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16 Washington Capitals No longer aspiring to be a high-scoring outfit, this team will try to win with a rebuilt defense

Oct. 13, 2003
Oct. 13, 2003

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Oct. 13, 2003

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16 Washington Capitals No longer aspiring to be a high-scoring outfit, this team will try to win with a rebuilt defense

Last season Washington cast itself as a free-wheeling team, with
rookie coach Bruce Cassidy turning loose high-priced forwards
Jaromir Jagr ($78 million over seven years), Robert Lang ($25
million, five years) and Peter Bondra ($18 million, four years).
The result was a 10-13-2-0 start in which his team was outscored
75-63, so Cassidy installed a trapping system that helped the
Capitals to a 29-16-6-6 finish. But in the playoffs Washington
was knocked out in six games by the Lightning and owner Ted
Leonsis was left fuming, as much by the thousands of empty seats
in the MCI Center as by his team's postseason performance. He
pledged to reevaluate whether he should continue to spend so
generously.

This is an article from the Oct. 13, 2003 issue Original Layout

That meant trying to dump Jagr, but at $11 million per season
there were no takers. What the Capitals did lose were two of
their top four defensemen--Calle Johansson (retirement) and Ken
Klee (free agency)--and no veteran replacements were brought in.
Even so, Cassidy plans to stick with his defensive style of play.
"This organization was built on defense," says goalie Olaf
Kolzig. "We tried to change it last year, and we lost the
defensive edge. Well, it's time to rebuild."

That process will include blueliners such as 19-year-old Steve
Eminger, the team's top draft pick in 2002, and Josef
Boumedienne, 25. The 6'2", 200-pound Eminger, a stay-at-home
defenseman, has been paired with hard-hitting, 6'2", 229-pound
vet Brendan Witt. Boumedienne, who scored 30 points for
Washington's American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Me.,
last year, has been teamed with Sergei Gonchar, who had a
career-high 67 points in '02-03. "I don't know if thin is the
right word," Cassidy says of his defense. "Inexperienced is
better."

In a weak Eastern Conference, and an even weaker Southeast
Division, the Capitals should have enough talent to make another
trip to the playoffs. --Pete McEntegart

COLOR PHOTOCOLOR PHOTO: DOUG PENSINGER/GETTY IMAGES/NHLI (2) JAROMIR JAGR

SI RANKING
( 1 Best - 30 Worst )

OFFENSE 15
DEFENSE 26
GOALTENDING 11
POWER PLAY 11
PENALTY KILLING 25
G.M. AND COACH 18

INSIDER

Second-year coach Bruce Cassidy will be on the hot seat if he
doesn't get high-scoring F's Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra to buy
into his defense-oriented system.... If G Olaf Kolzig gets on a
roll, he can be good enough to help the team overcome its
defensive deficiencies.... G.M. George McPhee, who stole C
Michael Nylander from the Blackhawks and F Mike Grier from the
Oilers in trades last season, needs to work similar magic to add
depth to the team's blue line.