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The Caps playoff hats look like Nationals gear. That’s not an accident.

(Monumental Network)

Since some readers are curious, here are a few brief notes about the Capitals playoff gear, which showed up after the regular season. Some of this was already reported by Russian Machine.

What is the theme of this year’s playoff gear?

Two years ago, you’ll recall, the playoff gear was Abe Lincoln-themed. Last year, the theme was Entitled to Nothing.

Well, this year’s theme is “Next Level.”

And before you read on, if you have any inkling of saying “they need to win more games and come up with fewer playoff themes,” or “they need more grit and fewer T-shirts,” or anything along those lines, please, leave now. The exit is up above. No player or staffer missed one second of practice time or preparation in the pursuit of a few T-shirts and hats. If they do or if they don’t succeed, the inspiration or culprit will not be clothing. 

David Letterman (and his giant beard) came to the Caps game

What does ‘Next Level’ mean?

While coaches did discuss the phrase before it was chosen, I believe some of it is up to interpretation. As is all of language, really. You construct your own playoff theme — each player, each coach and each fan — out of the raw textual materials you are given.

Karl Alzner, for example, suggested on the Junkies this week that the phrase had hints of moving past the second round to a place this franchise hasn’t been in 19 years, but it’s clearly more than just that.

“I think it’s partly that, but I think it’s also just kind of getting this team and organization [to the next level],” Alzer said this week. “We’re already a great organization, but when you think of the top ones around the league, you go to a Chicago or maybe even Pittsburgh or some of the Canadian teams, but I don’t necessarily think people think of Washington yet. And so it’s kind of maybe propelling the whole organization and city to being recognized as it should be: one of the best in the league.”

What about other interpretations?

“Get the puck to the next level,” suggested Jay Beagle, in a conversation with our Isabelle Khurshudyan, a further permutation that would make Derrida smile, unless he was a Pens fan.

Anything else?

“Just kind of raising our game to the next level,” Alzner offered. “We seem over the years to have just plateaued right around now, so just trying to find that next gear of our game. Because we have it. And if we can get back to how we were in January, February: holy smokes, that would be pretty darn cool at this point. So finding a way just to get to the peak.”

What about the zombies?

As you’ll notice, the team’s playoff T-shirts show zombies, clawing past gravestones. I think you’ll get different interpretations on that one, too. Maybe it has something to do with resurrection. Or maybe it’s just something that looks cool.

Who is Terry?

The back of the shirts references a “Terry free zone.” So who is Terry?

“I can’t tell you that,” Beagle said. “That’s all our secrets.”

Alzner, meanwhile, professed not to know.  But as RMNB has reported, this is an old and complicated locker room reference to an inside team joke, having something to do with Alex Ovechkin.

So what about the hats?

Ah yes, the hats. Brett Leonhardt — the team’s video coach, but also the designer for its always-excellent regular season and playoff-themed gear — has long thought that New Era makes fine hats. He also appreciates the way Washington sports teams have publicly supported each other in recent years, during their playoff runs and before that. And he also figured that New Era’s spring training hats — which are made of a lighter, more breathable material — would function well in locker-room settings.

So during a Caps road trip to Buffalo, where New Era is based, Leonhardt took a shot. He visited an NHL rep at New Era, asking whether the company could make the Caps a version of the Nats Spring Training hat, but with some added elements incorporating the “Next Level” playoff theme.

Turned out they could.

(See here, in a photo from 2015. The team has since switched to a spring training cap with more red and less blue.)

So what do these hats look like?

They are identical to those old Nats spring training caps, with the addition of a Gothic script W on the front, in the same font as the “Next Level” phrase, which is written on the side. On the back — where the MLB logo would appear — is the Roman numeral XVI, representing the number of playoff wins needed to claim the Stanley Cup.

There is also a version for the Caps’ significant others: all white, with “Next Level” on one side. The hats are individualized with a heart around each player’s uniform number on the other side.

And where can these be bought?????

Sorry. No dice. This gear is made for the players, not for the public, although the team did send some to the Nats after some of the baseballers went to a first-round playoff game. In the past, some of the playoff apparel has been auctioned off as part of the team’s fundraising efforts, raising thousands of dollars for Best Buddies. So that’s probably your best chance.

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