March 2, 2015

Alex Ovechkin rediscovered his “edge” by ditching the razor

Remember back when Alex Ovechkin played the swashbuckling superhero, scoring goals at a pace no one else in the league could, slamming bodies to the ice and boards like a wrecking ball, and grinning that gap-toothed smile through a scraggly beard with shaggy hair flowing out from underneath his helmet, infuriating opponents, officials and the Canadian media at every turn?

What’s that you say? Everything old is new again?

In his past two games, Alex Ovechkin’s on-ice actions have been met with derision from his opponents and media across the country. First, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf called him a “diver” in response to this retaliatory slash.

Then, in Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh, Ovechkin gave Kris Letang a pretty healthy slash across the ankles and the diminutive Letang crashed hard into the end boards, which caused the Penguins to really get off their game chasing the Caps around instead of concentrating on winning the game. Arguably, Ovechkin could (should) have been called for a two minute minor on the play, but the on-ice officials really let the game get out of hand.

By the reaction of the Penguins media contingent, you’d think Ovechkin assaulted Letang a la Todd Bertuzzi, instead of chopping at a puck in the offensive zone and ending up on Letang’s boot.

Regardless, until recently Ovechkin has kept his nose fairly clean with regards to this type of activity. But it seems as if Ovechkin has his “edge” back, for lack of a better term.

For the first several years of his career, Ovechkin was a devil-may-care dervish, playing with reckless abandon. He was suspended several times for roughness as he plowed through defenders as often as he scored goals, making enemies across the league.

The Great 8 was often criticized for his rough play, and specific members of the Canadian media took every opportunity to tear down Ovechkin for anything the Russian player ever did — namely, being non-Canadian.

For the past several seasons, though, until very recently, Ovechkin has been a much more mild-mannered version of himself. As early playoff series losses mounted, as coaches came and went, as schemes became more and more defense-oriented, as he was asked to change positions, at times Ovechkin seemed joyless, a lesser version of himself.

Gone was the gap-toothed smile much of the time. Gone was the leap into the glass after scoring big goals. Gone, mostly, were the bone-shattering questionable hits.

A search for “What’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin?” yields 32 million hits.

Sure, Ovechkin still scored goals and delivered hits by the dozen. But it just didn’t seem like he had his old swagger, beaten down by playoff and Olympic losses.

At the start of this season, he was scoring, but not at his normal rate, as he — as well as the rest of the team — adjusted to Barry Trotz’ systems. But over his last 27 games, Ovechkin has 24 goals. He’s simply carrying his team.

And now, he’s getting under the skin of his opponents as well. It seems like he’s enjoying himself more and more on the ice. Maybe it’s just coincidence that his contract with Gillette ran out over the winter and Ovechkin had returned to the scruffy look. Maybe it’s not.

Maybe that stupid shaving contract was a metaphor for Ovechkin being forced into something he was not. Maybe now, after several seasons of “What’s Wrong with Ovechkin” we’re seeing the “real” Ovi back on the ice.

It’s been too long.

Washington Nationals laundry list short for spring training

As the Washington Nationals expect pitchers and catchers to report next week, this season — as opposed to years in the past — the Nats have relatively little to figure out with regards to the big league roster.

The team is celebrating its 10th anniversary in D.C. (in its 11th season), and there have been multiple years in the past where they’ve held open tryouts for the starting rotation and batting order, let alone bullpen and bench help.

Shoot, they signed 2008 opening day starter Odalis Perez on Feb. 23 that season, after pitchers reported in Viera.

Things have come a long way. [Read more…]

OPINION: Washington Capitals must find consistency in effort

The Washington Capitals are a good hockey team. Head coach Barry Trotz’ systems, when followed properly, allow even squads with mediocre talent to remain competitive. The Caps have enough talent — again, when properly applied — to execute those systems proficiently enough to be quantified as a “good team.”

Maybe not championship quality yet, but good enough to make the dance and have a shot.

You know where I’m going with this. On Sunday, the Caps sleepwalked through the contest against Patrick, er, I mean, Metropolitan Division rival Philadelphia and was deservedly handed a 3-1 loss that could have been worse, save for the six power play opportunities the Caps were handed.

Trotz, obviously, noticed.

“I didn’t like our execution. You can’t get shots if you miss the net, you can’t get shots if you don’t get pucks to the next level, and we turned a lot of pucks over in the neutral zone. You’re not going to get any shots that way. Wasn’t enough urgency in our dressing room tonight. Very disappointing.”

Trotz was referring specifically to the shot differential, which was abhorrent. The home team managed just 14 shots on goal, its lowest of the season. Contributing to that meager amount was a whopping 21 misses and 16 blocked shots. The misses, in particular, were glaring.

Time and time again, the Caps fired at the back wall, off the mark with an alarming frequency. John Carlson (4) and Mike Green (3) were among the worst of the offenders. Shots from the point often go awry, but it also speaks to the lack of net presence and system execution Sunday that the pair attempted that many.

Closer in, Alex Ovechkin missed the mark three times, as did Troy Brouwer (including a golden opportunity late when it was still 2-1) and Brooks Laich, who found the bakery closed on Sunday.

The Caps were pretty terrible in the neutral zone too, allowing 12 giveaways, against just three awarded to the Flyers — which speaks to the lack of pressure the guys in orange faced through the middle.

Oh, and to top it all off (rather, it’s a good place to start), the Caps were beaten soundly in the dot, losing a massive 61 percent of draws.

It all adds up to one of their worst performances of the season.

Laich described the performance, and the reason the Caps haven’t won more than three in a row all season, succinctly.

“I think that’s a consistency thing,” Laich said. “I think that’s execution and consistency. Teams that can put together eight or nine games means they’re doing things right. I think if you win three [games in a row] you probably play well in two of those and maybe one of those you sneak by. Then your bad habits creep back into your game. Tonight we were in the hockey game even though we didn’t play our best, we’re in the game at 40 minutes. We had the chance to close a team out, really stomp on them, and it’s disappointing not to rise above and come out with a win.”

It’s a particularly bad time for a poor performance. After winning three straight, including a big one earlier in the week against Anaheim, the Caps looked like they had finally shook off the doldrums that so strongly affected them the two weeks sandwiching the All-Star game. But the effort and performance against Philly draws all that back once again, even as the team prepares for a brutal four-game west coast swing.

“It was un-Capital-like if you will tonight, compared to the way we have been going for a good portion of the season,” Trotz said. “I worry every game about the team, but I think if we get back to playing the game that we are accustomed to (on the road trip), we will be fine. I can’t tell you what the results will be, but we will play better than we did today.”

The Caps are good, when they bring effort, intensity and discipline. Trotz sees to it. But too often still this season, they don’t bring those attributes on an consistent enough basis. There are teams with worse talent that will make the playoffs with better intensity.

The Caps are in pretty good shape standings-wise, but they better not screw around on this road trip, or they could be looking up at a playoff spot like they did last season.

OPINION: Escobar has tough task of making Nationals fans forget he was traded for Clippard

Tyler Clippard pitching at Nats Park, July 10, 2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard pitching at Nats Park, July 10, 2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Washington Nationals traded two-time All-Star Tyler Clippard to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for much-traveled shortstop Yunel Escobar, the ninth time since he’s become general manager that Mike Rizzo has made a trade with his Oakland counterpart, Billy Beane. On paper, it’s the type of trade Major League general managers dream of making: trading an expensive, fungible asset — in this case, the most-used relief pitcher of the past four seasons — for an at-least average every day player, and saving money in the process.

But fans don’t root for teams on paper.

Escobar, 32, is the very definition of average big league shortstop. At least, he was up until last season. He owns a lifetime .276/.347/.381 slash line in eight seasons. He had been a positive WAR player every year of his career… up until last season, when he hit .258/.324/.340 with not even passable defense. In fact, he was one of the worst shortstops defensively in all of baseball.

Is that a blip? Is it signaling the beginning of the end for Escobar? We’ll have to wait and see. But considering his previous indefensible attitude problems — and the player he was traded for — Nats fans are going to have a hard time hoping for this guy to succeed.

Tyler Clippard was a fan-favorite. Actually, that’s stating it lightly. Acquired before the 2008 season for fellow reliever Jonathan Albaladejo (in what surely is Jim Bowden’s crowning achievement as Nats GM), Clippard arrived as a lightly regarded two-pitch starter with injury concerns. Soon, he would be sent to the bullpen, where his exploding fastball and damn-near unhittable changeup would wreak havoc on batters, first in the International League as a member of the Columbus Clippers and Syracuse Chiefs, then as a valuable member of the Nats pen.

Clippard went on to post All-Star seasons in 2011 and this past season, dominating on an almost nightly basis in his familiar eighth inning role, setting up for the likes of Matt Capps, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano.

Clippard, behind those wonderfully goofy goggles, was a rarity — as affable and approachable off the field as he was dominant on it. The press loved him for his smart, engaging insights after games and during batting practice. Fans loved him for being approachable at the ballpark, at fan events and on social media. He was, succinctly, the perfect guy to have on your team.

Now, that team is the Oakland A’s. At least, for now. It’s no secret A’s GM Billy Beane is rebuilding and rebranding his team, and a veteran soon-to-be free agent like Clippard probably won’t call the Oakland Coliseum home for very long. He’ll probably be shipped off at midseason for a couple of middling prospects as Beane goes about his latest great rebuild.

The bottom line here is, as it so often is, money.

Clippard, in his last year of arbitration before becoming a free agent at the end of the year, will command around $10 million this season after his arbitration hearing. Two-time All-Stars don’t come cheap. Escobar is under contract for two more years, with a team option for a third, and is due a very reasonable $13 million, provided his defensive numbers last season were an aberration and he continues to hit.

2013 NatsFest, 1/26/2013: Pitcher Tyler Clippard signing autographs (Photo by Lisa Milisa)

2013 NatsFest, 1/26/2013: Pitcher Tyler Clippard signing autographs (Photo by Lisa Milisa)

There is another factor. Escobar will probably be slated to play second base for the Nats, a job he hasn’t filled since his rookie year in ’07. But since he’s under contract for two more year at least, he provides the team with insurance should they trade, or simply allow to walk, current shortstop Ian Desmond — like Clippard, a free agent at season’s end. The Nats are particularly vulnerable at middle infield, and most of Rizzo’s moves this offseason have been to address that glaring weakness. He traded one of his most reliable players, in fact, to address it.

And what of the bullpen? Drew Storen was already slated to become the closer. Now, Matt Williams is going to have to come up with another eighth inning guy. Aaron Barrett? Craig Stammen? Blake Treinen? Heaven forbid, Heath Bell??? Everyone of them slots back one inning, regardless of who gets the eighth. Veteran lefty Matt Thornton becomes a stabilizing force, and Rizzo’s ninja-like acquisition of Thornton last season looks that much more important at this point.

This is a tough business, and this isn’t an easy pill for Nats fans to swallow — sending away a universally liked player in his prime for a fairly unlikable one that is probably already past his. It was probably a tough call for Mike Rizzo, too. On paper, this move looks reasonable. More than reasonable, actually. Clippard was going to get prohibitively expensive. Escobar is an at-least average affordable every day player. GM’s make that trade 99 times out of 100.

But fans don’t play on paper.

Clippard was here through the darkest years of the Washington Nationals — he saw damn near 400 losses in four seasons — and made it through to the other side. If the Nats go on to win it all in the next year or two, there will be fans that won’t find it as sweet since Clippard won’t be a part of it.

No, even if Escobar performs up to his career OBP, fans aren’t going to recover from this one. And if Escobar slides any more from last season’s performance, or the bullpen becomes a liability instead of a strength, he’s going to have a tough time of it here in DC.

And for Nats fans, this is — perhaps — just the beginning. With Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Denard Span and Doug Fister all slated for free agency following the 2015 season, this could just be the first goodbye of many to come in the very near future.

Tyler Clippard struggled in the 10th inning - Miami Marlins v. Washington Nationals, 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard pitching to the Miami Marlins 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

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: 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…]

Pucks, sticks and Namaste; a new culture for the Caps

Previous to this season, I covered the Washington Capitals full-time for six seasons, but last Friday was the first time I visited the Caps locker room under new Head Coach Barry Trotz.  It was also the first time I’ve seen players getting quickly out of their pads for…yoga.

That’s right, yoga.

“We think it’s a necessary element in staying fit, staying flexible,” Trotz said. “I think yoga helps with the blood flow. It helps with relaxation, it helps for healing, all those things. That’s the reason that we do that.”

In a league where the games are decided by the thinnest of margins, every team is looking for an edge and Trotz has brought a brand new culture to DC.

“We try to do [team yoga sessions] a couple of times a month,” Trotz said. “If a player misses a game, that’s a lot of money to an organization. So we don’t want our players to miss any time. It’s just another way of [living a] healthy lifestyle, if you will.

Everything from what we eat, to how we train, to how we travel, sleep habits, all those things are considerations for us to have success…by facilitating things like that, you develop good professional habits. We ask our players to try to find that next level and become the best at what that do and give themselves the best chance to be successful. That’s modern sports.”

One man who has rarely been called “modern” is long-time Capitals color man and former NHL player Craig Laughlin.

“We were lucky if we stretched back in the day.”

Laughlin played in the 80’s when working out meant getting out of bed, but now he preaches yoga at the Network Hockey Development Program that he runs.  “We have yoga classes twice a week. I’m such a big believer that I’m going to give it a try this summer.”

It’s a trend that’s spreading throughout the NHL.

“I think probably half the teams, maybe three-quarters of the teams do [yoga]. I know a lot of players do it in the summer,” Trotz added

One player who has done it for years on his own is veteran Capitals forward Brooks Laich.

“Personally I’m a huge believer in yoga. I do yoga twice a week throughout the summer, have for the last five years and I have a [trainer] hired that I just do one-on-one personal yoga — I believe that much in it. I think it’s obviously great for your flexibility but it also allows you to strengthen some muscles that you normally wouldn’t pay any attention to.

We usually do it later on in the week where guys are a little bit more sore and we do a re-energizing and kind of lengthening session, that helps the body recover, rather than putting yourself through a hard workout where maybe you’re not going to get as much from it. I’m a tremendous believer in it and I’m really happy that we implemented it this season.”

Yoga has been stereotyped as more of a workout for women, but that stereotype is being broken.

“I’ve seen yoga grow and more men coming to classes,” says Karolynn Hilaski, who is a registered and trained yoga instructor at Core Power Yoga in DC.

“I believe that men are also seeing results in flexibility, range of motion, and their breathing, which all leads to better performance with physical activities such as personal fitness goals and sports.  Alongside, mental clarity is known to be a huge part of yoga. This also aids in better performance in many activities including work, everyday life, and sport related activities.”

An 82-game regular season can put a huge toll on your body — not only physically, but mentally as well — which is another big benefit of yoga.

“I think it’s just a little different break for the guys, schedules been pretty hectic as of late,” Capitals veteran forward Joel Ward said. “Try to mix in different activities, just try to keep things fresh and keep the mind going. It’s been helpful for sure.

The guys have been adapting really well and obviously you want to maintain that flexibility as much as you can and at the same time maintain and keeping that brain moving.”

Yoga is here to stay and will only rise in popularity as more and more sports teams implement it.  So next time you run into your favorite Caps player, make sure to say “Namaste”.

______

Sky Kerstein is a Contributor to District Sports Page. Sky grew up in Chantilly, Virginia and is a 2001 graduate of Chantilly High School. Sky graduated in 2005 from Western Michigan University where he was a communications major. Sky got his start in radio interning for WTOP sports and then became the Caps reporter for the Capitals Radio Network. Sky also was a producer for two years for Major League Baseball Network Radio on SiriusXM Radio. Sky was the Capitals beat reporter at 106.7 The FAN for several seasons and has covered the Redskins, Nationals & Wizards for The FAN. Sky also calls high school play by play for the Gameday Broadcast Network and has covered every professional team in the DC and Baltimore regions. You can follow Sky on Twitter @SkyKerstein.

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: Washington Redskins and Jay Gruden drop the ball on Robert Griffin III

“I think as a man and as a competitor, I think Robert does have a future in the NFL, but I’m not going to predict it.” –Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden.

Five games. Five partial games. Five partial, increasingly worsening games. That’s all it took for Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden to decide that Robert Griffin III is incapable of running his offense. It’s hard to debate, as Griffin has looked more and more lost on the field in recent weeks. Presumably healthy, he has stopped running completely, seems oblivious to open receivers, and has alienated teammates with his play on the field and soap opera drama off.

There’s plenty of damning evidence to say Griffin just isn’t getting it and he needs to be replaced. That’s all well and good — if the team was playing for anything other than pride the rest of the way. Funny word, pride. It’s a buzzword around this organization, but very little of it seems to rub off on the actual players.

Gruden isn’t as invested in rehabilitating Griffin as maybe the organization as a whole, and he indicated as much in his press conference on Wednesday.

“No, not really,” Gruden offered. “I came here with a clean slate and I want to play the best players, period, whoever they are. First-round picks, sixth-round picks, free agents, I don’t really care who they are, where they came from. Obviously the history of Robert and the talent that he has at quarterback, very excited to coach him when I first got the job and I still am. I’m not giving up on Robert. It’s just we haven’t been successful. But the past is the past. We’re moving forward and we’re trying to do what’s best for the Redskins this year and for years to come. Right now, today as I stand up here, I feel like this is the best move for us moving forward to Indianapolis.”

Moving forward to Indianapolis. Not 2015. Not “the future.” The next game.

I suppose Gruden can be excused for being focused on wins and losses this season. Anyone that follows this team knows the owner’s box could grow tired or fickle after one season and give the head coach the boot. The idea that Gruden has to make the switch in order to keep the locker room is further damning the infrastructure this organization has implemented over the past 15 years.

But Colt McCoy is no one’s idea of a long-term solution at the position.

Starting McCoy, the 28-year-old journeyman, over RGIII at this point is applying a band-aid to hemorrhage — lipstick on a pig. With everything invested in Griffin, the organization owes it to itself to fix him, not hide him on the bench in the hopes of winning a game or two down the stretch in another lost season.

It’s hard to believe — nee, unbelievable — that Griffin’s talent has completely sapped. Sure, the injuries have taken their toll on his running game. He’ll never be the same in that regard. But this is the same player that has completed 63.5 percent of his passes in his career and threw for 20 touchdowns and just five picks his rookie season, just two years ago.

Has that player just simply disappeared?

The most alarming aspect of Griffin’s deteriorating confidence is the sheer number of sacks he’s taking. That’s not just on the offensive line, though without Trent Williams it’s about as good as an Arena League squad. But Griffin is holding the ball, stepping into sacks, failing to identify open receivers, almost completely unable to run the offense in any manner whatsoever. Last week, he looked utterly and completely lost.

It’s a crisis of confidence. An dramatic and unfortunate collapse of what seemed like such a promising career not that long ago.

The biggest takeaway from the entire episode is the way that ONCE AGAIN the national media had the news BEFORE the players were informed. This organization does everything backwards and wonders why (recent) former players disassociate from the franchise quickly as possible?

They’ll probably trade up to draft another quarterback instead of investing in the lines first, wasting even more time and resources drafting a talent position without the necessary infrastructure.

It’s how this franchise has been run for the last 15 years; the only thing that’s been consistent is the man that signs the checks.

But just as it’s been in those 15 years, it’s time for the Washington Redskins to completely start over again. And a young man’s future hangs in the balance. It’s a shame that the combination of physical injury, poor management and lack of awareness has derailed such a promising career for what was such a charismatic player.

And on this Thanksgiving, Redskins fans have very little to give thanks about with regard to the franchise that continues to be mired in drama and controversy, ripping their hearts out with every news leak.

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