Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Glen Hanlon Watch, Day 1

And so it begins... A vast majority of head coaches in the major professional sports leagues are fired and truth be told, I thought about starting this after the 7-3 loss in Loserville...er...Buffalo on Ocotber 13th. However, I thought that it was just too soon then. The Caps were 3-2 at that point in time and despite playing poorly in two consecutive games and showing little signs of improvement from the last two seasons, they still had a chance to regain their footing and recover.

But here we are almost one month later and the Caps have won only 2 more games since starting out 3-0. Things just aren't working right now and a change needs to be made sooner rather than later if the Caps want to salvage a playoff run for this season. Because you can't fire an entire team (nor would I suggest that's the problem right now), Head Coach Glen Hanlon will have to become the sacrifical lamb and "be relieved of coaching duties."

This isn't to say that the situation that the Caps find themselves in right now is all Hanlon's fault. Hanlon cannot control the injuries to the Three Injured Amigos; Captain Chris Clark, Tom Poti (who returned to action last night), and Alexander Semin. It's tough to blame a coach for bad bounces as well and I for one don't think a coach of a major league professional team can be held 100% accountable for a lack of motivation on the part of his players. These guys are being paid very well for what they do and that alone should be motivation enough. Finally, it's also tough to blame a coach because new players, particularly Nicklas Backstrom, Michael Nylander, and Viktor Kozlov, are having a hard time blending in with the players already here.

However, Hanlon does have full control of who does and does not play on the Power Play unit. Here we are now three seasons after the lockout and with the most talent the team has had since the firesale and the Power Play is still in the bottom third of the league. While some may want to blame injuries and new playes for the lack of sucess on the Power Play, we need to remember the original plan that had Semin and A.O. on different Power Play units. However, in a fit of desperation not only were Semin and A.O. put on the same unit, both players were put on the point. As a matter of fact, Hanlon has tried the "fourth forward on the point" move all season putting such luminaries as Joseph Motzko Ball on the point. What makes this all the more odd is the number of "puck moving offensive defensemen" we're supposed to have. You mean to tell me that none of them can get the job done on the point? The only time our Power Play has consistently looked dangerous is when Mike "BEAM ME UP" Green has gotten on the ice during a Power Play and taken it upon himself to lead a solo end-to-end rush. Yet here we are now 15 games into the season and the Caps have yet to score a 5-on-3 goal despite wasting using our timeout before just about every single one. There's no excuse for that with the amount of talent that we have in our lineup.

But getting back to odd lineups, Hanlon also has a weird tendency to put players wildly out of position. While Matt "Princess" Pettinger does not belong on the top two lines, he got tons of ice time there in recent years because there was nobody else to take the spot. However, that isn't so much the case anymore and Tomas Fleischmann has as much busniess skating on the fourth line as Motzko Ball does on the first. In his NHL debut, Chris Bourque got to skate with A.O. on the first line. While I am sure there are plenty of Bourque fans out there, I think most of them will agree he doesn't belong on the first line and if there's a line that does not need an infusion of energy, it's whatever line A.O. is skating on. I also fail to understand the love affair with John Erskine Bowles. I can understand using him as a stop gap measure in the case of injuries or prolonged poor play. But Hanlon seems to want to use him as a regular member of the blueline more often than not.

And speaking of A.O., without him I think it is safe to say that we would be asking Hanlon to make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. A.O. had great chemistry his first two seasons with Dainus Zubrus and Clark. Zubrus was traded given away for nothing in return and Hanlon decided to split up Clark and A.O. It is no surprise to me at least that when Hanlon finally put the two back together that Clark finally started scoring the goals that were expected of him and A.O. launched a 4 game point streak where he scored multiple points in all four games.

But in addition to the same bad play and the questionable line up combinations, Hanlon's message does not seem to be getting through as it once did. After holding a practice where the team had to avoid all kinds of obstacles when shooting, the Caps still had 20 shots blocked and another 16 miss the net while helping Cam Ward pitch a 35 save shutout. For those of you who are a little slow, that means that the just over half the shots the Caps took in a 5-0 embarassment did not even find the net. Even more troubling has been the recent preaching about discipline as the Caps continue to give up at least 5 Power Plays a night on average. There does come a point in time when a hockey teams tunes out the coach and the message no longer gets through. What is the most damning for Hanlon is that it has become obvious that time has come.

Finally, let me say that this declaration that Hanlon has to go is not meant to be a commentary on Hanlon's ability as a coach. Hanlon has done a fine job since taking over on December 10th, 2003 and leading this team through the firesale and well into the rebuilding. Hanlon's strongest suit as a coach is his ability to develop young players into competent pros. However, this is no longer a rag-tag-almost-minor-league bunch of hockey players. While there is still some inexperience in crictical places, this is not a team of rookies and minor leaugers. What this team needs now is a coach who has the experience and knows what it takes to not only make the playoffs, but win in the playoffs. I won't get into exactly who I think the next coach of the Caps should be but it has become clear to me that it is time for Glen Hanlon to be replaced.

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