Yeah, it's January 3, but as long as people are still saying, "Happy New Year!" we're allowed to trot out our Best of 2012. So here are some of the highlights from last year at The Rink (excluding regular features, for which our wonderful writers should still be commended), in chronological order, with a money quote from each:
What Evgeny Kuznetsov Did Wrong - "[F]or those keeping score at home, adults booing a 19-year-old kid for being recognized after an exceptional amateur hockey game is acceptable, but when that 19-year-old plays up to the crowd, the kid is classless. Presumably [author Eric] Francis would prefer to see Kuznetsov burst into tears and run for the locker room. Of course that wasn't going to happen. If Kuznetsov was so fragile that he can't take some Canadian booing then he wouldn't have lit up Team Canada on the biggest amateur stage. Again."
Alex Ovechkin's Choice - "If he attended [the All-Star Game], as he was originally supposed to do, the weekend would become about his suspension and his hit; it would distract from the focus of the weekend and leave a bit of a black cloud over what is supposed to be a fun event, not just for the fans but the players, too (not to mention deprive another player who wasn't suspended from participating in his first - and perhaps only - All-Star Game). If he bowed out, it would be seen as petulant, a 'take your ball and go home' move that meant he was pouting over having to take his medicine."
Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Problem - "Maybe with a few key names back in the lineup and better effort and results along the boards, it's a system that will work. And it might even be good enough to win games as-is if the special teams can perform near the top of the League. But right now every game is like rolling a 20-sided die (if you've read this far, chances are you own one), with nine winning numbers and 11 losers. And that's a tough way to try to make up ground in a playoff race when you're on the outside looking in."
Nicklas Backstrom: "I Hope I Will Be Ready For The Playoffs" - "It was an unnecessary hit. I feel like [Rene Bourque] could have just skated by me instead." [Ed. note: Asshole.]
Many Happy Returns - "Though they currently sit on the outside-looking in with regards to both the Eastern Conference and Southeast Division playoff races, it's unlikely that the Washington Capitals are going to be big-time sellers prior to Monday's trade deadline (even if they continue to struggle between now, and then and even if it's what many think would be best for the team in the long-run). But if the Caps were to look to move some of their expiring contracts, what could they expect in return?"
Joel Ward and Reasonable Expectations - "If Dale Hunter expects more from Ward and wants to maximize the Caps' return on investment in the forward, he should play him more: more minutes, harder minutes, penalty-killing minutes, you name it. The goals will come. Or they won't. It doesn't really matter much, because Joel Ward makes the Caps tougher to play against... and that's something we all expected more of back in July."
Ten (Other) Games the Caps Might Regret Having Lost - "In a season that's been full of disappointments (but still might yet end on the most positive of notes), last night's game is just one of many that left Caps fans - and no doubt the players as well - lamenting how things ended up the way they did in that particular match-up. Here are ten other games that the Caps might regret having lost." [Ed. note: If you torture yourself with this one - and you should - be sure to cheer yourself up with it's companion piece, Ten Games the Caps Will Be Glad They Won. Bubble charts, y'all.]
Dale Hunter Hockey - "[T]he boys in red, white and blue are doing the little things - think Matt Hendricks negating a late icing in Game 4, or Jay Beagle's critical blocked shot with seven seconds left - necessary to keep up with the higher-seeded, deeper Bruins. And when Boston was held without a single shot on goal over the game's last 7:13 as Washington clung to a one-goal lead, it was the third- and fourth-liners in red who got the job done. Four blocks, six hits... no shots reaching [Braden] Holtby. A lot of derogatory comments have been made about the Caps' taking on their coach's persona early in the series, but never has that observation been as apt and complimentary as applying it to the waning moments of Game 4. Hard work. Effort. Blue-collar."
Top-Ten Capitals GIFs from the Playoffs... So Far - Because GIFs. Duh.
For the Capitals, It's Go Time - "They'll have to decide, to a man, that last night's loss will be nothing more than a footnote rather than the defining moment of the series. If they need a little inspiration, they need look no further than the man behind the bench, who knows the heartbreaking history of this franchise well... and has been the author of a few defining moments of his own."
Rink Roundtable: Looking Back at the 2011-12 Season - "I consider The Hunter Era to be little more than triage (not sure it’s fair to expect much more from a guy in that situation), and it nearly turned into something spectacular... but could have just as easily ended up on the outside-looking-in when the music stopped and the eight teams in the East readied for the playoffs."
Choose Your Own Capitals Coach - "[W]hat if you were the one making the decision? Would NHL experience matter? What about a track record of winning? How about offense- vs. defense-first? After the jump, we've got a handful of questions that may help you decide whom to hope GMGM picks as Dale Hunter's successor; McPhee may be taking a while to make up his mind, but you'll have your guy in just a few minutes..."
Getting the Most out of Mike Ribeiro - "What you're left with is a top-six center who has generally excelled when deployed in favorable situations and with gunners in Ribeiro, and one who has generally excelled when deployed in all situations in Backstrom. It's easy to foresee an Ovechkin-Ribeiro line getting the easiest minutes available and killing them, while Backstrom and whomever he's slotted with shoulder a heavier burden at five-on-five. More importantly, the Caps have something now that they haven't had in years: options."
The Capitals and the Free Agent Landscape - "How do you replace a guy like Alex Semin? How do you catch a wave upon the sand? The answer to both is simple: you don't. But you can try, and the first step is bringing in another top-6 forward who can pick up the slack offensively."
Ask the Owner: Ted Leonsis Answers Your Questions (Part I) - "As owner of a team that's both a competitive franchise in the best hockey league in the world as well as ultimately an entertainment product, how do you define success for the Washington Capitals? Is it different today than it was at the outset of the five-year rebuild plan or other points during your tenure as majority owner?" [Ed. note: Part II is here.]
How Alex Ovechkin Can Make the Most out of a Lockout - "In one fell swoop, Ovechkin would do wonders for his public image (which, in case you haven't noticed, has taken a bit of a hit over the past two-and-a-half years or so), insulate himself from legitimate criticism for his decision, save himself the potential embarrassment of being shunned by his former club or not fetching a salary commensurate with his superstardom and, most importantly, help a team and a fan base still recovering from one of the most devastating tragedies imaginable (one in which Ovechkin himself 'lost a lot of friends.')."
Esa Tikkanen and What Might Have Been - "Of course, there's no telling what would have happened if Tikkanen had buried that lay-up, that tap-in; the Caps were still absurdly out-gunned by a Red Wings team that featured more future Hall-of-Famers than the Caps had double-digit goal-scorers. Who knows how the series might have gone. Heck, the Caps may yet have blown that Game 2. Or they might have headed home to their still-new downtown arena with momentum and confidence and their white-hot goalie (who had entered that game with a .946 save percentage in the playoffs) and... yeah... who knows?"
Two Dudes: Settling the NHL Lockout - "So we start compromising now or... what? I can guarantee one thing here - owners can afford to take a longer view on this negotiation than the players can. We're willing to cancel a season or more because in the long run the math is in our favor - we'll recoup our losses over the life of the next CBA. Will third-line centers? Six/seven defensemen? The ball's in your court. We'll wait. Because we can."
Scott Stevens: The Most Effective Draft Choice in Caps History - "With one pick, the Caps have gotten more than 3,000 man-games, including more than 2,500 on the blueline. Of course, that's of little consolation to fans who would have prefered all 1,868 of Stevens'... especially if they included those three Cups." [Ed. note: we did a couple more "transactional trails" in this post. Fun.]
Alex Ovechkin, Brett Hull and a Scorer's Transformation - "At twenty-seven years old, Ovechkin is very much at a crossroads in his career. One path is leading to a legacy that few in the game's history could match - legendary achievements, both on individual and team levels; another likely leads to a starring role in a cautionary tale, cementing of xenophobic stereotypes, and self-congratulatory toasts among smug media members. The third is, at best, that of a late-career rebirth as a supporting actor... almost certainly somewhere else."
Washington Capitals Year in Pictures 2012 - "While 2012 will be better remembered to Caps fans for the half-season that wasn't than for the half-season that was, the calendar year provided us with plenty of (NHL) moments and images that won't soon be forgotten."
There you go - posts we had fun writing and hopefully that you enjoyed reading (thanks for doing that whole "reading" thing, by the way, and for all of your support through the years up to and including 2012). Here's hoping we have a lot more hockey to write about in 2013.