The LONG Wait for the Washington Capitals is OVER

We like winning!

WE LOVE THIS KIND OF WINNING!!!

cap-centre-landover WTOPMany of you have followed the Washington Capitals since they first set up home in the DMV as an expansion team in 1974 — way out in Landover, Maryland.

THIS IS YOUR DAY!!!

George McPhee came to manage in 1997 and seemed to have a strategy for the boys.

You followed the Caps to Chinatown and the MCI Center in 1998.

You suffered the heartbreaking loss of its first NHL Stanley Cup playoff series in 1998.

There was Craig Laughlin, Mike Gartner, Rod Langway, and Dino Ciccarelli, just to name a few

Stanley Cup Practice762You were there when Ted Leonsis bought the team in 1999.

You watched as other teams went all the way and you waited…

We had Jaomir Jagr and Peter Bondra but still no CUP.

And then came the Alexander Ovechkin Era and the lights came up again. There was a sense that something big changed with the addition of  Young Guns of Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Alex Semin. That was the 2004 draft, and still you waited.

We relished players like Olaf Kolzig, Matt Cooke, and Sergei Fedorov.

April 2014 the Caps and McPhee parted ways, starting a chain of events that would later challenge the Capitals. Enter Brian MacLellan.

watermarked62(2018-06-04-1347)There were a sea of coaches, some talented and well loved like Bruce Broudreau and the newest coach of the era- Barry Trotz. Players came and went – including Green and Semin. John Carlson and Karl Alzner had a special magic. Swedish player Marcus Johansson heated up the ice.

Then came the Summer of Trades, 2017. Alzner, Johansson, Nate Schmidt, and Justin Williams. And a new name for the Caps to play in: Capital One Arena.

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Investment was made in a new look for the team with new contracts for TJ Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Philipp Grubauer, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky. New players joined the lines in the 2017/18 season: Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Travis Boyd, Madison Bowey, and Christian Djoss. The team had some major growing pains to endure and the expectations were low that they would even make it to the NHL Playoffs, let alone to the Stanley Cup Finals.

And then something happened. It all clicked. All the years of investment. All the tears fans had shed. All the dollars invested as season ticket holders. All the shirts and jerseys and red cowbells. It all just clicked!!

In the first round the Caps defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2. Still we waited in anticipation because the next round was where we were used to seeing them fail.

And then the magic really kicked into high gear as the Caps defeated their primary rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2!! Still we heard, don’t get your hopes up.

The thunder struck on our side in late May 2018 at the Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in a seven game series, 4-3.

The clouds parted and the DMV became awash in a sea of RED.

They REALLY were in the FINAL ROUND for the STANLEY CUP against the new team that old friend George McPhee built. We like the Vegas Golden Knights up until this point.

The Knights took game one 6-4

and the Caps returned with a determination we have never seen led by the man on whose shoulders this era rests – Alex Ovechkin.

Game Two they won 3-2, in the desert.

watermarked15(2018-06-05-0950)They returned home to win Game Three and Four.

And they returned to the desert to slay the Knight. And slay they did in one of the best finals ever. The Knights gave it their all but victory was not to be theirs.

Caps WIN the STANLEY CUP in a 4-3 Win over the Knights.

Hats off to all of you have been there all these long years. You have gone on the road with the Caps. You have given many hours watching practice and cheering them onto the ice. You have UNLEASHED THE FURY and today is YOUR DAY!

CELEBRATE BIG FANS!!! ROCK THE RED! RAISE THE CUP!

Washington Capitals Young Guns, Past and Future

young guns

The original Capitals Young Guns were a special group of players that joined the Capitals in the early 2000s. Typically, when we refer to the Young Guns we mean Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Nick Backstrom, and Alex Semin because of a 2008 promotional poster of the four. The name stuck. Ovi, Green, and Semin were all 22 at the time the poster came out. Backstrom was just 20 and playing his first season with the Caps. Additionally, other star players were all 23 or younger, including Jeff Schultz (21), Eric Fehr (22), Tomas Fleishman (23) and Brooks Laich was only 24.

The four players were the high scorers on the team. It was a time when the majority of the players were 25 or younger. Older guys like Sergie Federov , Brett Johnson, and Olie Kolzig were now in their 30s and winding down their time with the Capitals. It was an exciting time for the Capitals and the Washington DC region. We had the flash of Alex Ovechkin who was scoring machine who seemed unstoppable. The players seemed to be everywhere, hanging out in the clubs with fans that were happily Rocking the Red everywhere we went. Ted Leonsis understood what he had and used the youth of the team to light the hockey spark for many of us.

So where are those guys today—the ones who captivated a region and drew many of us into our first hockey games? Ovi and Backstrom remain with the team and only Jay Beagle and John Carlson remain from the era of YGs—Beagle joined the roster in 2010 and Carlson in 2009.

NHL: Preseason-Washington Capitals at Montreal CanadiensAlex (Sasha) Semin was traded by the Caps after the 2011/12 season. His performance, and attitude, began to slip and management finally decided it was time for him to go. He went on to play for the Carolina Hurricanes for three seasons before finding himself in Montreal. Sadly his stats just kept dropping and heads kept shaking about  his game. He signed with the KHL-Magnitogorsk Metallurg in 2016. He was last seen singing at Ovechkin’s wedding.

green_red-wingsMike Green was traded in July 2015 to the Detroit Red Wings. The two-time Norris Trophy winner became too expensive for the Caps. He had suffered through injury and had finally rebound in the inte 2014/15 season. A good thing for everyone, except the accountants.  At 31, he ended the season a -20; however, he led the team’s defensemen in goals. He will be a UFA at the end of this season and could very well be a the end of his career.

Brooks Laich was traded to the Maple Leafs in February 2016, much to the dismay of the fans. He was the longest tenured player in the locker room at the time of his trade and often thought to be the voice of encouragement for the team. Truthfully, his game had declined. Like Mike Green, he suffered some injuries from which he never seemed to rebound. His run in Toronto didn’t go too well. He is without a team right now, but he does have a lovely new wife–Julianne Hough.laich

Goalies Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth would ultimately find themselves playing on other teams as the Caps continued to search for the goalie of their dreams. Varly went to Denver where he has had a reasonably successful career as their starting goalie. Neuvy was traded for Jaraslov Halak in 2014 and is the number two for the Philadelphia Flyers. Both continue to have injury issues which had a lot to do with the Caps helping them move on.

Jeff Schultz asked the Capitals to trade him after the 2012/13 season as his ice time decreased and his performance slowed under Coach Oates. He found himself playing for the LA Kings, and though his time on the ice didn’t improve, he had the last laugh when he hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2014. He was sent down to the AHL and played two more years. He played with the San Diego Gulls last season.

Eric Fehr was one of the most beloved players of the YG-era. He came to the Caps after three seasons with the Hershey Bears. He wasn’t necessarily a stunning player, averaging 28 points a season, but he brought that sense of urgency the team was known for at the time. The Caps traded him to Winnepeg in 2011 and brought him back in 2012 before again trading him to the Pittsburg Pens. He bounced between the Pens and the Maple Leafs—playing a hard game against the Caps during the 2016 playoffs. He too got to hoist the Cup. He has one more year left on his contract with Toronto. He is recovering from a broken hand but is expected to return.

Tomas Fleischmann, aka Flash, brought that spunk to the ice that excited the crowd. The Czech player has had some rough days over the years. Originally drafted by the Red Wings, his rights were transferred to the Caps in 2004 and he joined the team in 2006, splitting his time with the Bears. He was side-lined in 2009 when it was discovered that he had a blood clot. He returned late for the following season and went on to play in the playoffs, although not contributing too much. He was traded to the Panthers in 2011 and in 2014 they traded him to the Ducks. The Canadiens signed him the following season who traded him to the Blackhawks for the 2015/16 season. He failed his physical with the Hawks and is believed to have ended his career due to ongoing health issues.

Karl Alzner was trade to the Maple Leafs this summer. He was the ultimate Iron Man for the Caps, setting the performance and work ethic bar high. Unfortunately, the salary cap made it impossible for the Capitals to sign him to a new contract. We expect to see him make a difference on the blue line for the Leafs. He and John Carlson were late comers to the YGs but were part of the mix that made fans believe a Cup win was possible.

Young Guns 2

We hear a lot about Young Guns2 with the 2017/18 season. While we get that there will be a group of younger men joining the roster to augment the ones who signed this summer, we wonder if they will have the same impact that the original YGs had on the sport. As of now, seven of the 18 players holding spots on the roster are 30 or older, including Ovi and Nicky, the last of the YGs. With the return of Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Tom Wilson along with the potential addition of players like Jakub Vrana, Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, or any number of Bears who will move up; the Capitals should be a sensational team to watch. The next couple of seasons have the potential to be as exciting as those years with the original Young Guns and make their mark in the NHL. We want to see that revived sense of urgency and drive to win that we for a few years starting with the 2007/08 season.

Let’s Talk Washington Capitals Coaches 

Every time the Caps fail to make it past Round Two of the NHL playoffs, the call for the coach’s head can’t be far away. This season is no different as we have begun to see the tweets in favor of replacing Barry Trotz are building as frustration is replacing tears and anger.

So let’s look back a few years on the Ovechkin Era and see what’s been going on. Ovi signed with the Caps in 2004 right before the 2004/05 season lockout. It was a pivotal time for the Washington Capitals. At that time George McPhee was general manager (GMGM) and Glen Hanlon was coach. Hanlon had been coaching the team since 2003 when he was promoted as assistant coach and replaced Bruce Cassidy. Hanlon had played in the league himself from 1977 to 1991; however, he was never on a Cup winning team. His stint as coach was memorable only for his losses and the sense of defeat the fans felt as the result of his coaching.

That takes us to Bruce Boudreau. He too had played in the league. He; however, had no NHL coaching experience. What he did have was a winning record with the AHL affiliate team, the Hershey Bears. After seven years he took the team all the way to win the Calder Cup in 2006. The hope was that he would bring the winning skill he demonstrated in Hershey to Washington. Fans were pretty excited with this change and hope seemed to be all around the team. With Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green—The Young Guns—the Caps were primed for lifting the Cup.

Or so we thought.

BB would quickly become part of the “Building America’s Hockey Capital” strategy of owner Ted Leonsis.  It was a pretty remarkable time for the Caps. He helped them win the Presidents’ Trophy in 2009. He gained notoriety as the “F-bomb coach” when HBO followed him around during the Caps first Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a game that would excite Caps fans and dismay Pens fans as the Sidney Crosby hit and subsequent concussion would haunt the team ever after. He was a staple in the hockey world and fans adored him almost to the end. By the time he left Bruce posted a 201-88-40 in 329 regular season games. He was also the fastest coach to record 200 regular season wins. Unfortunately, he could never get the Caps past the second round of the playoffs either. He gradually lost the confidence of the team and the fan base resulting in his rather abrupt firing.

It was all over by November 2011 when the Caps fired Broudeau and made one of the worst hiring decisions bringing in former Capitals’ superstar Dale Hunter, owner of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights. Hunter played for the Capitals from 1987 to 1999. Hunter made it clear when he arrived that he was no fan of Ovechkin, probably believing the press that Ovi had become disrespectful toward his coach and needed rewiring. The excitement for Hunter was brief. He had almost tasted the thrill of victory as a player with the Colorado Avalanche but still did not know how to lead a team past the final. After a dismal season (six months of coaching) with the Caps once again not making it past the semi-finals, Hunter decided he was better suited with the Knights and folded tent to head home.

Hunter’s departure led to the Caps second disaster in this time frame; the hiring of another former player, Adam Oates. Oates was a former assistant coach for Tampa Bay Lightning and part of the NJ Devils team (assistant coach) that made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2012,  which the LA Kings won.  Although he had not yet served as a head coach, he at least had the experience of working with a team that made it to the finals. And he was a Hall of Famer. What could go wrong???  Well things started bumpy with the 2012/13 NHL lockout, which led to a shortened first season. It looked hopeful for the team until they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. His second full season fell apart as he lost the locker room early and he lost the confidence of his star players, most notably Ovechkin. (Que the Ovi fires coaches rumors). He quickly lost the support of the fan base that loved him as a player. This discontent ultimately led to the Caps failure to make it to the playoffs. In the end, the Caps declined to continue their relationship with Oates and released him from his contract.

And as a side note,  they also released GM George McPhee. He was after all, the guy who brought in all the losing coaches. Although he was also responsible for bringing on some of the strongest players in the league, he was unable to create the right mix for a Stanley Cup winning team. He came close though in his first year, 1998, when the Caps went all the way to the finals—for the last time. It was time for a major shakeup and many long-time followers of the Capitals had mixed feelings about letting go of GMGM. Like Bruce, he was well liked in the community.

Which brings us to the Capitals current coach, Barry Trotz. He never played hockey in the NHL, often saying he wasn’t good enough. He began his NHL coaching career with the Nashville Predators in 1997 as part of the new expansion team. He earned a positive reputation as a coach, a winning coach who also never took his team past the second round of the playoffs. He failed to bring them to the playoffs in his last two seasons in Nashville. As a result, the Preds released him in April 2014 which opened the door for the Caps to bring him into the fold a month later. There were mixed reviews about the Caps hiring him, but there was also a sense that he could be the guy to have some success in the latest round of “rebuild.” He has worked well with the team, never afraid to do the unexpected as he adjusted lines, sat under-performing players, and was not phased by the Ovi hype but looks at the team as a whole. Clearly he was disappointed after the Caps were knocked out of the playoffs for the third time under his leadership. He built real cohesion and friendships on the team, the likes of which we have never seen. There were mentors and a real dependence on each other, on and off the ice.  However, all the changes and growth were not enough to give the team the confidence and steam to push past round two. Clearly he knows how to get the team to the playoffs but he hasn’t proven an ability to make it all the way. All that said, there is no sense from the players that they have lost confidence in him. He has created a new culture, but that culture will change with all the moving pieces and trades likely to occur over the summer.watermarked332017-02-17-1120

In the weeks ahead the Capitals management will be taking a good look at what worked and what didn’t. Bloggers and sports writers will assess players and argue about the weakest links. If Trotz stays, he will keep working with GM Brian MacLellan to develop a new strategy and together they will work to create a new team that can go all the way. They have already made some positive changes overall on behalf of the team—creating a healthy environment and a place where young players can develop their craft. The team is closer than ever and it is a waiting game to see who stays and who goes and what that means for the next season.

In the end, the biggest downfall with GMGM’s hiring practice was the mistake in not hiring a coach with NHL Stanley Cup experience. The ongoing problem is that the Caps have never hired someone who coached a team and won the Stanley Cup. Close enough is not necessarily good enough. As much as we believe in what Barry Trotz has tried to accomplish with this team, his record speaks for itself. If the Caps stay with Trotz one more season, he needs to not just coach the team to the finals but win the Cup. If management is unsure of his ability to do that, we strongly urge them to consider hiring a coach with the actual experience of  “rebuilding” a team that has won the Cup. We know who we would suggest at this point were the Caps to make a change today…

Bottom line: fans don’t just want another season of making it to the playoffs, or even making it to the final round. WE WANT TO BRING THE CUP HOME!! And we want them to do whatever it takes to make that a reality next season. We are past the ‘rebuilding’ promises and are ready for a positive outcome.

Chris Cleveland Meets Mike Green, and More Stories

We all have our hockey story and FiCP Contributor Chris Cleveland is no different. His story is pretty cool—how he came to meet former Caps player, Mike Green. As Chris tells it:

One of our old neighbors knew like all the Caps players. One day during the 2010 Olympics, it was snowing and I was outside shooting pucks on the street. We had a fairly empty street so you could stick the hockey net pretty much anywhere. Greenie, who was snubbed by Team Canada, was inside my neighbor’s house watching Team USA blowout Finland (or some team). Continue reading “Chris Cleveland Meets Mike Green, and More Stories”