You might still have some faith in these Caps. After all, there are still 5 games remaining in the regular season. The Caps are only 2 points out of 8th place. The Caps have the tiebreaker. And, because it's easy to do, you talk about Philadelphia's run to the Final in 2009-2010 after qualifying for the playoffs with their final regular season game victory over the Rangers. You never know, right?
Actually, yes we do. The Washington Capitals will not make the playoffs this season.
The jury is in on George McPhee. The jury is in on Alex Ovechkin. Dale Hunter didn't get it done. The jury is in on the rebuild. It is time to blow everything up and start over once again.
No longer can Ted Leonsis explain away another bed-shitting. Don't blame the learning curve. Don't you dare blame injuries. Don't blame the lack of home ice! Don't blame the sample size. The sample size is sufficient to draw these conclusions:
In the clutch, these Caps roll over and play dead. The "Rock the Red" Caps have abjectly failed.
In a way, it is only fitting that the Buffalo Sabres are the ones to put the final nail in this era's coffin. I remember when I was still in Alexandria, Virginia. It was April 2007. Glen Hanlon was still the coach. The Caps still had those ugly-ass black jerseys. They were about as close to the playoffs as Washington, DC is to Beijing (whereas now we're as close as DC is to Los Angeles, perhaps?).
That season, the Caps closed out the season at home vs. the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres won the game 2-0 to clinch the President's Trophy. If you recall, that game is where this photo comes from:
The game was a sellout. But not one of those cute "Sea of Red" sellouts we have grown accustomed to (and are in danger of losing). It was one of those visiting fan aided sellouts that has plagued the majority of this franchise's history and very well could return next season if proper actions aren't taken.
You could hear lots of Sabres fans last night as Buffalo violated the Capitals 5 to 1. It wasn't ridiculous. It wasn't like Detroit's invasion during the 1998 Final. It wasn't like a Pittsburgh invasion. But, it was certainly noticeable.
It was a sign that a sizeable portion of the Caps' fanbase is ready to voice its frustration with the team in the form of not coming to games anymore. It is as if this team's atmosphere is about to come full circle.
Maybe the fans I reference are of the bandwagon/fairweather variety. Maybe a "real fan" might be sick and tired of the team shitting the bed, but still plans to come back for more poop. I probably fall into the latter category, but I also secretly wouldn't mind having another hobby at this point.
Regardless, it is time to waive the white flag with this group of Caps and make sweeping changes before it is too late.
When this era specifically began is hard to pinpoint. It obviously started on Bruce Boudreau's watch. Maybe it was his very first game in Philadelphia (that Backstrom OT winner off Ovechkin's flubbed pass).
Maybe it was when the Caps won 11 of their last 12 games to win the SE Division and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Maybe it was specifically the final 3 home games, which were all sellouts in DC.
For me, it was Game 1 of the playoffs vs. Philadelphia that year. Without question, it is the loudest I have personally heard the Verizon Center. It was my first "red out". There were hardly any Flyers fans in attendance. Mike Green had his mohawk going on. They were giving out free mohawks in the concourse.
At 2nd intermission the Caps trailed the Flyers 4 to 2. A fellow Caps fan walked past one of the few Flyers fans in the concourse and told him to go back to Philadelphia. The Flyers fan responded by telling him to "look at the ******* scoreboard".
Well, two Mike Green goals and a feared broken Patrick Thoresen testicle later - the game was tied. I was thrilled the game was going to go to OT.
But it didn't. Alex Ovechkin stripped Lasse Kukkonen of the puck and roofed it past Martin Biron for one of his most epic glass leaps of his career. The Caps took a 1-0 series lead courtesy of this 5-4 win.
Sure, nobody wanted the Caps to lose the series. I was also at the series' Game 7 in which Joffrey Lupul scored the series clincher to end the Caps' magical season. Yes, it was sad.
But there was hope. There was excitement. The team was on the upswing.
The Caps might have beaten the Rangers in Game 7 the following year. But, they did their best to piss that game away.
DC followed it up with a stinker in Game 7 vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins - losing at home 6 to 2. The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup, but this was just "strike one" against the Caps (giving them a pass against the Flyers the previous year).
Then Montreal happened. After the Caps won Game 3 - a Montreal columnist sarcastically suggested that the Habs tank game 4 to allow the Caps to take a 3-1 series lead. After all, the Caps had no idea how to handle such a playoff lead.
For many, that was the breaking point. But, George McPhee stayed the course until the 2011 trade deadline.
Well, you know the rest. The Caps got swept in Round 2 by the 'Ning last year and George McPhee opened up the wallet during the summer of 2011.
Boudreau is out, Hunter is in, and the Caps got spanked last night vs. the Sabres.
I've had enough. It is no longer a fluke. McPhee has been around since the '98 run and he has not come close to recreating that success (which arguably he inherited from David Poile).
He has had his chance and it is time to replace him. He is not a bad man. Maybe there was the Eric Belanger incident. Maybe he was quoted as saying about his critics: "If they knew anything about the game, they'd be in it".
And, well, there was that one time back in 1999 when he punched the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks after a preseason game. I actually liked that. If I had $20,000 to spare I would have paid his fine.
But, all in all, George McPhee was a professional man of integrity who just didn't get the job done. It is time to replace him. He built it - the team didn't perform - time to move on and part ways.
With that, Dale Hunter will be a casualty of the new general manager. He was on a one year deal to begin with. Maybe he never had the right parts to do his system. But, he showed very few signs of being ready for an NHL coaching gig.
I imagine the new GM will recruit someone with NHL head coaching experience to lead the Caps - something the Caps haven't seen since Ron Wilson or Jim Schoenfeld. Yes, have another donut, indeed.
As for Alex Ovechkin. Well, he hasn't performed in the clutch. At minimum, he should be stripped of the captaincy.
This "lead by example" shit isn't working. The team needs an "alpha-captain" comfortable making the locker room speeches.
I wouldn't mind having him on the team if his cap hit weren't so damn high. If there is a trade to be made involving Ovechkin, the trigger must be pulled. It won't be more than a few seasons before he is officially untradeable and he becomes the next Wade Redden - finishing out his contract in the AHL.
No longer can he be considered "the face of the franchise". No longer can he be the marketing centerpiece of the Caps. No longer can he be a sacred cow.
Maybe there is a role for him on a Cup-winning Caps team. But, not the way we had hoped. Not what was promised.
So as the cliche goes, for many it is time to break out the golf clubs. For me, it is time to put on the Nats hat and watch 6 months of baseball.
Sure, I will watch the rest of the season. I will monitor the offseason changes (as there will be plenty). But, I am tired of bullshitting myself.
You can hide behind the fact that the Caps aren't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet. I won't.
Turn the lights out, the party is over.