May 6, 2011, 8:00 AM EDT
Despite Bruce Boudreau’s objections, it’s not stupid to wonder if the Washington Capitals should change their head coach. After all, the fans are furious. The media is calling for his head. Everyone seems to know what’s best for the team and most think booting Bellicose Bruce is the correct way to go.
That doesn’t mean they are right, though.
If the Capitals want an example of the erroneous nature of following conventional wisdom and changing directions on a whim, all they need to do is to study the last decade of Washington Redskins football. Seemingly any time a coach faltered, he was fired. Quick-fix, no-brainer free agents came in and sputtered comically. It all seemed like a good idea on paper, but reality isn’t as simple as franchise mode in Madden.
So here’s my advice to Ted Leonsis and the Capitals: stop reading the papers. Ignore all of those angry, ALL CAPS comments. Make the wise but unpopular choice to give Boudreau one more year.
The team is structured for one more run.
Most importantly, make sure you give Boudreau one last real chance. If he freely chose to rein his team in, tell him to let the horses loose. Go back to the break-neck, devil-may-cry system that propelled this team to a runaway Presidents Trophy win in 2009-10.
People love to call that season a failure when it’s just as possible that it simply ended in bad luck. After all, the far-less-criticized Pittsburgh Penguins lost to that same turtle shelled, counter-attacking Montreal Canadiens team. In fact, that Penguins team absolutely flopped in their Game 7 loss while the Capitals left the Habs (and viewers) breathless in defeat.
Canning Boudreau might be the easiest thing to do, but the team cannot be properly rebuilt into a trap-happy defensive squad in one summer anyway. Honestly, the roster is just screaming for a last hurrah.
Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Dennis Wideman and Mike Knuble will be in the last year of their contracts in 2011-12. That’s about $17.88 million that could be redirected into the bank accounts of shutdown defensemen and two-way forwards if Boudreau’s free-wheeling system fails one last time.
The importance of self-awareness
People seem to believe that professional athletes can be radically re-programmed into drastically different players, but the most you can normally hope for is incremental improvement. Sure, every once in a while a Steve Yzerman or Mike Modano will sublimate their selfish offensive urges for the greater good, but those instances are rare. And let’s face it; those two players played alongside much better defensive teammates even as they adapted their games.
For the “Defense wins championships” crowd out there, you’re one-third right. Simply put, the right mixture of offense, defense and goaltending wins championships. There isn’t some magic potion or secret password that ranks as “the only way.”
Offense wins championships, too.
Offense-first mentalities worked just fine for Stanley Cup winners including: the ’90s (and maybe most recent) Pittsburgh Penguins, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Edmonton Oilers dynasty. Obviously those teams played some defense and enjoyed timely goaltending, but their firepower pushed them to win a championship (or five).
To tie it to other sports, the Capitals system was a lot like a fast break offense before this compromised season. Pundits easily forget that the Bob Cousy-era Boston Celtics became a dynasty thanks to their fast break system.
The difference was that they also had the right players to get the job done. (Most notably, Bill Russell’s rebounding was a crucial ingredient.)
Do the Capitals possess the right parts to make it work? Not yet, but maybe next season. Some might not be satisfied with “maybe” but if you ask me, they definitely don’t have the pieces to win on the strength of their defense.
Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to be who you really are, but that’s the best way for the Capitals to shoot for a Stanley Cup.
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