I never slow down to peek at roadside car wrecks, but I am going to blog a bit about our barely moving wreck of a hockey team. I’m here with a good deal many more questions than answers, and a lot of dark thoughts. Principal among them: How did the wreck happen? I welcome both queries and answer-hypotheses from you. This fall from privileged perch has been so precipitous, so inexplicable and so, so sudden, one staggers into a sort of sports-coma-stupor at its arrival. It wasn’t that long ago that we were . . . 7-0!
Now that seems so mirage.
Over the past weekend, one which started with such promise in Sunrise, I watched in the company of great friends up in Maine cautious hope collapse into disgust and dismay. Also, rage. There is always the possibility of rejuvenation and redemption — once in a blue moon sports delivers it — but the problem with this hockey team is that there is to this season so little precedent to point to for hoping that with any modicum of rationality. Instead, its journey seems irreversible, its concluding collision a “totaling” calamity. If polled, I suspect a good many of us this morning are of this opinion: it’s time to hit the reset button.
Up in Maine my pals and I busied ourselves out and about the beautifully frosty New England air each afternoon and evening, pubbing and American League puck pursuing (the Bears were beautiful in Manchester Saturday night!), careful always to record the big club’s games and watch them late with late-night beers. It was a very hockey weekend, and we had high hopes for it. Mostly what matters about it is our being together for it.
Early Sunday morning we cursed Matt Hendricks’ and his gifting giveaways to Tampa. Late Monday night we felt blindsided by inexplicable, big-game surrender, composure and leadership AWOL. Tuesday morning, we devoted hours to a wretched reckoning of the sour fate that seemed certain ahead. The three of us tabulated forecasts for the season’s final 23 games. One game’s difference separated our forecasts; I won’t add to your woe this morning by sharing those figures with you — suffice to say, the team is on par with them.
In no particular order, my ruminations, woes, and wonderment:
- It was wholly understandable to dream as Caps fans did these past five hockey seasons, accumulating as the team seemingly did so gaudy an abundance of elite, game-breaking talent, beginning with the 2002 Entry Draft, and watching it ripen in spectacularly dominant fashion. In May 2009, even amid the bitter embers of a seven-game defeat in the Eastern conference semifinals to Pittsburgh, the future — the immediate and what the owner liked to refer to as the “durable contention” down the road — seemed unarguably bright. We openly and boastfully forecasted Stanley Cups raised. Plural.
- We developed, quite collectively, quite universally, a sense of entitlement. After nearly four decades wandering in infamy and irrelevancy, our franchise-altering dynamo was delivered to us, rather magically, by a New York ping pong ball. Surely he would wash away all the accumulated hurt — even the scar tissue — with his you-can’t-defend-my-game brilliance and bravdo, lifting a falling-in-love-with-hockey city on his shoulders. For a while, he did.
- Entitlement. Bravado. Hubris. Slick marketing campaign. Superficiality. Shortcuts. Shortcuts to serious contention. We can get by with Theodore, for we have Ovi. Second line center by committee . . . for years . . . for we have Ovi and Nick and Sasha and Game Over. Piecemeal it here, patchwork it there, duct tape it every trade deadline, for we have what you don’t.
- The Grand Delusion, certainly subscribed to and proclaimed as gospel by the manager: in the New NHL, speed and open ice would trump the time-honored ethos of building out a big and tough club about the middle of the ice, back-stopped by great goaltending. Those were the old ways; we in possession of Young Guns, we will show you the new way.
- Suddenly, size matters. Whiff on the wings with draft after draft, pluck undersized pivots, the rugged shutdown D ever elusive. Promotions, most earned, some seemingly premature and ill-advised, arrive on the heels of less than successful depth drafting, and the stable suddenly is small, chock full of middling prospects. No one among them is North American, 6 feet tall and 190 pounds. Concussions run amok. Talk of slowing down the game. If that happens, how are you situated for the evolution? Now look at the Bs , now look at the Rags. Philly never stopped going big. Game over.
- Shortcuts in roster formation, premised on hubris, can perhaps create shortcuts in work ethic. If the Greatest Show in Red is so young and hungry and well formed why a few years into the Mission did they look so gassed from routine conditioning skates on Day One of fall camp? Next: the conspicuous occurrence of optional skates. A good many “maintenance days” by the elite and of the biggest bank-accounts. Failure, then more failure, then shocking failure, then seriously shocking failure, then the dam breaks, on Ottawa sports radio in summer, by a recently departed. Truth-teller, condemned. (He also had a backup voice of protest, from another newly departed.)
- Social media sayeth: Guess who and what I saw at Russia House last night!?
- Suddenly: Fat Elvis.
- Our Great Guns rarely outwork the opposition. And as a whole, year in and year out, the gang never earns the reputation Tough to Play Against. Never.
- If your first reaction to a player contract is I must pick my jaw up off the ground it’s safe to say odds are that it’s an imprudent inking. Poti. Schultz. Semin. Ward . . . 8.
- General manager flies all the way out to Alberta in mid-summer to meet with two Young Guns at the airport, merely for lunch. Guess-hunch on the lunch topic: The Urgency of the Moment.
- Carlson and Alzner. Unified Demise. How? The look of a stud no. 1 duo two years ago in the postseason against Montreal. Understandably counted upon going into this season. Most nights, they look lost and confused. How? Why?
I want to see Mike Green remain a Capital, but now it is Game Over.