Nothing you read here will likely be new to you, nor will it come as any kind of revelation, to be honest.
The Caps aren’t in a great state right now. Confidence is low, points are being given up, and a playoff berth looks iffy. Vitriol amongst Caps fans is high, and internet message boards are filled with posters proposing trades of most, if not all, of the team. Columnists far and wide are criticizing the team, the captain, the coaching…well, pretty much everything. And a lot of it is deserved.
No hidden truths revealed there.
How the team got here is a combination of things: some bizarre goal-tending. Two not-so-hot free agency signings (Ward and Hamrlik). Long-term injuries to two key offensive players. A sophomore slump for John Carlson and two veteran defensemen not fitting into the new scheme. Young players being asked to do too much. A superstar not playing like a superstar. Every pass being 6 inches off-target. Dissent in the room. A lack of team toughness.
A daunting list. And no surprises.
How do the Caps recover? Can they recover?
A recent Globe and Mail piece intimates that NHL-ready prospects will be the hard currency of this trade deadline, and Ted Leonsis has intimated that the organization will be active on the market. It’s not hard to identify the Caps assets that fall under that description: Eakin, Holtby, Orlov and Kuznetsov. Whether or not the Caps make moves – and I think they will, considering Leonsis’ statement – is there a player or players out there that can turn it around? Will General manager George McPhee be given a mandate to move some long-term assets to make the playoffs this year? Which is more desirable a result for the fans? For the organization? More questions.
Kuznetsov is likely a non-starter, so he’s off the table. I have a difficult time thinking the Caps view any of the other three as trade chips, and that limits what the organization can move to improve itself. With 1st round picks seemingly having a lower value than initially thought, how attractive are they to seller clubs?
The alternative to dealing young assets consists of hoping. Hoping Green and Backstrom heal up and are close to their normal levels. Hoping more time in Coach Hunter’s system moves those passes from six inches off to the tape. Hoping that Ovechkin raises his level of play and Carlson shakes the slump off and one of Erskine or Schultz assert themselves in the six role. Hoping the shots from center ice are stopped and hoping that the team can disuade opponents from running the stars and the goalie. Hoping free agents signings pan out and young players improve, if not outright blossom.
That’s a lot of hoping, right there.
In the always-fun Court of Public Opinion (CPO) holding on to the young assets and 1st round picks might appear to be writing off the season, something I don’t think management or ownership wants to do. It might make sense long-term, but what message does it send to the players? What message does it send to the fans?
Oddly – and perhaps a sign of impending insanity, if not blatant confirmation – I’m somewhat optomistic on the team, as I think they really have nowhere to go but up. Pretty much everyone is playing like Hell, and I don’t think that will continue. I liked the Florida Panthers’ improvements, but their lead has been built ahead of a Caps team that is playing about as badly as it can. If Washington evens up even mildly, I think the Caps win the division. Making noise in the playoffs, however, seems unlikely.Unless Green and Backstrom are healthy I have a hard time seeing it, and while the team was ostensibly configured to be harder to play against in the post-season it just doesn’t feel like that’s going to come to pass at this point.
Ultimately organizations and players are judged by championships, and long gone is the “Building a team to win multiple championships” hubris. As the team struggles to secure a berth in a post-season that will feature a very steep slope to climb, the philosophy of the organization and the tenure of George McPhee needs to be scrutinized. I have not and will not call for anyone’s job, and I don’t get the overwhelming feeling that McPhee’s is particularly in jeopardy, but being patient to a fault works wonders for a rebuilding club – it doesn’t seem to be working for a team with deep playoff aspirations.
Hopefully the ship will right itself, and we’re reading this late in a not-overly-merciless Summer and smiling at the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing as we reflect upon a surprising and pleasant playoff run.
That’s a lot of hoping, as well.