I commend to your attention the most recent fit of gutsy thoughtfulness from my blogger buddy Ed Frankovic, who with commendable clarity of consideration arrives at this sobering recommendation as it relates to the handling of the Capitals roster here in late March: tear it down, and quite a bit.
If you’re a regular reader here you’ve long known where I stand with this organization relative to its present configuration. When the Grand Plan was unveiled at the dawning of the Era of Ovechkin I bought in, and redded-up with everyone else for a fair portion of the past decade. But I began noticing grave trouble signs a couple of years back — Jose Theodore; Brinks truck for Sarge; passing on Gill and Guerin; turning up our nose at free agent Willie Mitchell; hodge-podge offseason roster construction — and striving to be a commentator of integrity, I had to call out malfeasance where I saw it.
The Capitals this morning are very much on the outside looking in at postseason participation, and that’s neither accidental nor a natural inevitability. It’s the byproduct of how they’ve been assembled — over some years. I pilloried the organization for signing Theodore smack at the height of Alexander Ovechkin’s prodigious dominance, suggesting that no NHL club could be taken Cup-serious so back-stopped. I was right. I railed against Jeff Schultz skating in a top defensive pairing with Mike Green on 100-point Capitals clubs. Coach Hunter healthy scratched him a fair bit last season, and the Capitals have looked best in this shortened season when Adam Oates and his staff have also sat Sarge. The team is faster and more physical without him. There is today a vision for a productive and reasonably physical Capitals blueline in seasons immediately ahead, and Jeff Schultz isn’t a part of it. Still, seasons — and millions — have been wasted learning this lesson.
Capitals management, in sustained spasms of unconscionable hubris, have long believed that a few good millionaire forwards, lavishly marketed, could be coached by just about anyone, surrounded by roster riff-raff, still win the beleaguered Southeast, secure a 3 seed in the East, and perhaps ride a hot young goalie to glory. Turns out, pro hockey today largely remains like pro hockey when your father watched it: You better be built well from the goal on out, you better be able to send a burly/bastard blueliner over the boards to protect a one-goal lead late, and yes it matters who skates in your top six forward ranks.
It was in recent seasons second line center by underwhelming committee here. Finally, and perhaps too belatedly, the Caps landed one in Mike Ribeiro. But by virtue of disadvantageous cap management, and the fortuitous free-fall of Filip Forsberg at last June’s entry draft, the Caps this season needed/could afford only a Band-Aid pivot on the second line. Ribeiro has been the Capitals’ MVP of 2013, and he’d surely help them significantly again next season. But he’s a 33-year-old UFA come summer, and for his contract year success it’s just and proper that he seek a term and compensation the Capitals can’t match. Early this spring Mike Ribeiro is an asset that has to be properly managed, in a way that Alexander Semin and Dennis Wideman last spring were not.
Here’s how Frankovic assesses the moment:
“[I]f you can get a number one draft pick or more this year for Ribeiro, then you should deal him. Sure you will definitely miss the playoffs but you also now have two first round picks and could package them to possibly move up to number one, two, or three and get one of Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, or Jonathan Drouin. Jones, according to my sources, is the best player in the draft and NHL ready now. He very likely will be a number one defensemen on a team in the NHL in a couple of years. He’s a team changer. Snag him and you suddenly have options to possibly move some of your other defensemen, like Mike Green . . .”
Immediately ahead of us we *do not* have a stellar entry draft. Instead, it’s seriously top-heavy. If the Caps over the course of the next 100 hours or so sagely deal their top performer, and if they standings plummet a bit and comfortably miss the playoffs, Frankovic’s right, the resources likely are in place to secure that which has so badly eluded them the past 10-plus years: the franchise rearguard. Reinforcements up front seem secured on the near horizon.
The Caps can of course hold onto Ribeiro, standings-lodge themselves ahead of two or three of their Southeast brethren at season’s end, likely miss the postseason, and ensure themselves of missing out on a difference-maker in the draft. Or, they could move Ribeiro — likely for a late no. 1-plus — and position themselves to right their wayward charter in short order. Help, from overseas, but also from Plymouth, is on the way. Asset management, and a little luck with the lottery ping pong ball come June, can right a lot of roster wrongs for the Capitals in short order.
Season ticket holders of course won’t be happy with meaning-less April puck. To them I’d direct these queries: Have you seen the Blackhawks and Penguins play this winter? What exactly are your delusions of grandeur this spring for this team? Our team has auditioned Joey Crabb, Wojtek Wolski, and Marcus Johansson on the first line this season; think we have any business being in the rink against the rosters assembled by names Bowman and Shero?
Instead, I, like Frankovic, say hit the reset button. Capitals management shouldn’t be absolved from putting this underwhelming product together, (and charging a king’s ransom to watch it), but the opportunity exists to rectify it in short order.