On the Boudreau Firing and the Differences between the San Jose Sharks and the Washington Capitals
November 28, 2011 Leave a comment
(UPDATE 05.02.12: As I write this, the Caps are currently still in the playoffs while the Sharks were bounced in 6 games in the First Round. The article is interesting from a predictive standpoint, in that I was half-right (or half-wrong); while the Sharks seemingly have no recourse but to move out either Patrick Marleau or Jumbo Joe Thornton and admit that the team did not have a Championship core in place, time has proven me correct about the Capitals. No one could not have predicted Dale Hunter would come in and succeed by rendering Alex Ovechkin, recently considered the Best Player in the World, as a Power Play specialist glued to the bench when the team has a lead. Hunter is confirming my point that the “Core” of Ovechkin-Semin-Green was never going to win in Washington, evidenced by the fact that Hunter is playing recent AHL call-ups like Jay Beagle and Keith Aucoin at the expense of Ovechkin and Semin. Washington may have success, but it will be under Hunter’s vision of a defense-first, blue-collar North American-style team, not the “Rock the Red” team that has dominated offesnively since the Lockout ended.)
This is a quick blog, devoid of most of the typical x-rated jokes and pictures known to punctuate my writing. I’m compelled to address the firing of “BBQ Sauce” Bruce Boudreau, and how the Washington Capitals are different from their Western Conference comparable, the San Jose Sharks.
As you likely know, I am a die-hard, frothing-at-the-mouth Pittsburgh Penguins’ fan. If Mario asked me to, I would drop-kick any of my male friends or family in the face. I take great pleasure in watching the Washington Capitals struggle, and I have repeatedly pointed out how Bruce Boudreau is a slovenly, borderline-autistic buffet-raper. The stark contrast between he and defending Jack Adams Trophy Winner Disco Bylsma, well-documented on HBO’s Penguins/Capitals/24/7 special, is like a bonfire versus a graveyard.
Still, I’m not taking as much pleasure in watching BBQ get canned as I thought I would, because I have to honestly admit: he’s not what’s wrong with his now-former team.
Coaching sometimes can be the problem. For example, if you’re Craig Patrick, and you decide you’d rather pull a nice guy/brutal tactician with no prior coaching experience like Eddie Olczyk out of the announcers’ booth rather than hire a legitimate NHL coach, then coaching becomes an issue. In this case, while I think BBQ is a walking punch-line of a person, I don’t think he’s a bad coach.
BBQ’s attempt to get his free-wheeling team to commit to defensive hockey last season was good coaching and sound reasoning. When you take the 2010-11 Caps’ playoff roster (http://www.hockey-reference.com/teams/WSH/2011.html), with the role players they added last year, using the defensive system he implemented, and still lose early in the playoffs, that’s neither a coaching nor a systems issue. That’s a rotten core.
Caps GM George McPhee, rather than blow up his core, again tinkered with the movable parts this off-season. He over-paid a grit guy like Joel Ward, brought in a rock-steady vet like Roman Hamrlik, and a added a game-stealing goaltender in Tomas Vokoun on the cheap. The 2011-12 Caps look, on paper, to be the best incarnation of the team yet.
Still, they flounder. What’s so wonderful to me is that it’s not John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Marcus Johansson, or even Nick Backstrom sputtering. I really don’t mind the Caps’ current crop of kids, especially American hero and future U.S. Olympian Carlson.
It’s also not the role players. Blaming quality vets like Eric Belanger or Jason Arnott for the team’s early Playoff flame-out is an act of desperation. Those guys did their jobs, just like Hamrlik and Ward and eventually Vokoun will do theirs.
The problem with the Caps isn’t Boudreau, even if I’ve historically made him out to be a dolt and a fat fuck. The problem is the core of the post-lockout Caps’ team: Mike Green, Alex Semin, and Alex Ovechkin.
This is a rotten core, which notable blogger Ted Leonsis is currently paying over $22 million. Meanwhile, the Pens are paying a bit less than that to employ Sid, Geno, and Kris Letang. It’s is so Awesome to be a Pens fan.
Those three players, so matter how insanely talented, are not the core of a Stanley Cup championship team. Green remains an adventure in his own zone, basically a low-rent, Emo Paul Coffey without the poise and with a shitty haircut. Semin is Alex Kovalev if Kovy was a snot-nosed, pants-shitting pseudo-roller hockey player. Ovechkin is obviously an elite player, but he’s got a fair amount of Pretty Girl Diva syndrome in him; if he’s not getting the glory, he pouts in subtle ways.
In my upcoming article, Thank God the Pens drafted Geno instead of Ovechkin, I will make a stats-based argument as to why Evgeni Malkin is a better player than Alex Ovechkin. It’s basically irrefutable that Sid is better than Ovie, but I think I can convince you Geno is as well. But that’s not the point of today’s entry (ask your mom about “today’s entry” ZING).
Out West, San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson has very wisely not broken up his Core, despite public outcry and the temptation to do so. He’s moved around significant pieces (not the least of which was ostensibly swapping out Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi for Brent Burns and Martin Havlat), but he hasn’t moved Jumbo Joe Thornton, Patty Marleau, or Dan Boyle (and to a lesser degree, Joe Pavelski and now Logan Couture).
Why hasn’t he done this? Because those are three elite NHL players and three Winners. You don’t get better trading away any of those players – check out Boston or Tampa in the aftermath of the respective trades of Thornton and Boyle. While each of those guys has gone through some rough patches, they all have an Olympic Gold Medal because they’re freaking Awesome at hockey and they can get it done in optimal circumstances.
So Doug Wilson moves around the Hired Help. Dany Heatley, insanely talented as he is, was Hired Help as far as the Sharks were concerned. He was a complimentary piece; a turbo-charger on an engine.
The Sharks will play for a Stanley Cup eventually, because they have an elite, Championship-caliber core (Good luck getting past Pittsburgh, though). The current Caps’ team will not, because they have a flawed core suited to kicking the crap out of the dregs of the NHL during the regular season.
If (and when) the Caps exit the playoffs early this year, it will finally be time for George McPhee to address the flawed core. Ovechkin isn’t (and shouldn’t) be going anywhere, but this team is not going to win anything in the post-season as long as Semin and Green are critical members of the team. At their respective salary figures, they have to be central figures on whatever team employs them.
The Caps may make some playoff noise in the coming years, because their kids have an obnoxious amount of talent. Nick Backstrom is legit, and they have some real players on defense in addition to some very promising prospects up front. The Caps may be ready to challenge in 2015 or 2016, after Green and Semin are long-gone and Ovechkin is realistically just another component on an otherwise stacked team.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy watching the Caps underachieve as long as Ovechkin, Semin and Green are the focal points of the team. The truth is that they have one-dimension of style of play (based on high-end offensive skill); they rarely score systemic, ugly goals (certainly not like those built around the Disco Forecheck), and they sure as fuck struggle when they try to Trap it up.
The only way they know how to win consistently is to score on odd-man breaks or off the rush or during isolations on the Power Play, and that isn’t always effective against the elite teams of the NHL (i.e. the ones you play in the post-season). You have to be able to beat teams in more than one way, especially elite teams like Pittsburgh, Boston, San Jose, and Chicago.
Even the Red Wings, for all their skill, have a few guy who score ugly goals close to the net and a guy (Johan Franzen) who becomes a bull-in-a-China-shop when the high-end skill plays aren’t happening. There’s a reason the Mule has absurd playoff goal totals: it’s more suited to his style of play than the Red Wings standard, cybernetic puck-possession attack.
(This is what a Young Core should look like. Not pictured: “The Truth” Kris Letang and future Rocket Richard Winner James Neal)
In short, firing BBQ will spike the Caps’ short-term performance, because Dale Hunter is a menacing human being and will have them playing fearsome hockey in the immediate future. They may even win another Presidents’ Trophy, who knows?
But as long as Ovechkin continues his predictable style of play and as long Green and Semin are on the ice for major minutes during the post-season, they aren’t getting past enough of the NHL’s elite to Win the Cup, no matter who’s coaching them or who the role players are.
To continued Caps’ futility,