During his first season as coach of the Mighty Ducks, 1993-94,
Ron Wilson banned his players from mentioning the word expansion
because he didn't want them to have an excuse for losing. He
even had underlings--called the E Police--check the newspapers
to make sure the players complied. "Maybe we should do the same
thing here," says Wilson, the new coach of the Capitals. "Anyone
talking about the past would be subject to a fine."
In Washington's case, amnesia wouldn't be a bad thing. Last
season the Capitals lost a league-high 361 man-games because of
injury; averaged the second-fewest goals, 2.6 per game, in the
NHL; missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 seasons; and
grumbled about former coach Jim Schoenfeld's punishing practices
and defensive style. Many players slogged through mediocre
years, including center Michal Pivonka, once a steady 20-goal
scorer, who had just seven; and defenseman Phil Housley (11) and
forward Steve Konowalchuk (17) scored below expectations, too.
Then in the off-season center Adam Oates lobbed salvos at the
Caps' management for refusing to renegotiate his contract,
something the front office has since done.
Despite all those headaches, Wilson, who was fired in Anaheim
because of philosophical differences with management, is upbeat
about Washington's prospects. So are we. In Bill Ranford the
Capitals have a proven winner in goal. Washington's top seven
defensemen are excellent, and Wilson is predicting that 1993
first-round draft pick Brendan Witt will have a breakthrough
year. In forwards Oates, Joe Juneau and 50-goal scorer Peter
Bondra, the Caps have a capable offensive unit that's one scorer
from being formidable.
Except for a flirtation with free agent Mark Messier, first-year
general manager George McPhee has not made any moves toward
acquiring that scorer. He reasons that help could come from
within the organization now that Wilson has installed an
up-tempo, attacking style of play and encouraged his defensemen
to jump into the rushes.
In December the Capitals will move into the new MCI Center in
downtown Washington. Expect them to return to the postseason and
perhaps play a couple of rounds. Says Wilson, "With our system,
the players won't have any excuses about not being able to
score. Now they have to put up or shut up."
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL BERESWILL [Jaromir Jagr]
COLOR PHOTO: LOUIS CAPOZZOLA [Chris Simon]
1. Jaromir Jagr, Penguins
2. Paul Kariya, Mighty Ducks
3. Wayne Gretzky, Rangers
1. Chris Simon, Capitals
2. Bob Probert, Blackhawks
3. Tie Domi, Maple Leafs