Friday, May 06, 2011

What can you say...


The Caps went quick and quiet in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Tampa Bay Lightning, bringing another season to an early end. The Caps fell behind, again, and when the Lightning opened a 3-1 lead in the second period, you could probably rest easily that there would be no “Miracle on 34th Street” comeback. Tampa shut things down, added to their lead in the third, eventually getting a late goal that would make the margin 5-2 before a late window dressing goal for the Caps made a 5-3 final seem closer than it was.

And so, the Capitals’ summer starts early once more. One gets the feeling that a moment has passed, the best opportunity for the Caps to win a championship, at least for the near future. They had a mix of players in their prime and enough veteran leadership to give fans real hope that this, finally, would be the year.

But in the end, this Caps team was no different than any other you might compare it to over the 36 years of this franchise’s history – underachievers or unhealthy, unimaginative or unable to beat a team it should have beaten. It is early, perhaps too early to render a fitting judgment on this squad and its place in Caps history, but we cannot help thinking that this franchise is all sizzle and no steak. Thirty-six seasons of this will leave that impression. The current edition has the great videos, big web presence, and is steeped – marinated, in fact – in the whole idea of the “experience.” But the hockey? Twice in 36 years the Caps have moved past the second round. This year’s team was just another team that didn’t, indistinguishable from the 2009 team, the 1994 team, the 1991 team… 1988… 1986… 1984.

Oh, the players will say all the right things in all the right tones about how disappointing this is to them personally and how they let down the fans. Coaches will talk of what went right and what didn’t. Management will try to spin this as just another step on the road to success.

Heard it. Year after year after year.

No, the Caps are what they are. Swap out the names Carpenter and Gartner for Ovechkin and Backstrom. Switch out Larry Murphy for Mike Green. Scorer for scorer, grinder for grinder, goalie for goalie. This club is, in the end, no different than any of those teams in the 1980’s that should have won, and didn’t. You can talk about luck, or bounces, or health (and this club did – before this post season even got started), but in the end it isn’t any different from the teams of the 1980’s or 1990’s or the early 2000’s that should have done better, and didn’t. Over all those years, the players have seemed like genuinely good guys, guys who wanted to win and who took it hard when they didn’t. Coaches were earnest folks who probably spent a lot of time trying to figure out what they had to do to squeeze out the last bit of effort that would get their teams over the hump. Management was diligent in trying to assemble rosters that could make deep playoff runs.

But in the end, two of them did. Two. This team wasn’t one of them. And we are left to wonder, “OK, now what?” As a fan, we were angry last year over what happened to the Caps in losing to the Canadiens after building a 3-1 series lead in the first round, saying that “the season stands as a failure. Period, and point blank.” This year, it is more a resigned sigh. This is what Caps teams do. They tease, they have flashes of brilliance when snow is on the ground. But when push comes to shove, they do not push enough and do not shove enough. They sputter, they make mistakes in the simplest parts of the game, they lack the killer instinct. They go quietly when the trees blossom.

Somewhere, someone is going to be tempted to say, “it was a hard lesson to learn.” Wrong cliché. The same lesson of beating back adversity has been pounded into the Capitals for the past four seasons, but they just don’t seem capable of learning it. Teams out work, out-scheme, out-whatever the Caps. Whether it is the Islanders or the Rangers, the Penguins or the Flyers, or last year’s Canadiens or this year’s Lightning, for 36 seasons it has been a case of the Caps not so much being beaten by better teams as much as they are losers to teams they should have cast aside.

It isn’t even anger-inducing. It does not seem to be worth that kind of emotional investment. It might not even be disappointing any more. It is expected. And even if the Caps make changes – on the ice, behind the bench, or in the front office – it hardly seems to matter. The Caps have had hall of famers skate for them and hall of famers in waiting. They have been coached by a pair of Murrays, a Wilson, a Boudreau. They have had a Poile and a McPhee making personnel decisions. It hardly seems to matter. The pieces change, the results are the same.

We’ll look forward to the draft, to development camp, to training camp. We’ll be at games, and we’ll probably be writing about them. But purely as a fan, making an emotional investment in the Caps looks more and more over time like a fool’s errand. There is no romance in being a fan of a lovable loser. Losers are lovable only to fans who do not follow that particular team. We doubt Cubs fans think of their team as “lovable” losers, and we are quite sure that New England wasn’t in a loving mood watching the Red Sox come up short year after year.

In the 1980’s the Caps disappointed their fans with early playoff exits, but looking back they probably got about as much out of their talent as they could. This edition of the Caps – the one that now has two playoff series wins in six tries over the last four years (both over the offensively incompetent Rangers) – looks more like a club that has squandered both opportunity and talent. They were passed by in 2009 by the Penguins, passed by in 2010 by the Blackhawks, and passed by this year by their own division rival in the Lightning. That is pretty much the definition of the phrase, “moving backward.” The Caps would appear to have the talent to be a reliable playoff contender for years to come, and we have the uneasy feeling that this is quite good enough for club management in that it will keep the turnstiles turning. But a championship contender? When we read that “anything can happen in the playoffs” or that such and such a team is “hard to play against,” we’re not put in the mind that it is a championship level team doing the talking. Those kinds of teams aren’t victims of bad luck. They make their luck. They are the teams that others find it difficult to play against. Teams like the Caps – who can be quoted as saying results are as much the product of luck and the initiative of the opponent – don’t win.

The best chances of that seem to be in the rear view mirror. It is hard to envision this club being given any serious consideration as a genuine Stanley Cup contender next season with its having failed to meet expectations in the past few years. Oh, they’ll make the playoffs, but they seem to be settling into that “also ran” status in which they will reach the playoffs, perhaps win a round, but who will inevitably run into a “hot goalie” or a coach with a better scheme, or plain bad luck.

These aren’t evil people; they haven’t been over the last 36 seasons. They care – we do not dispute that. No one gets up in the morning and ponders, “how can I screw up on the ice tonight?” Or “what mediocre talent can I get for this team?” Or “How can I make fans more miserable??” But after 36 years of relentless disappointment, made more bitter over the last few years precisely because of the talent on the ice, we’re left with asking “Why?”

Because they are the Caps. It’s what they do. It’s what they’ve done for 36 seasons.

What can you say…

19 comments:

Michael said...

Peerless, this is the exact reason I am cancelling my season tickets. It's always excuses. I don't hear the same things coming from winning organizations. Things that the Caps front office and coaches should be saying, it's like the other teams are in on the secret and know we don't know it and I want the people that know the secret in here making the changes for the better. If you know how to win bring them in is my new motto.

Avtopilot said...

frustration...

this time it is so quiet. everybody got used to it.

Sturt said...

Yup.

They've shown - they have a floor and a ceiling.

The floor is the playoffs - they can make that.

The ceiling is they are no better than the 4th best team in the East.

My resolution is to go to games next season in plain clothes. I'll cheer wins and offer advice from the 400s again, but the jersey stays in the closet until they make the conference championship round.

Also think a little less saturation coverage is called for. I wonder whether there's a little Redskins mentality seeping in to the Caps - a little too much absorption in their status in the city. I have no idea. But I'm unfollowing everything Caps-related on Twitter, deleting sites from bookmarks (except here, of course.) Just doesn't seem worth it.

Mia said...

After so many long-endured years a fan, I have no choice but to release myself from the emotional investment as you so aptly stated. I have "full bench" worth of feelings about breaking from life-long commitment. I wrote my final Washington Capitals thoughts on the home page of my blog and those thoughts reflect the same sentiment you included in this post.

Four years of the same lessons no learned. I sometimes wonder if they are tanking seasons on purpose. I think I might understand that in some way, rather than simply feel that for all the hype about "Building America's Hockey Town", we have actually been duped into thinking the organizational leadership actually likes hockey.

I know from reading your blog that you love hockey. I do to. Call me a quitter, but I'm guittin' only DC hockey, because this can be better and I won't let this organization kill my love of hockey.

I am very appreciative that you put the link to my blog on your site. Most others in the Capitals "blogoshpere" did not. I may not always agree with your take on things (like last year, I didn't think it was a "total loss of the season"-I've suffered head trauma, so what did I know-LOL :-0), but your blog is by far one of my favorites. No matter my emotional investment to DC hockey next year, I'll not leave your blog behind.

Many thanks for all the years of Prognosticating. I absolutely DO NOT disagree with you after this post-season bust. I love hockey entirely too much to have the strength for another year. Many of you are much stronger than I in this case. GO SHARKS

exwhaler said...

Perspective: In the past year, my dad had a heart attack, my best friend got breast cancer, and I've lost my job...three times.

So, let me put it this way...the Capitals don't mean much. They're a sports team, a woefully frustrating one. I watch sports to take me away from the crap that goes on in my life, but when my sports team decides to up and lay a stillborn egg in the playoffs, why should I care about them? It's not important to me, so why should I put myself through the pain the Capitals have been handing out for 30 plus years?

So, I don't care anymore. I don't care I had to give up my season ticket last year. I don't care that I haven't managed to go on a Caps Road Crew trip for too long. I don't need to debate and discuss at message boards anymore. I've got far more other important things going on in my life, and the Capitals obviously aren't moving in any other direction than the one they're going in, so I'm just going to move on.

I'm still a fan, just not a fanatic. 'Cause to be blunt, the team made it easy not to care about them. They're officially now on the peripheral of my life.

Bucky Katt said...

"They care- we do not dispute that.". Guess that's why Mike Green was caught partying down at a Jon Bonjovi tribute band concert the night after that game 4 loss. Looked like he was having a pretty good time too, hoisting beers and laughing.

When Marine officers write their fitness reports on their subordinates, the one question that they have to answer is "Would you go into battle with this person? Would you want him in a foxhole next to you?"

Time for the Caps management to ask the same kind of questions regarding the players on the roster.

OviWani said...

Green and Semin have got to go. They are head cases. Shultz should depart too. Just too slow. Is it 2020 yet when we will have at least won one cup?

Anonymous said...

Supporting your test through good and bad is part of being a fan. We haven't been through half of what Cubs, Red Sox, etc, fans have had to endure. Imagine 100 years of fielding good teams without a championship.

To your final question, Peerless, I say San Jose. Since the lockout, only Detroit has been a better regular season team, if any team. The Sharks through four years had nothing to show for that success, either but in yeAr five, last season, they made the Conference Finals, will again this year most likely, and I think they will win the Stanley Cup in Year Six of Joe Thornton.

Alex Semin has finally proven himself as a two way forward. Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin saw a large uptick in quality of competition and for the most part didn't look any worse at ES, once the ASG passed (y'all will note most of the Young Guns' decline in production was thanks to the power play). Johansson looks better every day. Carlzner may be as good as Suter-Weber within five years. We have three goalies under 23 years old who can play in the NHL, and chances are two will become legitimate starters, if they aren't already, if not three. Green continues to get better and better, Schultz should continue developing as he won't lose this summer to mono, and we have potential studs in the wings in Eakin, Kuznetsov, and Orlov.

Let's wait a little longer before giving up, ok? Before the season started some of the main Caps bloggers notes that this season should be a down season, that 2011-2012 would be better. Well, getting better than a second round exit is pretty good, indeed.

Anonymous said...

And if Poti ever gets healthy the Caps' top six on defense will be the best in the nhl, with four top pair defensemen in Green, Carlson, Alzner, and Wideman, and two more top fives in Poti and Schultz. This team will have the best backup goalie in the league aside from Boston, the best winger in the world, and two of the top ten at that position.

OldPhil said...

Forget Poti...he's been too injury prone for several seasons and will be lucky to come back at all. And Semin just can't "compete" in the playoffs....it's his nature and we have multiple years as proof. I almost put Green in that category too, though the injury this year gives me pause...but he just doesn't seem to have the intensity needed for the playoffs, even when he is healthy. Schultz showed me nothing this year...no matter how "technically" correct he may be, he's just too slow to be more than a 3rd pair guy. Major changes are needed.

Diane said...

I'll still keep my season tickets. But I wonder if the only way Ovi will ever get the Cup is for him to wait for the expiration of his contract with the Caps is to sign as a Free Agent with whatever team looks like the best team at the time, a contending team, with PROVEN playoff success AND to sign with that team for the league minimum salary. Given that contenders are usually close against the Cap limit.

I did throw all my playoff tickets, Caps programs, and old tickets into the recycle bin. Can't stand to look at any reminders.

Snktimoniuz said...

"Stay disappointing - believe your own press"

Diane said...

I've always enjoyed reading your posts, Peerless. They've always been so well researched, informative, and entertaining.

Even though if we're feeling in the depths of pessimism at the moments. Sometimes I wonder if I had been Sisyphus in a previous life.

SA-Town said...

The Blackhawks finally won the cup after a ton of up and down seasons. Do you think anyone from Chicago cared about the bad seasons? Nope..they were in the streets loving life.

Our day will come...maybe in a year you dont expect it...hockey is a great sport..we arent the Yankees. Our time will come, and if your a TRUE Caps fan, you wont give up on your family.

Im not happy, want to see change like many others...but I wont give up, and I will Rock the Red.

Insanity said...

I get the frustrations, I've been a fan since the mid-late 80s..

But here's the thing that I'll never get. Most of the people who are frustrated sat with the team through the rebuild. They are now witnessing one of the most talented teams this team has had -- ever. They have balance on offense and defense as well as solid goaltending.

How in the world can you quit on that?

I get the "heart". I get the "work ethic". I get the apparent partying too much. These are kids that are in need of guidance.

People wonder why Crosby has had such success -- it's because he's had the likes of Mario (like him or hate him, he took him under his wing and told him what he needs to do).

Quinn said...

Hey Peerless, I have to say that your article left me even more miserable after I read it then before I started, and I was pretty miserable beforehand. Granted I am not one of you real long-timers. I have only been watching this team for about four years. But it is hard to get up any enthusiasm about anything this team does considering you are screwing this organization for eternal damnnation. I just get the feeling that all you are saying in this article is that we suck and we will always suck and there is nothing we can do about it. Maybe you are right and it is worth jettisoning all ties to this team now before they just make you hurt more but I get the feeling that there are only thirty teams in this league, and maybe once just one time they will find a way to win this stupid tournament we call the stanley cup playoffs.

katzistan said...

This is the best appraisal of the Caps experience I've seen so far. For me, it's been 30 years. It just *is* the Caps as you say. This is who they are.

I wish it were so easy to just ditch the team and so, ok no more emotional investment. Tried to do that many times before. I guess it's an addiction, just keep coming back.

This year was number than most though - the only time before the playoffs I can remember jubilating (is that a word) was Mike Knuble's shorthanded goal against the Pens. It was all going to be about the playoffs this year, so the rest of the year was just an approving nod. There was some brief celebrating in the first round, but now back to how we normally feel.

Next year will probably be more numb still. Will I even stand to cheer when the Caps score? Not sure. It sure hurts.

Usually Frustrated Caps Fan said...

Peerless:

I grew up in Philadelphia and I can only say we Caps fans (I am one now and likely will be the rest of my life) still have nothing on the drought we Phillies fans lived through.

I will admit this season's exit from the playoffs is a lot less emotional for me and easier to take. Why? Because I feel like the Caps made progress. The truth is the Caps are on a journey one that began with "the sell-off" and continues today. I share everyone's frustration when the Caps picked up Arnott and Wideman at the deadline I thought - this could be the year, alas it wasn't to be. I won't make excuses for the team and I don't think they or the coaching staff need to or should make them. They made it past a tough first round in good form, they met a more determined foe who played more disciplined, they need to reflect on that and figure out how to make sure they don't do it next season.

In the meantime, I'm keeping my season tickets and looking for two more. I don't think the "status quo" will be acceptable to the ownership and I'm a persistent eternal optimist who feels like this team is close, very close AND the Caps are the most fun and best sports team in DC to follow and root for.

Hang in there everyone and remember it is just a game and a diversion, as someone above noted, there are far, far more important things in life than following and rooting for "your teams." I will say if it stops being fun, then I understand why you'd stop doing it.

Me I'm already enjoying the off-season and thinking about the next one with guarded optimism.

LETS GO CAPS!!!

Mia said...

I hear all those who think the Capitals time will come. I BELIEVE that, however, here's some perspective - I will not live that long. My life will be lived in love with hockey. The Washington Capitals have had their time in the span of my life as it seems to be closing faster than I'd like.

Keep being proud, supportive, reslient fans. Just don't ask those who have had lives like mine (oh dear hockey gods - I hope there's no one else!) to shed their love on DC hockey. Read a bit of my blog before you judge.

I hope we all see the CUP in DC, I simply can't wait very much longer.

BELIEVE and love your hockey! And Read Peerless everyday, or whenever "they" get around to it.