Anaheim Ducks Boston Bruins Buffalo Sabres Calgary Flames Carolina Hurricanes Chicago Blackhawks Colorado Avalanche Columbus Blue Jackets Dallas Stars Detroit Red Wings Edmonton Oilers Florida Panthers Los Angeles Kings Minnesota Wild Montreal Canadiens Nashville Predators New Jersey Devils New York Islanders New York Rangers Ottawa Senators Philadelphia Flyers Phoenix Coyotes Pittsburgh Penguins San Jose St. Louis Blues Tampa Bay Lightning Toronto Maple Leafs Vancouver Canucks Washington Capitals Winnipeg Jets
Magazine Schedule Rumors Rankings Teams Headlines Lifestyle Rookie Watch Ice Girls Videos TFP Radio Subscribe
Bookmark and Share
July 31, 2014 | 9:37am ET
Capitals filled with questions
 Entering the 2014-15 season, Alex Ovechkin looks to lead the not-so-deep Washington Capitals.

NEW YORK, NY -- With an immense amount of data and video available, it's shocking there's no conventional wisdom on athletes. With a tap on a touch screen, an input of 16 sequenced digits, you can have any game streaming directly to whatever phone or tablet you're currently more addicted to.

Yet, still, opinions on something that seems like it could be objective seem so subjective, like a hot political issue. Is this an age of rapidly waning neutrality with sports analyzation, or is the saturation of opinion helping put the poor ones that team's make on a pedestal?

The Washington Capitals this coming season could be a battleground test case for proving pundits' majority opinions wrong or affirming their beliefs.

After nabbing themselves some top draft choices -- one of which was used to select elite scoring winger Alexander Ovechkin -- the Capitals enjoyed a resurgence up the standings. The team shot up the charts like a melodic, sample heavy teen-pop song about first dates and partying in the sun.

They topped out at 121 regular season points in 2009-10, but never made it past the second round in the playoffs. They've run through coaches like a kid runs through toys: using them up, wearing them out and ultimately feeling underwhelmed after they've outlived their usefulness.

Is this year going to be different for the team based in the U.S. capital?

They made monumental changes but the offensive core had stayed the same and it starts with the Ovechkin, a maligned superstar whose game is not played "the right way" (the North American way). The "Great 8" is a spectacular goal scorer and has the ability to put his foot on the throat of a game, with a rarely seen combination of size, skill, tenacity and speed.

Watching him play is supremely pure. There's an almost naive exuberance, which there has to be, because somewhere in the arena, his effort is being questioned, along with his heart and leadership. The mercurial narrative surrounding Ovechkin could send anyone's head spinning.

For this team to be successful, the narratives need not be capricious. Ovechkin has to silence any critics of his game on a nightly basis. How can he do that? By playing exactly like he has been for years, like one of the league's best.

Yes, it's not nearly Ovechkin's fault that the Capitals have struggled in recent years. It's lazy to launch unscrupulous criticism his way. That's what most of it has been. The Capitals don't need to trade Ovechkin, they need to surround him with talent, like all good teams do. Jonathan Toews has won two Stanley Cups with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and a cast as deep as a Wes Anderson movie.

Ovechkin has consistently had Niklas Backstrom and an oft-injured Mike Green. Plus, Brooks Laich? Yes, over the years, there has been other talent in and out of the room, like Alexander Semin, but this team has never been deep, an absolute requirement for playoff success.

Deep teams aren't impacted nearly as strongly by those off-nights from their superstars, which some call statistical variance, others call luck and even others call a lack of intangibles.

Washington spent over $10 million on two defensemen this off-season. Matt Niskanen, who signed the pricier deal, coming off his best season as a professional, notching career-highs in pretty much every category, and Brooks Orpik, who brings a whole myriad of unquantifiable things.

As I have written in the past, there's no sense in the Orpik signing. That didn't prevent the Capitals from trying to defend it.

"I know that [General Manager Brian MacLellan's] taken some heat on that," Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz told Washington Post earlier this month. "One of the things you get, and it's most common, everybody looks at the points and says Brooks Orpik doesn't have great points, so why are you paying him that? The things that Brooks Orpik does, you can't put a value on."

That's an argument in the face of the impossible. We can quantify almost everything today. Soon, it'll all be tracked by the NHL. These squabbles rely on a player supposedly transcending empirical evidence. It's the metaphysics of hockey those damn intangibles.

"I hope you won't take this the wrong way, but I don't listen much anymore to what you guys say," Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis told Post. "I think it's your jobs, and I was a little disappointed that it's not the right way to welcome somebody to a new team and a new city, a guy who has been in the league a long, long time. He's a guy who has intangibles of leadership and he's tough as nails and one the coaches and [MacLellan] respect very much. I think he's a good player."

There's that word again: intangibles. Those things that superstar winger Ovechkin doesn't have. He only has tangibles.

Behind the bench, comes the biggest change of all for the Washington Capitals: the addition of Trotz along with the subtraction of Adam Oates, a failed coaching experiment.

Trotz had proven, on an almost yearly basis, that he could do a lot more with a lot less. In Nashville, he took an expansion team out of the basement (a place where expansion teams can often get stuck without great drafting acumen) into a perennial playoff team. He did it mostly with smoke, mirrors and goaltending.

Systematically, there was always an emphasis on defensive play with Trotz, but not defensive play in the John Tortorella (New York Ranger era) sense. The emphasis was on responsibility, not defending first and getting stuck in your own zone, blocking shots because you never have the puck.

It's a system built on responsibility and accountability.

The Capitals are hoping that it'll pull all of those tangible qualities out of Ovechkin, putting them on display on a nightly basis. Ovechkin's success is integral to the team's success.

The Capitals will take aim at a very winnable division, with some elite talent. Backstrom joins Green (a player that was overrated, and then underrated, but has talent despite injuries) and some decent young goaltending that could them competitive all season. They are the toughest team to forecast because there's so much unknown, especially on defense.

Just don't count out tangible superstar Alex Ovechkin.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist for and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.



Apr. 16, 2014 Rangers in tough against Flyers

Mar. 12, 2014 Forever a Devil

Contact Us | Jobs @ TFP | Our Team | Advertise | Privacy Policy
© 2014 TFP Media, Inc. | All Rights Reserved | The Fourth Period™ and Ice Girls™ are registered trademarks.