Forget the early season promise that had emanated out of the Edinburgh Capitals and suggested the club were primed for their best season in years. Put that down as another ‘what might have been’ moment. The palpable anticipation that greeted the arrival of the Dmitri Khristich era brought renewed hope that this would arrest a barren sequence of seasons that has seen the club rooted to the foot of the Elite League. And yet this season has nosedived spectacularly in a way few predicted, even for a side conditioned to losing.
The club is in freefall as they lurch from crisis to crisis amid a disastrous run that has seen the Murrayfield men lose 13 consecutive matches; their once promising roster decimated simultaneously by mid-season departures and a series of injuries to key imports. You’ll have to forgive those hardy and loyal Capitals supporters if they are overwhelmed by a sense of déjà vu, such are the comparisons being readily made to the calamitous campaign two years ago that saw the on-ice product torn apart by key departures.
The return of Latvian defenceman Nikita Kolesnikovs should help. He was, after all, drafted in early 2016 to provide life support to an ailing Capitals season and has once again checked into Murrayfield Ice Rink charged with providing stability to a back-end that has been bereft of such luxuries. Oh, and there is the small matter of trying to help revive another season that is in danger of petering out before it ever got going. But this season is as good as over. Hyperbole this may be but it is justified. The club has shown precious little to suggest a turnaround in fortunes is on the cards, as another false dawn seems to have come and gone for a team used to mediocrity.
To add insult to injury, the Capitals have had to deflect the concerning rumour that the holding company under which the club is registered was being wound up, with a brief statement released this week doing enough – for now – to calm frayed nerves and placate a restless fanbase desperate for any semblance of a positive to cling to. “We want a team to believe in,” went the rallying cry from the Caps Podcast team on Twitter recently, a sure sign that even for the most patient of fanbases they want answers and proof that this season won’t be another to add to a long list of failures.
Without the facts to hand, we are left with mere speculation, though it is not inconceivable that initial identification of targets went through the club’s scouting network comprised of former NHLers Andrei Nikolishin and Darius Kasparaitis this summer, rather than exclusively through general manager and co-owner Scott Neil himself. You can be relatively sure though that Neil sanctioned all signings. However, there remains the issue of what role, if any, head coach Khristich had in the construction of the roster he is currently overseeing. Most of the Canadians at the club were identified through Neil’s contacts, with the likes of Mike D’Orazio, Dylan Anderson and Mike Cazzola being snagged from North America by utilising the Capitals’ connections with higher education institutions in Edinburgh. The distinctly European flavour to the roster this season though ought to have necessitated a step-away from the North American brand of hockey witnessed at Murrayfield in recent years. And, if the admission comes that this experiment has not worked, it has potentially damning implications for a club who rightly took drastic steps to resuscitate their on-ice fortunes which have stalled under successive coaches.
Indeed, where the blame should be directed is a source of controversy in itself. The players currently battling away to stop the floodgates opening any further deserve some credit as they confront the thankless task of remaining competitive while being down as many as three or four imports, an unenviable set of circumstances that has exacerbated their current predicament. Khristich, the club’s high profile ex NHL all-star head coach, is doing his best with what he has at his disposal but with every loss comes new questions and the ebbing away of the morale the club looked to have built during the off-season. One league win in over a dozen league games will do that, as will the daunting prospect of looking up at a league table and finding that the team are already cut adrift of Dundee, and were as many as 14 points off the 8th and final play-off place as recently as last week.
For a franchise seemingly beset by a conveyor-belt of problems and plagued by annual misfortune, there has to be a degree of soul-searching. There has to be greater transparency between what the front office is doing and the core of supporters who, as captain D’Orazio was right to point out the other week, give their backing through thick and thin. Small press releases are not enough. That fan loyalty has to be rewarded but they cannot allow this discord that appears to have developed to fester.
Neil’s own admission that he wants to find high calibre replacements is all well and good. Yet there also has to be recognition that the longer this team are down bodies, the longer this losing sequence is prolonged and the greater the danger there won’t be anything to play for once the ownership plug the gaps.
You could very well look at the current situation and argue that this was not self-induced, that it was the product of an unfortunate set of connected problems that have mounted up to floor the momentum. But do that and you take away any accountability from the front office who are, after all, charged with putting a competitive product out on the ice. That’s no easy feat on a budget-constrained team, and to ignore the tireless work that Neil puts in with recruitment every year and in the day-to-day running of the club would be an insult to him and his staff. But if the owners are not accountable to the supporters then what purpose do they serve? What explanation will be mustered to explain how the Capitals have been left in such dire straits? And how can it be that this season has capitulated to a greater extent than the Michal Dobron era a year ago, a coaching stint now almost unanimously viewed as a failure?
It has been the source of constant ire for all connected with the club that they have not managed to reconcile this more often with rosters that have delivered greater consistency. It is not as if alternative strategies have not been rigorously pursued. To argue otherwise would do grave disservice to the avenue the club embarked down, at Neil’s behest, this off-season with the appointment of a first bench coach since 2010.
The Caps were after all, on paper, ideally placed for their best season in years and yet now they’ll be lucky to match Dobron’s side who, common consensus suggests, were, for all the individual talent, disorganised and generally poor last term. That’s a staggering assessment for a team currently aimlessly trudging through another underwhelming season. Admittedly no one individual is to blame, but there will have to be another inquest into why things have gone so astray. In the meantime, there has to be someone brave enough to provide the leadership on and off the ice to steer the Capitals through these especially choppy waters. Sadly though this campaign looks to be a write off and they will, in all honesty, do well from here to be competitive.
The Student reached out to Scott Neil, Edinburgh Capitals general manager and co-owner, but he was not available for comment.
Picture Courtesy of Edinburgh Capitals