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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Patience (aka "Rebuilding the Rebuild")

Well, there certainly have been better days in Capsville.  Of course, when being honest with oneself - those better days were never that much better.  Nevertheless, things aren't going so well.

If the season were to end right this second - the Capitals would not make the playoffs.  Granted, they are the #9 seed and have 1-game in hand on the #8 seed, the Ottawa Senators (with 58 games left to play in the season and only trailing by 1-standings point).  But, they are on the outside looking in during a season in which the playoffs are supposed to be assumed.

The Caps are about to play said Ottawa Senators tonight in an attempt to get Dale Hunter his first win as the Caps' head coach.  It would also snap a 4-game losing streak (the first two of which, cost Bruce Boudreau his job).

In fact, the Caps have lost 8 of the last 10 games and are unrecognizable from the big swinging dicks that started the season 7-0 and beat the Detroit Red Wings 7-1.

You could argue til the cows come home about when this started.  George McPhee said he noticed stuff during training camp.  Some people (namely, Mike Milbury, Canadians, and people who jerk off to Sidney Crosby (with a lot of overlap between those categories)) would lead you to believe the Ovechkin-era Caps have always been overrated.

Maybe the Montreal series should have been a red flag.  Or the Tampa series.  Or the way they got outplayed in Vancouver - or gave away the game on Long Island - or got throttled by Dallas.  Maybe the wins against Pittsburgh and Tampa earlier this season were lucky.  Maybe the Caps are fine and it is just a matter of getting Mike Green healthy again.  Ok, scratch that last thought.  The Caps are not fine.

If there is one thing that we can all agree upon, it is the Caps are NOT fine.  Bruce Boudreau did magical things for this team from 2007 until this week (just not THE magical thing).  But, George McPhee was spot-on when he said that Boudreau's tank was emptied.

The problem is - that really is all we know.  Yeah, it was time for a change.  But, to what?  We've eliminated one variable, but must now focus on the rest of the variables.

Alex Ovechkin has 8 goals in 24 games.  Alex Semin has 5 goals in 23 games.  Ovechkin isn't even on pace for 30 goals.  Semin isn't even on pace for 20 goals.

Meanwhile, Dale Hunter's strategy will focus on defense - which will, in theory, lead to more offense.  It does not, however, focus on letting freewheeling Russian pimps be freewheeling Russian pimps.

It is hard to say how I feel about that.  My gut instinct would be that you need to take the chains off Ovechkin and Semin - that Caps fans have bought a bunch of bullshit produced by Caps-haters (the BS being that Ovi and Semin are cancers).

But, the truth is, as much as I hate the stupid stereotype that Russians have bad attitudes (see, Detroit Red Wings and the "Russian Five") - I think Ovechkin and Semin have become predictable.

I think the league has figured out Ovechkin and Semin and while these two may care - I don't see them doing what is necessary to become less predictable.

We will see flashes of brilliance from Ovechkin and Semin - for sure.  But, the frequency and brightness of these flashes will be reduced over time if things stay constant.

I don't care if they care.  I care if they work at mixing up their skill-set.

Until they do, it kind of takes care of any plan that involves having the Caps become more run-and-gun.  But, then, if the Caps are going to prioritize defense - will that leave room for Ovi and Semin?

I don't know if I buy the whole "defense leads to offense" strategy.  If the goal is to win every game 2 to 1 or 1 to 0 - that's fine.

My only real vested interest is in seeing the Caps score at least 1 more goal than the other team 16 times during the playoffs.  That leaves a lot of room for being boring - and that's ok.

But, as many have noted, the high-flying show is on hiatus.  There will be no 5 to 1 victories in the near future - I do not believe.  Dale Hunter might believe that, I do not.

Ovechkin and Semin will not have the chance to run-and-gun - even if they could still do it.  And I don't know if Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin will fit in with the high-flying show on hiatus.

That's not to say they will play horribly.  But, they'll be very expensive pieces to the boring show.  And, with the Caps at the salary cap - does that mean they will be dealt to free up some space?

That would not be terribly shocking for Semin - I think this is his last season as a Cap regardless - it's just a matter of whether or not he's dealt before the deadline.  I don't see them re-signing him in the offseason.

Obviously, it would be huge news if Ovechkin is dealt.  Mike Milbury and all of Canada would rejoice that they were right all along.

It would be a telltale sign that the once promising rebuild failed.  We might not have to start from scratch - as we did with the Jagr firesale - but it would be equally discouraging.

I can't imagine the impact on the fanbase that trading Ovechkin would have.  Attendance would certainly suffer.  Die-hard fans would point to the number of times Ted Leonsis has asked for patience - only to then ask for more patience.

Frustration would boil over - even if it happened to be the right thing to do.  Even if trading Oveckin simply meant the Caps were self-aware and on track to implement their defensive strategy - trading Ovechkin would be horrible.

Thankfully for Ovechkin and Semin, the entire team is playing like shit.  So, it's hard to pin all of this on them.  The goaltending has been shit and the defense has been shit too.

Jason Chimera is one of a few bright spots on this team.  But, with everyone else needing a swift kick in the ass - Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin must be given a chance to fit into Dale Hunter's system.

Dale Hunter must be given time to implement his strategy.  Two 2 to 1 losses do not a bad coach make.  The good news is that there is plenty of time to turn this around.

The problem is that I have no idea whether or not Dale Hunter's approach will work - or if the right pieces are there to make it work.  I just know that Bruce Boudreau's approach stopped working.

I still want to believe in Alex Ovechkin.  I still want to believe in Alex Semin.  I still want to believe in the Caps.  I want to believe in Dale Hunter as a coach in the NHL (and George McPhee and Ted Leonsis for that matter).

I just don't know if Ovechkin, Semin, and Hunter will co-exist on the Caps.  And I don't know if the Caps will do what is necessary to align their strategy and their personnel.

Until then, without blaming a specific person, there could be more dysfunction and underachievement.......

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