Are sins of postseasons past keeping the Washington Capitals from even reaching the playoffs this year?
Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom were supposed to fuel the Caps for a decade. Instead, four straight division titles have resulted in only two first-round series wins, one new coach and now zero help coming as the team seems on the verge of fading away.
That's a disappointment even in a town filled with them.
Backstrom was placed on the long-term disabled list Monday after missing 25 games with a concussion. Ovechkin is nowhere near his two-time MVP form. Semin has shown life lately but not enough to revive the Caps.
This is what happens when a team blows postseason opportunities. The Caps should have at least reached the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago but lost in the first round. They managed to make the second round last year but were swept.
Such disgrace takes something out of a roster. Coach Bruce Boudreau was fired when it became clear he no longer was able to reach the players. Sadly, current coach and past team legend Dale Hunter hasn't been able to do that either.
Washington reached Monday's trade deadline in ninth place and out of the postseason with nearly six weeks remaining. Maybe a token move would have shaken their malaise, but general manager George McPhee decided there was no short-term help available.
"There wasn't anything there that would have been the right thing for the club," he said.
Fair enough. McPhee knows the Caps still can make the playoffs, so there's no sense making a costly short-term deal. Injured defenseman Mike Green is back. Maybe Backstrom can recover in time for the playoffs, though McPhee's body language suggested it's a long shot. Oddly, Backstrom's coming off as the team's savior and best player. Whatever happened to Ovechkin's leading role?
How did the Caps slip from first to ninth in two years despite a young roster? Semin's only 27 years old. Ovechkin's 26 and Backstrom's 24. They're in their prime, yet sadly the trio's best days seem past.
Ovechkin has 25 goals, 48 points and a minus-nine rating in 58 games. His days of carrying the team offensively ended last year when he slipped to 32 goals and 85 points following three straight years of 50-plus goals and 100-plus points. The magical 65 goals and 112 points in 2007-08 seem more mythical by the year.
The Russian forward just doesn't seem into the game anymore. Did the upset by Montreal in the first round in 2010 sour him beyond repair? Another year of underachieving and the Caps must ponder the unthinkable -- trading Ovechkin.
Washington has enough talent to replicate Montreal's 2010 postseason success. Home ice isn't as important in hockey as in other sports, so the Caps still can shock and awe come April.
Yet somehow, the magic seems missing.