DC's "Winning" Culture

Posted on April 03, 2014 by Ben Bruno

Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Mikhail Grabovski is a free-agent at the end of the season. While GM George McPhee has had some contact with Grabovski's agent, Gary Greenstin, about re-signing with the Caps, nothing has been finalized. According to a report from CSN's Chuck Gormley, what we do know from Greenstin is that "Grabo wants to win a Stanley Cup more than anything. The money is important and he’ll get his money. But it’s most important for him to be on a team that can win." Seeing as how the Caps are on the outside looking in just to make the playoffs, does Grabovski consider the Caps as being "a team that can win?" This brings up a bigger point. Do any NHL players see the Caps as being one of these teams?

During the 2010-11 season, the Capitals won their fourth straight Southeast Division title. After the season, they targeted free-agent Joel Ward and ended up signing him to a four-year deal worth $12 million. McPhee openly admitted that he had to overpay Ward to get him to sign with the Caps, which may make you wonder why, considering the Caps had won their division four years in a row and hadn't posted less than 107 points in three seasons. The reason is likely due to their failures in the playoffs, having won only two series in those four years. McPhee had to entice Ward with extra money, since making the "you can win a Cup here" argument was off the table. Ward drew interest from 16 teams during his free agency, and I guarantee some of those teams gave him a better chance to "win it all" than the Caps, but weren't offering as much money. Taking this to present day, the Caps will have to use the same technique if they want impact players to come here. If guys weren't willing to take discounts to play for the Caps three seasons ago, there is no chance they're willing to today either.

Players are not only going to have to be paid more to come to DC, but even some of the ones that are (or were) here already want out. Looking at this season alone, Martin Erat, Dmitry Orlov, and Michal Neuvirth all asked to be traded. McPhee was able to accommodate the requests of Erat and Neuvy and managed to keep Orlov around by overpaying for him (granted not significantly). I can't remember a team that has been in the playoff hunt all season having multiple trade requests made, yet at the same time I'm not surprised it happened with the Caps. Back in November, I wrote a post on why Erat and Orlov were asking to be traded and came to the conclusion that McPhee and Adam Oates weren't on the same page. At this point, I think it has more to do with Oates being lost as a head coach, but another point I made in that post was that if the Caps were a true contender for the Cup, then players wouldn't be asking to be traded, even if they weren't in ideal playing situations. For the most part, guys are willing to sacrifice personal accolades - and money - for a realistic chance to win a Cup, and that chance hasn't been in Washington. Could a new coach change things?

Adam Oates has made several baffling decisions this year, most recently, using Jay Beagle as a first-line center. Prior to this, he either benched or gave Erat minuscule time on the ice, when he was brought in to play top-6 minutes. The same can be said of Dustin Penner, who went from playing on the first line in Anaheim (a first place team), to being relegated to the fourth line in DC. No offense to Beagle, but if I'm a free-agent used to playing top-6 minutes and I get approached by the Caps, I'm going to be a little worried about signing with them, considering a fourth line grinder could see the ice more than me. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, and this is all a moot point if Oates isn't the coach next season, but coaching hasn't been a strength of the Caps since Bruce Boudreau was booted out of town, and is just another factor in contributing to a lack of a "winning" atmosphere. 

Whenever there is an impact player on a non-playoff team, looking to be traded to a "contender" mid-season, the same few teams generally emerge as landing places. Teams like Boston, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, among others. It's no secret as to why these teams are desired locations for players, and why Washington isn't. Year in and year out, they have legitimate chances to win a Cup and the Caps don't. It's as simple as that. Take Jarome Iginla for example. Last season he was in the final year of his contract with the Calgary Flames and they had no chance of making the playoffs. Iginla had a no trade clause in his contract, but told the Flames he would be willing to be traded to four teams: Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings. He ended up being traded to the Penguins, and while they didn't win the Cup, they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the Bruins. Prior to the start of this season, as a free-agent, Iginla signed with the Bruins on a one year deal, worth $1.8 million (it can be worth up to $6 million after bonuses), a season after making $7 million a year. I highly doubt he'd be willing to take such a pay cut to play in DC.

To wrap things up, the Caps have not put themselves in a position to be considered a desirable place to play, and more importantly, win. "Luckily" for them, the majority of the roster is under contract for next season, so they won't have to go out and overpay a bunch of players to sign. However, regardless of who has been on the roster, the possession numbers for the Caps have been dreadful the past few seasons, and if I haven't said it enough on Talk the Red, Fenwick and Corsi are strong indicators of not just playoff teams, but Cup contending teams. Check out the chart below if you don't believe me. I compared the Fenwick for percentage (FF%) of both teams in the Stanley Cup finals to that of the Capitals for the past two seasons, as well as the current best team in the East (Boston) and West (St. Louis) against the Caps' current FF%. 

Long story short, if the Caps miss the playoffs this season, perhaps it will be a good thing if it causes the organization to take a step back and evaluate what has gone wrong since the epic 121 point season four years ago. They need to get back to being - or becoming - a team that controls the puck and drives the play, instead of one that has been "playing towards other teams’ [styles] and how they’re dictating the game, and as a result...not getting results" according to Troy Bouwer responding to a question from Katie Carrera of The Washington Post. Until this happens, Grabovski and guys in similar situations, won't consider the Caps as "a team that can win."

Follow me on Twitter @bcubed86 and let me know your thoughts there or in the comments below.

next up:

Talk the Red Podcast 4-2-14

April 02, 2014

On this episode: The Capitals dwindling playoff chances and where does the blame lie?


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