Monday, April 09, 2007

2006-2007 Season Wrap Up: Part III Coaching and Front Office

Think I've been too nice? Well you haven't seen anything yet...

To paraphrase the late, great former Caps Beat Writer for the (Com)Post, Robert Fachet, Glen Hanlon did an admirable job once again attempting to make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. You can't hold him personally accountable for the talent level on the ice but you can hold him somewhat accountable for the application of the talent we do have and to a very minimal extent, the level of effort displayed by the team.

By all accounts, Hanlon continues to insist upon an upbeat, positive, and light attitude among the team. In November he wasn't afraid to show that he was not willing to let his team be run over by the like of the Atlanta Thrashers. However it was somewhat disturbing that when he started to turn more control over to the players, the injuries set in and the team fell out of playoff contention.

Despite the addition of more talent, the Power Play was only marginally better this year. As a matter of fact, it was very telling that Mr. Donald Brashear was often placed on the top Power Play unit in an attempt to jump start things. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't but struggles on the Power Play lead to a mid-season shift in Power Play tactics with no noticeable improvement.

Odd too was Hanlon's insistence that the Caps shouldn't spend much time practicing the gimmick. While I understand Hanlon's belief that he couldn't properly recreate the environment of the gimmick in practice, that's no reason to not practice the event. How else are the players and goaltenders supposed to build confidence in the event? The Caps were just 1-11 in the gimmick and while reversing that still wouldn't have put us in the playoffs, it would have, again, at least made the team more competitive.

While a Major League coach cannot be expected to "motivate" his players on a night in and night out basis, there were far too many flat performances. Too many times when the effort during the game was seriously lacking. Hanlon has been the head coach for two and half seasons now and while he has a great track record of developing young players, his time could very well be coming to an end. This team isn't going to stay young for very much longer and a more demanding type of personalty may be needed.

For now though, he is getting the job done and the players do seem to like him. It would be one thing if the team wasn't reaching its potential but that is not the case right now.

The person feeling the most pressure is General Manager George McPhee. It is no secret that McPhee is heading into this coming offseason seriously under the gun to improve the hockey team. That is not a good situation for him or for this hockey team because the last time McPhee was under the gun like this, the Jaromir Jagr trade was pulled off. I dare say that there is very little that McPhee could do in this coming offseason to satisfy the fanbase that is demanding more than just new uniforms and logos.

So should McPhee clean out his office and pack his bags? Not so fast, if the Caps want to make the playoffs next year, then yes, because short of pulling off a trade of entire teams with the Buffaslugs, there's nothing the Caps can reasonably be expected to do in order to make the playoffs next season. Boston added a #1 center and #1 defenseman and they still finished well out of the playoff chase. Why would the Caps be any different if they got Chris Drury and Sheldon Souray as UFAs in July? (Which ain't gonna happen cha-cha)

If the Caps are looking to build a serious contender for years to come, McPhee should be allowed to hold true and see the process through. Some of his more recent draft picks are finally coming along. A guy like Eric Fehr has a chance to be a really good player if he is given the chance much like Matt "Princess" Pettinger and Brian Sutherby both whom finally broke through last year. We have some good young defensmen who could very well be great trade bait to get the defenseman or center that we need to shepard the other young players.

What McPhee needs to do is to find a way to sensibly address the problems on this team. He needs to keep the salary cap situation along with the team salary structure under control. He is facing a tough off season NEXT year as A.O., Alexander Semin, and Olie Kolzig all have contracts coming up for renewal and getting them all back on board won't be cheap. Fans who are insisting on a increase in payroll should wait for one more summer.

However where I believe that the coaching staff and the ENTIRE Front Office fell down this season was in the management of expectations department. The Caps came into this season carrying over the roll that they were on at the end of last year. The Caps also had a chip on their shoulders as many experts were once again picking them 14th or 15th in the Eastern Conference. It turns out the experts knew that they were talking about for once, go figure.

However, the Caps from the Front Office on down were talking about making the playoffs. All the talk of making the playoffs combined with the great start lead to increased expectations that left everybody crushed when they were not met. While I certainly do not expect the Caps to "embrace" losing, setting the bar too high lead to what we saw as the season wound down.

It should be noted that the New York Rangers missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons before finally making it last year. The Penguin Scum were out for four seasons and the Philadelphia Flyers missed the playoffs for five seasons in the early 90's. The Ning missed the post season for six seasons after making their first appearance. Out West, Calgary missed the playoffs for seven seasons. The Caps? We've missed three seasons now. I don't think it is time to hit the panic button yet so everybody needs to chill out.

Yet much like the team mismanaged expectations for the season, they are building everybody up again for another letdown this summer. As I mentioned earlier, the last time we were in this situation we ended up making the Jagr trade. If we miss out on our UFA targets, I believe we would be better off going into next season with the team that we have right now instead of making a bad trade in a desperate attempt to get help. That would be another recipe for disaster.

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