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O, BY THE WAY

O's should emulate Caps' rebuilding effort

On the Capitals' turnaround

April 08, 2008|By BILL ORDINE

The Capitals open the Stanley Cup playoffs — The fortunes of the Washington Capitals might mean little to many sports fans in Baltimore, other than NHL enthusiasts, but the lesson of their season should not be lost on anyone who follows this town's teams - especially the Orioles.

Incredibly, the Capitals won the Southeast Division over the weekend, which helped them land the No. 3 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Caps accomplished this after finishing last in the division in the past two seasons and seemed to be on their way to a post-lockout hat trick through the first quarter of the current campaign. After a 6-14-1 start got coach Glen Hanlon fired, the Caps' postseason prospects drifted from snowball's-chance-in-Hades to outside shot to capturing a division title and home-ice advantage.

The Capitals open the Stanley Cup playoffs - their first postseason in five years - Friday at home against the Philadelphia Flyers.

This has been a long and difficult rebuilding for the Capitals. The previous two seasons, they were not only at the bottom of their division but also near the bottom of the NHL in attendance.

Four years ago, Washington shed a fistful of star players. Then, the Capitals grabbed a once-in-several-generations star when they drafted Russian Alex Ovechkin. General manager and team architect George McPhee made some key signings this season, and when they had to make a coaching change, the Caps brought in a modest, likable guy whose experience was essentially minor league.

Bruce Boudreau was named the interim coach in November and then got the full-fledged job about a month later in late December.

That last part should sound a little familiar to Orioles fans. Manager Dave Trembley wound up in the O's dugout in similar fashion.

Of course, the Caps also have that aforementioned superstar, Ovechkin, and that's something the Orioles do not presently possess. However, it is not unthinkable that Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and some combination of prospects already picked up in trades or future free agents couldn't add up to similar productivity.

The important lesson to be gleaned from the Capitals' experience, though, is about having a vision and allowing people with expertise steer a course, being unwavering in building and nurturing a team, and finding just the right leader - even if he's not a big-name strategist.

While the Orioles' fast start has been a pleasant surprise, fans shouldn't be deluded into thinking that the journey to baseball recovery at Camden Yards won't suffer moments of traumatic relapse. Even with superstar Ovechkin, the Capitals struggled woefully in front of sparse crowds for two-and-a-quarter seasons.

In the end, what Orioles fans, including team owner Peter Angelos, have to understand is that what carried the day was the most underrated of virtues - patience.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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