April 5, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), center Nicklas Backstrom (19), and head coach Dale Hunter watch from the bench during the final seconds of their game against the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 4-2 and clinched a playoff birth. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
In this week's Chain Reactions, Dale Hunter is gone. Now what? Plus, are the Nationals cursed? Also, Bryce's big week.
It was a milestone week for the biggest rising star in town, Bryce Harper. Monday night, he blasted his first Major League home run and hit another one Tuesday afternoon, becoming the youngest player in big league history to hit them in back-to-back games.
The milestone was not even the most memorable part of Tuesday's loss to San Diego. No, that game will go down in history as the day Stephen Strasburg got liquid heat in his jock. Yes, just like in Revenge of the Nerds.
The two dingers probably felt really good for Harper, who in the last week has needed 10 stitches below his left eye after his bat swung back at him and has also had several misadventures in the outfield.
I'm not here to pick on "Bam Bam" I love his hustle. No player runs the bases faster after hitting a home run. He will never be accused of trotting like Ricky Henderson. The kid has a real competitive edge and his "swagger" is refreshing in a sport that is losing young fans because it can be flat out boring.
So let's enjoy Harper's growth with the Nats before he leaves as a free agent to join the Yankees.Too soon?
In this week's Chain Reactions, the Caps season ends in the Eastern Conference Semifinals once again and then things really got interesting. Plus are the Nats cursed?
Can Caps Keep on Hunter's Course without Him?
It was just a week ago I talked about the Caps playing the right way and how they were no longer the same old "Choking Caps" in the postseason. I believed every word of it.
Fast forward to present time and, well, I'm not so sure what to think. Not because the Caps lost Game 7 rather quietly to the Rangers. No, my uncertainty is because I thought the ship was righted, but the captain decided to jump overboard. Yes, Dale Hunter's not so shocking departure has the Caps future in very uncertain waters.
Many players praised Hunter for bringing "accountability" to the Caps locker room and setting the groundwork for playing playoff hockey.
"I asked him if there’s anything I can do to convince him to stay," Brooks Laich said. "He taught us as much about leadership and team aspects and respect amongst players and trusting your teammates as he did about hockey."
Said Nicklas Backstrom: "We played good hockey in the playoff and I think he’s been doing so many good things for this team. I really wanted to see him back next year but unfortunately he’s not. It’s not good."
Now that Hunter's gone, there are more questions than answers going towards 2012-2013. Will GM George McPhee hire another unknown? Does he actually hire a coach with NHL experience? Does he need to find a coach that fits with Hunter's philosophy?
Will the new coach play a style that fits Alexander Ovechkin's skills better? And what does the Great 8 want in the next coach?
"I don’t know who’s going to be the coach next year, but the leaders in this group have to be together and don’t look, you know. … I don’t know how to explain better, but sometimes you don’t have to be jealous," he said. "I don’t want to say it was a jealous situation for us, but sometimes you just have to be a group together."
Not sure what Ovi is alluding too, but you don't have to be Dr. Phil to know he was not a fan of Hunter's system that many times kept him off the ice. He talks about "leaders." Does he included himself? Let's hope so, since that "C" is on his jersey. Make no mistake, Ovi was not the only one that did not love playing in Hunter's system. Alexander Semin's agent has done more talking two days into the off-season than his client ever has here in DC. His message is that Semin will take advantage of his free agency in order to find a better fit for his talent.
McPhee had to know this was a real possibility when he brought Hunter on an interim deal after firing Bruce Boudreau. With that in mind, you would think McPhee has had a short list in the drawer just in case Hunter said, "Peace out!"
There seems to be a strong faction of Caps that liked the direction the team was headed. Can a new coach steer the ship in the same direction and keep accountability high in the locker room? One of Hunter's best qualities as coach seemed to be his "I don't need this damn job" attitude. The next coach will need to be able to coach with the same attitude.
Many fans have voiced support for going back to the high scoring system that Washington used to play. My thought on that is: why? The Caps didn't win with it, and no one else in the NHL has in recent years. Let's give this style a few playoffs and see what happens.
Now it is up to George McPhee to identify and hire that coach ASAP. I know McPhee has hinted he might take his time because the draft is the most pressing concern. However, wouldn't you want the new coach to lay out the course as quickly as possible to help identify the right players for his system?
I guess we are about to find out.
Are Nats Suddenly Cursed?
How bad are things for the Nationals on the health front? So bad that the injury replacements even get hurt. First it was Brad Lidge, filling in for the injured Drew Storen, that fell victim, and then poor Sandy Leon went down filling in for the injured Wilson Ramos.
If you are scoring at home, which you might be if you are a hardcore baseball fan, the Nationals have 10 players on the injured reserve. Among them, two of their biggest bats in Michael Morse and Jason Werth. The injuries certainly have played a role in the Nationals offensive struggles. They're 27th in MLB in runs, 20th in batting average, and 23rd in slugging percentage.
Despite those struggles and inconsistent outings from closer by default Henry Rodriguez, the Nats are just a half game out of first in the NL East and are the top NL Wild Card right now, which is a credit to their starting pitching and ability to find a way in close games.
For the record I don't believe in curses (sorry Red Sox and Cubs fans and, yes, Bullets fans too). There are good organizations and bad ones. Does luck have some role in the success of sports franchises? Of course ... but the good organizations overcome the bad luck or bad breaks and play on. So far, the Nats have done that, which hopefully means they are going to be a good organization for the long haul.