Over the next three days, your’s truly attempt to lay out a three part plan of how to fix the Washington Capitals this offseason.
Part One: Admitting There’s a Problem
For four seasons, the Caps have had the same core in place: Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, forwards’s Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman Mike Green. Despite high expectations and successful regular season finishes, that core has consistently yielded disappointing results in the playoffs.
Something needs to change in D.C.
The first step of any rehab program is to admit that there’s a problem but so far Caps’ General Manager George McPhee has refused to publicly admit that anything is wrong to begin with. Does he really believe himself?
The excuses started after the Caps were upset by the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the first round last year. Afterwards McPhee issued several explanations, all of which seemed to deny that any factors other than luck came into play.
“We were up 3-1,” McPhee said. “So we were obviously doing something right…We didn’t win the series because the goaltender shut us down for three games in a row. He was really good, and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
The players’ quotes from after game seven last year had a different tone.
Scott Walker: “We could play a little harder and compete a little bit better. That’s the most disappointing thing. I don’t think they’ve seen our ‘A’ game.”
Matt Bradley: “To not be ready for a playoff game shouldn’t happen. We didn’t work hard enough.”
Joe Corvo: “Maybe we overlooked some of the small details as team.”
The reality is that while the Caps won the President’s Trophy that season, in doing so they developed a lot of bad habits which they were able to sweep under the rug thanks to their superior skill level. In the playoffs those bad habits came to the surface and cost them. Still, luck was a factor in the Montreal series. When a team loses in six or seven games, one can defend the losing team by claiming that, with a few lucky breaks, things could have gone the other way.
When a team gets swept, the same argument is harder to justify. This postseason, Guy Boucher and the Tampa Bay Lightning swept a Caps team that was thought to be at least as talented and was picked by many experts to win handily.
Two straight years finishing atop the East and not a single second-round win to show for it. The Caps are going backwards. After the loss in Game 4 against Tampa, McPhee seemed to once again blow off the notion that anything other than luck factored in.
“I don’t think anything’s missing,” said the Caps GM. “We played a team that played better than us in the second round. It happens sometimes. I think we have a good team and we’ll just keep trying to make it better.”
By what measure is McPhee judging this team? Sure, the Caps have “won” the East the last two regular seasons. Congratulations on the Southeast Division Championship banners.
The bottom line is that six other teams in the East have advanced to the Conference Finals in the last three years while the “young guns” have started their summer boat parties early.
Perhaps the most poignant insight following the Montreal series came from Walker after Game 7.
“Eventually, as an older player, I can tell them that you run out of ‘next years,”‘ Walker said. “You have to make it while you can.”
McPhee and Owner Ted Leonsis have a reputation for being patient. Now they need to admit that the team they have is fundamentally flawed and act on the evidence to create change, and the first priority is to shake up what Jeremy Roenick described as a “country club atmosphere.”
Tomorrow – Part II: A Renewed Sense of Commitment