- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ted Leonsis and George McPhee have been too patient - extraordinarily patient - to do anything foolish Wednesday at the trading deadline. There’s been nothing rushed about their rebuilding of the Capitals, nothing panicky or hasty.

Heck, they drafted Alex Ovechkin and couldn’t even play him for a year because the league was shut down, tending to its labor ills. Then they watched the Caps get bullied for two seasons while they continued accumulating first- and second-round picks and restocking the roster. Everything Leonsis and McPhee do seems almost paint-by-number - very measured, very methodical, very self-assured.

So when McPhee says there were no deadline deals this year that made sense for the franchise, who are we to argue? After all, he and Uncle Ted have been pushing almost all the right buttons lately. And unlike last season, when they brought in Sergei Fedorov, Cristobal Huet and Matt Cooke to help them make a mad playoff dash, the Caps are comfortably in front in the Southeast Division and have a realistic shot at the No. 2 seed in the East.

The franchise has too much to lose by trading prospects like Karl Alzner, Simeon Varlamov and John Carlson for short-term gratification. And those are the names, the GM says, that kept coming up in his discussions with other clubs. Sure, it would be nice to shore up the Washington blue line with a Jay Bouwmeester or Chris Pronger but not at the expense of The Future. And ever since Leonsis and McPhee hatched their recovery plan, the Capitals have been all about The Future.

Or as McPhee - for the umpteenth time - put it just after the deadline passed, “We want to be a good team for a long time.”

Being a good team for a long time takes some doing. It takes vision and creativity, a steady stream of young talent and not a little luck. As much as anything, though, it involves a Willingness to Wait, to plant the seeds and have confidence that someday they’ll sprout - if not this year then next.

Another owner and GM might have deviated from the plan after watching their team drop back-to-back home games this week by scores of 6-2 and 5-2 - to clubs below them in the standings, no less. Let’s face it, the Caps have had some alarmingly flat performances lately, all of them at Verizon Center. In fact, they’ve looked a lot like they did under Glen Hanlon early last season - disinterested, disjointed and disgusting (to paraphrase Bruce Boudreau the other night).

With 22 games to go, the Capitals appear to be skating backward - and March is hardly the time for that. But Leonsis and McPhee like this team, have grown attached to it, and they’ve decided whatever answers there are to be found will be found in the current locker room.

Everybody has a theory about why the Caps have suddenly swooned. As Brooks Laich sees it, “We have so much talent, and we have players who want to do so much to help this team win. But sometimes you can overplay instead of keeping it simple. I know I can be accused of that.”

McPhee wonders whether some of the guys have had their minds more on the trading deadline this week than on hockey. And Boudreau talks about how “sometimes we get too individual out there. The Red Wings rarely have a player among the top five [goal] scorers, but they always have the most goals because they play as a team. Teams win championships.”

Of course, even the regal Red Wings have their off days. Why, just last weekend, they lost an 8-0 squeaker to the Predators. In their next game, though, they took it out on the Blues, bludgeoning them 5-0. The Capitals, on the other hand, followed Sunday’s abomination against Florida (during which the Panthers scored six straight goals) with Tuesday’s embarrassment against Carolina (during which the Hurricanes, taking pity on the poor Caps, only scored five straight goals).

Not a good sign. Not a good sign at all.

Perhaps the Capitals, after years of failure, are still coming to grips with their sudden success. They are, let’s not forget, a young club, with many of their core players in their early 20s. And now they’re getting newspaper stories written about them from here to Edmonton and appearing regularly on the NHL’s national telecasts.

Then, too, they’ve gotten quite a bit of individual acclaim for a team that, as yet, hasn’t accomplished much. Ovechkin won every trophy but the Heisman last season, Nicklas Backstrom was runner-up for rookie of the year and Mike Green just broke a record for defensemen by scoring a goal in eight consecutive games.

Even the 5-2 loss to Carolina produced a highlight-reel play: Alexander Semin firing the puck into the net from his knees. These Caps have talent, all right - enough, Leonsis and McPhee are convinced, that they don’t need last-minute reinforcements.

No, the owner and GM will simply bide their time and see what develops. Overreaction and snap decisions aren’t part of their strategy, and the franchise is the better for it.

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