The decision to sign so many free agents this summer lends some real urgency to the Caps’ Stanley Cup efforts. When you have so many young, talented players it’s easy to say “Well don’t worry, if it doesn’t happen this year, it will happen next year.” I think, disappointed as we were, that’s how a lot of us felt after the loss to Montreal in the 2010 playoffs, and again after the loss to Tampa Bay in this year’s playoffs. Now that we have veterans signed to one-and-two year contracts, we can’t say that next year or the year after we’ll have the same assets we do now.
This may be the boost we need. A bunch of veterans on their last or second-to-last season will inject some discipline into a team that has, by some accounts, had a few too many fratty tendencies. Investing this way sends a message to players, opponents and fans alike that no, we are not going to become a perennial playoff disappointment.
So why am I apprehensive? It just feels so... Redskins. Sure, we’re not talking about $100 million a pop for free agents who are a questionable fit on our team, but we are talking about somewhat of a departure from the “build through the draft” mentality. The Caps have done a great job since the lockout of building an identity as a team, and it’s a hard-working, ground-up approach that D.C. sports fans have fallen in love with. The same way that Stephen Strasburg and John Wall are “ours,” Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green are “ours.”
I sound very negative about this summer’s acquisitions, and I’m really not. The Varlamov trade brought in two more draft picks, which will enable us to continue our tradition of smart drafting. And besides, no one as sentimental as me could see Jeff Halpern’s signing as anything other than heartwarming. Vokoun is an ace in the hole — the perfect veteran, along with Olie Kolzig on the coaching staff, to bring our young goaltenders to fruition. As for the other signings, I think it remains to be seen.
My takeaway from all this is a mixture of disappointment and excitement. I’m disappointed because I know from watching the likes of the Detroit Red Wings and the Indianapolis Colts (if you’ll allow me to mix my sports again) that building through the draft works. But I’m excited because I’m hearing a very clear message from the Caps this off-season, and that message is that since the pieces weren’t falling into place on their own, we’re putting them into place now. It will certainly make for an exciting training camp!