Day 30 of Stanley Quips: The Beginning of the End

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Geoff Burke/USA Today

It’s been well over 24 hours since the Capitals lost their season and their golden generation. I don’t think I’ll ever recover from this.

It’s over. There’s no other way to say it. Game 7 had to end the way it did if it had to be in defeat. Just like in 2010. With no goals and as many shots as they could for and two whimpers against. More fitting, a goaltender that never showed up in the last nine years of his career, let alone last regular season, decided to catch fire in the postseason and get the shutout against the should-have-been Stanley Cup Champions. I have to stay professional through all this and keep writing, but frankly, this is an eternal scar that was made last Wednesday.

As Brian McClellan stated after the 2015 playoffs, Washington only had another two years to win everything it can. This year was year two. The Capitals got two Presidents Trophies. They also got two second round exits and all of them were to the team that either has won or should win the Stanley Cup. They also got my pick to win it this year. The numbers screamed for it and demanded it.

This year, the Capitals had to fight through a two games to one and three games to one deficit. They got losing three of their last four games at home despite winning a franchise record 15 in a row during the regular season. That last part forced themselves to win two of three games in Pittsburgh, a cauldron that saw them lose six in a row in the regular season and postseason beforehand.

That’s all because the Capitals now have two postseasons worth of coaching bumbles from Barry Trotz. I genuinely thought healthy scratching Nate Schmidt for Mike Weber would be the end to all the idiocy, but I guess I was wrong. The man has literally become the Donovan McNabb of NHL coaches. His simple x’s and o’s are better than all but only a handful across the league. Therefore, anytime somebody wonders if the Capitals should fire Trotz should always know that it is difficult to replace him with a guaranteed better alternative. Remember, the Capitals had Adam Oates and Dale Hunter beforehand: two of the most negative thinking coaches in franchise history. The sad truth was, Trotz faced better versions of himself in the playoffs in Mike Babcock and Mike Sullivan and both of them outcoached him again.

It took Trotz two games too late to bring in Nate Schmidt and then decided to healthy scratch a fifteen-goal scorer and solid puck possession player in order to never hurt Karl Alzner’s [or whatever physical shell is left of him] feelings. Because of that and for never trying out seven defensemen at all during the regular season, it meant goals were being given up while Alzner and Brooks Orpik were on the ice, a situation only seen for 63 even strength minutes in the regular season. It also meant that the third line was never trusted for any kind of a major role in the playoffs.

This comes months after Trotz himself told the media that three scoring lines are needed to win playoff series and after the Andre Burakovsky-Lars Eller-Brett Connolly line was developing into one of the best puck possession lines in the sport. What happened to that line Barry?!?!? McClellan traded so many picks for Eller and yet you decided not to play him a lot. What happened there Barry?!?!

Now I did appreciate Trotz moving Burakovsky to the top line and moving the aging, hurt and broken down Captain Alex Ovechkin down to the third line. It was Ovechkin’s worst ever season from a relative puck possession stand point. Finding ways to shelter Ovechkin for offensive only situations while also spreading the talent around (a trend the likes in which Minnesota, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh and Anaheim are already doing and has been highly recommended by analytics gurus Dawson Spriggings and Alex Noyet) sounded like a good idea. But again, Trotz never tried it out in the regular season and he was trying to do it with 11 forwards given a sweater to go along with that. Apparently, Trotz told the media he was doing it while double shifting Ovechkin. Instead, Ovechkin never made it to the top five in ice time during those situations. He never even thought about giving the same double shifting role to Backstrom or even Kuznetsov if Ovechkin wasn’t able to do it. Once more, with more feeling, what happened Barry?!?!?

Now he’ll be forced to coach some of Washington’s prospects and be counted upon for patience as they play crucial roles if they ever want to win a Stanley Cup next year. Madison Bowey, Jakub Vrana, Tyler Lewington, Riley Barber, Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, Christian Djoos. A huge chunk of them will have to play over 40 NHL games next year because Washington will not have the cap space to bring back Alzner, T.J. Oshie, Daniel Winnik and Justin Williams. Somebody important will also be gone from the Las Vegas draft. Tom Wilson, Schmidt, Dmitry Orlov and Burakovsky will be demanded to have bigger roles. It can happen, but there is no way this team will be 100-points guaranteed good anymore while this transition will happen.

Nor will this team be good enough to be considered Stanley Cup favorites again until an en-masse rebuild happens. They basically will have to pull a 2016 San Jose Sharks or even a 1998 Washington Capitals in order for them to have a shot at winning it all. That means having every obstacle go in their favor and having every lucky bounce go their way significantly more than the fact that this team is talented.

The landscape in the NHL will be different starting next year. No longer will Washington, Chicago or Los Angeles be contenders and someone will compete with Pittsburgh, the only true contender that can stay good for a solid nine months and keep doing so for years to come. Those someones will definitely be Edmonton and Toronto assuming they stop making stupid moves as they did the previous five to ten years beforehand.

That’s why this loss hurts. This was it. It was the only true avenue to win a Stanley Cup according to the big book of analytics and hockey common sense. It’s too bad Trotz doesn’t have any of that, no matter how many Ross Mahoneys, Tim Barneses and Garret Hohl agencies you have in your hockey operations department. In my lifetime, the Washington Capitals always were the closest thing this city had to winning a first Championship in 25 years and making them proud. Now that dream may be dying and this team will struggle mightily to get it back.

 

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