Dear Ted, George, Bruce, and Alex:
I know right now you’re dealing with a lot of crap from pretty much every corner because of Wednesday’s loss. So I just wanted to toss in two words you may not have heard much over the last 48 hours:
Those two words are pretty well drowned out right now, given that in true DC fashion, everyone’s getting busy on offering their opinions on what went wrong and what you guys need to do to fix things. And don’t misunderstand me – I have my opinions on the matter as well, but now’s not really the time to list them. I really just wanted to take a moment during all of the hubbub and let you know how I feel as things settle down. They’re simple words, but they need said.
You’ve given DC one heck of a thrill ride this season. True, it ended earlier than anticipated, but that doesn’t take away the fact that the Capitals have really been a bright spot on the DC sports scene for several months now – and it’s something I think this city really needed. Considering your fellow pro franchises and their dismal failures and flaws, from team results to individual failings, the Capitals have been quite the contrast in attitude, leadership, and respectability.
And I have to say, I personally enjoyed the ride as well.
Oh, I came into the season a bit skeptical; I was somewhat convinced that last year may have been a fluke, a lucky streak riding on the skates of a hot goalie. But little by little, you impressed me. A solid draft with future vision, a little housecleaning in the personnel department and a great salary cap balancing act gave me some pause. I wasn’t “hot” on the team through the first part of the season; you were good, but not great. Steadily and surely, however, the victories mounted, players stepped up when others stumbled, and suddenly there you were at the midway point, on the cusp of something great.
I started to buy into the Caps’ drive for success when George traded away Chris Clark. What team trades their captain, their self-proclaimed ‘heart and soul’? But the trade was a good one and suddenly, it seemed like the Caps hit the fifth gear. The other trades on deadline day made me think that yes, this team is on to something, they really DO have the vision.
“The Streak” was a tremendous achievement, by the way. That run of victories is what I think really hooked this city on what the Caps are all about. Every game became one of excited anticipation – would they keep it going? – and the optimism that it sparked as the playoffs loomed became palpable, a tangible thing that I swear I could feel floating in the air at the Verizon Center. Everything seemed to be coming together, every game a joyride to witness. All of you seemed to be having fun and it showed both on and off the ice.
Let me share with you a personal example of your impact:
Every Friday night, a bunch of friends and their significant others gather in my home to watch NHL games. We laugh, we kibbitz, we enjoy the power and passion of the game; have been for years. It didn’t really matter who was playing that night, it was a social gathering of like-minded friends.
But at the turn of the year, something changed. The Friday nights that the Caps were on television became the most anticipated and exciting nights of the season. We were entranced as we watched the team play; conversations turned from the mundane to Caps-centric. The DVR got a lot of use those nights, rewinding and replaying goals and saves that captured our attention. Those in our group who were there more for the camaraderie became excited fans of the game – and of the Caps. (Even my wife, a fellow die-hard Penguins fan, came to recognize Caps players and numbers.) You’ve transformed our group of casual hockey watchers into passionate fans of the game, if not the Caps.
Sure, the playoff result is disappointing. It happens sometimes, we’ll all get over as a city. The wound is still fresh, but it will fade. I know some may abandon you, but many, many more will stick around, following the examples of Ovechkin, Laich, Belanger, and the rest – shake it off and skate on. We know and understand changes will happen; that’s the nature of sports, after all. What I think we all know deep down, however, is that because of what you did accomplish this year – the list is long, even if it doesn’t end in a Stanley Cup – we have seen the core of greatness within the Caps we’ve never really seen before. It’s a glimpse of a bright future, even if it isn’t “right now.” You’ve made the foundation for long-term success, and that’s something to be commended for these days.
That greatness has brought you new fans and more importantly, a new measure of respect. You’ve given me a tremendous thrill in covering you from this corner of the blogosphere; you’ve not only earned my respect, you have earned my gratitude. You made hockey these days even more exciting than I thought was possible.
When you do finally raise the Cup to the heavens, it will be well worth the agony of these moments. I look forward to watching this city taste the sweetness of that victory. And when it does happen, know that you’ve laid the seeds of that success in these moments of anguish and heartbreak. The champagne will taste all the sweeter for it. Take it from a fan of a different team that followed a similar trail; it’s worth it. Don’t lose heart, stay the course. The Caps have what it takes to claim a spot on Lord Stanley’s Cup.
It’s only a matter of time.
All photos courtesy of me.