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Who’s to Blame for The Capitals’ Season?
It’s an understatement to say that the Capitals have not played up to preseason expectations. As the season winds down and the losses start to pile up, fans are left wondering what will happen if the team does not make it into the postseason. There are many questions left unanswered. Fingers will be pointed and blame will be passed around like turkey and sweet potatoes during a Thanksgiving feast. Everyone has their hand in this, but the ultimate fall-man will be George McPhee.
Yes, blame can be passed onto head coach Dale Hunter. His line combinations are questionable at times and, according to defenseman Karl Alzner, has not established a true system that works for the team. Hunter is one of the faces of this franchise as a player, but as a coach he still needs time to work through the ranks to hopefully one day make his dream of becoming a coach in the NHL a reality. The one thing nobody can blame him for is the roster. He didn’t sign the players, he didn’t make the trades, and he wasn’t the one who didn’t meet the needs of the team. Was the team wrong in hiring him? I think everyone has started to see that he was not the ideal fit for the team. But it’s not his fault that Bruce Boudreau was fired. It’s also not his fault for accepting the job offer. Listen, there’s not a single person in this world who wouldn’t quit the job they have if their dream job opened up and an offer was on the table for it. Alas, the best thing to do this offseason would be for the organization to not renew his contract, let him go back to London to coach, and make a hard push to sign former Stanley Cup Champion and current TSN analyst Marc Crawford.
Are the players to blame? I think every member of the media and fans who have watched this team can unanimously say yes. It is the players’ fault that they underperform night in and night out. Alex Ovechkin is having another un-Ovechkin-like season, with only 26 goals on the year and could finish the season with his lowest goal total in his career. Roman Hamrlik is starting to prove that his signing was one of the worst moves this offseason, with statistics rivaling that of his worst season in his entire career (1997-1998 with Tampa Bay.) Joel Ward, Mike Knuble, and Alexander Semin are also in risk of having their worst seasons in recent memory. Mike Green missed significant time again this season due to injury, which left a massive hole in the defensive corps. But not all things are bleak for the Capitals. Troy Brouwer has been one of the most consistent players on this entire team and is worth every penny of the 2 year/$4.7 million contract he signed this offseason. Dimitry Orlov has been a solid defenseman in his first NHL season, after starting this season in Hershey. Tomas Vokoun, although shaky in some games, has proven to be the veteran netminder we had hoped he would be, and Jason Chimera is having a career season as well. But the lack of center depth is what’s hurting this team. Michael Hoffman of the Washington Capitals Examiner has touched upon this topic in an article he wrote and he’s absolutely right. What separates a Stanley Cup team from any other team is the ability to adapt and overcome. Injuries happen in this vicious and physical sport. And not just in this sport, but in every sport around the world. When a player becomes the team and the team is unable to make up for his absence, things turn ugly very quickly. This isn’t a new concept that haunts the Capitals. The team has been missing a second and a third line center for a few seasons now. Team management has failed to address it. That has nothing to do with the player’s, it has everything to do with the people who watch the game from the luxury suites.
Could you blame Ted Leonsis? Yeah, of course you can. He has the final say in all of these matters. He is the one who lets the people in the front office keep their jobs. This is his team, his money, and his product that is being put out on the ice night in and night out. And season ticket holders after this season will see an increase in their tickets next season, even after this underperforming season. But one would think that if the Caps fail to make the postseason that even he can’t turn a blind eye to what transpired and will make someone be held responsible for it.
As I stated before, if the Caps fail to make the postseason, Leonsis will have no choice but to hold George McPhee responsible. McPhee is the one who put this roster together, it was he who fired Boudreau and hired Hunter (which he even took responsibility for in his press conference that introduced Hunter as the new coach), and it’s his fault for not addressing the needs of the team. He has made some great decisions for this team and has drafted some quality players that eventually became major pieces on the Caps roster. However, it’s hard not to think that he may have taken this team as far as they can go and that the team needs to go in a different direction. Even if the Capitals make the postseason, if they have another early exit it’s my opinion that this will be McPhee’s last season. The team needs a leader that can take them over the playoff hump and that leader will more than likely come after this season.
There are still 17 games to turn the ship around and qualify for the playoffs, where anything can happen once they’re in. But more than likely this team will not do much damage come April, and it will become one interesting offseason in the nation’s capital.