Readers React: On Thoroughbreds Being Asked To Be Clydesdales

I’m highly suspicious of the likelihood that the actual jockey for the great Secretariat, Ron Turcotte, is an OFB reader; nonetheless, a commenter identifying himself as such had over the weekend what I regarded as the best reflection related to my Saturday morning cup-a-joe, which dropped the gloves on this stinker of a Caps’ season:

  • “It’s like putting a plow on Secretariat” this commenter said of the Caps’ use of their anti-attack trap, and general stylistic jettisoning of what is intrinsic to the roster: speed and skill.

Wish I had thought of that. But I’m not old enough to personally remember Secretariat’s brilliance!

But what a terrific metaphor. It got me thinking: Why in the world would you invest heavily in a stable of able scouts, deploying them 5,000 or 10,000 miles across the globe, to uncover skilled skating gems like Evgeny Kuznetsev, Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, Cody Eakin, etc., if all you’re gonna do with all that talent is have it sag back in the neutral zone awaiting a counter-attack from a basically stationary position?

What a waste.

George McPhee et al in management want to “copy-cat” the success formulas of preceding Cup winners, few of whom have drafted as well as McPhee and his scouts in recent years. Fine, but don’t bother investing heavily in securing thoroughbreds in the Entry Draft when what’s required of your “copy-cat” system is merely Clydesdales.

Also, be prepared to lower your ticket prices beginning next season — appreciably. Mercifully, only 3 of the Caps’ remaining 31 games are at home against Southeast foes. Imagine marketing this team with this style of play on Tuesday and Thursday nights marching toward spring against a heavy assembly of ‘Talladega Nights’ outposts. The games are already sold out, I know; I would have been curious, however, to see how many ticket holders would have showed up for those affairs the longer this blight of a hockey season remains in place.

The bet here is that the Tampa Bay Lightning are your 2011 Southeast Division winners. Their next road game is February 27. Ten straight at home, while the Caps navigate a February that’s road-intensive and chock full of toughies. Not that this Caps’ club ever has an “easy” evening. By the end of February Tampa ought to have at least a 10-point bulge over the trapping Caps.

The Caps of course won the Southeast last season . . . by 40 points. What do we think of their second-class standing in the Southeast in 2011 when no division rival in the offseason imported Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky in their prime?

* * * * *

No matter what system the Capitals deploy, they’re going nowhere without a reliably productive second-line center. And the market for those over the next 30 days is going to be tight. Quite simply: there aren’t enough out-of-the-running clubs with coveted high-end assets. Seeds one through eleven are tightly packed in the East, and out West it’s even more egalitarian: Edmonton alone is truly out of it, at 38 points. I’m confident the Columbus Bluejackets — 14th in the West right now — aren’t going to qualify for the playoffs, but it’s understandable why Jackets’ management is not. They’re therefore unlikely over the next couple of weeks to part with key personnel. I’d kill to have R.J. Umberger centering the Caps’ second line. He’s a big body — and the Caps desperately need to be bigger down the middle — who can skate and score, and he has a notable Eastern conference pedigree of achievement. He wouldn’t be a rental, and his salary ($3.75 million) isn’t out of line for his position and numbers. Umberger would be my dream acquisition. Fairly notable dropoff in production with say Ottawa’s Mike Fisher, but his entourage would bring some buzz to Kettler morning skates.

But then you confront the problem on the right side of the Capitals’ lineup. Mike Knuble hasn’t looked effective all season long; in fact, he’s beginning to look like most 38-year-old hockey players look in this league. Eric Fehr is on the shelf probably another month, but even when he was healthy he underwhelmed this season. Jason Chimera is, by default, skating on the Capitals’ top line. I think the Capitals need to skate the remainder of the season putting all their chips on the top line (8-19-28), try and make Scott Howson an offer he can’t refuse for Umberger — assuming the Jackets tread water the next three weeks — stash Knuble on the second line, and reassemble the best line of training camp: Chimera-Perreault-Fehr on the third unit. Rookie Marcus Johansson’s minutes and duties are going to have to be managed expertly as the season takes on greater significance; I’ve little confidence in the club doing that, given how they’ve handled MJ90 to date. A Hendricks-Johansson-Bradley fourth line could be fun to watch. I’d dress Dave Steckel as an extra forward and let him take defensive zone faceoffs. (I’ve little use for him in five-on-five play anyway.)

Problem is, as constructed, this hypothetical lineup I’ve posited is one that’d actually be interested in attacking with the puck, in skating, in scoring goals. The current Capitals are not.

This entry was posted in Alexander Semin, Cody Eakin, Columbus Blue Jackets, Eastern Conference, Evgeny Kuznetsev, George McPhee, Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, Matt Bradley, Matt Hendricks, Mike Knuble, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, Southeast Division, Tampa Bay Lightning, Trap hockey, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Readers React: On Thoroughbreds Being Asked To Be Clydesdales

  1. Dougeb says:

    This is somewhat better than your Saturday article.

  2. You’re most gracious, Douge Howser. Now if only my readers and I could get back those 7 seconds it took to click on comments and read your substance-free reflection.

  3. beeman says:

    Still seems that people are avoiding to discuss the elephant in the room. BB was quick to instill the run and gun philosophy when he arrived. “Defense be damned; we’ll outscore em!” He won Coach of the Year honors.
    If the Caps clings to the trap game, is BB the right guy to lead the charge?

  4. Peter from RMNB says:

    I adore the thought here. Still, I wonder if this isn’t a bit post hoc. BB retreated to the trap in December, well after the Caps offense had disappeared. The question now is how to rededicate to an offense system, particularly between the blue lines.

  5. Murshawursha says:

    “The Caps of course won the Southeast last season . . . by 40 points. What do we think of their second-class standing in the Southeast in 2011 when no division rival in the offseason imported Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky in their prime?”

    I’ll dispute that statement to a certain extent. While nobody picked up Gretzky, Atlanta got substantially better at the expense of the Chicago Blackhawks’ salary cap woes, and Stamkos in Tampa is emerging as a bona-fide superstar to rival our own here in DC. So I’m not at all surprised the division is more competitive this year. Not sure I expected the Caps to be looking up at Tampa Bay, but I didn’t expect us to run away with it again, either.

    Aside from that, I agree with the general sentiment here. The Caps’ offense has run away and hid, but… Are we not scoring because of Bruce’s new system, or is Bruce’s new system not working because we can’t score? I tend to lean towards the former, and I’m thinking Bruce’s time here is running out, but I’d be all to happy to plant my foot firmly in my mouth if we win in April and May… If he makes it that long.

  6. PuckNStuff says:

    Great article. Your blog is leading the way and the main stream media has yet to catch on. Most of them are still drinking the trap coolaide and that the Caps are going to be better off once the adjustment period ends.

    The Caps look like they have 4 checking lines out there with this trap system. Its very painful to watch our top two lines dump the puck constantly rather than go for puck posession. Every line now tries to cycle the puck on the boards.

    I do take one difference however. Clydesdales are a part of every successful NHL cup winner. They have a different purpose than thoroughbreds. I don’t consider them worse. You want your clydesdales to shut down and smash your opponents top lines. You want them digging around the boards, and diving in front of the puck on shots. The clydesdales provide grit and character to your team.

    Thoroughbreds make awful clydesdales. To use the analogy, you don’t want a thorougbred pulling a plow, they aren’t built for it.

  7. RJOLSEN10 says:

    There is no question the Caps will be busy come deadline day. However, what kind of player should we be expecting them to deal for? Not necessarilly what position, but what type? Will it be someone who fits in with the type of players that currently fill the roster (i.e. run-and-gun)? Or will it be someone who fills a need in this new “trapping” system? I’m hoping for the former. This new style has yet to win me over and has done nothing but make my Caps harder and harder to watch!

  8. Colin says:

    While getting RJ would be nice, the cost would be prohibitive even if CBJ would consider it. I see a minor trade or two at most come deadline.

    As far as the thoroughbreds analogy goes, I agree that we have our guys hooked to the plow. But they have taken it a step further and tried to push the plow backwards. Other teams are stacking four across and getting sticks on the pucks when we enter the zone. And yet the top lines continue to try and carry it in. I’d love to see our offsides stats for the year. It seems like we are offsides way more than we should be.

  9. PuckNStuff says:

    It seems to me that there are several problems going on now with the Caps.

    The top players are all on a slump still. Although, Ovi and Green seems to be working their way slowly out of it. They are really missing Backtrom, Laich, and Semin’s production.

    Players are continuing to adjust to the new trap system. I think even if they fully buy into the new system, the Caps will be a less dangerous team. This is not something you solve with one or two additions. For the Caps to switch to this new system will require somewhat of a rebuild. At this point, the Caps are only a few losses away from dropping out of the last spot in the playoffs. They are not playing now like a playoff team. Just in the South East, how would you rank them? I think they are only better than the Panthers and about even with the Canes.

  10. TG says:

    So they played run and gun the past three years and had a great regular season and lost (too) early in the playoffs all three years.

    The great chorus went up (including from here I’m pretty sure), “When it’s the playoffs, this style doesn’t work. They can’t win the low scoring games. They need more grit. More toughness. More ugly goals.”

    So BB watched, and listened, and learned, and attempted to adapt. “More focus on defense. Make it so the goalie doesn’t have to bail you out all the time. Make them work harder on offense and it’ll work out better for all of us.”

    And lo, it came true. The defense became much better. The young and untested goalies, with better support from everyone else, made the saves they were expected to and some they weren’t, but didn’t get hung out to dry several times a night. But the offense struggled. Yea, verily, like a plague from above the scorers could not score no matter what they tried. Even strength, man advantage, the superstars with role players, no matter, the lack of scoring was a blight on the game.

    And the fans reacted angrily. “Where is our scoring? What is the team doing?”

    “Is this not what you wanted? A team that was built for the low scoring games in the playoffs? Did you not loudly and emphatically state that the regular season records and top seeds mean nothing? That only the great road in the playoffs is important?”

  11. TG says:

    Look, I jest (sort of), but you can’t have it both ways. If you were calling for a more defensive style for the playoffs, you’ve got to accept the issues now.

    If you weren’t, then you can’t complain if the run and gun style doesn’t work in the playoffs.

    You pay your money and take your choice. You can’t have it both ways though. Sorry.

    And if they go far in the playoffs, then all this hue and cry will be forgotten.

  12. I confess, I’m at a loss with the read by some that this is a black-and-white, either-or-situation; that you can’t have competent defense and an effective offensive attack. It’s as if these folks never saw the Wings or Flyers or ’80s Isles play.

    To claim, as I did, that the Caps’ blueline of recent seasons was too finesse is not to suggest that the team had to adopt a Devils-style trap to remedy that. One of the big moves the Caps made to improve the blueline was ditch ShaMo and move Schultz to a third pairing — and give notable minutes to two quality young rearguards. And acquire Hannan. And this Caps’ system that was deemed (not by me) so inadequate to the postseason was, let us not forget, one good game 7 shy of advancing to the Eastern conference finals in 2009.

    Absolutely you can have a quality blueline, in front of quality netminding, and a reasonably potent offensive attack. The Hawks had that a year ago. I think the Flyers do now. And I think Vancouver does as well.

  13. Ballgame says:

    They should turn them loose for ten games and see what happens. They have learned what is needed when needed. Let’s go kick some ass and hit everything that moves. Score a couple you will get five. Caps can play both games now, but Coach needs to figure out when is when. Overall we are laying fine but it is time to Turn it up a Notch.

  14. PuckNStuff says:

    The Caps lost to the Habs last year because they could score enough goals. They had 3 games where they scored just one goal.

    The Caps lost to Penguins the prior year because of puck of a poor PK and lack of puck possession at times, (some bad officiating!)

    How does this new trap system address those two losses? It doesnt. This has me baffled as why GMGM and BB would toss out their old system to fix what? Their offensive inability against Montreal?

  15. Pingback: They’re Not Who We Think They Are | Chirps From The Ledge

  16. TheMermaid says:

    I wish-wish-wish I could figure out how all the pieces have come together (or not) to bring the Caps to the unsettled and unsettling place they are today . . .why upgrading the defense and the PK morphed into the trap, how and why the scorers fell into extended slumps, and why BB and GMGM seem to have given up completely on the high-scoring style for which the team was built. So many tired but apt metaphors jump to mind, like throwing the goal-generating baby out with the bathwater after Montreal threw us out of the playoffs. It just seems like a crazy overreaction instead of a coherent plan for going forward.

    Even assuming that playing low-scoring/no-scoring hockey will somehow make the team more playoff-ready, isn’t there something to be said for the confidence-building that comes from the ability to turn around and win just about any game, like last year’s Super Bowl Sunday win v. the Pens? And what about the fun and electricity that a winning style of regular-season hockey generates among the fans, game by game? Is the regular season to be endured, but not enjoyed? Coming to the phone-booth feels more and more like the Bataan Death March with every game.

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