July 24, 2014

NHL trying to put Olympics on ice

On Saturday morning, fans across America celebrated an absolutely incredible Olympic shootout win over Russia. People across the country woke up early and were rewarded with an amazing game that somehow lived up to all of the hype. Americans cheered and tweeted all day about USA’s incredible victory.

Meanwhile NHL commissioner Gary Bettman sat in his ivory tower, arms crossed, watching disapprovingly as his sport took center stage and NHL players did their sport proud.

Ok, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but Saturday’s game shows the absurdity of the NHL’s desire to pull its players from future Olympic participation.

Both Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly have expressed the owner’s desire to keep the players out of future Olympic tournaments and the league does have valid concerns. Fans may have had the opportunity to watch Saturday’s game because it landed on the weekend, but except for the few times the Olympics are held in North America, the foreign schedule is not conducive for a large TV audience.

It doesn’t matter how great the games are if no one is watching.

Olympic participation also means a two-to-three week break in the NHL season. That stops the league’s momentum at a time when it is no longer competing with the NFL for an audience. It is hard to bring fans back after such a long break.

There is also the obvious injury concern as players can injure themselves playing in what essentially amount to exhibition games in the NHL’s eyes.

Is it worth risking the health of the league’s best players and the fans’ patience for a tournament that most people won’t even be able to watch?

Given where the next Olympics will be held and how long it took for the NHL to approve player participation in Sochi, there will likely be a real fight for the players to represent their national teams in four years.

When the NHL first hinted its displeasure with the Olympics, Alex Ovechkin made it clear he was going to Sochi regardless, saying he would go even if the season did not pause for an Olympic break. The 2018 Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It is doubtful he will make same threat then.

The real fight for the future of NHL Olympic participation is going to be for Pyeongchang. With so many Canadian stars, the NHL would have had a hard time keeping the players out of Vancouver four years ago and the same goes for Sochi.

There aren’t any South Korean superstars in the NHL. While representing one’s country is always important, Pyeongchang just will not carry the same importance as either Vancouver or Sochi.

That doesn’t mean, however, that players won’t fight to play in the Olympics. Despite what the NHL may think, ending their Olympics participation would be bad for the sport and for business.

The NHL season grinds to a halt every year already for an All-Star event that many fans really do not care about. Though the All-Star break is not as long as the Olympic break, there is no question that Olympic hockey generates more interest among fans than the All-Star game.

The NHL is also underestimating the world-wide importance of the Olympics to European players. As the KHL continues to rise in prominence and popularity, it is foolish for the NHL to deny players the chance to represent their native countries.

Alex Ovechkin is one of the faces of the Sochi Olympics because that’s how important this hockey tournament is. Eventually, the Winter Olympics will return to Europe and every European player in the league will want to represent their countries in front of their friends and families.

With the ‘defection’ of superstar Ilya Kovalchuk back to Russia and the KHL, is it really smart to give the KHL another major advantage in terms of convincing European players to stay?

How about an example that hits closer to home for Caps fans. Evgeny Kuznetsov appears to finally be ready to make his NHL debut after the conclusion of the KHL season. As he watches the Sochi Olympics, you can bet there are people in his ear telling him he may never represent Russia in the Olympics if the NHL has its way.

For many players trying to decide between the NHL and KHL, the Olympics could tip the balance just a little more towards the KHL.

The NHL of course isn’t saying that players can’t represent their countries. “I’m very much a believer in the World Cup,” said Bettman during a Q&A with TSN’s Gord Miller. “I think they’re great. Doing it at a time of year in places that we can control makes a whole lot more sense for us in terms of what we try to accomplish as the NHL. And we think it’s good for international hockey as well.”

But while a world cup may solve the problem for the NHL, the NHL seems to be assuming other leagues would follow suite. Why would the KHL throw its support behind the NHL’s Olympic alternative? Any NHL-backed tournament would likely be held more frequently in North America in order to benefit the NHL’s audience.

So here’s the choice the KHL faces. They can continue to allow their players to play in an already established, popular tournament that all their players want to play in and watch as the NHL withdraws its players allowing the European teams to dominate. They can then use Olympic participation as a recruiting tool for all players considering leaving for the NHL.

Or the KHL could help the NHL with its World Cup idea that would be organized in a way that best suits the NHL.

Hmm, where’s the benefit for the KHL?

The NHL is squaring itself up for a fight with its players that will benefit a major competitor in the KHL. It’s hard to take the NHL seriously as they cite player safety when international hockey is played on a wider rink and does not allow fighting. This is strictly a business decision and it is the wrong one.

The benefits of Olympic participation, though limited, are clear in the wake of such great hockey like fans were treated to on Saturday. Abandoning the Olympics for a World Cup the rest of the world has little reason to care about is just bad business.

Alex Ovechkin named NHL’s First Star of the Week

Alex Ovechkin during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Capitals Press Release:

ARLINGTON, Va. – Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has been named the NHL’s “First Star” for the week ending Oct. 6, the NHL announced today.

Ovechkin led the NHL in goals (4), points (6), power-play goals (3), power-play points (5) and shots on goal (24) just days after returning from Greece, where he became the first Russian to carry the Olympic torch for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. He opened the season by recording two points (one goal, one assist) in a 6-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 1. Ovechkin then scored twice, assisted on the game-tying goal and potted the clinching score in the shootout to help the Capitals rally from a three-goal deficit in a 5-4 victory over the Calgary Flames on Oct. 3. He closed the week by tallying Washington’s lone goal, the 375th of his career, in a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Oct. 5.

The 28-year-old Moscow native and reigning Hart Memorial Trophy winner has played in 604 career NHL games, all with the Capitals, totaling 741 points (375 goals, 366 assists).

 

Washington Capitals announce 2013-14 schedule; open in Chicago Oct. 1

TEAM WILL PLAY IN NEWLY CHRISTENED “METROPOLITAN” DIVISION

The Washington Capitals announced their 2013-14 regular season schedule Friday. Under the new schedule format, all teams will play in every city in the league, setting up some interesting road trips throughout the season. The NHL will pause from Feb. 9-25, 2014, while NHL players comprise the majority of the rosters of the national teams competing in Sochi for Olympic gold.

The Caps open the season in Chicago against the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Oct. 1 and start their home slate two days later when they host the Calgary Flames at 7 pm.

Effective this season, the NHL will operate under a new divisional alignment and scheduling matrix that ensures all 30 teams play in all 30 arenas at least once each season. In creating more geographically-appropriate groupings, the NHL now has two eight-team divisions in the Eastern Conference and two seven-team divisions in the Western Conference. The Capitals will be in the Metropolitan Division with Columbus, Carolina, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Capitals will host the 11-time Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings at Verizon Center on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 2 at 12:30 p.m. It will mark the fourth time in the past five years that the Capitals will play on Super Bowl Sunday.

Washington has six homestands of at least three games on the schedule, the longest being a five-game stretch at Verizon Center from Oct. 10-19. The Capitals have five stretches of at least three straight road games and two season-high five-game road trips from Oct. 22-Nov. 1 and Jan. 24-31, respectively. In addition, the Capitals will have 17 sets of back-to-back games.

Home dates to remember:

  • Oct. 3 – Home opener at Verizon Center versus the Calgary Flames.
  • Oct. 14 – A Columbus Day tilt versus the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Oct. 16 – The New York Rangers make their way to Verizon Center for the first time since the ECQF.
  • Nov. 20 – The Pittsburgh Penguins make their first visit of the season to D.C.
  • Jan. 2 – The Capitals kick off 2014 when they host the division rival Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center.
  • Feb. 2 – On Super Bowl Sunday the 11-time Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings make their way to D.C.
  • Mar. 10 – Washington hosts Pittsburgh for the second and final time of the regular season.
  • Apr. 11 – Washington welcomes the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
  • April 13 – Washington concludes the regular-season home schedule at Verizon Center versus Tampa Bay.

OCTOBER

Tue, Oct. 1             at Chicago              8 p.m.
Thu, Oct. 3            Calgary                 7 p.m.
Sat, Oct. 5              at Dallas                 8 p.m.
Thu, Oct. 10          Carolina                7 p.m.
Sat, Oct. 12           Colorado               7 p.m.
Mon, Oct. 14         Edmonton             7 p.m.
Wed, Oct. 16         N.Y. Rangers        7:30 p.m.
Sat, Oct. 19           Columbus              7 p.m.
Tue, Oct. 22           at Winnipeg           8 p.m.
Thu, Oct. 24          at Edmonton          9:30 p.m.
Sat, Oct. 26            at Calgary              10 p.m.
Mon, Oct. 28         at Vancouver         10 p.m.

NOVEMBER

Fri, Nov. 1             at Philadelphia       7 p.m.
Sat, Nov. 2            Florida                  7 p.m.
Tue, Nov. 5           N.Y. Islanders       7 p.m.
Thu, Nov. 7           Minnesota             7 p.m.
Sat, Nov. 9             at Phoenix              8 p.m.
Sun, Nov. 10         at Colorado            8 p.m.
Tue, Nov. 12         Columbus              7 p.m.
Fri, Nov. 15           at Detroit                7:30 p.m.
Sun, Nov. 17         St. Louis                6 p.m.
Wed, Nov. 20        Pittsburgh             7:30 p.m.
Fri, Nov. 22          Montreal               7 p.m.
Sat, Nov. 23           at Toronto              7 p.m.
Wed, Nov. 27        Ottawa                  7 p.m.
Fri, Nov. 29          Montreal               5 p.m.
Sat, Nov. 30           at N.Y. Islanders    7 p.m

DECEMBER

Tue, Dec. 3            Carolina                7 p.m.
Sat, Dec. 7             Nashville               7 p.m.
Sun, Dec. 8            at N.Y. Rangers     7 p.m.
Tue, Dec. 10          Tampa Bay           7 p.m.
Fri, Dec. 13            at Florida               7:30 p.m.
Sun, Dec. 15          Philadelphia          3 p.m.
Tue, Dec. 17          at Philadelphia       7:30 p.m.
Fri, Dec. 20            at Carolina             7 p.m.
Sat, Dec. 21           New Jersey           7 p.m.
Mon, Dec. 23        Anaheim                7 p.m.
Fri, Dec. 27           N.Y. Rangers        7 p.m.
Sun, Dec. 29          at Buffalo              5 p.m.
Mon, Dec. 30         at Ottawa               7:30 p.m.

JANUARY

Thu, Jan. 2            Carolina                7 p.m.
Sat, Jan. 4              at Minnesota          8 p.m.
Thu, Jan. 9             at Tampa Bay        7:30 p.m.
Fri, Jan. 10           Toronto                 7 p.m.
Sun, Jan. 12          Buffalo                  3 p.m.
Tue, Jan. 14          San Jose                7 p.m.
Wed, Jan. 15          at Pittsburgh           8 p.m.
Fri, Jan. 17             at Columbus          7 p.m.
Sun, Jan. 19           at N.Y. Rangers     7:30 p.m.
Tue, Jan. 21          Ottawa                  7 p.m.
Fri, Jan. 24             at New Jersey        7 p.m.
Sat, Jan. 25            at Montreal            7 p.m.
Tue, Jan. 28           at Buffalo              7:30 p.m.
Thu, Jan. 30           at Columbus          7 p.m.
Fri, Jan. 31             at Detroit                7:30 p.m.

FEBRUARY

Sun, Feb. 2            Detroit                  12:30 p.m.
Tue, Feb. 4            N.Y. Islanders       7:30 p.m.
Thu, Feb. 6            Winnipeg               7 p.m.
Sat, Feb. 8             New Jersey           7 p.m.
Thu, Feb. 27          at Florida               7:30 p.m.

MARCH

Sat, March 1          at Boston               1 p.m.
Sun, March 2        Philadelphia          12:30 p.m.
Wed, March 5        at Philadelphia       8 p.m.
Thu, March 6         at Boston               7 p.m.
Sat, March 8         Phoenix                 7 p.m.
Mon, March 10     Pittsburgh             7 p.m.
Tue, March 11       at Pittsburgh           7:30 p.m.
Fri, March 14       Vancouver            7 p.m.
Sun, March 16      Toronto                 3 p.m.
Tue, March 18       at Anaheim            10 p.m.
Thu, March 20       at Los Angeles       10:30 p.m.
Sat, March 22        at San Jose             10:30 p.m.
Tue, March 25      Los Angeles          7 p.m.
Sat, March 29       Boston                   12:30 p.m.
Sun, March 30       at Nashville            8 p.m.

APRIL

Tue, April 1          Dallas                    7 p.m.
Fri, April 4             at New Jersey        7 p.m.
Sat, April 5            at N.Y. Islanders    5 p.m.
Tue, April 8           at St. Louis             8 p.m.
Thu, April 10         at Carolina             7 p.m.
Fri, April 11          Chicago                 7 p.m.
Sun, April 13         Tampa Bay           3 p.m.

All Times Eastern

Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin named Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was awarded the 2012-13 Hart Memorial Trophy, the third such honor of his career, at the NHL awards Saturday evening. Ovechkin beat out Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and John Tavares of the New York Islanders, as voted on by the Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

Ovechkin started slowly last season, as did his entire team. But as they became adjusted to new coach Adam Oates’ systems, both Ovechkin and the team came on to eventually win the final Southeast Division title. Ovechkin led the league in goals and the resurrected power play helped lead the Caps from the bottom of the league to first place in the division and the eventual third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

From the team’s press release:

ARLINGTON, Va. – Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin won the 2012-13 Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team,” the National Hockey League announced today. This marks the third time Ovechkin has been named the League’s Most Valuable Player.

The 27-year-old Moscow native is the only active player to have won the Hart Trophy multiple times (2007-08, 2008-09, 2012-13) and becomes just the eighth player in NHL history to win the award three or more times, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Clarke, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Eddie Shore and Howie Morenz. Ovechkin was a finalist for the award in 2009-10. He earned 1,090 points for a margin of victory of 32 from a record-setting 179 ballots cast.

In 2009 Ovechkin became the first player in more than a decade to win consecutive Hart Trophies (Dominik Hasek, 1997-98) and the first non-goaltender to do so since Gretzky won eight in a row (1980-87). He became the third youngest player to win consecutive Hart Trophies, trailing only Gretzky and Orr.

Ovechkin scored 32 goals in 48 games this season to earn his third Richard Trophy in his career and became the first player in the trophy’s 13-year history to win the award three times. Ovechkin is the second Capital to lead the league in goals, joining Peter Bondra (1994-95 and shared the lead in 1997-98) and became the oldest player (27) to lead the league in goal scoring since Pavel Bure (29) in 2000-01.

Ovechkin also led the NHL in power-play goals (16), shots on goal (220) and tied for the league lead in power-play scoring (27 points). Ovechkin finished the 2012-13 regular season with 56 points (32 goals, 24 assists), tied for third in the league in scoring.

The Caps captain finished the regular season with 23 goals and 13 assists in his final 23 games. In that span of 23 contests, Washington went 17-4-2. The Capitals finished the season with a record of 27-18-3, first in the Southeast Division and the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Washington went 23-7-2 in games that Ovechkin tallied at least one point and 19-3-2 in games in which he scored a goal. He led all Caps players in third-period scoring (15g-8a) and tallied seven goals and three assists in the game’s final 10 minutes or overtime.

In his 579th career game Ovechkin became the third-fastest active player to reach the 700-point plateau, behind only Teemu Selanne (541) and Jaromir Jagr (557) and the fastest player to reach 700 points since Peter Forsberg did so in his 549th game in October 2003. Ovechkin became just the third Capital (Bondra and Mike Gartner) to record 700 or more points as a member of Washington and just the 22nd player to record 700 or more points in his first eight seasons.

This was the eighth consecutive season that Ovechkin has tallied 30 or more goals. The Caps captain is the only player to have recorded 30 or more goals each season since 2005-06 and is one of just nine players in NHL history to score 30 goals in each of his first eight seasons in the League, joining Glenn Anderson, Mike Bossy, Gartner, Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Jari Kurri, Luc Robitaille and Bryan Trottier in that accomplishment.

Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association submitted ballots for the Hart Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season.

Washington Capitals Morning Skate Update & Audio: Accolades for Ovi and “Black Aces”

As the Washington Capitals prepare for Game 5 against the New York Rangers at Verizon Center tonight at 7:30 pm, the NHL announced the finalists for the Hart and Lindsey awards, and Caps captain Alex Ovechkin was listed as a candidate for both awards. For the Hart Trophy, the league MVP, Ovechkin was joined as a candidate by the Penguins Sidney Crosby and the Islanders John Tavares. The Ted Lindsey Award, voted on by fellow members of the NHLPA, will be decided between Ovechkin, Crosby and Lightning winger Martin St. Louis.

The team also called up several players from the now-eliminated Hershey Bears for the remainder of the playoffs. Known as “Black Aces”, these players will practice with the Caps but in all likelihood will not see any game action. The recalled players were: goaltender Philipp Grubauer and defensemen Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek, Cameron Schilling and Nate Schmidt.

See below for audio from head coach Adam Oates, Ovechkin, and others.

05-10-13 Adam Oates Practice RAW

05-10-13 Alex Ovechkin Practice RAW

05-10-13 Jay Beagle Practice RAW 05-10-13

Nicklas Backstrom Practice RAW

05-10-13 Tom Wilson Practice RAW

NHL Trade Deadline: All quiet on the Washington Capitals front?

What happens if you throw a party and no one comes? The NHL might be about to find out.

The NHL Trade Deadline is Wednesday at 3:00 pm, but thus far there’s been less action than at a Fancy Stat convention. The same holds true at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where the Washington Capitals practiced in advance of the deadline. And by the looks of it, it’ll be as quiet here as it has been all around the league so far.

Mike Ribeiro - Captials practice at Kettler, September 14, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Mike Ribeiro – Captials practice at Kettler, September 14, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Caps biggest trade chip, UFA Mike Ribeiro, did not practice in the Caps optional practice this morning, but he did meet the media. And if he’s a guy that had any inkling that he was about to be traded, he must be the world’s greatest poker player. He was very relaxed with the media and indicated a strong opinion that he would neither be traded — nor re-signed — by Caps GM George McPhee today.

“I don’t really see myself moved or signed today,” Ribeiro said matter of factly.

The veteran center was much more focused on the Caps game Thursday night against the Islanders as they continue to re-insert themselves into serious playoff contention despite being left for dead several times this season.

“I still have the rest of this year of my contract,” he continued. “Nothing changes. I still have a lot of time after today if they want to sign me or not. For me, it’s to keep playing and make the playoffs and at some point, we can talk and get things done and see where it goes from there.”

In fact, most of the players today seemed to brush off the trade talk. If any of them are concerned about being traded, they didn’t show it, or dismissed it as “part of the game.”

The Caps are in a tough spot, despite being more than $7 million under the salary cap. They have several restricted free agents — notably Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson – that will require a raise for next season. If McPhee decides to hold pat, play out the string and take his lumps either way this season, it’s completely understandable.

The Caps have three options with Ribeiro: trade him for assets and admit to a rebuild, re-sign him to a four or five year contract the player has indicated he will be looking for, or let him play through the season and allow him to walk as a free agent for no compensation. It’s a tough call either way.

Do you give a multi-million deal to a 33 year old who is enjoying a career year, yet is unlikely to come close to earning his paycheck at the end of the deal? Do you break up a team that could very well sneak into the playoffs? Or do you deal him for picks and prospects and weaken an already flawed team?

Only George McPhee can answer these questions, and we’ll find out a little after 3:00 pm today which way he’ll go.

Washington Capitals Game 20 Wrap: Capitals come back, down Bruins in OT

An old friend who returned home this season, Eric Fehr, lifted the Washington Capitals to a miraculous 4-3 comeback win to down the Boston Bruins in overtime on Tuesday in the Verizon Center.

Looking to build off of a commanding 3-0 win over the division rival Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, the Caps welcomed the Bruins to the Verizon center. One of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, Boston entered Tuesdays matchup sitting on top of their division and in second place in the Conference.

The first period was all Bruins and they started to take control of the game early on. With just over six and a half minutes gone by in the first, Boston went to the penalty kill. While defending their net on the disadvantage, Brad Marchand took a breakaway in on Washington netminder Braden Holtby. Alexander Ovechkin, playing the point on the powerplay, was unable to catch up to him and hooked him. Marchand was awarded a penalty shot and scored to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.  [Read more...]

NHL realignment resurfaces with tweaks in the proposal

Saturday night, the fine folks on CBC discussed the latest ideas regarding the necessary realignment of the NHL. It seems there are still a lot of ideas on the table, but there are a couple of vital things the league has to get right this time and there’s some long-range planning that needs to be taken into consideration as well.

First, Detroit and Columbus move east and Winnipeg gets out of the Southeast. The Wings have long wished to play the majority of their games in the Eastern time zone and they will apparently get their wish.

Second, the seasonal scheduling allows for home-and-home games with every team in the opposite conference and puts more division teams in the same time zone, crucial for television scheduling.

Next, the proposal accounts for Divisional playoffs, not based on Conference. This helps generate rivalries and makes for more consistent television scheduling.

Finally, this proposal makes it easy when Phoenix and Florida eventually relocate, most likely to Seattle and Quebec, respectively.

Eventually, the NHL will expand again, adding two more teams to bring the league to 32. They can’t help themselves. They see those franchise fees and it’s like printing money, talent distribution be damned. The player’s union loves expansion too since it adds 50 more jobs. So let’s have some speculative fun!

We’ll assume those Phoenix and Florida moves above. And let’s award our fictional expansion teams to Toronto and Kansas City. Now, imagine the four eight-team divisions:

Orr (Northeast) Howe (East) Hull (Central) Gretzky (West)
Quebec NY Rangers Winnipeg Edmonton
Montreal NY Islanders Minnesota Calgary
Ottawa New Jersey Chicago Vancouver
Boston Philadelphia Columbus Seattle
Toronto 1 Pittsburgh St. Louis San Jose
Toronto 2 Washington Kansas City Los Angeles
Buffalo Carolina Nashville Anaheim
Detroit Tampa Bay Dallas Colorado

 

You’re welcome.

Washington Capitals Game Game 15 Recap: Caps struggle on offense in 2-1 loss to Rangers

If it was not for the outstanding effort by Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, Sunday’s loss to the New York Rangers on the road would not have been close as the 2-1 score would indicate.

Holtby, Washington’s playoff hero last year, has struggled mightily this season but has played well enough to earn himself a string of starts. While he may not have tallied the win, he was challenged early and often by the Rangers facing 40 shots on goal and only let two in. He was clearly the best player on the ice for Washington, if only he could have helped them score too. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals Players See No Major Difference in Conditioning in Those Who Went Overseas Yet

A big question at Washington Capitals training camp this week is whether there will be a noticeable difference between those who played overseas and those who stayed, but many at camp on Sunday said they may need to wait until actual games to find out.

It is such a tough stretch for Caps players this week, with the lockout-shortened season only allowing them to have one week to prepare for the NHL season. Not only do they need to learn a new coaching philosophy and acclimate to a new set of players, but they also have to get their legs under them. Of course, every player has to do the first two, but as of right now it doesn’t seem like there is a major difference between players who played overseas and those who stayed in North America, in terms of getting their legs back.

“I probably will get a better indication tomorrow to see how the guys feel the day after,” head coach Adam Oates said after practice. “Some guys played games, some guys have been off a lot, they have been skating. Sometimes the first day your adrenaline gets you through the day.”

Over five different Washington Capitals players played during the NHL lockout. Of the most high profile, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom played in the KHL, while Braden Holtby found himself between the pipes back in Hershey. Meanwhile guys like Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich found work in some of the lesser European leagues and Joey Crabb even played in the ECHL.

Karl Alzner was one of the players who opted not to sign a contract elsewhere and said it was hard to tell the difference between the two groups on the ice.

“I’m trying to think here. I haven’t noticed a whole lot of difference. Maybe come actual game time we’ll see who is still breathing good and who is breathing heavy,” Alzner said. “I know a lot of guys have been saying how tough things have been or might feel like they are breathing a little heavier than normal, but I haven’t seen a lot of huge differences, but that doesn’t become obvious until we actually play.”

With less than a week until their first actual game, some of those guys might not have a ton of time to get that breathing figured out. Ultimately though, it is going to be hard for any player to handicap how others are doing, since they are so concerned with their own fitness and stamina. Holtby, who is able to see the whole ice during practice, echoed that sentiment.

“You know, I might be able to tell in a week or so,” Holtby said. “Right now I am just right now focused on stopping the puck not on other guys too much.”

One of the newest Capitals, Cam Schilling, summed up best how there may not be much of a difference between the two groups of players.

“It helps conditioning-wise, but other than that I think guys have been skating quite a bit,” Schilling said. “It’s just going to take them a couple practices to be completely sharp and everything.”

Whether it will take a couple practices or not to get sharp, that is the only option the Caps have with just five more days of ice time before they head to Tampa on Saturday. If there is an edge to be gained from playing during the lockout, the Caps have it with so many players signing other contracts. As of right now though, the league will just have to wait and see if those who shipped off are truly better off.

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