Capitals Hockey, It’s Still Not Cup Or Bust

Capitals hockey fans have been saying for three years now that it is “Cup or bust”.  For three years they’ve had the opportunity to say it again, because it hasn’t been true.  The Caps are off to their best start in franchise history at 6-0-0, and fans are again bringing up the phrase “Cup or bust.” And again, they are wrong.

Blackhawks were Cup or Bust

Capitals hockey

Capitals hockey star Ovechkin warms up (Icon SMI)

Looking back to the 2009-2010 season, it was a crucial year for the Chicago Blackhawks.  They had Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith all in need of new contracts at season’s end.  All three were going to demand high raises, and the Blackhawks weren’t going to have enough room under the salary cap to keep the mid-level players who got them there.  And that’s how their plan was designed.

The Blackhawks knew that the crash was coming, the only question was whether it would be before they had the Cup rings or after.  That year was truly a “Cup or bust” year for Chicago, because, as we’ve seen in 2010-2011 and the beginning of 2011-2012, they are now going to through a new rebuilding process.

Staggered Contracts

The Capitals are in no such circumstance.  General Manager George McPhee has been managing the cap differently, staggering his players’ contracts so they will not be in a situation where they have to re-sign three key players.  The Caps already have Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom under contract through 2021 and 2020, respectively. Brooks Laich is signed through 2017, and Joel Ward is signed through 2016.  Jeff Schultz and Jason Chimera are both signed through 2015.

The point has been made: the Caps aren’t going to have to sign many of their key pieces for a long time.  The two wild cards are Alex Semin (UFA after this season) and Mike Green (RFA after this season).  The Caps will also soon need new contracts for young defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner.

Much of the defensive core will need new deals, but those new deals coincide with potential departures of players like Dennis Wideman, John Erskine, and Roman Hamrlik.  There is also the question of Tom Poti, who may be forced out of hockey by injury.  His $2.87 million cap hit could relieve some pressure as well.

The Caps have more flexibility with their contracts.  In signing his players, McPhee has built himself out-clauses of sorts by the timing and length of the deals.  The young defensemen can get contracts as the older ones move out, and the core pieces of the offense are already locked up.

Capitals Hockey is an Attractive Option for Free Agents

Something else that will work in the Caps favor is their reputation.  Washington is thought of as a high-class organization, one that players want to come to so they can have a chance at a Cup.  Vets like Thomas Vokoun have already come to D.C. for less money to have what they feel is the best chance of winning.

Beyond the timing of the contracts, the Caps’ best players are just now entering their prime window of production.  There are highly touted prospects like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Stanislav Galiev who aren’t even AHL eligible yet.  Fans may be getting impatient, but this is not a “Cup or bust” year.  No worries fans, Capitals Hockey is built to compete for years to come.

  • Tom

    The Caps are certainly built to succeed for a long, long time. But the reality is – Conference Finals or bust.

    You can only fail in the playoffs so many times before the pressure from those failures is paralyzing. It won’t be a sexy place to play for free agents if they are asked 82 games a year about past failures. They have good players coming up the pipe but they are built to win right now. They have won the East two straight years but failed to deliver. Last year the East was there for the taking and they laid an egg against Tampa. They desperately need post season success.