Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why Washington Weeps

For the third season in a row a favored Washington Capitals team is knocked out of the NHL Playoffs much sooner than they could have been.  Different teams each time did the trick: The trapping Canadiens, the streaking Lightning, and the eventual champion Penguins.  Each time, though, there have been several constants.  Each one has equal blame for their failure.

It's easy to just lay blame on the players and leave it there but that's only reserved for the occasional upset.  The continual let downs are rooted much deeper than the ice level.  It starts from the top and works it's way down.  Despite a fiercely loyal ownership that stands by it's higher ups the franchise has seen a history of success when it doesn't matter and disappointment when it does.  From the players on ice, the ownership, the coaching, and general management it seems that it's gone stale and they all need a change.

Ted Leonsis
Ted Leonsis is the owner any player would dream of.  Willing to spend anything to make your team win.  If they need it, from equipment to transportation, there is little time before it happens.  A snap of Leonsis' fingers and their wish is granted.  The only problem with Leonsis, though, is his loyalty.

Since 1997 George McPhee has been the general manager of the Washington Capitals.  He's overseen one trip to the Stanley Cup Finals for the Capitals (1997-98), led the Capitals to six division championships, and led a rebuilding effort that saw the drafting of star Alexander Ovechkin as well as the current group of young stars like Mike Green, Niklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Brooks Laich.  With this group, though, he's never made it past the second round.

The success of McPhee does not lend for the need for another general manager in common sense.  The argument for a new one, though, comes with the possibility that the new hire would take a look over the roster without the attachment of a regime that keeps players close and the people behind them even closer.

Bruce Boudreau
Another cog in the wheels of the Capitals is coach Bruce Boudreau.  After replacing Glen Hanlon in the 2007-08 season he's been the mastermind behind the Capitals regular season surges.  He's tried to mold the team from offensive juggernaut to defensive stalwart and has had success.  Until the post season, where it all dwindles away.

Anyone will tell you that things go stale after a while.  Even the best coaches and general managers find their way to being past their prime.  While Boudreau has overseen some fantastic regular seasons he has floundered when it mattered.  His tenure has been plagued by questions of whether the players in the system ever really listened to Bruce or whether he was just the dad controlling the party full of kids after the cake has been served.  Boudreau could find another job while the Capitals need a disciplinarian.

The players are the fourth spoke in this wheel.  The spotlight lands on Alex Ovechkin, team captain.  His off the ice exploits are well known.  Speeding, recklessness, carelessness, partying.  Hockey seems to take a back seat to celebrity for Ovechkin.  While this may just be outsider perception, to outsiders perception is reality.  Changing his ways could go a long way to seeing greater success for Washington.  While it's easy to blame Ovechkin it should be pointed out that he's not entirely at fault.

Alexander Ovechkin
Several players seem to disappear come playoff time for the Capitals.  It's largely part of their core, too.  It's time to juggle this aspect of the team.  There are certain people you keep no matter what.  Ovechkin, Backstrom, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Semin are five people you keep as the core.  The trades for Jason Arnott and Scott Hannan as well as the recent signing of Mike Knuble were steps in the right direction.  The over emphasis on skill is the wrong direction.  More grit, more grime is what succeeds in the NHL in the playoffs.

Further, they have three blue chip goalies in the system: Michael Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov, and Braden Holtby.  All are under 23.  Choose two and send one on.  They will bring home someone of need, like a first line center.  The bigger the shake up the better it would be for the Capitals.  New blood means a new breed.

A new GM, a new coach, releasing the reigns for the owner, a large overhaul of player personnel.  These changes are not something that can happen all over night.  It takes time and that's not always a luxury in the modern NHL.  The demand to win now with a young group of talented players in the salary cap era puts the onus on immediate results.  For a fan base who has seen four early exists, three before their time, it may be asking too much.  The end game, though, would be more than worth the time it took to get there.

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