19 April, 2014


Taking a Wrecking Ball to Capitals Country Club (Part I)

Because country clubs seldom are known for breeding warrior hockey players, it’s past time I think that we advocated taking a wrecking ball to Capitals’ Country Club. Professional hockey players are accorded extraordinary creature comforts while plying their trade here, from practicing and working out in a world-class training facility to engaging with a fairly fawning (hyper-non-critical) press corps.

Heck, even when this team practices outdoors it takes those paces at the posh Chevy Chase Country Club.

But from where I blog, a change in culture is badly needed for the Washington Capitals. Opulence and pampering and coddling, I allege, do not make for pit bulls in Bauers.

Herewith, in the first of a two-part revolution-intervention, I present a ten-point plan to radically reorient Washington’s country club hockey culture. On Wednesday I’ll bring you part II.

Understand, please: changes in cultures require shock therapy, boot-camp-style makeovers. These suggested intervention-remedies should be adopted in the short-term, and are not conceived as conditions to be carried forward (necessarily) through say the entirety of a player’s multi-year term with the club . . .

Although at this stage I am open to hearing otherwise from my readers.

  • New paces at the Puck Palace. There will be no returning to Piney Orchard or Mt. Vernon for practicing and training by this club, and in a sense, that’s a shame. Those over-refrigerated, decrepit barns, while rough on shivering media and spectators, reminded Capitals’ players of hockey’s primal conditions. Lay an egg one night in an NHL rink, and Caps’ players could promptly expect locker room blackboard word of penance skates at their training ice box early the following a.m. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the greatest blue-collar ethos and lunch-pail sensibilities in Capitals’ history were forged during the neighborhood, rustic rink years.

Kettler-Capitals, on the other hand, is a puck palace. Capitals’ players can have their dogs groomed there while they practice; their girlfriends can get pedis and spa treatments a few floors below. We can’t take a literal wrecking ball to the palace, but we can remove a bit of the debutant-beau out of the hockey player while he’s in there.

Effective immediately, all 10:30 practices at Kettler are moved to 7:30 a.m. Practice skates the mornings after Eastern time zone road games will take place at 8:45. Cots will be purchased by management and placed in the locker room for players wanting to maximize their rest upon late-night arrival at Kettler from the airport. This will dis-incentivize a bit the team’s nocturnal social habits (more on that in a second). This is hardly cruel and unusual punishment; the region’s high school hockey players are typically on ice sheets at 6:00 a.m. for practice skates before classes. This will prove a bit of a hardship for local media, but they’re soft, too; it’ll be good to toughen them up a bit as well.

7:30 morning skates will strike many as punitive, and that’s fine. However, hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians are roused and already on Metro or en route to their labor at the Department of Labor, or some 60-hour-a-week software shop, by 7:30 each weekday, and so our newly inspired Capitals will with their new skating schedule be more in synch with their community. Wearing ‘Washington’ as crest on your sweater necessarily means you’re a Washingtonian; our guys in skates are gonna work like we do.

  • Last call. Effective immediately, the very next Capitals player photographed at a bar the night before a game is fined $1,500, and the day following confirmation of the transgression, the team skates at 5:30 a.m. No need to go subpoena about the social past; perception in this town is reality. This is hockey; the sin of one is the sin of 20.
  • Also effective immediately, second-offender bar sippers are fined $5,000, and a bag-skate — also in 5:30 a.m. darkness — will accompany. In-season, there will  be only one top shelf pursued by Capitals’ players so long as they perpetuate mediocrity on the ice upon Washington’s severely stressed fan wallets, and that’s behind opposing netminders. The Flyers, you know, had a similar cloud of alleged bar-fly booze haze dog them not long ago. A regime change remedied that rather swiftly, and the results ever since speak for themselves.
  • Citizen-governance. No figure in hockey history was as effective at demolishing complacency and deficient work ethic as Herb Brooks. Unfortunately, we don’t have him around any more. But we can learn from his richly chronicled pedagogy. Effective immediately, Capitals’ season ticket holders will be invited to a novel participation in all bag-skates deemed necessary by the Capitals’ coaching staff. The evening before the skates, the Capitals head coach will, via email, invite a season ticket holder of duration out onto the ice the following morning for the retribution session, introduce the VIP to the entire team, and hand him or her a whistle. You know the rest. Ultimate accountability.

Legacy season-ticket holders unavailable to attend the skates will also be able to Skype-in their suggested discipline.

  • Lunch-pail/brown bag nutrition. Team officials have described to me the in-flight meals afforded Capitals players on their charters. Suffice to say, they’re not the spartan sustenance of pretzels and lukewarm Folgers you and I receive on our commercial air excursions. More like the Palm at 30,000 feet. We’re changing that, effective immediately. In lieu of filets seared in cabernet-cherry, our new in-flight nutrition will be more in line with line workers: Sloppy Joes, spinach, and gelatin. And an apple.

Obviously, no Amstel Light.

You beat the Habs up there on a Saturday night, one bottle of Labatt’s per player for the flight home.

Shock therapy, remember.

[Coming up in tomorrow's Part II, we take our pampered pucksters for a little bus ride.]



39 Comments

  1. kelly Chuba wrote:

    I was pretty depressed last night…..

    15 February, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  2. Eric wrote:

    Maybe this roster feels entitled to these luxuries because they’re almost all first rounders that spent limited time toiling in the minors?

    15 February, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  3. Dakota wrote:

    It’s worth noting that the team that passed the Caps in the SE division standings did AWAY with most morning skates, limits forward ice time to 20 minutes and frequently gives days off during losing streaks or when they “don’t have energy”. As emotionally appealing as it is to “punish” players it’s counter productive.

    15 February, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  4. WashCapsRock wrote:

    I absolutely love this idea!! I don’t make a tenth of what these guys make. If I am willing to shell put my hard-earned money for tickets then they should be willing to show up and play like they give a damn for a full 60 minutes each game. Otherwise one of the players can feel free to refund my money.

    15 February, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink
  5. The Horn Guy wrote:

    I await part II. This is good stuff.

    15 February, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  6. MadCap wrote:

    I’ve heard this “partying” talk — is there evidence of this ? If so, are we to believe that this just started mid-way through the Habs series last season ? I think partying happens with most teams in most cities (people are people — some get married and spend time with the family, some stay single and hit the bars, some get married and hit the bars :-)) — it just isn’t an issue when the team is playing well.

    15 February, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink
  7. Jen wrote:

    I love this plan- I’ve been saying this for years, actually.

    I say we start a campaign to have local areal bartenders or patrons e-mail Ted (since I’m assuming Bruce isn’t easily accessible) EVERY time Caps players are caught out on the town late and/or drunk the night before (or night of) a crappy game. If Ted just gets inundated with reports of the Caps’ social lives being more important to them than their jobs, maybe they’ll actually do something about it, because it’s completely shameful behavior!

    15 February, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  8. Jen wrote:

    @ Madcap- I assure you, there is plenty of evidence.

    15 February, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  9. alank wrote:

    Beer distributed in America is like making love in a canoe — it’s f*cking close to water. But seriously, as the colonel from MP Flying Circus would say, this is a very silly blog. There’s really nothing substantive to comment on here. Bringing back Sparta, the Puritan Ethic, or Prohibition are not working solutions. I’m off to the speakeasy.

    15 February, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  10. The focus shouldn’t be on behavior — alleged or Tweet-pictured — in the past, but instilling a climate of disciplined in the present, and going forward.

    15 February, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  11. nafyekcoh wrote:

    Of the last three I thought last nights performance was much better than what was on the ice against the Sharks and Kings. Players were driving the net, shots directed at the net were lower giving possible rebound opportunities and Ovi played a full game. Just got unlucky with putting the puck in the net. If they can maintain this style of play I believe things will turn around.

    15 February, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink
  12. alank wrote:

    I must admit, there shouldn’t be any close-order swanning about.

    15 February, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  13. In the final 8 minutes last night, trying to close a one-goal deficit, the Caps had a grand total of one shot on goal.

    Some are now taking comfort in . . . losing better . . . than we lost before.

    15 February, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink
  14. john wrote:

    1) Absolutly loving this blog! About time someone told the truth about this under achieving bunch!

    15 February, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  15. Sister Mary wrote:

    How about we also assign some stern old nuns to run the boot-camp and spank them into submission, punish anyone cutting up in class by smacking their hands with a ruler, etc.

    So if some of the players go out the night before, that still does not account for the majority of the team, unless they all do that. Even the more seasoned, so-called respected players (Knuble, Sloan, Schultz, and every ones favorite touted as the should-be captain Laich) play very off-on type hockey, what’s the excuse there?

    Yes, the captain should lead by example, and he did hustle last night, but the other players also need to pitch in. This is not the only hockey team where “Opulence and pampering and coddling” is part of the daily grind so I’m looking for another excuse :-)

    15 February, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  16. 2Box Dan wrote:

    The ‘Last call’ rules are by far my favorite.

    Let some young defenseman stay out late and be the reason that Knuble or Laich have to get up at 4:30am to get to the rink for a 5:30 skate, and I PROMISE you that whomever was at fault will be dealt with in the room.

    15 February, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  17. SKINSCAPSTERPS wrote:

    How about a healthy scratch for one of the star players ? Althought I dont know if that kind of message sending would work with this group.

    And I believe a team in the Western Conference did that earlier this year.

    15 February, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  18. sonja wrote:

    I remember a couple years ago when Green wasn’t doing so well in the playoffs. Rumors were rampant that he was out partying and everyone was quite indignant. After the team lost to Pittsburgh in game 7(?), we were told that he had been playing for quite some time with several injuries and one was to his shoulder, IIRC. We know that Semin is just coming off an injury (and I have to wonder how ready he really is for this given his lackluster performance). It seems to me that there are other things at play (pardon the pun) than simple hedonism and a lack of caring.

    I completely agree with you that a dramatic change needs occur. I’m just not certain that punishing these young players because of problems with management is an appropriate course of action. Why should they be punished because their boss hasn’t corrected them appropriately? Punish the boss; and let nature takes its course.

    15 February, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink
  19. sonja wrote:

    P.S. And c’mon, Pucks … that’s kind of a cheap shot to take at the Caps to ding them for skating at Chevy Chase in preparation for the MWC. First of all, they’ve had a long standing relationship with CCCC (as I would imagine that most NHL teams have with local country clubs; hence the longstanding jokes about golf in the off season). And second … it’s sort of well known amongst us youth league hockey people as the only outdoor rink the area that doesn’t have a roof. Where else would they have skated for that sort of preparation, exactly?

    15 February, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  20. Ross wrote:

    After serving 20 years in the military – all of it in DC – all of it in a ‘performance oriented’ profession, I can attest first hand to the result of all of these types of punishments on morale. They simply don’t work. They break teams up, they build suspicion, and they create a reason for people to look for greener pastures. This “problem” (if it really is one) needs to be fixed by the team internally. This is 100% a team leadership issue. These young men need to pull together because THEY want to. They need to have fun again playing this game and good things will follow. The way Ovi has been stepping up on the ice recently may be a sign that he’s ready to step up in the locker room and do what it takes to get some Mojo going. The kids will only stay out of the bars if they want to – never because management tells them to.

    15 February, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  21. morgan wrote:

    There was a NHL coah–Jacques Delors–who was coaching St Louis or Detroit at the time and his team was playing like current Caps. The next practice he made them stay a full eight hours telling them the people who bought tickets to watch them play had to work 8 hours so they could buy the tickets Since normal practices lasted about two hours, Delors wanted his players to see what a sweet deal they had by making them put in 8 hours like normal folks do. I doubt if this would faze our pampered powder puffs today.

    15 February, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  22. Tre Kronor wrote:

    Punitive coaching or practices don’t matter I’m afraid. What if we just don’t have the talent? I really think that’s the problem. For example, what makes us think that our D pairings are really all that good? Erskine, Schulltz, Sloan, and Alzner are mediocre at best and can’t handle powerful forechecking lines (e.g., SJ Sharks schooled us last week). Poti probably is too. The only standouts on D are Green and Carlson. Our O-lines? Not much depth there really. And, GMGM generally stays pat year in and year out – or let’s acquisitions go (look at Belanger) . What are great teams doing like the Flyers? Going out and getting talent like Pronger a few years ago and Kris Versteeg yesterday – to add to an already SC caliber line up with 3 top quality O-lines. I think the Caps are now playing at a level commensurate with their talent – and coaching. Maybe I’m wrong but what evidence is there otherwise?

    15 February, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  23. DCPPensFan wrote:

    boot camp — “Tonight, you pukes will sleep with your sticks. You will give your rifle a girl’s name because this is the only [lovin'] you people are going to get.”

    15 February, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink
  24. Gould & Duchesne wrote:

    I completely agree with the sentiment behind this post. And I’m sure it was even more cathartic to write than it was to read. However, as good as these things sound, they won’t work. As Tre Kronor says, punitive measures don’t work. The “coddling” you talk about goes on with every team is this and every other professional league. We may not like that, but that’s the reality we find ourselves in. Although I do think there are things that the club should be doing re: greater accountability, such as reduced ice time, removal of power play time, etc., thes

    15 February, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  25. SufferingSince1974 wrote:

    Seems that BB or others are always commenting on the guys that “didn’t show up to play”. Maybe a few home games where fans decide not to “show up to play” might send a message. Pick a couple of upcoming home games, all ticket holders “strike” by not showing up AND not selling their tickets for others to use. Let’s see how they like playing to a 2/3 empty Verizon Center.
    Kinda like us watching an ice surface that’s 2/3 empty of real hockey players.

    15 February, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  26. Gabi wrote:

    Lets see how this “defensive” style works in the playoffs (assuming the Caps get there) because it seems to me like the Caps are sticking with it and BB is putting his Caps career banking on it working. All us hockey fans do know that playoff hockey is different.

    My belief is that it will not work. People have to get used to the best of their abilities. I think this style does not cater to the best of the Caps player’s abilities which would make it a bad coaching decision.

    I think the Caps would give themselves the best chance of winning if they played more open like years past. True that its been a horrible failure in the playoffs the past few years but now the Caps have better personel on D and in net.

    15 February, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  27. OvieTracker wrote:

    Love it, love it, love it P&B! However, excuse me if I interpret your suggestions as some well deserved and well placed sarcastic snark directed at the protective cocoon of non-accountability surrounding the Caps. I agree with some others have posted; going overly punitive won’t help and could be counter productive. What I would like is for the enablers–including but not limited to the coach, GM, and owner Ted Leonsis–to stop encouraging bad behavior and bad habits by making excuses for losses. It isn’t all about bad luck and bad bounces, sometimes it’s because the players don’t care enough to play their best night in, night out. We’ve seen that kind of indifference far too often this season.

    As for the stories circulating about boozing the night before games, some players can handle and manage their off-ice behavior so that it won’t affect their on-ice performance. Some players aren’t as fortunate. You would think that these grown men, all professional athletes, would have the good sense to know their limitations and choose behaviors that will help and not hinder their ability to play and play well. If they can’t do this, then an intervention is necessary. These players know who they are, and I’m sure their teammates do as well. That’s the true litmus test of leadership, The problem, of course, is if the team leaders are also the worst offenders.

    15 February, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  28. Gould&Duchesne, it was cathartic to write, and I am increasingly writing in this vein in an effort to keep my sanity this hockey season. I commend the Versus talent last night for calling out our hockey team as at least two or three of them did — this is brutally boring hockey to watch, and it carries the double-damning quality of not producing wins as well.

    If some of them don’t want to work — and work under conditions that *Stanley Cup-winning* head coaches of the recent past have imposed, and they can find “greener pastures” elsewhere, I’ll drive them to the airport.

    15 February, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  29. Bobby wrote:

    Wow so many things wrong with this I don’t even know where to start. Having played HS hockey in the area and travel and knowing many players through both I have never known a single team that practiced before school. Almost all people in professional sports are very careful about what they put in their bodies, if they ate what was suggested in this junk you would see the flattest team in NHL history. Comparing a HS sesason (which only lasts 10 games in Virginia) to an NHL season is a joke in itself. And yes many in the DC area are up at 7:30 on their way to work but they were not doing their job at 8,9,10pm the night before. Even if these horrible ideas somehow worked it would make sure that no matter who our GM is we would not be getting any even decent free agents. You think any player looking for a team would want to come here? Some people don’t even think before they write a blog.

    15 February, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  30. Cathy W wrote:

    Realize that most of these suggestions won’t work and are probably not serious suggestions. But the lack of accountability that has been going on for some time needs to need corrected pronto. Any necessary changes that need to be made for that to happen should be done. As far as a suggestion for STH to not show up and let them lay to a less than 2/3 filled Verizon Center, well I was there when VC was less than 2/3 filled on a regular basis and that Caps team put in the effort that is lacking today. Other teams have turned around and had success in less time than the Caps. No more excuses and no more spin.

    15 February, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  31. Sissy wrote:

    AMEN and AMEN P&B!! And while I get the snark, one has to wonder what could come of the rest of this season if even one or two of these “suggestions” were implemented with any degree of seriousness?? Maybe we make 8th seed and have a run like the Habs did – just sayin’ – can’t wait for Part Deux!

    15 February, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Permalink
  32. Patrick wrote:

    A very passionate read, good article. Your dissappointment in the Caps performances is well-noted, and obviously many share your feelings. I am disheartened by the results of the “new system” also. The players we selected over the last several years have been offensively gifted, yet we are now trying to re-wire them to become defensive-minded. We all new this was going to take time to sort out. I still believe that the coaches will adopt a middle-of-the-road style to afford our offense to come back to life, eventually. I believe that the transformation will begin in the near future and we will see the benefits soon. I am obviously an extremely patient fan, claiming the cup is half full. I do, however, look forward to Part II. It will be a terrific read while I wait for the game tomorrow night.

    15 February, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Permalink
  33. Patrick wrote:

    For the last few years the organization claimed that they were teaching the same systems in their farm teams as they are in the big club. I would be interested to know if the Bears or even the Stingrays are adopting this “new system”. If they are not, then I would have to suspect that the team has only a short-term interest in implementing it. Possibly just a learning experiment? Wishful thinking perhaps.

    15 February, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  34. Charlie wrote:

    Are fn kidding me? I really don’t think you can tar the entire team with the same brush. Just because some of the younger single guys are going out does not mean the entire team is. Yes they shouldn’t do that but as far as I last checked it was still a free country. How dare you liken what they do to a country club. Which country club do you go to that you come home black and blue from on your arms and back from cross checks. Take stitches to your face and ear. Have broken bones to your feet so that you limp or have feet so swollen you can’t take your skate off between periods because you won’t be able to put them on again Broken fingers,orbital bones. Surgery to get pins and screws to put your shoulder back into a semlance of normal. Get your ear shredded (Clarke) Get your teeth knock out. Get so concussed you don’t remember your dog’s name or even if you have a dog. Get accosted by seekers. Where ever you go. Yes we all like to be associated with winners, be winners. Let ‘s be a little more positive and support the guys instead of shredding at every opportunity.

    16 February, 2011 at 1:31 am | Permalink
  35. Charlie wrote:

    Watch out you may get carpal tunnel from typing with your soft fingers sitting at your dangerous computer in your dark little room. Sheesh

    16 February, 2011 at 1:35 am | Permalink
  36. Charlie Knows Best? wrote:

    Apparently, Charlie does not get the concept of satire. He probably sides with Danny Boy in his lawsuit, too.

    16 February, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink
  37. JR wrote:

    Not bad, although the whole season ticket holders with the whistle thing is a bit over the top. You’re trying to create a professional environment here, right? That is not the solution.

    16 February, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  38. Gould & Duchesne wrote:

    We are in agreement in a couple ways. For those that don’t want to work, I’ll pay for your gas to get them to the airport. And while I often disagree with the VS. crew, they were spot on last night.

    16 February, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  39. TheMermaid wrote:

    Every player owes the team, the staff and the fans commitment, grit and professionalism. Every night. And, yes, often it’s been lacking, painfully. But I’m disappointed in the military-academy/reform-school-for-wayward-boys approach from p&b. Do we also call in Mike Keenan (hockey’s version of Billy Martin) or else a Ken Hitchcock type to administer it? I’m as distressed and baffled as anyone about the state of this season, and a part of me would welcome the shake-up if the Caps don’t make the playoffs or implode completely in round 1. But one problem with the military academy on ice is that (even if effective — and that’s not a given) it’s both over- and under-inclusive. It punishes everyone (and treats grown-ups like kids) while failing to address all the other problems, hidden and not, such as lingering injuries we may not know about; the wisdom of the so-called “new system”; the question whether some players were simply sailing way above their normal levels last season with never-to-be repeated career years; whether the level and mix of talent is quite there yet, etc.

    18 February, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

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