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.