Washington Post Sports Watch: Once Again, The Sports Columnists Forget About the Caps
For some reason, the sports columnists at the Washington Post treat the Caps differently than the three other major sports teams in the area. Whenever the Redskins, Nationals, or Wizards make a trade, sign a key free agent, sign their own player to a contract extension, even send someone down to the minors, at least one--if not multiple--columnists write about the move, adding (hopefully) some perspective and analysis and discussing what it means for the team in the future. Not so for the Caps. The failure of any columnist to write anything about the Grabovski move just continues a long tradition. This spring, when the Caps traded one of their top prospects, Filip Forsberg, for Martin Erat--a trade that was pretty controversial among Caps fans--no columnist wrote a word about it. Last summer, when the team acquired Mike Ribiero in a trade and let go one of the most fascinating and frustrating athletes in the city, Alex Semin, the moves went unremarked on by the columnist crew. I could even go back to 2008, when the Caps signed Alex Ovechkin to a 13-year, $124 million contract and not one columnist wrote about it at the time.
And yes, I know that Neil Greenberg wrote a piece about the Grabovski acquisition on Monday. It was an interesting take. It also wasn't by a columnist--it didn't appear in the print edition--and Neil's brand of advanced statistical analysis isn't unique to the Post's Caps coverage. Both Nats Journal and the Redskins Insider blog have stat analytics guys who write regularly there (Harry Pavlidis right now for the Nats and Brian Burke last season for the Skins). That doesn't mean it's not valuable, it's just not what I'm talking about.
Why does this matter? Because a good sports section should be acting as a watchdog over a city's local teams with both reporting and smart analysis that at least puts some pressure on the team to succeed--but with the Caps, serious discussion of the team's flaws and strengths (other than Ovechkin) is rare. It's somewhat amazing how every year, the Post columnists do turn out to slam the Caps after they get eliminated early in the playoffs. This May, for instance, Boswell wrote a column which criticized General Manager George McPhee for building teams that achieve regular season success but aren't built to succeed in the playoffs. It was a fair criticism looking at the team's track record. But when it comes time to actually tracking what the team does to build that roster, Boz is AWOL--that column last May is his only column on the team in the last 15 months. (I actually asked Boz in a chat a couple months ago why he hadn't written a Caps column in so long--his answer, to paraphrase, was basically that he was too busy vacationing and writing columns from spring training on how great the Nats were going to be this year...)
I don't want to give the impression that the Post doesn't have some quality analysis of the Caps. Mike wise had a handful of very good columns last season--both his "Blame Ovechkin, and everybody else" piece in March and his column on the Adam Oates-Ovechkin relationship were excellent--and Barry Svrluga had a few columnesque pieces (called "On Hockey") that were interesting until he disappeared for the last couple months of the season to cover college basketball and the Masters. But as far as serious discussion of the team's offseason, or inseason, roster moves, one has to go to the great Caps blog Japers Rink to find any breakdown of what, for instance, Grabovski's addition means for the Caps' forward lines this year.
Why does this failure by the columnists persist? I don't really know, but it seems to come down to one of two reasons: the columnists don't feel they know enough about the Caps to write intelligently about their roster decisions, lineups, etc. Or they or their editors don't care enough about the Caps to bother writing about those decisions. If it's the first reason, the Caps have been here since 1974--they should know about hockey by now. And I hope it's not the second reason. Whatever the case, though, I do know one thing: they're letting down their readers.