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."