Normally, I don’t take the time to respond to most editorials about sports unless it has something interesting to do with the sport as a whole and not just an individual franchise. However, surfing the Yahoo! Sports pages yesterday a fairly popular story caught my eye and I strongly felt it needed to be addressed, not because it was so utterly disparaging against a team I hold very near and dear to my heart, but because it was so poorly written and executed both Yahoo! and Associated Content should be embarrassed by its existence. It was the article: NHL fan reaction: Why the Washington Capitals are the most overrated team in the NHL by M. Colman .
In the article M. Colman attempts to key in on the worst aspects of the Washington Capitals franchise and why the team is overrated. By that measure every team that’s ever been predicted to win but didn’t is over-rated. Being there is no formal “rating” system in the National Hockey League like, say, there is in NCAA Division 1 football, it is hard to quantify what defines overrated.
Those who exceed expectation are satisfying, those who don’t are disappointing. When the disparagy between expectation and reality occurs, technically, that’s being overrated… Over-rated is much personal opinion than, in this case…
The first point of contention is what M. Colman considers “1. Arrogant and idiotic fans.” To which, my first retort is: Simply having a loud fan base does not make you over-rated. It actually makes you financially successful.
As I mentioned, I am a Caps fan since the late 1980s and watched the franchise grow and change, succeed and fail, come close and underwhelm enough times that there’s almost a cynical element to my love for them in the same way many die-hard fans feel. Arrogant I am anything but, as any long time Caps fan feels. Idiotic I will defend against and prove throughout this piece that M. Colman is the actual idiot here. As for the fans themselves the Capitals franchise struggled to build a fan base in Washington D.C. the same as the Washington Bullets / Wizards have, and the same as the Nationals are now. The very nature of DC’s employment (overwhelmingly government and government support), housing and commuter patterns and social nature not only are reflected in the adoption of sports franchises but effect most after-hours and weekend affairs including the arts, festivals, concerts, etc. The core fanbase of the Caps, the one that continued to go to games even in the lean years are dedicated, resourceful and knowledgeable fans.
Every franchise that experiences a level of success will encounter fair-weather fans, which must be what M. Colman is referring to. All fair-weather fans share much the same trait of knowing little-to-anything about the franchise before it signs a big name player or, even moreso, wins a championship. Developing a long term fan-base means converting some of these fair-weather fans into die-hards and although they can be a bit overwhelming as mouth-pieces and underwhelming in knowledge they exist. The Caps, like all franchises are not without these hop-on-the-bandwagon fans in their recent success. The Bolts had them when they one (and, it might seem from the lack of depth in the article that’s when he became a fan, hopping in fair-weather style). Also, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks experienced that even before their recent Stanley Cup successes and a trip into Philadelphia Flyers country these days will show you much the same as what Boston experienced as a resurgence to their fanbase just a year ago as well. Any limited measure of success can draw in fans of all types and even Flyer’s fans will tell you that there’s any number of jerks among their ranks the same as the once Stanley Cup perennial Devils will tell you about the bottom-dweling Ranger’s fans that would shit-talk their way through games.
Last season, for example, only 10 teams put up 100% (or better) in attendance, the Caps were one of them in the regular season while on the road to the President’s Trophy as the League Points leader:
Washington Capitals Verizon Center 18,277 749,357 100.0% while on the
While the Lightening were below the average for the regular season while coasting at the bottom of the standings
Tampa Bay Lightning St. Pete Times Forum 15,497 635,388 78.4%
Interestingly enough, the worst team in the league last season, the Edmonton Oilers finished with 100% attendance at Relex Place. Another interesting note, 2001–2002 Caps #9th place overall finish marked the single season record to that point in franchise history, drawing in 710,990 fans and 17,341 per game and continued to draw over 90% capacity despite losing the next several seasons including the first few post-lockout years. Which begs the question, who’s fans are really fair-weather?
2. No Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup is indeed the ultimate goal of any season, but a team is judged primarily on their expectation. By the measure of being expected to win the Stanley Cup in the present season it is impossible to discuss being over-rated since the quest has only just begun and thus far, but in starting the season in first, the Caps are meeting expectation by winning games.
If by the measure of last season, or perhaps the season before, when there were many sports writers and fans alike predicting great things for the Capitals, the failure to win the Lord Stanley’s Cup in the face of this could provide proof they are over-rated. Then again, weren’t the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Champions, by that measure were also over-rated last season since they were expected to win back-to-back and failed to? Or, dynasty leaning Detroit Red Wings who iced another All-Star laden team and failed to succeed also over-rated because they didn’t storm back to win? Perhaps even the legacy champion New Jersey Devils who seem to be contenders every season only to be unable to re-capture the title plagued with early exists for the last few seasons despite strong regular season numbers. Wait, maybe they cannot be over-rated because they all won once before? There’s some chicanery going on with that logic.
And, to the writer’s own Tampa Bay Lightening’s 2009-2010 team that was supposed to make the playoffs? A lineup featuring All Stars and long time pairing Martin St. Louis (previous Ross, Hartt, Pearson, Byng winner) and Lacavlier (previous Rocket winner) along with Stamkos (current Rocket winner) and the likes of Alex Tanguay, Ryan Malone, Steve Downie and Antero Niittymaki not only expected having a winning season but were among the best challenges in the South East to the Caps recent dominance and relatively assured a playoff berth due to a weak bottom half of the Eastern Confernce according to writers throughout the internet? Wouldn’t that line-up be over-rated on face value since the team featured a 12th place Eastern Conference finish averaging less than 1 point in the standings per game?
All-time there are much better examples of franchises expected to do well and yet failing to convert regular season experience into Stanley Cups. Of them, the St. Louis Blues might be the most over-rated team by numbers in this measure alone to never win a cup, featuring 28 quarter-final appearances and 3 SC appearances without winning. Many of those failing teams read like a whose who of All Starts including the venerable Brett Hull. Also notable are the Buffalo Sabre’s 23 and the Vancouver Canucks 24 quarter-final appearances that each saw 2 SC chances end in failure. The Los Angles Kings, who featured the mighty Wayne Gretzky, made 21 quarter-final appearances, as did the Caps, and in their lone SC chance both failed. The Ottawa Senators (current incarnation) 12 quarter finals and 1 SC appearance and the Florida Panter’s 3 quarter finals and 1 SC chance ended much the same. Then again, the San Jose Sharks 13 and the Winnipeg-Pheonix combine franchise 17 quarter-final chances never even got them to the Stanley Cup finals to lose.
But, is being over-rated just the act of never having a Cup that makes the expectation and subsequent failure? Maybe it is winning and then not being able to win again? How about 42 seasons the storied original six franchise Toronto Maple Leafs have not won, or the the 39 of the St. Louis Blues, or the 30 for the Winnipeg-Pheonix team, or the back-4-times-back former SC champion Islanders 25 seasons of futility or the Bruins 20. These aren’t even the All-time numbers, just the current streaks. In many cases, it is not like great players have not come through those franchises to make expectations but that they couldn’t convert it into a win.
Remember the New York Ranges lone win in a generation in 1994? Remember what became of that team? Look a little like the writer’s Tampa Bay Lightening’s recent post-cup trials?
3. Choke Artist. In many ways this is just building upon the concept that being over-rated means having not won a Stanley Cup from above. But lets explore a few more metrics in defending the Capitals franchise.
Is this because the President’s trophy winner Caps did not go on to win the Stanley Cup last year? Since the first expansion of the league beyond the original six even before the President’s Trophy was formally awarded the top team in the league was not the Stanley Cup winner the majority of the time. As a matter of fact 7 went on to win the cup and 6 exited in the first round since the awards inception.
What would be much better for the writer to have noted would be the All-Time appearance streaks versus the number of Cups won (or not, in this case). The Chicago Blackhawks made 28 straight post-season appearances and won zero cups in that time. The St. Louis Blues went 25 with zero cups. Next would be the Caps when they went 13 straight post-season (tied for 12th in longest all time streaks) but netted zero cups. After that are the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia all tied at 11 with zero Cups during the streak. Even then, the Atlanta-Calgary Flames franchise managed only 1 in 16 straight appearances.
Of course, you have to get to the Cup to win or lose it. The worst at this was St. Louis who made three straight appearances and lost all three. Of teams that advanced at least out of the first round but choked by never winning the Cup the Blackhawks were the worst offenders advancing 6 straight years without the Cup. And the year the Lightening were supposed to defend their cup, despite making the playoffs with 93 points they failed to make it out of the first round against the Ottawa Senators and have not returned since.
Winning the Cup is, in part, a Fluke – Consistency is not That’s my biggest defense to someone like M. Colman.
Eventually teams like the Capitals, Sharks and Cancucks who are the worst among the modern offenders of the 13 teams of the 30 not in possession of the Stanley Cup will win one. Simply by the merit of consistently performing year-in and year-out their time will come. The right puck bounce or deflection, the right hit or fight, the right combination players on the ice and opponents each round will provide each with the opportunity to live up to the statistical assumption that if you do something enough times it’ll end up a certain way.
The Caps historical notes are above, for better or worse (and, for the record though, as horrible at the Caps expansion and sophomore season’s were, Tampa Bay is the only team in NHL history to post four straight 50-loss seasons…), but, since we’re not talking purely historical according to M. Colman as he only seems to reference the last decade’s worth of material – we’ll use 1999-2000 through 2009-2010 (and skipping the 2004-05 lockout). Sure, the Caps haven’t won a cup and the Bolts have, but which is the overall better franchise in that same decade in reference? Well, the Caps started out better, the middle of the decade during a soft Caps team Tampa stormed up the standings and the latter part of the decade while the Caps rebuilt the Bolts have played very flat. You as the reader can decide
Post Season Appearances
Tampa Bay 4 (2003, 04, 06, 07)
Capitals 7 (2000, 01, 03, 04, 08, 09, 10)
SouthEast Division Winner
Tampa Bay 2 (2003, 04)
Capitals 5 (2000, 01, 08, 09, 10)
Eastern Conf Reg Season Champ
Tampa Bay 1 (2004)
Washington 1 (2010/President’s Trophy)
First round Exists
Last Place Finish in the Conf (neither finished last in the Division)
Tampa Bay 3 (2001, 2008, 09)
Capitals 3 (2004, 06, 07)
Individual awards because of Ovechkin lean heavy in the Caps favor including Hart (2), Pearson (3), Ross, Rocket (2), Calder, as well as other members winning +/-, Clancy, Vezina, Masterson and Adams
While for the Ligntening they have the Ross, Smythe, Pearson, Hart, Adams, Byng (2), Rockey (2), +/-
This really doesn’t even take into account ownership decision making in player development via the draft and minor league affiliation and how each team used its years in the cellar, nor does it really look at team dynamics through free-agency and dead-line deals in spending money based on income and profits played into salary cap usage, etc. It is just one brief glance at some cursory numbers.
The Coming Season
I’ve said my piece about this in other articles about the Caps and their division. This is not a scared Washington franchise, as M. Colman attempts to describe. It is a frustrated one that was prematurely bounced from the playoffs last season by a resurgent Montreal team. It is a hungry group of young players who have several years skating together under their current contracts to put together a post-season as memorable as the many Stanley Cup winners previous to the youth movements in Chicago and Pittsburgh recently won with. It is a driven group who achieve at a high level individually and are working toward doing that as a team this season to go beyond their regular season success. And, it is a team that knows they can and thus so far in the opening weeks of the season ranked up a SouthEast Division and Eastern Conference leading 8 points on 4 wins with a 1.5:1 goals differential. Sure, Tampa Bay pulled together 6 points on 3 wins but a 0.85:1 goal diff isn’t going to keep that win streak going for very long especially if those top three lines continue to under-perform as units as they have the past few seasons and that defensive corps doesn’t come together in front of a less than notable tandem in goal once again. There’s a lot of potential on paper, but as every Caps fan knows, paper only gets you so far down the stretch and it has not gotten Tampa to the stretch for five consecutive seasons of no playoff series wins now.