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The National Hockey League announced the circuit’s national TV schedule today, listing the games that will be televised to wide audiences via Hockey NIght in Canada and The NHL on TSN in Canada and Versus and NBC down here in the lower 48. As you’d expect, the Capitals will be seen more frequently this season than in years past.
The Caps will be seen twice on Hockey Night on Canada, with both appearances coming in consecutive weeks. Washington visits Toronto on Dec. 6 and Montreal on Dec. 13, with both games getting the HNIC treatment up north.
Four Caps games will be shown on The NHL on TSN: Washington’s Oct. 21 visit to Calgary, its Jan. 20 trip to Ottawa, its Feb. 18 date with the Canadiens at Verizon Center, and its Mar. 24 visit with the Leafs in Toronto.
Seven (!) Capitals games will be aired on the Versus Network: Oct. 13 vs. Vancouver (first home game after the home opener), November 10 vs. Tampa Bay (Olie Kolzig’s return to D.C.), Nov. 24 at Minnesota, Dec. 16 at the New York Islanders, Jan. 20 at Ottawa (Inauguration Day), Jan. 27 at Boston and Mar. 16 at Atlanta.
Additionally, NBC will air eight late season Sunday afternoon games. As many as four of those games (Feb. 22 vs. Pittsburgh, Mar. 1 vs. Florida, Mar. 8 vs. Pittsburgh and Apr. 5 vs. Atlanta) could involve the Capitals.
Many of the Versus games involve exclusivity, meaning the Caps may not be able to air their games on Comcast on certain nights. Right now, the nights in question as far as those local telecasts are concerned are the Oct. 28 home game against Nashville and the Dec. 2 home game against Florida. It is believed the Caps will be able to air their Oct. 21 game against the Flames in Calgary because the game would start at 9:30 Eastern time, well after the 7 p.m. Versus game slated for that evening.
Caps single-game tickets are not on sale yet, but let that be a warning to you. If you absolutely, positively want to ensure seeing the Oct. 28 game with Nashville and the Dec. 2 game with Florida live, buy tickets for those dates.
The Capitals recently released their pre-season schedule for 2008-09, but the venue for one of the dates was noted as “TBD” at the time of release. The big news today (can you tell it’s still July?) is that the TBD has been determined.
On Mon. Sept. 29 the Caps will travel north to the Prudential Center where they will take on the New Jersey Devils in what will be the fourth of Washington’s seven-game pre-season slate.
Tomorrow … it will still be July. After that, not so much.
The salary arbitration case for Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn has been decided. The arbitrator has ruled that the 25-year-old blueliner will receive a one-year contract for $1.975 million for the upcoming 2008-09 NHL season.
As you know, the Caps and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn went through the salary arbitration process today in Toronto. Within the next day or two, we will learn Morrisonn’s salary for the 2008-09 season. The 25-year-old blueliner is the last remaining player unsigned by Washington for next season.
The arbitration process can be a bit murky for those of us who’ve never sat in on a session. Both sides use “comparables;” players they deem similar to the player in question. For the purposes of arbitration, those players are not necessarily comparables in the sense that they’ve played a similar number of games in the league and have posted similar numbers.
If that were the case, the Caps could say that Morrisonn is similar to Kurt Sauer in terms of stats and such. Sauer has four goals, 26 points and 214 PIM in 288 career NHL games. Morrisonn has six goals, 45 points and 278 PIM in 278 career games. Sauer recently signed a four-year deal with Phoenix, a contract that will pay him $1.75 million for each of the next four seasons.
And if the Caps were to use Sauer as a comparable (again, they can’t), the Morrisonn side might like to use Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik to bolster their own case. Orpik was chosen 18th overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft; Morrisonn was chosen 19th overall in 2001. Orpik has four goals, 36 points and 392 PIM in 297 career NHL contests. Orpik recently re-signed with the Penguins for six years. His deal will pay him $3.75 million per season.
There is a huge difference between what Sauer and Orpik got on the open market this month. On the very surface, neither player seems terribly different from Morrisonn, either.
I’ve poked around a bit and I can’t find a guy that I can safely say would qualify as a Morrisonn comparable. In other words, a guy who earned his next RFA contract at the age of 25 and in doing so, had career numbers similar to what Morrisonn’s are right now.
Given the wide disparity in salaries for defensemen (and not just the two examples I used) it’s not surprising that the Caps and Morrisonn went to arbitration before ironing out a contract agreement on their own. As far as what the arbitrator decides, none of us has any idea, either. But we’ll know in a day or two. I’m thinking it could be anywhere between $1.5 and $2.5 million.
Like a lot of people (including Fedorov himself and probably the Caps, too) I figured veteran center Sergei Fedorov was a short-term addition here in the District when he was acquired from Columbus at the Feb. 26 trade deadline. When he showed up at Kettler the following day and held an introductory news conference, I still didn’t think any differently. But I was struck by his presence and his command, and marveled at how much better he was at dealing with the media than in his earlier years. That’s not surprising; most players follow the same curve.
As the days and weeks and games went by, I began to sense (again, like a lot of people, including Fedorov himself and the Caps’ braintrust) that this alliance of the veteran pivot and the young, emergent team might have more life in it than just the 2007-08 season. With that in mind, I began to save snippets of conversations, scrums and the like. Seeing the impact he had on this team, and knowing his history and background, I thought it would make a great story for the summer if the Caps were able to re-sign him.
I approached Fedorov in Tampa one morning late in the season, and discussed the idea with him. I asked if he’d be willing to sit down for an inordinately long interview at some point, and if he’d be willing to discuss a wide range of topics going back to his days in the Soviet Union. He said he would, but politely asked if he could be allowed to focus on the matter at hand — namely, getting the Caps into the playoffs — for now. I told him that was fine; I just wanted to chat before he got out of town for the summer. We’d talk once the Caps had cemented their spot.
The media demands on Fedorov are a lot more than you’d imagine, especially those last few weeks of the season. It seemed that every night, multiple media/blog outlets requested an audience with him. Sometimes he’d speak three or four times a day on game days. Once the playoffs rolled around, writers were sitting with him in the room at Kettler for 30 minutes at a time. Given that environment, I felt bad about requesting a half hour to myself.
I wrote and posted the story the other day on caps. com. I ended up getting some short one-on-one chats with Fedorov over the season’s final two months (including the playoffs), a handful of postgame and post-practice scrums, and one long interview (more than 30 minutes in length) in which I took turns asking questions with The Post’s Mike Wise.
In writing my piece, I tried not to used bits of Fedorov quotes that I had used in various writings during the season and the playoffs. I also tried not to use the quotes that Wise had used. Believe me when I tell you, Fedorov gave us enough good stuff that day for four or five writers to write great stories on him without any overlap.
When a player has a career as long and storied as Fedorov’s, it’s hard to get your arms around the whole of it. So the story itself ended up being more than 4,000 words. Even still, I didn’t get a chance to ask about the Carolina offer sheet or the five-goal game against the Caps.
It’s not my style to ask about a guy’s personal life. If he wants to volunteer stuff on the record, that’s fine. But I’m old school. For me, it’s about the game. I don’t give a rat’s ass about who he’s dating or who he was married to. Tarik and I have this argument all the time. He thinks fans love that kind of stuff and eat it up. He may be right. Hell, he probably is right. But as long as he and his cohorts are digging up all that good stuff for you readers who can hardly wait for it, I can concentrate on the rest of it. The hockey.
So with that lengthy explanation out of the way, here’s the cutting room floor stuff from the Fedorov piece. Again, you may have heard some of this before if you watch postgame and post-practice video on caps.com.
On his feeling about the possibility of getting back to the playoffs for the first time in five years:
“I think playoffs for this team is now. It’s a huge goal for this organization at this stage of the season. I’m in the playoffs. In my mind, I’m in the playoffs.
“It’s been more than a couple years. I’m excited for the opportunity that’s been given personally to myself. The way we play on this team, we create our own bounces and breaks. We have to control things we can control which is winning games.”
On how his body and legs are holding up at this stage of his career:
“I think I feel comfortable enough on the ice in game situations, hockey situations, that I can skate myself out of trouble or skate the puck out of trouble, yeah.”
On the team’s play during it’s run to the division title:
“We created that certain urgency. I think game-in and game-out we realized as a group how important this is and how much focus we need and how much energy we need to get this done. I think it’s a very positive experience. I like the way we’ve responded. We’ve had our letdowns, but it’s a part of the experience.
“We found a way to turn things around. I would say, ‘You don’t do those things during the playoffs.’ But unfortunately, we’ve done them and we’ve turned things around. It’s a tradeoff. The depth on the team is good, but I prefer not to play and get down a goal and have to come up with a great effort to win it. I prefer to have a solid 60 minutes. But we found a way and that’s important. That response is more important than anything else.”
On Scotty Bowman:
“He was quite strict. He knows what he wants out of his group. He knows how to manage his players. It was difficult at times, no question about it. But the most important thing is how we reacted to it. And we reacted well most of the time. And that’s what brought us [to Stanley Cup championships].”
On the Detroit area, where he lives in the off-season:
“Living in the area doesn’t give you a chance to miss anything. Hockey is hockey. Your career happens the way it happens and you go with it. I live still in Detroit. I come back in the summer and I have all my friends there. I’m having a great time and great experience there. I’m not missing Detroit because I live there.”
On Wayne Gretzky’s comment about athletes reaching their mental peak years after they reach their physical peak (Wise used most of this one as the lead to his story):
“That’s right, you don’t enjoy it as much. You don’t know how. It comes with experience. Is that what you’re getting at? You’re happy, you’re excited at that particular moment but you don’t understand. You don’t know. Because you don’t have that experience that creates that positive wave to most of the people who are around you; your teammates, fans, your family. You just go about your business.
“In playoffs, it’s a very hard and fast pace. You only have seven games to do something. Or four or five or six. So, he’s right.”
On the string of Nike commercials he filmed and/or was referenced in:
“It was funny. I remember that time. It was fun to see commercials where you’re not part of it but they’re talking about you, especially goalies. It was pretty funny. I think Nike did a great job back then. I thought it was funny and realistic. Our business is not show business, but from that point of view, it kind of mixed together real well.
“I remember spending two days – eight hours each day – skating around and doing all that show-off stuff. It was not easy; you become an actor eventually after spending 16 hours on the ice doing fake stuff. But it looks really good on TV after they edit it. It had a funny edge to it.”
On winning the Cup in Washington with Detroit in 1998:
“It’s 10 years later. It doesn’t matter. And I’m playing for this team now, so I have to earn my wings.”
On how long he thinks he can play:
“After this year I have to sit down and think really hard if I have the fire still to play. The body is halfway there. It’s all here (tapping on his temple).”
On whether he can see himself making the late-career transition from scoring line center to checking line center a la Igor Larionov:
“Not really. I don’t think it’s similar to the style we play. I already made a transition to stay in the game. I’m not running myself to be a leader. I can play that role, second or third center, that’s no big deal for me actually. It would be a little bit easier, maybe. But people still will take shots at me because they expect the best and nothing but the best.
“So what’s the point to waste your time being a second or third center, if you’re not performing even the way even coaches expect you to perform? They think you play second or third center and do exactly the same damage as if you played the top role. And that’s miscommunication, completely. You know what I’m saying? If you have influences, it’s different than actually to play on the ice and be a game-breaker. It’s a big difference.”
For those of us who follow the Washington Capitals, last week was an oasis in the desert that is the NHL off-season. The Caps hosted their annual summer development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex last week, culminating with a scrimmage and the team’s Summer FanFest in front of a packed house on Saturday. Development camp is always a fun week, but this year’s camp and the flock of folks who came out to watch was another sign in an ongoing litany of good things for this team and this franchise.
Word leaked out in the middle of last week that Washington had come to contract terms with center Sergei Fedorov on a one-year extension; that deal was made official this morning. Also during the week, new Caps goaltender Jose Theodore came into town for a visit and Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr signed contracts for 2008-09.
Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn is the only player who is unsigned, and he has an arbitration date set for later this month. That means he Caps won’t have to worry about any contract distractions at training camp this fall.
The Caps ended last season with a great deal of momentum both on and off the ice. They’ve been able to maintain the on-ice momentum by getting players signed and returning largely the same team that finished last season, with the notable exception of Theodore.
For the Capitals at this stage of their development cycle, momentum is critical. The 2007-08 team captured the interest and the imagination of the fan base and re-ignited a passion for the game and the team that was dormant for a few years. History has shown that fans support good hockey here, but past teams have failed to keep momentum going and as a result, the attendance waned. A fun and thrilling 2008-09 season will go a long way toward keeping the big crowds in the building beyond this season.
The Caps made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, the same season in which they moved to the Verizon Center in downtown D.C. The team set an attendance record the following season, but was unable to keep that momentum going because the 1998-99 team suffered 511 man games lost to injury and finished with a dismal total of 68 points.
A few years later, the Caps created a big summer splash when they made a swap for superstar right wing Jaromir Jagr on July 11, 2001. The Capitals again set an attendance record (averaging 17,341 fans per game) in 2001-02, but they failed to make the playoffs. A coaching change followed, and the team never again consistently and routinely hit the 17,000 mark in attendance until the second half of this season.
After the announcement of the Ovechkin contract this past January, the Caps drew an average of 17,219 for their final 21 home dates of the season. They attracted crowds of 17,000 or more for each of the last 15 home regular season games, and sold out seven of the final 11 dates. As those of you who were in the house know, the place was loud, raucous, exciting and fun. And in the four home playoff games against Philly, there were few Flyer fans in sight.
The recent turnaround has been swift. It started in November when Bruce Boudreau was named head coach. It climbed when Alex Ovechkin signed a 13-year contract extension in January. It picked up a head of steam when the team got hot in February and March. And it reached a crescendo in April when the Caps finished the regular season at home and earned their first playoff berth in five years, playing to packed houses bedecked in red. I routinely ran into longtime Caps observers who said they’d never heard the building so loud, and never had as much fun at a Caps game.
Keeping the team together is important. Unlike that aging team that made the finals in 1998 and was mostly kept together for the following disappointing season, this bunch is young and on the rise. They like playing in Washington and they love playing with and for each other. And they can reasonably be expected to improve as most have yet to reach their prime years.
Keeping the fans’ interest piqued is also a key. Filling the Kettler Capitals Iceplex for a development camp scrimmage on a Saturday in July is a great sign. The atmosphere was fabulous all last week, but particularly so on Saturday.
All week plenty of folks took the time to come up and introduce themselves, which I always appreciate. I love meeting passionate hockey people, and spending a few minutes chatting. I got the chance to do a lot of that last week, and there was one recurring theme that kept surfacing in my conversations with fans, bloggers and other media types:
September can’t get here fast enough.
We’ve killed a lot of the off-season, but we’ve got two months to camp and three months till meaningful hockey. The preseason schedule will be released later today, and the regular season slate follows on Thursday.
And yeah, September can’t get here fast enough.