Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wake Me in June

I'm back...did you miss me?

We are almost a quarter of the way through this season and the frustration level has already hit a fever pitch around here. What makes it even more frustrating is that every time we seem poised to leap from the roof, the Caps pull off a great win. So we smile, brush ourselves off and climb back inside to wait patiently for the big winning streak to turn around the season.

It hasn't come yet.

In fact, the only winning streak we've had to date is the three-game streak we had to kick off the season. Remember that one? We were already ordering playoff tickets and planning the parade route for the Cup. Since then, we've had three wins. Three. Perfectly timed, evenly spread out wins, but only three nonetheless.

And yet Caps fans are not alone in their frustrations. There is something very strange about this year; it's as though every team, not just the Caps, is having trouble doing the simplest things. The number of poorly played games I've seen this year far outweighs the number of great games I've seen.

There have been good moments, sure - the Caps beating Ottawa just last week; Modano's record-breaking goal; Jonathan Toew's beautiful shootout strike; Ovechkin and Crosby continuing to elevate their games. But everything else? It's been a study in mediocrity, with a sprinkling of shoddy officiating and a dusting of horrible hockey.

Right now the top three teams in the league are Ottawa, Detroit and Carolina. They're good teams, sure. But are their records due to an overload of talent and skill? They might be more a result of playing teams like the Sabres, the Oilers, the Caps and the Thrashers over and over again.

Even the decidedly mediocre teams - throw Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Tampa and even Anaheim in there as well, none of them are good right now. And all of those teams are but one loss away from the bottom of the conference. The division and conference standings could change in a heartbeat - and not in a good way.

Last year's playoffs were fairly humdrum across the board, but the regular season was exciting from beginning to end. There were no sure bets but it was exciting and unnerving, keeping fans on their toes right up until the very last game of the season. The differences a year can make are staggering:

- Sixteen of the thirty teams are currently at or below .500. A year ago today only twelve were in that category, with eight of them coming from the West.

- Nine teams have hit the twenty point mark, with no one cracking thirty. Last year on this date thirteen teams had 20+ points, and two, Buffalo and Anaheim, had 30+.

- Last year the difference between 15th and 8th in the East was eleven points; in the West it was nine. This year? Five and four, respectively.

- The Southeast Division was dominant last season, with three of the top eight teams coming from below the Mason-Dixon and one sitting just outside in ninth. This year all but one are out of the playoff picture and in fact hold three of the four bottom slots.

The differences continue - just look at the standings a year ago today:

And look at where we are today:

The product has grown stagnant, and while there are enough sparkling moments to keep the devoted fans hooked, you have to wonder how a league with so much obvious mediocrity, for whatever reason, is planning to attract casual fans.

Maybe we should just take the advice of my friends over at Interchangeable Parts and do a coaching lottery...at least it would bring us one night of entertainment.


DMG said...

I think a lot of this comes from increased parity, from the salary cap and that's what the NHL wanted. In so many markets the NHL is so far off the radar that people only pay attention if the local team is winning - for example the first pre-lockout year here in Atlanta saw the Thrashers adopt a marketing campaign during their playoff drive that included the phrase "there's plenty of room on the bandwagon".

The NHL is in a tough spot really. On the one hand they want people to support some of the fledgling markets and on the other hand they want people to act as hockey fans, not just fans of their local team.

IMO too much dominance can be a bad thing too. I'm having trouble caring about the NHL because N.E. is so much better than anyone else. You watch them once and say 'huh, that's impressive' and then you try to watch any other game and it's just like 'who cares? The Pats are just going to win it all in the end.'

CapsChick said...

It absolutely comes from the parity, and I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing. We saw how it can be done and done well the last few seasons.

And I actually really hate too much dominance as well - but that was what was great about last year. A lot of teams started off well and you didn't know how the standings would end up. Division titles were up in the air all year and actually changed hands quite a few times.

When everyone is equally interesting it's one thing; this year because everyone sucks equally it's frustrating as a hockey fan to find a game you can sit through without tearing your hair out. The Caps have too much talent to be playing like they are, and so do a lot of other teams. I don't know what the answer is, either - I don't know what was so magical about last year that is missing this year...

DMG said...

Maybe it's those new RBK jerseys! The players can't handle being 12% faster and 18% drier or whatever it is! So they just bumble around...

Or maybe it's that the moisture winds up in their gloves/skates and distracts them. There are so many Swedes and Russians in the league now and you know how whiny they are! Back in my day we played with broken tree trunks and no socks and walk 7 miles to the rink uphill both ways!

***slap,crash,boom,yelling, other noises associated with trying to wrestle the keyboard back from Don Cherry***

man this is way more fun than my econometrics take home exam....

DMG said...

oh wait...microeconomics exam....right...

CapsChick said...

Damn that Don Cherry! He's a sneaky little bugger. Do us all a favor while you have him there - shoot him with a tranquilizer dart and lock him up in a steel cage so he can't wreak any more havoc...

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I think the AHL is much MUCH more interesting at this point. Which is kind of sad, when you step back and think about it. I've hit the "Dear god, you can't do anything" level of despair with the Pens, but somehow the Bears still have hope in my eyes.... maybe because they can win something on the road.

Jimmy Jazz said...

It's the inconsistency and lack of effort that is most frustrating.

Chris & Sarah said...

After watching last nights Versus game between Carolina & Florida I would say that it's the excess of talent in the forward lines that put Carolina where they are. But Florida did make a good showing, it was nice watching 3 full periods of high action hockey.

The problem I see with the Caps is the lack of consistent play from game to game, or even period to period. The second period siesta has plagued this team from last season to this one. As much as I hate to say it, it may need a change in coaching staff to get us past this.

But as you have pointed out, the stats don't reflect where this team is in the standings. And if they were able to put together a winning streak lasting longer that the time it takes to get from one arena to the next we could move from last to middle of the playoff contending teams.

You know, if the Caps were a girl friend, they would have been kicked to the curb long ago.

(I humbly apologize for the previous politically incorrect sexist comment, and will now go slap myself with a frozen noodle)

(Just don't let Sarah see this post)