The Washington Times - May 13, 2012, 09:57AM

NEW YORK | The gray hairs in Mike Knuble’s beard are a sign of experience as well as age. A veteran of 15 NHL seasons and 1,040 regular-season and 67 playoff games, the 39-year-old Washington Capitals alternate captain’s future is uncertain.

Knuble becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1 and it’s likely he has played his last game in a Caps uniform. During a season in which he spent time as a healthy scratch after a fall demotion to the fourth line, Knuble recorded six goals and 12 assists, his lowest point total in 10 years.

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But on Saturday night in the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden after Washington’s Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers that ended the season, Knuble didn’t sound like a player eager to hang up his skates and drift into retirement.

These games and these series, the playoffs, they do a lot for your internal fire,” Knuble said. “They make you realize why you want to play. We’ll see what happens down the line.”

Knuble left it open-ended, though his play as a fourth-liner down the stretch showed he could still be capable in some capacity in the NHL. He’s no longer a first-line scorer, a streak of eight straight 20-goal seasons snapped, but he became a solid grinder even as his speed noticeably declined.

It’s all just speculation at this point, but veteran teams are always looking for leaders and role players of Knuble’s ilk, teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins. Knuble is from Grand Rapids, Mich.

Really any team that could use a veteran presence in the locker room, a guy to stand in front of the net on the power play and a dependable bottom-six forward would likely be interested in Knuble.

He turns 40 on July 4. What happens when free agency opens and beyond, whether an NHL team gives him a guaranteed contract, remains to be seen.