Veteran right wing Scott Walker was one of four players the Capitals acquired at the March 3 trade deadline. The 36-year-old Cambridge, Ontario native was finishing up his 15th season in the league and was obtained to give the Capitals some depth down the stretch and into the playoffs. Washington sent a seventh-round choice in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft to Carolina for Walker.
A season after reaching the Eastern Conference finals, the Hurricanes got off to a dreadfully slow start in 2009-10. Carolina’s early season woes led to some late season deals of the team’s impending unrestricted free agents, including Walker, who had been sidelined with a shoulder injury for several weeks before the deal.
“Going to the Eastern Conference finals last year took a lot,” said Walker of his experience with the Hurricanes. “It was a really hard fight. Sometimes it’s hard to put your mind where you have to go that early in the season, and when you get behind the 8-ball in this league it’s hard to catch up. I felt like we were always playing catch-up after game three, four, five, six. And before you know it game 10 goes by and you haven’t got a win. And then it’s a full-on scramble for everybody.”
After totaling three goals and five points in 32 games with the Hurricanes, Walker made an immediate impact with Washington. He scored two goals in his Capitals debut, a 5-4 win over the Lightning on March 4.
Although he subsequently sustained another minor injury and played in only nine of a possible 19 games after the deal, Walker had positive things to say about his experience in the District at season’s end.
“What a team,” he remarked. “Other than being knocked out, it’s a great place to play.”
Walker will celebrate his 37th birthday before the start of the 2010-11 season, and he was noncommittal toward his plans. He becomes an unrestricted free agent as of July 1.
“I didn’t really get a feel,” said Walker, when asked whether he believed he might be in Washington’s future plans. “They said I was great to have and stuff like that. But there was no real commitment either way. They just said they were going to take a couple weeks to figure it out.
“I’ve known [Caps general manager] George [McPhee] for a long time. He was honest. He said, ‘I don’t know if I can find room. But I will be looking in a couple weeks and I will let you know. I will talk to you.’
“As for me, as an older guy, you always think of where do you want to play, or if you can play or if anybody wants you. Those things all have to match up. This is definitely a place I would want to come back to, but that being said, it has to be a two-way street.”
Walker is not only very familiar with McPhee dating back more than a decade and a half to when both were members of the Vancouver organization, he is also a former minor league teammate and roommate of Caps’ pro scout Jason Fitzsimmons.
Although he played even more sparingly (just one of seven games) in the playoffs with Washington, Walker conducted himself professionally. He expounded on the difficulty of wanting to be in the lineup, but keep his chin up when he wasn’t.
“It’s a fine line,” noted Walker. “You don’t want to be one of those guys who is content and fine with being sat out. You’ve got to be happy and supportive to your teammates, especially in the playoffs. But like I told [Caps coach Bruce Boudreau], ‘Every time I sat out, every game it killed me a little it inside.’ It kind of tears your heart out. But you don’t want to put on that face because you’re trying to win and you want to be supportive to your teammates. And that’s so important. So I just tried to convey that. But it really does kill you when you’re – I think – a playoff kind of guy. His loyalty to his players is something that really attracts me to wanting to play for him, too. Because he gave those guys and everybody involved such respect and loyalty. He was good to me, too, and I was only here a short time. Throwing me into Game 7 couldn’t have been easy for him. I appreciated the chance and too bad we couldn’t get it done.”
Regardless of where his career takes him next and in spite of Washington’s disappointing finish against Montreal in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, Walker believes good things are ahead for the Capitals.
“We have a lot of size,” he stated. “We could play a little bit harder, compete a little bit better. That’s the most disappointing thing. I don’t think they really saw our ‘A’ game. I’ve been watching and playing in this division and watching Washington at their best. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, we just didn’t get out to our game.”
“They have the guys in there. That’s the one thing I said in my [postseason exit] meeting. You’re right there. This team is right there. I just don’t know exactly what you need or what you do because if anybody knew that we wouldn’t be here.”