The Washington Capitals’ season came to an early end once again Wednesday, this time after a four-game sweep in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning.  For the top-seeded Caps, it will be another long offseason after a disappointing end to a regular season that saw Washington finish once again with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

For the fourth straight year, the young, talent-laden Caps have lost to a lower-seeded team in the first or second round of the NHL playoffs. Caps star Alexander Ovechkin played solidly with 10 points in nine games.  But teammates Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom disappeared against Tampa Bay.  Goalie Michal Neuvirth played well in the first round against the New York Rangers, but slipped up a bit against the Lightning.  Washington’s power play was abysmal.

But why have the Caps failed in the playoffs each of the past four seasons?  Coach Bruce Boudreau made a midseason switch to a more defensive oriented style, but the coach has to share some of the blame with the players.  Still, even more of the blame has to go to owner Ted Leonsis and general manager George McPhee.

After Leonsis bought the Caps in 1999, they made the playoffs three of the next four seasons.  Then the internet pioneer sold off some of the team’s veterans to rebuild the Caps, which hit rock bottom in 2004, enabling Washington to draft Ovechkin number one overall.  Mike Green was taken later in the first round, and the 2006 draft yielded Backstrom and both current Caps goalies, Michal Neuvirth, and Semyon Varlamov.

The Caps are set for the future, with a young core of players including Ovechkin (25), Backstrom (23), Semin (27), Green (25), Brooks Laich (27), and Neuvirth and Varlamov, both 23.  Washington also gets major contributions from defensemen Karl Alzner (22), John Carlson (21), and center Marcus Johansson (20). But is the Caps’ youth also part of the problem?

By unloading veterans and rebuilding, the Caps hit rock bottom and drafted players who would become stars.  But at what cost? Does essentially losing on purpose for a few seasons have any lingering effect on a franchise?  The Caps are excellent in the regular season and even better on paper.  The current crop of Caps are underachievers, however; time will tell if the label damages them psychologically.

Leonsis is Teflon Ted.  No criticism sticks to him.  Both D.C. sports radio stations are afraid to pass any judgment on Ted. The newspapers never criticize him.  The failure of Daniel Snyder and the Redskins in signing big name free agents – making quick fixes instead of building through the draft – has helped make Leonsis a hero simply because he’s the anti-Snyder.  But Leonsis’ strategy of building for the future at the expense of the present is part of the reason his Caps have yet to make it past the second round of the NHL playoffs.  The Caps need at least a sprinkling of the “Future is Now” philosophy to get them over the hump.

To read more about what the Caps need to finally win a Stanley Cup, read the rest of my article on