Since the Washington Capitals ran aground in the second round of the playoffs, their front office has had meetings with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Brooks Laich — the core Caps, in other words. The subject of the sit-downs? Leadership.
Jason Arnott, after all, is gone now. So is Sergei Fedorov, the Jason Arnott of 2008 and 2009. So, come to think of it, are Boyd Gordon, Eric Fehr and Matt Bradley — all Capitals of fairly long standing.
“The whole discussion was: It’s time for you guys to take over,” general manager George McPhee said Monday at the Caps’ development camp at Kettler Iceplex.
Or to put it another way: You’re not kids anymore.
“That’s right. They’re some of our top players, and they need to be top players if we’re going to have success. It’s about coming to camp in the best shape of their lives …”
(Feel free to read between the lines here.)
“… It’s about taking care of themselves during the season …”
(Feel free to read between the lines here, too.)
“- It’s about being coachable. It’s about talking to the other players if they’re not doing the right things and straightening them out.”
In recent years, that job might have fallen more to Fedorov, Arnott, Mike Knuble or some other veteran whose name is chiseled on the Stanley Cup. No longer. Captain Ovie and the others are the stage of their careers where they must become the keepers of the flame.
But are they up to the task? Do they have the personality, the makeup to rattle the occasional cage if the situation calls for it? Let’s face it, not every player is wired that way.
In fact, it raises an interesting question: Are leaders born, or can they also be made?
McPhee is convinced the exposure to Fedorov and Arnott — and their “different styles, different ways of getting the message across” — will help his still-young veterans assert themselves. (Laich is the oldest at 28.) What you have to remember, he said, is that “this happened fast for a lot of our young guys. We went on that terrific run [in 2008] to make the playoffs, and suddenly we were a very good team. But they were puppies. They were little kids. And now they’re four- or five-year veterans, and it’s time for them to lead.”
And how does a leader get the message across?