Hockey is Back!
At least that is the slogan the NHL is using coming out of the lockout.
Based on the deal finally made between the NHL and NHLPA, it was a stoppage that easily could have been avoided last September, but that is water under the bridge, at this point.
What is important is the Washington Capitals are about to enter their 38th season still seeking their first ever Stanley Cup, and they will attempt to do that with a rookie head coach in NHL Hall of Famer Adam Oates.
Oates inherits a team that was one game away from beating the New York Rangers and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. It was a year that was a trying one for the team given a coaching change and Nicklas Backstrom’s 40 game absence due to a concussion.
In the offseason, General Manager George McPhee hit two home runs in the first round of the NHL draft in Filip Forsberg and Tom Wilson. Forsberg will play in Sweden this year and Wilson was in camp today, but likely will return to his Ontario Hockey League team (Plymouth) after no more than five NHL games. McPhee let enigmatic forward Alexander Semin go the route of free agency (now with Carolina), but the GM did fill a major hole by obtaining center Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars. It was a big move and the Caps now have two legit top six centers in Backstrom and Ribiero for the first time since Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov in 2009.
In talking to several players after Oates’ first on ice practice, which was precluded by a video session, there is a sense that Oates really knows the game inside and out and the team is ready to embrace the aggressive system he is going to employ.
Captain Alexander Ovechkin made it clear that gone is “dump and chase” hockey and the “ability to create” will be back in the game plan.
Mike Green was happy that the head coach was talking to him about the defense instead of that being delegated to one of his assistants.
Joel Ward said that the “stuff I learned in the last hours alone I’ve never even come across in my hockey career.” He also called Oates very detailed and said ”He doesn’t know if he’s seen a hockey brain like that in a while.”
Karl Alzner said Oates “knows exactly what he wants and how to teach it” and labeled the new system as proven.
Jay Beagle talked at length about a phone conversation he had with Oates last summer regarding stick curvature and the way its’ blade lies on the ice. By the end of the conversation #83 had agreed to a change and Oates shipped him new sticks shortly thereafter. Beagle will be using the new lumber this season.
Brooks Laich called the new coaching staff ”very intelligent” and “prepared” and said that everyone is excited to get going. He also stated he thought that there was no reason that the Capitals couldn’t be a powerful offensive team that is also strong defensively.
So it is clear the players are on board with what Oates wants to do, which I am not sure I could say about this club all of last season and perhaps the season before. It will be a tough transition period given they only get six days to practice before Saturday’s opener in Tampa (7 pm on CSN), but so much of hockey is attitude and working together.
On day one, this team has the right attitude and appear unified.
So Oates and the Caps have that going for them….which is nice.
Notes: Laich has a lower body injury and did not skate with the team. He will miss at least a week. He skated on his own prior to practice and said that he has a “roadmap” for getting back to full health and playing games…Backstrom didn’t show any ill effects of his recent neck injury…Ovechkin had a great practice and many of his shots in drills found the back of the net. The Gr8 had 19 goals in the KHL and looks to continue his hot early pace…McPhee signed right wing Eric Fehr to a one year, $600,000 deal. Fehr, who was drafted in the first round by Washington in 2003, played for Winnipeg last season but said he was never 100% healed from a shoulder injury but is fully recovered now….Ward said he had offseason hernia surgery and that the injury impacted his skating last year. He is 100% now…Beagle, who fractured his foot in the game five nightmare loss to the Rangers, had surgery and told me he is finally pain free…Green, who missed 30+ games last season, stated he is physically fine for the first time in a long time…defensemen Tom Poti, who hadn’t played in two years, was assigned to Hershey on a 14 day conditioning stint. He played this evening for the Bears and had a goal in a 5-0 Hershey victory.