July 6, 2011
While many people left their offices early on Friday, heading to the beach, airport or even happy hour to celebrate the start of the Holiday weekend, Capitals General Manager George McPhee was hard at work. July 1 marked the first day NHL teams could sign free agents, and McPhee wasted no time switching up the roster.
Semyon Varlamoy, a young goalie and restricted free agent, who at one time seemed poised for greatness with the franchise, was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in one of the first free agency moves. In return, the Caps get a first-round draft pick in 2012, along with a second-round pick in one of the next two years. Varlamoy signed a two-year contract with the Avalanche, which was a relief for those who thought he might opt for a bigger pay day overseas with Russia’s KHL. Caps owner Ted Leonsis commented on the situation referring to Varlamoy simply as “the player”. “I think this is a better deal for us than losing the player to the KHL. The player wanted assurances that we couldn’t make to him,” said Leonsis.
McPhee continued to keep busy over the holiday weekend, acquiring Canadian winger Joel Ward to a four-year $12 million deal and a couple of veterans, Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Halpern. While Hamrlik was the first pick in the 1992 draft and has proven himself a durable defensemen, a two-year contract for a 37-year old could be a risk. Halpern, meanwhile, is a DC area native and veteran forward, having played in the league since 1999 and has signed a one-year deal worth less than $1 million. The biggest boat-rocker of all has been the signing of Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun. Though 35, Vokoun is considered one of the best goal tenders in the league. At least for next season, he will be on Washington’s side.
Leonsis seemed thrilled at the changes, taking again to his blog to discuss the changes with fans. “Did we deliver on our promise to shake up the team so far this off season? A veteran goalie; a center; a wing; another wing; and a D man. Plus a first round and second round pick. All this off season; plus Brooks Laich resigned with us as well. Very productive, don’t you think?” he wrote this morning. He went on to say that he truly values transparency and even credits his fans for the shake-up: “I credit our great fans. The buzz around Kettler Capitals Iceplex and the understanding is that we want to win. We are focused on doing the right things the right way here in Washington. We want a team that can retain and attract top talent now. Thank you. I credit our fans with this great evolution of our franchise.” Leonsis has not been quiet about his desire to bring a championship to DC and its fans, and with the Wizards at the bottom of the basketball rung, the Capitals give him the best chance to not disappoint.
The NBA joined the NFL last Friday, only a few weeks after the 2011 draft. The lockout, like the NFL’s, was caused by an expiration of the league’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), with owners stating the old contracts did not provide them with enough revenue. While the NFL is the most popular sport in the country, with an estimated annual revenue of $9 billion, the NBA’s is far less. Still, players in both sports maintain the leagues are better off than the owners are making it seem.
NBA owners — like all management — have the right to shut down business once a CBA expires, which is basically what is happening in both sports right now. Unlike the NFL, the NBA players association says they do not plan to decertify in an attempt to the lift the lockout. With regular season games not scheduled to begin until late October, the NBA’s players and owners have plenty of time to find common ground.
Since the departure of manager Jim Riggelman, the Nats have stumbled a bit. They are 3-5 under new manager Davey Johnson and have fallen to second to last place in the NL East. They got a boost this past weekend, when they won three of their holiday weekend match-ups. Nats star Ryan Zimmerman sat out the July 4 game against the Cubs with abdominal soreness. While he was willing to play, the team’s new coach, Davey Johnson, didn’t want to take a chance on Zimmerman re-injuring himself. He eventually entered the game in the seventh inning, garnering a walk from his pinch-hitting at-bat, though was replaced by pinch runner Brian Bixler once he got on base.
The Nats lost an early 2-1 lead in the fourth, when the Cubs scored twice and again in the sixth. Sixth and seven inning scores by the Nats tied the score and forced the game into extra innings. Jayson Werth was the hero of the day, scoring on a wild pitch by Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol in the 10th inning. The Nats won 5-4, improving their record to .500 (43-43).