- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

There is a library full of Washington Capitals videos illustrating the good, bad and so-so over the past few years, and videos don't lie. Butch Cassidy, the Caps' new coach, has had two months to study them, so there is plenty he can tell you about his club's recent past.

"I think most guys, whether [former coach Ron Wilson] was back or not, realize that last year they underachieved, plain and simple," Cassidy said in his Piney Orchard Ice Arena office the other day. "They want to rectify that, and they know they've got the team here to do a lot of damage."

He was also able to see what a lot of others have visualized what might have happened had the Caps made the postseason with a team that went 9-2-1-1 down the stretch, a team that finally was playing up to its potential even with some key members out with injuries.

"You look at what Carolina did [getting to the Stanley Cup finals], and I'm sure it grabs every guy in here that they probably believe they were a better team and might have achieved the same things if they had gotten a chance in the playoffs," Cassidy said. "I luck out in that regard they know themselves they can get the job done, that last year was not a good year and they have to fix it."

As Cassidy spoke, more than a dozen of his players were on the ice scrimmaging, as they have for two weeks. The injuries appeared to have healed, and the bad karma from last season is in the past.

Cassidy has been on the job since he was hired June25 to replace Wilson and his staff, ending a five-season reign that saw the club advance to the Stanley Cup finals once, bow out after one round twice and fail to gain the playoffs twice.

"I think the majority of the players are looking forward to a new staff," Cassidy said, not attacking Wilson but simply stating a reality in a business in which change is the norm and often beneficial. "But let's face it, a change is made for a reason. One was made, and most players want to get off on the right foot when one is made.

"The big thing a coach controls is ice time, and most players if they have pride and I believe the guys in this room do they want to be on the ice in key situations, play as many minutes as they can. The guys are excited about that, that they have a chance to up their minutes, play a bigger role because there is a new coach. They don't know me. I don't know them. It's a fresh start."

Cassidy, a minor league coach until he was hired by general manager George McPhee, has spent a considerable amount of time traveling to meet players face-to-face, including eight days in flood-ravaged Europe. There he met Jaromir Jagr, who was leading a group of countrymen touring the Czech Republic putting on shows to raise money for flood victims.

Jagr is not the only star Cassidy inherits, which becomes a cross to bear and/or a powerful weapon to make his job easier. Rightly or wrongly, he will be judged by how the stars play.

"There is going to be pressure, no matter what," he said. "When you get to the major leagues, there is always pressure on a coach, but I'd rather have the pressure with the so-called all-stars in the lineup. You've got to have the horses to win. You can tinker and get guys to overachieve, but if you don't have players in the room who can win regularly, it's going to be tough to be successful. I'll take the extra pressure as long as it goes with coaching top-end guys."

Cassidy sought out Jagr because he "is one of the most dynamic, creative players in the game, if not the most dynamic and creative. Why wouldn't you want to get his opinion? He's won [two] Stanley Cups, he won at the Olympics, he's won scoring titles, he's been one of the best players in the world. I wanted to get his opinion. I wanted to tap his knowledge of the game."

Among other things, Cassidy said, Jagr offered a view of the Caps dressing room that he hadn't shared previously.

"He told me that he found it difficult to fit in right away, but I don't know his personality whether he was one of those guys who always have trouble fitting in or was an easygoing guy who struggled here," the coach said. "It was interesting because I'll be going through the same thing."

Rookies report next week, veterans Sept.11.

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