Timing is everything.  On the day of the first home NBA playoff game in DC since 2008, the Redskins make Robert Griffin III available to the media.  On the morning after a tough Game 3 loss by the Wizards, the Capitals make a regime change by firing Coach Adam Oates and not giving General Manger George McPhee a new contract.  A sleepy DC that had been on edge for two weeks awaiting word of the status of a GM that went back to the team’s final days in Landover received quite a shock at brunch.  For the first time in a while, the Capitals are the area franchise in the biggest transition.

It had to happen.  Not many General Managers last for 17 years at any spot…especially if they haven’t delivered a Stanley Cup.  The closest the Caps got under GM GM was in his first season at the helm when the Teal Eagle jersey clad bunch (unless they were sporting the alternate Capitol + sticks top) got swept in the Finals by Detroit.  Some compare the Caps reaching the Finals in McPhee’s first season to Maryland football winning the ACC in Ralph Friedgen’s first campaign;  both had initial success and were ride out the capital of their initial success with a nucleus not completely of their doing.  And both came under fire years later when teams completely built with their players faltered.

Location, location, location– some say that McPhee was able to extend his stay in DC because the Caps were realigned from the competitive Atlantic Division into the Southeast early in his tenure.  And while Tampa Bay and Carolina won Cups in the seasons before and after the lockout, the grouping certainly seemed “Southleast” the last couple of years (2013 in particular).  Once in a division with a questionable name but quality competition, the Caps may have been waiting for that April awakening that always occurred against division foes– only to find the Metropolitan not nearly as forgiving.

McPhee tried to get the team back to the Finals by adding high-priced veterans until the team got too old…and owner Ted Leonsis with being patient about McPhee developing a plan to get this team built from the ground up.  After reaching the postseason in 2008 and winning a first round series in 2009, the Caps were poised to make noise in 2010 as the President’s Cup Trophy winner.  But a 3-1 First Round series lead evaporated against Montreal Goalie Jaroslav Halak– and since then the team’s been chasing its proverbial tail.  Switching styles and goalies like socks.  Making reactive instead of proactive moves.  In that way Adam Oates was the perfect final coach of the McPhee era:  juggling lines not just between games but between periods.

The team finished 13th in scoring and 21st in goals against this past winter:  instead of blaming a revolving door between the pipes (four netminders…with Jarslav Halak fittingly coming to the Caps via trade to wrap up the insanity), a bad blue line didn’t help things.  Fourteen defenseman saw ice time this season–and only three (Alzner, Carlson, Green) played at least 55 games.  There seemed to be constant movement up and down I-83 to minor league Hershey– providing a lack of consistency that seemed to provide problems on a regular basis.  The inability to bolster the blue line was one of the key factors in the Caps being unable to make the playoffs.  How many quick goals were allowed?  How many 2-goal leads evaporated?  At times the defense was offensive…and not in a good way.

Another factor in the team’s decline was the lack of even-strength success for Alex Ovechkin (24 of his 51 goals and 15 of his 28 assists came on the power play–add in a shorthanded assist and the majority of his points came in special teams situations).  Some blame can be fixed on the GM– the lack of a solid #2 center definitely hurt– but some blame can be placed on the coach.  Instead of keeping Ovechkin with Backstrom– the first line had a slot-machine feel to it.  And unfortunately the Caps rarely got three pineapples in a row.

Seventeen years is a long time to be anywhere.  The Capitals are definitely the better for being under George McPhee’s guidance…but the time has come for a fresh perspective and different approach to building around the current nucleus before it gets too old (six of the top seven goal-scorers from this years team were at least 28).  A new GM with his coach in charge.  Where as the pressure was previously on McPhee to make things work with the coach…and the coach to make things work with Ovechkin/Backstrom/Green/goalie du jour, the next era will be on the shoulders of #8.  Will the captain be able to adjust to a new regime?  George McPhee’s legacy is complete.  Adam Oates’ legacy, however brief as coach, is set.  How Alex Ovechkin will go down in Caps history is up to him as much as it will be dependent on the moves made this spring by his owner.

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