Alex Ovechkin and the Caps suffered a tough seven-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Round 1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
During my tenure as GM in Tampa there was only one time I enjoyed the end-of-season individual player-exit meetings – 2004, when I cancelled the meetings and told the training staff to make sure we had all player injuries well documented. We had played into June, won the Stanley Cup and somehow our normal end-of-season routine seemed almost insulting given what our players had accomplished.
Otherwise, exit meetings are usually somber and depressing, especially if you were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs or failed to qualify for the post-season.
During those sessions, conversations are clipped, voices barely audible, heads shake and eyes are either cast downward or appear glazed as you attempt to come to grips with what just transpired. There is generally tension in the air. Some players wonder whether they will return, coaches think about their own status and that of their assistants and managers are concerned about ownership’s potential reaction to a disappointing end.
I imagine it was like that in Washington when the Capitals held their exit meetings. Even before GM George McPhee and coach Bruce Boudreau had a chance to speak with their players, the media outlets were raging with predictions of impending change. Many “experts” began questioning Boudreau’s job security even before the results of Game 7 were known and the chorus grew louder thereafter.
Those who weren’t calling for Boudreau to take the fall were riding playoff no-show Alex Semin out of town, blaming Tomas Fleischmann’s disappearing act, or lamenting the Mike Green/Jeff Schultz tandem. Still others pointed to Alex Ovechkin’s weak leadership, the lack of creativity on the power play or the lack of secondary scoring.
Trust me, McPhee’s exit meetings were no fun this year. However, you can be sure he won’t jump to conclusions. McPhee will rightly take time to analyze and reflect, not in the heat, passion and emotion of a gut-wrenching series loss, but rather in the light of cool, calm, dispassionate reason and sufficient time to heal. He will employ the type of thought-processes he learned in law school and make analytical and reasoned decisions.
McPhee will also give some credit to the other team. You can criticize the Caps all you want, but you must recognize that after chasing Jaroslav Halak from Game 3 in Montreal by scoring three goals on six shots early in the second period, Halak came back in Game 5 and proceeded to stop 131 of the 134 shots he faced over the next three games. That translates to a .977 save percentage, hardly Boudreau’s fault.
Washington needs its two young goalies, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, to mature and become stalwarts in the post-season and their upside suggests they will. The Jose Theodore Experiment is over, mercifully. They need to improve their defensive play in their own zone and upgrade their blueline; help is on the way as the Caps’ prospects are solid. It would also help if Green became mentally tougher and more focused in the post-season, but only he can solve that problem.
Yes, there are issues in Washington, but nothing so insurmountable they can’t be fixed and when you look at their top development team in Hershey you see the future is bright for the Capitals.
Bottom line, there’s no reason for a major house cleaning in D.C.
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2009-10 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.