By: Kyle Douty
Success in sports on the national stage is only measured by championships. At the end of the day, very successful teams that were never able to “get it done” are viewed as being complete failures. In 2001 the Seattle Mariners tied the nearly one hundred year old Major League regular season win record by going 116-46. Just a few weeks prior to the World Series, their season came to a ceasing halt. That team is now thought of as the “best team that never won” or “one of the biggest letdowns in all of sports.” They are not remembered as being one of the most successful teams ever in terms of wins and losses, but how it was “just too bad that their magic ran out.” As a sports franchise, a team never wants to be remembered as a disappointment.
In the 1976-77 NHL season the Montreal Canadiens became the most successful regular season NHL team in history with a record 132 points and a 60-8-12 record. Not only did that team go on to win a Stanley Cup, but they did so in a convincing fashion, sweeping the opposing Boston Bruins to end the 1977 season. The current Washington Capitals team is showing that they could be just as good as the ’77 Canadiens. The biggest questions on hockey and Washington fans’ minds are will they crash and burn like the ’01 Mariners? Or will they be victorious in winning it all like the ’77 Canadiens?
Currently the Washington Capitals have 98 points in just 63 games played this season. That’s thirteen points more than the league’s second ranked Chicago Blackhawks while having played two fewer games. The Capitals are on pace to end the season just shy of the all-time NHL record for points with 127. At 47-12-4, their 47 wins after the first 63 games of a season is the nothing shy of phenomenal. What does this regular season success mean for a franchise with zero Stanley Cup’s and relatively little postseason success overall? Absolutely nothing…unless, they manage to come away at the end of this season with the Stanley Cup.
Since 2010, the Capitals have made the playoffs four times. During that span they advanced to the Conference Semi Finals only twice, where they were unable to move on to the Conference Finals after both attempts. That is not an impressive post season record. Especially when the team has accumulated a very successful regular season record of 200-129 overall in the last five seasons. On ESPN 980, Tony Kornheiser weighed in on how he felt about the Capitals after the termination of the 2011 season for the team.
“The Capitals – and boy oh boy, it’s been years since I’ve been able to say this, like last year – are CHOKING DOGS. That’s what they are. If any columnist had any guts, that’s what that columnist would write in today’s paper, that the Capitals are CHOKING DOGS.”
Last season the Capitals showed very much promise in the postseason, defeating the hungry New York Islanders, fueled by passionate fans witnessing the final time their team would play in the beloved Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in a first round series. The Capitals would take a 3-1 series lead on the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semi Final round only to “choke” and lose the remaining 4 games of the series thus terminating their season. “Choking dogs” are all this team has amounted to in the past. However, this season is different. This season the Capitals will win the Stanley Cup.
Not only do the Capitals seem to be achieving more regular season success than recent previous seasons, but there appears to be a culture change with the team as well. This culture change became prevalent with the hiring of head coach Barry Trotz and has escalated ever since. Last October before a game against the San Jose Sharks, Alex Ovechkin was forced to sit out the game after showing up a few minutes late to a team meeting earlier that day. One would think the star would still be able to play solely because of how much the team needed him. “We have certain accountability rules,” Trotz retorted when being questioned by the media. This goes to show the disciplined structure of Barry Trotz’s regime.
This new culture from the Capitals has immensely aided the team over the past season and a half but what truly separates this year’s team is the roster which contains a plethora of talent. A few weeks ago for the all-star break the Capitals sent four representatives with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, and goaltender Braden Holtby. Over the last five years the Capitals have not sent more than two players to the all-star game until now. Not only does this roster succeed from the four stars, but they have a surrounding cast at all positions giving the team depth. When CSN analyst and former Capital Alan May was asked in a recent reddit AMA what was different about this years Cap’s roster he replied by saying, “Caps finally have a full roster in every aspect. Forwards, defense and goaltending positions all have great depth.”
In the past, the Capitals have been a great regular season team; but that’s all they’ve been, finding very little postseason success over the last five seasons. This current team is not the same team. They have more talent, along with a culture centered around accountability and discipline. This is a team ready for the playoffs, they will win the Stanley Cup this upcoming Spring. They will not choke.