Picking Splinters: Another Year, New CHances

Ah, the New Year. A time to wash away the past year and ring in the next with a firm resolve to improve ourselves. Like most of America, I’ve never been too good about making resolutions for myself. So I thought I’d hand them out to the District’s four professional sports teams. They probably have a better chance of keeping them anyway.

Washington Capitals

The Caps should resolve to try to win the Stanley Cup this season. While it appears the team is more than capable of keeping this resolution – they stood just one point back in the race for the NHL’s best record on Tuesday morning – there are two particular areas where the franchise must apply itself.

The first is on the effort front. On Monday night, the Caps’ players allowed the lowly Carolina Hurricanes to storm out to a three-goal lead and hang on for a 6-3 win. The ‘Canes have the fewest points in the NHL, exactly half of the Caps’ total of 54. Losing to them is like getting beat up by your little brother. Stanley Cup teams don’t get beat up by anybody. When the little twerps get uppity you put them in a head lock and give them a close-up of the couch cushions. The Caps have scuffled against lesser competition, like the Canes and Toronto Maple Leafs, all season long. If they want to capture the Cup, it’s time to get in the habit of bringing the old “A” game every night.

The second area where the Caps must show a commitment to the Cup is on the personnel side. On Monday, GM George McPhee traded away team captain Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina for Columbus Blue Jackets scrapper Jason Chimera. I don’t think you’ll find too many folks in the NHL who think that Chimera is “the missing piece” on this Caps team. The $2 million-plus of salary cap space the move brought could come in handy come the trade deadline though.

I’m going to miss Clark. Not only is he a great guy to talk with, but he’s a former Hartford Whalers fan like myself. Granted, the acquisition of a talented, responsible defenseman might lessen that blow. If the Caps can send a little salary back to Anaheim, they may be able to pry away Scott Niedermayer from the disappointing Ducks who are likely out of contention.

Washington Redskins

Needless to say changes will sweep through the Redskins organization in 2010, but I want to see this team finally admit the importance of offensive linemen.

I have a mental picture of QB Jason Campbell in my head. In that picture, Campbell’s eyes are about as wide as Albert Haynesworth’s waistline because every time I see him he looks scared and shell shocked. That’s because every time the center snaps the ball it’s like he’s hearing the whistle to go over the trenches in Gallipoli.

For years they ‘Skins have neglected their front five. And for year’s defensive players have chased Jason Campbell like he had a $500 gift certificate to The Palm stapled to his jersey. Draft prognosticators seem to have Washington pegged to take a QB, either Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen, with their top choice. Don’t. Invest in the offensive line for once. If the top lineman isn’t worth the top pick, trade down and take another lineman with the second pick. If you don’t start renovating the foundation of the team first, then the whole thing is going to topple over every year just like it has been.

Washington Nationals

The Nats have done a great job of committing to their future by going the distance to sign Stephen Strasburg after the 2009 draft. Now they need to resolve to do it again.

Washington will again own the No. 1 pick in the draft. Not only do they need to sign the player, they need to take the best available talent on the board. That doesn’t always happen in baseball. (See: The Kansas City Gaffes and the Pittsburgh Pit of Eternal Despair … er, Royals and Pirates.) If you don’t pony up for the big talent, you never improve. Nats fans have seen this team suffer long enough. They deserve to know that their ever-enduring patience for last-place teams will eventually yield a contender. Team ownership needs to keep investing in this team and inking next year’s top pick, be it wunderkind Bryce Harper or someone else, is the best way to do it.

Washington Wizards

Blow. Up. The. Team. Push the plunger. Do it. Pray for the ping-pong balls to gift you with John Wall and sign everyone you can in the free-agent bonanza of 2010. What’s that? The team is riddled with immovable contracts? What’s that got to do with anything? Did you think that first jab was a metaphor? Hardly. And besides, D.C. could use some fireworks to ring in the New Year.