As fans, we can lament the fact that the team didn't acquire a top-defenseman, a gritty veteran leader, a back-up (or starting) goalie, a new usher for Section 428, etc. While the teams around them got better (if only marginally) yesterday and in the days prior, the Caps did not. Simple as that.
As rationale observers of a team with salary cap issues and uncertainties, we can look at the players who did move on Wednesday and ask ourselves which of them the Caps a) would have wanted; b) could have afforded under the cap; and c) could have out-bid the winning trade partner for. Sure you wanted Derek Morris (even though for all his supposed toughness, he has one fight in the past two years and registers as many hits per game as Mike Green; for all his supposed offense, his points-per-game this year is the worst of his career, the last three years have been his least productive as an NHLer, and his five goals and seven assists in 57 games looks a lot like Shaone Morrisonn’s three goals and eight assists in 55; and for all of his supposed experience he has played as many playoff games in his career - seven - as most of these Caps played last year). But were you willing to watch the Caps give up more than a 26-year-old who scored 52 goals in his first two seasons, a 28-year-old defenseman with 500 NHL games under his belt and a winger who finished 12th in Calder voting last season?
As pessimists, we can look at the past couple of games (or more) and be glad that the team didn't mortgage even a bit of the future on a season that will inevitably end in a first round loss anyway; as optimists, we can be glad that the team didn't tinker with a roster that has gone 6-0-3 against Boston, New Jersey and Detroit and is 40-20-5 overall, and not by accident.
And yet I keep coming back to the same thought on what didn't happen yesterday. Whether by design, logistical impossibilities or fate, management sent a message to the players: it's up to you. There's not going to be any graybeard who's going to come in and challenge everyone in the room to be the best they can be. There's not going to be any battling blueliner who's going to lessen the load on the rest of the D-corps. There's not going to be any new goaltender who's going to stand on his head for a month-plus. Not this year.
This year, it's up to the guys in the room, the ones who have been there for the past year or two or more. It's up to the coach who took this team on a damn-near miraculous run last season and has them dreaming big this year. It's up to the most valuable player to show why he won the award last season and to recognize that there's also an award for playoff MVP. It's up to the free agent goalie, the re-born Russian veteran, the future captain, the enigmatic sniper, the Norris hopeful and everyone else on that team, in D.C. and in Hershey, because there's no help coming. Not this year. This year, they're on their own.
Let's see what they can do.