Mercifully. And emphatically.
May it never return.
Here’s its tally sheet: zero Cups won, one playoff series won (barely), zero opponents intimidated. (Ever.) Now, we’ll try something new, which is actually something old, which is actually something quite intrinsic to hockey. And which is actually something quite fun for fans.
Our boys will still score goals in bunches, still run away with another meaningless division title, but they’ll have a little more fun in the corners, and after whistles, and the more physically vulnerable among them will skate with just the slightest increase in comfort, with a sense of a bit of a guardian angel at the near, which can make a lot of difference.
We’ll play hockey again in D.C., beginning this fall.
How swiftly did George McPhee’s acquisition yesterday of St. Louis Blues Tier I toughguy D. J. King change the hockey culture in Washington? Oh, in a few seconds’ time, beginning with the Washington Post’s Tarik El Bashir reaching the newest Capital on the phone and immediately asking him about L’Affair Talbot. Pittsburgh Penguin Max Talbot earlier this week ran his mouth on Pittsburgh radio in the leadup to the Winter Classic kickoff press event at Heinz Field, as any Penguin is qualified and entitled to do when it comes to ‘dissing our captain and our team and not expecting any retribution for it. When informed of this slight the new Cap responded, in effect, ‘Is it New Years Day Yet? Death to punk Francophones in powder blue sweaters.’
Yes, yes, yes, the Caps-Pens rivalry just got a whole lot more fun yesterday. So did hockey nights at Verizon Center this coming winter.
Yesterday’s trade with St. Louis is being characterized by media outside of Washington as “minor,” which is understandable, given the respective NHL experience and production of the two players involved. The trade is anything but insignificant, however, for Washington’s hockey community, and most especially its newest supporters, the arrivals of the past few seasons, who’ve yet to be personally introduced to hockey’s most elemental and enduring attribute: accountability. Also, mayhem shifts as momentum adjustments.
Moreover, McPhee’s move yesterday represents an explicit acknowledgment by management that the 121-pt. regular season Southeast dynamo of last season was flawed. Physically. In just the last two weeks we’ve learned that the head coach and the GM want Big Joe Finley in a Hershey Bears’ sweater this autumn and that the organization was willing to part with a solid young prospect in Stefan Della Rovere in order to secure a Top Cop without much NHL experience. And injury history. That’s a culture change all right.
And all of a sudden the autopsy of the Caps performed on NHL.com last week by Dan Rosen — that the toughening up of the Caps would extend to the team’s blueline — seems a heck of a lot more likely this morning. Bring it on.
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About five minutes after news of the trade rippled through Twitter yesterday and I’d partially digested its impact, I thought about Matt Bradley. I thought about his health and welfare looking ahead, and what this trade most especially meant for that. Last season Bradley, a middleweight, was asked by the Capitals to police, rather singularly, as a heavyweight. His valor was unassailable, his success . . . and in reacting on Twitter I termed what was asked of Brads last season “immoral.” Now Matt Bradley, who is a good and important hockey player in Washington, can concentrate on playing good and important hockey, and also likely lengthen his career.
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This was a good old fashioned hockey trade. By virtue of having Cam Janssen, the Blues didn’t need D.J. King. The Capitals, conversely, were without an enforcer altogether, and possessed quality prospects in such depth that parting with one wouldn’t sting all that much.
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A thought on what might be termed the atrophy of appreciation for hockey’s rugged side, a byproduct, I would allege, of the style of play and roster makeup of recent Capitals’ clubs: It’s telling to me that our advocacy at OFB for a modest injection of toughness in the lineup has been interpreted by some as akin to going Ogie Oglethorpe as a blog.
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I can’t be convinced that there’s anything incompatible between Gabby’s system and carrying out hockey’s code. I saw plenty of old time hockey up in Hershey while Gabby guided the Bears.
I also never believed that George McPhee the manager who recently cited the Detroit Red Wings as evidence that hockey had moved beyond old-style enforcement (the same Wings who employed Brad May last year) experienced some epiphany uprooting him from the very style he played in the NHL. Rather, enforcers who can actually skate and play a bit are a rare commodity today, neither produced in Europe to any degree nor much available in a modern Entry Draft (which explains the buzz that Dylan McIlrath attracted last month in Los Angeles). McPhee simply couldn’t tout a commodity he didn’t possess.
Part of hockey’s healthy evolution over the past decade has included the elimination of the shiftless knucklehead in Bauers. That’s a good thing. But because our game no longer tolerates tacking in the neutral zone, or players crawling up over plexiglass and fighting fans, it doesn’t follow that a legacy component of the game — something in its very DNA — should be eradicated as well.
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You’ve heard of market corrections in real estate and finance. NHL clubs in increasing numbers very recently have made corrections to a market that conspicuously moved away from toughness post lockout. Hockey could use a little more hatred in its present product. I think we’re on a course to return a bit of it back. Maybe Brian Burke deserves a lot of credit for reminding hockey of its double-fisted DNA. But there was simply no way George McPhee was going to dispatch his fineese club to Madison Square Garden this season to face the Rags and their new Boogeyman and have Matt Bradley police the evening. That would have been a slaughter wish.
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The cold hard truth is that only one Capitals’ club has ever advanced to a Stanley Cup finals, and among the regular skaters on that roster were the likes of Mark Tinordi, Brendan Witt, Joe Reekie, Craig Berube, Chris Simon, and Dale Hunter. Not a coincidence, I’d submit. Yes that club caught breaks that postseason, but indisputably they were tough to play against in the only season that counts.
The Capitals’ skaters that I believe ultimately will one day raise high above their heads Lord Stanley’s chalice will have an abundance of high-end skill much like the present Caps do, but they will be joined in battle by a special forces set. Think of this roster as Beauties and the Beasts. A beautifully ugly new beast is packing his bags for D.C. as you sip your morning joe.