As the game clock struck zero, a crowd full of devastated fans walked to their cars with their heads down and their pride swallowed. April 13th of 2014, marked the end of the Washington Capitals regular season but more than that, it ended an era; an era of regular season success.
The Caps have not missed the playoffs since the 2006-07 season. In the 2008-09 season, the capitals were awarded the President’s Trophy, the award that is presented to the team with the best record in the NHL. That season the capitals racked up a whopping 54-15-13 record. In the years of 2007-13, the Caps came first in their division 5 out of a possible 6 times, only coming in second in the other season.
But for some reason the Capitals have not found a way to make it deep into Stanley Cup contention. The same solemn day that ended the Caps regular season, ended their reign over the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals finished 5th in their respective division with an unimpressive 38-30-14 record.
The critically acclaimed Bleacher Report claims “If the Washington Capitals were to make the playoffs this season, it would actually hurt the franchise. Extending their postseason streak to seven seasons would only mask the problems that plague this deeply flawed hockey team.” This article was released in May, before the Capitals missed the post season. Many capitals fans tend to agree with this logic.
Ted Leonsis, majority owner of the Capitals, and upper-management looked at the missed playoff berth as an opportunity for change, firing Head Coach Adam Oates and not re-signing General Manager George McPhee. These vacancies were quickly filled with new Head Coach Barry Trotz and newly signed GM Brian MacLellan, more affectionately known as GMBM or Big Mac.
MacLellan has served the Capitals for 13 seasons before being named General Manager, holding jobs ranging everywhere from Pro Scout to his last title as Assistant General Manager. Barry Trotz is the longest tenured Head Coach of NHL history. After a staggering 15 season marathon with the Nashville Predators, Trotz is refocused and ready to tackle the struggling Capitals team head on.
Trotz and MacLellan did not waste any time spending the Capitals outstanding cap balance of $69.8 million. This money was used to shore up the blue line (defense) and to find a veteran presence to add to the Caps already star-studded locker room. MacLellan filled both voids within a few hours, signing two blue liners in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. Both defensemen hail from sworn enemy and arch rival Pittsburgh. The two blue liners contribute a combined 19 professional NHL seasons.
Signing Niskanen and Orpik “kills two birds with one stone” MacLellan claims that defense was one of the worst of many problems last year, which to many it was. The Capitals used more defensemen in the 2013-14 season than any other NHL team, mostly rookies from their affiliated AHL team the Hershey Bears. MacLellan and the Capitals have now expended close to $70 million trying to fix this problem that was so detrimental to the Caps 5-on-5 play last season.
The other major problem hurting the Capitals is goaltending. Until late last season, the Caps have relied on Capital’s sophomore net minder Braden Holtby. Holtby made some outstanding starts for the guys in red but late in the season was starting to lose focus. The Capitals picked up Jaroslav Halak from waivers. Jaroslav made just 12 starts, logging numbers like a .930 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.31. But these stats weren’t enough for MacLellan, as he elected to re-entrust the caps net minding back to Braden Holtby.
After this decision was made, MacLellan wanted to further solidify their faith in Holtby by signing a young backup, in lieu of an older veteran. MacLellan explained his reasoning as “If you bring in an older, experienced guy, it’s going to cost you more money,” MacLellan said. “It was going to cost us more money, and it might have been a little more pressure on Holtby. We wanted to send a message to Holtby that he was our No. 1 guy.” MacLellan elected to sign former Carolina Hurricane Justin Peters. Justin Peters is a left-handed tender with a promising future. The Capitals goaltending coaching staff fully supports both Holtby and Peters growth into franchise goaltenders.
The Capitals have made some very interesting and thought-provoking moves in this offseason, from rejuvenating the defense and goaltending to re-staffing for a fresh perspective. If the Capitals can handle their 5-on-5 play, play disciplined on defense, get some help from the guy between the pipes, and listen to leadership, whether it is from behind the bench or from the bench, it should shape up to be a very rewarding year for the franchise.
There is one thing that is for sure; this season will be different, for the worse or for the better. Let us Caps fans hope it is the latter.