As Washington Capitals fans sit back and watch the postseason with their team not partaking for the first time since the 2006-07 season, they are surrounded by questions of the future. Questions surround head coach Adam Oates’ future as well as the future of long time General Manager George McPhee. While Capital’s fans may have a bitter taste in their mouths this postseason, another part of their future looks bright.
Capitals prospect Andre Burakovsky and the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) will face off against the Guelph Storm on Friday in Game 5 of the Ontario Hockey League Western Conference Finals. Burakovsky ranks second in the OHL in playoff goals (10) and fifth on the team in playoff points (13). While this is certainly not the NHL playoffs, it does speak to the talent that Washington has at all levels.
This past season Washington played a young Tom Wilson at defense as the 19 year old became one of the youngest defensemen in the league. He was thrust into a defense that has struggled for years and has left fans calling for changes. While Mike Green continues to age – and battle injury ridden seasons – it is refreshing to note that the future of the Washington defense is not all too far away.
Capitals fans also got a first look at the future of the offensive side of the ice, as KHL star Evgeny Kuznetsov, a four time all-star in the KHL, made his debut as a Capital towards the tail end of the 2013-14 season. The Russian finished the season scoring 3 goals and tallying 6 assists in 17 games played. In 2012-13 he scored 20 goals and added 25 assists in the KHL and could bring the Washington Capitals a balanced attack that could move them back into the postseason.
The goaltending situation has been a topic of discussion since the firing of long time goalie coach Dave Prior. Prior was fired by Oates in 2013 after the two failed to agree on how the goaltender position should be played. Oates, who never played goalie, believed the position should be played from a reactionary attack. In that mindset, long time Capital’s goaltender Ollie Kolzig was promoted to head goalie coach in 2013. Since, Braden Holtby has struggled in net and the Capitals went through four starting goaltenders this past season. The goaltending situation will continue to be a concern and topic of discussion heading into the 2014-15 season, however the play of AHL goaltender Phillip Grubauer should ease the minds of some Capitals fans.
There are some positives to build off of through this disappointing season. The positives lay in these noted young stars, and the fact that Washington recorded a league-high 12 wins this past season when trailing in the third period. Washington winger Alex Ovechkin had much to do with this, as his second straight 50+ goal season powered the Washington offense. He carried the Washington late attack and increased his number of game tying goals in the final minute of regulation to 7 for his career. The number is highest in the league since he entered in 2005, and the next closest player has no more than four.
With all these positives surrounding the future, the question still remains “is this franchise headed in the right direction”? Owner Ted Leonsis said at the beginning of the season that it would be “playoffs or bust” for both franchises he owns. The Wizards lived up to the promise, while arguably the more talented of the two franchises now sits at home this April. Coach Oates has been blamed for the team’s midseason slumps and GM McPhee has been blamed for trading away multiple players for Martin Erat, who demanded to be traded away from Washington this past season. McPhee has become a target of fan aggression over the past number of seasons and this may be the offseason that fans finally see McPhee gone from the franchise. With the Wizards still in the playoffs no major moves are expected to be made. Leonsis has stated time and time again that he wants all media attention on his basketball team at the moment.
Whatever the changes this offseason and no matter the up-and-coming stars, missing the postseason for the first time since 2006-07 leaves a bitter taste in Capitals’ fan’s mouths. Since winning the President’s Trophy in 2010 the team has steadily declined and could see their fourth head coach take the bench next season. Fans have to wonder, as Boudreau leads the Ducks into the postseason again, if the decisions made in the past three seasons have set the team back a couple years; and if the clock on Ovechkin is running out.