Today is annually one of our favorite days of the year. It's the Day After The Caps Got Eliminated Day! It makes for good laughs, good cheer, and some good soaking in the tears that flood the streets of the capital.
Because the Caps struggled to make the playoffs, they entered the playoffs unburdened by expectations. Then they eked out a win over the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion* Boston Bruins by doing everything in their power to keep the games tied and then hope to get a good bounce. In Game 7, Joel Ward, he of the 4-year, $12 million contract and 6 goals in 82 games, took advantage of Mike Knuble's moxie and scored the winner. The underdog Caps had become a feel good story.
Why it wasn't meant to be after the jump...
After the Pens' flameout against Philly, it became our stated goal to have two things happen -- the Flyers and Caps could not win the Stanley Cup. The Devils took care of business, but unfortunately we were relying on the Rangers to handle Washington, and not only do the Rangers appear to be the most mediocre #1 seed in recent playoff history, they're also easy to despise. But with veteran maturity, we put our distaste for the Rags aside and tolerated them as we rooted against the Caps.
The Caps took the Rangers to the wire in a hard-fought series that had exciting moments, but was otherwise really boring hockey, the kind that can sustain your interest in a Game 7 but not in a Game 32 against Columbus (although nothing gets the Caps pumped up like winning a Game 32 against Columbus). The Caps style went from being a heartstoppingly dangerous team two years ago, to one that gave Jay Beagle more ice time than Alex Ovechkin. Now they're being lauded for having gained an "identity." Funny, because I thought that early exits from the playoffs had been their identity forever?
Under Bruce Boudreau the Caps couldn't do two things at once -- score and defend. Under Dale Hunter they didn't even try to score, and in a strange way you have to give Hunter credit because his system worked. They didn't score. From the day the Caps snuck into the playoffs their goal became abundantly clear. Play twenty-eight one-goal games and hope to go 16-12. That strategy can take you to 7 games against Boston or New York, but it's not going to win you the Cup. At some point, you have to be able to say "we're better than this team, we're going to win 4-1." For as great as the Caps' effort was (whatever that's worth) it was clear they lacked the ability to flip a switch that would get them anything other than two goals, and maybe three if the game went to OT. The games were close, but the team was not close to anything.
So who is to blame? Ovechkin is the obvious candidate, but he's only part of the problem. He was a complete non-factor last night, which speaks less of his ability to produce in clutch moments than it does to his rapidly diminishing ability to produce at all. He had 65 points in 78 games this year (Pascal Dupuis had 59 points in 82 games), and 9 points in 14 playoff games. He's still a good player, and he could one day win a Cup, but the irrefutable truth is that he's regressing. It's ok though, because he only has 9 years left on his contract at $9.5 million per season.
[Quick math tangent: Over the last two seasons, Ovechkin's scoring has dipped by about 26% per year. At that pace, according to my graphing calculator, he will score 4 points in 2020-21 when he is 35 years old and making $9.5 million].
And therein lies the real problem. Individual players on the Caps are performing well below expectations. The teammwork they display is good enough to get them to the second round, but imagine if guys were actually performing up to their contracts? Alex Semin made $6.7 million this year and had 54 points. Brooks Laich makes $4.5 million and had 41 points. We've discussed Joel Ward. Mike Green made $5.25 and while I know he had injuries, he had 7 points in 32 games this season. Seven. Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik each made in the high $3 million-range and they stink. Oh, and Tom Poti is still on the roster. Through next season. Outside of Nick Backstrom, Jason Chimera is their best player.
|This is what happens when Jason Chimera is your second best player.|
The Caps have arrived where they always do.
|Another long summer of overpaying Alex Semin and overreacting to petty slights ahead.|