You could see the writing on the wall for Washington since last summer. Win the Stanley Cup in 2017, or die.
Even Brian MacLellan proclaimed it since T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams signed with the team in the 2015 offseason. They each had two years left on their contracts and would be passed their primes when they hit free agency. Alex Ovechkin will be 32 with his unconventional skating stride that will not be getting any faster. Brooks Orpik will keep going from bad to worse.
Welp, the Capitals didn’t win the Stanley Cup and now the very existence of dominant 110 points in the standings every year hockey is dying in Washington until further notice. Now, an appearance in the Conference Finals is a true over-acheivement. Now, it is critical beyond belief that every young player and every prospect becomes a valuable asset and future core piece to the Capitals.
That is why losing Nate Schmidt in last night’s expansion draft is like the outcome of every action Donald Trump makes: predictable and unforgivable at the same time. It was predictable because head coach Barry Trotz time and again refuses to promote younger and more talented players like Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov to much more prominent roles until a season or three later. It was also predictable because MacLellan never pulled the “Brad Pitt as Billy Beane” equivalent at imploring at Trotz within a week’s notice of evidence that said younger players need a bigger role. It’s also predictable that, after so many years of hiring analytically minded people that it’s clear that it takes a full year to get their research translated onto the ice. It’s like the organization are using Westerosi Ravens to send messages to each other when their not-so-different rivals are using Slack.
Clearly, Chicago and Pittsburgh are running under this proverbial system and it’s unbearable how little Washington pays attention to it. Both franchises now covet prospects in a way that leads to present and future success. Chicago time and again uses them to retool after being creating their own salary cap ruin. Now, the team has Nick Schmaltz, Artemi Panarin and Alex DeBrincat to count on once Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are no longer their completely useful selves. Pittsburgh now has Connor Sheary, Zach Aston-Reese and Jake Guentzel to keep Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby another five years younger and Tristan Jarry could take the number one goaltending reigns if Matt Murray’s small sample size regresses him horrifically to the mean.
As for the Caps: oh boy. Evgeni Kuznetsov is finally a key member of this hockey team, but it took until the 2015 playoffs for anyone to take notice. Now he’s 25 and who knows if he can completely make up for all the point totals that will be lost by Washington’s aging veterans. The same will be said of Burakovsky, except no one in the Capitals completely took notice of his talents until after the 2016 playoffs. Now, it wasn’t until this year’s playoffs for the Capitals to realize how valuable a piece Schmidt was.
When the writing was on the wall for three years too long, Trotz still thought it was a good idea to give a not-100% Karl Alzner top line minutes, let alone more playing time over Schmidt, who was a healthy scratch. What Trotz decided to go with 7D, not only did he not double shift his star players like Tampa Bay did during their 2015 run to the Stanley Cup Final, but he never played his third line any minutes despite proclaiming to the media that the league has become a three-line game. It’s very difficult for me to find the definition of stupidity in the most outward of examples in this era. I get that a head coach needs to do his job, but like all professional environments, if he is doing his job to the detriment of the company, in-house change are required.
That hasn’t happened at all. Brian MacLellan has said nothing to stop it and nor has Ross Mahoney, Tim Barnes, Tim Ohashi or Hockey Data mid-season. The culture is set in stone. This is Trotz’s team, warts and all, until he’s fired. In 2017, when there are so little coaches that are analytically inclined, especially for someone that has 18 years of “tried and trusted” experience, that is a mistake.
It’s been obvious since the rules for Vegas’ expansion draft came out that Washington was being threatened of losing a quality player. If they protected 7 forwards and 3 defensemen, they were always going to have Orlov, Schmidt or John Carlson unprotected. Either, you lose a future star on the backend or you lose the most important component on the power play, Washington’s strength in the entire Alex Ovechkin era, not named Nicklas Backstrom. If they protected 8 skaters, they were always going to lose Marcus Johansson or Burakovsky. Either way, high draft picks or their best prospects were required to be sent in order to protect their most exposed asset.
The details still haven’t come out as to what Washington would have needed to give up to protect Schmidt. However, Toronto looks to be interested in him and only a second round pick is expected to be sacrificed. If MacLellan is the true general manager that Capitals fans wanted instead of George McPhee, a win-at-all costs general manager, that 2018 first round pick gets to be used. Or Washington loses Jakub Vrana. Travis Boyd or even Shane Gersich might have what it takes to eventually replace Oshie or Williams while Burakovsky and Kuznetsov reach the primes of their careers. Either way, MacLellan once again couldn’t stamp his authority and the correct identity of what the Washington Capitals should become.
And that’s why this trade was predictable and unforgivable. #FreeRossMahoney.