As a sports fan, there is nothing worse than the stark realization that all hope is lost.
Until you reach that breaking point, optimistic fans are able to easily rationalize poor outings by chalking up losses to a tough schedule, bad luck, a rash of injuries or a million other excuses.*
*Does the phrase “We ran into a hot goalie” ring a bell? How about “We couldn’t buy a call the entire game?”
But I’ve been a fan of D.C. sports teams long enough to know that, inevitably, there comes a time in every season when it’s no longer possible to bury your head in the sand and tell yourself that everything is going to work out just fine.
Until recently, the last time that depressing moment of realization came into my life was on Sunday, October 30, 2011.
If I close my eyes, I can still picture it as if it was yesterday.
The 3-3 Washington Redskins traveled to Toronto to take on the 4-2 Buffalo Bills.
Realistically, no one thought for a minute that either franchise was capable of winning the Super Bowl, but both teams had looked decent enough at times during the first two months of the season to inspire a bit of confidence on behalf of their fans.
“Sure, the Redskins aren’t considered part of the NFL’s elite, but at least head coach Mike Shanahan has this team pointed in the right direction,” said damn near every Redskins fan in town.
And then the Buffalo game happened.
The Redskins were systematically destroyed in a 23-0 beatdown by a Bills team that’s so underwhelming they’re forced to play a portion of the home games in another country, and it was clearly time to adjust expectations.
After watching quarterback Rex Grossman get benched for throwing four interceptions in a single game, any chance of Washington salvaging the season hinged on the arm of John Beck.
Shanahan and his son Kyle both swore that Beck could be “the man,” and even went as far as to “stake their reputation” on the unheralded backup, which sounded great … until the 30-year-old actually stepped onto a football field.
But after that demoralizing loss it Toronto, it was clear the Redskins had no backup plan and ‘Skins fans better brace themselves for another forgettable season.
So why am I ripping the band-aid off of this old wound? What good can possibly come from reliving such disheartening moments?
I’m glad you asked.
I bring all of this up to help fans of the Washington Capitals prepare for what comes next.
I’m not going to pretend I can make it all better, but hopefully they can at least take some comfort in knowing that they’re not alone.
Anyone who has been a fan of the D.C. sports scene for a while now has been through this – although, to be fair, rarely do local teams have the level of expectations placed on them that the Caps are currently saddled with.
But there’s no doubt in my mind after watching the Capitals get humbled 5-0 by the lowly Carolina Hurricanes that the season is over for Washington.
Regardless of whether this team can even back into the postseason, the Caps are fundamentally flawed.
It was downright adorable last week when Caps general manager George McPhee tried to convince the locals that his team could take on the world, if only they were healthy.
After all, the Capitals are 8-0 this season when Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green were all in the lineup.
Clearly that means this team would have gone undefeated if not for a fluke injuries or two.
Forget, for a moment, that this team quit on the best coach in franchise history and stinks on the road.
Ignore the part where seemingly every talented player on the roster is going through a season-long slump at the same exact time.
Don’t sweat the small stuff – like the fact that the new coach, Dale Hunter, is being asked to win with a roster made up of players who either can’t or won’t play his brand of hockey.
All that negativity is for bloggers and beat writers who prefer to use “wicked pixels” for evil.
If you’re a true fan, then you just need to curl up in the fetal position and rock yourself to sleep while uttering “If only they were healthy” over and over.
That’s the company line and anyone who isn’t on board clearly has ulterior motives.
And if you want to believe that – if you need to believe that bad guys like me are viewing the Capitals with a critical eye because we’ve got a chip on our shoulder or our parents didn’t love us enough when we were growing up, that’s fine.
But before you dismiss me completely, do me this one favor – go back and take one more look at the 10-point rebuilding plan that owner Ted Leonsis was happy to pimp out when things were going great.
You don’t even need to read the entire plan. Just review step one and then tell me the Capitals are still just fine. For those who aren’t familiar, here’s the first step to successfully rebuilding on a franchise:
1. Ask yourself the big question: “Can this team – as constructed – ever win a championship?” If the answer is yes – stay the course and try to find the right formula – if the answer is no, then plan to rebuild. Don’t fake it – really do the analytics and be brutally honest. Once you have your answer, develop the game plan to try to REALLY win a championship. Always run away from experts that say, “We are just one player away.” Recognize there is no easy and fast systemic fix. It will be a bumpy ride – have confidence in the plan – “trust and verify: the progress – but don’t deviate from the plan.”
After reading that can even the most optimistic of homers truly believe the Caps are capable of winning it all?
Less than 24 hours after the Capitals were embarrassed by the worst team in the Eastern Conference, does anyone really believe that a healthy Backstrom will suddenly make this team stop shutting down at the first sign of adversity?
The general manager clearly wants fans to believe that the Capitals are one player away from greatness. Thankfully, the owner saw this coming and warned fans years ago to run away from experts like McPhee.
I’m not going to tell anyone else how to root for their favorite hockey team. But having reached my breaking point with these Caps, I am eternally thankful for Leonsis acting as the voice of reason.
His words will no doubt guide me through the final stretch of another disappointing season, but the question remains – is anyone else in the organization listening?
[Update: Remember when I said the Caps’ roster is comprised of players who either can’t or won’t play Hunter’s brand of hockey? Here’s a thorough breakdown. Good times.]
February 21, 2012 at 8:55 am
E is for effort. But here was none last night so let’s move onto the next letter, PI. Yeah the letter 3.14159… This PI used to be apple, good ole mom’s home made uhmurrican apple PI. Didn’t taste sweeter. But it has been sitting on the window sill for too long and has become stale, so it tastes more like poop pie. Time for mom to make a new PI.
But I think you just said that more eloquently.
February 21, 2012 at 9:45 am
It seems to me that this post is painfully true. I sit here as a season ticket holder thinking, “Holy shit, I have to tell them I am renewing soon.” I say this with concern because I began paying for season tickets back in 2000, which if I recall correctly was the 1st year that we were in our ‘5 year rebuilding phase'(A surprise to all of us in 2002?) In year 12 of our owners so called 5 year plan, I firmly believe they need to drop the bullshit, drop the complex systematic mumbo jumbo, and go back to simplicity. Ted, if you are reading this, I have an idea. STEP 1: Cut a hole in the box.
February 21, 2012 at 9:52 am
Let me first begin by saying that, as one of the first and loudest (as i often am) people to want Boudreau fired, I was wrong.
Now in hindsight, I honestly think the mistake was letting Halak force this team to reinvent itself to win in the playoffs. The previous year we were within one (ugly) game of eliminating the eventual Stanley Cup Champions; The Halak year we were within one GOAL of sweeping Montreal in the first round.
We lacked luck, this is true. Honestly though, at least with fire wagon hockey we were fun to watch and then we lost in the playoffs.
Now with boring hockey, i dread going to games, and we aren’t going to make the playoffs at all…
(on a side note: Several coaches are on record as wanting the red line back… if that happens that is beyond a doubt the death knell of the NHL.)
February 21, 2012 at 10:06 am
@eric we just signed a THREE year deal…
February 21, 2012 at 10:18 am
I must confess that I too have come the realization that the death of this team as currently constructed was the perception that they had to change their persona with the same personnel.
They were built to outscore teams, but when they fundamentally changed that approach, they got rid of guys like Fehr and Fleischman and replaced them with guys like Hendricks and Ward. Meanwhile, Knuble got old, Green got hurt, and Ovechkin somehow became washed up. As a team, they don’t even look like they want to be out there half the time…and that’s how I feel when I go to the games (“why did I even bother coming down here?”).
February 21, 2012 at 10:42 am
Hey, hold on there…
There is no need to bring Fleischmann into this… Let’s keep this polite cause I got a whole pocket full of Steckel and NO ONE wants it to come to that, because there is just NO coming back from that…
No seriously, I’m glad Fleischmanns gone. There is a fine line between not helping (Semin) and flat-out hurting (Fleischmann) in the playoffs.
February 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm
You know in their defense we don’t KNOW for certain that Hunter didn’t tell them to “swoop and loop around like discarded shopping bags in the wind”, but its probably a safe assumption he didn’t…
February 22, 2012 at 7:32 am
Boudreu inherited a pitiful Duck team with a 7-13-4 record and now has them 25-25-10 and looking like they will make a run at the playoffs.
Hunter inherited the Eastern Division champs with a 12-9-1 record and now has them at 29-25-5 looking like they couldn’t win in the AHL, forget the NHL playoffs.
So all you haters that said Boudreau had to go because he couldn’t win in the playoffs, I know you are happy he’s gone. I personally think it’s the biggest mistake the Caps have ever made.
February 22, 2012 at 9:25 am
I totally agree with Scott AND Luke. First of all…if Boudreau had been allowed to coach HIS game this year things would have been different. Granted, he would still have the cancer of Ovechkin and Semin pulling the team down, but they would have been 100% better. All you Boudreau haters probably realize by now that he wasnt the real issue with the team. The REAL issue – since we can’t get rid of the owner is GMGM. We need to mount a campaign for a new GM…it’s the least Leonsis could do for us. In the meantime…go Ducks.
February 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm
The real issue with the Caps is, was, and always will be with their goaltending. The reason that “Playing Defensive” works in the postseason is that the goalie is good enough to execute that strategy. The Caps never had the goalie who could reliably execute that strategy, therefore they should never have tried to switch to that style.
They are still a playoff team when healthy. The simple fact is, however, that they will not be able to do anything once they get there because they still do not have the talent to execute their scheme.
February 22, 2012 at 2:35 pm
Even if the conclusion is that Dale Hunter is worse than Boudreau that doesn’t mean that BB didn’t need to go. I think to be fair it’s too early to conclude that DH isn’t an NHL caliber coach – I highly suspect that will be the conclusion but it’s too soon to make that conclusion now. Still I think anyone watching the game will realize that pretty much all season BB had no idea what he was doing with this team. His old approach wasn’t working and rather than develop a new plan he seemed to be blowing in the wind and grasping at straw and a couple of other mixed metaphors.
The question that no one seems to be asking – and I’m a bit surprised – is “Assuming the high flying run and gun Caps of 09/10 were never going to win a Stanley Cup would you still prefer them over today’s (or even tomorrow’s) team?” Only 1 team can win the SC each year and if you have to play a really dull boring game to win then perhaps it’s not worth it and we should build a fun entertaining team to excite us for 82 regular season games and 5-14 playoff games.
February 22, 2012 at 5:22 pm
Finally glad to find some people who see what I see. I have done tons of coaching at the HS and youth league level and one thing you learn is that every year, every team, you have to develop a strategy that fits your talent. The Caps were a great run + gun team with mediocre goaltending. They didn’t win the cup right away and everyone panicked and demanded a change in style. The roster was built to win 6-3. When they try to win 2-1 they lose as many as they win. BB was the perfect coach for the team they had. When they hit a small patch of ice (and ran into the most bizarre goalie run I have ever seen – everything hit Halak whether he saw it or not, and they still should have won if not for a terrible goalie interference call) they yanked on the wheel and started skidding all over the road and now seem to be firmly in a ditch. But most just want to talk about grit and toughness and listen to the tires spin.
The roster still has talent. Hockey is a head game. I don’t care whether you keep or fire Hunter but drastically change the gameplan. Turn our players loose. I am sick of watching Semin cycle in the corner. He is no better at that than most any other player- turn him loose. 2 yrs ago if they were down 2 to start the third I was sure they would win. Now if the are down one at the end of the 1st I am sure they will lose. I would rather watch them lose 5-4 than struggle through another 2-1 coin flip of a game. Let’s get back to enjoying 82 games and hope for the best in the playoffs.
February 22, 2012 at 5:45 pm
@ Randall- Couldn’t agree more. After leaving each game, I keep asking myself why did I even bother coming down here.
As a season ticket holder that has to make the decision to renew shortly, its a difficult decision. I’ll renew again, but I’ll definitely sell off a lot more games. They keep raising prices and the product they put out keeps getting worse; just doesn’t make economic sense. Hopefully Ted hasn’t been hanging with Snyder.
As a fan, all I ask from the players is go out and at least put some effort and heart into it. You are paid professionals, act like it.
February 23, 2012 at 9:48 am
All i’m going to say is Bruce got to 200 Wins faster than ANY COACH IN THE HISTORY OF THE NHL. And the Caps fired him. sorry fans at this point they deserve what they are getting.(Ted forgot point #1 of HIS plan)