DC Franchises Heading in Two Different Directions

April 04, 2014 | Nick Dorsey


Two professional franchises in the nations capital share the Verizon center as their home surface for the entirety of their regular seasons. One team skates along an ice surface and the other tips off on the hardwood. None of these franchises have made the playoffs in the same season since 2008. Unfortunately for the fans in the District of Columbia, it is likely that that occurrence will not strike in 2014.

The Washington Wizards clinched their first playoff birth in a victory over the Boston Celtics this past Wednesday. The Wizards are back in the NBA playoffs for the first time since that 2008-year and the future looks bright.

Since their last post-season appearance, there were dark days in Washington. Their fortunes changed for the better when the 2010 draft came around. The Wizards had the fifth best odds at landing the number one selection as Brooklyn and Philadelphia were the favorites to win the lottery. Ted Leonsis’ franchise struck gold when they were picked for the first draft selection of the ’10 draft. That number one selection was John Wall, the face of the franchise.

It was a rough time for a few years as Wall was unable to stay healthy consistently and surrounding talent was still an issue. Randy Wittman was eventually promoted to head coach after Flip Saunders was fired during the 2012 season. Over the next few seasons, the Wizards kept on adding pieces to the puzzle and were getting closer and closer to a playoff spot.

The additions of Bradley Beal through the draft, Nene and Trevor Ariza through trade, have been impactful since their arrivals to DC. Beal and Wall make for one of the better young backcourt combinations in the league still with some serious potential to grow. While their backcourt was settled, there were still some depth issues in the front-court.

The biggest acquisition that has made a significant difference this season is when the Wizards received Marcin Gortat in a trade from the Phoenix Suns. Gortat has had a career year this season and is an essential part to the Wizards pick and roll offense.

As the season progressed, other issues came about and the front office made adjustments and moves to deal with some holes. Al Harrington has been in the lineup after missing the majority of the season due to injury and his presence off the bench has been effective. Harrington helps spread the floor with his ability to shoot from the outside and is a tough player below the basket.
The bench unit was in need of a leader, so the front office acquired veteran Andre Miller at the trade deadline. Miller has been a stud for the Wizards coming off the bench. He is the savvy kind of veteran they needed to guide the second unit.

When Nene went down with a sprained MCL, the Wizards were in need of another big man to hold them over until his return. Drew Gooden was signed to a few ten-day contracts and eventually was signed for the rest of the season, due to his stellar play in minimum time. Gooden has played in 17 games for Washington, averaging about 19 minutes a game adding in 9 points and about 6 rebounds per game.

With Gooden’s resurgence, Harrington’s play and Gortat consistently being the anchor down low, the Wizards look like a legitimate team heading into the playoffs with another prominent big man in Nene still set to come back in the near future. The bench has been a good group coming out to spare minutes for the starters as well. With John Wall and Bradley Beal getting their first taste of the NBA playoffs, the future looks bright for the Wizards.

The Wizards are back to winning ways for now with young talent looking to grow. They are trending in the right direction at seasons end, but another franchise in DC is not doing so hot.

The Washington Capitals have been the consistent franchise of success in the DC area since reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2008. Although they have not had much success in the playoffs, they have still reached the post-season every year since 2008. At times they looked as if they were going to compete for a Stanley Cup, especially when they won the presidents trophy in 2009.

There have been some serious playoff woes with very good talent across the board for several seasons. The 2011 season was the mark of some change within the organization when Bruce Boudreau was fired after 20+ games into the season. Dale Hunter took over and had some of the better playoff success the franchise had had in years. Hunter made it clear he did not want to come back as head coach so the Capitals were in search for a replacement.

The Caps hired Adam Oates from the New Jersey Devils before the shortened lockout season. Coach Oates went 27-18-3 in his first season as head coach with the 48 games they played in the NHL regular season in 2012. It took a strong finish to get into the playoffs and win the Southeast division.

With an entire off-season and camp to better implement his system and structure, Adam Oates squad is currently on the outside looking in with the final stretch of the season coming to a close. It took a stellar run by the team in his first year to make a post-season appearance, but they are no longer in the Southeast division.

The Metropolitan division has been more challenging and the only shot the Caps really have is making the wild card. When the Caps went out on a crucial trip out west and recorded 5 out of a possible 6 points against some of the best teams in the league, playoffs looked like a real possibility. After arguably their worst performance of the season in one of their biggest games this past Tuesday night, playoffs seem like a pipe dream.

When watching the team over the course of the season, it is sometimes easy to remain hopeful of a Stanley Cup playoff birth. Realistically, this team does not deserve to be in the playoffs and is probably better off missing the opportunity. This team has too many flaws to ever do damage in the post-season this year and lots of areas need to be addressed this off-season.

One area to start is with the current head coach Adam Oates. To be fair, in his first year coaching it was a shortened season so it was difficult to implement his system properly. What is troubling is the consistencies seen between his first year and second year as head coach.

Both seasons have relied on late season pushes in attempt to squeeze into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Last year it took the amazing goal scoring production from eventual MVP winner Alex Ovechkin to help the Caps get the division crown. This season, Ovechkin has not been able to replicate that down the stretch, but that is a bit too much to ask for.

The defense has been poor in both seasons under Oates, which comes down to both personnel and structure. They are constantly among the top of the ranks in shots allowed per game. That is not a good habit to have when your goaltending situation is not as stable as it should be.

The positives that Oates has brought in since being head coach is the top-notch power play and the resurgence of the captain Alex Ovechkin. Other than that, what has Oates done well?

The defense has been abysmal all season and the team fails to get any offensive production in 5 on 5 play. They are extremely reliant on the power play to generate offense and they are too careless in the defensive zone with the puck.

I’m not saying that Coach Oates’ should be fired after this season, but he should be on the hot seat entering the next season. He deserves another seasons shot with an off-season that will hopefully bring better pieces to the puzzle for him to use.

The off-season focus should all be on the defensive side. This is a hockey club that has used 14 different defensemen all season and has a dire need of more defensive minded blue liners preferably in the top 4. Adding another top four defensemen would improve the play of Mike Green and move Dmitry Orlov into the third pairing. Orlov has been much playing much better hockey as of late, especially when he is paired on the third set not along with Mike Green.

The draft should be focused on the defensive side as well because the Caps have a surplus of young talent at forward. Evgeny Kuznetsov has shown promise in his short-lived season coming over from the KHL so his role will definitely be increased next season. Tom Wilson is a physical forward that has shown good two-way ability throughout the year. Even last years first round draft pick Andre Burakovsky has displayed great offensive talent in the OHL this season, so he could be set to be on the Capitals roster next year.

Washington needs to get better on the defensive side of the ice and that needs to be priority number one. As for their second priority, secondary scoring with the combination of better five on five play needs to be of emphasis.

Mikhail Grabovski was a good player for much of the early portion of the season until he suffered an ankle injury. He returned to action after the injury, but re-aggravated his ankle and missed more time. He signed a one-year deal last off-season and is set to be a free agent.

George McPhee should re-sign Grabovski because the team is noticeably better when he is in the lineup. His speed and toughness makes for a good fit in coach Oates’ system. With Grabo back in DC, he could fill a void at the second line center if needed be. Add in Grabovski with a more experienced Evgeny Kuznetsov that would make for a good second line. Troy Brouwer has had a great late season surge, so if that offensive production can carry over to next year that’s the second line production you need.

With Grabovski playing the second line center that would allow Nicklas Backstrom to be back together with Alex Ovechkin. The captain’s production would skyrocket alongside Backtrom because Jay Beagle has done no favors serving as the center on the Ovechkin line.

The best line all season has been the third line that consists of Joel Ward, Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr. All of them are having career years and no changes should be made next season to that unit.

In net, Jaroslav Halak’s future is uncertain but he is not likely to be back in Washington. It would be good for the club if Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer went into next season as the two goaltenders.

The 2013-14 regular season has been a disappointment for the Washington Capitals and their fans. Some rebuild is needed, but the team is not far off from being back on a contender level once again. A couple of adjustments need to be made on the defense side of the ice and in the 5 on 5 game. If those problems get fixed, they will be back in the post-season.

So the two franchises in DC right now are heading in two different directions. One is entering the post-season and the other is checking their golf clubs in at the country clubs. The future looks real bright for the young Wizards and the Capitals have serious questions and areas of concern that need answers during the off-season. For now, it is time for the fans in DC to root on the Wizards until the hockey team gets their weaknesses addressed.