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NHL UFA Begins, Kolzig to Tampa Bay, Huet to Blackhawks, Theodore to CAPS and My “Jimmy” Tribute to “Godzilla”

July 1, 2008

I send a warm and breezy “hello” to all who stumble across this blog. It has been a little more than two months since I have blogged here and now the time has come to get back into the NHL groove. Today is the first day that Unrestricted Free Agents can make their moves. I’m sure there are some very busy people out there in NHL-land today. I’ve made it a habit to spend some time just before July 1 reviewing the news and gossip from around the NHL. Wow – it’s already been an interesting day – to say the least.

My first major bit of commentary is related to my favorite goalie, hockey player in general and athelete on the whole, Olaf “Olie” Kolzig. To go back a little in time, we all know that the Flyers beat the CAPS in overtime to win the 1st round of the playoffs. And then of course, we all know that eventually the Detroit Redwings came out on top and went home with Lord Stanley’s Cup. I’ll probably get to that in another post. For now, I have to go back to April 22, 2008 at this point.

April 22 was the day that the CAPS played game 7 of Round 1 at the Verizon Center (which I still sometimes refer to as the MCI Center) and lost in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers. But, that is but a very small part of the importance of that day to me. April 22, 2008 will always be remembered by me as the last day Olie Kolzig, #37, G, dressed in a Washington Capitals jersey. April 22 was the day that Olie removed his nameplate from the Verizon Center locker room, never to have it returned there again. Of course, it took until a couple of weeks into May for verification from the media that Olie Kolzig had decided not to return as a Washington Capital next season to break. I didn’t really need to read the news or hear the news to know what decision Kolzig would make. Frankly, it was exactly the same decision I would make if I were in his position (or what I know of it anyway).

I have always been straight blunt about my enthusiastic following of “Olie the Goalie’s” 17 year career with the Washington Capitals. As one who knows this can imagine, I am probably as close to as disappointed by the final days of Olie as a CAP as Kolzig is himself. I only wish I could explain how I knew as early as July 2007 that last season would be Olie’s final season as a CAP, but somehow I just knew. That is exactly the reason why I cashed-in my life insurance policy last year to make absolutely certain that I had a season-seat as close to the home-goal as possible. It is true that I had been told by several medical professionals that I was in poor health and I might not be alive for the ’08-’09 season. I used that as my “excuse” for buying my season seat. I may still be gone by the time the new season starts, but really, my purchase was based mostly on the looming “precognition” that last season would be Kolzig’s last as a Washington Capital.

Sadly, I don’t feel any sense of satisfaction in knowing that I went to extraordinary lengths to obtain my season seat behind “Olie’s Net” for what did, in fact, turn out to be Kolzig’s last season as a CAP. Most of my mind was set on hoping I was wrong and that Olie would be returning as a CAP for at least one, if not two more seasons. From what I read in the Post and via Mike Vogel, Olie knew what his decision would be after game 4 of Round 1. I figured it out prior to the playoffs based on an e-mail reply regarding Olie that I received from Majority Owner, Ted Leonsis. Now, as much as I am a fan of Mr. Leonsis, I also have to note that one of his blog entries regarding Olie’s decision not to return to Washington states the he NEVER had anything negative to say about Kolzig. That is not entirely true and using a word like “NEVER” is usually a bad idea in any context.

I send e-mails to Ted Leonsis every-so-often, because he is very receptive to fans thoughts and comments. I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Leonsis and I learn a lot, for free no less, from reading Ted’s personal blog. On one occassion, I sent an e-mail to Mr. Leonsis and in that e-mail I mentioned that Olie should have a statue erected in his honor (my opinion – of course). Ted’s reply to me was not exactly what I expected, but it solidified my thought that I did make the right move in making sure I saw as many home games, from behind the home net as I possibly could last season. Ted stated that Olie “looked like a statue” in front of the net sometimes. So, Ted, to say that you have NEVER said or in this case “wrote” something that surely wasn’t positive about Kolzig is false.

To be fair, I did and still do understand how owning a sports team can be frustrating to no end, so most likely Ted’s “Olie looks like a statue” comment probably stemmed from that frustration. However, I had no doubt after that e-mail that last season would be the last season for good old Zilla. So, now Olie has signed with Tampa Bay for one year.  When last I heard, Olie’s friend and former teammate, Jeff Halpern is also in Tampa Bay. I think he might be out for part or most of the season with a knee injury though. Who knows if he’s even still there at this point?! I personally wish the Kolzig family all the best of luck and happiness in the world. I hope that a single-year contract isn’t too much of a problem, considering that Carson Kolzig needs a good program for autistics to excel. Oh and let’s also hope that one day Olie gets his deserved chance to lift the Stanley Cup above his head and bring it to Tri-Cities where enthusiasts and fans can ogle it properly.

So from here on out, I will still be a full-on, balls-out Washington Capitals fan until I draw my last breath, whenever that may be, but no one should ever expect that I will root for the Capitals if they end up playing a team that starts Kolzig in net. In my world of hockey fandom, “THE KOLZIG” trumps the Capitals every single time. That’s just the way it will be from this point forward. In just the same way that I had unwaivering faith that the Capitals would win their division and make it to the playoffs, I also believe that Tampa Bay is a very lucky NHL team that should do what is necessary to get Kolzig on board for the next two seasons. In today’s NHL, more and more “goalie splitting” will happen and that is exactly the right circumstance for Kolzig to shine as an experienced netminder. I agree with his sentiment that he would not do well as a back-up. He, like a few other notable NHL goalies, needs to play and get into a groove to be at the top of his game. I’ve been a proponent of the “two-starter goalie system” or “split duty” or whatever one might like to call it for many years and I’m certain the trend will emerge like gangbusters, sooner rather than later. GO OLIE KOLZIG GO! YOU ROCK! YOU WILL NOT BE FORGOTTEN IN WASHINGTON DC – N-E-V-E-R!

As for my feelings about Cristobal Huet, Brent Johnson and now, Jose Theadore who was just signed to a two-year contract with the Capitals, I can honestly say that I will have to keep quiet about the entire topic of Washington’s netminding situation for a while, that is, after this blog entry. I think it will be best for me to remain silent until I can address this subject without cussing.

I have nothing against any of the goalies who have donned a Washington Capitals jersey. In fact, I have been a fan of Theadore for some time, even though he isn’t the posterguy for consistency and have grown to  respect and appreciate Huet, who has every right to take whatever deal he chooses, I do, however, hold some unhappiness toward Bruce “Gabby” Boudreau (head coach) and his lack of understanding with regards to the world of goaltending. Granted, Gabby had just what was needed to bring the Capitals to the playoffs as far as the skaters were concerned, but I get the distinct impression that his view of goaltenders depended a little too much on certain results and not enough on the fact that a poor offensive and/or defensive showing from a team can bury even the best of the best of the best of netminders. That particular scenerio happened to Kolzig ONE game too many while Gabby had the reigns last season. Not to mention the holes still remaining in the rules regarding “goalie interference” last season. Let’s all hope that those rules are being reviewed and re-thought even right now as I type. My biggest gripe is the fact that it has been legal to use a team’s own player against his goalie by shoving that player into his own goalie. There were very few officials who actually made that call as “goalie interference”, because technically, it wasn’t. However, there were at least five different playoff games that could have easily swung the other way if “goalie interference” had been called. The last game that Olie suited-up in a Caps jersey is a perfect example of what I am writing about in terms of “goalie interference”. I had my new digital camera with me for that game and I caught the entire incident against Huet, frame by frame. It was a smart play on the Flyers part, but this particular situation should not exist for any player to utilize, smart or not.

With the news of Cujo’s 2-year contract just now settling into my noggin, I have to bring to light my thought that of all the players on a hockey team who need the services of a “sports psychologist” (or to participate in shameless self promotion – SOMEONE LIKE ME), it’s the netminders who end-up with the lionshare of mental stress in today’s NHL. Why most, if not all of the 30 teams don’t have a staff psychologist is beyond me. The simple fact that the Capitals have had a bit of turmoil, depending on who you ask, when it comes to recent goaltending changes, makes the Washington Capitals a perfect candidate team for a sports psychologist. There is usually a way for a great skater to shine, even if the team on which that person plays is far below par. There is usually no way that a netminder can be statistically be better than the team on which that person plays. Goalie stats aren’t necessarily useful in determining the worth or talent when it comes to netminders. Goalies have very specific mental and emotional needs that are much different from a typical skater’s needs. To this very day, I still contend that the Bruce Cassidy and Jagr years would have turned out differently if a sports psychologist were on staff. Obviously, there is no way to prove my contention, but if someone who knows the game, the psyche of the goalie vs. skater, and who is not directly involved with the actual games played were to have reached into Jagr to find his motivation button, or who had been the “flogging post” on which Bruce Cassidy released his frustration, instead of on the players in poor fashion were around, perhaps the locker room would have been a different place before the lockout. Players can talk to each other. Players can talk to coaches. Players can talk to their families. But I sincerely doubt that players actually say what players really need to say to any of those people. A staff psychologist would give all parties involved with an organization the ability to say whatever the heck they wanted to say – outloud – to someone who will at least listen, without the fear of having what was said repeated to anyone. Sometimes that’s all that is needed to change a player’s entire demeanor. I can equate a team psycologist to a “mental safety net” or even a priest, if you like. All teams have staff concerned with the physical and strategic parts of the game. Why don’t they all have at least one staff member who is strictly concerned with team dynamics, and the mental and emotional aspect of being an NHL hockey player? I truly believe that is a valid question. I am also putting out into the virtual world an invitation to ask me why I would be an excellent person for just such a position. I can back-up my “mouth” with results, otherwise I would not have opened my “mouth” in the first place. (End shameless self promotion).

To end my blog today, I will simply write that I am not pleased with the manner in which Olaf Kolzig spent his last month “rockin” the red” and I will have some difficulty accepting next season’s Capitals without Godzilla. I haven’t yet let anything deter me from being a loyal Capitals fan, so I, like Olie and everyone else will move forward with my life (hopefully). However, it is like I have already noted – even if I am at the Verizon Center, wearing a Washington Capitals jersey, I will have no reservations in cheering louder than “Goat” if Kolzig plays as an opponent and shuts the Capitals down. That is a fact. I have started working on painting a couple of full-size Kolzig #37 jerseys on my piece of crap Jimmy truck. Since I have decided to rebuild the Jimmy, named “Fritzy” after my dad, I think a tribute to my favorite athelete is the least I can do and fitting, at least in terms of something that I would do. YOU ROCK ZILLA!

Don’t forget to get your music on and have a good listen to REM’s “Accelerate”. The KOLZIG will always  trump the CAPS! And Ted, I agree that anger is a bad, bad thing – but so is the word “NEVER”. GO CAPS-GO MUSIC-GO OLIE!!!!!


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