Fans cheer for the players. That’s sports.
But thanks are in order to guys who don’t wear jerseys (ok, one who does – occasionally) for this wild ride.
First, thanks to Bruce Boudreau. The guy oozes hockey through his fashion-challenged attire. His old school, “have fun but don’t screw around” tough-love style with the boys, his press-press-and-then-press-some-more approach to the game, his quirky regular guy commentary – often delivered with a twinkle in his eye – was just the thing this group of kids needed at the helm. We didn’t know, when he was named, that he was the best choice to take over for Glen Hanlon (although we thought he’d long deserved a chance behind an NHL bench). We’ve never been so happy to be so utterly wrong.
And while we’re at it, thanks to Glen Hanlon. This year, he was not the best fit for this group at this stage of their development, perhaps. But for the first two years coming out of the lockout, his steady, unflappable style was the right note to sound for a group just getting its feet wet in the NHL.
Thanks to George McPhee, who – in retrospect – won the trading deadline. Kids, this isn’t even close. It is not unreasonable to say that absent the acquisition of Sergei Fedorov, Cristobal Huet, and Matt Cooke, we’re looking forward to the draft this morning, even with the herculean efforts of Boudreau and the boys skating under him. Did Fedorov light up the score sheet? Nope. But he brings so much more than numbers at this point in his career. Alexander Semin seemed to skate in awe of Fedorov in the early games when they were paired, but one can see an improvement in Semin in the weeks since Fedorov was brought in. And it isn’t just Fedorov mentoring the Russians – Ovechkin and Semin. He has the pedigree of a hall of fame-in-waiting career and Stanley Cups (plural) to make sure that when he speaks…well, you listen.
Huet has been nothing short of amazing. His style is not the frantic, happy feet, acrobatic style some goalies have. Watching him is like watching Perlman on the violin. He is equal parts artist and technician. There is so little wasted movement, so little urgency. Wherever he needs to be to make the save, to steer the rebound, to move the puck…he is there. He won’t make SportsCenter with the save of the night. He also hasn’t given up more than three goals in a game (and has given up that many only three times) on his way to an 11-2-0 record in
Cooke has been every bit the pesky (ok, non-Caps fans, you can say “chippy”), high-energy cruise missle he was advertised as being. Matt Pettinger could not break out of his inexplicable season-long funk, and Cooke coming in as a replacement has been an injection of rocket fuel.
McPhee also had the patience early on to keep Tomas Flesichmann around (by signing him to a contract during camp) and to resist moving Brooks Laich (whose performance made Pettinger expendable). He also had the long-range view in mind in bringing Boudreau into the fold as head-coach in Hershey. We said at the start of the season that this was a “no excuses” season. And we had our eyes focused on McPhee when we said it. Thanks for shoving those two words back in our mouth, George.
And thanks to the guy in the owner’s box wearing the Capitals red last night. Ted Leonsis is one shrewd business man – heaven knows one doesn’t get to his station in life without being one. But as much as that, he expressed an immovable and irrepressible optimism in this team as far back as last summer. He did what he does very well – accentuate the positive and take the long view. He let the hockey people do their jobs, but he was there upon the re-signing of Alex Ovechkin, which acted as a force multiplier to the Capitals’ resurgence…more fans, more wins, more goals, more excitement, and as of this morning…more games to play. Ted is, in many respects, the face of this franchise. His visibility and accessibility – unique among owners in professional sports – puts him in the position of having to take a lot of heat for the performance of his team (on and off the ice), some of which we supplied from time to time. But in the end, Ted can celebrate a division championship team (with more, we hope, to come this season). Given the circumstances and the path the club took to get there, we daresay it might be the most gratifying moment in his tenure. He deserves a big helping of thanks this morning.
Thanks, Bruce…thanks, Glen…thanks, George…thanks, Ted. And thanks to the entire Capitals organization. It only gets better from here.