- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

Coaching an expansion team from its birth provides those seeking an opportunity in the NHL a chance at a career, but it also can be a kiss of death. Need an example? It only took the Washington Capitals eight coaches and nine seasons to make the playoffs for the first time.
On Tuesday night against Florida, Ron Wilson became one of the few to break the mold. He coached his 300th NHL victory, one of the few men to start with an expansion team and survive the years of poor records that go with the assignment.
Oddly, the winningest coach in NHL history, Scotty Bowman, started the same way, with St. Louis in 1967, but the six new teams in those days battled mostly among themselves.
Now in his ninth coaching season in the NHL, Wilson is only the 24th coach in the history of the league to reach 300 wins. Entering tonight's San Jose game at MCI Center, Wilson is 300-297-100-7 lifetime and 180-152-49-7 with the Caps.
Wilson did not hesitate when asked what got him to the milestone: good players.
"You have to have good talent in order to be successful, whether you're Scotty Bowman or Roger Neilson or any of those other guys who've won 300 games," he said. "You have to coach good teams because that's the only way you can hold onto your job in order to get the opportunity to get to that number of wins."
It hasn't always been easy, especially this season which has been full of speculation about how long he would keep his job with the team not succeeding the way some had projected. Washington is two games below .500 now but late last month it was six games under the break-even mark and had won only one of its last eight.
Asked if experience makes the job simpler, Wilson replied, "I don't think it ever gets any easier. You have experience, but you're constantly seeing different things happen. What you're able to do probably is cope with negative situations a little better when you've been around."
A player in college, Europe and the NHL, Wilson was Anaheim's first coach in 1993 and held the job for four seasons. After the Mighty Ducks fired him, Caps general manager George McPhee grabbed him as his first order of business.
There have been highs (he took the Caps to the Stanley Cup finals in his first season, one year after coaching the U.S. to the World Cup of Hockey championship), and there have been lows (he was the coach of the non-medaling Team USA in the Nagano Games). Some nights his ideas bomb, as he has admitted; other nights he shines.
Faced with a seriously depleted roster because of injuries last month, he recalled a system from his playing days in Switzerland where three defensemen were on the ice instead of two, with one mobile defender replacing the center. Wilson went to that system out of desperation and was unbeaten in three games.
"That's the fun part, when you get a chance to be creative and it works," he said. "When you're around a long time, a lot of good things are going to happen, good and bad, and you just hope it's more good than bad."
He said the two people who provided the most positive influence in his life were his late father, Larry, and uncle, Johnny, both Stanley Cup winners as players and later coaches.
Wings Peter Bondra and Dainius Zubrus, who missed all or part of Tuesday night's win over Florida, both practiced yesterday and said they wanted to play tonight but would see how they felt at game time. "I am fine," said Bondra (flu). "That was bad timing. The injury picked the wrong day, game day. I'm excited about the game and hopefully I can play."
Zubrus has an injury to his right arm, the Caps say, and it prevented him from doing much against the Panthers, so he was pulled after one period. "It's not broken, but it's sore," the wing said, adding that a decision will be made at game time on his availability. …
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar was excused from practice to rest, Wilson said, a luxury other Olympic skaters did not receive. Wilson said he would try to rest those drawing a lot of ice time as situations permit with the team playing virtually every other night until the end of the season. "We want to save our energy for games," he said.

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