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Sports Illustrated Ranking: 17
By Kostya Kennedy
The grunting coming out of the Capitals practice facility these
days is a far more pleasant sound to Washington fans than the
cries of "Ouch!" that echoed throughout last season. In 1998-99
the Caps lost a staggering 511 man-games to injury. In June,
Washington dismissed trainer Stan Wong, who had been with the
Capitals since 1986-87, and though general manager George McPhee
says the firing was "not an attempt to assess blame," he was
delighted to bring in Greg Smith, who last season was the
trainer for the Ducks, the team that lost the NHL's fewest
man-games to injury (98).
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Ice time (F)
Ice time (D)
From the start of camp Smith had the Caps stretching and riding
stationary bikes before they took the ice each day. After
practice the players tossed around medicine balls and endured
grueling abdominal workouts. "We're doing things as a
preventative so that we don't have to do them in rehab," says
coach Ron Wilson. "The guys don't mind. They'd run a marathon
every day if they thought it could turn us around."
When Washington's players arrived in camp last season they were
coming off a run to the Stanley Cup finals (where they were
swept by the Red Wings) and had high hopes of returning. By
early October forwards Steve Konowalchuk, Michal Pivonka and Jan
Bulis were injured. As the season limped on, one key player
after another -- from premier center Adam Oates to top defenseman
Mark Tinordi -- missed a lot of time. The Capitals wound up
31-45-6 and out of the playoffs. "One injury led to another,"
says Wilson. "Guys who had to fill in got worn down. Then they
got injured too."
Wilson is trying to phase young players like Bulis, 21, and
Jaroslav Svejkovsky, 22, into prominent roles. But with Oates,
sniper Peter Bondra, veteran defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Calle
Johansson, and always aggressive, sometimes brilliant goaltender
Olaf Kolzig, Washington hasn't changed much from last year -- or
from the team that went to the finals 16 months ago. If healthy,
the club could challenge for the title in the Southeast Division.
The most significant change outside of the trainer's room
occurred when a group led by America Online executive Ted
Leonsis bought the Capitals in June. Leonsis, who has made
millions at the internet company, knows that America on line is
not how you would describe attendance at Washington home games.
The Caps sometimes play before small and listless crowds, and
Leonsis has vowed to change that, in part by increasing his
players' visibility. It's a good idea -- so long as the players
Issue date: October 4, 1999
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Playing in the Southeast Division means even a mediocre season can get a three-seed in playoffs . . . Caps parlayed that into home ice right up to finals two years ago.
Speed kills. Ron Wilson will try to exploit afterburners on top line of Peter Bondra and Adam Oates . . . followed up by a bunch of prospects in Jaroslav Svejkovsky, Richard Zednik and Andrei Nikolishin.
Another inactive offseason shows management still believes this crew can recapture the chemistry of 1998 playoff run.|
Why are the Caps always among the most-injured teams in the league? Last year, Peter Bondra, Adam Oates, Richard Zednik, Jaroslav Svejkovsky, Dmitri Mironov, Mark Tinordi and Calle Johansson all appeared in less than 70 games.
People, Places and Things
GM: George McPhee
Coach: Ron Wilson; 3rd season (71-75-18); 7th overall (191-220-49)
Assistants: Tim Army; Tim Hunter
Captain: Adam Oates
Last year: 31-45-6 (23rd overall)
PP: 9th (17.3%)
PK: 15th (84.4%)
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Sat., Oct. 2: Opener at Florida.
Sat., Oct. 9: Home opener vs. L.A.
511: Man-games lost to injury last season.
"We're in an incubator. We are going to throw a lot of stuff against the wall to see what works. With the players, the team, ticket pricing, with marketing." -- new owner Ted Leonis