- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

Q: Do you think the Caps made a mistake bringing Jaromir Jagr to Washington? He doesn't seem to be the same player he was in Pittsburgh.

A: What is the perception out there? He doesn't prance around whining and complaining like that guy he played with in Pittsburgh. In fact, from all accounts of people who have known him in both places, he seems more at ease here, certainly is more cooperative with the media and after a slow start is getting along better with his teammates than he reportedly did elsewhere. He is driven, realizing his reputation good or bad is tied directly to the success the team he is playing for is enjoying. Is he his own man? Most assuredly. He has some very strange practice habits but there are few complaints when the team is winning and he is contributing.

Mistake to bring him here? No, no, a million times no. He was leaving Pittsburgh one way or the other; if nothing else, grabbing him prevented some other Eastern team from landing him. The mistake the Caps made was going out and buying a very expensive sports car and trying to team it up with a pair of rusty old four-cylinder Volkswagen Beetles.

Q: Olie Kolzig has been one of the best goalies in the league for a few years but he slipped last season. Is it him or is it something bigger?

A: Olie slipped, no mistake. Was it the beginning of the end? No, no, 6 million times no. Olie slipped at the same time a whole bunch of other guys slipped and the whole defense, forwards especially, went south for the winter. Kolzig did not have an outstanding season and let in some pretty awful goals, some very early in games, which made the team play from behind. He denies it bothered him but he also injured a knee just before the Olympic break; his range of motion was restricted and thusly was his ability to play as he usually does. His stats would have made a much easier read if he had better support, and if he had also played better.

Q: Now that Dainius Zubrus is signed, what will happen to Andrei Nikolishin? How much will missing training camp hurt Zubrus early on?

A: Nikolishin, for reasons that are not easily explained or understood, is not, and has not been, on the short list of favorites with Caps management for years. He is abrasive, speaks his mind, challenges authority; he also plays with the spirit of a wounded warrior defending his family. In short, because other players have come along, he probably will be traded after his agent works out a deal.

Zubrus is built like a bull and is probably in pretty decent shape even now. But skating shape and game shape are two entirely different things. It will take him a few weeks to get into game shape and regain his timing, the most difficult challenge he faces.

Q: Former coach Ron Wilson was known as one of the better technicians in the game and he couldn't get the team into postseason last April. What difference will Bruce Cassidy make?

A: Wilson could be a very tough individual to deal with, or he could be as pleasant as a kindly country gentleman. When the darker Wilson was in command, players felt belittled, felt they were not given the respect any man deserves. Finally, the players stopped listening to what he said. When they rallied to go 9-2-2 over their last 13 games last season, they did it in spite of their coach.

Cassidy has taken a different approach, although he has shown he won't back down when he feels he is being run over. He is more open, he communicates better, he (and assistants Randy Carlyle and Glen Hanlon) appears to be a better teacher who can drive a point home without driving the player through the ice.

Q: What's a realistic goal for this team? Should it be happy with just a playoff appearance or is this team capable of going deep into postseason?

A: Barring the one thing that can cripple any club, injuries, there is no excuse for this team not going at least to the conference finals. It has offense; it has goaltending; it has a coaching staff the players appear to respect and pay attention to; it has a defense that needs experience but should gain that over an 82-game schedule; it possibly has better depth than any Caps team in history. It should trample its Southeast Division and be one of the top two teams in the East at the end of the season.

Q: What's the deal with the coach's name? His name is Bruce but everybody calls him Butch, as in the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

A: At age 10, Cassidy recalls, he was playing pond hockey in his native Canada when some kid called him "Butch." End of story. Even his mother calls him Butch. "There are times," the coach said, "when somebody calls out, 'Hey, Bruce,' and it doesn't register that they're calling me. I've had people I've known for a while ask me what my real first name is. I prefer Butch."

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