Why the Washington Capitals should give Bruce Boudreau one more year

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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.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.

Video: This Kane-to-Panarin goal is all sorts of ridiculous

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When people were arguing against Artemi Panarin‘s Calder case, they often discounted his work because of Patrick Kane‘s brilliance (at least when they weren’t focusing on age questions).

It always felt a little unfair to Panarin.

Do we blame a great wide receiver playing with an adept quarterback? Sure, it’s an interesting discussion to have, but it seems fairly clear that there’s a symbiotic relationship between Panarin and Kane.

One could see that plainly in a 1-0 goal for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Pittsburgh Penguins that … admittedly was driven by Kane’s almost audacious creativity and skill.

But still, Panarin has 26 goals this season because he’s really good, too. This season has been a nice showcase for such thoughts, and a reminder that – like most great combinations – they make each other better.

(Seriously though, Kane was out of his mind there.)