August 10, 2022

OPINION: Complacency, not talent, the root of Washington Capitals malaise

Effort. Intensity. Perseverance. All brought on a nightly basis. These are the hallmarks of Barry Trotz-coached hockey teams. In Nashville, Trotz had his hands tied a bit as the organization rarely gave him the type of elite talent where he could preach anything other than hard work. Through one-quarter of a season with the Washington Capitals, that message has yet to really sink in, if it can at all.

What’s the saying about a tiger changing its stripes?

Trotz was brought in to DC to instill those same ethics to the Capitals, a work definitely still in progress. One need to look no further than Saturday’s night’s debacle against the Leafs, as the Caps allowed long-range goal after long-range goal, goals in rapid succession, and little-to-no reaction from the guys in the road sweaters.

This team has enough talent — at least at the top levels — to compete for a playoff spot in the wide-open Eastern Conference. Probably not enough to contend for a title, but at least be invited to the dance.

Trotz has them playing a much stronger possession game, but lack of scoring cohesion and depth down the middle, defensive boners and the much-too-often goaltending gaffe are sabotaging any real progress.

One look at the standings is enough to know.

We’ve already seen this season that on any given night, the Caps can (and will) play like a team that is interested in being anywhere other than the ice.

This can’t be laid at Trotz’ feet… yet. It’s going to take some time, maybe quite a bit of time, and maybe even a handful of personnel decisions before his tenets will finally sink in within the organization.

Trotz himself said it a couple of weeks ago:

“You guys have lived it more than I have,” Trotz said. “But I will say this: That behavior has to change or we have to change people. Plain and simple. To me it’s absolutely unacceptable. They have to fix it. It’s my job to fix the behavior. If they’re not going to fix it internally, then I’ll make sure I fix it.”

“Sometimes I get the feeling we play just as hard as we need to,” he said. “That’s not how I operate. That’s not how you win in this league.”

That was a month ago. Someone want to explain to me the changes that have been made since? I’ll wait.

I think there’s a culture of complacency among the core group of players at Kettler. Despite the coaching carousel of the past three years, past the changing of the GM, beyond the shuffle of marginal support players, the same problems continue to surface every single season. And still, no real repercussions have come by way of serious benchings or trades.

Sure, the practices are a little tougher under Trotz. That much is available to witness at Kettler regardless of what side of the glass one sits. But the disappearing act during games continues, regardless who is coaching. So it has to come from somewhere else.

There are precious few repercussions to the players off-the-ice. Sure, Eric Fehr gets demoted to the fourth line or the press box once in a while. But other than that, there’s just not that much accountability. After these dud games, we hear the same platitudes from Brooks Laich (when he’s in the lineup), Troy Brouwer, Karl Alzner… it’s the same guys over and over. Play hard. Play the “right way.” Don’t take shifts off.

I’m sure those guys believe in what they’re saying. But it takes more than talk. And it just doesn’t transfer. Or, at least, doesn’t stick. And those that talk make the same mistakes as everyone else.

After Saturday’s debacle, Brouwer told the media, “…getting scored on after goals has been going on for quite a few years, not just this season. The thing that scares me is they’re repetitive mistakes, ones we consistently do over and over and we’ve got to start learning from.”

 “…a lot of guys are taking a couple steps forward and then a little bit of regress, reverting back to old habits, old ways. We’re trying to break old thought patterns, but when we’re on the ice and we’re consistently making those mindless turnovers there’s nothing you can do as a coach.”

But still, the same mistakes are made. They aren’t learning from anything, despite who’s preaching it. The individual players don’t make the necessary adjustments and the problems start all over again. They all fall back into their comfortable habits because there’s no real repercussion not to.

Complacency.

Bruce Boudreau is a good hockey coach, but he got canned because he let the Canadian media dictate how to coach his players. Dale Hunter dumbed things down to the point of playing coin-flip hockey and got out as quickly as he came in. Adam Oates tried to prove he was the smartest guy in the room instead of tailoring his style to the players he had. Now Trotz, who is getting much better possession from essentially the same players, but still facing the same malaise that’s plagued this team for years.

George McPhee, as competent an NHL exec as there is, was let go in order to go in a “new direction,” only to have his life-long chum and assistant take over.

Seems like the only repercussions come off-the-ice.

They can talk all they want about how the Stanley Cup is the their goal, yet the organization continues to slump along in mediocrity and complacency while employing largely the same strategies.

The Washington Capitals are in the process of wasting the peak years from two of the best players in the game while continually reliving the same problems they’ve had for the past half-dozen seasons. Maybe it’s time to give them a chance to succeed and send them somewhere else.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Trackbacks

  1. […] They killed off three consecutive penalties in the second period on Tuesday, maybe a sign that the players listened to Dave? […]

  2. […] you want to look at the Washington Capitals and wonder why they never seem to play up to their collection of talent, you’re within your right to read Brouwer’s comments and interpret them outside of face […]

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