It’s been ten days since the Washington Capitals’ season ended and the proverbial axe has yet to fall. As of press time, both George McPhee and Adam Oates are still gainfully employed. That has some people upset.
I get it. I’m a bit surprised the team hasn’t acted yet. And this period of uncertainty doesn’t come without consequences, among them the possible loss of pending free agent Mikhail Grabovski. That would be bad, but I’m trying to see it from the owners’ perspective.
The Caps are at a fork in the road. I can see three potential futures ahead of the team, and now Ted Leonsis has to choose one. It’s a daunting decision, one that merits careful deliberation and planning. If the Caps pick incorrectly– or fail to properly execute that decision– things could get grim and dark. Things could get grimdark.
Here are all the ways I can I see it going.
Future 1: Burn it Down and Salt the Earth
They could blow it up. The Caps may choose to become a different kind of team. This would involve letting George McPhee walk and (probably) firing Adam Oates. The new GM would be dedicated to building a defensively responsible team, the kind of team the world had been telling the Caps to be– incorrectly — since 2009. Some Caps players would seem to prefer that. The new team would be built up the middle and on the blue line rather than on the wings.
In this future, the core of the team, especially Alex Ovechkin, would be dealt away. It wouldn’t make sense to play Ovi on a modest team where his talent and style could clash or corrupt the new ethos. “Two-way” would be the watchword, the basic criterion for all roster pickups. It’d be a more stable team, but one that would never soar.
The D-first Caps would certainly be more viable than the Hunter and Oates iterations, which were bad hockey teams. They might even out-possess their opponents. But the Caps of the Blow-Up Future (you may also call it the Goat’s Blood Future) would look nothing like the team you’ve loved (and also hated) in the last decade. It would be a true reboot.
Future 2: Scoar Moar Goals, Part II
In this future, the Capitals would recognize the obscene amount of offensive talent on their roster and optimize it. This future means an avowed recognition that the problem with Ovechkin isn’t how he plays without the puck, it’s that he has been playing without the puck so much in the last four years.
The new GM and coach would surround Ovi with setup men who carry the puck into the offensive zone– not passive passengers. The S.M.G. defense would be mobile and aggressive– forcing dump-ins and turnovers at the blue line and feeding the offensive for rushes in the blink of an eye. The goalies …they’d be busy.
The team would get stronger when Ovi is off the ice.
They’d realize that the best defense is playing offense always.
There’s be less of this:
And more of this:
It would be a bold future, a doubling down, if you will. It would be an unmistakable acknowledgement by ownership of this team’s strengths and a commitment to getting the most out of those strengths. No more hedging a bet by pairing the scorers with the stout. This would be going All In. Fortuna fortes iovat.
I like this future. It’d be the most fun to watch for sure.
Future 3: Grimdark
No decision at all. This would be an abnegation of responsibility. In this future, the Capitals stay the course. Or maybe they make a change but lack the competence to make it so.
This may require re-signing (not resigning) George McPhee and/or not firing Adam Oates. Oates or his replacement would continue to execute a system that neither exploits Alex Ovechkin’s explosive offensive nor counterbalances his accompanying defensive flaws. The team would get regularly outshot, it would overpay depth players, and it would trade away valuable role-players.
This would be the worst of all words. This is the Darkest Timeline– a world where Ovechkin is not happy here or anywhere else, where Sentinels patrol the skies and hunt mutants, where Amy Pond is a grumpy old lady without Rory, and where the Caps are a sub-48-percent possession team depending on special teams for postseason life. No one wants this.
And that’s why I’m confident the Caps will make a change– and a big one– in the coming days. Because they know the status quo is no longer acceptable, and because they know the change must be made carefully and correctly.
So I’ll try to be patient.