The Week That Was
We’ve had a wild rollercoaster of a week in Caps Land, and some of us are just now getting a chance to catch our breath. Road game last Saturday, overtime game at home on Sunday afternoon. Some internet woes kept us Web types at the Phone Booth for longer than we’d usually be there after a game, and the loss to New Jersey was a tough one, too.
Bruce Boudreau gave the boys the day off on Monday, which gave us a bit of time to catch up and take a look at what was out there and what might be coming down the pike. He also tabbed caps.com Web producer Brett Leonhardt as his second goalie for Tuesday’ morning skate, a move that turned Big Leo into a kid on Christmas Eve for the rest of the day.
I stayed in the office late on Monday, just in case something came up. Nothing did, but I was pretty certain something would happen on Tuesday.
Knowing that Brett was practicing with the team, and that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in town, and that it was deadline day, I left Baltimore early with the intention of arriving in time for the 10 a.m. skate. Rainy weather and snarled traffic conspired against me, but I got down to Kettler around 10:30. After talking to a handful of players and my media cohorts for half an hour or so, we started to make vague lunch plans.
Around this time, Nate Ewell surreptitiously grabbed me and pulled me aside.
“Are you going to the arena?” he asked.
“Not today,” I said. On game days, I’ll usually try to get to the Caps’ skate and Kettler and then head over to Verizon to watch the opposing team and chat up a few of their players and their coach. There would be no time for any of that today.
“Good idea,” came his reply, and I could read in his tone and his face that the Caps had already done something. I collected my laptop and other accouterments and headed up the stairs to the offices. Before I started up, I noted that Bryce Salvador was a Devil and Wade Belak a Panther, so I ducked into the locker room to pass that news along to the few guys still there.
I checked in with Nate a few minutes later, and he told me about the Cristobal Huet and Sergei Fedorov deals. The Huet trade took me completely by surprise, the Fedorov deal did not at all. Like many of you, I began to believe that another deal had to be in the offing, one that would relieve the goaltending logjam.
By this time, commissioner Bettman had arrived, and he was making his rounds in the offices. He even spent a while in the war room with Caps GM George McPhee and the Washington scouting staff. While I was starting to write a piece on the Caps’ deadline day activity, I was also jotting down notes for my interview with Bettman. He had agreed to join us on our Pre-Cap pregame podcast at 3 p.m.
You always hope you’ll be the one breaking the news of the trades, but it rarely happens anymore. We usually learn of Caps trades and signings well in advance of the announcement, and when two teams make a deal, they usually also agree upon a time to announce it. Part of the process also involves notification of the players and their respective agents, and that’s when the cat usually gets out of the bag.
I had been asked to appear on Comcast’s Washington Post Live from the arena before the game that night, so I knew I’d better start thinking about food now. There wouldn’t time later. A few of us went down to the Ballston food court and grabbed some sandwiches. By the time we got back upstairs, we were informed of the impending Matt Pettinger for Matt Cooke deal.
I knew it was a good trade for the Caps, but it was tough to see Pettinger go. I had watched him in Portland and Washington for the last seven-plus years, got to know his family a little bit and always considered him a top-notch, stand-up guy in a business that is teeming with them. I took a couple of minutes to wish him well and started scarfing a sandwich.
By now, the trades from around the rest of the league were coming in fast and furious. We had the NHL Network’s coverage on and were watching the sparks fly.
Our podcast usually runs 30 minutes, max. We did close to an hour on this day, talking trades for a bit, then interviewing Bettman, then going back to the trades. By then, it was time to high-tail it over to Verizon Center. Press conferences, etc.
McPhee spoke, and Boudreau spoke. Then I had to wander down to the Olympia corner and do my TV bit. By now, a problem had started to surface. I could not get on the internet. Not from the press room, not from the press box. Not via wireless, not via ethernet. Biggest day of the year, and my hands were tied.
I watched the game and took notes, did my usual radio bit (but did it during the second intermission instead of the first, yielding my normal slot to Bettman). Between the second and third periods, Spike Parker was able to get me some ethernet access. After the game, I went downstairs to get quotes and talk to players, then headed back up the press box and worked alone from there until I was done writing. Sometime around 12:30, I headed home.
Wednesday brought more of the same. Another hour-long podcast, a couple more press conferences, another practice at Kettler and more chit-chat with players and a large assemblage of media. Huet struck me as being thoughtful and quietly intense. Fedorov has a bit of a rock star aura about him, but he’s also very well grounded. He patiently answered questions and even thanked the media folks for coming out.
Thursday brought the first practices for both Huet and Fedorov, and another opportunity to talk to both. Lots of media in the house again, most wanting to talk about the unusual three-goalie setup.
Today, finally we have another game. Maybe the most anticipated Caps games (today’s and tomorrow’s at home against the Leafs) since the first game after the lockout. Eighteen games remain. Three new players have been brought in from three different rooms around the league. Chris Clark is skating again. Management has sent a message to the room: we believe in you, and we’re going to try to give you a push to get to the playoffs.
The forward ranks have been upgraded. The defense is still young and a bit on the green side, but few (if any) difference making defensemen were available at the deadline this year. Goaltending? An embarrassment of riches.
Huet was an All-Star last season. Olie Kolzig is two wins shy of 300 and is 12-4-4 since Dec. 22. Brent Johnson has been excellent for the past three months. The Caps have three capable goalies, but can only dress two. The youngest of these three is the only one who is signed for next year, and he has best save pct. and GAA of the three over the last three months. But he’s the one who’s not dressing, and the one who believes he is “the odd man out.”
Everyone seems to think this means the end of Kolzig’s run here in D.C., and maybe it does. But McPhee says otherwise and we’ve got a ways to go before any of these decisions need to be made.
The Caps have been a compelling team all season, and they’ve made themselves even more so for the last 18 chapters of this year’s book. We’ve had a lot of drama here in Washington this season, and we’ll be having a lot more the rest of the way. You won’t want to miss a single episode.