December 19, 2014

OPINION: Dysfunctional Washington Redskins need major overhaul once again

With the Washington Redskins 24-13 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, the Burgundy and Gold will finish in last place in the NFC East once again, which makes it six of the last seven years. With the double-digit loss seasons piling up, and the ownership obviously not changing, someone has to be held responsible.

Team president and GM Bruce Allen is an easy target. At least superficially he’s the architect of this mess. The Redskins inability to scout, draft, develop and manage personnel properly runs as a current though the entire organization and goes back for the full 15 seasons Daniel Snyder has owned the team, so it’s deeper than Allen himself. But that where it all starts.

Think to yourself: When was the last time a player, coach or administrator left the Redskins and had success anywhere in the league? This is where folks in the NFL go to get paid then ride off into the sunset, and it’s been that was forever now.

Take Dan Snyder’s money? Sure. But you carry that stink on you for the rest of your days.

Regardless of what Snyder decides on the RGIII/Gruden debate, Allen was responsible for both hires, so he has to answer for crippling the franchise yet again. Don’t want to fire him outright? Fine. “Promote” him to what he does best — marketing and alumni relations. As a personnel evaluator and organizational executive, he has failed — miserably.

The player personnel department? Scouting and development? Anyone ever associated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Gone too.

Snyder should seriously seek counsel of the Commissioner’s Office to determine the best candidate available to take over managing every single aspect of football operations. There’s precedent — in the 70s Pete Rozelle forced the Mara family to hire George Young to rescue a moribund and dysfunctional franchise in the league’s premier market and all Young did was turn the Giants into perennial contenders.

Roger Goodell is a self-identified Redskins fan. He considers Snyder as one of his strongest allies. He should counsel Snyder in this issue to hire a competent executive then force Snyder to get the hell out of the way — really out of the way — for the first time in his ownership. Let that executive build the franchise back from the ground up. Scouts. Personnel department. Offensive and defensive linemen. Defensive coordinator.

No more glad-handing high profile free agents. No more coddling first round bonus babies. No more roaming the sidelines at training camp. No more personal relationships with any of the active players. No more meddling and undermining the football operations by blurring the lines between ownership and football management.

It’s a daring concept, I know.

Unfortunately, the more likely scenario will be Snyder leaving Allen in a position to waste more time, effort and money. The two will fire Gruden and hire the only man they can at this point to coach the team, Art Briles — Griffin’s college coach at Baylor — in a last-ditch effort to resurrect the once franchise-saving phenom. We can all watch as that plan backfires, as it always does, and wait in wonder what Snyder will do again for an encore.

We’ve only been watching it for 15 years, what’s a few more at this point?

OPINION: For the Caps, it’s not the end of the world

“It’s not the end of the world,” Troy Brouwer, on Jason Chimera’s overtime penalty on Thursday.

For years, the Washington Capitals have been battling the perception that they aren’t intense enough, that they collectively lack an ethic tough enough to compete as a team at the highest levels in the NHL.

George McPhee thought so, or he wouldn’t have fired the most successful head coach in the franchise’s history to hire a coach out of the Juniors with no NHL coaching experience at all whose reputation was nothing but hard work, diligence, and yes, toughness.

Brian MacLellan must think so too, as he was part of the braintrust to bring in Barry Trotz — a coach whose reputation for discipline and hard work goes without question — to replace another offensive-minded, but failed, head coach.

Certainly it’s been part of the Canadian media’s mantra about “what’s wrong with the Capitals” the entirety of Alex Ovechkin’s tenure rockin’ the red.

Taken with that background, then, Troy Brouwer’s comments on Friday about Jason Chimera’s boneheaded penalty in overtime Thursday night can be read several ways, depending on your impression of the team and your feelings about the players themselves.

First, Brouwer’s actual comments, unfiltered:

“We’ve all been in that situation where you’re helpless. You’re in the box after you do something unintentional that might cost your team a couple points.

“[Chimera] felt bad about it and he apologized after the game. It could happen to anybody and it does happen to a lot of guys.

“I’m sure he felt isolated, but that’s when we as teammates have to pick him up and let him know that it’s not the end of the world, we’re still here for him, he’s a big part of our team, and we’re going to need him to rebound.” [emphasis added]

On Friday, Trotz indicated he had not spoken with Chimera directly about the incident, and Chimera — surprisingly — did not speak with media after practice, something he rarely avoids, at least in my experience covering the team. So that left Brouwer to speak for him.

First of all, Brouwer’s opinion that Chimera did “something unintentional” is not supported by the facts. Chimera’s interference penalty — knocking down defenseman Jack Johnson far away from the puck — was certainly intentional. Poor judgment? Yes. Unintentional? Absolutely not. So that part of Brouwer’s comments seem excuse-making.

Anyway…

If you want, you can interpret Brouwer’s comments as “standing up” for his teammate. He specifically says that as teammates they “have to pick him up.” All that said, if he had stopped there, it would have been easy to take Brouwer’s comments at face value.

But he goes on to say that “it’s not the end of the world.” Maybe not. But with the Caps still mired in the middle-to-low side of the pack in the Eastern Conference, every point is going to matter at the end of the season. Every single point.

If you want to read into Brouwer’s comments and believe that they perpetuate the narrative that the Caps are too complacent — that they lack the urgency, intenseness or toughness requisite to be one of the top teams in the league and truly compete for a championship in a sport that’s as much about desire as skill — it’s right there for you.

If you see this team underperform again and again (winning three straight on the road only to lose to an inferior team at home) and want to look for reasons deeper than possession metrics, Brouwer’s comments certainly opens those doors for you.

If you buy into the perception of a lax atmosphere that surrounds and permeates the Caps — the team, organization, media, and yes, fans — then it probably doesn’t surprise you that Brouwer thinks “it’s not the end of the world.”

If 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 value.

I guess if the Caps miss out on the playoffs by one point in April, it won’t be the end of the world.

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.

OPINION: History shows future is cloudy for Redskins’ Griffin

The last three times the Redskins made the playoffs, it was on the back of a second-half surge in 2005, 2007 and 2012. The Redskins entered their bye week at 3-6 much like they did in 2012, but this year, the defense is forcing fewer turnovers. The only game the Redskins were actually out of in the first nine games of 2012 was against Pittsburgh. They had given up a victory with a blown coverage late against the Giants.

Robert Griffin III was fully healthy and playing well back then, after a sensational debut in the first game of the season against New Orleans. With RG3’s health an unknown variable in 2014, the Redskins would be best served trying to find out what kind of quarterback he will be coming off his dislocated ankle. The good news is that this time, no one has made Redskins head coach Jay Gruden backtrack on his comments that he’ll use RG3’s running skills.

Tony Dungy commented that RG3 is no longer the stunning athlete he used to be. He doesn’t have to be. At RG3’s peak, the only quarterback faster than him was Michael Vick, even though many have pointed out that RG3’s speed is more straight-line and not as elusive as Vick’s, even though it doesn’t keep either of them from getting injured. At his best, Mark Brunell ran around a 4.6 40. That’s all you need as an NFL quarterback to make defenses account for you as a running threat, assuming that he was equally good at passing.

It would be best to compare RG3 to other quarterbacks that have suffered knee injuries. Among them, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady are not applicable to RG3’s case because they are primarily pocket passers. Daunte Culpepper was a mobile quarterback, but his case is not applicable because the severity of his knee injury was much greater and catastrophic to the point that it ended his NFL career.

The two closest cases are Randall Cunningham and Brunell. Cunningham suffered a torn ACL and MCL in Week 1 of the 1991 season. Cunningham lost his job to Rodney Peete when the Eagles made a coaching change after the 1994 season. Cunningham didn’t fit Ray Rhodes’s desire for a West Coast-style QB. He was out of football for a year before he resurfaced with Minnesota and led the Vikings offense on a magical run that unfortunately ended in the 1998 NFC Championship Game.

Cunningham never changed his style even after his injury, mostly due to coaching on the part of Rich Kotite, who continued Buddy Ryan’s strategy of having Cunningham make a few plays on offense and then let the vaunted Eagles defense handle the rest. “I remember Buddy used to say to Randall, ‘All I need is for you to make four or five plays a game to make the difference,’ one former teammate told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. “And Randall used to go out and make these unbelievable plays, plays nobody else could make. Buddy was relying on Randall’s athletic ability and not his ability to read or learn defenses, and that turned out to be Randall’s undoing.” Kotite described Cunningham, “If he wasn`t pressured he didn`t run. If he was, he improvised as he does so well.”

This continued even after Cunningham broke his left fibula in Week 5 of the 1993 season. Cunningham had led the Eagles to a 4-0 record and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month before that untimely injury.

Cunningham never wanted to change. If you go over some of his quotes from 1992: “I`ll be back scramblin’.” “Those who doubt me don`t believe in me. There`s no doubt in my mind I`ll make it back all the way.” “My instincts are still with me. If I lost my instincts, I probably would have retired. I`m not going to try to be somebody I`m not. I`m going to be Randall Cunningham as long as I can perform at that level.” “I`m not going to sit in the pocket like Joe Montana and complete 70 percent of my passes. I`m not going to scramble like Fran Tarkenton and launch bombs. I`m just going to play football the way I want to and the way the coach wants me to.”

Even if someone pointed out that he was becoming more conventional prior to the 1991 injury, Cunningham said, “I did scramble less, because I was dropping back and completing 70 percent of my passes. But I haven`t changed. I still enjoy that style. If something opens up and I have to dip through and get a few yards, it`s OK by me.”

Brunell is a closer comparison. Brunell, like RG3, was still a running quarterback after his first ACL tear in the spring game after his sophomore season at Washington in which he was named Rose Bowl MVP. When Brunell led the NFL in passing yardage in 1996 with 4,367 yards and ran for 396 yards, he still threw 20 interceptions to go along with 19 touchdowns.

Brunell didn’t become a pocket passer until after he led the Jaguars to the 1996 AFC Championship Game and was rewarded with a big contract. That moment came after he missed the preseason and the first two games of the season after suffering a partially torn ACL, MCL, and PCL in the first game of the 1997 preseason.

Brunell, like RG3, displayed a willingness to adapt to being a pocket passer. “It’s very easy, and this will almost sound too basic, but it’s reps,” Brunell told ESPN’s John Keim. “It’s going through OTAs and minicamps and training camp with the mindset of, ‘I’m dropping back and absolutely have to find a receiver.’ There are four or five receivers in each pass route and your job is to find the open guy.”

After the Jaguars had clinched a playoff berth against Buffalo in Week 16 of the 1997 season, then-Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin said, ”He had a great decision-making game. His spontaneity was better, and he made plays on the run. He also took some pretty good hits and still delivered the ball very well. It’s a shame he had the interception, but he still had a solid game.” Jaguars center Dave Widell said, ”He’s improving with every game and gaining the poise he needs to be successful. That includes not throwing the ball away. He’s leading the offense as he should be.”

“I had to sit in the pocket and throw,” after the injury, Brunell told Keim. “I moved a little bit and not nearly as effectively as before. Going into the ‘98 season, I felt better as a pocket passer. It probably took me a year. I never got to the same speed, but it put me in position where I was forced to develop as a passer. In a way it was one of the best things for me.”

Gary Clark said before the season began that this could be the best offense the Redskins have had since 1991. On paper, it compares favorably with the 1999 offense with quarterback Brad Johnson, running back Stephen Davis, receivers Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell along with tight end Stephen Alexander. One place where they don’t compare well is the offensive line, where Trent Williams is by far the best player, as well he should since he was the fourth pick of the 2010 draft. The Redskins have used precious few draft picks on the line dating back to the Mike Shanahan era.

Tight end Jordan Reed is healthy again, while DeSean Jackson leads the NFL in yards per catch. Pierre Garcon is only one year removed from breaking Art Monk’s single season receiving record, and Andre Roberts was brought in from Arizona to be the No. 2 receiver before the signing of Jackson. The running game with Alfred Morris has been coming around since halftime against Dallas.

With the vast array of offensive weapons in the Redskins arsenal, the playcalling has been very conservative thus far. Through Week 8 against the Cowboys, “All three quarterbacks combined have thrown 45.5% of their passes within the 0-9 yard window, with just 12.5 attempts traveling 20 yards or more through the air. The receivers are expected to turn short passes into large gains through their feet, as Pierre Garcon did for his 70 yard touchdown in Week 8,” according to Trey Cunningham at Pro Football Focus.

OPINION: New coach, same old story? Why are Caps not as good as sum of their parts?

Yes, this is another “kick them while they’re down” column.

The Captain is getting criticized for (perceived) lack of leadership, “hockey IQ” or heart. Threats of reduction in ice time are only realized in the lower part of the roster. Goaltenders with sub-.900 save percentages. The Washington Capitals are — yet again — performing at less than the sum of their parts.

What year is it exactly?

We were promised a difference this time. Barry Trotz was going to come in and demand accountability from the Washington Capitals — and the entire organization. So far, it’s been much like the past several seasons: glimpses of brilliance followed by frustration and disappointment.

The team’s possession stats and shots against numbers show that they are driving play and limiting opportunities in their own end. Yet, in the past six games the results have been downright terrible. Plenty of voices are saying, “Stay the course, good things are coming.” It’s hard to ignore when you look at the stats. But folks been saying similar things for a while with nothing to show for it except first round exits.

It takes time to change the culture of an organization. Anyone that thought Trotz would able to accomplish the feat in the first couple months of his first season was deluded. But so far this season we continue to see the same fundamental problems this team has had over the past, oh, I don’t know, nine seasons or so.

The “country club vs. lunchpail” debate has been going on since Bruce Boudreau’s last couple of campaigns, and still, the Caps flounder.

None other than resident new guy, Brooks Orpik, noted, “Guys are [going to] make mistakes, we just need other guys to pick them up and right now one guy makes a mistake and everyone just kind of watches it happen.” (my emphasis, via CSNWashington, s/t RMNB)

Trotz, for his part, is starting to show some of that frustration himself. His comments following the disastrous 6-5 loss to the Coyotes Sunday night show that he is exasperated with the general attention level of his players.

“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.”

Trotz has a well-earned reputation as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense coach in this league. This team has a well-earned reputation as being soft and undisciplined. It’s a toss-up which way this will go. So far, it’s only cost four coaches their jobs.

You might think this criticism is directed straight at the Captain. While I honestly think some of the problem lies at his feet, it’s more of a pervasive attitude that hinders the Caps.

Despite opening the season playing very strong defense, why have we seen such dramatic (and continued) breakdowns the past two weeks? Despite numbers to suggest he’s always driven play, why has Eric Fehr been benched now by his last four coaches? Despite talent suggesting he should be a clear-cut No. 1 goalie in this league, why does Braden Holtby look like he’s getting worse instead of better? Despite an utter lack of talent, why does Jay Beagle keep getting opportunities in the top-6? Despite all the goal-scoring talent in the world, why can’t Kuznetsov get off the fourth line?

Despite all the obvious talent on the roster, why aren’t the Caps better than the results?

These are all questions that can only be answered by the men that make those decisions. NHL coaches can’t afford to be completely honest in answering media questions, so we have to distill the answers by what they say and the decisions they then make with regards to the lineup.

Like Adam Oates, Dale Hunter and Bruce Boudreau before him, Barry Trotz is now tasked with maximizing this team’s talent. It’s a job the previous three weren’t able to accomplish.

After nine years of trying, I wonder if anyone is capable of accomplishing the feat.

OPINION: Washington Nationals might have blown best chance for this group to win championship

It’s never easy, the end of the baseball season. And make no mistake, it’s over. Sure, you can follow the rest of the playoffs until its conclusion, but for fans of the Washington Nationals, the end of the baseball season came late Tuesday night in San Francisco.

It came in a bitter, frustrating, disappointing manner — they weren’t so much defeated, but done in by their own mistakes and mismanagement.

It’s an unimaginable conclusion, after winning their way to the best record in the National League to be dumped in the division series, unceremoniously, on the road, practically in the middle of the night.

Most fans would like nothing better than to praise the winners for a job well done, victors in a meritorious fashion. But the bottom line of this NLDS is that the Giants, while victors, were no better than the Nats. Neither team hit at all, rather the Nats continued to make errors and mistakes, and as one of the analysts on the terrible postgame shows said, “If you aren’t scoring runs, you can’t give away outs.”

The Giants didn’t, the Nats did.

Both teams scored nine runs in the series. Four of the nine runs came via solo home runs, three of which came from the youngest player on the team — who could be the youngest player on the majority of AA teams.

It just wasn’t enough.

Manager Matt Williams was criticized — rightly — in three of the four games for decisions he made with his pitching staff, most notably how he managed his bullpen. Veterans Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos were non-existent.

Werth and LaRoche, the three-four hitters combined for two base hits in 35 at bats in the four games. In the game Span reached twice, the Nats won. Other than that, he was transparent. Desmond and Ramos are still swinging at sliders away.

It’s hard to fault the pitchers that didn’t come through, considering they gave up just nine runs in four games. Aaron Barrett and Tanner Roark looked in over their heads. Gio Gonzalez got rattled after a physical error. Drew Storen gave up base hits when he needed strikeouts. But it’s nit-picking.

They gave up NINE RUNS IN FOUR GAMES. They should have won all of them.

Yes, this one’s gonna hurt. They all do. But this will hurt differently than 2012 did. The Nats were one pitch away from advancing on several occasions in a ten minute period and it was ripped away from them. Most thought they weren’t ready.

This year, they were ready. Full of veterans. Playoff tested. Best record in the league. Young players coming into their own. The best starting staff and bullpen in the league. Yet, it all blew up. Rather, they just didn’t show up.

The window’s still open with this group of players, but it won’t be forever. Denard Span and Adam LaRoche both have team options for next year. We don’t know if either will be back. Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann are free agents after next season.

We have no idea where — or even if — Ryan Zimmerman will be able to contribute in a meaningful way the rest of his career.

For a team that’s as veteran as this is, there are a lot of questions. The sobering conclusion is that this very well might have been the Nats best chance to win a championship with this group of players.

And they blew it. It’s hard to type that. I’m sure it hard to read it. But it’s true.

OPINION: Harsh dose of reality for Washington Redskins after Giants beatdown

Washington Redskins fans cling to every last glimmer of hope with every fiber of their being. You can’t blame them. For 20 years, this team has been the Lucy to its fans’ Charlie Brown, holding that football out for them enticingly, only to pull it away at the last, sending poor Chuck to an embarrassing and painful fall.

The latest shimmer of hope, Kirk Cousins, went dark Thursday night, as the New York Football Giants picked him off four times and forced him to fumble yet again. Cousins has now turned the ball over an astonishing 18 times in 10 games, including 13 interceptions and five fumbles.

That’s absolutely no way to win in this league. [Read more…]

OPINION: Time For Roger Goodell to Send a Message Regarding Off-Field Player Violence

He gets booed consistently and is widely ridiculed, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is currently staring down a golden opportunity to improve his reputation and the league’s reputation with a strong and strict disciplinary ruling on Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy’s latest domestic violence charge.

If there’s one thing that has been a constant problem in recent years in the NFL, it’s player discipline. More and more each year, we hear about and see players getting in trouble for their actions off the field. Despite the real world rules and laws they’ve broken, they still manage to take the field on Sunday’s and make millions of dollars. [Read more…]

Capitals overpay to rebuild defensive corps in NHL free agent frenzy

When I first heard the deal the Washington Capitals handed 33-year-old (34 before opening night) defenseman Brooks Orpik, I was as apoplectic as anyone else. Well, almost anyone else.

My initial reaction: the Caps drastically overpaid — in dollars and years — for an aging, slowing, one-dimensional defenseman that doesn’t drive play. While I can appreciate the element Orpik will contribute to the team, what crusty old Canadians refer to as “snarl”, in no way is that worth $5.5 million over a five year term. Let alone, to a player that will be 39 at the end of the deal.

The analysis stands. My emotional response to the deal has mellowed a bit though.

Yes, the Caps drastically overpaid. There’s no possible way Orpik returns value on the length of the contract. With luck, the salary cap will continue to go up and he’ll be less of a burden in the later years.

He’ll add very little to the offensive side of the game. He makes a decent outlet pass, that’s about it. There’s lots of video of more talented skaters turning him inside out, and that’s going to continue.

As Caps GM Brian MacLellan pointed out, Orpik’s primary responsibility was starting in his own end and getting the puck out of it. Corsi’s not going to be kind to a player like that.

But the Caps have very precious little muscle on the back end. And that’s where Orpik can still contribute. Essentially, Orpik will be the player the Caps hoped John Erskine could continue to be. It’s debatable how long Orpik will be able to continue in that role, but we’ve got the next five years to watch it.

The next deal that the Caps made, bringing in fellow former Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, sort of helps put the Orpik deal in perspective.

Niskanen signed a market-value seven-year deal for $40.25 million — the largest contract doled out on frenzy day. Niskanen was probably the best defenseman available on the free agent market. He’s 27, coming off his best season, and in the prime of his career. He’ll “just” be 34 at the conclusion of his current contract.

Signing Niskanen gives the Caps not just another top-four defenseman, it gives them a top pair blue-liner. Whether Niskanen plays with Karl Alzner, Orpik, John Carlson, or even Mike Green or Dmitry Orlov, it slots every one down a spot. The Caps added not one, but two top four defensemen, something we advocated in this column before the conclusion of last season.

They are now deep, talented and tough on the back end, with impressive defense coaches to guide them.

Yes, the Caps spent a lot of money on two NHL caliber defensemen. But they needed to. After the parade of journeymen and teenagers last season, the Caps now boast a legitimate NHL defensive corps.

The team has been pretty good at drafting and developing puck moving defensemen, but you can’t teach size and toughness. As much as some of us (myself definitely included) like to point to possession and skill, this game still needs an element of toughness and defensive reliability on the backline.

The Caps have failed miserably to develop anyone to fill that role, so they had to pay for it.

The Caps are banking on the idea that while Alex Ovechkin is in his prime, they have to take every opportunity to “go for it.” Tuesday proved that this “refresh” is no rebuild. Damn the future, MacLellan’s directive is obvious: patch together a team that if it makes the playoffs, will at least have a puncher’s chance in the tournament.

The addition of Niskanen and Orpik, at an exorbitant cost, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the organization — and ownership — thinks it should be competitive.  Maybe they are deluding themselves. Maybe they know more than we think. Maybe they are chasing fool’s gold. Maybe they are just trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

Maybe in three year’s time they’ll be looking for another general manager.

But for know, the Caps were the most active team in the free agent market. That means that they have at least acknowledged that problems existed. There will still probably be dominoes to fall. When all is said and done, we can — and will — judge.

Orpik’s deal is bad. He’s aging quickly, his skating isn’t great, and he doesn’t drive play. The last couple of years of this contract are going to be painful to watch. But, at least, at the end of the day we could see a semblance of a plan, where taken at face value and on its own it looked like unmitigated and indefensible disaster.
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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards and Washington Mystics. Dave also works for Associated Press, covering Major League Soccer, college football and basketball out of its Spokane, WA college sports desk. Previously, he wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network and spent four years in commercial 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.

OPINION: Time for Washington Redskins to change name

I have long resisted entering this debate, but the time has come that I commit my opinion publically, for whatever that is worth. Being one-eighth native American, I have long wrestled with whether my affinity for the NFL team that resides in Washington (technically, Virginia and Maryland, but I digress) should override the just plain wrongness of its nickname. It should not.

The Washington Redskins should change their name.

I have been a fan of the Washington Redskins since I was a child. One of my first real memories was Super Bowl VII, huddled around a small black and white television in our home in Fairfax with my mom. I remember the excitement when Mike Bass returned the blocked field goal for a touchdown, and the disappointment when the team lost to the “perfect” Miami Dolphins.

I was in high school and college during the championship years of Joe Gibbs and the Hogs and the Fun Bunch and Riggo and believed it was my birthright for my team to win the NFC East and have a chance to truly compete for the Super Bowl every year.

As an adult, I had season tickets to the games for a couple of years until the misery associated with 10-hour Sundays at FedEx Field got too much to bear.

I understand the feeling of camaraderie in being associated with a group of fans that take pride in their team. That’s what sports is all about. There’s nothing better than the euphoria when your team wins the big game. All those years going through the “bad times” are rationalized away when the team finally wins.

But that euphoria doesn’t justify institutional racism.

There are no winners in this game. The “defenders” are too busy crying “political correctness” to see the big picture, the team is too busy defending what they think are its rights, and those that are offended — truly offended — continue to suffer in silence as they have since colonial times.

There are three reasons it is beyond time for the team to change its name:

THE TERM “REDSKIN” IS DEMEANING AND PEJORATIVE

There are studies on both side of the origin of the word “redskin.” The origin of the term is immaterial. The term was widely and publically used as a pejorative for many decades and, according to the literal definition in the dictionary, still is.

It does not matter if you are not personally offended by the word, or if I am or not. it doesn’t matter if a large group — even a majority — of people are not offended. It does not matter if you use the term solely to describe the NFL team or not. It only matters that there is a segment of people — by the way, AMERICAN PEOPLE — that are offended and demeaned by the term’s use.

Like any other type of harassment, the intent of someone using the term is irrelevant to whether another finds it offensive.

That’s the very definition of institutional racism. Because so many (non-offended) people use a word that was once demeaning and pejorative in a manner that is not necessarily so, that term has now been, more or less, accepted as a society to have taken that second meaning. That, my friends, is a perfect example of institutional racism.

History shows how native American people have been systematically oppressed damn near to the point of extinction. No amount of public relations fluffery can make a dent in the damage that continues in the name of “team pride.”

Ironically, everyone that opposes the name change is a victim themselves of the institutional racism they oppose and they are completely unaware of it.

And that is very, very wrong.

THE TERM “WASHINGTON REDSKINS” NOW REPRESENTS EMBARRASSMENT

The very first thing that comes up when one identifies themselves as a fan of the team is the name debate. The second is the other person’s opinion of Daniel Snyder. Maybe the third thing is RGIII, and not how exciting a football player he is, but how the whole mess about how his injury was handled.

This is how the Washington Redskins are perceived from outside the beltway. As a joke, at best. A punchline. An embarrassment.

Not with words like “pride” or “history” or “legacy”, as the team’s promotion material so stridently tries to pull the wool over the eyes of the fervent, defending their trademarks and wordmarks until the very end.

In other words, most of the country doesn’t even think about football at all when the term Washington Redskins is brought up. Through the team and ownership’s own actions and words, the very ideals they claim that the name represents are rendered an afterthought.

There’s no talk nationally about how the team will fare on the field. It’s just the incessant talk about the name change and the dysfunction surrounding the team. Eventually, fans of the team will die off (figuratively and literally) and new ones won’t take their place because of the embarrassment associated with the team.

I think even the most fervent “defenders” would agree that the headache associated with being a fan of the Washington Redskins outweighs whatever benefit comes from the arrangement.

THE TEAM WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE MONEY REGARDESS THE OUTCOME

There have been lawsuits over the past 20 years, and so far the Washington Redskins have come out on top. Maybe that actually fuels the hubris by the organization with regards to the name change. But they face another challenge in the courts, as Wednesday’s ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registrations for the team’s name Wednesday, claiming it is “disparaging to Native Americans.” 

The case, brought to the PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board by five Native Americans in 2006, removed six federal trademarks that included the word “Redskin”…

“The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans,” Jesse Witten, the plaintiff’s attorney told Politico. “The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place.”

The team issued a sternly-worded press release, vowing to continue its fight for its name and trademarks.

We’ve seen this story before.   And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo. [ed.–team’s bold face]

 -snip-

We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal.  This case is no different than an earlier case, where the Board cancelled the Redskins’ trademark registrations, and where a federal district court disagreed and reversed the Board.

As for public opinion, well, we’ve been down that road already. But the most recent and obvious example of public opinion swaying against the team was the two minute PSA that appeared during the NBA Finals on national television, sponsored by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation of native Americans. It was moving and poignant, and of course was met with derision and contempt by “defenders”.

But eventually, public opinion will win. Scores of colleges and high schools have changed their names over the past several decades. More will follow. It’s not enough that the once socially acceptable nicknames are “history” and used with “pride” by those associated with those institutions. As we detailed above, it’s institutional racism.

The Washington Redskins, despite years of futility on the field, are still one of the most profitable franchises in the league. They will continue to do so even if forced to change the name and mascot. The NFL has a license to print money. Between the massive broadcast contracts, merchandise sales, stadium and parking concessions, and overwhelming dominance in the sporting landscape, the team will continue to thrive regardless of what it is called.

Despite their adamant defense of its trademarks and wordmarks, the team stands to heavily profit from a name change, when the eventuality finally presents itself. It is only due to the hubris of its ownership that the team still fights so fervently against public opinion and governmental interjection.

***

Going forward, as Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page I am instructing all of our writers to refer to the team as “Washington Redskins”, in full, in any mention of the team in any game story, article, analysis or opinion. We will no longer use the term “redskins” or “skins” as a stand-alone references to the team in any form.

I realize that our reach and scope is limited. I also realize that it’s a fine editorial line I’m making between the protected wordmark “Washington Redskins” and the pejorative “redskins” or “skins”. Until the team changes its name — or is forced to — we’re left with imperfect options.

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