Reporting David Elfin
The Nationals started spring training in February hoping to avoid another 100-loss season. The Redskins started training camp in July hoping to avoid another losing season. If the Wizards ever start training camp, they’ll be hoping to avoid another 50-loss season.
Training camp for the Capitals, which begins tomorrow at Kettler Iceplex in Ballston, is another matter entirely. It’s really not about the regular season for the Caps. After finishing first in the Eastern Conference the past two years but bombing with the money on the line in April and May, it’s all about the playoffs for our boys on ice.
Those postseason failures are the major reason why Caps owner Ted Leonsis gave general manager George McPhee to go on a spending spree of sorts this summer. In rapid succession, Washington traded for winger Troy Brouwer and then in the space of six days, signed proven goalie Tomas Vokoun, physical forward Joel Ward, veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik and former Caps captain Jeff Halpern.
On paper, adding five legitimate NHL players in exchange for a draft pick and some of Leonsis’ cash looks great.
If McPhee and coach Bruce Boudreau believe that their team was missing gravitas and grit during the playoff flops against Montreal and Tampa Bay the past two springs, they remedied that with Hamrlik (37), Vokoun (35), Halpern (35), Ward (30) and even Brouwer (just 26, but a Stanley Cup winner with Chicago in 2010).
But there’s the rub. It’s not like McPhee added four-time Cup winner Bryan Trottier as the Pittsburgh Penguins did in 1990 to help turn them from potential into powerhouse or even 2008 traded deadline pickup Sergei Fedorov, a two-time Cup winner whose Game 7 goal in 2009 against the New York Rangers gave the Caps their first playoff series triumph in 11 years.
None of the Caps’ summer acquisitions will be joining Trottier and Fedorov in the Hall of Fame. And take away Brouwer’s impressive 6-2 mark with the Blackhawks and the newest Caps’ teams have been as ugly in the playoffs as Washington has.
Halpern has been on the wrong end of the post-series handshakes all six times. Vokoun is 0-2. Ward is 1-2. Hamrlik is 4-13. Add it up and that’s 5-18.
That’s downright ugly right along the lines of Washington’s 2-7 series record since its surprising run to its only Cup finals back in 1998, McPhee’s first season in command.
The new Caps have plenty of savvy and regular season success, but when it really matters, history says that their experience – other than Brouwer’s – apparently won’t help come playoff time.
Vokoun is 12 years older than incumbent goalie Michal Neuvrith but has been between the pipes in only two more playoff games than the kid and with worse results.
Heck, McPhee played parts of five seasons in the 1980s for Rangers’ teams that went 3-3 in the playoffs, only one series triumph shy of Hamrlik’s postseason victory total during an 18-year career that began in 1992 with the expansion Lightning.
McPhee, who survived more on guts and guile than on talent, isn’t making a comeback at 53. And if he wanted to shake up his complacent Caps, he might have been better off trading playoff underachievers Alexander Semin or Mike Green than bringing in the old vets.
That would have really sent a message to Alex Ovechkin and Co. that there’s a price to be paid for choking every spring.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.