Tag Archives The Win Column

The last opportunity for there to be fundamental change in the 2011-12 Washington Capitals has come and gone.

The dust has cleared on Monday’s relatively quiet trading deadline, with several teams tinkering in a flurry of last-minute deals. Going into the final day of transactions, it seems the Caps were poised to make a deal, either conceding the final twenty games of the season to fate and building for tomorrow, or refusing to back out of a tight race for the back door of the NHL playoffs and adding temporary reinforcements.

Days ago, vice president and general manager George McPhee seemed open to strategies, depending on where the Capitals, now in 9th place in the Eastern Conference, stood at the trading deadline. Ultimately, he adopted neither. As McPhee explained the lack of deals, “there wasn’t anything there that would’ve been the right thing for our club.” McPhee went on to elaborate that there were only a few sellers league-wide, and a few were in the Capitals’ division, making player movement a difficult task in an already tough market.

Given the context of the current roster and the season it has underwent, McPhee was right in not forcing movement. If an ideal trading parter wasn’t available, then the Capitals were faced with the possibility of taking a loss on whatever deal they made. Mortgaging the team’s future for a temporary boost over the final 20 games would’ve been the fan-friendly move, but ultimately would’ve hurt a future version of the franchise that has a healthy first line center for 82 games and a more varied scoring attack. Writing off 2011-12 as a loss, with so many possible points left on the table, in order to stockpile young players and draft picks, would’ve proved just as detrimental. You can’t win a Stanley Cup if you don’t make the playoffs, and even when you come in as an also-ran, you cannot throw away a perfectly achievable invitation to the 16-team tournament because the circumstances aren’t ideal.

I hope that was as bad as it gets. It’s hard to imagine how it could get much worse than last night’s 5-0 loss against a depleted Carolina Hurricanes squad. Cal me an optimist, but if that’s the low point, and the team can pull it together for the final 23 games of the season, this campaign won’t be a lost cause.

That is not to say, with less than a week until the NHL’s trade deadline, that the status quo is good enough to make the playoffs. Change needs to and will occur. The Capitals are too close to the Eastern Conference’s top eight teams to be sellers, but with a nearly-full payroll and the very real chance there will be no postseason hockey in D.C., general manager George McPhee will also need to be a very cautious buyer.

This is life in the Phone Booth. Things are never as good, or bad, as they seem. Even after the debacle at RBC Center, the 2011-12 Capitals are not a lost cause. Yet.

He milked the recruiting cycle from every conceivable angle. Untold promises, swaying of high school teammates, cryptic tweets, leading public appearances, and photos in full Buckeye attire. When the dust settled on Friday night, Stefon Diggs became a Maryland Terrapin.

I wrote in September about how Maryland’s garish new uniform set is designed to appeal to players like Diggs (who I mentioned specifically as a marketing target for the new threads). There were certainly many factors that played into Diggs’ decision to pick the Terps over Ohio State, Auburn, and Florida, but if it’s not clear from the photo, Diggs likes the gear. Diggs himself, in tandem with a re-tooled roster and coaching staff, will represent the new marketing tool for rebuilding a program that could be described as the ACC’s most intriguing “fixer-upper.”

The Terps will win more that two games in Randy Edsall’s second year as head coach. Diggs will contribute to that, certainly, but his impact will be felt exponentially if he stays at the forefront of the team’s identity. The most prized recruit, perhaps in school history, is actually the best recruiting tool Maryland currently has.

The loss is  a tricky statistic. It rarely tells the whole story, and in Guthrie’s case, doesn’t even come close. Jeremy Guthrie, it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

In the past five seasons, Jeremy Guthrie has absorbed 65 Oriole losses. In other words, 17% of the time they played “Hard Day’s Night” as the stadium cleared out, an L was going next to Guthrie’s name on the score sheet. In those five seasons, there have been well over 100 pitchers-of-record in Baltimore. For perspective, loss-machine Daniel Cabrera did not account for as many defeats (59) in his five-year reign as Oriole whipping boy. Nobody has taken the brunt of this era of Baltimore baseball harder than Jeremy Guthrie.

This is not to say that Jeremy Guthrie is blameless in every one of his losses. Lack of run support has long plagued Baltimore’s top pitchers, but Guthrie had his share of throws he’d like back. In 2009, he surrendered a league-leading 35 home runs to opposing batters. In 2010, presumably to reel opponents’ power numbers in, Guthrie hit the second-most batsemn in the AL (16).

The only thing more obsolete than the NFL Pro Bowl is complaining about the NFL Pro Bowl. Fans have been tired of the former for years and have now just given up on the latter and simply stopped watching. Making the Pro Bowl the NFL’s black sheep event is warranted for all the usual reasons people list.

There may have been a time when the NFL needed the Pro Bowl. That time is not 2012. I’m not propsing that it be tweaked, moved or reinvent it. The NFL needs to cut bait and simply can the Pro Bowl as we know it. So what does the league do the week before or the week after the Super Bowl? Tap the one asset the NFL has where there is any headroom for growth: new talent. College football all-star games are already suffering from “bowl sprawl,” with five major games in January. The future NFL star is the lowest-hanging fruit the NFL could possibly ask for.

Imagine if the NFL (with the cooperation of the NFLPA, which already stages a college all-star game), put on a top-flight all star game in Hawaii or Florida featuring the best draft-eligible players. The NFL Draft and Combine grow larger every year and this would be a great opportunity for NFL fans not immersed in the college game become familiar with their future NFL stars. Who wouldn’t watch that? It’s a slam-dunk. Roger Goodell, earn your extension and make this happen.

It’s been an emotional 48 hours. Let’s call it a “cooling off period.” If you said anything bananas on Facebook or Twitter or to an entire room full of your friends, so be it. All is forgiven, tensions were running high, after all. It was an abnormally stressful situation in perhaps the biggest game in a decade for Baltimore Ravens fans.

Now that the cooling off period is over, and you’ve perhaps retracted or rethought some of the things you said or wrote, how do you feel towards Billy Cundiff? If you’re not experiencing something nearing “empathy” by now, that’s a problem.

I’m not saying you can’t be frustrated or wring your hands over the should-haves and what-ifs. That’s natural when you’re so invested in a cause that fails, especially one you have no direct control over. However at this point, the deconstruction of the Ravens 23-20 loss needs to be about the game and the playoff run in its entirety, not a single play (which happened to be the last play of the season).

Billy Cundiff did as we all should and will do in life: he tried and failed. There is literally no reason for Cundiff to have not given his best effort under the circumstances. Things could’ve gone down differently. A timeout could’ve been burned, a catch could have been made, a block could’ve been sealed just a bit longer – nobody is faultless on an NFL Sunday. Nobody. AFC Championship games included.

So ruling out the fact that Cundiff didn’t try and make the kick, what are we left with? The answer is that we are forced to confront our own doubts, fears, failures, and fallibility. If you’re screaming at Billy Cundiff still a day or two later, Google mapping Lee Evans’ home or a deranged Niners “fan” sending death threats to Kyle Williams via Twitter, you have a lot more going on than fandom.

A sparse chant of “let Joe throw!” echoes down from a small cadre of fans in purple camo pants sitting in the 200-level. From the same corner of M&T Bank Stadium, a season ticket holder shouts in a hoarse Dundalk pitch “let Rice run the f$#%ing ball!” Their dissonance melds into a single cacophony that breezes in the general direction of Malcolm “Cam” Cameron. The Ravens offensive coordinator hears none of this. He glances up at the game clock. 5:54 remains in the third quarter. It is Christmas Even 2011, and the Ravens have just stretched their lead over the Cleveland Browns to 20-0. Nobody seems pleased.

They say the best position to have in a football town is backup quarterback. You get to wear a baseball cap and a pair of headphones and look like you’re listening intently during timeouts. Nobody knows what you might be capable of if called in for duty. Thus, you might be the next Joe Montana. If backup QB is the most desirable job in football, offensive coordinator ranks dead last, just behind the guy responsible for washing Terrence Cody’s jock.

The play-caller is the most important decision-maker in the scope of a single football game. A non-play-calling head coach might make a crucial “go for it on 4th” decision or throw a pivotal challenge flag, but ultimately, everything that leads a team into those situations is dictated by the decisions made by the offensive coordinator. Cam Cameron made 62 decisions on that chilly Christmas Eve afternoon. Every single one of them was questioned. Maybe Cam Cameron deserves to be questioned. To a certain extent, so does every decision maker in pro sports. However, what Cameron endures publicly would make most of us crumble privately. How much of it is warranted, and how much of it is “Mobtown” simply piling on?

41 down, 41 to go. The Capitals 2011-12 season has been at times a callback to the dominance of recent years and at other times a farce nearing the woeful Capitals of the late 1970s. The result? A statistically average club that can’t seem to decide which way it’s trending from one week to the next.

We’ve had a six-goal loss, a six-goal win, and a coaching change. To me, that sums to it up better than any specific analysis, but here’s some of that anyway.

Tim Tebow is getting help from outside forces. There’s nobody left who disputes this. However, what most people don’t know is that the higher power orchestrating these miraculous plays is actually the tandem of me and my college roommate/best man Jimmy. Every time we talk on the phone and simul-watch a Broncos game, they come back and win. This is not a stretch of the truth for the purposes of writing a column. I will swear on whatever scriptural text you shove in front of me. We are 8-0. Clearly, something is happening here.