The King(s) Is Dead

Three years ago, I was sitting in my friend John’s car when Kings Of Leon’s “Sex On Fire” came on the radio. As Caleb Followill reached the climatic chorus, John, a lifelong Washington Capitals fan, changed the words, substituting the word “Stecks” for “sex” in honor of David Steckel. We both got a good chuckle out of it.

As the song ended, I told him that we should perform “Stecks On Fire” at the nearest karaoke bar under the name “Kings Of Leonsis.” It was only meant to be another joke, but it would soon become a lot more than that.

Flash forward to one year later. I was working as an intern in the music department at Sirius XM Satellite Radio. One day, I was approached by a fellow intern who shared my love of sports. Jack Anderson, already a huge Washington Redskins fanatic, brought to me an idea about starting a blog covering the Caps.

Already planning a career in entertainment journalism, I was unsure at first. Jack understood and told me that he probably would not do it anyways because he did not have a good enough name for the blog. My horrible pun (which has become a calling card of sorts for me) from one year before reappeared. I offered “Kings Of Leonsis” to Jack just as long as if and when someone thought it was funny, he would tell them about his friend Adam who came up with it. Jack attempted to convince me one more time. This time, I listened.

What started purely as a way to procrastinate during our internship has since brought us both to heights that neither of us could have ever imagined two years ago. Jack left KOL one year ago to pursue other ventures. And as I write this post, I have decided to do the same.

In the past two years, I have done things that I used to think were impossible. I was fortunate enough to earn the trust and respect of my peers and – most importantly – my readers. I was able to cover games on a regular basis and travel with the team to do so. People actually wanted to hear (well, read) what I had to say, which is something I still struggle to comprehend to this day.

Since taking a job with NBC Washington covering all D.C-area sports, I have noticed that I have less time to devote to KOL. With other opportunities hopefully on the way, I feel it is best to retire the “Kings Of Leonsis” name out of respect to the hard work and dedication that Jack, Reed, Katherine and myself have put into it over the past two years. I would rather end things on a high note than let it fade away.

Of course, there are plenty of people who must be thanked for helping KOL grow. First, I would like to thank SB Nation’s Mike Prada and the rest of the SB Nation D.C. staff for welcoming me two years ago, giving me another platform to earn respect and credibility while also living my dream of covering hockey. I will never forget November 28, 2010, when I earned my first credential. I have SB Nation to thank for that.

I would also like to thank Ted Starkey, Brian “Homer McFanboy” Murphy, Dave Nichols and Sky Kerstein for being invaluable mentors. Without their tough love and guidance (which I still rely on to this day), I would be lost.

Another big thanks goes out to Jon Press of Japers’ Rink for linking to our work from Day One. Admittedly, most of our traffic comes for his site, which is simply the best there is. Same goes to the talented Russian Machine Never Breaks crew and the highly-respected On Frozen Blog staff for welcoming us with open arms.

Jack deserves a lot more than a simple “thank you.” Without him, there is no me. Simple as that.

Of course, the Caps’ public relations staff also deserves much gratitude for granting me access to the team I love to write about. But most importantly, the most heartfelt appreciation goes out to every person who ever read one of my posts, responded to one of my tweets and made me feel welcome. Without readers, there is no point to writing. I am forever grateful for the opportunities that you have given me.

This might sound a lot more maudlin than it needs to be, but it is difficult to end something you have spent two years trying to build. I, however, am not going anywhere. You can still find my writing on NBC Washington and I plan to contribute to other prominent Caps-centric blogs from time to time. There are also a ton of new and exciting Caps blogs out there that deserve your attention. Seek them out. They are worth the time.

The King may be dead, but it will forever live in me as the birthplace of what I hope is a fulfilling life as a writer.

But no matter what, my text will always be on fire.

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Thomas Wilson Ready To Make Impact In Capitals Organization With Size, Tenacity

Already standing 6’4″ and weighing 203 pounds, Washington Capitals first-round draft pick Thomas Wilson was asked if he felt like he had any more growing to do.

“I still think I’ve got a lot of filling out to do,” Wilson said shortly after being selected by the Caps with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft Friday. “I think I might be done growing, but definitely some big muscle to put on and fill out.”

The towering and raw 18-year-old right winger (for what it is worth, he said that 215 pounds or “maybe a little bit heavier” would be an ideal playing weight) might be a few years from competing for a roster spot in Washington, but if he makes it to that point, Wilson would give the Caps something they have been missing in recent years: a shift-disturber who is the type of player that teams love to have, but hate to play against.

Wilson, who missed time last season with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League with a broken knuckle he suffered in a fight, earned the distinction of being the “Best Body Checker” in the 2012 OHL Western Conference Coaches Poll and came in second in the “Hardest Worker” category. He throws his weight around in the dirty areas, especially in the corners and in the crease. Meanwhile, his 141 penalty minutes were ninth-most in the OHL.

Yet, Wilson’s game is not solely confined to agitating. Coincidentally, his style of play is similar to that of his favorite NHL player: Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic. Lucic compliments his rough-and-tumble attitude with an underrated, yet unpolished offensive skillset and Wilson does much of the same; Wilson scored nine goals and earned 27 points in 49 regular season games to go with seven goals and 13 points in 13 playoff games last season.

“I think most noticeably for me, it’s my big, physical game,” Wilson said when asked what his biggest strengths are. “I’m a big power forward and create space for my linemates. I like the physical play and don’t shy away from it, but I think I’ve got some offensive potential to come in the next few years.”

Wilson said Friday that he met with the Caps brass at the scouting combine earlier this month and again this week in Pittsburgh. General Manager George McPhee also received the blessing of former head coach Dale Hunter, who coached against Wilson’s Whalers as coach of the London Knights.

“Dale liked him a lot,” McPhee said. “Dale was over this morning, we talked a lot about him. What we liked about him is he scored before he got to junior. He’s played a couple years of junior now, he’s been on Team Canada’s clubs overseas. In the playoffs this year, a couple guys got hurt, they moved him up the lineup and he responded with seven goals. There’s a chance he can be a pretty effective player.”

“We get a guy that can play and he’s tough, too,” McPhee continued, adding that Wilson is a project that will need a lot of work to get him where they need him. “It’s a harder and harder thing to find in our league now, but this guy might be able to do it.”

Wilson will likely return to Plymouth next season as he continues to develop into a NHL-ready two-way power forward, but the possibility of having his own Caps jersey instead of his Alex Ovechkin jersey is a thought that excites him.

“I had his jersey when I was younger,” Wilson said with a laugh. “He’s really fun to watch. It’s gonna be cool to meet him when I do and if I do. It’s pretty exciting to be playing with guys like that.”

“I’m thrilled,” he continued. “Never been to Washington. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard it’s a great city. They got a great pick in [11th overall pick Filip] Forsberg, so I’m really looking forward to going to [development] camp and getting to know the organization.”

Thanks to SB Nation D.C.’s Ted Starkey for providing the audio.

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Mike Ribeiro’s Arrival Provides Capitals With Elusive Second-Line Center, Structure

The Washington Capitals making draft day trades has become an annual occurrence. Entering Friday’s first round, the Caps had been involved in NHL Draft transactions for four consecutive years, bringing them players like John Carlson (2008), Philipp Grubauer (2010) and Troy Brouwer (2011).

Friday, the Caps continued that trend, acquiring forward Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward prospect Cody Eakin and a 2012 second-round draft pick (No. 54), which also continued General Manager George McPhee’s trend of being incredibly thrifty. Yet, what separates Ribeiro’s arrival from those that preceded him in recent years is that his will make arguably the biggest impact in Washington by shoring up the team’s weakest link: second-line center.

At 32 years old, Ribeiro is a seasoned and cagey veteran who is an elite playmaker and proven scorer; he has amassed eight consecutive seasons of at least 51 points, including 63 points last season, which is more than any of Washington’s hopeful second-line solutions from last season – Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson – have ever earned throughout their respective careers. He has exceptional vision, soft hands and even adds an agitating presence to a team that has sorely lacked all three at different points throughout the last several seasons.

“We wanted to add a little bit of skill to our lineup,” McPhee said Friday. “I just didn’t like the way we played in the playoffs. We’ve got some big gritty forwards and we just wanted to put another skilled guy in the middle of it to see if it helps. I think it makes our team immediately better.”

Ribeiro’s arrival will allow the Caps to better structure their entire lineup. Laich will be able to focus on being a shutdown center or winger on one of Washington’s checking lines, while Johansson could return to the wing, where he saw plenty of time during the end of the season. Ribeiro will also help establish a more potent second power play unit as well as add another shootout specialist to join Matt Hendricks.

“He’s got skill, makes plays and he’s a pretty good shootout guy, too,” McPhee said, adding that he pursued Ribeiro during the trade deadline last season to no avail. “We think he’s a one or two center in this league.”

“I like being able to have a coach craft different lineups for different teams,” McPhee said. “I loved the way Brooks played in the playoffs [at second-line center]. It’s nice to know he can do it again, but to find that kind of skill, I’m looking forward to watching [Ribeiro].”

With Washington’s likely long-term solution at second-line center – Evgeny Kuznetsov – staying in Russia for at least two more years, perhaps Ribeiro is just another proverbial band-aid; Ribeiro is under contract for one more season with a salary cap hit of $5 million. Yet, unlike other similar experiments such as Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger and Tomas Fleischmann, Ribeiro is a player that can make an immediate impact as a purely offensive player.

The NHL Draft is the one weekend every year where NHL teams can prepare themselves for the future. With the arrival of Ribeiro, however, the Caps have proven once again that that same weekend can be as much about the present.

Thanks to SB Nation D.C.’s Ted Starkey for providing the audio.

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Capitals Select Filip Forsberg With 11th Overall Pick, Take Tom Wilson With 16th Pick

With the 11th and 16th picks in the 2012 NHL Draft, the Washington Capitals selected Swedish forward Filip Forsberg and Canadian forward Tom Wilson.

Forsberg being available at No. 11 definitely came as a surprise as he was one of the highest-rated forward prospects in this year’s draft class; NHL Central Scouting had him ranked No. 1 on its list of European Skaters, while The Hockey News had him listed at No. 2 overall and TSN at No. 3.

At 6’2″ and 181 pounds, Forsberg is a power forward that is strong on his skates and possesses a deceptive shot release. TSN scout Craig Button sums up Forsberg’s ability in one sentence: “With a playmaking center, he could be a prolific scorer in the NHL.”

Forsberg, however, is just 17 years old and confirmed Friday that he will stay in Sweden for at least one more year to further develop (he has one year remaining on his current contract with Leksands IF of  Swedish league Allsvenskan). When Forsberg does arrive in Washington, however, he could make a huge impact as a top-six forward.

Meanwhile, the Caps added some toughness in Wilson, who is an imposing force at 6’4″ and 203 pounds. Ranked No. 15 among North American Skaters by NHL Central Scouting, the right winger scored nine goals and added 18 assists in 49 games with Plymouth of the OHL. Wilson is a tough, two-way forward “who makes opponents very uncomfortable when he’s on the ice,” according to Button. He makes his presence felt in the dirty areas: in the corners, along the boards and in front of the net.

If you need any more convincing on what kind of player Wilson is, he listed his favorite player in the NHL as Boston Bruins bruiser Milan Lucic.

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Capitals Acquire Mike Ribeiro From Stars

The Washington Capitals have acquired forward Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Cody Eakin and a 2012 second-round pick (No. 54).

Ribeiro, 32, earned 63 points (18 goals, 45 assists) in 74 games last season for the Stars, his eighth-consecutive season of 50-plus points. He has been a member of the Dallas organization for six seasons – having earned an All-Star selection in 2008 – and is under contract for one more season with an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

Eakin, one of Washington’s top forward prospects, appeared in 30 games for Washington last season, scoring four goals and adding four assists.

With this trade, the Caps have finally solidified the second-line center position that has gone unfilled since Sergei Fedorov left at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season.

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George McPhee, Capitals Must Trade For Second Line Center This Summer

The second-line center position has been the proverbial white whale for the Washington Capitals since Sergei Fedorov left at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season. Since then, the Caps have seen Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, Tomas Fleischmann, Jason Arnott, Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson try and ultimately fail to provide a long-term solution behind Nicklas Backstrom.

With the Caps holding two picks in the first round of the NHL Draft Friday, free agency looming July 1 and the hopeful long-term fix – Evgeny Kuznetsov – not available for at least two years, the aforementioned white whale has transformed into the elephant in the room: Washington will go another season without a second-line center if they do not trade for one.

Despite having the 11th and 16th overall selections in this weekend’s draft, it is unlikely that either of them will make an impact in Washington for at least two seasons. Meanwhile, the depth of unrestricted free agent centers this summer is incredibly shallow. Phoenix Coyotes center Daymond Langkow ($4.5 million salary cap hit last season) saw time at second-line center last season, but he was pushed down to the fourth line after the team acquired Antoine Vermette from the Columbus Blue Jackets; Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll ($3.6 million) is a solid third-line center that can adequately fill in at 2C, but quite frankly, after winning the Stanley Cup this season, re-signing is the likeliest option.

Calgary Flames center Olli Jokinen ($3 million) is inconsistent at best and is certainly not the scorer that he used to be, while Buffalo Sabres center Jochen Hecht ($3.525 million) is recovering from a concussion. Coincidentally, it looks like Arnott may actually be the best available free agent option at center, which, after a injury-plagued season with the St. Louis Blues, is saying something.

Making a trade is necessary and it should be one that removes General Manager George McPhee from his comfort zone. There might not be a more thrifty general manager in the NHL than McPhee, who has the uncanny ability to turn nothing into something (after all, he acquired Fedorov for Theo Ruth). Yet, if McPhee wants to dramatically improve his club by finally filling a huge hole, he must make a big splash.

The most valuable pieces to do just that are both first-round draft picks and Mike Green’s negotiating rights. Trading away Green, a restricted free agent, might be a risky move because of what looks to be the inevitable departure of Dennis Wideman, but the Caps have puck-moving defensemen in John Carlson, already on the top pairing with Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov, who could step into a larger role (not to mention that there is a shortage of quality unrestricted free agent offensive defensemen). Any combination of the draft picks and Green’s right could fetch the elusive second line center that has disconfigured Washington’s depth chart for three years.

When asked June 14 what he felt were the Caps’ biggest needs, McPhee did not budge, saying that “if I tell you that, then that’s all we’re gonna hear about for the next two months.” Perhaps McPhee had a point, but if he does not make an effort to rip the band-aid off the second-line center position and continues to look for the short-term fix, he is going to be hearing about it for a lot longer than that.

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An Informal Guide To The Capitals’ 2012 NHL Draft

The 2012 NHL Draft is just days away and the Washington Capitals will be very busy. The draft can solve a lot of problems, but it can also provide more questions than answers. With that being, below is a FAQ of sorts regarding the Caps and this year’s NHL Draft.

First things first. When is the NHL Draft?

It begins Friday at 7 p.m. with the first round live on NBC Sports Network. Rounds two through seven begin Saturday at 10 a.m. and will be broadcast on NHL Network.

Looks like I’ve got my weekend plans already. Where is it being held?

This year’s draft will originate from CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Obviously, the NHL did not consult with Caps fans on that decision.

How many selections will the Caps have?

As of now, the Caps have a league-high 11 draft picks, which is more than they had in the last two years combined (10).

Eleven? That’s a lot. Are they good ones?

It looks that way. The Caps have multiple first-round draft picks for the fourth time since 2004 and the first time since 2008, when they selected Anton Gustafsson at No. 21 and John Carlson at No. 27.

Anton Gustafsson? Who’s that?

Well, Gustafsson is the son of former Cap Bengt-Åke Gustafsson, but unlike his father, Anton never played for the Caps. He was more or less a bust.

Anyways, back to the draft picks…

Right. The Caps will select 11th and 16th, the former pick coming from the Colorado Avalanche as part of the Semyon Varlamov trade last summer. The 11th selection is Washington’s highest since 2007 when Karl Alzner was the fifth overall pick; the Caps’ last four first-round picks have been 21st or later.

The remaining selections are as follows:

  • No. 54 (second round; acquired from Colorado via Boston in the Varlamov trade)
  • No. 77 (third round)
  • No. 100 (fourth round; acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in the Eric Fehr trade last summer).
  • No. 107 (fourth round)
  • No. 137 (fifth round)
  • No. 167 (fifth round)
  • No. 195 (seventh round; acquired from the Calgary Flames in a trade for Keith Seabrook’s rights in 2009)
  • No. 197 (seventh round)
  • No. 203 (seventh round; acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Tomas Vokoun trade June 4)

Have the Caps ever selected 11th overall?

Yes, once. Washington snagged defenseman Brendan Witt at No. 11 in the 1993 NHL Draft.

What about at 16th?

The Caps have actually never had the 16th pick before.

So I know where the Caps are picking, but the better question is who are they going to pick?

If I knew that, then I would not be writing from my parents’ basement (I actually write from my own room in my own apartment; I never even had a basement growing up, but this isn’t about me). Anyways, what I can tell you is that this year’s draft is more defense-heavy, which, while important, is not necessarily the Caps’ biggest need.

Since becoming general manager in 1997, George McPhee has used 10 of his 19 first-round selections on forwards. Washington’s prospect pipeline is thinnest at forward (particularly top-six forwards), so bulking up that area should be on top of Washington’s priority list.

Yet, according to McPhee, the Caps’ draft policy has always been to “take the best players” regardless of position, so that will be the theme of the weekend.

Is it possible that Washington will trade any of their draft picks?

Of course. Based on McPhee’s comments Thursday, however, the Caps’ plan “is to make picks.” McPhee was not shy in expressing his opinion of last summer’s draft, which he believed was weak (especially around the end of the first round where the Caps were slated to pick at No. 26). Sensing that, the Caps elected to trade that selection to the Chicago Blackhawks for Troy Brouwer.

“Where we were picking [last year], we were concerned with the mock drafts that our scouts were doing that we weren’t going to get a real difference maker at the end of the first round,” McPhee said. “It didn’t look like a top player would fall to where we were picking. That’s why we made the decision to trade the first pick for Brouwer. I thought it was great example of our amateur department working real well with our pro scouting department. We made a decision that worked real well for us.”

“This year, we like the draft a lot,” he continued, adding that he believes that Washington can grab that difference maker that was missing last summer. “We like what we think we can get at 11 and 16. We have a lot of picks this year, so we’ll be making a lot of picks.”

As McPhee reiterated Thursday, Washington’s modus operandi has been to build a team from within: drafting players, developing them in the minor leagues and calling them up when ready. Of the 17 players currently under contract for next season, nine of them were drafted by Washington (three of the four restricted free agents – Carlson, Mike Green and Mathieu Perreault – were also Caps draft picks).

While McPhee did not completely shut down the idea that the Caps could be involved in trades this weekend, it seems more likely that they will hold onto as many picks as they can.

“We’ll see what develops,” McPhee said, noting that making trades is much easier during the summer than during the season because fellow general managers are “far more forthcoming” in regards to their needs. “You have lots of discussion about the draft itself and you have lots of discussion with the teams around the league about what they’re doing with their personnel.”

“I expect more [of that talk],” he continued. “Everybody’s planting their seeds this week and we’ll see what they reap next week as a result. It will pick up as we move along.”

What is the likelihood that any of the draft picks make an immediate impact in Washington?

It is definitely possible that the 11th and 16th picks could do just that (never say never), but more than likely, both of them will see extended time in Hershey. As for the other/later draft picks, most of them will also join the Bears or South Carolina Stingrays, while others may elect to return to juniors or college.

Yet, you will get a chance to see them in action sooner rather than later as they will attend the Capitals Development Camp, which runs from July 9-14 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

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