Spark for the Capitals 2011-2012 makeover flame?

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Could it have been a fight on December 12, 2010 at Madison Square Garden, and not another short playoff run, that finally proved some major roster adjustments were needed for the Washington Capitals?

In a 7-0 slaughter at the hands of the New York Rangers, Captain Alex Ovechkin not only dropped the gloves to dance with Brandon Dubinsky, but then pleaded for his teammates on the bench to act like they have some pride and a fighting spirit.

Did general manager George McPhee sit down and re-watch HBO’s 24/7 after the early playoff exit and see the ferocity and frustration of his superstar, captured so well by the documentary-style cameras, towards his own bench?

Adding Matt Hendricks last offseason helped, but it was a small step towards what is happening currently. DJ King was probably expected to add a little more than he did, but as an enforcer, he was a one-off tough guy and not part of an overall rugged culture change.

That change is upon the team and fan base at Kettler and Verizon Center with the addition of veteran forwards Troy Brouwer and Jeff Halpern as well as defenseman Roman Hamrlik.

Could this forward duo help take the “energy guy” burden off of Ovechkin and allow him to focus more on playmaking? Can Hamrlik do the same thing for Mike Green? Is there anyone that can create more space for Alexander Semin, or could that possibly happen as a byproduct of a culture change for the team?

I’m confident we won’t have to wait until next year’s playoffs to see if this new bloodstream encased in sandpaper has made an impact. It will show in the body language and success of both Ovechkin and hardworking forward Brooks Laich, who I also think played a big role in convincing the Capitals front office to shake things up, right from the beginning of the 2011-2012 season.

7:00 PM on Saturday, October 8th can’t get here fast enough.

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Caps’ Irbe gone; Pittsburgh Guerin-teed more leadership

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Is it a sick coincidence that we are still in the NHL post-season and even though both of their season’s are over, on the same day the Washington Capitals lost and the Pittsburgh Penguins won?

Caps goalie coach Arturs Irbe, after two seasons, has decided to leave the organization. It was for personal and family reasons, was the explanation provided by a Capitals spokesperson.

Japer’s Rink broke the story and you can read more details here: Caps goalie coach Arturs Irbe won’t be back next season.

After hockey has been a defining part of his life for so long, is Irbe tired of the game and the commitment? Or could the personal reasons have to do with his take on where this team is going?

With free agency, the NHL Draft and potential trades set to happen across the hockey landscape, who knows what the Caps will do. I am extremely eager to see how general manager George McPhee will shape the 2011-2012 squad, but this move doesn’t sit well with me.

I’m all for fans in Verizon Center waving red flags, but I hate to see them pop up out of nowhere in the front office/coaching staff. Hopefully in the long run this isn’t a big deal, but unless more details surface I find it odd and unsettling.

To top off losing Irbe’s 568 games of regular season experience (and 51 playoff games), our friends in Pittsburgh are at it again.

The Penguins acquired forward Bill Guerin at the trade deadline of the 2008-2009 regular season, much to the chagrin of many Caps fans. There he helped eliminate Washington from the post-season on the way to hoisting his 2nd Stanley Cup.

Today, a team with an owner in Mario Lemieux, who every player in the NHL should look up to, respect and be eager to learn from continued to show respect to the idea an organization can’t have enough positive leadership, adding Guerin back in the fold as player development coach (Guerin embraces new role with Penguins).

Bill Guerin’s career numbers from hockeydb.com include 18 NHL seasons, 1,263 regular season games (103 more playoff games), and a pair of Stanley Cup championships. He also played in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Olympic Games for the United States. He has been around the block and has hardware to show for it.

I can’t say the position duties and requirements are 100% the same, but in comparison Steve Richmond is the Capitals director of player development.

He played with the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, and Los Angeles Kings. According to hockeydb.com he played in a total of 133 NHL games, including no playoff appearances.

This is not to say that Richmond is not fantastic at his job and a very good person, I know very little about him. But the point I’d like to make is that championship organizations, and organizations that strive to become elite, find ways to bring in as much leadership and championship experience as they can when they recognize an available asset.

Here’s to the Washington Capitals learning from those around the sports landscape and taking another step towards a championship and elite level status in 2011-2012.

Capitals northern exposure – Welcoming Winnipeg

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Just about a week ago it was announced the Atlanta Thrashers were to be sold to True North Sports & Entertainment and, with NHL board of governors approval on June 21, would move to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Hockey loving fans in Canada have been ecstatic ever since, while the Southeast Division was upset, or better yet, will be geographically challenged for at least a season.

This tweak in proximity can actually prove to be a good thing for the Washington Capitals.

From Katie Carrera’s blog post on Capitals Insider:

The length of a round-trip flight to Winnipeg from Dulles airport is 2,460 miles, according to webflyer.com.

Three trips to Manitoba may be inconvenient but some additional exposure to the Canadian atmosphere can do the boys in red (well, white since they’ll be on the road) some good.

MTS Centre - New NHL home

Even though the Tampa Lightning are a solid team, and knocked the Caps out of the playoffs this year, they do not have a fan base as consistently passionate and raucous as will welcome the Caps in Winnipeg, no matter what the name of the team is.

Read this Winnipeg Free Press article to see the eagerness and desperation that has been building up and will explode in the MTS Centre night in and night out: Season ticket wait list capped at 8,000 following 17-minute sellout.

It was Tampa Bay’s head coach Guy Boucher, early in this year’s playoffs, who said, “I always believe it’s not about momentum. It’s about desperation.”

That feeling and the chip on the shoulder that fans, who had their team stolen previously, will create an electric atmosphere that the Caps will have to endure and produce in multiple times.

Currently there are intense regular season games on the road in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Montreal and Boston, but is there a regular season environment when Washington visits a Southeast Divisional opponent? Carolina?

Winnipeg, the city if not the team, will test the Capitals and prepare them better for the post-season better than any other divisional rival has over the past 4 years.