Lineup Options vs. Belgium

Posted June 27, 2014 by justanothersportsfan
Categories: Soccer

The U.S. survived the group stage just barely and now it’s time to get to the knockout phase. Win or go home. At this point, all teams will be playing all out because there is no room for error. There is no game going on hundreds of miles away that can affect your place in the standings.

 

The Americans have had one very good performance and two mediocre to poor performances. Michael Bradley has been a shell of what was expected of him. Jermaine Jones has been the best player on the team. Kyle Beckerman has been incredibly consistent and a huge help of support to the back line. Omar Gonzalez put in a wonderful performance against Germany and deserves to start in the next match. Klinsmann took a gamble inserting him into the lineup and it paid off big time. Beasley has had a few moments of weakness but otherwise been stout on defense and on his few forays up field he has been just fine. Fabian Johnson is incredibly dangerous when he gets forward. That needs to happen more often. Maybe he starts on the wing and you insert a full back behind him to give him more freedom to attack? That was my recommendation ahead of the Germany match and is one of the scenarios for the Belgium match.

 

Overall, what needs to happen for the U.S. to win its next match is the following:

1. Michael Bradley has to be better … much, much better. Like I said ahead of the Germany match, Bradley might be better suited to play deeper and collect the ball going forward and starting the attack from deeper instead of having to receive the ball higher up the field and turn and attack. You saw this a little bit with Jermaine Jones taking a more attacking role and Bradley playing underneath but the U.S. didn’t get forward enough to know if this is a full time move. It needs to be. The U.S. has to do something to get Bradley going because they can’t win many/any more games without him being at the top of his game. Move him back with Beckerman and work his way from deeper in the field.

2. The U.S. needs more possession. That is obvious. What they need to do is play aggressive and attack. Attack the ball while on defense and use speed along the flanks to get going quickly. Once Belgium has the ball, the U.S. needs to close down space quickly and harass Belgium when they’ve got the ball. Aggressive defense and force turnovers and lead to counterattacks, which the U.S. is going to need to win.

3. The defense needs to remain stout. Also obvious, but the backline needs to hold structure and clear the line. Belgium has some strong weapons to attack but hasn’t scored much yet in this tournament. They have the firepower to make the U.S. defense look bad (just go back to last year’s 4-2 loss to Belgium for evidence). Besler and Gonzalez need to put in the performance they did against Germany.

 

Here are the potential lineups:

A few notes on all of these options. The first is that the U.S. needs to provide more support for Clint Dempsey up high. They need someone with some additional offense or creativity up high, particularly with Bradley being unable to do much to link up with Dempsey. When Dempsey collects the ball he has had little help going forward and that needs to change. That means bringing in Chris Wondolowski and letting Dempsey play underneath him or putting in Aron Johansson up front along side Dempsey. Allowing Dempsey to play underneath another forward, allows him to collect the ball a bit deeper and run at defenders, which is often where he does his best work and also allows him to rely less of holding the ball up while others join the attack. He can dribble forward while others catch up and join the attack with him or he can outlet to Wondolowski going forward. It gives him additional options when he does get the ball instead of waiting around for reinforcements. The third option is to leave Dempsey as a lone forward and putting in Mix Diskerud on the left wing. Unlike Brad Davis or Alejandro Bedoya, Diskerud has more creativity and is a bit more of an attacking midfielder. He could be a guy that could link up with Dempsey and create some pace and offense going forward.

In the midfield, one option includes moving Fabian Johnson into the midfield, moving a fullback behind him. That would relieve Johnson of some of his defensive responsibilities and allow him to be more flexible in joining the attack. It’s a way to add speed and offense a bit further up the field while still providing a strong defense. In this scenario, I’ve listed Geoff Cameron as the right back but it could easily be Timmy Chandler as well. Either can and have played quite a bit at right fullback. Cameron is usually in central defense for the U.S. national team but not for his club. If he isn’t comfortable on the national team in that spot, then Chandler is a strong option as well. Either one would be fine and provide what is necessary for the U.S. in allowing Johnson to get up the field more.

Once again, I am advocating for Jermaine Jones to play more in the middle of the field than in a defensive midfield position. He has been much stronger than Bradley getting forward and much more dangerous. Let him continue to do that and hopefully get Bradley going playing from a deeper role.

Graham Zusi sticks in the right midfield if Fabian Johnson remains at right fullback. Zusi has been fine. Not great. Not terrible. He’s had a couple of moments of danger and works hard. He is also useful on set pieces, something the U.S. will need more of if they want a chance to win. Again, more of an attacking mentality will help get this done.

Wildcard: If somehow Jozy Altidore is healthy enough to play on Tuesday, this changes everything. Even if he can only for hard for 45 minutes, you start him. He is not the type to bring on late in the game as a sub. You use him for whatever you can get at the beginning of the game. If that is the case – look at the lineup below with Wondolowski and replace Wondolowski with Altidore and that is a legit option. Or swap out Johansson for Altidore and then flip flop Altidore and Dempsey.

option1 option2 option3

 

US-Germany – Lineup

Posted June 25, 2014 by justanothersportsfan
Categories: Soccer

Lineup vs. Germany

 

The U.S. needs a result against Germany – any result will do – after the gut-wrenching last second goal by Portugal in game number two in the Group Stage. Yes it was awful to be so close against Portugal and come up short. But on the bright side, the U.S. is in pretty much the exact scenario that any hopeful fan would have imagined just two weeks ago when the tournament started. The U.S. controls its own destiny and can still even make it to the next round with a loss against Germany. Here’s hoping it doesn’t come down to hoping for a result in another match and the U.S. can take care of business. The task is daunting as Germany is one of the top teams in the world and has an extra day’s rest compared with the U.S. Oh and the U.S. will have to be the first team to get a result after playing a game in Manaus as every other team that has played there has gone on to lose their next match. Daunting challenge indeed.

 

As I see it, some slight adjustments need to be made to the lineup for the optimal chance at getting the needed result against Germany. Of course I’d love a gentleman’s agreement to a draw and maybe if the game gets to about the 70th minute, the score is tied and the Ghana-Portugal match is still up in the air, both the U.S. and Germany will take their respective feet of the pedals but even that could be a stretch.

 

Hence, here are my thoughts on some tactical and personnel changes that could be useful for the U.S. (chart at the bottom shows what I am about  to explain).

 

First off, there will be only one new started compared with the Portugal match. Alejandro Bedoya, who performed admirably and worked hard in the first two matches, will not start. Instead, John Brooks will get the start (in a different position, obviously). While Bedoya brings a solid effort defensively to the midfield, the U.S. needs another big, strong back in the match and Brooks fits the bill. He will be rested having not played in Manaus and bonus, he is used to playing against most everyone on the German roster. His familiarity with the Germans will be a huge asset along the back line. That’s my one personnel switch.

 

Now, along the field starting from the back:

 

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard – he gets the nod as he will all tournament long.

 

Backline: (left to right when looking from Howard’s point of view across the field): Beasley-Brooks-Besler-Cameron

 

Klinsmann said after the Ghana match that Brooks is his left side central back. That is where he will start. Besler slides over to his right and Cameron shifts over to play fullback on the right side. A few reasons for this look. The first is mentioned above in bringing Brooks on the field. Besler is used to playing off Cameron’s left shoulder and the pair have developed a rapport so he slides over slightly along the central backline. Cameron moves over to the right side. That is the position he plays for Stoke most often so he should be perfectly comfortable there. Cameron has what should be a good safety net in his typical central back partnership with Besler still in the relative same position to him. Brooks, Besler and Cameron will all play a conservative posture and not get into the attack that much aside from the occasional set piece or maybe the occasional run by Cameron. Beasley at LB will continue to get forward as needed along the left flank as he has done throughout the tournament. He struggled early with his footing early in the Ghana match, literally falling down multiple times (I swear he needed to replace the spikes on his shoes with ones of a different length), but he has looked much better since that poor first half.

 

Defensive Midfield: Beckerman-Bradley

 

Bradley has struggled mightily in this tournament, which comes as a surprise since he looked very strong in the last couple of games leading up to the World Cup in the send-off series. He hasn’t looked comfortable playing farther up the field so he will return to a more defensive midfield role, roaming in front of the backline along with Beckerman, who has been incredibly strong in this tournament. The goal here is to take some pressure off Bradley as the creator and let the game come more naturally to him. He can start the counter from deeper in the field and maybe, just maybe, get his bearings back in time for a big game. He will have room to run and patrol the center of the field but will do it moving forward from a deeper role instead of moving backward from a more advanced position as he has done in the first two games. Beckerman will provide support for Beasley in times where Beasley attacks along the flank. He will also provide an initial buffer for Brooks in oncoming attacks by the Germans.

 

Central Midfield: Jones-Johnson

 

Jermaine Jones has been the U.S.’s best player in the tournament. He is sitting on a yellow card, but at this point with everything to play for, it doesn’t matter to protect him. Losing probably means the end of the tournament so if he picks up another yellow card, so be it. It doesn’t matter. And if you do advance and he picks up another yellow? Awesome – you advance and can deal with his suspension after this match is over. It’s all to play for here, so no holding back or tempering his game. Jones moves into a slightly more attacking role in this positioning. He starts from  more of an attacking position in this formation than he has the past two games – basically moving higher up toward where Bradley was in the first two games. He provides runs along the left side (he had been more on the left side than the right in the first couple of games), working to overlap his runs with Beasley. He can slide into the center of the field underneath Dempsey and attack the goal and distribute from there as well. Once again Jones will be asked to put in among the most effort and cover the most ground on the field, but I suspect he will be up for it. Like Brooks, he also has deep familiarity with the German team having played most of his career in Germany. On the right side of midfield, Fabian Johnson moves up the pitch. He too will be asked to run quite a bit. Putting him in front of Cameron will allow him to attack even more, where he can be extremely dangerous, and worry a bit less about defense. He will, however, track back to help on defense and provide additional support for Bradley and Cameron on that side of the field.

 

Attacking Midfield: Zusi

 

I seriously considered putting Mix Diskerud into this position to add a bit more offense and creativity, but to start the match, I think Zusi should be there. He was solid in the last match and is strong on set pieces, which will likely be a key if the U.S. was a chance at a draw or win. Zusi will play more toward the right side of the field and push up toward the middle in the attack (with Johnson working the right sideline on his outside). Zusi will also have Bradley behind his left shoulder to help in the attack and to work hard on defense. This is the best spot for Zusi.

 

Forward: Dempsey

 

Nothing changes for Dempsey after his wonderful match against Portugal. He is the attacker running at the German central defense and trying to create havoc and score in a third consecutive match. He gets support from Zusi and Jones behind him, Beasley and Johnson on his flanks and Bradley as well.

 

 

Substitution Scenarios:

Substitutions will, of course, be highly reliant on the game scenarios of not just the U.S.-Germany match but also what is going on at the same time between Ghana and Portugal. Assuming no injuries, here are a few possible substitutions on various key points in the match:

 

Halftime:

Trailing at the half and unfavorable situation in Ghana-Portugal  (Ghana winning or Portugal up by three or more goals or up by one or two with U.S. losing by multiple goals) – If the U.S. is trailing at the half, it could make a substitution adding some offense for defense. Here you could see Cameron come out and Diskerud come on. Johnson would drop to RB. Zusi would move over to Johnson’s spot and Diskerud would slot in behind Dempsey in Zusi’s position.

 

Trailing at the half and favorable situation in Ghana-Portugal (i.e. Portugal winning by one or two with U.S. only down by one or a draw) – No changes. Sit tight for the time being.

 

Tied or winning at the half and regardless of Ghana-Portugal – See previous note.

 

 

65th Minute:

Trailing and unfavorable situation in Ghana-Portugal – If you haven’t already made the Cameron for Diskerud move, you make two moves here. You take off Cameron and Beckerman and you bring on Diskerud and either Johansson or Wondolowski. Based on the pace of play and type of game you decide if Johansson or Wondolowski is better suited for this match. Johnson drops back to Cameron’s spot. Jones drops back to partner with Bradley in the defensive midfield. Zusi slides farther out right to where Johnson was. Diskerud comes in on the left side into Jones spot and you go with two attackers – Dempsey and either Wondolowski or Johansson. At this point, I’d lean toward Wondolowski. This  is very, very aggressive but you can’t wait too late to make such moves and watch your chances disappear. If the tie turns and things flip, you still have one substitution you can make later in the match to remove an offensive player (Zusi probably) and bring on some added defense (probably Chandler or maybe Gonzalez).

 

Trailing at the half and favorable situation in Ghana-Portugal or Tied or winning at the half and regardless of Ghana-Portugal – No changes. Sit tight for the time being unless someone is really laboring then try to make a like-for-like substitution.

 

 

 

75th Minute:

Trailing and unfavorable situation in Ghana-Portugal – If the above two moves listed in the 65th minute have already been made, then do nothing additional here. If neither of those moves have been made and things turned for the worse between the 65th and 75th minute, then make both moves listed in the 65th minute suggestions.

 

Trailing at the half and favorable situation in Ghana-Portugal or Tied or winning at the half and regardless of Ghana-Portugal – Here comes the first substitution to hunker down and play to survive and advance. Out comes Zusi and in comes Timmy Chandler. The U.S. moves to a five-man back line. Chandler goes in at RB, Cameron slides over to the right side of central defense. Besler plays the middle of central defense with Brooks and Beasley sliding more toward their left as well. Also, Jones drops back deeper into the field to play a bit more defense.

 

 

 

80th to 85th Minute:

Trailing and unfavorable situation in Ghana-Portugal – If things have turned for the worse between the 75th and 85th minutes, then make the two moves listed in the 65th minute along with a third substitution. So that means out go Cameron, Beckerman and now Beasley as well. In come Diskerud, Wondolowski and Johansson. The formation completely changes for the end of the match. Johnson moves to left back (where he has played for the U.S. before). Brooks moves to central bank and Besler over toward right back. Jones drops back to play defensive midfield with Bradley. Diskerud plays left midfield and attacks and Zusi does the same from the right. Dempsey plays just underneath Wondolowski and Johansson who play as out and out strikers and the U.S. attacks at every chance possible.

 

Trailing at the half and favorable situation in Ghana-Portugal or  Tied or winning at the half and regardless of Ghana-Portugal – If things are looking good even with the U.S. trailing, the Zusi for Chandler move is made at this point if it hasn’t been already. A second move is made as well – Jones comes out (he’s worked hard and will likely have been the player on the field for the U.S. that has covered the most ground. Fresh legs are needed). Bedoya comes in. His fresh legs and his tireless work on the defensive side will suit well in a simple switch on the left side of the midfield.

 

90th Minute:

Trailing and unfavorable situation in Ghana-Portugal – The three subs have already been used. Hope and pray they can get it done in stoppage time.

 

Trailing at the half and favorable situation in Ghana-Portugal or  Tied or winning at the half and regardless of Ghana-Portugal – Zusi for Chandler and Bedoya for Jones should be made if they haven’t been already. If you want to make a third substitution to kill some time, then Dempsey comes out for Wondolowski. Put Wondolowski on an island up top and pack in the other nine deep. The backline would be (L to R) – Beasley-Brooks-Besler-Cameron-Chandler. Beckerman and Bradley would sit just above the central banks in the midfield. Bedoya and Johnson would play wider out and just above Beckerman and Bradley with Wondolowski roaming around the center line looking for an outlet or harassing any German who tries to bring the ball up the middle of the field.

 

Remember – a win would be all well and good, but a tie does the trick and if it’s really late and they’re losing but the other match is setting up for the U.S. to advance anyway, play to make sure you advance. Nothing else matters except advancing to the next round. Be smart. And here’s hoping the U.S. can advance all on their own and don’t have to worry about a favorable Ghana-Portugal result.

 

(image built with this11.com)

(image built with this11.com)

 

 

Offseason Blueprint for the Capitals

Posted June 15, 2014 by justanothersportsfan
Categories: Hockey

The 2014-15 Season

 

Overall, there are two scenarios that could play out for the team. Below are the basic notes for those two scenarios.

 

Brooks Laich

There are two scenarios that could play out with regard to the upcoming season. They revolve around one major decision. Can the team use a compliance buyout on Brooks Laich or otherwise trade him without having to retain his salary? If the answer to that question is yes, then such a move must be made. If the team cannot move him without having to retain some of his salary or it cannot use a compliance buyout to rid the team of his contract, he must stay on the team and that great affects the path the team takes over the next few years. I will propose two separate scenarios over the next few years that play out with and without Laich based on this scenario.

 

The reason why the Caps should try to move his contract is because he can no longer be reliably counted on to remain healthy and in the lineup and play at the level he is capable of when healthy.

 

If the team cannot expunge itself of his contract completely, Laich must be kept and quite simply the team must hope for the best that he can return to health and form. It’s a big risk, but having to eat some of his salary is not worth removing that risk. A traditional buyout would cost the Caps nearly $1.4 million in salary cap space over the next six seasons. If he cannot return to health but remains on the team, the use of long-term injured reserve to provide salary cap relief could be used.

 

Depending on whether the Capitals can move Laich’s salary in some form also leads to at least one ripple effect on the roster. That is whether to move Marcus Johansson during the offseason. This might sound counterintuitive, but moving Laich frees up $4.5 million in salary cap space. That coupled with a trade of Marcus Johansson would free up a combined $6.5 million in cap space, giving the Capitals the potential to make a major overhaul of the roster for the upcoming season. Not being able to move Laich’s salary constricts the Caps flexibility to sign free agents during the offseason, in which case Marcus Johansson should be retained because he could slot onto the first line at left wing (where money from a combined move of Laich and Johnasson would otherwise be used).

 

Marcus Johnasson

Assuming Marcus Johansson is traded, the Caps should be looking at moving him to fill the role of third-line center. Because Johansson has proven he can play top-six minutes on the wing or at center and is an above-average passer, the Caps should be able to fill the role of third-line center. You might ask why the Caps wouldn’t just move Johansson to third-line center. He is not a physical enough player, nor the type of player that is best suited to center a more grinding-type line. The Caps would be better suited to move him for a center that is a better fit on the third line.

 

But because Johansson is still very young and his cost will be relatively controlled for the next few years, the Caps shouldn’t settle for someone old or overpriced. The trade target should be someone that is at least neutral in terms of tilting the ice (by this I mean his advanced stats should show he is at least neutral in terms of shots attempted by his team relative to opponents when he is on the ice). The trade target should also be relatively young and cost controlled.

 

One such target is a former Capital prospect, Cody Eakin. Dallas has depth at center but is thin at left wing. Johansson could slot in on the second line in Dallas immediately and provide an upgrade, particularly with who is signed in Dallas for the upcoming season. Eakin is an RFA and would have to be guaranteed to sign.

 

Eakin’s Corsi percentage has steadily improved in his career and is actually better in close situations than it is overall. That is the sign of someone that can be counted on to play difficult minutes. Eakin can play in all situations, while Johansson is not a penalty killer.

 

The Caps should also seek to improve their draft status with this trade if possible. Something along the lines of Dallas sends a second-round pick to the Capitals and the Capitals send back a third- or fourth-round pick to offset the fact that Johansson is the better player in the deal.

 

Eakin could be signed to a two-year, $3 million contract ($1.5 million AAV) as part of the deal.

 

First-Line Left Wing

If the Capitals clear both Laich and Johansson’s contracts and add Eakin’s, they would have enough money left to sign a first-line left wing. That is the one position that appears to have some depth in free agency this year. The target should be Milan Michalek.

 

Michalek’s possession numbers are excellent throughout his career. His corsi percentage has been above 50% the past three seasons – with 51.9% being his worst reading during that span. That is better than anyone that suited up for the Capitals for at least 41 games last season. Michalek plays in all situations. He could be counted on to be on a top power play unit or to play key penalty kill minutes.

 

Also, what the top line needs is someone who is willing to go to the net. Average shot distance data from last year shows that Michalek goes to the net as his average shot distance was among the closest to the net of anyone on the Senators last season, an indication that he is willing to crash the net.

 

While his point production might not be quite as high as some other free agent left wings, he would provide key support that is needed on the first line. He is a positive possession player. He goes to the net.

 

I would target trying to sign him to a deal worth $6 million per year for five years. His current contract paid him $6 million in the final year of the deal but had a much lower annual average value. I would be willing to go as high as $6 million a year for about four years or to a six-year deal at $5 million per season (AAV) to sign him as that would fit under the salary cap and still provide room to spare. He is only 29 so his age would also fit in nicely with the core of the Caps team.

 

 

Back-Up Plan for First-Line Left Wing

If Michalek is unavailable, the back-up plan would be to sign Matt Moulson. At all of his stops in his career, Moulson has proven he can play on a top line. He is particularly adept on a line with a strong center (see his experience playing with John Taveres). Moulson would provide another snipe on a line with Alex Ovechkin (the best goal-scorer in the NHL) and Nicklas Backstrom, one the league’s best centers. Putting Moulson on a line with Ovechkin should provide more space for Ovechkin because opponents will be forced to pay more attention to Moulson than any left wing that played on Ovechkin’s line during the 2013-14 season. While Moulson’s corsi percentage is below 50% for this season, it is above 50% in his limited time playing on a stronger team this year in Minnesota (and has been exceptionally strong during the playoffs). He was also above 52% in the 2013 season for the Islanders on a playoff team. While Moulson does not kill penalties, he can play on a top power play unit if the Capitals want to do that. He could easily slot onto the second power play unit if the coach wanted to put him there.

 

Moulson is a better option than someone like Thomas Vanek because his salary will be less. He could even make less than Dany Heatley. He is slightly younger than Mike Cammalleri and is better suited to play on a top line.

 

Moulson would be signed to a five-year, $30 million contract ($6 million AAV). There would be enough space in the team’s salary cap for 2014-15 to move that as high as $6.5 million per season if that is required.

 

With those two scenarios played out, here are all of the other moves that must be made before the 2014-15 season. All of these moves would take place regardless of the above scenarios.

 

Right Wing Logjam

The next biggest question that needs to be addressed is the excess of right wingers, particularly in the light that situation is theoretically holding back an opportunity for Tom Wilson to truly develop and move toward a top-six wing role as has been envisioned by the previous administration. If Tom Wilson is going to get there, the Caps need to move one of Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward or Eric Fehr. Eric Fehr and Joel Ward are only signed for one more season (2014-15). Troy Brouwer is signed for two more seasons. While Ward and Fehr both have 20-goal seasons in their careers, Brouwer has more such seasons. All three are prototypical top-nine power forwards. Fehr has an extensive injury history. Fehr has proven he can play center if necessary, giving him added value. All three can play on the power play. Ward and Fehr can play on the penalty kill. Ward is the better of the two on the penalty kill. Because Fehr is cheaper and only signed for one more year, he should remain on the club. That leaves Ward and Brouwer. Brouwer is younger, paid more and signed for one additional year. His age, track record playing in the top six (extensive time on both the first and second lines) and prowess on the power play could make him a more attractive trade chip than Ward, even though Ward can play in all situations. I believe that Ward’s ability to play in all situations makes him more valuable for what this team needs right now. Ward can easily replace and likely perform just as well as Brouwer on the power play. He will not replace him on the second line, that job would be left to Fehr with Wilson playing on the fourth line for one more season before he moves up higher in the lineup after one or both of Fehr and Ward depart.

 

Right Wing Trade

Now that we’ve established the team will keep Ward and Fehr, the focus must be on trading Brouwer to help the Caps with a need at another position. The biggest need the team currently has is for a top-four defenseman. Brouwer, along with a prospect or draft pick could fetch a solid return from a team looking to bulk up on its top-six and add a proven scorer. His contract is manageable for two more years as well, making him an attractive option. Brouwer was acquired for a late first-round draft pick. Brouwer plus a mid-round 2014 first-round pick (as the Capitals will have) should be able to fetch a solid top-four defenseman. Ideally it cost Brouwer plus a second-round draft pick to complete the trade. But the team has to be prepared to move a first-round pick with Brouwer to acquire a top-four defenseman.

 

Top-Four Defenseman

Who should that top-four defenseman be? The better question is what should that top-four defenseman be? It should be a left-handed shot that can pair with Mike Green. It should be someone that can play in all situations. It should be someone that is responsible defensively. It should be someone that typically tilts the ice in the favor of his team (Corsi percentage as a proxy for tilting the ice). It should also be someone that has term left on his contract. Giving up a top-six forward with two more years at a reasonable cost on his contract and a high draft pick needs to be exchanged for someone that is controllable for multiple years (particularly with Mike Green’s contract expiring at the end of 2014-15).

 

Now, who fits that bill but also plays for a team with defensive depth that lacks right wingers, and particularly power forwards on the wing? A clear answer is Vancouver. Rumors indicated that Alexander Edler was potentially available at the trade deadline in March 2014. If he is still available ahead of the draft, he would be the primary target. He checks all of the boxes that make him exactly what the Caps need. Vancouver was willing to trade a high-end starting goalie for a top-10 draft pick straight up. It should be willing to move Edler for a mid-first- or second-round pick and top-six winger. Is that overpaying? Almost definitely. But top-end defensemen are in limited supply so the bidding is likely to be high. The Caps are desperate for a top-four defenseman as well so they are not in as good a position to play hardball on this deal. Edler is the guy to go after.

 

Just to run through a few of Edler’s stats. His corsi-for percentage has been above 51% each of the last three seasons. He logs a ton of minutes in all situations. He won’t need to play as much on the power play for the Caps meaning his legs should be fresher for even-strength play and the penalty kill. He is signed for the next five seasons at a cap hit of $5 million per season. He will be 28 at the start of the 2014-15 season, meaning he will be in his prime and locked up through his age 32 season when his skills will likely start to be slipping. Basically he is signed for his peak years and at a cost that fits into the salary structure for the Capitals.

 

Additional Free Agent Signing

One additional free agent signing must be made in either of these two situations. That would be to add a fourth-line left wing that is good enough to play higher in the lineup if injuries occur. I want to build this fourth line into a line that can chip in offensively in the coming year after the Caps fourth line in the 2013-14 season did not provide much offense at all, limiting the ability to play the line consistent minutes.

 

One winger that could fit the bill is Benoit Pouliot. Puliot’s Corsi percentage has been above 50% each of the last three seasons, indicating he can help generate offense. He can also play in all situations. He is coming off a one-year, $1.3 million contract. It was his fifth consecutive one-year deal. Guaranteeing him a pay raise and a two-year deal should be able to lure him to the Capitals. I would offer him a two-year, $4 million contract ($2 million AAV) and be willing to go to two-year, $5 million as well.

 

Traditional Buyout

There is one contract the Capitals must rid themselves of for the 2014-15 season and that is John Erskine’s deal. Since Erskine’s contract was signed after the work stoppage, it is not eligible for a compliance buyout. That means the Caps must go the traditional buyout route. Buying out the contract will spread a portion of salary cap hit across two years instead of one if he remained on the roster or a percentage if he was assigned to the minors. Buying him out is the most financially logical move to save cap space. His contract would count $629,167 in the 2014-15 season and $666,667 in the 2015-16 season. That cost is worth it as the Capitals have many young defensemen that can perform better than Erskine, are cheaper and should be developed because they have longer potential futures with the team.

 

Players (Re-)Signed

The following players should be re-signed to contracts that are either UFAs, RFAs or entry-level players with the Capitals this year already.

Mikahil Grabovski – Grabo is the big one on this list so just to take a minute to say how much I’d offer. The Caps should be targeting a five year deal worth $5 million annually. That would be fair – close to his old deal in Toronto (for which he is still getting paid); a big bump from this past season where aside from an injury he performed exceptionally well.

Michael Latta

Garrett Mitchell

Cameron Schilling

Nate Schmidt

Tyson Strachan

Julien Brouillette

Notes on pending free agents after 2014-15 season:

Mike Green is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2014-15 season. He is no longer with the team following the 2014-15. As such, I would consider moving him ahead of the trade deadline during the 2014-15 season, ideally for prospects and/or draft picks. Since he will be a pending UFA, a team looking for another scoring defenseman would incur on a small hit to payroll to take on his salary for the remainder of the year. The Caps should avoid adding additional players in return that take up valuable spots on the NHL roster for multiple seasons. Prospects and draft picks would be the preferred return should a trade make sense. It would not make sense if Green is a key part of a team that is contending for a top place in the playoffs and is a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup or even the Eastern Conference Championship. In that case, his value would be greater remaining with the team and receiving no compensation for his departure during the 2015 offseason. The assessment on Green will be wholly determined by how well the Caps are playing in the 2014-15 season. If they are out of playoff contention by the deadline, simply a fringe playoff team or solidly in the playoffs but don’t legitimately have a chance at advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals, Green should be shopped.

 

The second name is Marcus Johansson. He, too, should be considered a possible trade option (in the scenario I’ve laid out where he is still with the team during the 2014-15 season) at the deadline or even in the offseason. Since he is an RFA, his value remains higher after the season. Trading him during the regular season would require a solid payout of prospects or draft picks (to help replenish the shallow prospect pool the team currently has). Depending on the right scenario, I would consider moving him for a NHL roster-level player but that would alter the longer term plan. Ideally, if he were moved, it too would be for prospects and/or draft picks in 2015. Should he remain with the team through the entire 2014-15 season, the Caps should consider trading him for the best return possible during the offseason between the end of the season and the draft (so his return can include 2015 draft picks).

 

Potential Lineups

 

Without Laich & Johansson Scenario
Position Name Position Shot Birthdate Age as of 1/1/15 2014-15
1L Milan Michalek LW L 12/7/84 30 $6,000,000
1C Nicklas Backstrom C L 11/23/87 27 $6,700,000
1R Alex Ovechkin RW R 9/17/85 29 $9,538,462
2L Evgeny Kuznetsov LW/C L 5/19/92 22 $1,750,000
2C Mikhail Grabovski C L 1/31/84 30 $5,000,000
2R Eric Fehr RW/C R 9/7/85 29 $1,500,000
3L Jason Chimera LW L 5/2/79 35 $2,000,000
3C Cody Eakin C L 5/24/91 23 $1,500,000
3R Joel Ward RW R 12/2/80 34 $3,000,000
4L Benoit Pouliot LW L 9/29/86 28 $2,000,000
4C Michael Latta C R 5/25/91 23 $750,000
4R Tom Wilson RW R 3/29/94 20 $1,294,167
ES Jay Beagle C R 10/16/85 29 $900,000
1LD Karl Alzner LD L 9/24/88 26 $2,800,000
1RD John Carlson RD R 1/10/90 24 $3,966,667
2LD Alexander Edler LD L 4/21/86 28 $5,000,000
2RD Mike Green RD R 10/12/85 29 $6,083,333
3LD Dmitry Orlov LD L 7/23/91 23 $2,000,000
3RD Nate Schmidt RD R 7/16/91 23 $800,000
ES Cameron Schilling LD L 10/7/88 26 $800,000
ES Steven Oleksy RD R 2/4/86 28 $541,667
G Braden Holtby G 9/16/89 25 $1,850,000
G Philipp Grubauer G 11/25/91 23 $607,222
Buyout John Erskine D $629,167
Total $67,010,685
Salary Cap $70,000,000
Cap Space $2,989,315
Total Contracts 23

 

With Laich & Johansson Scenario
Position Name Position Shot Birthdate Age as of 1/1/15 2014-15
1L Marcus Johansson LW/C L 10/6/90 24 $2,000,000
1C Nicklas Backstrom C L 11/23/87 27 $6,700,000
1R Alex Ovechkin RW R 9/17/85 29 $9,538,462
2L Evgeny Kuznetsov LW/C L 5/19/92 22 $1,750,000
2C Mikhail Grabovski C L 1/31/84 30 $5,000,000
2R Eric Fehr RW/C R 9/7/85 29 $1,500,000
3L Jason Chimera LW L 5/2/79 35 $2,000,000
3C Brooks Laich C/LW L 6/23/83 31 $4,500,000
3R Joel Ward RW R 12/2/80 34 $3,000,000
4L Benoit Pouliot LW L 9/29/86 28 $2,000,000
4C Michael Latta C R 5/25/91 23 $750,000
4R Tom Wilson RW R 3/29/94 20 $1,294,167
ES Jay Beagle C R 10/16/85 29 $900,000
1LD Karl Alzner LD L 9/24/88 26 $2,800,000
1RD John Carlson RD R 1/10/90 24 $3,966,667
2LD Alexander Edler LD L 4/21/86 28 $5,000,000
2RD Mike Green RD R 10/12/85 29 $6,083,333
3LD Dmitry Orlov LD L 7/23/91 23 $2,000,000
3RD Nate Schmidt RD R 7/16/91 23 $800,000
ES Cameron Schilling LD L 10/7/88 26 $800,000
ES Steven Oleksy RD R 2/4/86 28 $541,667
G Braden Holtby G 9/16/89 25 $1,850,000
G Philipp Grubauer G 11/25/91 23 $607,222
Buyout John Erskine D $629,167
Total $66,010,685
Salary Cap $70,000,000
Cap Space $3,989,315
Total Contracts 23

 

 

Most Likely Stay-the-Course Scenario
Position Name Position Shot Birthdate Age as of 1/1/15 2014-15
1L Marcus Johansson LW/C L 10/6/90 24 $2,000,000
1C Nicklas Backstrom C L 11/23/87 27 $6,700,000
1R Alex Ovechkin RW R 9/17/85 29 $9,538,462
2L Evgeny Kuznetsov LW/C L 5/19/92 22 $1,750,000
2C Mikhail Grabovski C L 1/31/84 30 $5,000,000
2R Troy Brouwer RW R 8/17/85 29 $3,666,667
3L Jason Chimera LW L 5/2/79 35 $2,000,000
3C Brooks Laich C/LW L 6/23/83 31 $4,500,000
3R Joel Ward RW R 12/2/80 34 $3,000,000
4L Eric Fehr RW/C R 9/7/85 29 $1,500,000
4C Jay Beagle C R 10/16/85 29 $900,000
4R Tom Wilson RW R 3/29/94 20 $1,294,167
ES Aaron Volpatti LW L 5/30/85 29 $575,000
1LD Karl Alzner LD L 9/24/88 26 $2,800,000
1RD John Carlson RD R 1/10/90 24 $3,966,667
2LD Dmitry Orlov LD L 7/23/91 23 $2,000,000
2RD Mike Green RD R 10/12/85 29 $6,083,333
3LD Jack Hillen LD L 1/24/86 28 $700,000
3RD Connor Carrick RD R 4/13/94 20 $783,334
ES Nate Schmidt RD R 7/16/91 23 $800,000
ES John Erskine LD L 6/26/80 34 $1,962,500
G Braden Holtby G 9/16/89 25 $1,850,000
G Philipp Grubauer G 11/25/91 23 $607,222
Total $63,977,352
Salary Cap $70,000,000
Cap Space $6,022,648
Total Contracts 23

 

 

Breaking Down Possible World Cup 2014 Groups

Posted November 23, 2013 by justanothersportsfan
Categories: Soccer

So after a couple of posts looking at the U.S. and how they are likely to be drawn into a group of death or at least not be favored to get out of the group stages, here’s the most equitable groups I could come up with. I’ve used ESPN’s Soccer Power Index to aid in my rankings. What I’ve done isn’t really rocket science, essentially creating a snaking order through the expected pots for the draw and making sure to follow the guidelines for group stage (i.e. only one team from each confederation in a group except Europe, which can have two).

What I’ve come up with actually looks quite fair and would likely lead to most of the best teams advancing to the knockout stages. See my previous two posts to look at the Pots that are expected and will be used for this exercise.

Group A: Brazil, Australia, France, Croatia

Group B: Argentina, Iran, Ivory Coast, Greece

Group C: Spain, South Korea, Chile, Portugal

Group D: Germany, Honduras, Ecuador, Russia

Group E: Colombia, Japan, Ghana, Bosnia

Group F: Uruguay, Mexico, Nigeria, Italy

Group G: Belgium, Costa Rica, Cameroon, England

Group H: Switzerland, United States, Algeria, Netherlands

Is there a clear cut Group of Death here? Maybe Group C? Maybe Group F or Group H? Maybe, but that’s pushing it. Really these groups look pretty fair and balanced. That’d make for an awesome World Cup. Then again, one of the things that makes the WC awesome is having that one outlandandishly hard group that is a must-see and having some underdogs make the knockout phase. But from a pure balance perspective, which would likely mean the best teams move on, then this is it.

If I was a betting man, and I’m not, here’s who I’d expect to advance each of these groups (don’t hold me to any of this in the future if randomly some of these groups actually do exist come draw day):

Group A: Brazil, France (I think this is pretty clear cut)

Group B: Argentina, Ivory Coast (Maybe Greece over Ivory Coast?)

Group C: Spain, Chile (It’d be a toss-up between Chile and Portugal – tough choice)

Group D: Germany, Russia (I could easily see Ecuador over Russia)

Group E: Colombia, Bosnia (I wouldn’t count out Ghana for a second)

Group F: Uruguay, Italy (I’d be shocked with any other outcome)

Group G: Belgium, England (It’d be considered a huge disappointment if either of these teams failed to advance from that group)

Group H: United States, Netherlands (Call me a home for putting the U.S. through over Switzerland, but I’d say the Americans just barely edge out the Swiss in this scenario, though a third-place finish for the Americans behind the Swiss wouldn’t surprise me.)

So there you have it, in a world where the draw for the World Cup is fair and balanced to make the groups as equal as possible using the four expected pots, that’s how I’d see things playing out. Each group would have one clear favorite, with most of the groups – not all but most – having a toss-up for second and third place and a clear fourth-place finisher. That sounds pretty good to me.

Hoping for the Best, Expecting the Worst – World Cup 2014

Posted November 22, 2013 by justanothersportsfan
Categories: Soccer

Now that I’ve completed by brief rant about how the U.S. is likely to be the most hurt by the expected World Cup group draw, here’s the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Americans assuming the pots are broken up for the draw as they were four years ago.

Pot A – Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, Colombia, Uruguay, Belgium, Switzerland

Pot B – US, Costa Rica, Mexico, Japan, Honduras, South Korea, Iran, Australia

Pot C – Chile, France, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria

Pot D – Netherlands, England, Italy, Bosnia, Russia, Portugal, Greece, Croatia

 

Let’s break down Pot A to start: These are the seeded teams and clearly the U.S. wants to avoid most of them if possible. The clear team the U.S. wants to be drawn with is Switzerland. Everyone wants to get Switzerland among this pot. From there, I’d say the next three teams are interchangeable insofar as they aren’t great for the U.S. but they are teams that the Americans maybe could draw and steal a point. They include Colombia, Uruguay and Belgium. The remaining four in the group are all teams that they U.S. will desperately want to avoid: Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany. The clear worst-case scenario from this group is Brazil. Playing the best team in the world on its home soil in the World Cup? No thanks. Brazil has to be considered the favorites to win it all.

 

On to Pot B: Well the U.S. can’t play any of them since that is there pot. Moving along …

 

Pot C: There are two teams the U.S. would clearly like to draw and the U.S. would likely be favored against: Cameroon and Algeria. These are the two preferred choices, with Algeria easily being the best-case scenario. The teams the U.S. wouldn’t mind playing from this group (and thus a draw or even a victory wouldn’t be shocking but neither would a loss) are Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria. The U.S. does not want to be drawn into a group with France or the worst-case scenario from the pot, Chile. Lucky for the U.S. if they draw Brazil, Chile is off the table because the other confederation that can have two teams in a group is UEFA.

Pot D: Here is the pot with eight European squads. The U.S. typically fares best against these teams (and in World Cups) played outside of Europe, so there is hope. The greatest hope comes in the form of being drawn into a group with Croatia or Greece. Either would mark a best-case scenario in my book. From there, the U.S. would likely be a toss-up with Bosnia, Russia and maybe even Portugal (though I don’t particularly want to go against Ronaldo). The three worst-case scenarios are the Netherlands, England and Italy in my book, with England being the clearly preferred among those three and the Netherlands being the absolute worst-case scenario.

So breaking it all down, the scenario in which the U.S. would likely be predicted to finish fourth in its group stage and be the absolute worst-case scenario, to me, is a group with Brazil, France and the Netherlands. Spain, Chile and the Netherlands would be nearly as awful as well.

The best-case scenario? That’d have to be Switzerland, Algeria and Greece. The U.S. actually might be favored to win that group. Pretty drastic discrepancy between the two isn’t it?

Stay tuned tomorrow for another post looking at what would be the most equitable groups that could be created for the World Cup…

 

The U.S. is the likeliest loser heading into the World Cup draw

Posted November 21, 2013 by justanothersportsfan
Categories: Soccer

So here’s the problem with the expected draw for the upcoming World Cup, it seriously hurts the U.S.’s chances of advancing out of the group stage. If the pots are created as they were four years ago (and they likely will since it’s the cleanest way to do so), that means the U.S. gets lumped in with other teams from its region plus Asia. What that essentially means is of the 31 other teams in the World Cup, seven teams the U.S. would be a clear favorite to beat are not possible group stage opponents. And let’s be honest, there’s probably only between 10 and 12 teams in the World Cup who the U.S. would be predicted to beat most of the time. So that leaves us with a handful, at most, teams the U.S. should be favored to beat. There are some teams where it’d be a toss up and then many more where they’ll be predicted to lose. Expect the U.S. to draw into a group – unless they are extremely lucky – where they are predicted to finish third or fourth in the group. Getting out of the group stage for the U.S., at this point, is something that would be a huge surprise to me. Again, let’s hope those celebrities picking the groups bring some luck to the U.S.

On the flip side, I can imagine that every other team not in the U.S.’s pot for the draw are praying they don’t draw the U.S. because they are the clear class of that group. What does this all mean? It means the odds going into the draw are the U.S. will be drawn into the Group of Death simply because the U.S. is in the group. Strange, but true.
An upcoming post will take a look at the likely pots and break down which teams the U.S. would love to draw and which it will pray it does not draw. We’re just a few weeks away from going through this process for real when we can find out just how much luck the U.S. will get for WC2014.

NHL Predictions (and More)

Posted October 6, 2013 by justanothersportsfan
Categories: Hockey

I’m a couple of days late to the party but I wanted to get these out in the first week of the season. There’s not much to it and they are pretty self explanatory. Here are my division predictions for the NHL season that has just kicked off:

 

Atlantic:

1. Boston

2. Detroit

3. Ottawa

4. Montreal

5. Toronto

6. Tampa Bay

7. Buffalo

8. Florida

In the Atlantic Playoffs:

Round 1: Boston over Montreal

Round 1: Detroit over Ottawa

Round 2: Detroit over Boston

 

Metropolitan Division

1. Pittsburgh

2. NY Rangers

3. Washington

4. NY Islanders

5. Philadelphia

6. Carolina

7. New Jersey

8. Columbus

In the Metropolitan Playoffs:

Round 1: Pittsburgh over NY Islanders

Round 1: Washington over NY Rangers

Round 2: Pittsburgh over Washington

Eastern Conference Championship: Pittsburgh over Detroit

 

Central Division

1. Chicago

2. St. Louis

3. Minnesota

4. Winnipeg

5. Colorado

6. Dallas

7. Nashville

In the Central Division Playoffs:

Round 1: Chicago over Winnipeg

Round 1: St. Louis over Minnesota

Round 2: Chicago over St. Louis

 

Pacific Division

1. Los Angeles

2. San Jose

3. Vancouver

4. Anaheim

5. Phoenix

6. Edmonton

7. Calgary

In the Pacific Division playoffs:

Round 1: Los Angeles over Anaheim

Round 1: San Jose over Vancouver

Round 2: Los Angeles over San Jose

In the Western Conference Final: Los Angeles over Chicago

Stanley Cup Final: Los Angeles over Pittsburgh

 

Some random notes:

The Metropolitan division is the toughest top to bottom. It definitely has the most depth.

The Central division is the weakest. After Chicago and St. Louis it’s a total jumble back of mediocrity and worse. There is a real chance that five teams come out of the Pacific and only three from the Central. Phoenix could sneak in there.

16 vs. 14 teams in each conference really is the dumbest thing ever. Didn’t we just go through MLB instituting inter-league play year round because of how unfair it was to teams that one league had 16 teams and the other had 14 and some divisions had more teams than the other? Yes, we did. NHL executives: Way to be about 20 years behind the curve. Good job. Fix it or add your two expansion clubs everyone knows you want. Quebec and Seattle seem the most logical options. Seattle slots into the Pacific division. And honestly, send Detroit back to the central – they could use another good team – and put Quebec in the the Atlantic (I use the division names only because I have to – they are dumb too). With the balance of schedules Detroit’s travel won’t suck as much as it used to when they were in the West and whined their way into moving to the east. You could move Columbus back to the Central but that would precipitate moving a team from the Atlantic to the Metropolitan to get Quebec in the Atlantic then.

I have broken down how divisions should look with 32 teams, but since I’m headed down that rabbit hole again, here we go again (by the way this is an inexact science and one that is not easily completed because so many teams play in the eastern third of the continent) with TWO options:

A brief playoff idea before we jump in. There will not be two conferences any longer. With 32 teams and four divisions of eight, each division will play the first two rounds of the playoffs against each other and then for the final four they will either be re-seeded all in a pot together with 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 or there will be a rotating, pre-determined order for which division plays which in the final four. I mean they could stick with two conferences if they want, but I think this way would be more fun and would result in more excitement in the already exciting NHL playoffs (it’s just a thought).

Northeast Division:

1. Boston

2. Quebec

3. Ottawa

4. Montreal

5. NJ Devils

6. Buffalo

7. NY Rangers

8. NY Islanders

South Division

1. Tampa Bay

2. Florida

3. Carolina

4. Washington

5. Nashville

6. Columbus

7. Dallas

8. St. Louis

Central

1. Pittsburgh

2. Philadelphia

3. Chicago

4. Minnesota

5. Winnipeg

6. Detroit

7. Colorado

8. Toronto

Pacific Division

1. Los Angeles

2. San Jose

3. Vancouver

4. Anaheim

5. Phoenix

6. Edmonton

7. Calgary

8. Seattle

 

ALTERNATIVE OPTION:

North Division:

1. Toronto

2. Quebec

3. Ottawa

4. Montreal

5. Buffalo

6. Detroit

7. Boston

8. Chicago

Atlantic

1. NJ Devils

2. NY Rangers

3. NY Islanders

4. Pittsburgh

5. Philadelphia

6. Washington

7. Carolina

8. Columbus

South-Central (this is why division names in the NHL shouldn’t be geographic because you can fit everyone together properly into geographies)

1. Tampa Bay

2. Florida

3. Nashville

4. Dallas

5. St. Louis

6. Minnesota

7. Phoenix

8. Colorado

Pacific Division

1. Los Angeles

2. San Jose

3. Vancouver

4. Anaheim

5. Winnipeg

6. Edmonton

7. Calgary

8. Seattle

 

After that exercise, I realize the NHL would be a heck of a lot easier and simpler and make much more sense with just one NHL team in the state of Florida. It’s not going to happen, but replacing the Panthers with a team literally anywhere else in the U.S. of Canada would make this a lot easier to figure out with 32 teams.

 

 

 

As for if they stick with 30 teams, here would have been a better option that what they went with (and with everyone playing each other at least twice, it’s not like you’d diminish rivalries or make drastic changes to the fabric of the game):

This assumes 15 teams in each conference. Top three teams in each division plus two wildcards (just as the NHL has it now) would make the playoffs. And here would be more predicted order of finish as well

Northeast

1. Boston

2. Pittsburgh

3. Detroit

4. Ottawa

5. Montreal

6. Philadelphia

7. Toronto

8. Buffalo

Ottawa and Montreal would get the two wildcards with only three teams coming out of the Atlantic Division.

Atlantic

1. NY Rangers

2. Washington

3. NY Islanders

4. Tampa Bay

5. Carolina

6. New Jersey

7. Florida

(Look it’s an Atlantic division where every team is in a state that borders the Atlantic Ocean!!! – including DC being part of the area of Maryland/Virginia)

Eastern Conference Playoffs:

Round 1: Boston over Montreal

Round 1: NY Rangers over Ottawa

Round 1: Pittsburgh over Detroit

Round 1: Washington over NY Islanders

Round 2: Pittsburgh over Boston

Round 2: NY Rangers over Washington

Conference Final: Pittsburgh over NY Rangers

Central Division

1. Chicago

2. St. Louis

3. Minnesota

4. Columbus

5. Winnipeg

6. Colorado

7. Dallas

8. Nashville

Pacific Division

1. Los Angeles

2. San Jose

3. Vancouver

4. Anaheim

5. Phoenix

6. Edmonton

7. Calgary

Western Conference Playoffs:

Round 1: Chicago over Columbus

Round 1: St. Louis over Minnesota

Round 1: Los Angeles over Anaheim

Round 1: San Jose over Vancouver

Round 2: Chicago over St. Louis

Round 2: Los Angeles over San Jose

Conference Final: Los Angeles over Chicago

Stanley Cup Final: Los Angeles over Pittsburgh

 

See how obviously easy that is … I mean it makes too much sense. And Philly and Pittsburgh would still play three or four games each against the NY-area teams because they are in the same conference instead of playing four or give each by being in the same division. This my friends is what the NHL should have done with 30 teams. But nope, why do the LOGICAL thing?


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