Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Capitals 2013-2014 Season Preview: Is Mediocrity the Status Quo?

Dharmash Shah, the founder of HubSpot states that the worst scenario is a quagmire of mediocrity: “Failure lets you move on, mediocrity stalls you and keeps you from reaching your potential.”

Does that describe the Washington Capitals? Is this experiment a failure or has it hit a bump in the road?

This is the question we must demand the answer to from the front office and insist that they maximize the championship window for this team.

For the fans of the Washington Capitals, it is easy to say that this team is stuck in mediocrity. When you see the success of teams who were also rebuilding (Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and the Pittsburgh Penguins), you wonder whether the 2009 and 2010 season were the peak for this team.

That is the question that is at the forefront of this season and has been hovering over the team for free agency. Given the playoff performances of this team over the past few years, this team needs a shake-up.

After the lockout, George McPhee constructed a team designed to succeed in the new NHL, an offensive juggernaut whose high-flying ways spawned the nickname “Young Guns” and were thought to be the future of DC hockey and the NHL as a whole.
Their peak was two and a half years ago.

For the last five seasons, the Capitals have made the playoffs and for the last five years they have not even made the Conference Finals, let alone sniffed the Stanley Cup.

When you see a team like the Buffalo Sabres, the solution is simple. You trade all your assets, stockpile draft picks, and hope to hit it big in the lottery. What do you do if you’re the Caps?

Tanking simply isn’t an option. First of all, barring injury, the Caps have too much talent to tank. Second of all, the 2014 draft class does not measure up to the quality of the 2013 draft which had four stud prospects at the top. Now the 2015 draft is another story but that’s another story for another day.

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This team has two huge holes which are holding it back from being a true contender. The first (and most important) is on defense: we need a defensive defenseman to play with John Carlson. Every elite defensive team has four top pairings on defense.

Look me in the eye and tell me that John Erskine, Tomáš Kundrátek, Tom Poti, Jack Hillen, or Steve Olesky would crack the top six on the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, or Boston Bruins (the top three defensive teams last season). It’s inconceivable that all of our “depth” defensemen competing for our fourth, fifth, and sixth spots would not be considered top quality on any of those squads.

The solution here could be within via Dmitry Orlov but he has yet to gain Adam Oates’ trust. Thinking down the road a few interesting options who will be unrestricted free agents and thus, possible rentals, are Nikita Nikitan (CBJ, 2.15 million), Henrik Tallinder (BUF, 3.375 mil), and Mark Stuart (WPJ, 1.7 mil).

Getting a quality fourth defenseman will allow the rest of the “depth” defenseman to slot into their appropriate third pairing and limit their minutes appropriately. More importantly, though, this will allow our defense to better control the flow of the game and move the puck out efficiently.

In the playoffs, being able to relieve pressure is key. If we want to succeed in the postseason, we have to be more like the Bruins and Blackhawks and win the battles in our own zone.The second hole in our team is scoring depth. The Capitals need to be able to rely on their secondary lines to score when our first line is being shut down. Look at the Blackhawks this postseason—when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were struggling, they had Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, and Bryan Bickell who picked up the slack.

The Capitals don’t have anyone who has the ability of a Sharp or a Hossa. We used to have Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin but both are long gone. Instead we now have Brooks Laich, Martin Erat, and Marcus Johansson.

Obviously, Mikhail Grabovski is available but it does not appear that the Capitals are looking to sign him. There are very few high-end second line centers who are available and will likely be extremely hard to pry away.

Furthermore, it looks as if the Capitals are going to stand pat and let fans dream about Evgeny Kuznetsov and his potential move to the NHL after Sochi. Will Kuznetsov even play center in the NHL? One option could to have him center the line with Laich and Martin Erat and have Laich take the faceoffs.While all this speculation is interesting, it all goes back to the original question. Do the Washington Capitals have what it takes to break the cycle of mediocrity?

Reloading on the fly is now common-place. It is unrealistic to expect a dynasty like that of the Detroit Red Wings. The new reality is that even an elite team will need a few lucky bounces to make it to the finals and win the Cup.

However, the harsh truth is that the Capitals are no longer an elite team. They will have to plug the holes in the team if they want to succeed.Alex Ovechkin is 27. Mediocrity is not an option for an All-World player in his prime. If we demand maximum effort from the Great 8, we must also demand effort from management.

Take Ray Shero: every year he puts the Penguins in the best position to win. Can you say the same about the Caps?

The fact that we all had to think about it speaks volumes.

Email me your thoughts/ feedback at [email protected] or comment below.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: Fansided_Cyril

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Tags: Alex Ovechkin Alexander Ovechkin George McPhee Washington Capitals

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