[Ed. note: Eric Bovim shares his perspective as an aggrieved season-ticket holder. - Peter]
I have invested nearly $60,000 since 2008 as a season ticket holder into the Washington Capitals. But it’s time to put that to an end.
Even with the overdue changes to the Caps front office announced this weekend, I have decided to give up my tickets as a protest to ownership. I doubt the voice of a lone STH matters much to them; no doubt they will quickly sell my two seats in my section 102, row F to someone on their waiting list. Management never knew me. But I will not let them forget about why I have made the decision to forfeit my precious seats.
For the past 6 seasons, from those seats by the faceoff circle near the glass, I have seen it all. I remember the time I took my little boy to his first game – early 2009 – when he was merely two and a half. Alex was so young then I had to bring along his diaper and pacifier. His mother packed him his bottle. I bundled him up. We were playing the Canadiens. Jose Theodore was out goalie then. We won 3-0. I still remember his face that night at the game, him cheers along with the Horn Guy, him falling asleep later that season in the third period as the Caps rallied to beat Detroit. He stayed asleep even as Verizon Center celebrated a vintage Mike Green goal. I stood and held him as he slept. It was not easy, but it was fun.
We saw many other games over the years together. We became quite comfortable at Verizon together. We had our pre-game dinners all mapped out. He made his tour around the concourse, seeking free handouts from the Red Rockers. When I told him that I had given up the seats he was rightly upset. The games with dad were a childhood ritual that I have abruptly ended. He expected to be able to go. It would be hard to explain to him, however, that I expected much more from the Capitals this year, and that I felt like I was pouring my money down a hole.
Since the dismal season ended (I did not even attend the last game) the Capitals organization hangs in limbo. The Caps now are searching for new leadership to helm an adrift organization. Fans are still waiting for a change, and it’s doubtful that this change will materialize overnight with a new GM and coach. The roster that won less than 40 games remains the roster for next season.
The Capitals marketing department, however, has been hard at work to lure me back. The other day, I received what can best be described as a laughable email from them. It sums up the state of the entire franchise when you read it. Here it is:
The litany of reasons why I should remain a STH is as sad as it is amusing. The Caps were once the toast of the NHL. We were like a loaded weapon. Every position was filled with talent and our prospect pipeline was deep. It’s sad to see the stark reality now of the organization described this way: “talent like Michael Latta”; the “always impressive and hard-working ‘Green Line’”; the chance to watch an “extremely exciting” power play. Years ago, when I would get my end of season letter from owner Ted Leonsis, after the inevitable playoff disappointment, there was at least meat on that bone: the letters talked about the desire to win a Cup. It reminded us that the team was stacked with talent and that the window to win the Cup was still open.
But those days are long gone.
The facts are that the Caps are not very good anymore. They are no longer legitimate Cup contenders. How did this happen? I will let the professionals evaluate the reasons why. Even with their sweeping decisions in recent days, I have to ask if the Capitals might have a Ted Leonsis problem. Dick Patrick should be thrown into that conversation too.
Ownership conducted extensive exit interviews in order to reach the conclusion that it needed to revamp the front office. That was the right outcome. But the time-consuming process by which they arrived at this conclusion was alarming. Was this dreadful situation not apparent to them months ago, or even two months ago? What did the exit interviews reveal that was not apparent to fans? The bottom line for the past few seasons was always the same: the Caps were in steady decline since the 2010 Halak series and GMGM and the rest of the organization did not intervene strongly enough to arrest the decline.
Leonsis has already issued a startling mea culpa on his blog, stating that he was wrong to state at the beginning of the season that the Caps had no weaknesses. Any owner who was that foggy-eyed about the potential for this year’s collapse surely could have hamstrung his franchise over the years by prohibiting his GM to make moves that would have improved the team. I recall, years ago, during the Caps’ epic 6-game losing streak during the Winter Classic season, that Leonsis told media he was puzzled by the fan’s fervor and their willingness to do things like fire Boudreau and trade Mike Green. Well, they finally did fire Bruce and that, in retrospect, has proved a fatal mistake. As for the ever-brittle Green, how could they not have seen over the years that he was always a defensive liability that scored goals? Now that he can no longer do the latter, there is talk that the final season of his $6.5 million contract will be bought out? Well, who approved this contract in the first place?
The Capitals, much like the Canucks, have become the NHL’s Cinderella story in reverse. Where is the turning point? The Caps defense is thin, small, and gaffe-prone. The Caps offense is not the juggernaut it was. The goaltending is a question mark. What will our new system be this time? When will we stop the unnecessary criticism of Ovechkin, a player paid to score goals who is scoring lots of them?
This is why I gave up my seats.
I loved those seats for the first few seasons. I witnessed Fedorov’s game 7 winner up close. It was an exhilarating live sports moment. I saw the dueling Crosby/Ovechkin hat tricks. That was unreal. I saw the acrobatics of Varlamov (perhaps maybe GMGM’s worst trade of all) in the Pittsburgh series, the come-from-behind thrillers of the Boudreau era, the toe-drag goals of Semin. It was all wonderful when it was happening, but it was not happening like this anymore. Somewhere after hiring Dale Hunter, the games got stale. The energy in the building changed too. It got quieter. This year especially, it was not the raucous Rock-the-Red atmosphere from the heyday of 2011, when we thought we might win the Cup and every rush up ice was would become a scintillating scoring opportunity.
I guess I gave up my tickets because I don’t think we can win the Cup anymore. I don’t want to invest my time in watching a slow-motion decline anymore. It’s too hard to watch. Not when I recall so clearly what it was like before, in the heyday when we would score at will and there was still optimism after every playoff loss.
Maybe was the coach. Maybe was the GM. Perhaps it’s the fault of the owner and President who may not know what to do with the ruins that lay before them.
Eric Bovim is a former STH. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org