The Best Caps Plan

May 11, 2011 8:44 PM0 comments

It’s not been a week since the Tampa Bay Bolts broomed aside the Washington Capitals in four games of their second round playoff series. In that week I have heard criticisms of head coach Bruce Boudreau, of inconsistent young talents Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, of captain Alex Ovechkin, and even of teams that have been built around Russian players. But all of that noise has come from outside of the Capitals’ camp. Inside, as Ted Leonsis’s Tuesday radio interview with Mike Wise on 106.7 The Fan demonstrated, the scene is different.

It’s not been a week since the Tampa Bay Bolts broomed aside the Washington Capitals in four games of their second round playoff series. In that week I have heard criticisms of head coach Bruce Boudreau, of inconsistent young talents Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, of captain Alex Ovechkin, and even of teams that have been built around Russian players. But all of that noise has come from outside of the Capitals’ camp. Inside, as Ted Leonsis’s Tuesday radio interview with Mike Wise on 106.7 The Fan demonstrated, the scene is different.

As the Caps owner offered up yesterday, there has been restraint rather than reflex, reflection rather than reaction. And as someone who called for exactly that in this space seven weeks ago, you can guess that I find the approach encouraging.

Touch-up paint, not white-wash – that’s what I think is necessary to continue the Caps’ growth from regular-season potentates to playoff champions. And it seems like Leonsis and GM George McPhee will be only handling small brushes as they attempt to pretty up their roster picture for next season.

The first issue they must address is the future of head coach Bruce Boudreau. During the radio interview yesterday, Leonsis noted the extremely high level of success Boudreau has achieved so early in his NHL coaching career, stating that Boudreau had the best record in the history of the NHL after his first 250 games. The owner also noted that Boudreau’s fate would rest with McPhee. Interesting.

Should McPhee keep Boudreau and again see the team fail in the early rounds of the playoffs next season, then the GM has put himself in the same boat as the embattled coach and both could be set adrift.

So, if I’m McPhee I ask myself this question: If the Caps start on the skids next season, would he pull the trigger on Boudreau after a particularly sluggish first week or month? If the answer is yes, then the time is now to act. Cut bait, allow Boudreau – who has done wonders for the organization – time to find a new post before next season and give yourself time to conduct a thorough search for his replacement before other teams start signing up all the top candidates.

If the answer is no, then I’d sit down with Boudreau and hand him a book on motivational speaking, because his biggest and most important challenge will be to reach out and inspire his team when the wheels begin to fall off as they did this season.

Washington’s performance in the third period of Game 3 against Tampa was inexcusably flat. Game 4′s effort was little better. The coach is ultimately responsible for setting the tone for his team. Either Boudreau’s not doing that properly or his team has tuned him out. Either way, that needs to change.

I believe we’re far more likely to see some changes to the players seated in front of the bench boss, but again, I believe the wrecking ball won’t swing because there is nothing to erect in place of the unsound structure that is the Caps’ roster.

Every year at this time the cries go out to trade Alex Semin and/or Mike Green, perennial underperformers in the postseason. Perhaps McPhee would even like to oblige those cries and deal them away. But the practice-pucks-and-Gatorade packages that will be dangled in front of him aren’t likely worth trading away players as talented as Semin and Green. Not only has their lack of playoff success hurt the Caps, but it’s harmed their trade value as well. So do you deal them away for pennies on the dollar – and keep in mind we’re talking about a perennial 30-goal scorer and a Norris Trophy nominee – or do you hope that someone can bring out their desire and grit next season?

McPhee is likely kicking tires on such trades right now, maybe even pondering “my problem for yours” scenarios, but I suspect realistic proposals will be few. Likewise the free agent crop is largely devoid of talent and more devoid of veteran leadership that doesn’t require a panel of pain killer shots and eight osteoporosis pills simply to skate onto the ice.

That’s why I think the biggest fix will need to be the way Boudreau inspires his players. Washington already has plenty of key ingredients. Now it’s his responsibility to make them sing. If he can’t do that, well, Washington fans will be whistling the same old tune this time next year, but likely with a new coach and GM at the helm.

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