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Are the Caps overrated?

(By Richard A. Lipski - TWP)

I was sitting in Ted Leonsis's office recently, interviewing him for a long-term project, when the subject of this year's squad accidentally came up.

"I don't think we're getting the respect we've earned," Leonsis said. "We have to win a Cup."

Mentally, I sort of chalked this up to the familiar complaint from Caps fans about being slighted by the hockey establishment. But since then, I've heard repeatedly how the Caps are only leading the NHL because of their wretched and pitiable division, or maybe because of their sub-par conference. I was reminded of this again on Saturday night, when Columbus winger R.J. Umberger offered his assessment of Washington's future to the Columbus Dispatch:

"I don't think any team in the West would be overmatched by them. They play the wrong way. They want to be moving all the time. They float around in their zone, looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes. A good defensive team is going to beat them (in the playoffs). If you eliminate your turnovers and keep them off the power play, they're going to get frustrated because they're in their zone a lot."

None of this is new. And look, the "good defensive team" part will never be answered until the Caps manage to win in the postseason with this group and with this style of play. I have no idea if that will happen, and although I think it's an open debate whether you need a defense-first team to win in June, I understand that's the conventional wisdom.

But the suggestion that the Caps are a product of their conference is curious, because when you compare the Caps' points-per-game against Western Conference teams with the rest of the NHL, they still look pretty strong. Check it out:

1. Chicago 1.34
2. San Jose 1.33
3. Phoenix 1.30
4t. Buffalo 1.28
4t. Washington 1.28
6. Detroit 1.23
7. N.Y. Islanders 1.22
8. Vancouver 1.20
9. Nashville 1.16
10. Los Angeles. 1.12
11t. Dallas 1.11
11t. Montreal 1.11
11t. Pittsburgh 1.11
14. Colorado 1.08
15t. Anaheim 1.08
15t. Calgary
15t. St. Louis 1.08
18t. Atlanta 1.06
18t. Ottawa 1.06
20t. Boston 1.00
20t. Florida 1.00
20t. Philadelphia 1.0
23. Columbus 0.95
24. Tampa Bay 0.94
25. Minnesota 0.93
26. New Jersey 0.89
27. N.Y. Rangers 0.83
28. Edmonton 0.67
29t. Carolina 0.61
29t. Toronto 0.61

Washington, as you can see, has averaged 1.28 points per game against the West, which would translate to 100 points over the course of their 78 games thus far. That would have them still leading the East, six points back of San Jose overall. To repeat, if the rest of the NHL got to play regularly scheduled games against the East, and the Caps only played teams from the stronger West (and maintained their current pace against those teams), they would still be challenging for the President's Trophy.

Still, Umberger's complain prompted Greg Wyshynski to muse over at Puck Daddy about whether the playoff system should be reformatted to get more teams in from the stronger conferences. And then I foolishly read the comments, including this one:

Everyone know the Caps sit a top the league only because they collect free points in a pathetic division.

Now, you should never plan your editorial schedule around comments on Yahoo blogs, but this prompted me to do something I've been meaning to do for weeks: compare the Caps' performance against the rest of the league's if you exclude games against Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Florida.

Obviously there are problems with this. We're comparing different number of games. We're not accounting for home-ice discrepancies, or injuries during particular games, or several other factors. But still, here are the point-per-game averages for every NHL team against the 26 teams not named Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Florida. Notice which name is on top.

1. Washington 1.38
2. San Jose 1.36
3. Chicago 1.33
4. Vancouver 1.27
5. Phoenix 1.27
6. Detroit 1.23
7. Pittsburgh 1.22
8. New Jersey 1.20
9. Los Angeles 1.20
10. Ottawa 1.18
11. Buffalo 1.18
12. Nashville 1.16
13. St. Louis 1.12
14. Colorado 1.11
15. Calgary 1.11
16. Anaheim 1.05
17. Dallas 1.05
18. Montreal 1.05
19. Atlanta 1.03
20. Philadelphia 1.03
21. Minnesota 1.03
22. Boston 1.00
23. N.Y. Islanders 0.98
24. N.Y. Rangers 0.98
25. Carolina 0.95
26. Florida 0.92
27. Columbus 0.91
28. Toronto 0.87
29. Tampa Bay 0.87
30. Edmonton 0.68

Maybe the Caps flame out in the first round of the postseason. Maybe they need another shut-down D man, or a sturdier guy in net. Maybe Ovechkin disappears under pressure. Maybe they're overrated. Maybe they never win the Cup. But enough with the talk about how they're only leading the NHL because of their sorry division. They've had a fabulous regular season, and it's not because of their division.

(Also, this was all done with a bunch of copying and pasting into Excel; if anything seems amiss, please let me know.)

By Dan Steinberg  |  April 4, 2010; 4:03 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Ted is correct. Caps need to win to get the respect they deserve. Otherwise you will have idiots mouthing off with stuff like "they'll lose against the west" and "only good due to weak division". Once the Caps skate with the Cup, the idiots won't have their lame excuses.

Posted by: calhokie | April 4, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Caps need to win the Cup. But they're the best team in the NHL IMO whether they do or not. They've proved it with their play, and they're going to in the playoffs.

SAN loses today, the Trophy is ours!

Posted by: TheSuperhoo | April 4, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Oh please, the Southleast" comments are tired and old. The Caps now play less games within their division than in the past. If the Southeast is really so bad and awful, then the rest of the East should have racked up the points in their games against the Southeast teams. As Caps fans, I think we still worry every year about when it is that they will break out hearts for the season. But this year, it is different. 114 points, currently 17 more than the Devils and the Pens, is NOT due to playing in the Southeast Division. A team doesn't get to finish first in the East just by being "overated," they get there by winning and getting the points.

Posted by: NovaCath1 | April 4, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

The Caps also have a better points percentage vs. the SE (38 out of 46 = .826)than any other Western Conference team that has already clinched a playoff spot than Nashville (13/14 = .928). Oddly enough, Calgary (9/10 = .900) and Columbus (12/14 = .857), are also better.

Posted by: dc_homer | April 4, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Great observations/stats Dan. Thanks.

Posted by: ciwolff | April 4, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

What a pleasure to read. Thanks for the analysis.

Posted by: Capsyoungguns | April 4, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Nicely put. I don't think the Caps are on fire right now, but hopefully they'll be back to normal when the playoffs start.

As for RJ Umberger - he's just bitter cuz his 9-iron serves a bigger role in his life than his hockey stick.........

Posted by: CF11555 | April 4, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

In our sports culture it is the championship that truly defines the great ones. Individual records, regular season records are all part of the body of work, but without at least one championship they are nice to haves along the way to a place in history.

That is not to say a Presidents' Trophy, Division and Conference Championships are not important, because they provide the backdrop of a Championship Caliber franchise, which I believe Mr. Leonsis and GMGM have put in place.

This franchise is being put in the right place to have a spot at the table for years to come when it is time to compete for the Cup (I'm just like most Caps fans when I hope the first one comes to Washington this summer and that can be out of the way).

Posted by: rhollebon | April 4, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse

The Caps play a different style of hockey than most which is less physical (except against the Pens) and more open than other teams. It aggravates and annoys others because they can't keep up with our fast pace

Let them think we are over-rated while we blow through them both in the regular season and playoffs

Posted by: Bious | April 4, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

Bious makes a good point; after just having finished reading "Gabby", BB's style is very specific - offense is essentially always ready to go, preach defensive positioning, start the breaks. It's certainly a far cry from dump-n-chase.

So my question for the more hockey-savvy (a good many of you) is: does BB's style, or does this team resemble any played in the past, and how did THEY do in the playoffs?

Posted by: info_stuporhighway | April 4, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Going into the playoffs #1 in the league AND being under-rated. Are you kidding? I wouldn't want it any other way!

Posted by: Caps2Cup | April 4, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

The Caps now play less games within their division than in the past. If the Southeast is really so bad and awful, then the rest of the East should have racked up the points in their games against the Southeast teams.

Posted by: NovaCath1 | April 4, 2010 6:25 PM |

I totally agree and besides, some of those vaunted western conference teams have crappy records against those weak SE Div teams.

Posted by: LaureninGlenBurnie | April 4, 2010 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Well done Dan, thanks! I have this debate with people all the time. It had merit years ago, but not anymore. Besides, every team in the ATL and NE division play 20 games against the SE division, every year. The division the Caps play in is not relevant in this discussion at all. The Caps have had a fabulous and dominant regular season. It stands all alone on its own merits and deserves the recognition. 4 more games and then the real fun starts. Can't wait!

Posted by: Terpsrule | April 4, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse

1. Didn't Boudreau win a title in the AHL with the same system and some of the same players?

2. Haven't two teams from the Southeast division won Stanley Cups in the last ten years? That's two more than the "vaunted" Northeast division.

Posted by: nhcaps | April 4, 2010 11:00 PM | Report abuse

No surprise here.

Posted by: Barno1 | April 4, 2010 11:05 PM | Report abuse


You need to send that over to drama queen Greg W. You can also tell his attempt to stir up controversy just to get more hits for his website is extremely pathetic. He's become a joke in the hockey world.

Posted by: O-V-P | April 4, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

You can show statistic after statistic that the Caps are as good or better than the teams in the west. People arguing against the Caps only have tangential evidence, like that 4/5 SE teams won't make the playoffs or that the west teams have feasted on the east, but the Caps have played well against nearly everyone. They have also done better against the SE than other teams and better against the east too. It's ludicrous that people still make these arguments, but then we Caps fans need to take the disrespect in stride and let our performance on the ice speak for itself.

Posted by: washcaps | April 4, 2010 11:21 PM | Report abuse

Let's not forget that the Tampa Bay Lighting won a Stanley Cup in 2004 and the Carolina Hurricanes won a Stanley Cup in 2006. What division are they in again? I think it rhymes with the mouthfeast! I'm not saying that the Southeast division is the strongest divison in the NHL but it is certainly unfair to discredit them completely. The Caps have a winning record against the NHL's top 5 teams including comeback victories against Pittsburgh and Chicago (in Chicago and with no Ovechkin). To write the Caps off is certainly an easy thing to do but not the fair (or correct) thing to do.

Posted by: davieglove34 | April 5, 2010 1:20 AM | Report abuse

Regardless of what the Caps points per game outside the division is, that doesn't change the fact that Washington gets to play less games against stronger teams outside the Southeast, and gets to play more games a season within their weak division than other teams do.

Law of averages says their amount of points would undoubtedly be lower if they played in a division like the Atlantic. No one is saying that the Caps don't necessarily deserve the top seed in the East, but you can't argue that their point total isnt inflated

Posted by: eatanotherdonut | April 5, 2010 3:13 AM | Report abuse

"No one is saying that the Caps don't necessarily deserve the top seed in the East, but you can't argue that their point total isnt inflated"


The argument is over the impact of the inflation. The Caps play exactly 6 more games against other teams in the SE. That's it. Every other team in the East plays 4 games against ATL, CAR, and TB. WE play 6 games against them.

That's it. It's a total of 12 possible points of "inflation." In a season with 164 possible points, arguing about the impact of 12 of them like it matters at all is silly.

Posted by: VTDuffman | April 5, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Shorter Agent Steinz: AYHSMB.

(NSFW w/o headphones)

Posted by: EdTheRed | April 5, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I like commenter 59 on the yahoo article.

"To prove part of my point, I actually just whipped up a spreadsheet. In 60 games against the east, the Caps are averaging 4.03 goals per game. In 18 games against the west, the Caps have averaged 3.28 gpg."

Hey dude, 3.28 would still lead the league in goals per game!

Posted by: decoy13 | April 5, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

"The Caps play exactly 6 more games against other teams in the SE. That's it. Every other team in the East plays 4 games against ATL, CAR, and TB. We play 6 games against them."
Posted by: VTDuffman | April 5, 2010 9:20 AM

What about Florida? Sure, they're bad, but those 2 games count the same as the others.

Posted by: Wiley_One1 | April 5, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

just another reason why non-hockey writers should stay away from such superficial analyses

Posted by: cstanton1 | April 5, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Great post, Dan. Very well researched.

Posted by: MarylanDChris | April 5, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Heck of a lot better than Wise, Wilbon, and the rest of the columnists for the Post. Nice work.

Now, if the Caps stay health, step up their play and dispatch their first round opponent in 4 or 5 games, and get some puck bounces their way this spring, maybe the Caps can be a threat in the playoffs.

Posted by: 50Eagle | April 5, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I always like to point out that the SE has won 2 of the last 5 Stanley Cup Finals.

Granted you would have to admit that the SE, minus the Caps, is the worst division this season. On the other hand the Oilers are by far the worst team in the league. So, one could argue, any team playing the Oilers more than once has an advantage over any Eastern team no?

Posted by: keepwastingmoney | April 5, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

If you count the results from games against the top TEN teams in the league, the Caps are something like 11 - 7 - 4. Nuff said.

Posted by: bigpapa_z | April 6, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

The writer quotes RJ Hamburger....ah...Umberger?
This guy plays on a bottom feeder team and has one of the worst + -, never won anything and he's giving advice?


Human nature set in the last while.
What's to play for?
-Run away Division and League champs
-home ice advantage throughut the playoffs,
-and no one wants to get hurt before the Big Show starts.

Caps are better than least year when we took the Pens to game 7.
If they stay healthy, a June parade to come!

Posted by: htgolf | April 6, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

This whole thing is a mixed bag. Yes the Capitals are an amazing team in the regular season, high flying offense put the puck in the net etc. They are not just a product of their division and "lesser conference" which lets remember holds the defending cup champions and 5 of the last 10 have come from our conference as well.

That being said YES the Capitals need to be better defensively and not as reckless with the puck to win a Stanley Cup. They dont need to be a shutdown defensive team but they need to be better. They have gotten better forwards that play 2 way which will help a ton in the post season. They dont need to do the pathetic neutral zone trap like the devils did and to a lesser extent the red wings which totally suck the life out of the game. Stay true to what makes you good, but dont totally give up on the defensive aspect of the game. Mike Green has worked better on his defense and that will help a huge deal. When the playoffs start teams tighten up and defense and goaltending is that much more important is all.

Posted by: Killerangel81 | April 6, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

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