The 2010 Winter Olympics, Team USA’s young guns, Canadian men’s and women’s hockey gold, head shots, concussions and tight playoff races have all captured our attention this season and for good reason. Unfortunately, lost in all of this has been one of the most incredible seasons ever posted by an organization.
Don’t look now, but the Washington Capitals and their top American League affiliate, the Hershey Bears, have already captured their respective division championships (Hershey clinched a playoff berth the first week of March) and are skating toward franchise-record finishes.
For the Caps, that means the best regular season points and wins total in the team’s 36-year history (50 wins in 1985-86 and ‘08-09 and 108 points in ’08-09). The Bears, meanwhile, are participating in their 72nd season in the 74-year-old minor league circuit and are not only threatening the franchise record for points (114), but they have already set a new team-high for wins (51) and are chasing the AHL record of 57 wins and 124 points established by the Binghamton Rangers in 1992-93.
It is not a reach to say no organization has enjoyed as much success in the post-lockout era, top-to-bottom, as the Caps. While Washington took a couple seasons to get back into the NHL playoff picture, the Bears captured their ninth Calder Cup Championship in 2005-06 with Bruce Boudreau at the helm. Former Bears player and Calder Cup winner Bob Woods assisted Boudreau that season. Incredibly, seven current Caps players (Mike Green, Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz, Dave Steckel and Boyd Gordon) won the Cup in Hershey that year.
The following season, Boudreau again led Hershey back to the Calder Cup final where they were defeated by a tenacious Hamilton squad led by a rookie goaltender fresh off his final season in the Western League by the name of Carey Price. After not winning a Cup in almost 10 years, Hershey made back-to-back Cup final appearances under Boudreau and kept its amazing streak of winning the Cup at least once every decade dating back to the 1940s (’46-’47, ’57-’58, ’58-’59,’68-’69, ’73-’74, ’79-’80, ’87-’88, ’96-’97, ’05-’06) in tact.
By U.S. Thanksgiving of the 2007-08 season, with the Caps already buried and virtually eliminated from the NHL playoff race, Washington GM George McPhee promoted Boudreau to coach the Caps and the rest, as they say, is history. Boudreau’s squad went 37-17-7 the rest of the way, winning the first of what is now three consecutive Southeast Division titles in a row.
Hershey, meanwhile, saw Woods take over behind the bench and, within one full season, lead the Bears to their AHL-best 10th Calder Cup title in 2008-09. At least eight additional players who are with, or have skated for, the Caps this season (Mathieu Perreault, Tyler Sloan, Keith Aucoin, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Alexandre Giroux, Quinton Lang and Michael Neuvirth) gained playoff experience in Hershey last season. Moreover, during the summer, Boudreau tapped Woods to join him as an assistant coach in Washington. The organization’s response, at the urging of Hershey Bears president and GM Doug Yingst, was to promote Woods’ assistant, Mark French, to the head job in Hershey. French is now leading Hershey to the greatest regular season in its 72-year history.
Great drafting, patience developing players, promoting from within, rewarding excellence, soliciting input throughout the organization and committed ownership and management at both the NHL and AHL level have made the Washington Capitals the premier organization today. Here’s hoping we quickly fix the head-shots problem and move on to celebrating incredible on-ice achievements.
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2009-10 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.