- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

Bruce Cassidy’s job as coach of the struggling Washington Capitals is safe at least for this season, according to a source close to club ownership and a senior member of the team’s management.

“There will be no changes in the coaching staff,” said the member of management, speaking on the condition he not be identified. He acknowledged disappointment over the team’s start, but there were circumstances for which Cassidy and his staff cannot be blamed.

The Caps won their first game of the season but have not won since , going winless in six games. They are 0-4-1 on their current six-game road swing, longest of the season, after last night’s 5-1 loss in Ottawa.

“We would like to win both these games on the road this week [the club is in Toronto tomorrow], but even if that is not the case, there will be no changes in the coaching staff,” the executive said before last night’s game.

With the exception of the opener against the New York Islanders, probably one of the best games the club has played in years, the Caps have played in bursts, some of them short, that don’t accomplish much, others longer that put on display positive things the team can do. There have been nights when there was a system-wide failure, such as the 5-1 loss in Montreal, and other nights when one player let down and the team could not recover.

The Caps are a team in transition. Two veteran defensemen, Calle Johansson and Ken Klee, are no longer with the team and a third, left wing Steve Konowalchuk, has been traded; there are several players on the roster who qualify as rookies and lack experience; first-line center Michael Nylander is out with a broken leg and some veteran forwards the club has been counting on are experiencing slow starts.

Washington is also part of the trend running throughout the league where salaries are being pared as low as possible in anticipation of a work stoppage next season.

“Add all those things together and it’s hard to say [Bruce] is at fault,” the senior executive said.

“Those are teams that are all playing pretty good hockey right now (collectively, Caps opponents were 18-8-5-2 before last night),” Cassidy said.

“This year we’re better prepared as a staff. We’ve tried to make a few adjustments, but I don’t think that’s the problem. I’m not absolving myself of blame because you have to motivate your players to get them to play their best. But it’s not our preparation — I don’t believe that.”

Cassidy is in the second year of his contract (there is an option). He finished 10 games above .500 (39-29-8-6) in his first season and made the playoffs, although there was a massive flameout in the six-game loss to Tampa Bay.

There is frustration at all levels. The other day in practice, two players who seldom fight went at it as drills were ending. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar and center Jeff Halpern fought briefly before being separated.

“They’re just frustrated,” Cassidy said. “I mean, who isn’t around here? That’s not surprising. Maybe it’s surprising, the combatants, but not so much that something like that would happen.

“And I don’t think it’s a bad thing. You don’t want to see your own guys hurt one another, but that shows they care and they’re frustrated. I don’t think it’s anything to get worried about — as long as it translates onto the ice.”

Note — Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said the position of senior vice president of business operations, currently held by the departing Declan Bolger, will not be refilled. Bolger is leaving to become chief marketing officer of the Portland Trail Blazers.

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