It’s Tomorrow

“We put this plan together and I’ve been telling people to be patient and we’ll wake up one morning and we’re going to have a good team. And I think that morning is tomorrow morning. It feels great to be able to deliver something right now, because we’ve been telling people it’s going to happen. But there are a lot of future promises. It’s nice to be able to stand here and say, ‘We just won the division. It feels great.”

– Caps GM George McPhee after the Caps completed their improbable comeback to claim the Southeast Division championship with a 3-1 win over Florida at Verizon Center on Saturday night.

This one felt good, didn’t it? But the best part of the whole thing is the promise of even better feelings and bigger wins ahead, this spring and in the springs immediately in front of us. The Capitals are young, strong, hungry and deep, and they’re built (and still being built) to compete for the Cup beyond this season. 

I’m happy for the fans today. They’ve always supported this team when it wins, and in the last couple of months they’ve realized what a special bunch this team is. I’m even happier for the fans who stayed with the team during these last several lean years. For a rebuild to be successful, patience is required. All the way from the ownership down to the fans.

I’m happy for Ted Leonsis and Dick Patrick and the rest of the ownership group, happy that they had the patience to see this all the way through after McPhee and Co. smartly and strategically euthanized that 2003-04 team. 

I’m happy for George, for director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney and all the Caps’ cagey pro scouts and the hockey ops department. Every time a player is drafted and every time a trade is made, they endure a barrage of criticism and it’s nice to see so many of their hand-picked talents playing a big part in this team’s success. 

I’m thrilled for Bruce Boudreau (a guy who earned and deserved the chance he finally got this year) and his coaching staff of Dave Prior, Jay Leach, Dean Evason and Blaine Forsythe, a good bunch of guys who continually made sure the Caps were ready for every challenge they’ve faced. To me, it’s these guys and the players (of course) who deserve the credit for this team’s amazing run during which they dropped consecutive regulation games only once in a 61-game stretch. Virtually every setback was followed by an immediate return to form.

And it had to be. In the end, it turned out that the Caps’ margin for error was a single point. 

Mostly, I feel good for the players. Eighty-two games makes for a long season. When the first quarter of the season goes as poorly as it went for this year’s model of the Caps, it’s easy to mail it in the rest of the way. It happens all too often in pro sports. A lot of people believed this was a pretty good team back in September and October and these guys went out and proved those people right. Many of them were maligned pretty hard in all varieties of media along the way by people who’ve never played the game, or have never played it anywhere near a pro level. But they kept working, meshing, getting better. And today you can go up and down the roster and point to contributions made by each of them.

Finally, this should put to rest any of the lame banter about Alex Ovechkin not being a worthy Hart Trophy candidate unless the Caps made the playoffs. As longtime readers of this blog and listeners of our podcasts know, I believe the Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont to be one of the best hockey writers of our era.

Here’s a snippet from his column this morning:

OVECHKIN IS ALL HART

Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, including your faithful scribe, will turn in award ballots this week, and if Alexander Ovechkin isn’t a unanimous choice for the Hart (MVP), then someone will have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

A.O. hammered in two more goals Thursday night, bumping his league lead to 65, and moving ahead of Luc Robitaille as the all-time leader for most goals (one season) by a left winger. It’s not only that the Capitals star scores a lot of goals (now 163 in only three years), but he scores them with an energy and verve that make him, unquestionably, the greatest entertainment attraction in the game today.

Like Bobby Orr of old, and Brett Hull, Denis Savard, and Pavel Bure of not so old, Ovechkin doesn’t allow the viewer to stop watching. Even if he isn’t on the ice, the anticipation of his next shift, and maybe his next running leap into the glass after he scores, is enough to keep the audience engaged.

Sidney Crosby, as he good as he is, doesn’t do that. Crosby’s fellow Penguin, and superb talent, Evgeni Malkin, doesn’t do that. They both may get there someday soon (Malkin is my bet there to get there first). But for now, there is only one true sensational player in today’s game, and it’s the 22-year-old Ovechkin. Makes one wish the moniker “Magical Muscovite” hadn’t been dispensed (see: Sergei Samsonov) a decade ago.

Now, for the nitpickers, it’s true, the Hart Trophy is not awarded to the most exciting or sensational player. It goes to the player who is “adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.”

Well, you know what? In today’s game, with how difficult it remains to score, and how overcoached and tightly played the games are, a lot of guys can be considered under that lone standard. Ovechkin still wins on that alone, for how he carried the Capitals all year and especially down the stretch.

He’s all of “most valuable,” with the sensation and entertainment factors sort of just added value.

 

Dupont wasn’t the only one to weigh in today, either.

Anyone suggesting the Caps would have to make the playoffs in order for Alex Ovechkin to qualify for the Hart Trophy must be working on an alternative, attention-seeking agenda. This year, there is The Big O and then everyone else, the runners-up featuring a most-worthy Alex Kovalev of Montreal.

The NHL’s force-feed focus on all Sidney Crosby all the time and Pierre McGuire‘s relentless pandering and cheerleading over the air are going to create a backlash against the remarkable 20-year-old center, mark our words.

So yes, last night was special. And today is a great day to be a Caps fan. But even better days are still ahead. Enjoy the ride.

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8 Comments on “It’s Tomorrow”

  1. doug Says:

    Vogs, thanks again for another superbly crafted and informative piece of information. As Caps fans, we are blessed beyond measure by the professional blogging community. I get way more out of the varied blogs and your podcasts than I ever would (or ever have) from the proverbial “main stream media”.
    Thank you for all you do. Looking forward for more great stuff from you and Stretch this week and beyond.
    Regards,
    Doug

  2. TJ Says:

    Were playing with house money now!

    This is gona take a couple of days to set in, man what a stretch run these guys put on.

  3. Funkyglovefacewash Says:

    Caps fans need to buy up all of the playoff tickets NOW!!! The Pens are mailing it in against the Flyers so they’ll get to play Ottawa(would you expect anything less from those punks?), and we can’t let a bunch of Flyers fans take over our barn! Mike, you called OV’s goal total – 65, way to go. I hope you didn’t make any early summer vacation plans because the Caps are gonna need you to work a little overtime, but I’m sure you don’t mind.

  4. Tom in FL Says:

    Except for Fleury, the Pens pretty much laid down. Can’t blame them, though. They and the Flyers are A-Number-One enemies due to being in state and all. Plus you’d have to say if you could hand pick any opponent for a first round match up in the East, Ottawa would be that team.

    Maybe a better way to seed the teams:

    The #1 seed gets to PICK ITS OPPONENT from between #5 thru 8. Then the #2 seed picks from the remaining three. And so forth. How would this work?

    Montreal ended up first, so they pick…Ottawa.

    Pittsburgh is second, so they pick…Boston.

    The Caps are 3rd and they pick…NYR or Philly?

    Then the Devils get whoever the Caps don’t pick.

    This would add another dimension to the excitement at the end of the season and also give the team picked by the #1 seed the “chip on the shoulder” mentality going into the playoffs.

    BTW, I guess the Caps would take Philly over NYR due to the Rangers’ superior goaltending.

  5. Kevin Easley Says:

    Mike,

    You nailed it in your ‘tomorrow’ story, quoting McPhee, and there indeed will be brighter tomorrows in the days and weeks ahead. This team isn’t done yet, not by a long shot (although I would feel better about my prediction if the ‘upper body injury’ bug would stop biting the team’s blue line corps).

    Anyway, regarding the wise move to ‘euthanize’ the veteran-laden squad that last made the playoffs in the following campaign (the 03-04 bunch that contracted Jagr’s cancer), it’s worth revisiting McPhee’s approach and the deals he pulled the trigger on during and weeks prior to the 03-04 trade deadline.

    Now GMGM deservedly earned praise for pulling the trigger on the Huet, Fedorov, and Cooke deals at this year’s trading deadline. Arguably, no GM ever did more on deadline day to give his club the tools it needed to make the postseason and potentially advance deep into the playoffs.

    That said, it turns out the 03-04 deals were also quite exceptional, providing quite the bookend to the most recent moves. By biting the bullet and blowing up their talented but underachieving 03-04 club prior to the lockout season, the Caps shed payroll and acquired several key building blocks.

    In short, these pivotal personnel moves established the foundation for the team that has now emerged. Here are those building blocks:

    ** Winger Tomas ‘Flash’ Fleischmann – Acquired from Detroit with Detroit’s first-round choice in the 2004 Entry Draft and Detroit’s fourth-round choice in the 2006 Entry Draft for Robert Lang, Feb. 27, 2004 (scored his 10th and most important Caps’ goal this season last night; a solid winger with lots of skill and upside)

    ** Center Iceman Brooks ‘What’s Not to’ Laich – Acquired from Ottawa with a second-round selection in the 2005 Entry Draft for right wing Peter Bondra, Feb. 18, 2004 (has over 20 goals in his break-out season with the Cappies)

    ** Stay-at-Home Defenseman Shaone Morrisson – Acquired from Boston, along with a first- and second-round selection in the 2004 Entry Draft, in exchange for Sergei Gonchar, March 3, 2004 (NOTE: Not only is Morrisson our best stay-at-home D-man, this trade also yielded the pick we used to select stud scorer along the blueline, one Mike Green. The Bruins also tossed in a 2nd rounder that year, but I’m not clear on who we selected with that pick. Even if the pick was a bust, my goodness that turned into a great trade.

    Not a bad haul, not bad at all. So again, McPhee deserves the credit. I was as hard on ‘Georgie-Porgie’ as any impatient Caps’ fan, particularly when we were 6-14 prior to Hanlon’s departure. My, how it has all turned around!

  6. dumpnchase Says:

    Doug,
    Thanks for the kind words, I really appreciate it.

    TJ,
    You’re right, it make take a while for us to truly appreciate the wonders of what the Caps have already accomplished. Winning 15 of 19, 11 of 12 and seven straight is hard enough. Doing it with your season on the line each night is another thing altogether.

    Funky,
    Don’t mind the overtime a bit. Hope it lasts until about mid-June.

    Tom,
    Agreed, the Pens looked like they were laying for Ottawa. Interesting proposal you put forth there. I like it a lot, but doubt it would ever happen.

    Kevin,
    I think McPhee and his staff had as good a year as Boudreau and staff, and as good a year as any player this side of Ovechkin. Getting Huet, Fedorov and Cooke without touching this summer’s “nest egg” of a first-rounder and three-second rounders in a deep draft is quite a coup. Good trades are often as much about what you don’t give up as they are what you do give up and what you get.

  7. thag Says:

    Strange, but I actually feel sorry for Crosby. He is an exceptional player, but he’s not even the best on his team. I think in the long run, all of this hype will hurt his career.


  8. [...] “It’s Tomorrow,” Mike Vogel poignantly observed on April 6. [...]


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