The long ride to work is usually made with The Sports Junkies on the radio, which was a good or bad thing this week depending on whether you wanted to listen to a lot of necessary dissection of the Capitals’ latest letdown.
A caller made the point that no team with a Russian leader has won the Stanley Cup. Whether that’s actually accurate is not the point here. The follow-up discussion brought up an interesting question for the Caps.
One of the Junkies — I enjoy the show but can’t keep the four of them straight to save my life — mentioned Pittsburgh’s brilliant Evgeni Malkin. Not the leader, it was noted, not on a team with Sidney Crosby. Someone mentioned Sergei Fedorov, whose stellar career included a late stint with the Caps. Nope, his Detroit teams were led by Steve Yzerman.
Let’s forget for a moment, if we can, the gigantic mental block the Caps keep building when it comes to the playoffs. Let’s also try to forget their unseemly whining about officiating. When you manage one regulation goal in the final three games of a series and none of any kind in the final two, it’s best to shut up about the refs and man up about your own significant failures. (OK, now we’ll forget the whining.)
Let’s instead concentrate on what this team needs as it begins another offseason too soon. The wish list really isn’t that long. At the top it should read, “Find another stud goal-scorer.”
Easier said than done, of course. No one is going to hand the Caps a top-level player. Can they afford to sign one? Can they put together enough of a package to trade for one, even if it might cost them someone like Braden Holtby? If they can get one, they need to make sure they do it.
We expect so much out of Ovechkin because he’s shown he’s capable of so much. He gets a lot of the credit when the team is playing well. We get so disappointed when he doesn’t deliver and he gets a lot of the blame when the team isn’t playing well, or gags away a 2-0 series lead in the playoffs. Is some of it on him? Indeed. Is all of it on him? No way.
He needs a teammate who can come close to looking him in the eye skill-wise.
The Caps are a very good team because they have a lot of very good players. The “second tier,” if you will, is quite sound and becomes moreso when Brooks Laich is able to play a full season. The late-season trade for Martin Erat brought in another nice piece. The Caps are loaded there, even if they choose not to re-sign Mike Ribeiro (and the purely speculative bet here is he won’t be back).
But who is the other true stud?
Nicklas Backstrom is the first name that will jump to most minds. He’s gifted, sure, but frankly belongs more on the high end of the second tier. Tremendous assist guy with a career high of 33 goals. His best other than that is 22 and he hasn’t had more than 18 in any of the past three seasons.
Alexander Semin sure had that potential and was that guy at times. Consistency was not his middle name and his mercurial self is gone to Carolina now.
Malkin had 50 goals and 59 assists last season. He had a whopping 78 assists in 2008-09 and still scored 35 goals. A year before that? He had 47 goals and 59 assists. Fedorov had 10 seasons with 30 or more goals and one with 56.
Is there anyone on the Caps besides Ovechkin you can safely say will be a threat to get 30 goals, let alone 40 or 50?
Getting a player of that caliber could help on the mental side, too. It will presumably be a veteran and one who isn’t bogged down by the Caps’ multiple playoff failures. Maybe he can help lead the always-disappointed core group beyond what’s expected, which would be a nice change from seeing the team often fall short of what’s expected.
Who is he? Where is he? How does he get here? Sorry, no answers jump to mind. Perhaps there is no answer. But George McPhee has been this team’s general manager for a very long time (too long, some might suggest, though we won’t do that here). If there is an answer, he needs to find it. He said when he traded well-regarded prospect Filip Forsberg for Erat that it takes guts to make a trade.
So show some major guts. Make a major trade.