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Capital Makeover: Will Ovechkin be Traded?

My hometown Washington Capitals have let go longtime general manager George McPhee and former Capital center and head coach Adam Oates after a trying regular season. The Caps finished one spot out of the playoff seedings to cap an up-and-down season.

mcphee oates outMcPhee was a mainstay in D.C., where he oversaw several successful runs as GM since 1997 (when owner Ted Leonsis brought him in after he bought the team). According to NBCSports.com, the Caps under McPhee won the old Southeast Division seven times, were the no.1 Eastern Conference team twice, had the best record once and went to the playoffs in 10 out of 17 years. Oates (pictured on the right), who had one year left on a three-year deal, was 64-38-7 overall.

Who will replace McPhee? Here’s one great read, from earlier this year, on who should replace McPhee via TalkTheRed and another from CSN Washington’s Chuck Gormley.

But, what did them in was how the Capitals underachieved each and every year. With a great team in the late 1990s, they lost the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals to the Detroit Red Wings. They got bounced by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals and in the second round by the New York Rangers in 2012 (where they beat the defending champion Boston Bruins in the first round). In 2010, the Capitals won the President’s Trophy, which signifies that the team had the league’s best regular season record, but that year they lost in the first round as the one-seed to the eighth-seed Montreal Canadians. That wasn’t Oates’ team at the time, but current-Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau.

canadians beat caps

A lot of blame goes around, but it was right to let both McPhee and Oates go. Oates was great coaching up the power play, but even-man strength was awful. Defending had too many lapses and the goaltending was a roller coaster ride.

Now to the big question, what happens with captain and goal-scoring machine Alex “The Great One” or “Ovi” Ovechkin. The Russian superstar is an offensive juggernaut, with scoring goals as his trademark. In a down year for the Caps, he scored 51 goals. He’s won the Hart Trophy three times, signifying the best player in the league, and this past season he won the Richard Trophy (which he has won three times overall) to highlight his offensive prowess. I mean, look at some of his top goals:

But, his critics note that his plus/minus (or how many goals are scored for you and against you on your shift) is an atrocious -35. That is inexcusable for a star player to be on the ice for negative 35 goals, even if you score 51 in a single season. It is not right for a lazy defensive player being the face of the franchise. Ovi’s top-three single-season scoring totals were 65, 56 and 51 goals. He has 422 goals in 9 NHL seasons. Yet, you have to play defense to win championships and the Caps’ failed playoff runs have displayed that lack of defensive hustle, efficiency and intensity.

Do you strip him of his captaincy? Do you trade him? Or do you keep him on the team and then rebuild with a defensive-minded team, like the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and others have done?

I would say that you either keep him and build a defensive team while keeping him for his offensive firepower. He is paid a ton of money ($124 million for 12 years to be exact), so he’s not easy to move.

jaromir jagr caps

Yes, McPhee did move Jaromir Jagr back in the day (pictured above and who had a $55 million, seven-year contract), but Jagr wasn’t a prolific goal-scorer with the Caps. Plus, you have an automatic power-play goal machine at your disposal. Ovi will be responsible for defensive lapses here and there, but if he is able to score goals you have to keep him.

But, I would strip him of his captaincy and pass it to a two-way player that will no doubt be acquired in the offseason. If he becomes disgruntled, let him deal with it and demand to be traded. If he really wants to win the Stanley Cup, he will have to make sacrifices in order to do so.

The big question can only be answered on who Leonsis brings in as the new general manager, who will make his coaching hire. We saw with Oates and McPhee that McPhee’s guys never saw the ice with Oates putting them in the doghouse for no apparent reason (see Martin Erat, Dustin Penner). Leonsis has to bring in a GM who will hire his coach and where the coach will put implement his system based on the GM’s players.

Let’s #RockTheRed this next season as the Caps rebuild!

Interim Coaching: Why It Doesn’t Last

As interim coaching season seems to be upon us, spanning from the NFL and college football season to post-March Madness and pre-NBA playoffs, we should take a look at whether interim coaching actually does anyone any good.

Do interim coaches last, if hired permanently? Or are interim coaches just auditioning for a head coaching job elsewhere? Maybe interim coaches are loyal supporters of their school, players or front office? These are some of the questions I’ll tackle today, spanning most of the pro leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL) as well as college football.

 

NFL:

wade phillips texans

The Houston Texans were an absolute mess last season. So much so, the Texans’ ownership decided to let their head coach Gary Kubiak go and put the interim tag on former Cowboys head coach and then-defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He went 0-3 and the Texans finished 2-14 overall and guaranteed the top slot in this year’s NFL draft. Adding more salt to the wound, he was fired as the Texans’ defensive coordinator as former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien was hired as the head coach.

Phillips was not a really good coach in Dallas from 2007-2010, his previous spot, as the Jerry Jones-run Cowboys went 34-22, but went 1-7 in 2010 before Jones fired him. He wouldn’t have been a good hire, in my opinion, in Houston. Phillips is currently not coaching this year.

romeo crennel chiefs

Romeo Crennel, a former Bill Belichick assistant, is another example. He went from the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots to the Cleveland Browns from 2005-2008. With the Browns, he went 24-40 and was fired. He popped up in Kansas City and was the interim coach when Todd Haley was fired. But, like Cleveland, Crennel was not a good interim head coach nor a good semi-permanent head coach with a 4-15 record in two seasons at the helm. Crennel, after a year out of the league, is back as the defensive coordinator in Houston, replacing Phillips.

 

NBA:

hornacek and dragic

When the Phoenix Suns fired Alvin Gentry, who had an underperforming Suns team and roster after the Mike D’Antoni years were long gone, they hired their president of player development and former NBA guard Lindsey Hunter. Don’t mind that Hunter had never coached in the league, but the general manager Lance Blanks said:

“I think the simple answer is that the organization needed a jolt…We needed something that would shock the system of us, the players, and risk trumps safety in this business. We felt this was the right person to take the risk on.”

How’d that work out for the Suns for the remaining 41 games of the 2012-2013 season? The Suns went 12-29, a winning percentage of 0.293. He was not retained and the Suns hired former Jazz and Suns guard Jeff Hornacek for the job. You can’t blame Hunter for an awful Suns team, whose offensive rating was next-to-last in the league and had players that did not mesh with each other. The Morris twins were not developing, Goran Dragic did not have a breakout season in a wasted race to the finish that year, and you had defensively-challenged Luis Scola and the troubled Michael Beasley on the roster, too.

Since his hiring, Hornacek has led the Suns close to a playoff berth, depending on how the Western Conference race ends in a few games. Not hiring Hunter was the best decision for the Suns.

 

NHL:

dale hunter caps coach

When the Washington Capitals were doing well and were in their prime, Bruce Boudreau lost his players and was fired after they struggled to make it through the grueling Eastern Conference postseason. Boudreau had a 201-88 record with the Caps for over 4 and a half seasons. He ended up being hired at Anaheim and has done well there. But, his replacement was Dale Hunter, a former Washington Capital player. Hunter led the Caps into the playoffs, where they lost to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals and he left the NHL to coach his junior hockey team in Canada. He was a Caps coach for six months and this was an odd arrangement. However, Hunter finished with a 30-23-7 record overall in his short NHL stint. The Capitals have struggled with another former Capitals player as their coach, Adam Oates, as they have missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

 

College football:

ed orgeron usc

When USC football unceremoniously dumped its head coach, the controversial offensive mastermind Lane Kiffin, they put the interim tag on their offensive line coach Ed Orgeron (who had been a head coach at Ole Miss, a SEC school that is Eli Manning’s alma mater). He played out the rest of the season and went 6-2 (with USC finishing 9-4), but was not given the head coaching gig before bowl season. However, his record at Ole Miss could have played a part as he was 10-26 overall in the SEC.

The USC athletic director, Pat Haden (a USC alum) even promised him that he has a spot on the staff as a highly-paid assistant. Upset, he quit the team and left. He said (as Sports Illustrated reported):

“I want to be the head coach at USC…I love being a head coach. I think that it’s something I’m able to do, and do well. And I want to be the head coach at USC when I get the chance. I think I can perform on a very high basis to do what the Trojan family wants me to do.”

That was the most recent example. But, CBS Sports did a fantastic, in-depth look at how interim coaches fared when hired or when they were not retained by their school. Most coaches finished the year with losing records and weren’t retained. Colorado fired Dan Hawkins and let assistant Brian Cabral coach, and went 2-1. Minnesota in 2010 fired Tim Brewster, let assistant coach Jim Horton go to work and he went 2-3 but got them to a bowl game. In their case, Colorado let Cabral go and hired Jon Embree, who was a disaster of a coach at 4-21 after two seasons. Minnesota hired Northern Illinois’ Jerry Kill and he has done a fantastic job there with two straight bowl games.

One of the outliers was Dabo Swinney of Clemson, who replaced Terry Bowden and has gone 30-7 since with an ACC title.

Then there’s that weird thing in college football where coaches leave for jobs before the bowl game and teams use their current assistant coaches as stop-gaps or hire the new guy outright.

So where do you stand? Do you hire your interim coach, or do you let him walk?

Global Sports: What Made the Cut, What Didn’t

cristiano messiAmerica is the focal point, we like to think, of the best professional sports in the world. We have the land, money and culture to back major professional franchises, for the most part (just don’t ask Atlanta losing the NHL Thrashers or Los Angeles with the Raiders AND Rams).

This got us thinking, what sports are making waves off of American shores? Well, what do we know?

  • American football is American football, and won’t be an international sport. Why? It’s a cultural thing, but you need the facilities and money to get equipment and time on the field. But, English people were intrigued when the NFL held games in London at Old Trafford (the home of the English soccer club Manchester United).
  • The NBA is making a concerted effort to expand its brand abroad and is banking on the success of national teams and especially the Euroleague. NBA has the most potential among the major American sports, especially with an Indian owner in Sacramento.
  • Baseball is mostly a Western Hemisphere phenomena, with an influx of Caribbean, Venezuelan or Latin American players populating the American-based Major League Baseball. Oh, Japan and South Korea have some good players in the majors, too.
  • Hockey is a big deal in Russia and Canada, with some die-hard fan bases in the U.S. in cities like Pittsburgh, Boston, Buffalo and Detroit.

But, soccer is the international sport because it is easy to get a field, dirt or not, and a ball with some goal markers. Most sports are tougher to get equipment and playing time on specific fields. Soccer is growing in popularity in the U.S. with the growth of the American Major League Soccer (MLS), with expansion teams Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and now Orlando City FC. Attendance has increased 15% in the US from 2011-2012 but dipped slightly this past season.

Other sports are making inroads, but overall, soccer is the international sport. The attention put toward the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA Champions League and the European leagues like La Liga in Spain, Barclays Premier League in the United Kingdom, Italy’s Serie A and Bundesliga in Germany shows that soccer is here to stay.

And we have Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for that.

Top Alternate or Retro Uniforms in the Pros (#NFL, #NBA, #MLB, #NHL)

I’ve always loved wearing jerseys, especially when it was acceptable and a craze when I was in high school during the mid-2000s. Here’s some of my favorite alternate jerseys in the major leagues, NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

NFL:

I think most of the alternate uniforms are terrible, like the Steelers’ bumble bee uniforms or the Packers’ nondescript blue and brown look. But, I have to say this is my list (h/t SI.com):

st louis rams retro

  • LA/St. Louis Rams’ yellow and blue combo

Philip Rivers, Jeromey Clary, Louis Vasquez

  • San Diego Chargers’ baby blue and white

patriots alternate

  • New England Patriots red, white and blue

tampa bay orange

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers Orange Julius uniforms

atlanta falcons alternate helmet

  • Atlanta Falcons’ red helmet look, which they wore when they last made the Super Bowl before losing to the Denver Broncos and John Elway.

NBA:

It used to be an alternate, but I love the old-school tribute to the new-school Washington Bullets. The name change from the Bullets to the Wizards for politically correct reasons hasn’t help the franchise make it to the Finals since their last shot in the late 70s.

washington bullets

  • Washington Bullets

charles barkley suns

  • Phoenix Suns purple and scorching sun look

golden state tshirt

  • Golden State Warriors t-shirt jersey, just like how it’s simple. Not a big fan of t-shirt jerseys but I like this one for some reason.

MILLER

 

chicago bulls pinstripe

  • Indiana Pacers/Chicago Bulls pinstripes. Great days of gritty basketball.

shaq orlando pinstripes

  • Orlando Magic pinstripes…remind me of the Shaq/Penny Hardaway days

MLB:

I’m a big Washington Nationals fan and I love the patriotic feel to their blue home uniforms, usually worn for the Fourth of July.

San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals

  • Washington Nationals’ patriotic blues

tampa bay rays powder blues

  • Tampa Rays powder blue look

san diego padres camo

  • I’m a sucker for the San Diego Padres camo uniforms

orioles orange

  • Baltimore Orioles’ orange

New York Yankees v Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Arizona Diamondbacks’ purple and white combo from the early 2000s because it reminds me when the Yankee dynasty ended. No other reason.

NHL:

NHL Winter Classic Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Washington Capitals’ home red, white and blue

oilers oil drop

  • Edmonton Oilers’ black-and-silver Oil Drop, don’t ask me why because I can’t tell you why.

US PRESSWIRE Sports-Historical

  • Buffalo Sabres’ blue-and-yellow buffalo and sabre look

boston bruins alternate

  • Boston Bruins’ bear face

canucks blue green alternate

Stars v Avalanche X Modano

 

new york rangers lady liberty

  • Vancouver Canucks blue-and-green/2000s Dallas Stars/New York Rangers Lady Liberty

What do you think about my list? What were some of your favorites?

#NHL: The Forgotten Sport

iginla fightHockey: the Canadian pastime. America doesn’t really love it, unless you’re in Beantown (Boston Bruins), New York City (Rangers), New Jersey (Devils) or Hockeytown USA (Detroit Red Wings).

Hockey is amazing. Just watch “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky at his best:

And you know what? It’s sad to me because I love all sports.

I don’t know many hockey fans here in the D.C. area, even though the Washington Capitals are the better team in town. Still, we all know that the NFL’s Washington Redskins, the Washington Nationals and then the Capitals and maybe the lowly Wizards round out the D.C. area pecking order.

sidney crosby

The real problem is that it is ingrained in the Canadian consciousness, but not in America. We have a variety of sports, while in Canada, I assume it’s hockey. They have minor and junior leagues that develop talent like a Sidney Crosby. The U.S.? Our college system has the Frozen Four, but only a handful of Americans outside of North Dakota, Minnesota and Boston ever watch it.

Americans used to make fun of soccer and how slow, unskilled and cumbersome the game was. Now, with the emergence of good, American-grown talent, it is becoming more popular by the day. The attendance to US men’s (and even women’s) national team qualifiers and friendlies is amazing to see, as a budding soccer fan myself.

Lacrosse is becoming a bigger sport as parents worry about concussions in football. It is super popular on the East Coast at powerhouse schools Syracuse, Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Duke, North Carolina and Maryland.

But, why not hockey? Hockey is soccer and lacrosse on steroids. It’s played on skates, in a hockey rink, allows checks like lacrosse and hits like in football, and has some amazing fights like this:

The hockey puck acts like a saucer and you have to be paying attention to find the puck even if you’re a fan. The goalies have to have top-notch reaction speed and flexibility, the players amazing puck and skate control. There are 3, 20-minute periods with short intermissions in-between. The rules are relatively simple: score the puck, don’t be offsides, don’t ice (where you clear the puck without having your player touch it) and no tripping/goaltender interference.

I’ve always argued that hockey is one of the harder sports to play because of skill and just the nature of it. I mean, watch this goal by San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl this year:

Oh yeah, that show-off goal broke the old-school rules of the sport. In a blowout, don’t show-off against other pros. Hertl got roasted by other NHL coaches and players.

I love hockey. I grew up watching the Capitals in the old Capitol Centre in Maryland before they moved to D.C.’s Verizon Center.

It’s just too bad Americans are missing out on this great sport.