It was obvious from the outside and even more so to Mike Knuble that he wouldn’t be back with the Washington Capitals next season. Perhaps it was clear when he was a healthy scratch in the middle of the season and leading up to the trade deadline, but the veteran right wing knew long before that.
“I think it went back from the beginning of the year and you can just kind of see what’s coming down, what’s on the horizon, see how things would shape up, how you’re used,” Knuble said in a phone interview Wednesday. “You don’t worry about the future even though you see some things coming down the line and you see how things are shaping up and you just kind of deal with it on your own terms, I guess.”
On his own terms, Knuble took his demotion to the fourth line under coach Bruce Boudreau and later his banishment to the press box under coach Dale Hunter with class, even as frustration set in. When he was informed by general manager George McPhee that he wouldn’t be back next season, the 39-year-old wasn’t surprised.
He saw the future in the form of younger right wings Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward getting deals last summer and soon realized the effect of those changes.
“They proved to be valuable guys to our team, so they didn’t make a mistake in that respect,” Knuble said. “Somebody’s going to get pushed down the ladder or kind of pushed down the depth chart, and it happened to be me. Whether I feel it was right or wrong or whatever is pretty irrelevant, but it’s just what happened.”
Knuble finished with just six goals, snapping a streak of eight 20-goal seasons. More often than not he was snake-bitten, memorably hitting the post, missing a breakaway and even seeing a goal disallowed that would have ended a scoring drought.
“There was a key stretch where quite literally I could’ve had five or six goals in that time. If those had gone in, in hindsight you’re probably not a healthy scratch,” Knuble said. “That was the time when I needed some of those to go in and I’m sure that’s when I’m sure Dale [Hunter] was looking at me like, ‘You’ve got to finish those.’ That was the difference probably between being a healthy scratch and not being a healthy scratch at that point in the season.”
Knuble talked even in February about wanting to play somewhere he can get on the ice and contribute. That competitive fire hasn’t waned for the respected veteran who will turn 40 on July 4.
“I’ve been pretty adamant about wanting to play and stuff like that. I still think I can play just on a help basis and just from a knowledge of the game,” said Knuble, who said he’s healthy. “I’m lucky the times I’ve been injured, the injuries have been repaired and I’ve been very fortunate in that respect. I feel like I’m a low-maintenance, low-risk type of guy like that when it comes to that stuff.”
When Knuble left the Philadelphia Flyers to sign with the Capitals in the summer of 2009, it was to try to win a Stanley Cup. That could mean looking to teams such as Detroit, Boston or Pittsburgh when unrestricted free agency opens July 1. Knuble and his family, though, will head back to Michigan until that time, when he can talk to teams and make a decision.
In the aftermath of a “very frustrating” season, Knuble’s review of his tenure in Washington was positive.
“My biggest disappointment is we didn’t have more playoff success, and ultimately that’s the way you’re judged,” he said. “This was going to be a great chance to win something here. I don’t regret that for a second.”