If the Capitals continue to struggle, have another bad month, or suffer another disappointing Stanley Cup Playoffs, then what?
A month ago, I asked that rhetorical question after the firing of Bruce Boudreau and hiring of the current Caps head coach, Dale Hunter. Here we are, a month later and the Washington Capitals have gone 5-6-1 under Hunter’s guidance. Prior to Boudreau’s firing, the Caps started the season with a perfect 7-0-0 run, only to fall apart and go 5-9-1 until Gabby’s departure. Clearly, the roster has not responded to the coaching change (or it has and the situation is much worse than we could ever imagine). After two bad months, it’s time for more changes to right the ship in Washington. What to change though?
Clearly, another coaching staff shake up would probably cause more harm than good. So, some sort of roster change is the most likely the next step. Dale Hunter could shuffle the lines a bit. He could reunite Mike Knuble with the first line duo of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Hunter could control minutes and scratch under-performing players. However, these were all things that Bruce Boudreau tried before he was canned. Perhaps, the recognized, player leadership should be looked at.
I suggested just over a week before Boudreau was let go, that the Washington Capitals should take a look at a possible team captain change. Alexander Ovechkin is probably the most popular hockey player ever in the DC area. His energy sparked the growth of interest in the sport over the last 5 or 6 years. However, that growth will stagnate if the team doesn’t start winning again. I also suggested that the Capitals have not performed as well after Ovi was named captain of the team, as they did before the “C” was sewn on the Great 8′s sweater. There has been a long-term trend of inconsistent, uninspired hockey since the end of the 2009-2010 season. It might be time for the Caps organization to recognize players who consistently play motivated hockey, with and without the puck, as the leaders of the team. The problem is the potential reaction from Ovechkin should the captaincy be taken away. He was touted as an NHL superstar since joining the league. Guys like that don’t take kindly to titles being taken away from them. Ovi could become the proverbial “locker room cancer”. As I also suggested back in November, whatever team identity and chemistry is in the room could be shattered by a disgruntled Alex Ovechkin. Considering the coaching change didn’t motivate the team, changing captains probably wouldn’t motivate the lineup anyway.
The coaching staff and general manager George McPhee need to find the right buttons to push for the roster to promote motivated hockey. Drastic measures like trades and waivers is the next logical step. I have always advocated shopping clumsy defenseman Jeff Schultz and uninspired winger Alex Semin on the NHL trade market. Unfortunately, with the way both have played or not played as healthy scratches, they don’t have much value. Maybe the rest of the club would take notice if one of them was waived. A drastic measure but it could send the message that the only players Dale Hunter and George McPhee want on their roster are players that contribute.
The Washington Capitals continue to play unmotivated and uninspired hockey. The Stanley Cup can no longer be seriously considered the goal for this season. It is very difficult to recover from two bad months in the NHL so, the goal now is just making the playoffs. In order to do that, the Caps players have to find a way to play better. It’s really up to them. Just like it was a month ago.