Monday, August 20, 2007

On The Hot Seat

Before the season even starts, teams set goals - winning the Cup, making the playoffs, not moving to Kansas City midseason - and when the next offseason rolls around, it's pretty easy to look back and see which goals were met and which were missed. And, as has been noted, "[w]arranted or not, the accolades/blame for the teams' success/failure will often fall on one man's shoulders according to fans and the media."

With that in mind, The Score lists one person for each of the NHL's 30 clubs on whom the pressure will weigh most heavily in 2007-08 (and it does not necessarily have to be a player - Mike Keenan is on the hot seat in Calgary).

Who's on the hot seat in Washington?
Alexander Ovechkin -- It's not very fair to pin playoff hopes (and blame, if the team fails to qualify) on a 22-year-old, but that is what will happen in D.C. Ovechkin had his sophomore slump, scoring a 'meager' 92 points last season. Now he has a better supporting cast so he will be expected to deliver more.
Alex is the easy choice, of course, especially since you-know-who took his team to the playoffs last year and AO can't lace up his skates without having his technique in doing so compared to Sid the Kid. But frankly, I think the pressure is more squarely on a couple of off-ice guys - Glen Hanlon and George McPhee.

In his time in D.C., Hanlon has shown just the right mix of positive reinforcement and, at times, tough love to a young team through lean times. But now it's important that the team not just be competitive night-in, night-out but that they win games. "Hugs" has been given an infusion of talent with which to work, and now must show that his team can produce victories. Perhaps as importantly, given that he now has two centers (Michael Nylander and Nicklas Backstrom) who are better playmakers than anyone he had last year, as well as a true powerplay quarterback (Tom Poti), a failure to develop an effective unit with the extra man will not bode well for Hanlon's job security.

Which brings us to GMGM. The trio of high-profile offseason acquisitions (Nylander, Poti and Viktor Kozlov) will be scrutinized on a nightly basis, but so too will McPhee's draft picks and other acquisitions. Will former first rounders like Steve Eminger and Brian Sutherby progress or regress? Will McPhee be able to move accumulated assets to fill holes, should such holes become apparent? It's no secret that the Caps haven't won a single playoff series since McPhee's first year in D.C., and despite three 40-win teams (including two Division Champs), that pill becomes harder to swallow with each passing Spring.

So whose seat is the hottest in the nation's capital? Is it the charismatic kid superstar in just his third season? Or maybe the veteran goalie who needs to vitrually eliminate the occassional soft goal? Perhaps it's the architect who put this team together or the general who is expected to lead them into battle 82 times between now and early April.

For my money, it's Hanlon. He has proven largely successful so far, but can he take this team to the next level? He has been given the pieces to the puzzle - can he now put it together?

One thing is for sure, however - if things don't go according to plan, there will be plenty of blame to go around.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I kind of see Hanlon and McPhee as a package deal at this point. Glen would have to have a really poor record to get the axe. If he does average or a little above (think 85 points), then both he and McPhee will have failed, an I think both are as good as done.

MT

JP said...

I can see that, but I think there's a slightly longer-term view on McPhee. I don't know that he can be fully judged on the rebuild yet, regardless of how things go this season. They obviously committed to the rebuild, so I think you need to see it through.

Hanlon, on the other hand, has more talent than he's had before and needs to show that he can not only motivate these guys to raise their game, but also be a solid X's and O's coach. I hate to harp on the powerplay, but with a hypothetical first unit of Ovechkin, Nylander, Kozlov, Poti and Semin, there's really no excuse for not finishing in the Top 10 in the Leauge in efficiency. If the team can't do that with that talent, I see it as a coaching issue.

FAUXRUMORS said...

1) We have to agree that expectations should be higher this year and therefore the ramifications for underachievment should also be higher.
2) If this team has another 70 or so point season, no matter the reasons(injuries, etc) hanlon's job should be in jeopardy.
3) GMGM is another matter. We can see Ted giving him just a tad more slack, but if a new coach is brought in and the team doesn't improve George too would be looking for work.
4) Here's hoping neither scenario occurs and your team produces to expectations, and we see playoff hockey return to Verizon!

Doug said...

I'm optimistic; yes there are questions not yet answered. Some guys need to really step-up, others need to perform close to last year, and some youngster has to really produce some pleasant surprises. We have a chance to win and what more can we ask for?

Anonymous said...

"Or maybe the veteran goalie who needs to virtually eliminate the occasional soft goal?" Here is where I shiver. A couple of key injuries here and we are utterly vulnerable. Much as I like Johnnie, he isn’t going to take us through many playoff rounds. Worst case scenario: Everything else, PP, PK, chemistry, camaraderie, Semin’s head, everything else is working well, but the goalies fail us. Nightmare!