Ups and downs for District’s teams

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

The end­ings were fa­mil­iar, with the docile tones and search for rea­son­ing. Three of the four ma­jor pro sports teams in the District had their sea­sons crash to a close in the playoffs in 2016. The Washington Wizards did not even make it to the post­sea­son, prompt­ing them to fire their coach, Randy Wittman.

Thanks to those re­sults, 2016 flipped through the cal­en­dar in same-as-it-ever-was mode. The Chicago Cubs win­ning the World Se­ries and Cleve­land Cava­liers win­ning the NBA ti­tle un­did gen­er­a­tions-long droughts in the Mid­west. They also helped push Washington sports fur­ther into a non-ti­tle town po­si­tion. The Washington Red­skins last won the Su­per Bowl more than 25 years ago. The Wizards won the cham­pi­onship 38 years ago. The Washington Cap­i­tals have not won a ti­tle since first drop­ping the puck in 1974. No it­er­a­tion of the Mon­treal Ex­pos or Washington Na­tion­als has been to a World Se­ries, a run that be­gan in 1969. Baseball fans in the District can point to 1924 with pride, though. That’s the year the Washington Sen­a­tors won the World Se­ries thanks to Wal­ter John­son and man­ager Bucky Har­ris.

How­ever, the year was not all sports doom. The Cap­i­tals led the NHL in points in the reg­u­lar sea­son. The Na­tion­als won the Na­tional League East Di­vi­sion for the third time in five years, fin­ish­ing with 95 wins, which tied for the sec­ond-most in baseball. The Red­skins won their di­vi­sion for the first time since 2012, win­ning nine games, which was more than the two pre­vi­ous sea­sons com­bined. To un­der­mine the progress, the Wizards went in re­verse.

Washington Red­skins

De­ter­min­ing in the short-term where the Red­skins are will have a lot to do with Sun­day, when they will face a New York Giants team that is al­ready locked into its play­off spot and will likely rest sev­eral start­ing play­ers dur­ing the game. But, bar­ring ma­jor in­jury or a de­fen­sive col­lapse that could lead to a coach­ing change, what hap­pens Sun­day isn’t likely to have much in­flu­ence on the tra­jec­tory of the fran­chise.

Un­der Jay Gru­den, the

Red­skins have be­gun to find their foot­ing. The of­fense is third in to­tal yards in the league. What hap­pens to quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins in the off­sea­son when he is a free agent is the team’s big­gest ques­tion. He has a chance to be­come the first quar­ter­back in Red­skins his­tory to throw for 5,000 yards. He al­ready has the top two pass­ing sea­sons in Washington his­tory, us­ing this sea­son to break the record he set in 2015. The past two sea­sons have helped turn the Red­skins af­ter their world be­gan spin­ning in re­verse fol­low­ing the 2012 play­off loss against the Seat­tle Sea­hawks. Leaks, ru­mors and re­ports have be­come more muf­fled, a re­duc­tion not sur­pris­ingly paired with in­creased win­ning.

The de­fense re­mains a prob­lem, par­tic­u­larly at safety. If rookie Su’a Cravens can be moved long term to the spot and the Red­skins can find more help there through the draft and free agents, they may be able to come up with a quick fix. The de­fen­sive line and lineback­ers also need to be ad­dressed.

There’s also this bub­bling dis­cus­sion about the fu­ture lo­ca­tion of a sta­dium. The lease at FedEx Field ex­pires in 2027, but that has not stopped Red­skins owner Daniel Sny­der from drop­ping hints about a pend­ing de­par­ture and var­i­ous state politi­cians from al­ready revving up their pitches for a prospec­tive new sta­dium.

One thing no­tably ab­sent from much of the dis­course this sea­son: The de­bate around the team’s nick­name.

Over­all Red­skins sta­tus: On the right path.

Washington Cap­i­tals

No team was bet­ter dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son last year and the Cap­i­tals have been steady if not as spec­tac­u­lar in the first part of the 2016-17 sea­son.

The Cap­i­tals’ 120 points were the sec­ond-most in fran­chise his­tory, trail­ing the 2010 sea­son when Washington fin­ished with 121 points. A sur­plus of points did noth­ing to as­suage angst about the play­off, then the play­off re­sults only con­firmed the prior nerves.

Washington lost in the East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals to the even­tual Stan­ley Cup cham­pion Pitts­burgh Pen­guins. Be­fore the se­ries, play­ers on the Pen­guins and Cap­i­tals felt that to come out of the East­ern Con­fer­ence and have a shot at the Stan­ley Cup, they would have to face each other. The se­ries lasted six games. The Cap­i­tals scored 15 goals. The Pen­guins scored 16. Three of the games went to over­time.

The Cap­i­tals are near­ing a tran­si­tion. Young play­ers like Evgeny Kuznetsov and An­dre Bu­rakovsky are ex­pected to take over when 31-year-old Alex Ovechkin be­gins to slow. T.J. Oshie, Justin Wil­liams and Karl Alzner be­come free agents af­ter this sea­son, and it’s un­likely they’ll be able to re­tain all, if even two. Though, goal­tender Braden Holtby is just 27 years old. De­fense­man Dmitry Orlov is 25.

When the cur­rent sea­son is com­plete, Ovechkin will have four years re­main­ing on his mas­sive 13-year con­tract.

Over­all Cap­i­tals sta­tus: Ner­vous in the playoffs.

Washington Na­tion­als

Just 11 sea­sons into their District ex­is­tence, the per­cep­tion of the Na­tion­als has flipped. Atro­cious early af­ter baseball re­turned to Washington in 2005, the Na­tion­als now work with an­nual ex­pec­ta­tions of win­ning the di­vi­sion. Their five-year track record shows that is a fair weight. Their work in the playoffs has jolted those who root for the Cap­i­tals and and Na­tion­als to feel deja vu.

Though the Na­tion­als did not bring in any of the renowned free agents they chased this off­sea­son, much of what led to their 2016 suc­cess is in­tact. Max Scherzer won his sec­ond Cy Young Award. De­spite down years from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zim­mer­man, Washington still eas­ily won the NL East.

Most of the vi­tal pieces are back next sea­son. Should good health be main­tained through the spring, the only open­ing day changes will be through the mid­dle of the field. Trea Turner, who was a fi­nal­ist for Rookie of the Year, will move to short­stop. Adam Ea­ton will be in cen­ter field. Be­hind the plate will be Washington’s big­gest ques­tion. Derek Nor­ris re­places Wil­son Ramos, who was an all-star last sea­son.

Over­all Na­tion­als sta­tus: Ner­vous in the playoffs.

Washington Wizards

The Wizards had a “slip-up,” as Wittman termed it at the end of the sea­son. They fin­ished 41-41, which put them three games out of the playoffs and dif­fused any chance at mak­ing the post­sea­son for the third con­sec­u­tive sea­son. Then, the or­ga­ni­za­tion fol­lowed through with its ill-ad­vised run at free agent Kevin Du­rant, and lost out on Al Hor­ford.

But, hir­ing Scott Brooks to re­place Wittman ap­pears to be a strong move. The Wizards have won seven con­sec­u­tive home games and crept to­ward a .500 record fol­low­ing a pu­trid start of the sea­son filled with in­juries and in­ef­fec­tive­ness. Their start­ing five is among the best in the con­fer­ence. The per­pet­ual ques­tion for them this sea­son will be about what their bench can pro­vide.

Their long-term path is more dif­fi­cult to pre­dict. Washington re­sides in “NBA pur­ga­tory” as a team good enough to get to the playoffs, but with­out the power to move to the league Fi­nals, let alone win the ti­tle. Un­til LeBron James leaves Cleve­land, that will be the plight of most teams in the East­ern Con­fer­ence.

Over­all Wizards sta­tus: Tread­ing wa­ter.

Pitcher Max Scherzer won the Cy Award for the Na­tion­als, who lost to the Dodgers in the Na­tional League Di­vi­sional Se­ries.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

An­dre Bu­rakovsky and the Cap­i­tals were elim­i­nated in the East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals by the Pen­guins.

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