Last week, Washington D.C. was in euphoria with the Nationals, Capitals, and Wizards (and D.C. United) were on a roll, with the Wizards and Capitals leading the series. Yesterday, reality set in as both the Wizards and Capitals were eliminated in the second round. Yes, there is heartbreak in the city, but it is still historic run for D.C. as this was the first time both the Caps and Wiz were in the second round together and there could be more to come…if both teams do it right.
In the beginning of the season, the Caps were a rebuilding team with new coach, Barry Trotz, and a new identity. They could go for it or tank to be in the McDavid-Eichel sweepstakes. They chose the former and returned to the playoffs this year. What we got is the Dale Hunter team from 2012-13 but with direction. With Alex Ovechkin fully on board, the Caps were 2nd in the Metropolitan Division. In the first round against the New York Islanders, I was expecting another “choking dog” performance as the Islanders force a Game 7 and have Nassau Coliseum history on their backs. Instead, Caps won Game 7 and face the New York Rangers in the second.
I have to say, end-to-end, Rangers-Caps was most exciting Caps playoffs series I’ve seen. Although scoring was at a premium, the goaltending was the best duel I’ve seen with Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby fighting off save after save.
Rant: People were debating if this Caps team were “choking dogs.” This series doesn’t rank in the Top 10 “choking dogs” series because it wasn’t (except Game 5, but that’s more luck than skill.) Every game was decided by one goal. It’s hardly “choking dog” status. It was probably the second worst playoff lost behind the “Easter Epic” against the Islanders in 1987, but you felt rejuvenated than dejected after the loss to the Rangers. If you want the ranking of the Caps “choking dog” teams, here you go:
- 2009-2010 Season – They win their first Presidents’ Trophy and had a 3-1 series lead against Montreal before blew it. The aftermath was worse.
- The Mid-80s Caps – Those teams had future hall-of-famers Scott Stevens and Larry Murphy and couldn’t do anything. They did go to the Conference Final (Wales Conference at the time) in 1990 and got swept by the Boston Bruins, but they could of had more appearances.
- The 2002-03 Season – The most underrated of the Caps “choking dog” teams. Although they were the lower seed against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they blew out the Lightning in the first two games in Tampa of 3-0 and 6-3, respectively. Afterwards, they lost 4 straight (3 at home) and it started the rebuilding process that gave us Alex Ovechkin.
- The Mid-90s Caps – Similar to the Mid-80s Caps teams, but with lesser talent.
As for next year, the Caps have some cap space with Mike Green and Jason Chimera likely gone, but still have to re-sign Holtby and possibly Joel Ward. I understand people are worried this might be the same Caps team because of their history and the GM and coach came from the Caps system, however what you could say for this Caps team, from previous teams, is this is a more balanced team. What they need the most is luck. Is next year their year?
To me, the Wizards are in “pre 2016-2017” mode. They signed Paul Pierce for two years to help Bradley Beal and John Wall to grow. The regular season didn’t matter, except for seeding purposes, and I thought the Wizards could of won the Southeast Division. Instead, the Atlanta Hawks won by a landslide and got the #1 seed. The Wizards go to a hot start, but tumbled after the all-star break and you thought the team wasn’t as athletic as last year’s team and you’re probably right. However, this team gained in toughness and clutch in high-leverage situations. While Paul Pierce might have lost a step, he showed he brings a fire and swagger on the court in the playoffs and that helped raised Wall, Beal, and Otto Porter’s game. The issue now is the front court and likely the Wizards will trade Nene since next year is his last year of the contract.
Now that the Wizards gained toughness and experience in the playoffs, I would expect the same result next year. Pierce is complementing retirement, Otto Porter might move to the starting role, and maybe a new power forward. I view next year’s Wizards similar to Marc Jackson’s last year coaching the Golden State Warriors. The characters will stay the same with the same results, but what about the following year. We all know Kevin Durant is the biggest free agent after the 2016 season (Technically, it’s LeBron, but he signed a 2-year deal so he can get the TV money that will bring the cap up by around $20 million) and it’s no secret the Wizards want him. However, two questions loom for next year:
- Is Randy Wittman really the long-term answer? Yes, he has lead them to two straight second round appearances, but is Leonsis willing to depart him for a “better coach” like a John Calipari, Sam Cassel, or maybe Kevin Ollie? That was the Warriors thinking when they fired Jackson for Steve Kerr and Golden State are in the Western Conference Finals. That was the Pelicans mindset when they fired Monty Williams and are the frontrunners to possibly get Tom Thibodeau. I think Leonsis is too loyal and too results -oriented that he won’t fire Wittman, but I could be wrong.
- Is Kevin Durant’s foot will ever heal? A legitimate question because if the Wizards get injury-prone Durant, they wasted a lot of money on him. If they get the MVP Durant, the big contract could be a bargain.
We (including I) would want to see a championship in D.C. soon. For the longest time, D.C. had to rely on one team (I won’t count the 1998 Capitals since a few Caps fans showed up in the Stanley Cup Finals and that Detroit was a hockey super team.), but now, D.C. could have 3 of the 4 teams winning the title, if they do it right. In the past, fans would be happy for some success and advancement of any team. Now, fans want something bigger. It might sound like fans (including myself) are entitled to a championship, but I want to have that feeling than accepting a successful season. Put it this way, in HR terms: it’s great to have good-great performance reviews and you’re a consistent performer, but there is only one employee of the month/year/whatever trophy everyone is vying for. It’s time for D.C. to get that brass ring. The past two weeks is a good start.
Featured image: Dan Worthington/Washington Post (@danWorthington)