Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pulling the plug

I went to get lunch during the second period of yesterday's 4-1 loss to the Rangers, and I realized something.

During the 2-8-1 start, I blamed having to learn the system. I thought, at their best, the Capitals would dominate zone time.

Then I thought the team was beginning to click and would continue to improve quickly. They were surrendering zone time but not shots, necessarily (a la Rangers), and were generating some offense themselves albeit using many long-range shots (a la Devils).

Then there was this weekend, where I was just hoping for better penalty killing and some breakdowns for the Rangers that would let the Capitals would get a chance.

That's what I ended up hoping for. That the Capitals wouldn't make a mistake and the Rangers would.

That strikes me as Montreal-like, and it's not the way a good team plays.

The Capitals still have games in hand on a lot of teams in front of them. But I don't think they're going to get much better with this roster. There are far too many pieces that don't work in this system. Players who can't cycle. Players who don't make life tough for the other team in the neutral zone (something which Alexander Semin was half-decent at).

Even with all the issues on the blueline, the defensemen have actually looked alright. But they don't have enough Carlsons and Alzners to pinch and keep the play alive in the offensive zone when a forward loses a puck battle. The forwards can't give them any help, and I don't think that's something that will change much without some roster changes.

Trade Ribeiro for a first and a good prospect. Pursue skilled players who can cycle. (In short supply, sure, but luckily Corey Perry seems available and I'm sure Anaheim would listen to an offer involving Mike Green, aka the player whose development Bruce Boudreau made the greatest positive impact on.) Pursue speed. (Jay Bouwmeester strikes me as an attractive trade target. He's basically a faster, more expensive Alzner.) Inquire about Weiss. Bring in an asshole-type veteran that could make the team instantly better. (Jason Arnott seemed to have that impact at the 2011 deadline. Before, the team was 50% Fenwick, and after, 53%.) Heck, Edmonton might be interested in John Erskine's toughness, and he'd actually be an upgrade on their second pair.

This team shoudn't necessarily be stockpiling picks, but it should be stockpiling long-term assets (i.e. not rentals), saving some futures and trading others way to make this team better right now.

(I understand the team won't then have the potential ~$5 million in playoff revenue from three first-round home games, so slash $5 million from the payroll now. Ribeiro, Erskine, and Green-->Perry should cover it.)

Without the pressure of having to win, Adam Oates can focus on creating the line combinations he thinks will work best long term and letting them stick, not having to worry about who's hot. He can play Ovechkin power-on-power to teach him defense--like Todd McClellan did to Joe Thornton--and maybe Ovechkin can become a good two-way player within a couple of years, like Thornton. Let Ovechkin and Backstrom discover how to play together in Oates' offense. Hit the reset button on the power play to 2010-11, at least (the last time the Capitals generated over a shot a minute at 5on4).

McPhee has shown he can build a roster with a focus. He did it with a focus on skill back before Boudreau took over. Maybe the roster isn't as versatile as I thought, but if he gives up on the season, he has a chance to take a new roster theme and go to work mid-season.

There are good pieces in place already. Even though they're not exactly dominating, Ovechkin and Backstrom's upside is tough to ignore. Brouwer has been a good fit in every system. Ditto for Ward, and probably Laich as well. Of course, Carlson, Alzner, and Kundratek have been fine on the blueline.

A roster revamping need not take that long. Especially if they get Kuznetsov right after the Olympics. I'm willing to wait and keep watching as much as I do now, as long as I see progress. Right now, though, I don't see any.


  1. Where do you see any upside in Ovechin? He has been on the downhill side for two seasons now because he refuses to change and play in any system other than his own personal one. He's a terrible team player and should never have been made Captain because he has no leadership skills. Just another moody Russian.

  2. Where's the upside? 52-46-65-56-50? I'd say he was pretty good in 10-11 and got a healthy bad dose of puck luck (shooting % that season by far his career worst) and was still the same old player by Corsi. As far as I'm concerned he's had about 100 bad regular season games now, which isn't even two seasons.

    Plenty of players learn how to play defense as they get older. Ovechkin is probably behind on the learning curve, but I'm sure he'll learn, and he still has the size and puck skills to do it well.