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Faith, Hope, Love, and the Capitals July 16, 2011

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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I was over at Development Camp today, for a couple of reasons. Catching up, seeing a live game, looking in on the equipment sale, I was doing all of that, and perhaps a bit more.

The intrasquad scrimmage was a well-fought game between two groups of prospects that all played like they wanted another look come rookie camp. Scoring was sufficient, a couple of scraps broke out, and the fans in attendance seemed to be loving every minute of it.

After the game, I ran into Capitals PA man Wes Johnson, who was holding court with some other Caps fans of better repute than myself. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, came another Caps fan who asked Wes when he expected George McPhee to be fired.


If you’re familiar with the Capitals fan base, then you probably know a fan or two just like this guy. To hear him tell it, every move the Caps have made this summer has been a mistake. Take the goalie situation: this guy was convinced that dealing Varlamov to Colorado was a complete disaster. When he said that now that Colorado had Varlamov, there would be no way the Capitals would even get a top ten pick out of it, I just tuned him out as a lost cause who would never listen to reason.

Of all of Colorado’s current blueliners, the best plus-minus rating anyone had last year was Shane O’Brien’s +1…and he spent the whole year in Nashville. Of the returning Avalanche rearguards, the best of the bunch had a MINUS 3 rating. I know Varly’s a good goaltender, but I don’t think that he’s going to step into the net and suddenly turn Colorado into an instant contender, thereby totally wrecking the Caps’ draft position next year. There are pessimists; there are fatalists; and then there are cynical Washington Capitals fans.

As an aside–and this isn’t even what I started this post to write about, by the way–people whose job it is to know these things seem to think George McPhee has done pretty well, actually.

Corey Massisak:

Considering what other teams had to spend, this almost certainly will be considered a successful offseason for McPhee and the Capitals, even though the moves ultimately won’t be judged until April or May.

E. J. Hradek:

If Varlamov is going to have a chance for success in Denver, he’ll have to stay healthy (injuries have limited him to no more than 27 games in each of his two previous NHL seasons) and get some defensive support from the guys in front of him. In two years under head coach Joe Sacco, the Avs have been an attacking team that can be fun to watch. On the flip side, however, they give up way too many quality scoring chances. Those kinds of chances usually lead to goals. The Avs surrendered a league-high 3.5 goals per game in 2010-11….Talented, but still largely unproven, Varlamov will have a chance to grow with his new team, provided, of course, he doesn’t have to carry the entire group on his back.

More Masisak:

It would be hard to argue that any of the other nine teams planning to spend less $4 million have a No. 1 as accomplished as Vokoun or a No. 1A as talented as Neuvirth. Thanks to the deft maneuvering of Capitals general manager George McPhee, the Capitals have both.

Washington also might have the best No. 3 goaltender in the League in Holtby, who was dynamite for the Capitals when needed last season (10-2-2, 1.79 GAA, .934 save percentage).

The Capitals had an envious situation in net before this past weekend because of their three highly-rated young goalies. They still have two of them, but the Capitals also have one of the top veterans in the League and the extra cap space has allowed McPhee to improve the team’s depth in other areas.

Dan Rosen:

Caps GM George McPhee shocked the hockey world Saturday by signing veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun to a bargain shopper’s dream contract of one year and $1.5 million. Vokoun made $6.3 million last season in Florida, but he was disappointed with his offers on July 1 and decided that he wants to win and the Capitals give him the best chance to do so. (Emphasis added)

Vokoun reportedly spurned bigger money offers to come to Washington, and McPhee admitted he basically got lucky.

He didn’t with his other moves. They were calculated, including the trade of Semyon Varlamov to Colorado.

I could scrounge around in NHL.com’s archives going all the way back to July 1, but you get the idea. The professionals think the Capitals have done well with their offseason moves, and Tomas Vokoun is both taking less money, and betting his championship aspirations on a one-year deal in DC that looks like it’s going to end up as a rental.

And yet, at least one fan out there still thinks George McPhee needs to be fired. I expect there are more Caps fans out there wondering the same thing.

It makes you wonder: can fans like that genuinely be said to love their team? Consider:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

–1 Corinthians 13:1-8a

I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again, and if I have to, I’m going to keep right on saying it until the day I die. We have got to love our team, Caps fans. We cannot just accept them as our go-to hockey fix, strictly because we happen to be from the DC area. We have got to Love our team, and that capital L is intentional.

Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t ever criticize. This is not “our Capitals, right or wrong.” Let’s put it out there: the Capitals haven’t exactly been on the side of the angels for every minute of their existence–just ask Pierre Turgeon–and the results on the ice have certainly proven that winning the Stanley Cup is anything but easy. Have the Capitals been wrong sometimes? ABSOLUTELY.

But it is an entirely different matter–and, I have to contend, a stretch too far–to say, “our Capitals, always wrong.” That is not love–not even with a lower-case L.

If you genuinely love someone or something, you take them warts and all. That’s not to say you never buy Compound W; it’s simply to say that you accept the imperfections as part of a bigger, more loveable package.

When it comes to matters of personnel–which seems to be the perpetual sticking point for some–there are always arguments that can be made, both ways, about any decision. No trade is perfect; no free agent signing is perfect; and, what the heck, not even every can’t-miss #1 draft pick is perfect (yes, Alex Ovechkin, I am looking at you.)

But, by the same token, not every trade is bone-headed; not every free agent signing is idiotic; and not every draft is a complete and total stinker. And if your disdain for the Capitals is so thorough that you can’t even concede that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, then something’s wrong. And if you’re asking when George McPhee is going to get fired, when the professional consensus seems to be that the Capitals’ offseason moves have been just peachy, thank you very much, you might want to cut your team some slack. And if one of the best goaltenders on the market this summer takes less money to sign a one-year rental, because he says he wants to win, then I must maintain that your malignity may be marginally misplaced.

It is time for us to Believe. It is time for us to Hope. And it is time for us to Love our team.

But let me go even one step further than that–even though I’m already over 1400 words as it is.

I’ve been out of the loop for most of the summer, and there are some loose ends on last year’s charts that I have yet to tie up. I also have next year’s Games Remaining chart to set up, and it’s going to be a little more complex (and colorful) than last year’s version. But I’m having a hard time getting into all of that.

Yes, I’ve been keeping an eye on the major news–Bruins win, Vancouver burns, signings, trades, the big stuff. The rest, I hate to admit, I haven’t been paying a whole lot of attention to.

And that’s because it hurt to see the Caps get swept by Tampa Bay this spring. The Caps’ untimely playoff ouster had me asking, “How could this happen?” And yet, I have to suspect some Caps fans took it as a textbook case of “See, I told you so.”

I hate to even consider that idea, because that would mean there would have been Caps fans out there who were happy, in their own way, to see the team lose. And yet, if that embittered Caps fan at Fan Fest today was at all representative–and I have to believe he was–then exactly what, Caps Nation, does that say about us?

I have to put forward that it would say that we have to do better. Not the owners, not the managers, not the coaches, not the players–we have to do better. We have to Love our team, with a capital L. If the Capitals lose in the playoffs, we should not start puffing ourselves up and saying, “You see, what did I tell you?” It needs to hurt. Because that would mean that we really do love our team.

I’ve gone a lot longer with this than I had initially thought I would, so let me try to sum this all up.

If we love the Capitals–and I mean love them–then we need to understand and accept that they’re doing the best job they know how to do. No one is perfect; no team is flawless; and no decision is without trade-offs. But we still need to love our Capitals, as imperfect as they always will be. No, that doesn’t mean we ignore all wrongs. It means, rather, that we don’t automatically assume that just because the Capitals have done X, that the right decision must therefore have been Y.

Either we let Love conquer, or we let the Capitals get conquered. The choice, believe it or not, is all and entirely up to us. I hope and pray that we will make the right choice.



A Modest Proposal July 5, 2011

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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I just got back from watching the fireworks with a friend, followed by a bit of a post-show mini-celebration amongst ourselves. I actually choked up at “The Stars And Stripes Forever”: I’m like that, I guess. I know the lyrics to the chorus, and so that piece is more than just a marching band song with a piccolo section solo. “Let despots remember the day, when our fathers with mighty endeavor, proclaimed as they marched to the fray, that by their might and by their right it was forever.” Anyway. I love my Nation–it’s just my government that drives me nuts. But I’d better not get started on that one.

Anyway, after the show was over, we got to talking about a lot of Americana, and the subject eventually turned to patriotic songs. There’s a lot of ’em. But then “God Bless America” came up, and I mentioned that seeing Lauren Hart and Kate Smith doing a duet on that during the playoffs almost makes me want to be a Flyers fan when I see it. (I said almost.)

If I understand the NHL’s rules correctly, the pregame anthem doesn’t necessarily have to be “The Star-Spangled Banner.” So, “America the Beautiful,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” or even “God Bless the USA” (if completed in under 90 seconds) should be just as acceptable.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because Caps fans don’t seem to get this whole “loudly, proudly, and respectfully” thing. The “Red!” is selfish, and that Baltimore “O!” has needed to go for years. If When we make the Stanley Cup Finals, they’re going to show the anthems on national television. Do we really want to act so churlishly toward our own national anthem? On national television?

Not trying to get too current-events-y here, but I know there are a lot of Americans out there who think Washington is generally out of touch with America. Disrespecting the national anthem is about as out of touch with America is it gets, I must humbly submit.

I hate to propose this, but “The Star Spangled Banner” may need to go. I hate typing that, because that’s The Song of the United States: it’s sacred, for heaven’s sake. But what I hate even above typing that proposal, is hearing such a sacred song get desecrated, night after night after night. Our Nation, and our Anthem, deserve better–and especially in the nation’s capital. And if fans here can’t respect our nation’s anthem, and if NHL rules permit other patriotic songs to be rendered, then that’s what we need to do.

A couple of standards spring immediately to mind: “America” (“My country, ’tis of thee…”) and “America the Beautiful” (“O beautiful for spacious skies…”) I don’t feel the need to explain these: they’re patriotic standards for a reason.

For those with a more modern bent, there’s “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood. Yes, it’s doable in under 90 seconds. In fact, Greenwood’s original rendition, first verse and chorus, runs about 62 seconds, and it’s not exactly allegro. A slightly quicker tempo could very easily fit in under a minute, and lowering it by a couple of keys would make it more singable by the entire crowd.

Unfortunately, I suspect this idea will be dead on arrival, assuming anyone with any say in the matter even sees it to begin with. I don’t propose it lightly, and I don’t propose it for transient reasons. The yapping during the anthem–in my view, an act of utter disrespect to anthem and country–has been going on for years. “Loudly, proudly, and respectfully” gets about as much compliance as a “No Smoking” sign in Guangzhou (or, for that matter, all the “no scalping” signs around Verizon Center, but that’s a whole other, other rant.)

We need to be serious about honoring America during the time of game so designated for such purpose. And if “The Star-Spangled Banner” is going to continue getting less respect than Rodney Dangerfield, and if other patriotic songs are permitted, then we need a new song to honor America–and I mean honor it–at Verizon Center.