- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

Last night at MCI Center against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals began their 12-game training camp. That is essentially the task ahead of this team in these final games of the NHL regular season to prepare before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.

Getting Trevor Linden, Danius Zubrus and Jason Marshall was half the battle for the Caps. General manager George McPhee did his job. Now coach Ron Wilson has to find a way to work these new players successfully into the structured team system the Caps have.

This is a tightly knit team no place for players who can't adjust. "We have a system that is not easy to adjust to," McPhee said.

That much was evidenced by the departure of Jan Bulis the talented but troublesome young center who was not marching to Wilson's tune of all team, all the time as part of the deal with Montreal that brought Linden and Zubrus to Washington.

That was also evidenced by the way the whole Peter Bondra scenario played itself out. Here you had the top scorer on a struggling offensive team convinced that he couldn't play in Wilson's system, so he asked to be traded. Instead of appeasing the player, the Caps instead stuck with their system. Now Bondra has returned to form as one of the league's top scorers and became so pleased with playing here that he signed a two-year contract extension.

Bulis didn't adjust. He's gone. Bondra adjusted. He's here. The new Caps will have to adjust.

It shouldn't be much of a problem. Linden is an enormously respected veteran, with a reputation as a team player. At an imposing 6-foot-5, 211 pounds, he has enough defensive skills to take the pressure off Adam Oates, allowing the league's assists leader to concentrate more on offense.

Most importantly, though, the 30-year-old Linden has valuable Stanley Cup experience, leading Vancouver to the finals in 1994 as captain. His record in the playoffs: 80 points in 79 games. For a team like the Caps that has struggled with playoff scoring, the addition of Linden could be the difference.

Zubrus is a talented young (22) and big (6-foot-4, 224 pounds) right winger who, like Richard Zednik, who went with Bulis to Montreal, has a lot of promise but has failed to be a consistent force on the ice. However, Zubrus may have more of an upside. Philadelphia saw all that talent when he was 18 and rushed him into the league, even though he had played just seven games in juniors. He has never had a chance to develop the way he should have been allowed to. He was traded two years ago to Montreal and had used up all his patience chips there. He gets a new set with a new team.

Marshall is the insurance on defense the Caps were looking for going into the playoffs. He played for Wilson in Anaheim, so he shouldn't have a problem fitting in.

This is not to give the impression that fitting in is a problem. Wilson has shown an ability to work new players into his team successfully, as he did in 1998 when Washington brought in Brian Bellows and Esa Tikkanen for the run to the Stanley Cup finals. And the Caps even found a home last year for bad boy Joe Murphy, until he didn't adjust one night to the New York City nightlife earlier this season and was released.

It's just that before the trade, the Southeast Division-leading Caps were playing on all cylinders, the hottest team in the league with a 15-1-2-1 mark, including the rousing 6-5 comeback over Ottawa on Sunday, before they lost 2-0 to Anaheim on Tuesday. It wasn't exactly broken and didn't need fixing.

But that doesn't mean you couldn't make it better. That's what the Caps tried to do with the trading deadline moves, to give them the strongest roster possible going into the playoffs.

So far, it hasn't exactly been a rousing success. The Caps haven't scored since they made the trade, although the new players were only on the ice for last night's 3-0 loss to Carolina.

"We have been playing very well, and when you make changes it's going to take a little time," McPhee said. "We brought in Brian Bellows and Esa Tikkanen in 1998, but they came at different times. Bellows came first, then Tikkanen. Now we have three new players all at once. It's a little bit different."

Training camp has begun.


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