Now that the dust has settled on another disappointing Washington Capitals postseason and ledges have been backed away from emotions have been brought into check, Caps Fans have begun to take a look at the team and where it stands for next season. Questions linger concerning potential Free Agents, career threatening injuries and possible line-up and coaching shake-ups. Throwing our two cents into the ring, we've come up with 10 changes to hopefully make the 2011-2012 Washington Capitals a little bit better.
1. Ever watch a scary movie and you know when the bad guy is near because of the music? Yeah, that was the Caps' powerplay this season. So remove the predictability and audition lefty shooters with big shots to put on the right side of the powerplay. Having Ovechkin and Semin firing one-timers from the left side is fine, but when things have to move to the right, Backstrom's shot isn't very scary and Green's righty shot doesn't work for quick one-timers. Ovi. Semin. Green. Arnott. Wideman. Every heavy shot the Caps had last season right handed. Can Erskine play the right point on the PP?
2. Cut your losses, part 1: Caps Skaters. Look, I'm a huge fan of many of the guys that currently make up the Caps line-up. But I think I'm ready to say goodbye to players such as Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz, and maybe even Boyd Gordon if upgrades are available. Some players never reach their full potential, others plateau. I look at successful teams such as Detroit and (ugh) Pittsburgh, and their third and fourth liners are much more dangerous, or much more physical, than our guys. Besides, with Andrew Gordon, Cody Eakin and Dimitri Orlov and others (hopefully Kuznetsov) waiting in the wings, we can get faster if nothing else. If you're still waiting for Schultz to turn into Zdeno Chara because 'big guys take longer' remember that Sarge has to take half slap-shots to get them on net. Ooh, that's way scarier than one-oh-five!
3. Ask yourself this: Have I ever seen a red Caps jersey with a Stanley Cup patch on it? Yeah... ouch. Bring back the crappy blue jerseys. (Um...What?). Look, I love the red, but the Caps have only made it as far as Conference Finals (and only once at that) with Red/White jerseys. Maybe they're bad luck. The simple solution is to make a new, crappy, blue 3rd jersey. Many of you stopped reading right about... now.
4. Train differently. I know you can't do much to stop pucks from breaking fingers or elbows from breaking brains, but the pulls, tweaks and sprains the Caps keep getting speak volumes to the training routines the players are signing up for. These guys make too much money to go into the playoffs 70% healthy. Even Ovi has said he may need to change his training routine. I guess that means no more running on the beach with Semin the ladies.
5. Cut your losses, part 2: Fragile Goalies. It pains me to say it, since I own a #40 jersey, but you need to get something for Varly before his rubberband breaks. It still appears as if the Caps play harder/better for Varly than for Neuvy and that he's the true #1 on the team. But it seems like the coaching staff feels differently these days. If Varly gets time in Game 3 or 4 of the Tampa series, we might still be talking about the Caps in the Conference Final now. Unfortunately, we'll never know. Play him or trade him. Or keep him around for the groin jokes...
6. Scrap the trap. If you change systems to get tougher in the playoffs, why weren't you tougher in the playoffs? The answer is, the trap was the wrong defensive system for the way the Caps play offense. Your top 2 lines are 'rush the puck, shoot' lines, so a missed shot turns into a breakout for the opposition. Unless the forecheckers play tentative at the blueline, the trap breaks down. Find something else that fits a fast break-style offense... the 1-3-1 seems to work well for Tampa.
7. Keep Bruce, for now. This team loves Coach Boudreau and they trust him. The faces in the locker room after Game 4 weren't saying "our coach got out-coached," they were saying "we let our coach down." That means a lot. It also helps that Bruce's systems lead to big numbers and big contracts. The players know things will be different come the fall and they're ready to go into battle with him. That said, if things are looking iffy at any point next season, firing a coach mid-season is much more of a jarring indictment of the players; 'They wouldn't play for him so we had to can him' stings. It's also worked to wake up many eventual champions. Honestly, I just don't want to have to pack up my Jack Adams Award bobblehead.
8. Cut your losses, part 3: Prospects/Draft Picks. Start using the youngsters to get something that can help you, and I'm not talking 'Della-Rovere for King' type trades. You've showcased Mathieu Perreault for two seasons and Marcus Johansson came in and took his spot. You did the same with Chris Bourque and he just up and left. Go get something for these guys and stop being afraid one of the ones you give up is going to magically turn into a Martin St. Louis or a Marc Savard and burn you later. Being a GM involves a lot of luck. Go get lucky, like you did when you traded for Jagr Brooks and Flash.
9. Ovi, take Datsyuk lessons. Ask yourself this: if Ovechkin suddenly became an insane defensive forward and a puck-possession guy and put up the same numbers as this past season, would you be happy? I say the only thing stopping Ovi from doing just that is Ovi. Shorter shifts, stronger backchecking and smarter decision making with the puck will all lead to more scoring opportunities. Next season I'm tracking a stat: percentage of Ovechkin puck rushes where no intention of setting up in the offensive zone is seen (ie., a shot directly off the rush). My guess: 75%. Datsyuk is probably closer to 20%.
10. As fans, we're apparently doing something wrong. Since the lockout, the Caps are only 10-11 in the playoffs with a 2-4 record in OT at home, all the while being the higher seed in all 5 series. We must be too loud, wear too much red or Unleash too much Fury. Or maybe it's the booing of the powerplay during the first period of Game 1, I'm not sure. If you're a fan when the Caps are winning, it's only fair that you be a fan when they aren't.
I love the point about letting under-achieving players go. I think Schultz should be at the top of the list, nothing I have ever seen from him defensively (offensively too) has ever impressed me. The idea of a grind it out 4th line sounds good in theory, but it rarely helps the team out, especially in the playoffs, when these guys are only getting 8-10 minutes of ice time. As you talked about, hopefully there's room for upgrades to be made. The defense needs to be improved, Hannan played we but I'm not sure if they can keep him, and it's a shame that guys like Arnott probably won't be back. I like Boudreau, but it just seems like he has no control over the players. Every time I see him behind the bench he looks helpless, and cursing out the players in the locker room between periods obviously didn't help against Tampa. At the end of the day, they need a coach who can get the best out of every player (Semin, Backstrom, etc.), especially in the playoffs. I'd be fine with Bruce staying to start the season, but one more 7 game losing streak and I think his time is up. I don't remember if it was Leonsis or McPhee that said there wasn't a difference between a playoff coach and a regular season coach, but from what I've heard that's not true at all. I think it was Doug Weight who was being interviewed on the NHL Network that said there was a huge difference in coaching for the season and the playoffs. He said some of the things I was thinking, that you need a coach that has the respect of the players and makes them go all out every shift. Sure the players were disappointed in letting down Boudreau after game 4 against TB, but it doesn't matter how bad you feel after it's over. Where's that drive during the game? I've said it before and I'll probably end up saying it again, I like where the team's going. We have a solid group of guys that can continue to contend for Cups and the young players like Gordon and Orlov and Holtby can only get better. Getting great players through the draft and through the Bears has always been a strong point for us, we just need everything to click and perform in the playoffs. Look at Sean Bergenheim for the Lightning, you need role players to step up in the playoffs and you need stars to be consistent. Hopefully the Caps can pull everything together for 2011-2012, and I seriously hope that Jeff Schultz is no longer on the roster. Sorry for rambling, it's early in the morning and I'm tired
While I agree with a lot of this post (not sold on going back to the blue sweaters though). It appears to me that this team needs to mature (still???). This was their year, they have what I believed to be a perfect mix of young and old, speed and skill, grit and heart....yet they still folded. Went back to bad habits when the new plan wasn't working (quick enough). I understand that 30 teams want to win it all every year, while 16 get a legitimate chance....as a fan you can't take it too hard when your team fails (especially when your team tops out at the 2nd round every year). I think Bruce Boudreau is a good coach, and I think the guys like him....although I don't know how much they "respect" him. if your "go to" guys continue to ignore the system and try to do it on their own when things get tough. Something certainly needs to change, and it history teaches us anything Bruce Boudreau will take the fall for this. I'm actually curious to see how many of the team's free agents even care to return. I of course, will be there on opening night for the 2011-2012 roller coaster ride again as I just can't quit this team. Always enjoyed your work on this blog, thank you for a great season!