Last year marked the first time in six seasons that Washington failed to advance to the NHL’s second season. Oh sure, the Caps have flirted with missing before — during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, they had to go 11-1-1 in April to rally and win the Southeast Division — but actually missing the dance was different, and carried grave consequences.
Coach? Fired. GM of 17 years? Also fired. Those came on the heels of private exit interviews by owner Ted Leonsis — the first time he’s conducted such meetings in private — which strongly suggested the status quo wasn’t an option.
(Remember it was Leonis who, in 2011, said the Capitals “will make the playoffs — as I promised — 10 to 15 years in a row.”)
There’s clearly an organizational mandate to get back in the playoffs, and almost everything the Caps did this offseason reflects that. They believe they addressed their biggest (perceived) area of weakness, defense, by signing Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. They believe that, in Trotz, they’ve found the ideal head coach — one with an extensive NHL resume, that knows how to win and possesses the ability to implement defensive philosophies and ideas.
But will that be enough?
While the Eastern Conference is weaker and more wide open than the West, Washington will still have its hand full in the Metro. The Rangers are the defending conference champs, Pittsburgh’s still a formidable foe (that ran roughshod over the Metro last year, going 20-8-2 in-division), Columbus is a team on the rise and Philly, while flawed, was a playoff team last year.
What’s more, Washington has a bunch of new parts to implement. Trotz is the fifth head coach of the Ovechkin era and will undoubtedly bring some new things to the plate; Orpik and Niskanen are going to demand ice time which will cause a ripple effect across the blueline.
Up front, it sounds as though the Brooks Laich-at-center era is over — he’s destined for the wing — meaning there’s a trio of young guys auditioning for minute at center: Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. It’s probably why Leonsis was so adamant about everybody being “in sync” to start the year — the Caps have a lot of moving parts.
“So far, so good on that,” he said in July. “I think that’s a good move in a positive direction to have the organization all singing from the same songbook.”
With that said…are the Caps going back to the dance? Vote away…