I know we have gotten used to being The Best.
That is because for the last few years, we have been. One President's Trophy, two first seeds, four years making the playoffs consecutively ain't nothing to sneeze at. Here's the thing--a team that has Alex Ovechkin on it should never be mediocre--there are arguments to be made either way at the moment, but we can at least all agree that this team isn't playing consistently, and that almost no one is playing as well as they are capable of.
It's not that I think that this is a mediocre team. It isn't, and I don't. We certainly don't want them to lose their fire and competitive drive--in fact, that's what we'd really, really like them to get back. But perhaps it's time to take a step back as fans and figure out what it is that we really want and what we can expect, in what's either a dry spell or the twilight of an era. Maybe it's time to stop being so miserable about things not being the way they were three years ago and take a long, hard look at the way they are now.
We want: The Stanley Cup
What we expect: To be dazzling impressive favorites, to have home ice, to think that we've got a really good chance.
What we actually need: A shot at it.
When the playoffs roll around, we need to be in them. The end, that's all. Let me tell you what we don't need. We don't need a number one seed in the playoffs. We don't need to be the favorite. That hasn't worked out so well for us, and do you know what? How often does the favorite to win the Cup really win the Cup? Almost never. Maybe we don't need to be the favorite anymore, maybe we shouldn't come into the playoffs this year expecting that we will win so much as a single round, or that anything will be handed to us. Maybe we need to see it from a different side of things this year.
Home ice would be cool and all, everyone loves home ice--but all we really need is to be at least 8th place in the conference. All we need is a shot.
We want: Ovechkin to have another 50-goal season in him. To be a dominant league-wide superstar.
What we expect: For him to rack up points every game, for him to score every game, multiple goals, flashy goals, for him to blow our minds.
What we actually need: 30 goals.
That's a bit of an arbitrary number, but 50-goal Ovechkin is something Caps fans seem to be having trouble giving up, even as they say they understand he might never be the same. His contract is expensive, yes, but people who argue from that perspective are just asking to be miserable. Ovechkin will not be traded. Whatever your opinion is on the matter, Washington has made their bed with Ovechkin and they will lie in it for the next decade.
If he becomes a different kind of player altogether--well, all right. He's still the centerpiece of our team, and if his production drops that means that the whole team has to become a deeper and more stable, hardworking team, has to pick up the incredible amount of slack that Ovechkin's offensive fireworks had previously provided. Okay. Let's accept that. He's not going to get lazy, he's not going to stop trying--we believe that of him, or at least we'd better, because if you can't believe in Ovechkin, then why are you here?
He'll give us everything he has. But what he has might change.
Do you know how many Stanley Cup winning teams over the past ten years have had a 50-goal scorer on them?
None of them. The last team to win a Cup with a 50-goal scorer on the roster was in 2001. On the other hand, every team in 20 seasons to win a Stanley Cup had 10 or more 10-goal scorers on their team, with only one exception (numbers via Peerless Prognosticator). It's not about one guy winning a Stanley Cup anymore, or at least it shouldn't be, and that's something Caps Nation is having a tough time swallowing.
Players on our roster who are capable of scoring 10 or more goals this season? I'd say 11 or 12, depending on if Mike Green ever gets back in the mix.
I repeat: All. Is not lost. We're not the fucking Calgary Flames. We're not in the gutter. It's not time to tear everything down and rebuild. We will still compete, every night, and when the playoffs come around, we'll be there.
Things might be different--and that's okay. Let's not waste any more time pretending that they're going to be the same.
Be stubborn. Be ornery. Stick with it. Fuck everyone else, fuck the changes, this is still your team. You will outlive every coach, player, and owner this team ever has, this team belongs to you, so don't be so goddamn unhappy about everything. It's time to circle the wagons.
Let's go Caps.