Bruce Boudreau didn’t get the reaction he expected when he approached Sergei Fedorov about spending a couple of days as a defenseman during training camp.
“He was way too excited to want to play there,” Boudreau said. “‘I love it’ were his exact words. I said, ‘Slow down here - you’re my No. 2 center right now.’”
That is typical Fedorov: He is Mr. Versatility for the Washington Capitals, whether it is second-line center, power-play quarterback, leader extraordinaire or, yes, even top-six defenseman when the circumstances call for it.
The Caps acquired Fedorov from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline last season, hoping for a capable replacement for the injured Michael Nylander.
They ended up with much more.
“Any time you can have that maneuverability - I love it,” Boudreau said. “If you run into penalty trouble or injury trouble, you can move guys around and not really miss a beat.”
Adding a veteran of Fedorov’s stature was risky. No one in the organization knew exactly how the 38-year-old, a lock for the Hall of Fame, would fit in - or how his youthful new teammates would react.
The result was better than anyone’s highest expectations.
Fedorov rediscovered his passion for the game and looked like a 28-year-old on some nights. He was a huge hit in the dressing room, helping fill some of the leadership lost with the injury to captain Chris Clark and the demotion of Olie Kolzig to backup goaltender.
His biggest impact was on the team’s pair of precocious Russians, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.
“He have tremendous experience - unbelievable experience,” Ovechkin said. “He have great skills - he can left wing, right wing, center, defense, and he’s one of our leaders that can [take] the team to the next step, the next level. He has great human things, like he is a great guy in the locker room especially for guys like me and Semin.”
Added Clark: “I didn’t know anything about him as a person. Obviously, I knew he was a great player, but I couldn’t have been more surprised. He is such a nice guy. Sometimes a great player can come to a new team and doesn’t work, but he came in and fit in right away. He was such a great help to our team.”
Once the season ended, the mission of general manager George McPhee was to retain as many of his own free agents as possible. Restricted free agents Mike Green and Brooks Laich and unrestricted free agent Cristobal Huet were the top priorities, but McPhee hoped to fit all of them in and still have room under the salary cap for Fedorov.
After signing Green, Laich and Huet’s replacement, Jose Theodore, McPhee and Fedorov’s agent, Pat Brisson, worked out a one-year, $4 million pact to bring him back to the District.
“I never really thought about [retirement] much,” Fedorov said. “My mind is solid, and my body feels good. I was able to do some training with Ovechkin, and that was an experience. I wasn’t really sure how it would work out, but there was an agreement that both sides were happy with. I wanted to come back here, but maybe if it didn’t work out I would have looked elsewhere.”
With both Fedorov and a healthy Nylander in camp, Boudreau had to decide who would play on the second line with Semin and who would center a third scoring line with Clark. Fedorov’s chemistry with Semin won out to start the season, but his foray on defense last week means it obviously could change.
The Caps likely will start the season with only six defensemen on the roster, so an in-game injury almost certainly would mean Fedorov would make the switch. Boudreau also had him playing defense Sunday night during overtime, when teams play 4-on-4.
“It is how you want to play - do you want to play overtime to win, or do you want to play it to go to a shootout?” Boudreau said. “I’ve always found that it is better to try for the win.”
Teammates say Fedorov is the embodiment of calm and cool, and he has accepted his role as the team’s jack-of-all-trades with a shrug.
“In my career, there has been a lot of changes as the seasons progress,” Fedorov said. “It is not that much shocking to me.”