Alexander Discusses the Capitals and the NHL
Rachel Alexander, The Post's beat writer for the Capitals and NHL was our guest on Sports Online on Tuesday, April 27. Alexander discussed the fall of the Capitals and the current state of the NHL. The transcript of the discussion follows.
Is this a quick fix? Is it a case where the Caps had key injuries and were really a better team than they put on the ice this season? Or are we in for a youth movement -which with the trade of Hunter, and releasing of Miller and Pivonka, it would seem- and a couple years of rebuilding?
Rachel Alexander: Hey everybody. Thanks for the patience with all of our computer problems.
McLean, VA: What do you think it will take to make D.C. more of a "hockey town" like Detroit or New York or am I asking for too much?
Rachel Alexander: Before last season, I would have said that a strong playoff performance was all that was necessary to make Washington a hockey town. I was working in South Florida in 1995-96, when the Panthers had problems drawing crowds. They had a lot of empty seats even through the first two rounds of the playoffs, but by the conference finals it was crazy down there. By the time Florida was swept by Colorado in the Cup finals, the Panthers logo and colors were every year. Even though the team lost the Cup, they sold out the next season.
Blacksburg, VA: How come everyone "in the know" disregarded the Carolina Hurricanes on their way into the playoffs? Even considering the parity in the East, the conventional wisdom had Boston winning in 5 or 6 games, but lo and behold, Carolina's up 2 games to 1 and looking awfully tough.
Rachel Alexander: There's no question the Hurricanes are a weak No. 3 seed just because of their regular-season record, which would actually make them the No. 8 seed if the seedings were strictly done according to the records. That being said, the advantage of being seeded No. 3 (thanks to being the Southeast Division winner) is that you play the No. 6 team instead of a tougher opponent.
Alexandria, VA: During an interview three weeks ago, Abe Pollin stated that George McPhee could sign any player he wished without regard for what it would cost financially. I've always felt that the Caps' never really had the ability to sign the higher end players because of Abe's tight pocket book. Give us your honest opinion on this topic
Rachel Alexander: Abe Pollin has said this a few times in recent seasons, and the Capitals payroll has been in the top third of the league. You can't call someone tight-fisted when that happens. I certainly wouldn't call Pollin free-wheeling either, however. Detroit, Dallas, and Philadelphia have been throwing money around; the Caps don't. There's no question money is a concern for a franchise that lost an estimated $20 million this season.
Burke, VA: What's the general mood of the team these days, considering all of the recent changes?
Rachel Alexander: I think the players are disappointed, although the real depressing part of the season was right before and after the trade deadline. Once they accepted that they were not going to make the playoffs and mourned for that lost opportunity, they began looking toward next season.
Alexandria, VA: Will the Caps keep Brian Bellows?
Rachel Alexander: I'm not sure they know the answer to that one yet. Brian was a key member of their Stanley Cup run, and he played well again this season, especially in the second half. He's one of the few players willing to go to the net to score, and he likes working with the young guys on the team. Coach Ron Wilson also points out that he's one of the few vocal guys in the locker room, something no successful team is without.
Fairfax, Virginia: Any predictions on who will win the Stanley Cup?
Rachel Alexander: Obviously you have to be impressed with Detroit, and Dallas and Colorado are also still favorites. While the East has no such hot contender, it will be such a battle to get out of the West that whoever does survive the conference finals may be tired and banged up once getting to the Cup finals. That doesn't mean they'll lose, but perhaps the NHL will be able to avoid another finals sweep.
Paris, France (16-year Washingtonian until last November): Young players like Baumgartner and others, have not developed as fast as thought. Will the Capitals give them a decent chance, or will they spend enough money to get a "name" ?
Rachel Alexander: Anyone following the Capitals' minor-league players from Paris deserves a special commendation from the Portland Pirates! As for Baumgartner, he has had a lot of injury problems, but his overall development has been disappointing. Other young players, like Alex Volchkov, have had even more problems.
Queens, New York: What are your thoughts on Reggie White's loudly-voiced opinion that female reporters not be allowed into locker rooms?
Rachel Alexander: I don't agree with a lot of things Reggie White has said in recent years. His statements to the Wisconsin legislature regarding minorities, including his own, were atrocious. I don't expect him to be any more enlightened when it comes to women.
Kalamazoo, MI: What will it take for the Capitals to become competitive again? Is it a pipe dream to hope for this in the next 5 years?
Rachel Alexander: I don't think that's a pipe dream at all. They still have the core of a very complete team there: Bondra, Kolzig, Oates, Gonchar, Konowalchuk, Zednik, Bulis, Reekie, etc. They must get healthier, and they believe that some changes to their offseason training regimen may help in that area. They also have to be a more focused team than they were this season, but I think the long summer and the bitter taste of this season will help there.
Laruel, Maryland: Baltimore is thinking of updating and building a new facility in Balitmore to attract a new NHL team. What do you think the reaction of the Capitals management will be to establishing an NHL franchise in Baltimore?
Rachel Alexander: I can't see the NHL putting a team in Baltimore when there are so many empty seats at Caps games. If that was ever considered, I'm sure the Caps would fight it (much like Orioles owner Peter Angelos is against putting a baseball team in Washington), but again, I really don't see the NHL allowing Baltimore to have its own team right now.
Beltsville, MD: Do you think the Capitals should fire Ron Wilson?
Rachel Alexander: No, I don't think you can point to coaching as the reason the Caps didn't go far this year. As I said earlier in the chat, there were a lot of other reasons the season went so poorly.
Austin, TX: Pollin has stated that the Caps have lost $20 million this season. How in the world was that calculated? With the revenue that the Caps bring in, I find this absurd.
Rachel Alexander: There's no question that's a spongy figure, especially since the Caps don't open their books to the public. How much of that total includes all the revenue brought in from the MCI Center? How much of it includes losses by the Wizards? The Capitals won't say.
Washington DC: Why do NHL players have such a problem with mouth guards? For about $20 you can get a very small guard that still allows you to talk while on the ice, and they're excellent protection against the rash of concussions in the league. Is it just a tough-guy image thing, or something else?
Rachel Alexander: Some guys just don't like to wear them -- they say they can't breathe well when playing. Of course, the guys who are used to them say they can breathe fine, so I think it's just a matter of what you grew up with. The same goes with helmets. There are still guys wearing paper-thin helmets, even though it's not safe, because that's what they grew up with. Unfortunately for them, a few concussions later, it's more than just your equipment that doesn't feel exactly right.
Bethesda MD: Since last season was so much more extended than usual for the Caps, Olympic break and the extended post season, do you think that a lot of the prolonged injuries and their lack of energy were due to the length of the off season which was shortened by at least 6 weeks compared to past seasons?
Rachel Alexander: I think the short summer did affect the Caps, more so than the Red Wings because the Red Wings were used to it. Some of the players have said they didn't feel as mentally prepared for this season as they have in the past -- that they were just tired and worn. Others had problems gearing up their physical conditioning as well as they usually do.
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