Friday, June 16, 2006

Hershey wins the Calder Cup

The Hershey Bears scored three goals in the opening 12:38 of the match as they captured the Calder Cup with a 5-1 win over the Milwaukee Admirals on Thursday night. The Bears, an affiliate of the Washington Capitals, won the best-of-seven American Hockey League championship in six games.
This is the first year Hershey has been affiliated with the Capitals, and it bodes well for their development system that so many of the team's young prospects — many of whom were acquired in GM George McPhee's veteran purge circa two/three years ago — contributed so much in the AHL playoffs.

Congratulations to Washington owner Ted Leonsis, as this may be as close to a professional hockey championship as he'll get (in the near future).

Speaking of Leonsis he's been weighing in often about all of his professional sports teams, including the Bears, and as the only NHL owner with his own blog, it's always interesting to get his perspective. Understandably, like a pround parent, he gets a little defensive when the media writes about his clubs.

Back in early June, when Hershey first qualified for the Calder Cup final, Leonsis had said he wasn't thrilled with the fact one Washington Post article quoted an unnamed scout who was critical of the organization's prospects:
Both George McPhee, the Washington Caps GM, and I spoke on the record with the reporter for this article, so I have to admit that I am disappointed to see that the writer decided to quote an unnamed scout from another team, questioning the potential quality of our players. The way I look at it is if you're going to criticize someone, you should at least be willing to take responsibility for your comments.
And here's what was said in the Post article:
An NHL scout who last summer was skeptical of Washington's prospects said the Bears' postseason success has forced him to reconsider his outlook, although he doesn't predict any of them to become stars at the next level.

After rookie of the year candidate Alex Ovechkin, "I don't think they have a blue chip per se, but they have a lot of players who are going to play [in the NHL], like [forwards Matt] Pettinger and [Brian] Sutherby did this year," said the scout, who requested anonymity because he doesn't want to harm future dealings with the Capitals. "I don't know if any of them will be all-stars, but they have the potential to be above-average players."
I understand where Leonsis is coming from, I do. There's a general backlash against anonymous sources of any kind in mainstream political coverage, and that's something that's translated recently over to sports journalism.

If you don't like what's being said, it's an easy out to blame the anonymous source.

Two points here, one more lengthy than the other:

a) Scouting's a notoriously secretive gig. Teams are, of course, in competition for the same pool of prospects, and any 'trade' secrets are always off-limits. Criticizing other teams is also a no-no, given that speaking out offers little benefit and could potentially hinder relations on a higher level between GMs.

It's also a matter of protecting team secrets: One team's evaluation of the Capitals prospects may differ from another's, and if your competition does see blue-chip talent in Hershey, why warn them otherwise?

I'm really a strong believer in having scouts' voices when you're talking about prospects, as aside from coaches, they're the only ones watching these guys play every night. Scouts are also unbelievably talented at what they do, and could probably detail the curvature of Tomas Fleischmann's stick. That's the kind of expertise you want, whether you're the reader or the reporter.

b) This anonymous scout isn't really being all that critical, and the article itself could potentially border on a puff piece without his comments. (This is very, very positive stuff, for the most part.) Yes, it's a promising development for the Capitals that Hershey is doing so well, but there needs to be some balance in a piece like this.

Besides, if Leonsis wants someone to put their name to this opinion, I'll gladly backup what this scout is saying. I talked about the Bears prospects earlier, saying I liked a lot of what's there, but these aren't blue-chip kids. Aside from Kris Beech, who was taken seventh overall in 1999 (seven years ago), the huge majority of the Capitals prospects playing for Hershey are all late, late first-round picks — the product of unloading the teams veterans in exchange for excellent team's top picks. (Speaking of Beech, he's from the same part of the world as myself and played a lot of pre-junior hockey against friends of mine. At that level, he was phenomenal.)

Of that group of players, two-time WHL 50-goal scorer Eric Fehr is likely the best of the bunch, and even he is a step below bonafide elite prospects like Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf (who faced off frequently against Fehr in junior). 60 points is probably a ceiling for him in the big leagues.

Still, I really like what the Bears do have, and guys like Mike Green and Brooks Laich are going to play a big part in the Capitals future successes. Besides, with a player like Ovechkin already, how many blue chippers does a team need?


At 2:44 p.m., June 16, 2006, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

Vic Ferrari's written a lot about this in the past but basically, the more games a guy plays in the AHL starting with about game 1, the less likely it is that he turns into something useful. Good players don't spend teams in the AHL.

I don't know for sure with hockey but I do know that with baseball the best teams in the minors frequently have players who don't do much-they're older, stronger and better but they aren't prospects for the majors. I'd expect the same to be true here.


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