A certain segment of Caps fans has been disappointed that the local media has seemed to give Washington’s front office a pass in recent seasons, despite one playoff disappointment after another. Sure, there have been poignant autopsies of playoff losses, and big-picture pieces questioning what has gone wrong, but not the sort of unflinching broadsides like those launched against other local front-offices in recent seasons.
That segment of fans — or at least, some of them — was partially disappointed by Thomas Boswell’s column this week. Yes, Boswell asked hard questions of ownership and the front-office; yes this was one of the harshest critiques our paper has published. But there was also what felt like an implicit critique of fans who, Boswell wrote, “re-up for more Rock the Red fantasies about Lord Stanley’s ever-receding Cup.”
What’s their alternative? Leave the barn empty, and then read stories about how D.C. is a fair-weather hockey town with no real fanbase? Can’t fans be angry, and yet still go watch games?
For those fans — who want the front-office, not their own fandom, questioned — I present Jason La Canfora’s verbal column, delivered via a phone interview with 106.7 The Fan Holden and Danny show Thursday morning. La Canfora, of course, is now a national NFL reporter for CBS Sports. But he grew up as a hockey reporter, served as the Caps beat writer for years, knows how to stir things up, and has some mighty strong opinions on what went wrong.
“Look, if they want to make cosmetic changes – fire the play-by-play guy, and change the uniform – that’s great,” La Canfora began. “Keep having a rotating door of coaches. Sure.
“I mean, look, you either make fundamental changes in how you’re acquiring players, what your culture is, how you’re paying players, and try to get yourself over the hump,” he continued. “Or you can fool yourself into thinking every year, just because we made the playoffs, we’re on the cusp of a Stanley Cup. And if the fans are willing to continue to pay the freight, and they seem to buy in, then I guess you don’t have to change.”
“I mean, I’ve followed that franchise my entire life,” he said. “I covered that franchise for five years. Ted’s gonna have to make some – I don’t even think they’re tough choices. Just some big guy, real, professional sports choices. Or again, you can keep writing blogs and delude yourself and think people will buy in — that because you have this one superstar player, every year it’s just ‘Ooh, a bad break here, and oh darn, we hit a post, and otherwise we’d be hoisting another Stanley Cup.’
“They’re nowhere near it,” he said. “And we’ll see when these divisions change how it works out for them. But they had a gift for whatever — eight or ten years — of playing in this division with a bunch of teams that fiscally just couldn’t or wouldn’t compete. And it’s resulted in what? A couple of playoff round wins, and that’s about it. So I don’t know. I would say that’s pretty disappointing.”
La Canfora was supposed to be discussing the NFL, but Danny Rouhier asked a follow-up about whether Alex Ovechkin has been handled too leniently by the organization.
“Clearly there’s something wrong there and something adrift,” he said. “I think you look at how you they put their team together, and who is the team captain. If your team captain isn’t really a team captain, then is there a covert team captain, a guy who actually can keep him in check in the locker room?
“I mean, I just haven’t been able to figure out what the plan was there for a long time,” La Canfora said. “I don’t really know what their identity is. You’re just constantly swapping out goaltenders, you’re constantly swapping out coaches, and you’re not really changing your culture or changing your locker room or making your team any more difficult to face in the playoffs. I mean, it kind of blows my mind. They’ve been NO more difficult to face in the playoffs for how long has Ted owned the team? They went to the Finals in ’98; you can go back to ’99 and they’re kind-of sort-of the same team.
“I mean, not a whole lot’s changed,” he went on. “Ovechkin fell in their lap. They looked like they had some real dynamic potential those first couple playoffs when Backstrom and Ovi were playing. I actually bought in. I’m like, ‘Wow, if they get a few more things right and actually add a little bit more North American flavor, a few more big wingers, some bangers, a couple of defensemen who knock heads, they’ll be there.’ That’s never really happened. They’ve overpaid guys past their prime. The kids that they’ve tried to develop haven’t developed. I thought Eric Fehr would be an impact player; he kind of was for a while, he went away, he came back, he had flashes.
“But you look at kids they drafted really, really high that just gave them absolutely nothing, it’s hard to overcome that. You know, the trade for Erat? I mean, is that gonna pay any dividends? He was a passenger when he was healthy. You traded a top prospect for that? I mean, we’ll see. We’ll see. I don’t think they’re anywhere close. I really don’t. But we’ll see.”
For a sunnier look at postseason failure, I’d recommend this from Japers Rink. “If they implode like Jaromir Jagr‘s Capitals or add another futility-garnered lottery pick to the fold? Then we’ll all remember what losers really look like. Because this ain’t it,” he concluded.