The Washington Capitals and Where Do We Go from Here

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AP Photo/Nick Wass

It might as well have been yesterday that the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup and they were parading down Constitution Avenue with the trophy. A sea of red completely covering the Washington Mall, as it did Chinatown throughout the latter stages of the postseason, became the true exclamation point of Rocking the Red in All Caps. “What’s up babes” became a much more definition altering introduction in the English language and cup stands became the new party trick, until it became forbidden. I don’t even know who’s sober on that team anymore. All of this was in the name to break a 44-year curse for the franchise and a 26-year old curse for the city.

So in some ways, this title leaves us with two questions. The first is has the city of Washington DC finally become the elite sports town the locals have been begging for for generations? In some ways it has and it hasn’t. I mean, the dag gum Mystics, the same WNBA team that begrudgingly had to share their game at Capital One Arena with Caps fans in advance of their clinching Game five watch party, made it to the WNBA finals after putting an end to some of their own demons. D.C. United and Audi Field has become the shiny new toy of the town after being so non-existent in the post-Christian Gomez/Luciano Emilio/Jaime Moreno/Freddy Adu (very loud sigh) era. The Wizards are still a perennial playoff contender as long as Dwight Howard doesn’t do dumb Dwight Howard things…which will probably happen. Somehow, Adrian Peterson (I guess we all forget about that one horrible incident he did awhile ago) and the recent draft picks on the defensive side of the ball have made the Redskins relevant, for at least a month. Let’s not talk about the Terps.

As for the Nationals, they finally had their chance to host an All-Star game. But the Home Run Derby won by Bryce Harper felt so anticlimactic to how the rest of the season played out. Their bullpen continues to be a disgrace to society under Mike Rizzo’s watch and the injury bug struck again for Davey Martinez and Co. Sure, Juan Soto and Victor Robles are the future, but this was supposed to be the present. How on Earth is Harper a less than 2-WAR player? Are we still waiting for Michael A. Taylor and Wilmer Difo to be starters on a World Series contender or are we finally allowed to pull this plug? Why is it so predictable that Jekyll-and-hyde Gio became perfect Gio in Milwaukee, just like Tyler Clippard in 2015? Why does this franchise waste historic Max Scherzer seasons time and again? Why hasn’t this franchise thought of plan B options when it is inevitable that Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Wieters and Stephen Strasburg were going to miss half the season again? Oh, and how is it that this franchise keeps drafting pitching but hasn’t developed AND kept a bonafide starter since Tanner Roark?

You would like to think that 2018 is a moment of honest reflection, but what was 2013 and 2015 supposed to be then? What was the Jonathan Papelbon saga supposed to be? Mike Rizzo has done so much good for this franchise, but like George McPhee before him, he seems to be the ultimate two steps forward, one unforgivable step back GM. But then again, that was almost Brian McClellan if it weren’t for the Michal Kempny trade. So in short, positive things have happened to this city as a sports town. Thank goodness this ain’t the early 2000s. But everyone else can’t just rely on the Caps to do it on their own. These boys in red can’t be champions forever, I guess.

That being said, I watched the Stanley Cup Champions DVD via the NHL Network last night, and even the smallest details can be forgotten sometimes. You forget how magical, and poignant it was to see Joe Gibbs perform the “Let’s Go Caps” chant at Game Three of the finals, followed by Zimmerman and Scherzer for Game Four. You forget how powerful it was to release the shackles off this city once Evgeny Kuznetsov broke away from Pittsburgh’s defense and slid one past Matt Murray to win a second round match-up. Of course every city will laugh at us for that previous sentence, but they’ll never know what it’s like until they go through that generations long misery of their own.

Every bar and restaurant became packed every game like it was the super bowl by the time Tampa Bay rolled around. Don’t even bother to find piece and quiet at Chinatown by the time Memorial Day passed. I’m so glad the coaches agreed with me in stating that Game Six of that series was their best performance of the postseason. From there, the Cup final was just a matter of coronation once Game Two was won and David Perron became a healthy scratch. James Neal could have changed the narrative in Game Four, but it was never to be. I completely forgot a Vegas shot attempt took place after that final faceoff draw. Nearly half a century of frustrations were being released in every scream and shout at every home game and every room closest to a television. And every normal Caps fan with a soul will always get choked up when Titans Spirit hits their airwaves or when T.J. Oshie’s post-Game Five interview gets replayed. Ovechkin and Backstrom will never be separated for the rest of their lives. And we as fans can be relaxed for another generation.

The last question I would like to ask is whether this Capitals team can keep it going. This is officially year ten of this hockey team being the toast of the town and now they have a title to show for it. They brought everybody back except for one good dog (or Beagle, for this instance). But lest we forget that this was the exact same Capitals that got over 100 standings points off of good puck luck and not enough talent. Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky still haven’t become GUARANTEED stars in this league and they are the last of a dying breed of prospects coming through the pipeline. Unless Shane Gersich, Lucas Johansen or Ilya Samsanov change that narrative, it will be awhile until another Capitals draft pick becomes a guaranteed veteran, let alone a star.

And that’s where I worry that the end is near. Change always happens in this league and the whole “this is a young man’s game” saying finds a way to ring true, eventually. Don’t ever forget that Jake Guentzel had to be the latest sensation in order for Pittsburgh to repeat. The Blackhawks needed Brad Richards in 2015 and the Kings needed Marian Gaborik in 2014. Things just don’t ever stay the same for Champions to make it back to the top.

Along with that, Tampa Bay is still one of the most talented teams on paper with the lasting remnants of  Steve Yzerman’s glorious tenure as GM. It’s a matter of time before Toronto becomes the new kings of this sport and Pittsburgh won’t be quitting anytime soon. Philadelphia, like their mascot, might at least be a shiny new toy if their kids come through and Boston is always an advance stats darling. Out west, who says Nashville is done and how about those Jets? Are we sure Vegas is still good or will the Sharks dethrone those k-nigits. Oh, I guess we have to keep on talking about Conor McDavid until he becomes a scapegoat at Edmonton too.

So yeah, Washington has one too many competitors that would like to remove them from their perch. But for one last night, let this city savor something that it hasn’t done in decades: a coronation and a banner to be raised on opening night. Because who knows when this moment in history will ever happen again.

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