As much as we are one big, happy Rink family, the shocking fact is that we don't always agree on everything about the Caps - so throughout the season we'll present mini-roundtables, with each of us weighing in on a pressing question or issue facing the team, a player or the League as a whole. First up, a look at the impact of a shortened season.
Q: With a new coach behind the bench, new faces in the locker room, plenty of players with something to prove and just forty-eight games until the playoffs, does the shortened season favor or hurt the Caps?
JP: It’s hard to say. On the one hand, the Caps have two goalies and their two best forwards who have been playing well and should hit the ground running. But the biggest question to me is how quickly can the team learn and implement Adam Oates’s system (and that’s with the tacit assumption that the system is a good one)? In a shortened season, anything more than a minimal learning curve can result in a stumble in the standings that could prove too much to overcome. So I’d say that for a team that’s starting fresh with a new coach, the lack of a full training camp and the dearth of actual practices they’ll get during the condensed campaign is a negative, overall, when compared to a normal season.
Kareem: Considering that the Caps are breaking in a new coaching staff and 2C (Mike Ribeiro), plus also a potentially #1 goalie (Braden Holtby) who has only had limited experience in the bigs, I think it hurts the Caps. This shortened season favors well-coached, veteran teams that have been together for years, teams like the Rangers and Bruins.The Caps will need to rely on their stars (Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green) in the beginning of the season to carry the team while they work out the kinks.
Rob: The adjustment to the new system is definitely concerning, and given the way the team responded to their last two system changes (Bruce Boudreau’s move to the trap, and then the implementation of Dale Hunter’s system), it’s tough to expect a quick learning period. The glimmer of hope is that Oates’ system sounds like it will be more offensive than Hunter’s (how couldn't it be?), and when the core of this team was given a chance to open it up from Hanlon to Boudreau they responded quickly. That was a long time ago, though.
I’ll go the other way, and say that the shortened season will help the Caps, because with a longer off-season to rest and fewer games to play, it’s more likely that key players, like Mike Green, will stay healthy and be contributing to the team. This isn't the ‘09-’10 team, but they still have a lot of talent, and if they can keep them all on the ice it should work out well for the Caps.
Becca: They will probably be slightly behind the eight-ball as they’re trying to break in a new coach and a new system; as Rob points out, we've seen this team have to make quick changes in system twice before since the last lockout and there was definitely an adjustment period. That said, with the last two system changes they didn't have the benefit of a training camp as they do this year (even if it is a short one). I’d still expect there to be some growing pains early on, and between that and injuries to players like Brooks Laich and Dmitry Orlov, they may have trouble getting off to the quick start they will likely need to make some noise in the East. Hopefully the fact that some of their key players - particularly Ovechkin, Backstrom, Holtby and Michal Neuvirth - are already in game shape will help ease the transition.
I’d also say that while I agree with Kareem that the shortened season benefits veteran teams who have been together for a long time, I’d disagree that this category doesn't include the Caps. In fact, the only major change to the team aside from the new coaching staff is the addition of Ribeiro; a few other complementary pieces have been added and we've bid farewell to a few familiar faces, but the roster hasn't changed all that much in recent years and the core, most of whom are now in their mid- to late 20s and can be considered veterans, has actually been together for quite awhile. They've been through coaching changes and quite a few ups and downs; hopefully they shouldn't have that much trouble taking a new system and running with it.