Ted Leonsis famously got his start in internet startup business. I have lived and worked in that environment, in the San Francisco area, since the 2005 lockout. And a lot of what I’ve seen from the Caps over seems very familiar. The willingness to tear everything down to foundations, to question all assumptions, the distrust of conventional wisdom. There can be great power in this approach. But it is not always successful - far from it, as any tech startup veteran can tell you. The successes can be enormous, but failure is a much more common result than success.
There is one bias that I have seen time and time again in Silicon Valley that leads people astray -- the cult of intelligence. There are a lot of hellaciously smart people out here, but too many of them think that the world’s problems can be solved by pure mental candlepower alone. Frequently, these startups -- populated with 20- and 30-somethings -- fail due to a lack of basic judgment. Whether they don’t really "get" their prospective customers, or they can’t see the world through the eyes of their funders, the mistakes these companies make are the kinds of errors we’ve all seen from straight-A’s students who don’t really understand the world.
And it’s a bias that I believe the Caps have shown time and time again. I use the word "bias" here consciously. The Caps seem to have a prejudice in favor of very intelligent people, to the detriment of accomplished people. One need look no further than their choices of head coaches to see that - none of the Caps’ last five head coaches had ever been an NHL head coach before. Adam Oates was perhaps the smartest of the lot, but he was still a terrible fit for this team.
With the upcoming hiring decisions of a general manager and a head coach, I sincerely hope the Caps can overcome this bias. I hope they hire someone with the experience and the time-tested judgment to fairly assess the team and make appropriate changes. Someone who can instantly command the respect of a veteran-heavy team and steer them onto a winning path again.
I think the Caps are a sick patient, but with some perfectly ordinary ailments that should be straightforward to assess and cure. The patient would be better off with an experienced family doctor who has been at it for decades and has seen everything, not some 40-year old prodigy of a research-physician from an Ivy-League school who will over-aggressively attack the "syndrome" and end up doing more harm than good. Wyshynski had the Caps talking with Bob Nicholson earlier this month. That’s the kind of guy who could bring some much needed experience, gravitas, and judgment to the organization.
The Caps already have a tremendous asset in-house that they should lean on heavily in the next month: Dick Patrick. Patrick is a member of the family that the Caps’ former division was named after (and that the current division should be named after as well). He knows everyone who counts in hockey, and obviously must have some clear ideas in mind about who is the right fit. We don’t hear much from the Team President day-to-day. The most interesting news seems to come from other desks in the building. But if ever there is a time for the team to turn to Patrick, this is it.
So I hope that Leonsis listens to Patrick over the next few weeks. I hope the team finds the steady hands at GM and coach that they have been missing. And I hope that discernment prevails over pure acuity this time around. Because if it does, I truly believe this team can be dangerous once again.