Thursday, 23 October 2003

Capitals trade Kono

For a long time, the Washington Capitals' captain, Steve Konowalchuk, was my favorite player on the team. One of the best checking forwards in the National Hockey League, his smart defensive play, gritty style, and leadership in the locker room reminded me a lot of the way I played soccer.

The two best right wings on the planet (Peter Bondra and Jaromir Jagr) frequently overshadow the Caps' left side, where Kono has been solid as a rock for 13 seasons. In a league where few offensive lines remain intact for an entire season, Kono was the cornerstone of the NHL's most respected checking line for three years. That line, which included Jeff Halpern and Ulf Dahlen, faced opponents' highest-scoring players each night and still mustered nearly the highest combined plus-minus rating of any line in the NHL during that time. Alas, nothing lasts forever.

A shoulder injury ended Kono's 2001-2002 season after a month, and he has not played at his former level since returning last year. Halpern injured his knee that same year and ended his season early, too. Dahlen left the team via free agency. Now, Kono has been dealt to the Colorado Avalanche for Bates Battaglia, a "bruising winger" who plays with "many of the same on-ice qualities as Konowalchuk," in the words of Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post.

The teams also swapped the Caps' third-round 2004 draft pick and forward Jonas Johansson, who was Colorado's first-round pick (28th overall) in 2002. And no discussion of this deal would be complete without mentioning the salary differential: Kono is earning $1.575 million this season, compared to Battaglia's $935,000. Majority owner Ted Leonsis vowed to cut costs after five years of optimistic investment in marquee players (especially Jagr, who is earning $11 million per season over seven years) failed to produce playoff results.

I will miss Kono, but the Capitals should come out ahead on this deal. This season may be a wash between the two established players, but Johansson has been a darling of the Capitals' amateur scouts for some time. They believe he will be a top-six forward in just a few years.

Posted at 1:23:58 AM | Permalink

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Saturday, 11 October 2003

Capitals lose a close one

If football is a game of inches, then hockey is a game of seconds.

The Washington Capitals opened the 2003-2004 season on Thursday, decimating the New York Islanders, 6-1, in front of a boisterous crowd at the phone booth. Rooky-sensation-to-be Boyd Gordon launched his NHL career on the top line with Jaromir Jagr and Kip Miller and registered an assist on his very first shift. The Capitals' other teenage rookies played better than expected, too.

Tonight the Capitals took the ice for game #2 against Atlanta. The Thrashers have not made the playoffs in the club's five-year history, and the team is still mourning the death of Dan Snyder (and the severe injuries of Dany Heatley) in a tragic car accident last week. You can never count out any team in the NHL, but tonight was should have been easier for the Caps than it seemed via the radio. Boyd Gordon scored his first NHL goal tonight, just over three minutes into the game. Sergei Gonchar looks like he is in midseason form already, tallying on the power play early in the next period. The rest of the game, unfortunately, belonged to Atlanta.

The Thrashers scored four goals in the first two periods and held the Capitals at bay for most of that time. I cannot complain about the Caps' defense they limited their opponent to 19 shots, after limiting New York to 18 shots on Thursday. (If this trend continues, the future looks very bright!) Meanwhile, the offensive effort cannot be faulted, either. The Caps took 30 shots tonight and 37 shots on Thursday. The main difference seems to be in their ability to finish.

So why is hockey a game of seconds? Because Jagr brought the Capitals to within one goal with less than three minutes to play, and the team pressed hard for the final two minutes. Thrashers' goaltender, Pasi Nurminen, may have aged 120 days in those 120 seconds. With 2.7 seconds to play, the Capitals took their timeout after forcing a faceoff deep in the Thrashers' zone. The puck squirted back to the point at which point the MSNBC feed of the radio broadcast inexplicably cut off!

Reading the post-game accounts, I learned that the final shot hit the post. Lucky for MSNBC, else I might have written something rather nasty in this space.

Posted at 8:52:46 PM | Permalink

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