The fate of the Capitals’ season rests in the hands of George McPhee. McPhee has just under two weeks to right the ship that has been veering off course since the beginning of December. No pressure, right?
Since breezing through the first month and half of the season, the Capitals have been walking a path of mediocrity. To further substantiate that claim, the Capitals are just 12-12-8 since December 1. The power play has completely fallen apart, and offense as a whole has been almost impossible to come by. The Capitals have been shut out eight times this season, and the power play is just 3-43 in the last 14 games. This is the team that finished last season with the number one ranking in power play percentage and goals per game.
One thing that is becoming more and more evident with each passing loss is that the players are no longer responding to Boudreau’s message. I am not ready to suggest that Boudreau has lost the locker room completely, but the Capitals are continuously being outworked every night despite Boudreau pointing this fact out in every post game presser. Yet we see no improvement, and even a smidge of increased effort on the ice is difficult to see. I have been a staunch advocate of Bruce Boudreau this season. His job has been called for by many, and I’ve tried to defend him. But it is becoming more and more difficult to do. We may be at the point where dismissing Boudreau may be the only thing that can spark these players. It would be a firing, not because Boudreau is a bad coach, but because the options on how to turn this season around may be dried up. In professional sports the coach is always the scapegoat before the players; as unfair as that may seem.
The only other hope the Capitals have of preventing another early exist from the playoffs (assuming they make the playoffs, which by the way is anything from certain) is what happens between now and February 28. This is where McPhee holds all the cards that will likely determine the Capitals’ viability as a true Cup contender. The way the Caps’ are currently constructed, in combination with their struggles on the ice, you’d be a fool to bet big money on a long post season. As of today, this team will not win a playoff series unless some significant additions are made.
The most glaring hole is depth down the middle. The Caps’ center positions are currently constructed of an under-achieving all-world center and a pair of young rookies who probably shouldn’t be in the NHL. Remember Brendan Morrison? He was the Caps second line pivot a season ago. His time in DC was a rollercoaster to say the least, but he tallied 30 assists last season. Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson each have just 6 assists each this season. The Capitals hardly have a balanced scoring attack they can unleash on opponents. The recipe for the defeating the Caps is simple; shut down the top line and you will reap benefits gift-wrapped and delivered in the form of two points.
Here is what we know about George McPhee – his ability to find talent is second to none. Guys like Alex Semin, Mike Green, Marcus Johansson, Cody Eakin, and Evgeny Kuznetsov are incredible players. All are in the Capitals’ organization, thus guaranteeing us a level of success for years to come. McPhee is also great at managing the salary cap. Both Backstrom and Ovechkin are signed to long term contracts that remarkably cap friendly considering the open market value of these two players. The core has remained together and will continue together for the foreseeable future. McPhee has put together one of the best teams the league has seen in a long time – on paper. But this team has showed over the past 3 seasons that it does not have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. This year is no different unless McPhee steps in makes the necessary moves to put this team back into contention. Let’s just hope a pray McPhee doesn’t use last season as a guideline for this year’s trade deadline acquisitions.
Last season’s trade deadline was a disaster. The Caps were in dire need of defensive help, so McPhee traded for Joe Corvo? Corvo was more known for his offensive play than his play in his own zone. It was last minute move made just prior to the deadline. It was as if McPhee settled for Corvo just so he could say he traded for the much needed defenseman. Corvo went on to play 18 regular season games with the Caps and 7 playoff games. He finished -4 and -2 respectively.
McPhee also brought in Eric Belanger to sure up some depth down the middle. I actually thought this was a good move as Belanger is known for being dependable on the penalty kill, and was amongst the leaders in faceoff win percentage. McPhee decided against re-signing Belanger last off season in exchange for Tomas Fleischmann whom nobody outside the organization thought was a legitimate NHL center. Belanger probably wasn’t the Capitals long term answer at center, but his 7 goals and 17 assists sure would be handy in the Capitals lineup. Fleischmann was traded in early December.
Then there was Scott Walker. What’s not to love about Scott Walker – he’s gritty, energetic, and a great leader. He’s the kind of player most teams would love to have. But with all due respect to Walker, at that point in his career he wasn’t exactly the missing piece to a Stanley Cup run. He played just 10 games in a Caps uniform, including just one in the playoffs.
With the trade deadline just two weeks away, McPhee has an enormous opportunity on the horizon. Will he continue to build for the future or realize that at some point the future becomes the present. Drafting well provides you with two opportunities. The first opportunity is to build your franchise from the within and have a great team for years to come. It also provides an opportunity to be a more viable entity on the trade market. The Capitals are loaded with prospects, many of which play the same position. Now is a great time to consider parting ways with a prospect or two if it leads to a player who can fill one of the huge holes facing the Capitals.
I have not yet pushed the panic button, but my hand is gently hovering above it. Solid acquisitions at the trade deadline may be the last remaining hope to this season. Unless your name is Ovechkin, Backstrom, or Green; all players on the current roster should have the mindset that they can be shipped out of town. This team, as currently constructed, will not win the Stanley Cup. The mythical “switch” that people speak of – the one which the players will flip and suddenly morph into the team from 2009 does not exist. This should be one for the most active deadlines in McPhee’s tenure. I am confident he can make the necessary moves. But if he doesn’t, and last year’s agony repeats itself, Boudreau may not be the only guy whose job is in jeopardy.
About the Author: Jeremy is a life time hockey fan currently living in Washington DC. Jeremy also runs a Capitals blog called The Nation's Capitals where he frequently posts blogs about the state of the Caps. His other interests include music and politics. Jeremy has a degree in Political Science. Being from DC, politics kind of comes with the territory.