Should The Washington Capitals Learn From The Toronto Maple Leafs?

Nick Jensen, Washington Capitals (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Nick Jensen, Washington Capitals (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

When you watch sports, and in particular hockey, you will occasionally see teams that resemble each other. What I mean by that is you will sometimes see teams that follow the same paths. The Washington Capitals can be used as an example a couple of times in the last decade.

As a fan of the San Jose Sharks, and as someone who has followed this Capitals franchise for over a decade now, for the majority of the 2010’s these teams seemed to mirror each other a bit. Both teams were very talented, led by future hall of famers, but just could not seem to hit that breakthrough point. Both of these teams seemed poised to make a run several times in that five to six year year stretch, both ultimately falling short.

The Sharks, while making the Final in 2016, never did break through. The Capitals finally did in 2018.

While the current Washington Capitals and Toronto Maples Leafs are not on the same timeline as the last two they can still resemble each other in more ways than one.

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The Maple Leafs seem to be looking at that Capitals strategy in the 2010’s of being patient with the core players of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Reilly, William Nylander and John Tavares. Much like the Capitals did with Ale Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, etc.

So far for the Leafs it has not worked out.  That’s not to say it won’t down the line, it just has not worked out to this point. The Leafs have also dished out the moolah to their stars as well, putting that team in a bit of a Cap crunch, something Capitals fans can relate to. Thanks to this the Leafs seem to be a top heavy team.

Really the only way to fix this kind of issue is trading a core, high priced player, getting multiple pieces back and therefore making your team a bit deeper in the process. The Leafs have chosen to not do this.

Toronto has instead opted to remain mostly the same despite the playoffs failures of the past few seasons. Sound familiar?

So far this offseason the Capitals are bringing back a team that achieved very little in the playoffs in recent seasons. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 the Capitals have failed to win a single round in the playoffs. Why you would bring back a team that has had that much failure, with as high as expectations as the Caps have had?

Honestly, that isn’t to say the Capitals haven’t changed since their win in 2018. The current roster has just eight guys on in that won the Cup with this franchise. Plenty of guys have moved on, a lot of guys have come in to change how this team looks.

But has this team changed enough from recent seasons, and since it hasn’t much, what is to make us believe that this team will have much more success than they have?

The concerning part about this team for me is the lack of effort come playoff time. When you watch the Capitals play in the playoffs compared to other teams the Caps seem to give half effort while other teams, and of course the teams they’re playing, are playing hard, playoff hockey and they just overwhelm them. You saw that for large portions of the Hurricanes series in 2019, The Islanders effort can pretty much outdo anyone and it definitely did the Caps in 2020, and the Bruins did much of the same in 2021.

I always point of the Capitals injury problems going into this past years playoffs against Boston. This year the Caps got beat up at the worst possible time with seemingly all of their star players carrying something into the postseason.

If they go into the playoffs healthy, did you see enough that tells you they could have won that series? I’m not going to sit here and say no, but I can’t say yes either. And, IF they win that series do they beat the Islanders later? How about the Lightning? I’m less confident they beat those teams, if they could have even beaten Boston.

Right now, that’s where these two franchises mirror each other. The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals cannot get past one round of the playoffs. Both teams have Stanley Cup aspirations and neither can win four games in the spring, let alone sixteen.

Both teams have decided that inaction is seemingly the best option for them, yet they keep losing in the first round.

The Capitals have changed some, and maybe more changes will come later this offseason. Maybe they get a shot of youth this coming season with Connor McMichael and Martin Fehervary. But other than that, this team looks pretty much the same going into next season.

Maybe you can argue some teams are declining around them? The Lightning are coming back to earth thanks to the cap, maybe the Hurricanes get a little less threatening after losing Dougie Hamilton. Who knows how good the Pennsylvania teams will be?

You could also argue that last season was maybe a perfect storm that hit the Capitals badly? The overall weirdness of a season, a season where they hired a new coach and had very little time to get used to him and him to the team. And, again, they got very beat up at the end of the season going into the playoffs. If you want to see how the team does in a more “regular” season, I can maybe get on board with that argument.

I still think if you truly are a great team you will find success no matter the weirdness. Look at the Lightning, Islanders and Golden Knights who have all made consecutive runs in weird seasons. They’re great teams, they prove it every year, they take care of business regardless of the situation.

The thing that gets me is you have lost the last three playoffs for a lot of the same reasons and one big one. Effort. This team has put up three fairly poor efforts in a row and lost in round one in each of those seasons. Thanks to that, I feel at least one big change should be made and that it doesn’t make too much sense to go into the next season mostly the same.

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So far, over the last few seasons we’ve learned that standing pat hasn’t worked. Just ask the Maple Leafs and their fans. Maybe it will for the Washington Capitals, but I wouldn’t hold my breath given their last few playoff performances.