When the 2013 NHL season schedule was released, it was clear that teams were going to be involved in a sprint toward the playoffs. There would be no ramp up time, no easing into the season, no correcting for mistakes.
With each team cramming 48 games in 99 days, there won’t be a lot of time for practice or learning new systems. Teams that came out hot, odds are they’ll do fine. Teams that came out cold, well, their fans may start to wish that the lockout never ended.
One of the teams that has come out cold is the Washington Capitals.
On Friday night, the Caps picked up their first points of the NHL season, earning a tie with the now 3-0 NJ Devils. The tie improved—if you can call getting a digit in anything but the loss column an improvement, to 0-3-1.
The easy excuse would be to point the finger at new head coach Adam Oates in this situation, but that would be somewhat of a mistake. Oates was brought in as a reflection of the management team; he was brought in to be the fan and player-friendly guy, the loveable ex-Cap after former head coach, the not-so-lovable Dale Hunter took the team to the playoffs by actually putting winning above players or fans feelings.
The Caps’ problems may be on the ice and in the win column, but fans and pundits would be well served to look at the very top of the organization if they want to know where the problem is.
Caps ownership and management may talk a good game and say they want to win the Cup, but their actions tell another tale. Their actions say, just keep entertaining the fans, just keep packing the arena and all will be fine.
It’s the culture of "just good enough" that is killing this team and has them residing the league’s basement, looking up at every other NHL hockey club.
The Capitals have one of the best players in the NHL on their club in Alex Ovechkin, but he’s not the superstar he was. Hunter saw that and cut Ovechkin’s ice time way down, to the point where Ovechkin was venting in the press about the situation, but then the team was winning, so management should have told Ovechkin to shut up and play the game.
But that's exactly what they didn't do—they moved in and put Oates in as coach.
The team friendly coach has increased Ovechkin’s ice time early this season from 19:51 in last year’s playoffs to 23:07 early in this season. For that they have been rewarded with one point, an assist.
But hey, Ovie’s happy, the fans are seeing “The Great 8”, the money’s rolling in and all is good.
Ovie’s ice time should be reduced, but the problem now is where does it go? Where’s the support cast? It’s not there, and that’s another symptom of the culture. The management and ownership of the team seems to think, "why should we fork over the cash for another superstar when we can do just fine at the box office and sneak into the playoffs and maybe even win a round with just Ovechkin?"
And why do they think that? Because the fans keep coming back for more and more, thinking "this is our year." Here’s the thing: It’s not, and it’s never going to be until ownership and management change the thinking.
Just win should be the mantra in DC, not just good enough.
I’m not calling for anyone to get fired here, all I’m saying is Ted Leonsis needs to tell general manager George McPhee and Oates do what you need to win and don’t take anyone’s personal feelings into account, not the fans, not the players, not even the owner. That’s the thinking that Dale Hunter used and it worked.
As for the fans, they can help too, stay home, revolt, let Leonsis know that just good enough isn’t cutting it any more. He does listen to the fans, maybe not as much as he listens to his accountants, but he does listen.
It’s time for the Capitals to decide: Do they, as an organization, want to win the Cup and if they answer to that is a rabid, red-eyed yes, they need to change from the top down starting right now.