You could make a good case that everything was set up last year for the Washington Capitals to win the Cup. All the old demons were dead or dying. Pittsburgh was in the process of imploding against Tampa Bay. The Flyers would flame out against Boston. The Capitals took care of the Rangers in the first round. Even Jaroslav Halak was at home watching the playoffs on TV. It was all there for the taking, which is what made the loss to Tampa Bay more depressing.
But if there’s one thing I’m tired of with the Caps, its history. Lord knows I’m guilty of talking too much about history myself, but what has to be remembered about history is that it’s, well, history. The only thing you can change about it is its interpretation. The events have already occurred. Capitals fans, and I’m including myself in this, have a tendency to be exceedingly bitter about past slights and disappointments and those views tend to color discussions of current events. The Caps aren’t doing bad today because they lost to Pittsburgh in the playoffs 16 years ago, or to Detroit that one time in the Stanley Cup Finals, or even because they lost to Tampa Bay last season.
And that’s why I’m looking to the future from now on. I’m looking at the continued progression of Marcus Johansson. I’m looking for a bounce-back years from Jeff Schultz, who was pretty terrible last season, Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and Alexander Semin. I’m looking for contributions from a bottom six group of forwards that is much better than the one that took the ice last year (Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer are big improvements over Boyd Gordon, Dave Steckel, and Matt Bradley). George McPhee killed it this offseason with all of his acquisitions, and I love the addition of Roman Hamrlik, who essentially replaces Tom Poti’s production, and blocks a ton of shots. He also did a masterful job of not overspending, getting Karl Alzner to reup at a disgustingly cheap price (gotta love in this instance that zero NHL GMs have the stones to make anyone an offer sheet), and on top of that, got one of the best goaltenders of the past decade to sign for one year and 1.5. Seriously, Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun combined are making less than 22 different NHL goaltenders on their own-you’d have to go all the way down to Steve Mason at 22, making 2.6, and Semyon Varlamov at 23 making 2.5. And GMGM fleeced Colorado for two really high draft picks for the aforementioned Ol’ Wonky Groin. Good times.
But there’s still questions going into this season. The depth at center is still really thin, and doesn’t quite match up with what Boston and Pittsburgh can throw down the middle (especially if the Pens get Crosby back). And the East is much, much improved. The Leafs are better, and could make the playoffs. Buffalo all of a sudden started spending, throwing obscene amounts of money at Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff. Boston won the Cup, and is still relatively intact, featuring the best shutdown D pair in the league not named Weber/Suter in Chara/Seidenberg. The Rangers added Brad Richards. The Flyers went nuts, so who knows what they’ll do. New Jersey went on a stupefying run in the second half last year. Carolina has some good young players, as do the Islanders. Even the Florida Panthers (who should be referred to as the Florida Goulash) could surprise some people. And then there’s Tampa Bay.
I make my living in the past. I’m a history guy, and I work in records. But the cool thing about the future is that it’s still undefined. We can make the choice to either mire ourselves in past woes, or we can look to the future as a place where good things are still capable of happening. To me, this Capitals team is capable of winning a Stanley Cup. It all boils down to whether they get the luck and the bounces to do it. And I certainly hope that this is the year.