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Caps may be winning, but at what cost?

May 1, 2012, 2:49 PM EST

Caps win Getty Images

Last night at Madison Square Garden, Alex Ovechkin spent just 13:36 on the ice, a career playoff low.

But Ovechkin wasn’t the only Capitals star that saw reduced playing time during Washington’s 3-2 victory over the Rangers: Nicklas Backstrom (16:18), Alex Semin (12:27), and Mike Green (18:14) each sat longer on the bench than they’re used to.

All told, those four account for over $28 million in cap space.

Meanwhile, career third- and fourth-liners like Jay Beagle (19:58) and Matt Hendricks (15:26) have become coach Dale Hunter’s go-to guys, particularly when the Caps are leading like they did for most of yesterday’s game.

“You need them players. They play hard every night,” Hunter said. “The press don’t write about them a lot. They’re the foot soldiers of the team. These guys come up and come playoff time, that is how you win games like tonight. It is a grind out there.”

With that in mind, here’s a question I’ve got for Caps fans – is winning the only thing that matters to you? Or, is there something to be said for the entertainment value of the product?

I’d also ask Caps owner Ted Leonsis that question. Because if he hasn’t noticed, there aren’t many fans sporting Beagle jerseys at the Verizon Center.

For all those who say Ovechkin is overpaid, maybe he is from a pure hockey perspective. But he’s more than earned his salary from a business perspective.

According to Forbes, Washington’s franchise value has risen from $115 million in 2004, the year Ovechkin was drafted, to $225 million today.

Without Ovechkin, is it anywhere near that level?

All I know from living in Vancouver is that the Canucks didn’t become a license to print money until 2002 when Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison came together to form the West Coast Express. It wasn’t just about winning in this city — it was about winning and scoring lots of goals at the same time.

Clearly style matters when selling tickets. Just ask the New Jersey Devils, one of the most successful teams on the ice the last 20 years. Yet the Devils have rarely been a hot ticket. There are other reasons for that (arena location, less-than-fantastic marketing, etc.), but being associated with boring hockey didn’t help their brand.

Nor was the NHL’s brand shining particularly bright during the dead-puck era, which is why the decline in scoring should have it concerned enough to explore ways to encourage offense, not defense.

  1. jkay1818 - May 1, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    who cares what amount of money they have sitting on the bench. They won yesterday. I was at the game and I have to say, Mike Green had no business logging a lot of minutes, he was absolutely atrocious. I was sitting next to a caps fan and he was ripping on him all game. I cant even count how many times he got out muscled for a puck and nailed against the boards where he fell. He was soft and people were able to shift around him. What i did notice that the guys who had logged more minutes played real well. they were able to get the puck out of the zone, able to hit their cross ice passes and were giving up the body to block shots. who cares about money on the bench when the guys who played were better and that formula worked. Beagle and hendricks played a game more fit for this series and the rangers type of play. Green i thought was the worst player on the ice. ward, hendricks and beagle i thought were impressive yesterday….

    • prolibertate85 - May 1, 2012 at 3:18 PM

      I think when it’s your team winning you don’t care, but as a neutral fan, the playoffs this year have left a lot to be desired(unless you like goonery, trapping and shot blocking).

      This is hard for me to say, but Philly is our only hope to save hockey and restore it to the way that it’s meant to be played.

      • comeonnowguys - May 1, 2012 at 4:45 PM

        If I liked Philly, I’d agree with this statement 100% Doesn’t matter who’s on the bench. It matters what’s happening on the ice, and if it’s two teams just squatting in their respective ends, it’s not good for the short-term future of the sport.

      • jason9696 - May 1, 2012 at 6:15 PM

        Philadelphia and Los Angeles would be a great Stanley Cup Final. As long as one of those teams are in the finaI I will watch it. If it’s something like New Jersey/Washington vs Phoenix/Nashville. I think I’d rather watch grass grow or paint dry.

    • bethgoesglobal - May 1, 2012 at 3:21 PM

      I miss the Mike Green of ‘yore.Mike Green misses him too; he has certainly shown his frustration a time or two. It may not happen this season but sure hope he can get himself back to form over the summer and be back to his old tricks soon (no matter who he’s playing for next year). He is such a dynamic player when he’s on.
      My fingers are crossed.

      • kantnockdahustle89 - May 1, 2012 at 3:59 PM

        We all know groin injuries can ruin careers…this might be the case for Mike Green.

      • bethgoesglobal - May 1, 2012 at 4:29 PM

        I know….and it sucks. :-(
        That’s why I’m crossing my fingers.

  2. 3girlrhumba - May 1, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    “You need them players” – Dale Hunter

  3. cosmo83 - May 1, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    It was one game. Step away from the ledge everyone! Wins are the only thing that matters. I’d rather win ugly tha lose sexy, like previous years.

    • stakex - May 1, 2012 at 8:37 PM

      Losing sexy sells more tickets though, which is the point of this article.

      I disagree with how Hunter has played Ovi and his other star players in the playoffs, but that alone isn’t a big deal in the long run. This is the playoffs after all, and so long as the team is winning the fans will be happy. However if the Caps are now a team that gets a 1 goal lead in the first period and then benches their star players to defend it for 50 minutes every night, its going to grow old with their fans next season. No offense to him, but no one goes to Caps games to watch Jay Beagle play defense all night.

  4. gianthatr - May 1, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    What bigger entertainment value can there be then a close game coming to the 3rd period and your best player scores the game winner? I don’t care if your a hockey purist or whatever you want to label yourself….seeing a tight game come down to the end and then your best player does what he does best and scores…that’s good TV right there. What else do you want?

  5. bethgoesglobal - May 1, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    If you’re from Vancouver than I would have expected you to understand that at this point maybe winning is “all that matters”. I’ve been a Caps fan since I was about 8, so almost 25 years now, I do want to see the Caps win the Cup- something they have NEVER done. My guess is most ‘Nuks fans would be o.k with the Sedin brothers playing a little less if it got them the Cup.
    Yes, many of our “star” players are playing less, but as you mentioned, this game at this time (playoffs) is a much more defensive, low scoring game, but you have to look at the oppositions game as well. The Bruins and the Rangers are both very defensive teams and have top-notch goalies so They are keeping the scores low. As a result, the Caps have to play a very defensive game as well so they can limit their scoring changes. It goes both ways.
    The games have been very low-scoring affairs, but to me that makes the game exciting to watch in its own right. True, hockey isn’t going to bring in throbs of new fans when they aren’t seeing a lot of goals (think of soccer’s fan base), but for those people who have been fans of hockey for years, these games have been awesome!
    I know I’ve been at the edge of my seat biting my nails and That’s what the playoffs are all about.

    • critter69 - May 1, 2012 at 4:09 PM

      Beth,

      I’ve been a Caps fan since their founding in 1974. I was at the Cap Centre when they won their first home game; when they beat Philly for the first time; and when they beat Montreal for the first time – all super big games at the time.

      And one thing that has stuck with me since watching high school and college basketball in Indiana – offense wins (regular season) games, but defense wins championships.

      • bethgoesglobal - May 1, 2012 at 4:28 PM

        Aww… See, now you’re the type of fan I like. Someone who sticks in there, through thick and thin. I’m actually flying in from Minnesota this week and was totally stoked that I’ll get to see my boys play for the Cup in person!!
        It’s nice to know that they’re on the right track and I think they have been for a few years now and it may end up taking a couple more but I definitely believe that it’ll be sooner than later. :-)

  6. watermelon1 - May 1, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    As a Caps fan… I don’t mind other guys getter more ice time that mike green. Green has no idea how to play defense, and is such a liability on the ice.

    Ovechkin needs the rest. He’s routinely focused on by opposing defenses because nobody else on the Caps has proven to be a regular scoring threat.

    Backstrom is probably the 2nd most
    Physical player on the caps, and he’s usually one of the best penalty killers when fully healthy let’s. It forget he’s still recently recovering from a concussion.

    As for the main question… Yes, all that matters is winning. Would I love to see Ovi carry them all the way? No… He’s had to carry them his whole time here. It woul be nice to see him playing more refreshed and without such a burden on his shoulders.

  7. bloggersarenotjournalists - May 1, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    Semin had 12:27?
    That’s 7:00 too much, he should only see the ice on the PP

    No, actually Semin should be a healthy scratch after his sulking on the bench with his arms resting on the boards like he was about to fall asleep.

    Semin will be in the KHL next season if NHL GM’s are smart and offer him the 1 year 2 million dollar deal he deserves.

    • grimlock410 - May 1, 2012 at 4:22 PM

      Sasha Minor is one of the top reasons the Caps beat the B’s. Especially his play on D, he sold out every game. People will have different opinions but your comment leads me to believe you haven’t even watched the Caps in the playoffs.

      • bloggersarenotjournalists - May 1, 2012 at 8:40 PM

        Huh?
        What?

        Semin Sucks

  8. govtminion - May 1, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    I live in the D.C. area, and while I”m not a Caps fan (Bruins, actually- so it’s been a weird week), I AM a hockey fan, so I regularly watch Caps games. I may not be a big fan of the team, but it beats not watching hockey at all, of course.

    So that said, I haven’t watched a minute of the Caps/Rangers series. Haven’t cared- I get the score update on my phone, and that’s about the extent of it. Because what I found watching the Caps over the past couple of months- including during the Boston series- was that they were BORING to watch. To be honest, if the Bruins had ended up with someone else as their opponent, I’d probably not have watched the Caps in the first round either. It’s trap hockey, it’s getting a one-goal lead and sitting on it- inexplicably, it’s benching the players I’d actually like to watch in favor of… Jay Beagle.

    It’s sad, really. I actually enjoyed watching the Caps a couple of years ago when they made things interesting- they might not always have won, but at least it was fun to see either way. Now, win or lose, I often doze off watching- or at least end up doing something else with the game all but forgotten.

    • rockthered1286 - May 1, 2012 at 4:57 PM

      Sounds like a bitter Bruins fan to me. If you can’t see the excitement in a 1 goal game, especially in the final 90 seconds when the goalie is pulled and the other team is steady pummeling shots at the goalie… I don’t consider you a fan of hockey. Just a fan of scoring. I take it you hate football games where the defense dominates as well? Guess if Boston’s your area of choice the Pats fit your mold nicely.

      • govtminion - May 1, 2012 at 5:03 PM

        Nah, I’ve found the Caps boring pretty much since Hunter took over- long before the playoffs started. (I’m actually not a Pats fan at all, for what it’s worth).

        I love a good defensive game- I’m a former goalie- but the way I look at it is from an entertainment aspect. I got my wife into watching the Caps when we started dating, back in their ‘score moar goalz!’ days, and she loved it- and became a pretty diehard fan herself. But she agrees that if I’d tried to start her on hockey now, she probably wouldn’t watch much- it’s not as exciting. Bottom line, trap hockey is boring to watch for most fans- particularly after being only a couple of years removed from the ridiculous goal-scoring the team was capable of.

        But, hey, make it out as me being a grouchy non-fan pissed that his team got knocked out if that makes you feel better.

  9. barkar942 - May 1, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    Jay Beagle (19:58) and Matt Hendricks (15:26) are Washington’s version of Prust, Boyle and Feds. Work hard, play good defense and pop in the occasional goal. Chimera has been good, too.
    It was obvious that Kreider was moving and was moved up to the top line and Gabby down to the second line for a while.
    When strong defensive play is needed, you usually don’t see Richards, Gaborik and Hagelin out there, you usually see Prust, Boyle and Feds. No different for Hunter and the caps right now. Ovie and Green sit for others who know how to defend.
    If Hunter stays and Ovie really goes back to school on how to defend first, then the Caps will finally win the cup. This is just his first taste of that system.

  10. broadstbully33 - May 1, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    philly is by far the most entertaining team in the league. its a shame that obstruction, interference, holding etc is being let go time after time ..the game should be fast paced and open, not trap hockey and quick clears to center ice, dont get me wrong i played D for 10 years and i love that side of the game but these games are boring

    • bethgoesglobal - May 1, 2012 at 3:42 PM

      Awww, you just don’t want to play the Caps in the next round. Wouldn’t seem so boring then now would it.

      (before you snap back at me- I know that’s not it, just poking back at you)

  11. gmenfan1982 - May 1, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    I’m sick of people complaining about how “boring” defensive hockey is and how the NHL needs more scoring. I’d rather see a tough physical defensive battle any day. It’s more of an edge of your seat type of game when goals come at a premium. I love the game of hockey. Not just the scoring and the highlights.

  12. capsfan19 - May 1, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    I agree with a majority of whats being said. First thing we must trade green. We could free up some cap space to bring in possibly a second line center.
    But in both the boston and now the rangers series we need players that can battle in the trenches. As much as i love ovi and backstrom they cant grind the same as our 3rd and 4th lines do against tough teams.
    I think its smart of dale to have get out there, wear the other team down, them send out ovi to score the GWG.
    But seriously i think semin has played ALOT better under hunter an we should keep him. Green on the other hand…. Good lord what happened to this guy?? Bench him and get erskine in there for crying out loud!

    • bethgoesglobal - May 1, 2012 at 3:49 PM

      You do have to wonder what everyone will be saying if/when the Caps lose. I swear hockey analysts are the most wishy-washy bunch of guys. Teams and players are great before the game, but should they falter, they’ll tear ‘em apart as soon as they can. It drives me crazy!

  13. dsd3 - May 1, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    Any supposed hockey fan who thinks last night’s game leaves anything to be desired in the excitement department is a fan for the wrong reasons. I’m not a fan of either team, but that was a great hockey game.

    And winning is the only thing that matters. Would you rather watch the Caps lose 5-3 but see an Ovechkin hat trick? I don’t think so.

  14. dowhatifeellike - May 1, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    Even when the Caps are winning, it’s still not good enough for the media.

    I love the physical, low scoring games. When one goal separates the two sides, the next goal is vitally important. The entire feel of the game could shift while you’re taking a piss. Pulling the goalie in the playoffs is one of the most exciting events in sports.

    • bethgoesglobal - May 1, 2012 at 3:57 PM

      So True! That happened to me just last night and I ended up missing Ovi’s goal! :-)

  15. acieu - May 1, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    The cost will be a trade demand from Ovechkin after this season once they are bounced from the playoffs. The soul of the team has been sold for mindless trapping. He won’t stay under the ssytem and the Caps beleive they can win without him. Time will tell if NJ Devils style hockey will sell in DC.

  16. takingbovadasmoney - May 1, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    Silly me, all these years I thought the goal of the game was to win, not let the figure skaters dance around

    • bethgoesglobal - May 1, 2012 at 4:32 PM

      Hey, don’t knock the figure skaters- Jeff Skinner used to figure skate and that’s part of the reason why he’s such an allusive& great skater. :-)

  17. baywatchboy - May 1, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    Just because is low scoring, does not mean it’s boring. The most intense hockey game I ever attended was Game 1 against the Penguins in 2001, a 1-0 game. And if you want excitement, try turning down the NBC announcers and listen to John Walton call the game on the radio. I’m on the west coast and that’s the only way I can follow the games at work. He has me on the edge of my seat.

    I own a Hendricks jersey. Why? Because I love the way he plays and talked to a few friends about getting a Beagle jersey because of these playoffs.

    Put ice time aside for a moment and look at what Caps have been playing the best in these playoffs. Beagle was amazing in Game 2 against the Bruins by constantly winning defensive face-offs. Look at the Caps PK. Who plays on that? It’s players like Laich, Hendricks and Beagle. Carlson and Alzner have been amazing while Green, Wideman and Schultz have been lost in their own end. Ovechkin would tell you himself that his performance in the defensive end has been terrible. Hunter is trying to win hockey games.

    I’m with @bethgoesglobal. I’ve been a fan since the beginning for the Caps (even contributed to Save The Caps). There is nothing more I would love to see than for the team and Ted Leonsis win the Cup.

    • bethgoesglobal - May 1, 2012 at 4:38 PM

      Aww….thanks man. While I’ll never get an actual jersey (they just don’t on the ladies) I have thought a Hendricks one would be cool- not only because I love his drive, but also since his hometown is so close to where I live now in MN.

  18. grimlock410 - May 1, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    Carolina, Tampa Bay, F’n Dallas, Anaheim, Seattle, yes Seattle, did I say F’n Dallas. All Caps fans, Blues fans, Canucks fans want is to win The Stanley Cup.

  19. quizguy66 - May 1, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    Winning ugly is better than being the prettiest loser. If the Caps have finally figured that out, good for them.

    -QG

  20. lewdood - May 1, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    Ummmm…. I believe Ovie scored, the team won, and unless I’m mistaken, the Caps were on the road at MSG. They weren’t necessarily looking to impress the home crowd with the players they put on the ice. And, with last change at home, the Rangers can negate Ovie with their lock-down F & D lines, so by using Ovie less he could match lines better AND save Ovie to unleash him at home without any restrictions.

    Hunter’s coaching a 7-seed, having just beat the defending Cup champs and taking a split in the first two games on the road against the 1-seed, and you’re asking if the stars should be seeing more ice time? Give me a break.

  21. thegevs - May 1, 2012 at 10:13 PM

    Philly seemed pretty boring tonight.. its playoff hockey, all the games should be low scoring and close

  22. supafinger - May 2, 2012 at 7:51 AM

    Doesn’t Uncle Ted (Leonsis) continue to reap the revenue benifits the longer the Caps stay in the playoffs? I believe he gets way more money from home playoff games than home regular season games. If this system is working why would they change it? The longer the Caps stay in the playoffs the more money Ted will make. The “old” Caps were exciting but got eliminated in the playoffs quickly. How does that benefit the team/owner financially? They are still gonna sell OV and Backstrom jerseys because those are the exciting players on this team no matter how much ice time they get. I feel like the media is trying to drum up a story here. One thing I will say is that we here in DC have been desperate for a deep run in the playoffs and a championship. At this point we would take every game being a 1-0 snoozefest…as long as we win. Winning cures all ills.

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