Perception is a huge part of any business. How your operation is perceived to outsiders can make or break your success. Today my perception of the Washington Capitals organization, which I’ve supported for quite some time is dismal at best. First came the firing of Bruce Boudreau on Monday morning. Granted, something had to give. Something had to change. It was obvious that there was limited player response – and since you can’t fire an entire roster, the coach is usually the one to take the fall. Questions loomed, arguments broke out. Was this Bruce’s fault? Was it the Captain’s fault? Were the players at fault? I guess the only ones who will ever really know the answer to those questions are the ones inside the locker room, and those of us on the outside looking in can only guess at this point.
Dale Hunter was tapped to replace Boudreau and the announcement came at the same time of the Boudreau’s firing. I don’t dispute Hunter’s contributions to this organization. I don’t dispute his ability to coach a team. I do dispute the tact in which this situation was handled. There was no “interim” tag placed in front of the “Head Coach” title. There’s no “test drive” for this experiment. It’s all or nothing. That raises a red flag to me. How long has this arrangement been in the works? To announce a firing and full-fledged coaching position hiring in the same breath with all signs of permanence tells me that this was a long time coming. That the arrangement was made, the only thing left was for the noose to tighten a little more around the neck of Bruce Boudreau. Again, I get it. Something had to change, but this change looked more like a back –of-the-house in an Italian restaurant mafia style deal. It was also stated that the assistant coaches would remain in their posts under the new Hunter era, and that was something I could live with.
When George McPhee was asked if there would be a change in captaincy for the Capitals, his response was clear and concise. “That’s not going to happen.” While many are questioning not only Ovechkin’s ability to lead the team, but also the effects of the leadership role on his personal statistics, that seems to be a pretty bold statement. Did GMGM make that decision on his own without discussing it with his new head coach, or has this all really been a plan in the works? Was that detail already set in stone and discussed with Coach Hunter prior to his hiring? Again, perception. At this point it can be perceived that this decision was made prior to Hunter’s hiring, without his knowledge, rendering him responsible for the team, but powerless to designate a leader. I hope my perception is wrong.
Fast forward to this morning, when news broke that assistant coach Bob Woods was released of his duties; negating the earlier statement that all assistant coaches would remain. So Bob was the only one to go. The other assistant coaches remain in place, as of now. Again, back to this whole perception theme – it could be perceived that Bob Woods’ ties to Boudreau were too close, so he had to go. Maybe it was the unsuccessful defense. Maybe they’re just trying to get that chocolate-scented Hershey stank out of DC. It was my understanding that Hunter was going to implement his style of play into the Caps’ game. That he’d tinker with what he has and build on it to create the “Hunter System” of Washington Hockey. I was under the impression that an overhaul of the style of play in DC would include defense, but that chance didn’t come for Bob Woods. He wasn’t given the opportunity to work with the new head coach to adjust his defensemen to Hunter’s game. Jim Johnson will.
Another red flag for me was the news breaking last night that Mattias Sjogren was returning to Sweden. Sjogren’s camp was under the impression that he’d spend “just a few” games in Hershey before heading to Washington. McPhee is disputing that a promise such as that was ever made. It’s true that Sjogren would never be “the Next-Next Nick Backstrom” (after MoJo) that some were hoping, but he could have done quite well for himself in North America after a little development and some exposure as either a higher level AHL player or a lower level NHL player. Varly was contemplating a return to Russia this past summer prior to his trade to Colorado. Back in May, it was announced that Evgeny Kuznetsov would stay in Russia for at least one more year. Remember that whole debacle with Eric Belanger? I passed it off as an over zealous agent trying to cover his ass for not doing his job correctly. Now I’m really wondering if half-truths didn’t come from both sides of the fence.
I’m trying my best to push these negative perceptions of mine out of my head. I want to see what becomes of this Capitals team that I’ve invested a lot of time and money into. Most of all, I want to be proven wrong. I don’t think it’s wrong to question or second guess another’s decisions. I’ve been raised to believe that keeping an open mind and asking questions is a great way to learn. Right now, I hope the ship in Washington is righted, and quickly. I hope that my “worst-case-scenario” mind is just playing tricks on me – because after all: I’m a Hershey Bears season ticket holder. I spend a lot of money to support the team I love so much. And if prospects don’t want to come to Hershey because of how the parent club is perceived, or because of bad experiences and horror stories passed through the grape vine from other players, Chocolatetown’s Hockey-Town status will seriously suffer.