Keeler: Capitals face some difficult choices

This should be a very interesting offseason for the Washington Capitals. If I were a Capitals’ fan, which I am not, I would be very upset at a franchise that seems to do nothing but underachieve.

It seems like year after year the Capitals have plenty of talent. Many years they’ve had one of the best teams in the regular season only to flop in the playoffs. This year they did not even wait for the playoffs to flop.

The Capitals were eliminated from playoff contention last night as Columbus clinched the final spot, but let’s be honest the Capitals were really eliminated way before that.

The Capitals started out slow this season and have never really recovered. They did win 10 out of 14 games during a stretch in late October-early-November, but they never really used that momentum to their advantage.

Washington had a stretch in January where it lost eight of 10 games. The Capitals still had plenty of chances to sneak into the playoffs, but lost six out of seven games in the last two weeks, before finally winning their last two in a row.

Even if the Capitals had made the playoffs, would it even matter? They won their division five of the last six years, but have not it made it past the conference semifinals during that time.

If you look at the statistics, the Capitals don’t look too bad. They are 14th in goals per game, which isn’t great but not terrible either. The Capitals lead the NHL in power-play percentage. The problem seems to be on defense. They are 24th in goals against. They are allowing 2.9 goals per game, while scoring 2.7.

Washington owner Ted Leonsis has some thinking to do in the offseason.

Adam Oates was a great player in his time, but if the Capitals don’t make the playoffs this season I would have to think the Washington Capitals coach could be fired. Recently, he called out star player Alexander Ovechkin for quitting on a play during a recent game.
Oates could easily be right, but saying it publicly is probably not the smartest way to handle it.

It simply draws more attention to the struggling team and divides a locker room.

Ovechkin is a great player, he leads the NHL in goals (50), but he is not known for his defensive play. The Capitals are -34 when he is on the ice, which is the worst in the NHL. How does that happen to the top goal-scorer in hockey?

I’ve never been a big Ovechkin fan. I’ve always thought he was over-rated, and quite frankly he’s never led his team to a championship. I believe when the pressure is on, he doesn’t deliver.

There’s not much the Capitals can do about Ovechkin. They could trade him, he’s due to get about 10 million a year through 2021. I’m sure there would be some takers, but do you want to trade away your star player? Ovechkin is a great offensive player. The reality is he is popular with the fans and helps sell tickets.

However, I don’t think the Capitals can win a Stanley Cup with him. That’s why I think this is such a tough decision for Leonsis.

What is more important — putting fans in the stands or winning the Stanley Cup? Personally, I think you trade him, but only if you can get some real value, and some players who will give you the best shot at winning it all. Let there be no doubt about it, if you win it all fans will come to watch and support the team. Everybody loves a winner.

Of course, it’s not all Ovechkin’s fault that the Capitals have underachieved. He’s not a defenseman. He’s not the goalie. The Capitals have plenty of issues, and Ovechkin is only one.

I think everyone could be on the chopping block in the offseason and rightfully so.

This is the first time the Capitals have missed the playoffs since 2007. That’s something that Washington fans don’t want to see turn into a trend, and the only way to keep that from happening is by making changes.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd