“By example, initially. By doing things right. But there are things that need to be said to other players, and the players we’ve identified should be comfortable doing that. They’ve been around long enough. They’ve seen some of these veteran leaders that we’ve brought in.”
That’s really the story of this coming season for the Capitals: Are Ovechkin and the rest ready to take control of the team, hold everybody accountable, or are they content merely to be good-to-great players, without shouldering much additional responsibility?
As we’ve seen time and again, winning a Stanley Cup is as much alchemy as science. When the Caps went to the finals in 1998, Olie Kolzig, their new associate goalie coach, said, “we thought we were going to be back there soon, because we had a pretty good team and a pretty good organization. But we never got out of the first round again.
“Sometimes being favored doesn’t always work to your favor. There’s a lot of pressure that you have to live up to. Some guys can play with that, some guys can’t.”
The Capitals, of course, have been the top seed in the East the past two years and have only one series victory to show for it (offset by a horrific four-game sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay this past spring). Yes, there’s plenty of youth on the roster, and the future would appear to be bright, but “that window is going to start closing here,” Kolzig said, “especially with the collective bargaining agreement now and the salary cap.
“You can’t keep the team together for that long. But these guys, I think they’ve made some great moves in the offseason [e.g. Troy Brouwer, Tomas Vokoun, Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern and Roman Hamrlik]. … They’re changing the makeup of the dressing room, and hopefully that’s going to be enough to put ‘em over the top.”
Olie has his own ideas about the nature/nurture, born-to-lead/raised-to-lead issue. During his playing days, you see, he roomed with Adam Oates and then Halpern — both of whom wore the “C” in Washington — and saw first-hand “the impact that Oatsy had on Halpy,” he said. “But Halpy always had that ability to be a leader. He was just one of those people. Other guys, meanwhile, are capable of learning from older players, but they aren’t necessarily going to be the leaders in the [dressing] room. They’re going to be better pros - lead by example on the ice, maybe, and in how they prepare for the game - but they might not be the vocal guy in the room.
“I was always a guy who wore his emotions on his sleeve and was never shy about letting people know how I felt. Sometimes I took it too far, but I always felt that was a trait that was beneficial for me. But, yeah, I think you’re just born with it. You might be able to learn to be a proper leader, but I think, deep down inside, you have to have that ability. You just need to learn how to do it.”
Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green and Laich have spent the past few seasons in the classroom, studying under Professors Fedorov and Arnott. Now it’s time for their final exam. Are they leaders, or are they just really talented followers? There isn’t much riding on it. Only everything.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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