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Apparently it’s time to write about the Washington Capitals.
Partially because they’re winning, of course, at a genuinely remarkable rate. But mainly because my editor, who had been generally forgiving when I wrote about random podcast hosts or Star Wars or the crushing despair of fandom, told me it was time.
“It’s this city’s only chance to bask in sports glory, maybe for a while,” he said.
“Fans in this town haven’t had a better chance to support a title contender in decades,” he said.
“Why isn’t there more buzz?” he said.
Before I get to that last question, I’m gonna come clean on something: I haven’t written about the Caps because, at heart, I’m way too superstitious for this gig. Basically, I’m afraid of jinxing them. Just look at what happened when I smugly said that Kirk “Franchise Tag” Cousins was clearly and demonstrably awful. [Editor’s note: He went on a 10-game tear with 23 touchdowns and just three interceptions. But who’s counting?]
But when my editor speaks, I shuffle into action. Let’s demonstrate just how little buzz there is about those already-won-more-games-this-year-than-all-of-last-year Caps!
Except… I’m not quite sure how you quantify buzz, but there sure seems to be plenty of chatter about the Caps.
In the run-up to this column, the Caps traded away local hero Brooks Laich, and the coverage was everywhere—not just locally, but on the national sites as well. Locally, prior to Laich, the conversation centered on just how great this Caps team is, how they compare to the similarly incandescent Golden State Warriors in the NBA, and how thrilling the season is.
Caps Twitter remains a lively place; Verizon Center looks rowdy during games; even talk radio mentioned the Caps more than a few times while I was tuned in. If that’s not buzz, what the heck is buzz, anyhow?
I asked Eric Fingerhut about this. He’s a die-hard Caps fan who’s become something of an unofficial ombudsman of D.C. sports media in general and Caps coverage in particular, first on his own blog and now on Twitter. If there’s anyone who would eviscerate the lack of Caps buzz, John Oliver–style, it would be him.
“I don’t think anyone thought they would be this good,” Fingerhut says, non-evisceratingly. “I woke up one day around New Year’s and was, like, ‘Wait a minute, the Caps have the best record ever after 40 games? How did this happen?’ I mean, I knew this was a good team, but I’m kinda stunned at how good they are.”
The playoff losses of recent history are part of this feeling, of course. The team coming together over the course of the season is another part. And the lack of hype, Fingerhut believes, is a third part.
Most recent years, he notes, the Caps have been generally viewed as preseason front-runners, an impression he says is not entirely accurate. “Some of those [Adam] Oates years, they really weren’t, but everyone still saw them as, ‘Sure they should be in the Final, they have Ovechkin.’” This year, basically, the opposite has happened.
But none of this really seems to support the theory that there’s no buzz. Fingerhut goes out of his way to compliment Caps die-hards, and to note that the national hockey media may have believed in the Caps even before the locals did.
Even his longtime targets at the Washington Post seem to be doing things right. “[Dan] Steinberg writing columns, Scott Allen’s written stuff on the [D.C. Sports Bog], I think they’ve had a pretty decent coverage of the team and are creating some buzz,” Fingerhut says.
The buzz they’re creating is, to a certain extent, the way sports media works in this town: Someone writes something for print, and then local sports radio and TV uses it as the basis for their hot takes, whether pro or con. The most recent Caps example was Steinberg’s column about how even skeptics should be enjoying this Caps season, which Fingerhut notes that “all” the shows seemed to devote segments to.
So the fans are warming up to the team. The media is writing and talking about the team. The tweeters are tweeting about the team. What, if anything, is actually missing?
The analysis of why things have gotten so much better, Fingerhut says. Then he ticks off a few reasons, rapid-fire: “Whether it’s stronger defense, better goalie, big [Evgeny] Kuznetsov as a second-line center, more experience winning, guys who have won the cup in the locker room… well, those are a bunch of reasons why it could be different.”
The reason why it won’t be different, of course, is that my editor made me write this. When Verizon Center collapses into a sinkhole in the playoffs, just know that it’s his fault, not mine.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @Matt_Terl.
Photo by Keith Allison / Flickr C.C.