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Now What for the Caps?
Saturday night, the Capitals took a trip up to Buffalo and started their road trip in embarrassing fashion by losing to an undermanned and an inexperienced Sabres team, 5-1. After the game, Karl Alzner said, “there’s definitely a lack of confidence. You can see it in the guys that are usually so confident with the puck and stuff they do and that’s hard to get back.”
Going into the season, pundits picked the Caps to contend for the Stanley Cup, and that still made sense after the first month of play. But if this uninspired and unprofessional play continues from the past couple weeks, they’ll be fighting for a playoff spot. So why is this team underperforming? The blame can be placed at every facet of the game: Subpar goaltending, defensive lapses, offensive turnovers and lack of scoring, etc. This team is struggling to find its identity after a promising start. There are many things that this team can do to right the ship, but for the immediate future I have two solutions that will light a fire under this franchise.
1) Fire Bruce Boudreau
This solution is gaining popularity among unhappy fans and it’s something that should’ve been done after the end of last season. For too long, Boudreau let the inmates run the asylum. Now all of a sudden he is going to preach “accountability?” It’s not that simple. After the Buffalo game, he talked about being a mentally tough team. “It’s got to come from within, I’ve got to believe,” Boudreau said. “I’m hoping that’s got to come from within because if I have to teach them how to be tough, then I don’t quite know how to do that.” This has everything to do with Boudreau losing the team. They’ve stopped trying, and his pleading is falling on deaf ears. So the question remains: When (not if) the Caps fire Boudreau, what direction should they go? What coach will take his place? There are three coaches that come to mind.
Mark French– The current head coach of the Hershey Bears will get a look. The chances of him being promoted right now are slim, but it’s worth considering him. The positives are that he has coached many players on this team before and has earned their respect. He knows what he needs to do to motivate them, and he is highly respected by the players that have played for him. The big negative is that he lacks NHL coaching experience, and with the players right now, on top of the expectations and potential this year, the team is best suited to have a coach with NHL experience run the bench.
Dale Hunter– He is a former Capital and the current coach of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. He knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level and has a tough-guy mentality, which is something this team desperately lacks. His NHL experience will make the players enamored with him and respect what he did in the league (except for that cheap shot he gave Pierre Turgeon in the 1993 playoffs.) His only negative is that he also lacks NHL coaching experience, and putting to much hope on him may be too much for him to handle at this point of his career.
Marc Crawford– I can’t take credit for this suggestion. Harry Hawkings of Rock The Red reminded me in conversation that he was still available. He would be the best suited coach to take over this team. He has years of NHL coaching experience, won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in the 1995-1996 season, and is a disciplinarian. He will not put up with any antics in the locker room and will push this team to reach their potential. The only question is will he leave his analyst position with TSN and get back into coaching again?
2) Revoke the captaincy from Alexander Ovechkin
No, this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to the past few games. Kevin Klein from Sick, Unbelievable made interesting points as to why he should keep it. I will go so far as to say that once the Capitals hire a new head coach he should get a grace period to prove that he should remain the captain. However, he is not the leader of this team. Being the best player does not mean he has leadership qualities. People are born with those qualities. He got it because he was the best player in the league. Once the Penguins won the Stanley Cup with Sidney Crosby as their captain, it was time for the Capitals to name Ovechkin their captain and try to pull the same feat. It has not worked. This is purely on a leadership standpoint. He is not the leader that the Capitals thought he was or hoped that he would be and it’s time to make a change.
So if not Ovechkin, who should it be?
I have always wanted Mike Knuble to be captain of this team. He has stood up at times and has shown the leadership that the team has lacked, but at 39 years old and his career winding down, it should really go to someone who will have a future with the team. That person is Brooks Laich. He just signed a six-year contract during the offseason and has been one of the few constant workhorses of this team. He has also shouldered the blame for the team’s failures this season and has been vocal in the locker room to motivate his team. Ovechkin should wear the “A” (there’s an extra on Tom Poti’s uniform). He is still a major part of this team and will be a big part of the reason as to why the team wins it all. Yes, this may be viewed as a slap in the face to Alex, but what needs to be looked at is what is best for this team, and this is it.