You’ve probably heard this spiel before, but that doesn’t take away from how true it really is: our society focuses on instant gratification more than ever. The Internet alone houses so many venues of immediate analysis (or more precisely, complaints) to tear down good – but supposedly not good enough – things before they ever have a chance to reach their highest potential.
An enormous chunk of the hockey world pleaded with the Washington Capitals to fire head coach Bruce Boudreau. If you ask many fans, they’ll probably characterize Boudreau as a coach who failed over and over again. The thing is, people lose track of the fact that the Capitals experiment hasn’t been going on as long as some might think. Boudreau took over during an abbreviated 2007-08 season, guiding them to the first of what has been four straight Southeast Division titles. My feeling is that with the youth, current structure and still-impressive regular season successes of this team in mind, it only makes sense to give Bellicose Bruce at least one more shot.
Being successful might occasionally boil down to having the courage to ignore the demands of the angry mob while keeping the ship steady. Luckily for the long-term prospects of the Caps franchise, owner Ted Leonsis is willing to take a bigger picture outlook for his team.
“Last year the underreported story of our team was how many young players joined our team,” Leonsis said Wednesday in a speech at the National Press Club. “We probably took steps back because we brought in so many young players.”
“They’re not even in their prime,” Leonsis said of the young core. “The team will make the playoffs – as I promised – 10 to 15 years in a row. That’s what I believe.”
There’s no denying the notion that most of the team’s core players probably have some their best years in front of them. Superstar Alex Ovechkin is only 25 years old, Nicklas Backstrom is 23, their goalies of the future are in their 20’s and excessively-maligned blueliner Mike Green is 25.
Meanwhile, Washington also has the flexibility to “blow things up” to a smaller extent if things go wrong next season. The Capitals’ two most criticized semi-stars will be free agents after 2011-12, with Green possibly becoming a restricted free agent and polarizing sniper Alex Semin primed for unrestricted free agency. The one year plan for support players seems more obvious when you combine Green/Semin with a group that includes top goalie Tomas Vokoun, double-edged sword D-man Dennis Wideman, ugly goal scoring machine Mike Knuble and speedy winger Jason Chimera.
With that in mind, it’s important to notice that Leonsis preached the importance of seeing how things work out next year.
“Analytically our coach has a fantastic record, I think the best record in the NHL during the regular season during his tenure,” Leonsis said. “That’s a pretty strong statement. At the same time, our team hasn’t gone deep enough into the playoffs.
“We have to look as a franchise, as the protector of the asset, would we be better off as a franchise changing a player, firing the coach. It’s not an emotional reaction. It just can’t be done. Through the analytics, we thought it’s better to keep the team and the franchise and continuity together and see how we do this year.”
It’s refreshing to see an owner who is willing to take a risk by following his gut rather than bowing to conventional wisdom. The league changes often enough that there’s no guarantee the Capitals will make the playoffs for the next decade-plus, but their front office seems bright enough to realize that it’s only “now or never” in the eyes of anxious fans.
(And, yes, maybe when it comes to Boudreau’s own future.)