So the Capitals will have a new look next season. Mike Knuble and Tomas Vokoun are definitely not returning. There are four other unrestricted free agents likely headed for the open market (forwards Alex Semin, Jeff Halpern and Keith Aucoin and defenseman Dennis Wideman).
But what kind of hockey will they play? A free man, Knuble could chat on that subject a little more openly than you would if he was returning to Washington next season. What once was the go-go Caps of 2007-2010 became the hybrid Caps of Bruce Boudreau in 2010-11 and then the conservative Caps of Dale Hunter, where 50-50 hockey was the norm. It worked this spring in the postseason as Washington reached Game 7 of the second round. Knuble believes his team could have been out on the ice with the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals. Knuble’s expanded comments on what to expect next season:
“I assume a new coach won’t be as extreme as Dale. I imagine. You have some very offensively talented guys there in Washington. I’m sure management and fans would like to see them unleashed a little bit more. And sometimes you got to take the negative with the positive and maybe you give up a couple more, but I think a lot of our guys are so offensively talented that you can win with some good offense in the first 10 minutes of the game. I think you can put some games away and then couple that with guys knowing how to play defensively and playing competent defensively I think you can win a bunch of games that way.”
And a little more insight:
“You’ve got some great offensive talent there. You might as well use them when you can. They’re no good like a battleship stuck in a harbor during a war. For a bad cliché. You got to get them out there and use them. I think moving on that there could be some sort of – even though you start a game one style you can switch in the middle of a game when you get the lead and need to protect it. I think guys are capable of doing that.”
None of this was said with malice. Knuble acknowledged that Hunter’s style worked to change the identity of the club. The players left behind are more aware of what it means to “pay the price” in the postseason. In the end, a new coach will look at the roster general manager George McPhee constructs this summer and likely find some kind of happy medium between Bruce Boudreau’s early Caps and Hunter’s defense-first group. Boudreau eventually tried to find that common ground early in the 2010-11 season and it worked. The Caps finished first in the Eastern Conference again and were in fine form against the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. Then they were blitzed by Tampa Bay in a second-round sweep and the questions began again.
But whatever style the new coach employs and whatever players are part of it, Knuble won’t be. He confirmed Tuesday that he won’t return to the team after three seasons. Knuble signed with Washington on July 1, 2009 after four seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers. He had options at the time, but no regrets at all that he chose Washington.
‘I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t think we had a chance. I was in a position when I left Philadelphia to try and find a contender and I was sort of controlling where I could go,” Knuble said. “I think I had numerous offers at the time and I chose Washington just because I liked how the team was set up and what the future held for the team. For whatever reason it didn’t work out, but I leave being a little bit upset about it – that we didn’t win. It would have been a great thing for the city. It’s great to win anywhere, but for the city it would have been a lot of fun to win here. The passion and interest in hockey is really gaining in the three years I’ve been here and has amplified and grown every year. It’s great to see this market really loves its hockey. It’s a fun place to play.”
Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14