The Opossum-Palooza

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NHL Preview: Washington Capitals

In light of the fact that I am now way behind on the NHL previews, I'm doing two in one day today. Which brings us to part fifteen of our thirty part series. In this case, that means it's finally time for me to preview my favorite team, the Washington Capitals. (Because of the technical difficulty induced delay, Eric at Off Wing Opinion already beat me to this, but still read mine anyway.)

Back in 1972, when the Washington Senators packed up and moved to Texas, the Nation's Capital was faced with a serious quandary. The Senators' departure left a gaping hole in the local sports landscape, which suddenly found itself without a comically bad team to be the butt of everybody's jokes. The Washington Bullets were consistent playoff contenders just six years away from their first (and currently only) NBA championship, and the Redskins had just reached Super Bowl VII under head coach George Allen. Luckily for DC sports fans everywhere, the Washington Capitals played their first season in 1974-75 and saved them from the torture of having only to succesful teams to root for, going 8-67-5 in their inaugural year (a mark that still stands as the all time record for the worst record in an NHL season).

The Capitals' reign as the biggest joke in Washington sports lasted somewhere between eight and ten years (depending on who you ask) before they handed the mantle over to the Bullets. In 1983, they made the playoffs for the first time, and continued to do so for seventeen of the next twenty seasons before missing the 1997 playoffs (They made up for it by going all the way o the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998). But don't let a string of playoff appearances fool you. For all their regular season success, the Capitals rarely made it past the first round of the playoffs, usually as a result of a horrible, heartbreaking loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In fact, out of eighteen playoff appearances, the Capitals only advanced to the third round of the playoffs only twice.

The long term results of the team constantly hovering just below "great" but just above "mediocre" meant that they weren't bad enough to earn high draft picks, but they weren't good enough to attract premier players. That all changed when current owner Ted Leonsis purchased the team in 1999 and began binging on high-priced free agents, ultimately culminating in the spectacular disaster that was the 2003-04 season, a season that eventually saw the team trade Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Gonchar, Peter Bondra and then NHL leading scorer Robert Lang. Which is why the team now finds itself once again occupying the throne of "Worst Team in DC". With a team stocked mostly with rookies and journeymen, the Capitals finished 2006 with fourth worst record in the NHL.

The outlook for the Caps isn't all gloom and doom, though. If you've payed even the slightest bit of attention to the hockey highlights on Sportscenter (I realize you probably haven't) you know about last year's Rookie of the Year Alex Ovechkin. Perhaps the best young players the NHL has seen since Wayne Gretzky took the ice for the Edmonton Oilers, Ovechkin single-handedly won several games for the Caps last year, and should show marked improvement this year. Helping him out will be Alexander Semen, returned from his "compulsory military service" in Russia, and fan favorite Richard Zednik, who returns to the Caps after three years in Montreal. The added firepower should help to take some pressure of Ovechkin, allowing him to really flourish.Being the unabashed homer that I am, the Caps are my pick to surprise everyone by making a run at the playoffs during the 2006-07 season.

When it comes to Capitals blogging, you've got a whole slew of options. Be sure to check out Japer's Rink, Capital Punishment, Bleatings From a Caps Nut, Puckhead's Thoughts and A View From the Cheap Seats. If that's not enough, don't forget that DCSportsChick is a very respectable Caps fan, and Off Wing Opinion, being based locally, tends to give the Caps more than their fair share of coverage as well. Last but not least, don't forget to check out Caps owner Ted Leonsis' blog, Ted's Take.

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At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn straight! :-P
More to come on the Caps, too! Just wait till hockey season really starts and I'm in town more ;-)

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Senor Beavis said...

Worst team in DC? If the Redskins keep playing with Stanley Richard-esque abandon, and if they win the coin toss with the Nationals, they might be second-best team in DC. Depending on whether you count my surprisingly resurgent Hoyas.

It's tough sledding for a Caps fan in Chicago without Center Ice, so I'll be leaning on you guys during the season.


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