September 1, 2015

OPINION: Capitals’ Brian MacLellan making championship-caliber moves this offseason

Once the raw emotion of another difficult ending to the season passed, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan made his priorities clear. A winger to bring regularity to the Capitals’ top forward line was in high demand, so as to slam shut the revolving door that had been so active in the 2014-15 season. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom played with a total of nine forwards over the course of the year, but any worries about seeing similar inconsistency when this season arrives were extinguished on July 2.

MacLellan engineered a blockbuster trade, sending longtime Capital Troy Brouwer, along with goalie prospect Phoenix Copley and a third-round pick, to St. Louis in exchange for T.J. Oshie of 2014 Sochi Olympics fame.

Joel Ward proved a worthy linemate to Ovechkin and Backstrom in the playoffs, with nine points in 14 games — including a pair of goals that bridged the team’s series against the Islanders and Rangers — but it’s hard to argue that Oshie isn’t an upgrade to the team’s most valuable offensive unit. Just look at this highlight video if you need to get an idea of his hockey sense and the way he works on the ice.

Those pessimistic about the potential that Oshie has to make a positive impact might point to his relatively paltry playoff numbers (5g, 4a in 30 career postseason contests), and that would be a fair critique. But on the flip side of that, the Blues have generally underachieved in the playoffs, with a series record of 1-5 since 2009. Moreover, Oshie has never had linemates of Ovechkin’s and Backstrom’s quality. While that’s not intended a slight to guys like David Backes and Alexander Steen, Ovechkin is the best goal scorer of his generation and Backstrom is hockey’s equivalent of an elite five-tool baseball player.

Personally, I think the Williams signing is the strongest addition of the offseason because it adds an edge to the team that might not have existed before. Brouwer’s leadership in the room will be missed, but there is absolutely no void with a guy like Williams coming to town. His seven career Game 7 wins are nearly double the amount the team has (four), and he’s never lost one. I see him, as does MacLellan, in the second-line right winger role on a completely healthy Capitals squad, serving as a highly effective mentor to Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The latter of those two appears to have finally solved Washington’s second-line center puzzle that took years to complete, and the flashes of brilliance he showed in the playoffs were highlighted by the series-winning goal in Game 7 against the Islanders. In the teleconference the day after he signed, Williams called his Game 7 successes “a product of the teams [he’s] been on,” but his 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy confirms, in my opinion, his ability to succeed as a pressure player on his own. He had the overtime goal in Game 1 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final and the first in their title-winning Game 5. Did I mention that he has an NHL-record 14 points in Game 7s?

He spoke to Caps head coach Barry Trotz the night he signed, and he told the media the next day that it was that conversation that pushed him over the edge. Even before that, the nation’s capital had been high on the list for him, his agent and his family, so much so that he took a pay cut to come to the Capitals. He believes that the ingredients are in place for a championship in Washington; he said so a couple weeks back. I happen to agree with him.

I won’t go so far as to say that 2016 will see Lord Stanley’s Cup lifted by Ovechkin & Co., but the window is wide open for that to happen. Two bona fide top-six forward lines are there, with a balance of snipers, playmakers, heavy hitters and speed. The bottom six forwards — Marcus Johansson (yes, I do think he’ll be re-signed), Brooks Laich, Tom Wilson, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Michael Latta — are all more than capable of stepping up into their roles as needed, whatever they may be.

Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov can hold down the fort on the blue line, while generating clean breakouts and even directly creating offense when asked to. Last but certainly not least, Braden Holtby has been locked up as the team’s franchise netminder for the foreseeable future. His steady presence helped guide the Caps to within a goal of their first Eastern Conference Final since 1998, and with a good bounce here or correct officiating call there, they would have reached that point and matched up well with Tampa Bay (to be fair, surviving the final two minutes of Game 5 or simply showing up in Game 6 against the Rangers would have gotten the job done).

For longtime Caps fans, it might feel like just yesterday the organization was fading fast under the direction of former GM George McPhee and coach Adam Oates. MacLellan and Trotz have quickly revived them back into Stanley Cup contention, and this observer has no qualms about pegging the current iteration of the roster as the best of the Alex Ovechkin Era. Time will tell how much this summer’s transactions help the team come playoff time, but don’t be surprised if the barn on the corner of 7th and F is rocking in late May – and even into June.

OPINION: Caps face date with sad destiny in Game 7

Even before those in this area had heard of the men that go by the names Ovechkin, Backstrom and Trotz, the stigma was firmly in place.

A lost 2-0 series lead to Pittsburgh in 1996 led Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser to label the Washington Capitals as “choking dogs,” a notion that has become all-too-familiar for one of hockey’s most loyal fanbases. It seemed for a bit as if those fans would be rewarded with a monumental win this past Mother’s Day, only to leave Verizon Center shaking their heads and collectively asking themselves  — and each other — one thing.

How can this be happening again? [Read more…]

OPINION: Caps must find better effort in Game 7 or risk history repeating itself

If you’re one of those fans that always looks on the bright side of things, that wants to see the positive, that hopes for the best… you might want to stop reading now. I’m not going to go on about how the Washington Capitals franchise is cursed (it’s not) or that the league wants the team from the bigger television market to win (it might, but that doesn’t influence games). But I am going to lay down some pretty harsh thoughts about the boys in red.

They simply don’t play hard enough for long enough stretches to win.

That’s a harsh thing to say, I know. But until the Caps finally do win and change the script, that’s going to stick with them as long as they play the game.

Throughout this season, the Caps have adopted coach Barry Trotz’ idea of “heavy hockey.” It took until the last week of the season to qualify for the playoffs, and the last day of the season to clinch anything but a last-seed in. Only through an utter collapse by the New York Islanders and the fluke of losing a shootout on the last day of the season did the Caps “earn” first round home ice.

The Caps obviously have some talent on the roster. But there’s not enough to outplay similarly skilled teams, they have to outwork them as well.

The Caps played that heavy hockey successfully in the first round, wearing down the smaller Islanders until they were finally able to deliver the knockout punch, but any honest Caps fan knows that their favorite team was outplayed much of that series and if the Islanders were a little more composed or had a little more experience, it easily could have gone the other way.

Then onto the current series with the Rangers, where again despite being outplayed for long periods of time the Caps were finally on the right side of a couple of lucky bounces and found themselves up three games to one. For once, folks were starting to believe maybe, just maybe, it was going to be the Caps that came from a lower seed to upset a heavily favored President’s Trophy winner.

So what happened to change the mood so much in three days? It’s not curse, conspiracy or choke.

When Curtis Glencross scored midway through the third period of Game 5, the Caps were nine minutes, six seconds away from advancing to their first Eastern Conference Finals since 1998.

Instead of playing the final minutes of Game 5 like their hair was on fire, taking their game to the Rangers and dictating play the way they got the 3-1 series advantage, they took their foot off the gas. With no margin of error, the Caps played back — “turtled” — hoping to survive the Rangers heroic onslaught.

They were not successful.

It came as a shock to no one that once Chris Kreider tied it with 1:51 left, the air was let out of their sails. The Rangers didn’t need overtime to beat the Caps, they’d already done it to themselves.

It’s cliché to say you play “to win the game.” But every cliché is written with history as a guide. Greatness isn’t forged by trying to not lose. You have to take it for yourself. When have you seen a champion — in any sport or athletic feat — win by playing conservatively or cautiously?

Simply put, after Glencross’ goal in Game 5, the Caps didn’t start playing aggressively again until midway through the third period of Game 6 when they were already down 4-1. They were trying not to lose instead of trying to win.

What we saw from that point forward was absolute domination from the Caps, in effort, intensity and skill. Were the Rangers a bit relaxed with their gift-wrapped three-goal lead? Sure. Did they weather the just over 15-minute storm. Just barely.

But the rules still apply. The Rangers took their foot off the gas and only because they had a three-goal cushion and happen to roster the best goalie in the world (for my money) were they able to withstand the barrage the Caps unleashed at them.

The point is this: the Caps must finally find a killer instinct in Game 7. They’re capable of it — we witnessed it Sunday night. But they have to sustain it for the entire 60 minutes, and whatever overtime may come too. Despite where the Caps sit, with the ability still to advance to a conference final, it’s shocking we still haven’t seen that complete effort — even in the games they’ve won, as long as we’re being honest about it.

It’s remarkable at this point and time in this franchise’s history — and the tenure of their best players — that we’re still having this conversation. Yet, here we are. The Capitals must have better, consistent and thorough effort in Game 7 or we’ll simply be watching history repeat itself. Again.

OPINION: Be Excited, Nats Fans

There’s this awful fear in sports fan culture of being too excited about a season; that the sports gods, wherever they may reside, will take that excitement and visit upon it injury, suspensions, and abject failure in response to that excitement. There is nowhere more polluted with this myth than sports radio, where most of the on-air hosts for local outlets spend their days tearing apart even the smallest rift in a team for ratings, and DC is no exception. There’s this pervasive myth that the only happy sports fan is the one who’s panicking over the latest injury rumor.

This trend has resulted in proclamations of the Sports Illustrated Curse, amongst others, despite the fact that Michael Jordan’s many appearances there did nothing to hinder his career, nor did it stop the Seahawks from winning the Super Bowl in 2014. But I get where this whole thing comes from. A good baseball season is a bit like being in a spell, convinced that what you’re experiencing is some peculiar form of sorcery.

I grew up an incredibly superstitious fan of the Oakland Athletics, holding my breath across the Carquinez Bridge on the way to the Coliseum, because if they didn’t, Mark McGwire or Mike Gallego (my two favorites) would befall some peculiar injury and not start that night. I don’t know where it came from, I was just grateful the bridge span is only half a mile long.

There are all manner of fan superstitions out there related to winning, be they special jerseys, hats or pins, what gets packed in your shoulder bag, how certain signs are marked in your scorebook. For some they are a comfort, for others still a compulsion, and I don’t mean to call judgment down against fans who are just getting the most out of their experience.

What I am here to do, Nats fans, is free you to be enthusiastic and excited for this season.

This is absolutely a team that should make you cheer and dream. You should go to the park, or flip on your radio, TV or app, and feel good about what’s about to happen. Every pitcher the Nats send out to the bump in the first is a legitimate No. 1 in their own right. Scherzer, Zimmerman and Strasburg can overpower batters or finesse them, and Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister can confound them. While the bullpen isn’t quite matched with the starting rotation, this is a team you will want to remember.

We could step through Jayson Stark’s piece on why they’ll win it all — even if you read all of his caveats and take them to heart, there’s still a lot to love. As Thomas Boswell wrote this week, the rotation isn’t a guarantee, but there’s no guarantee you’ll survive your next Metro trip, or won’t be flattened by a crazy Uber driver as you walk downtown.

I’m not saying that Nats fans should be cocky or obnoxious — that would be irresponsible and stupid — but I think there’s a lot of confidence that’s warranted on behalf of this year’s team. Yes, you’re going to have people pointing to offensive defects in this lineup, people who write for this site, even, a bench that might be as frustrating as last year’s, and an injury bug that puts six Nats out of reach for at least the first week of the season.

It doesn’t matter. Or, rather, it shouldn’t be enough to let the fear set in.

None of those are defect enough to cripple this team from now until October, and there’s plenty of time before the trade deadline to fix problems should they arise. Yes, it has been a long, long time since a DC sports team found themselves in such a good position to win a championship. Yes, a sports championship in DC has the chance to upset the applecart, in terms of which franchise is this city’s favored child. Yes, it has the ability to move a whole generation of young sports fans.

My swimming coach in college got asked a lot by his pupils how to handle their nerves on the eve of a big race, and that same advice is what I’m going to give to you, dear Nats fans: There’s no fear, no pressure, when you are where you wish to be.

Ten years ago, as DC readied itself for the return of Major League Baseball, there were no expectations of that team. They played their hearts out, came out a .500 ball club, and finished nine games back in the division, in dead last. We saw six straight seasons of sub-.500 purgatory, two of those seasons so bad, their season highlight reels are measured in seconds, not minutes.

The turnaround in the last three years is nothing short of miraculous. This team has averaged 93 wins a season since then, racking up 280 victories in three seasons, and two trips to the playoffs. With a starting rotation that compares favorably to the 2011 Phillies, the 1997 Braves or the 1971 Orioles, the Nationals are in rarified air, and that should be absolutely exhilarating.

Rejoice, Nats fans, there’s much to look forward to. It’s a long season, but there’s incredible depth in this club. Fret a little, yes, it’s healthy, but there’s no need to panic.

Opinion: Capitals should relegate Peters to Hershey and call up Grubauer for remainder of season

When the Washington Capitals signed free-agent goalie Justin Peters to a two-year, $1.9M ($950k/yr.) contract in the offseason, it seemed like a good fit for both sides, and was lauded as one of the smarter free agent signings of the summer of 2014.

With that deal, the Capitals locked up a serviceable backup to Braden Holtby for less than $1M per year. A goalie tandem with a cap hit of less than $3M a year? Sounds like responsible cap management by Brian MacLellan, similar to what George McPhee was able to pull off with the Braden Holtby–Michal Neuvirth duo in 2013-14. Both goaltenders were secured for $3.8M/yr.

In July, when Peters signed with the Capitals, he told the Washington Post:  “I was looking for an opportunity, an opportunity to play, an opportunity for the coaching staff, a goalie coach like Mitch [Korn]. It just seemed like the puzzles and the pieces came together, and also the organization and the confidence they showed in me. I was able to meet the staff, I was able to meet the training staff, the equipment guys, I was able to meet a lot of people in the organization.”

Much has changed since then. The confidence of the staff and the “opportunity to play” that Peters spoke about in July do not seem to be the case any longer.

Saturday night in Dallas, Peters saw his first start in six weeks, a 5-4 loss. It was just his seventh start of the season. The loss could hardly be blamed on Peters, as it was the second of a back-to-back road game. It did bring to mind a few lingering problems. Namely why Peters sees so little starting time. Is there a lack of trust from the coaching staff? Holtby has been exceptional, so is he merely a victim of circumstance? Or is he just not good, at all?

Peters has a career .904 SV% and a record of 22-31-8 through 76 NHL games. The likely answer is that he isn’t that good, but it’s not as if he’s had a chance to prove himself this year, or will even get an opportunity to do so.

It’s simple math, really. If the Capitals want Holtby to be fresh for a playoff run in April, he needs a backup that can start a game once a week rather than once a month. This is why management should relegate Peters to Hershey and call up Philipp Grubauer for the remainder of the season.

It would be prudent to provide Holtby with a backup that can share the load but not make it necessary for him to carry a ridiculous amount of starts. Out of 45 games this season, Peters has amassed a SV% of .864 and a 2-4-1 record in his meager 7 starts. Holtby’s count is now at 38 starts, with a .923 SV%, and a record of 22-9-7.

Holtby’s 20 consecutive starts were impressive, to say the least. This has nothing to do with his abilities. He can carry the team if he needs to. The problem is that he shouldn’t have to do it for 70 games and have nothing left in the tank come playoff time, especially if the Capitals hope to make any kind of deep run.

At this juncture, it’s possible Peters could play better. However, it’s clear the coaching staff isn’t willing to let him do so. If there was any belief that he could, he probably wouldn’t have been sitting for 6 weeks while Holtby figuratively lit the NHL on fire.

This is where Grubauer comes in. Last season, during Adam Oates’ reign of terror and subsequent three-headed goalie monster, Grubauer played in 17 games and posted a 6-5-5 record with a  .925 SV%. In 25 games with the Hershey Bears this season, Grubauer is 12-9-3 (3 shutouts) and a .920 SV%.

Peters will have to go through waivers if he’s sent to Hershey, but with all respect to him, since he’s not exactly in danger of being claimed, this shouldn’t be huge worry. He’ll still be making his $950K salary in the AHL, which is a bitter pill for management to swallow, but less so when you think about what could happen in the event of an injury to Holtby, and asking Holtby to potentially make 70 starts this season could very well lead to that. What to do with Peters for the remaining year of his contract is another consideration. Maybe a longer stint in the AHL would be beneficial to Peters in the long term, and he could end up returning to Washington to back up Holtby next season.

Grubauer’s development shouldn’t be a concern, either. He’s a bit fresher and will likely not sit as much as Peters has thus far, not to mention that getting NHL playing time will build trade value, if the organization should choose to use him as a bargaining chip in the future. As long as he’s in the AHL, he’s not going to be worth much, tradewise.

All things considered, Grubauer would be a better backup to Holtby than Peters has been this year.

Holtby, who is far and above Washington’s number one goalie for this season and the near future, will be a RFA this summer, and will probably get an enormous raise, as Pat Holden from Russian Machine broke down last week. He thrives on a steady workload, as we’ve seen, but running him into the ground during the regular season and expecting him to hold up during a playoff run is not a sustainable option.

 

Follow Katie on Twitter at @katiebhockey

OPINION: Tough saying goodbye to fan-favorite in offseason trade

No sooner had I finished saying that this was one of the hardest times in the baseball year than events have proven that out. In a trade with the Oakland A’s, the Nationals have acquired SS Yunel Escobar, and sent Tyler Clippard westward. This is the sort of late winter bombshell that you so rarely see, but can be a part of the landscape when it feels farthest from the warm summer days with green fields and a scorebook.

Trades like this one are absolutely the most difficult on the fan when they’re done in mid-winter. All we’ll hear about in the Natosphere for the next week or two — or heaven forfend, longer — is the aftermath of the this trade, and all it will be is hot air until April. Sure there’s time in Florida where we’ll see how Escobar handles the move to second or third base and how Clippard adapts to the Cactus league, but none of that is very meaningful.

No, to see the results of this trade we have to wait painful months while the winter drags on and while the talk-radio-and-columnist crowd chew this parcel of information over and over, slicing and dicing the statistical lines, the story lines from off the field, and all the intangible little things that we spend our winters working with.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve come to so dread the off-season, when live data stops being a possible outlet, and we’re left purely to the world of forecasts. I’ll come right out and say that there is no good possible way to forecast a baseball season — if there were, it’d be patented and marketed and sold to teams who would all use it religiously — we’re left with the awkward and clumsy moments where all of us try to imagine what will be based on what has been.

Predicting the weather is an impossible job.

Predicting a baseball season makes that look easy.

And so we’re left picking up the pieces as one of the fan favorite stalwart Nationals is headed for Oakland gold and green, trying to make sense of what happens when one of your favorite ballplayers will suit up for someone else next year. One of the brilliantly irrational, yet utterly human, parts of baseball is the fan relationship with a player. You have favorites on the diamond and at the plate, and it goes back to the littlest human kindness at a fan event, or an autograph before the game.

When I was 11, my favorite Oakland Athletic for about half the season was a call-up named Billy Beane. I remember he got some favorable press in the Sacramento Bee, and then at the next game I went to, he signed my glove because I went to find him. Beane played 37 games in that 1989 season, and he was left off the post-season roster, but man he was my guy for those games. I’d cheer like he was a starter, and a key part of that team, even though he was a bench guy only up for part of the time.

There will come a time when I will have to explain to my crying son that the team he loves has traded the player he loves to another city, and that that’s part of the game. I’m really not looking forward to that day. I know that many parents throughout Natstown are in similar situations tonight and trying to figure out what they can say to their child who just lost their favorite summertime friend, and I find myself at a loss for what to say in this circumstance.

Sometimes, trades make sense. They hurt a little, but you can look at the balance sheet and figure this makes the team better. I’m not sure this trade fits that bill. Yes, the Nationals have a deep bullpen, and will be able to slot in someone like Blake Treinen into the eighth inning slot, or move to a collaborative late-innings effort if the Heath Bell signing turns into something viable.

Yes, they have a need at second, and Escobar can fill that need, and be an option at short if they can’t come to terms with Desmond. However, I don’t see that Clippard was going to be anything less than their eighth inning man this year, in for another 70+ appearances. If we look at Escobar’s past performance defensively, though, he took a major step backward in 2014, turning in the worst UZR/150 season at shortstop since the stat was invented, and his off-field disrespect, it’s hard to come away feeling good about this particular trade.

But we don’t know.

And we can’t know for months.

And that makes it all the worse right now, as all we have to stare at are numbers on screens and highlight reels.

I can’t wrap this up without saying thank you to Tyler Clippard, who was always a joy to watch out of the bullpen, and to listen to after the game. He always had something thoughtful and genuine to say, something that wasn’t just a stack of cliches.

It is the most beautifully irrational and human part of baseball that makes us love players as individual parts of the team that we watch and live and die by, and in that spirit I know that many Nationals fans across our fair city are hurting as they read these words. They are looking up flights to Oakland, and considering a trip to the Coliseum to see him in his new white cleats and golden stirrups. We get attached to players because they’re people, not parts, and that attachment is something that gives us joy in the season. We watch our favorite players go out there every night and put their heart and body into the fire, and they get traded and moved around, because baseball isn’t just a pastime, it’s a multi-billion dollar business, and that’s the sort of thing that happens.

It doesn’t make it easy, and it doesn’t always work out, but these are the sort of the business decisions that have to get made in baseball. It doesn’t hurt matters for the Nationals’ payroll that Escobar’s contract is about half of what Clippard’s would be this year after arbitration, and $10M relievers aren’t the sort of line item that make it past many budgets in MLB. After last season’s commentary on budgets, and no positive movement in the MASN case before the courts, the team would need to find $13M in savings to return to 2014 levels, and that’s before the final results of nine arbitration hearings are known. Should those hearings all end in favor of the players, the Nationals would be searching for additional savings to return to 2014 levels.

Overall, the Nationals have given up their rock-solid eighth inning reliever in exchange for a lifetime .276 hitter who had a rough season on the diamond last year, and who has had disciplinary problems related to problem behavior off the field.

That’s the sort of trade I dread this time of the year.

OPINION: McCloughan hire a watershed moment for a beleagured franchise

Yesterday afternoon, I went through a roller coaster of emotions over the course of about five minutes when it was first reported that Scot McCloughan would be the next General Manager of the Washington Redskins.

First, I was very happy to hear that someone with a good track record was coming to Washington, and that owner Dan Snyder had finally made a wise decision.

Then, I remembered how excited I was for Steve Spurrier to come to the District. How intriguing the idea of Albert Haynesworth on the defensive line was. How confident I was that Mike Shanahan could use his leadership skills and championship experience to bring the Redskins back to glory. How all of those moves and more turned out terribly.

Finally, I admitted to myself that this is different from any decision that Snyder and his organization has made in the past decade and a half.

Adam Schefter has confirmed that McCloughan has finalized his deal with the Redskins to become the next GM of the Redskins. He will have four years to turn this franchise into a contender again, after being so terrible for so long. I have been fooled before, but I do believe that this one man will change the fortunes of the preeminent sports team in our nation’s capital more than anyone has in Snyder’s tenure.

Why?

Two reasons. One is that he turned two teams into juggernaut franchises in the past decade in San Francisco and Seattle, as I detailed in yesterday’s piece. His draft philosophy, according to veteran journalist Andrew Brandt, is that you “don’t jump for need, you don’t get desperate, you don’t get emotional.”

This was on display in Seattle, where he drafted Super Bowl MVP linebacker Malcolm Smith in the seventh round of the NFL Draft in 2011. He drafted two-time Pro Bowler Richard Sherman in the fifth round that year. Quarterback Russell Wilson? A third-rounder in 2012. While an executive in San Francisco, he spotted five-time Pro Bowler Frank Gore in the third round. His legacy is one of success and Lombardi Trophies, with ticker-tape parades following him seemingly wherever he goes.

“Okay,” says Joe Q. Redskin Fan. “But how do I know he can be good in Washington? Executives here don’t get to make the decisions. Snyder has the ultimate say in who plays for or coaches the team.”

If this report is to be believed, McCloughan will have the final decision when it comes to who who will wear the burgundy and gold. It would appear that Snyder may have at last learned his lesson. Maybe there is a culture change underway in Ashburn. The results will not be apparent immediately, as the past five years of decision-making have been devastating to the Redskins’ ability to win on the field.

But today is about hope. Hope that Snyder and Allen finally have displayed humility. Hope that there will not be a new embarrassing leak coming out of Redskins Park every other day. Hope that Redskins fans can hear more about the team’s on-field performance than about the name. Hope that fans can be proud of the team again. Hope that they can win.

I do not know what kind of results that McCloughan will bring to DC. I don’t know how long it will take for those results to transpire, whether in the form of a playoff berth here and there or in the form of a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue that will, no matter which team in our area brings it, be the most exciting outdoor event in Washington’s history.

I do know this. Snyder being embarrassed by the past couple of years is a good sign. That Allen is willing to take a step back and be more of a figurehead is a good sign. That the Redskins finally hired a good football mind to oversee personnel operations is a very good sign.

Don’t expect double-digit wins next year, or maybe even the year after. Don’t expect a Super Bowl in two or three or even four years. Do expect, however, a positive culture — one that focuses on winning on the field, that expects a reasonable competition in every game, and one that views ineptitude and failure with disdain.

Smile, Redskins fans. It’s a new day.

OPINION: Allen encapsulates Redskins’ woes with disaster press conference

Washington Redskins President and General Manager Bruce Allen took time this morning to speak with the D.C. media after his fifth season at the helm of the franchise.

If his late father, George, were on the Redskins’ Mount Rushmore for his services as head coach in the 1970s, the proverbial Hall of Shame would be too great of an honor for the younger Allen.

[Read more…]

OPINION: Changes needed throughout entire organization, including fan base

Mercifully, the Washington Redskins 2014 is over. You and I don’t have to watch this dumpster fire anymore. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that without a ton of major changes — personnel, coaching, administration, fan base — we could see a repeat of just about every season since Daniel Snyder took over this franchise 15 years ago.

This organization is 7-25 the past two seasons. That’s an indictment of the entire organization and an indication that changes are needed wholesale — once again.

The real change needs to happen with the man who signs the checks, but that’s not going to happen. So once again, the cards need to be reshuffled in hopes of finding people who can win despite the worst ownership in sports. [Read more…]

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?

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