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Owner's Corner for January 8, 2008

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
Owner’s Corner

Jan. 8, 2008

The dawn of a new year is a time for celebration and resolutions. We are a team, meanwhile, that has shown plenty of resolve and has enjoyed some well-earned celebrations of late, most recently Saturday afternoon in Montreal.

Bruce Boudreau
The new year, of course, lands at the middle of the hockey calendar, as we just eclipsed the 41-game mark that signifies the midpoint of our season. Everything did not go as we had hoped in the first half, as we started slowly and struggled to score goals – and win games. We were forced to part ways with a good man and a good coach, Glen Hanlon, and bring in a new head coach in Bruce Boudreau. It truly made for a first half that has seemed like two entirely different seasons.

Boudreau has brought a renewed energy to the team. Part of that is the players’ response to seeing a coach they respected lose his job; another part is Bruce’s personality and excitement to be in this position. You could see it right away in the back-to-back wins after Thanksgiving, and it has continued. Saturday’s win made us 11-6-4 since Bruce took over, climbing back within realistic reach of a playoff spot.

Having been to Hershey for games the past two years, especially during the Calder Cup runs in the spring, I knew we had a good coach there. George McPhee and his staff deserve credit for hiring Bruce for that position – while we’ve boasted of our player depth at the American Hockey League level, not many of us thought to include the coach in that discussion.

On the day Bruce was promoted to Washington some six weeks ago, the Capitals were 14 points behind Carolina for the lead in the Southeast Division and nine points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Today we’re seven points behind Carolina (with two games in hand) and five points out of eighth place in the conference.

We’ve played 42 games now, 21 under each coach. Although we’ve given up one more goal in Bruce’s 21 games, we’ve also scored 70 after scoring just 47 in our first 21 games, nearly a 50% improvement. We’ve been in every one of those 21 games, and have come from behind to win several of them. Since Bruce has been our coach, we’ve earned 26 points, which ties for third most in the Eastern Conference during that time span. I think most would agree we’ve played more consistent hockey and more consistently exciting hockey.

Chris Clark
 We’re hopeful that we can continue at this pace, and hopeful that some of our injured players will soon return to the lineup to aid our climb up the standings ladder. Every team deals with injuries during the course of the season, but when the injury bug hit us last year, we were unable to overcome it. This season we’ve played significant stretches without Chris Clark, Tom Poti, Michael Nylander, Boyd Gordon and Alexander Semin, but we’ve been far more resilient.

Additionally, our special teams have improved. We have nine wins on the road, only two shy of our total from last season. Since Bruce took over, we’re 5-3-3 on the road and 6-3-2 at home. Most importantly, we have not lost consecutive games in regulation during Bruce’s tenure, and that is what has allowed us to slowly creep back into the playoff picture.

Alex Ovechkin &
Nicklas Backstrom
If there were a Coach of the Month award in the NHL, Bruce certainly would have earned it for the team’s 7-3-3 record in December. We had the third most points of any team in the Eastern Conference, behind Ottawa and Pittsburgh. As it was, Alex Ovechkin was named the First Star of the week at the end of the month, and Nicklas Backstrom earned Rookie of the Month honors.

What more can you say about Alex? His third year has proven to be his best yet. He could score 60 goals and has the best plus/minus on the team. No one is happier for the Capitals successes or more determined when things aren’t going well.

Alex will contend for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s goal-scoring leader and should be a Hart Trophy candidate as the league MVP. At the end of this month he should make his second NHL All-Star Game appearance.

No mention of our team can pass, it seems, without noting Alex Ovechkin’s contract status, and I can tell from postings in the blogosphere and message boards that this has a lot of fans worried. I respect Alex and George McPhee’s commitment to keep the negotiations out of the media and frankly have wondered who is making up some of the things I have read. As I have stated on numerous occasions, we couldn’t be more impressed with Alex as a player and a person and we expect him to be in D.C. for a long, long time.

I don’t have much to add, but want to say this: We love Alex Ovechkin. I think he truly enjoys Washington and being a Washington Capital. He and George will keep working on a deal that will make both sides happy, and they have plenty of time to get that done. If Alex does become a restricted free agent, we have a collective bargaining agreement that protects teams from losing a player they drafted until age 27.
Mike Green
Mike Green has really elevated his game this season. He and leads all NHL defensemen with 11 goals and his 24 points lead our team’s blueliners. We got Mike in that same 2004 draft when we selected Alex first overall. Jeff Schultz was also taken in that draft – it has paid tremendous dividends, to say the least. The two defensemen came to us with picks we acquired via trade during the previous season. Schultz has been a plus player for us this year, and the coaching staff has used him key situations. He has scored five goals and is averaging more than 18 minutes a game.

Another of our first-round picks, Nicklas Backstrom, has also made an impact this season.

He ranks third in the league among all rookies in scoring and has improved more and more with each passing game. Nicklas had one goal and nine points in his first 21 games, and he has totaled seven goals and 21 points in 21 games since. Nicklas has skated more than 20 minutes in nine of those last 21 games. He is maturing before our very eyes, and we were not surprised to see him honored as the NHL’s rookie of the month for December.

We’re very proud of Nicklas and we look forward to watching him grow and develop over the years here in Washington.

With Bruce coming to Washington, the Bears promoted Bob Woods from assistant coach to head coach. This was also a richly deserved promotion, as Bob has shown in guiding the Bears to a 12-6-0-2 record despite a spate of injuries and recalls to Washington. Coming off two straight Calder Cup finals appearances and a Cup title in 2006, our AHL affiliate remains a source of great pride within the organization. Several of the players who played on that championship team in 2006 are now vital parts of the Capitals’ core.

Our ECHL affiliate also has a new head coach this season, and Jared Bednar recently led the South Carolina Stingrays to a franchise-record 12 straight wins. After missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season, the Stingrays are right in the thick of the playoff chase again this season.

Karl Alzner
We’re also proud of three of our young prospects who have yet to turn pro. Defensemen Karl Alzner and Josh Godfrey played for the gold medalist Team Canada entry at the recently completed World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic, and Alzner captained Team Canada. Both players performed very well, as did goaltender Michal Neuvirth of the host country team. We’re anxious to see all three of these young men as they continue through the pipeline that we hope will lead them to Washington in the not-too-distant future.

Turning our attention off the ice, we have a lot to be excited about in 2008 as well.

Business has been good. Revenues are up, and our television ratings are as well. Our paid attendance is up more than 10% when compared with last year, and we anticipate our traditional spike in attendance in the second half of the season – something that should be even more pronounced if we keep playing the way we have the last six weeks.

The NHL is healthy on the whole as well. The Winter Classic on New Year’s Day was a wonderful spectacle and a great way for the league to grab some attention heading into the second half of our season.

Elsewhere on the business front, you continue to explore and develop innovative ways to bring new fans into the fold. Some of the highlights:

We have introduced Click To Win, a web-based contest that we will use to distribute tickets to area schools and provide charitable grants to the schools with the highest percentage attendance rate at Caps games. These tickets have been purchased by a variety of individuals and sponsors and will be donated to the schools. This rewards our youngest fans and will help expose even more kids to our great game.

Our Student Rush ticket program has been wildly popular with local college students. We had more than 1,300 students at the last Student Rush night and the number continues to grow each time. We expect a huge turnout January 24 when we will host our first dollar dog night. That’s $1 hot dogs when we play Toronto. There will be a special hot-dog eating contest featuring contestants from many of the local colleges.

Our first-ever Kids Club continues to grow and has attracted more than 500 kids thus far. The Kids Club is great for young hockey fans as well as kids who haven’t caught the hockey bug yet. In addition to the membership kit, club members received a complimentary ticket for a game last month and got autographs from Boyd Gordon and Rod Langway as well as enjoyed a lot of free activities and giveaways. Before the holidays Kids Club members also came out for a free open skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. This month the club has a contest where members draw Slapshot and could win a VIP experience at a game, including tickets, watching warm-ups from the penalty box and a signed Alex Ovechkin stick.

Next month we plan to hold our second-annual Hockey in Heels event. Last year’s version was extremely well received and we will build upon that evening for an even better event this February. So stay tuned for details.

And finally, congratulations to our secondary logo mark, which won the NHL Tournament of Logos at nhllogos.blogspot.com. We edged Vancouver’s secondary mark in the finals. Previously we had tied for second in the Rbk Edge Uniform Ranking, joining Montreal behind Boston. The Hershey Bears were edged out in the semifinal round of the AHL tournament by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

That’s why I love the web; there are so many ways for fans to interact and connect. Well, I look forward to seeing many of you at our season-ticket holder Meet the Team Party Thursday night and others at the stretch of home games we have ahead. I hope you share in my excitement for what I believe will be a promising 2008.

- Ted
WashingtonCaps@aol.com
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