“It’s time that we stepped up, grew up and became, or at least try harder to become, the leaders of this team in everything we do,” Green said. “The time is now. It has to be. At the end of the day, we play the game to win a Stanley Cup, not for anything else. We’ve wasted enough time.”
Last season, Ovechkin and Backstrom each suffered career lows in multiple statistical categories. All four players saw their offensive totals dip anywhere from 24 to 52 points from the previous year. Against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs, the Capitals were swept without much resistance from the big four who combined for three goals and five assists in the series. In Game 4, the only one to record a point was Ovechkin, who tallied an assist.
“We’re experienced guys now, not young guys, and you learn what missing an opportunity costs you,” Ovechkin said. “It can be our last chance, us guys. You never know what’s going to happen, how many chances, opportunities you’re going to get. How many players was a great player but never won a Stanley Cup? A lot. I don’t want to be that. None of us do. We must do better.”
There is a feeling among those close to the organization that if the Capitals depart the postseason early once again, there will be significant changes. Green and Semin are set to become free agents next summer, the same time the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement expires and likely alters which players teams can afford to keep.
“Things can go fast in this league,” General Manager George McPhee said. “If you look at Semin, Green, Backstrom, Ovi, they’re five, six, seven years into their career. Their careers could be half over, and I think they’ve started to realize this isn’t going to last forever. They don’t want to leave anything on the table, because the opportunity is there.”
After the Capitals were swept out of the second round by Tampa Bay last spring, McPhee could have made sweeping changes to the Washington roster. Rather than dismantle the core of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin and Green, though, McPhee altered the supporting cast.
Out went players with several years in the organization and in came a Stanley Cup winner (Troy Brouwer), an undisputed top goaltender (Tomas Vokoun), a wily veteran defenseman (Roman Hamrlik), a rugged grinder (Joel Ward) and a former captain (Jeff Halpern) to create what might be, at least on paper, the best roster to surround the team’s four pillars.