For much of the past two seasons, the Washington Capitals have had a high-powered offense, but one critique was the team was missing a guy to score the “dirty” goals.
That’s not likely to be a problem anymore.
On the first day of free agency Wednesday, the Capitals signed gritty right wing Mike Knuble to a two-year contract worth $2.8 million a season. Knuble, who turns 37 on Saturday, potted 27 goals for the Philadelphia Flyers last season. He has averaged more than 27 goals a season for the past six.
He is likely to begin his time with the Caps on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, essentially replacing Viktor Kozlov, who signed with a team in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
“We just felt we needed another player - and on that line in particular with Ovechkin and Backstrom - that will go to the net,” Caps general manager George McPhee said. “Backstrom and Ovechkin are going to have the puck a lot, and we need someone to be around the net to do some of the dirty work. Mike’s made his living there. He’s done a real good job in that regard. He’s been remarkably consistent in the number of games he’s played and the number of goals he’s scored in the past five or six years.”
Added Knuble: “You don’t really know who is serious until noon on the first [of July], but Washington was a team that we had heard might be interested. It was everything that I wanted in another team. It was on the East Coast. It was another great city on the East Coast. It was another team that was considered one of the top teams on the Eastern Conference the last few years.”
The Detroit Red Wings drafted Knuble in the fourth round in 1991, and he earned a championship ring when they beat the Caps for the Stanley Cup in 1998. Knuble didn’t become a consistent scorer in the NHL until he was with Boston a few years later. Star Sergei Samsonov was injured, and the Bruins gave Knuble a chance to play on a line with Joe Thornton during the 2002-03 campaign.
Knuble joined the Flyers after the lockout and has been a staple on one of the team’s top lines. Last season he played a lot with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne when the team was at full health. He has scored at least 10 power-play goals in the past four years.
“Bruce [Boudreau] was looking for another right-handed shot on the power play, someone that will go to the net and stand in front of the net,” McPhee said. “I would think this will make the power play even better.”
At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Knuble does his best work in front of the net and in the corners. Despite his age, Knuble said his years as a role player before his big break with Boston have kept his wear and tear minimal.
He has played all 82 regular-season games four of the past five seasons.
“I like to consider myself a low-mileage guy,” Knuble said. “The guys who play a lot when they are younger, by the time they get to 37 they’ve got the back problem, they’ve got the shoulder or wrist or whatever. As frustrating as it was to sit on the bench as a fourth-liner then, it has probably been a blessing.”
McPhee said he is “probably” done shopping for free agents but will continue to pursue trades with other teams. Knuble likely will replace Kozlov on the top line, but he also will be an important component in the dressing room, where a void needs to be filled with Sergei Fedorov also leaving for Russia.
“All the research we’ve done and all the people we’ve talked say this is a real stand-up guy,” McPhee said. “He’s really the ideal free agent signing for us today.”
Added Knuble: “I think the team is on the verge of something good and maybe even something great. If it wasn’t going to work out in Philly, I wanted to go someplace where I could contend and have a great city to live in. Washington was a pretty good fit in that regard.”
Note - Former Caps pugilist Donald Brashear signed a two-year deal with the New York Rangers worth $1.4 million a season - a $200,000 raise from 2008-09.
“We’re happy for [Brashear],” McPhee said. “We couldn’t pay that number. [Brashear] did a great job for us the last three years.”