what brings me to McPhee. GMGM used to be able to have a Midas touch when it came to trades and free agency. Always able to find that right plug to fix a leaking ship. However when he traded promising prospect Filip Forsberg for veteran Erat it seemed like a move made just to make a move rather than one that would help now and in the future. Forsberg was amazing in international play while Erat toiled away in Nashville. Since coming to DC he's been a scratch or seen limited ice time, many times on the 4th line and his trade value is less than a bag of pucks. This trade screamed of they type the Bullets/Wizards would make in the 90s (Chris Webber for Mitch Richmond or Rasheed Wallace for Rod Strickland and Harvey Grant..actually liked Strickland so not too bad). That Erat trade is where GMGM lost me. I hated but understood the trade of Bondra (my favorite Cap of all-time) and was disappointed when he traded Dave Steckel and Chris Bourque but those moves either made the team better or were players that weren't necessarily in the team's long term future. GMGM has done a great job with being able to skirt the salary cap but it may be time for a change of the puppet master because the less things change, the more they stay the same.

By no means am I saying the season is over. I don't even know if a major personnel change is needed but mental changes are. I'd scratch Erskine except when the Caps play physical teams. I'd think about seeing what Mike Green looks like as a winger, though that means teaching him to also play in front of the net, and rotate Laich as a defenseman since he's filled in their previously but I don't know if his groin can handle it. At the very least don't let Green have the puck coming out of the defensive zone. Oates and GMGM need to find a way to make the team stronger mentally so as to not give up goals immediately following a Caps goal, they need to quit taking dumb penalties, figure out how to count so as to stop getting hit with, or luckily not getting called for, too many men on the ice and the team needs to avoid the delay of game (over the glass) penalty as much as possible. Of course its easy to say that from behind a computer and while watching the game from the outside but these are the things I think the team needs to focus on most as the latter ones have plagued the team for years. 

I'm sure there are other things that can be pointed to, mainly using sabermetrics like Corsi and numbers like that but I just don't understand them. I love numbers and understand the baseball ones but I haven't spent enough time or don't care to investigate the hockey ones yet because I fear it'll take away from part of the game I've come to love. I prefer to watch a game where guys hit, score, fight and make great saves without trying to figure out what players match-up best and where. That's the coaches job.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"Top 50" Sports & Non-Sports Cards I Acquired in 2013

The hits from box busting and many of the singles paled in comparison to 2012 but that's not to say that 2013 didn't have its positives. In fact 2013 netted me the holy grail of my collection, which didn't come cheap. My collecting is a bit out of control, actually that is an understatement, especially since I dabble in all of the major sports and non-sports. I busted nearly half as many cases this year (3 - Big Bang Theory, Castle, Psych) as I had my entire life. While the hobby gives me a nice distraction from life it is probably a more expensive hobby than drugs, though healthier. At the start of 2013 I set myself a goal of cards to purchase throughout the year...I may have knocked off a handful of them...mostly because I didn't get them at the price I was willing to pay but also because of a few huge purchases that shaped my collecting for the year. While my collecting, and spending, isn't at nice or high as others I buy for preference and bust for fun with hopes of hitting that one card which would give me that jolt of excitement. The below "Top 50 of 2013" has no real set reasoning as to why they fall where they do and honestly I'm not sure that I agree with the rankings but they are here for your viewing pleasure and mine. So without further ado....

50) Don Cerrone Mat Relic - Playstation Logo /88 - Pulled from my first box of 2013 Finest UFC

49) Pop Century Gold 1/1 Jeremy Miller - Pulled from box of 2013 Pop Century

48) BenchWarmer Industry Summit Schoolgirls Swatch Auto Buffy Tyler 1/1 - Pulled from a Black Friday buy, this will be a theme throughout that most of my pulled hits came from that day.
47) 2010 Topps Sketch Card Michael Morse - Bought on ebay - Found this hilarious, Mikey Mo is as good as I am when it comes to drawing.

46) 2012 Topps Museum Collection Dual Jumbo Lumber Michael Morse Ivan Rodriguez/5 - Ebay pickup in early 2013.

45) Ron Francis Supreme Sticks /5 - Pulled from a box bought around Black Friday. HOF player and would have been higher had it 1) been more colorful and 2) he not been a Pittsburgh Penguin

44) 2012 Topps Valor Discipline Autograph /25 Ryan Tannehill - Pulled earlier this year when on my quest of pulling an RG3 auto. Room to grow, especially if the Phins make the playoffs next season.

43) 2012 Contenders Playoff Ticket Autograph Josh Gordon/99 - Pulled from a box. His few big games this season got it on the board but didn't quite do enough to make my Top 40

42) 12-13 Gold Standard Damian Lillard - Pulled over the summer

41) Big Bang Theory Seasons 3 & 4 Penny Costumes - KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK Penny!...All pulled from the case that I broke. The multi-colored pieces make them extra nice

40) Big Bang Theory Seasons 3 & 4 Sheldon Cooper Green Lantern Shirt Relic - Pulled from my case as well. Should probably be farther down on the list but my inner nerd got beat up by the sports fan in me. BAZINGA

39) Molly Holly Auto - Ebay purchase...This is one I'd been on the hunt for for quite some time. Was nice to cross it off my list

38) 12-13 Threads Auto Bradley Beal - Bought on ebay...This is my only Beal auto so far. Totally see him as Dwyane Wade 2.0...unfortunately with the injury history too

37) 12-13 Innovation Innovative Ink Grant Hill /25 - Pulled on Christmas. My 2nd Hill autograph

36) Upper Deck High Gloss Troy Brouwer /10 - Picked this up at a show after losing out on it on ebay and had even stopped searching. Also it had 3 P's I loved...the pic, the player and the price.

35) 2011 Topps Lineage Gold Autograph Michael Morse/10 - Love the pop & shine this card has, shame its a sticker auto but doesn't deter me.


34) 2012 Contenders Playoff Ticket Richard Sherman - Pulled from a box - Was pissed when I first pulled it as I still had memories of his mouthiness from the Seahawks/Skins playoff game earlier in the year but can't deny his talent.

33) 12-13 Fleer Retro Metal Red PMG Wayne Gretzky/100 - Pulled this from my only box of Retro and honestly thought of not letting this out of the 40s.  The quality of the card and the color line didn't help its cause but it is The Great One so that helped it rise to #34

32) 2011 Pop Century Co-Stars Auto Christopher Lloyd/Lea Thompson /5 - Finally snagged this on ebay after a long wait of making sure it was a price I wanted to pay and two full autographs. This was a must have because of the Back to the Future connection.

31) 12-13 Contenders Auto Anthony Davis - This was one of my best pulls on the year and was my best pull from Contender until around Black Friday. The Unibrow was one of the two or three best autos you could pull from Contenders so I was thrilled to pull it at the time. However....

30) 12-13 Totally Certified Black Trevor Booker 1/1 - Snagged this on ebay soon after the product went live. Being one of my PC guys it was nice to get it and since Panini started putting out a lot more "1/1s" with his printing plates, of which I've only been able to grab one, I was glad I got it This also goes well with his rookie Totally Certifieds that I have

29) 09-10 SPGU Tag Team Quad Juan Dixon/Caron Butler/Javaris Crittenton/JaVale McGee 10/10 - Added this one to my collection, which I believes give me 7 or 8 of the 10. Being a Dixon collector I had to keep this outside the Top 25 because he has the weakest tag. This was also going to be paired with another Wizards Quad Tag but I don't have a scan available.

28) 2009 UD Signature Stars Trio Ryan Zimmerman/Josh Willingham/Elijah Dukes /35 - Another Black Friday pull that rose the ranks because it was a team PC pull and features two of my favorite Nationals.

27) 12-13 ITG To the Hall Auto Peter Bondra 12/29 - Was glad to snag a Jsy #'d Bondra though I'd have preferred he be in a Caps Jersey

26)12-13 Dominion Patch Auto Colby Robak /99 - This is one of those cards that may not have a lot of monetary value but when I pulled it I was pumped since it was a piece of the Panthers claw.

25) Psych Seasons 1-4 Autographs James Roday and Dule Hill - Put the full set together when I broke a case of this stuff. These guys had to go in as a 2-for-1 because you can't have one without the other "C'mon son"

24) Bowman Inception Oscar Taveras - My first box of Inception this year was LOADED. Not only did I pull this one but there's another that will pop up later on the list and another auto /5.

23) 2013 Bowman Inception Silver Signings /25 - Bought this on Ebay. Love the design, in fact this may be my favorite looking design of any card in quite some time, its just a phenomenal background shot. Well done by Topps/Bowman. Would love to add the gold version

22) 09-10 National Treasures Gold Trevor Booker /25 - 2012 was the year of Booker patches but this one snuck into 2013.

21) 2013 Bowman Black Tyler Glasnow - Pulled this from a box of Bowman Chrome. Didn't know who he was but quickly found out.

20) Upper Deck Draft Edition Draft Class Triple Auto Chris Cooley/Ben Roethlisberger/Larry Fitzgerald /5 - This one, like the Lloyd/Thompson, was one I kept losing out on and wanted to get full signatures on it once I did patience paid off.

19) 12-13 Prime Captain's Cloth Zach Parise 1/2 - As a Caps fan I hated pulling this but as a hockey fan and someone who rarely splurges on a product like that of Prime, I was thrilled to pull a card like this, only wish it had been signed.

18) Castle Seasons 1 & 2 Autograph Evidence Nathan Fillion - One of the few cards I didn't pull from my case of Castle but did score this on ebay for what was then, and may still be, the lowest price. As a huge fan of the show it was a must have.
17) 2012 Triple Threads Michael Morse - This isn't even all of the Morse TTT's that I have. 2012 allowed me a bunch more White Whales, I own all 8 that have shown up and one of the Wood 1/1s



16) 12-13 Prime Signatures Alex Ovechkin 8/25 - Jsy #'d so I bought it after many relistings

15) Big Bang Theory Seasons 3 & 4 Costume/Auto Mayim Bialik - When I ordered my case I commented that this would be the one costume/auto that I'd pull, I believe they're one per case. She's no Penny but she'd pay almost half the case if I sold it

14) 2013 Bowman Inception Byron Buxton Auto /99 - This would be the other card that I referred to back on the Tavares write-up. Of course all it did was lead me to buying a second box and pulling nothing of note, used up all my Inception mojo on this one box

13) 2009 Ultimate Collection Ultimate Eight Signatures 7/10 Donovan McNabb/DeSean Jackson/Peyton Manning/Reggie Wayne/Matt Cassel/Dwayne Bowe/Kurt Warner/Anquan Boldin - Snagged this early on in 2013 because who wouldn't want to have a Matt Cassel Jsy #'d card? Just kidding I bought it for the McNabb auto...well not 100%...I needed his auto for my Skins collection, I also wanted to get a Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner auto at some point. I decided to kill a whole flock of birds with one stone and all for just over $100

12) 2012 Playbook Auto Drew Brees /20 - Was so glad to pull this from a box over the summer. So much respect for Drew and I didn't have to drop a lot of coin to buy it on its own.

11) 2012 Bowman Platinum Michael Morse - Another Morse set I'm working hard to complete but that is drying up. Much like the Topps Tributes last year, I bought the majority of these as a lot.
/25 w/tag
10) Alex Ovechkin Supreme Sticks /5 - I  absolutely love the design on the stick, alas it wasn't meant to be. Of course had the ebay seller I bought the Ovechkin Glove card from, actually sent instead of saying it was already sold prior to the listing (likely story) then this would have been bounced from the Top 10.

9) X-Men Origins Wolverine Auto Ryan Reynolds - Put off buying this for too long, then got it for like $60. Been a fan since Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place

8) Fleer X-Men Auto Hugh Jackman - Another card I put off buying but for a longer period of time. One of my favorite actors

7) 98-99 Topps Gold Label 1/1 Peter Bondra - Was surprised when the seller accepted my offer on this one. I'm not as blown away by the card as others are but its still a beauty and a nice one to have gotten. Especially since Bondra's can sell well thanks to his overseas collectors

6) 12-13 Contenders Auto Kyrie Irving - Pulled the redemption from my Black Friday purchases and was arguably the highest valued card I had pulled all year, if not in my life. So glad that Panini got this fulfilled before the year's end and that the auto didn't run off the sticker

5) Psych Seasons 1-4 Autograph Rachael Leigh Cook - I was disappointed that Maggie Lawson didn't sign but that also meant a case with 12 boxes and only 11 signers would yield a duplicate autograph and I knew who I wanted...and I pulled it

4) 12-13 Panini Prime Color Logo/Patch/Number David Steckel - I don't know how or why David Steckel got into such a high end product. I wish Panini could have had his Capitals uniforms in the set but I was glad to see him in something new and something other than a base card. Also the Maple Leaf logo is beautiful so picking them up was a no brainer

3) James Bond 50th Anniversary Auto Halle Berry - One of the top cards I wanted to get this year and I snagged it for, once again was the best price at the time...wish I had been able to get the Smulders auto for $75 when Avengers first came out but I digress. I love Halle and while many consider Die Another Day to be the worst 007 film, she's my favorite Bond Girl.

2) 12-13 Dominion Ensigns 1/1 Jordan Eberle Shield - This rivals the Uncle Drew Contenders auto for both my best pull and of most value. Its definitely a sick card

 Now what could possibly keep a logo from being the to card? Well there's actually two cards keeping it from being the top card...I somehow miscounted  and I'm not going back and changing it now haha so I present you 

1B) 04-05 SPGU Logoman 1/1 Juan Dixon - I didn't know, or perhaps forgot, this card existed. Then again its listed as a 1/1 patch instead of logoman. Regardless that puts me one step closer to all Dixons

and what could be better than 1 logoman?

how about 3!!!

1A) 06-07 Exquisite All-NBA Access Triple Logoman 1/1 Juan Dixon/Andrea Bargnani/Jorge Garbajosa - This card gave me so much collector heartache for years. It was first pulled in Japan at RB21's shop. A friend went to check on it but was told it wasn't for sale. A few weeks later it had been sold to another collector, a Raptors team collector is all they'd say but that he NEVER sold his stuff. With each passing year I'd hold out hope that the card would pop up, that it hadn't been destroyed by a natural disaster, and numerous other things. I had agreements with a few Bargnani collectors to let me have this "if they knew what was good for them." With Dixon no longer playing, Garbajosa overseas (or is he done from his injury?) and Bargnani traded to the Knicks, the collector I guess had no use for it in his collection any longer. Much to surprise one Monday morning I receive a PM on Hobbykings and a mention on Twitter regarding the card from the newest Bargnani collector who told me it was mine if I wanted it because he wanted other ones the guy was selling. I was over the moon and thanked him. The seller told me he wouldn't end the auction early for anyone, which gave me a piece of mind and as the day grew closer I kept an eye on the auction. No one was biting at the HIGH starting bid, which was fine with me because for 7 years I had a price in mind that I'd pay and had even decided I would up the ante this year if need be. That wasn't necessary however as I was the only bidder and the card was happily added to my collection. Its the most I've EVER paid for a single card but I have no regrets about that