Capitals sign winger Knuble to free-agent contract worth US$5.6 million

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WASHINGTON - Thirteen seasons in the NHL have made Mike Knuble comfortable with doing the dirty work in the corners and in front of the net.

Just because he'll be skating next season on the wing opposite Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, Knuble doesn't expect to alter his approach

The Capitals addressed their need for a scoring winger, signing free-agent right winger Knuble to a two-year deal worth US$5.6 million on the first day of NHL free agency.

"I know what I do well," Knuble said. "I complement players. I've been able to be successful and they've been able to be successful."

Knuble, who turns 37 on Saturday, had 27 goals and 20 assists in 82 games for Philadelphia last season. The deal was announced Wednesday, a few hours after teams could sign free agents.

"Washington is everything I wanted in a team," Knuble said. "I think the team is on the verge of something good, something great."

Capitals general manager George McPhee, in need of a rugged veteran willing to muck it up along the boards and create havoc in front of opposing goalies, jumped at the opportunity to sign Knuble.

"We needed someone to go to the net," McPhee said. "Mike's made his living there."

Knuble will replace Viktor Kozlov, who signed with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the Kontinental Hockey League last month, as a first-line forward alongside left wing Ovechkin and centre Nicklas Backstrom.

"What we did is replace a 13-goal scorer (in Kozlov) with a 27-goal scorer - and the team is better as a result," McPhee said.

In 13 seasons with Detroit, the New York Rangers, Boston and Philadelphia, Knuble has 215 goals and 214 assists in 820 games. He has scored at least 10 power-play goals in each of the past five seasons, making Washington's already dangerous man-advantage unit even more potent.

Knuble, who played for the Red Wings team that beat Washington in the 1998 Stanley Cup finals during his first full NHL season, has missed only 25 games during his career. He has played in all 82 regular-season games in three of the past four seasons.

Spending the early portion of his career as role player and not blossoming until he replaced injured forward Sergei Samsonov in the Boston lineup in 2002-03 has preserved his health, Knuble said.

"I don't have a lot of mileage on me," Knuble said. "The guys who play a lot early in their careers, they have the back problems, the knee problems. ... It was a blessing not to get beat up early on in my career."

With Washington creeping close to this season's $56.8 million salary cap as a result of Knuble's signing, McPhee said Knuble represented the team's biggest off-season move and that the Capitals were comfortable going into the season with Brooks Laich as the second-line centre instead of trading for an established pivot.



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