Latta impresses at Caps Development Camp
Adam Oates doesn’t need to sit at a corner sports bar or log into a Capitals chat room to hear the white noise.
He knows the Capitals have done virtually nothing since the July 5 start of NHL free agency. He knows his team will not have No. 2 center Mike Ribeiro and gritty fourth-liner Matt Hendricks when they hit the ice for training camp in September.
He knows the other 15 teams in the of the Eastern Conference have improved their rosters with draft-day trades and free-agent signings.
He also knows there is more to building a hockey team than spending money.
“It’s not as easy as people think,” Oates said after working out the Caps’ top prospects at their annual development camp, which continues through Saturday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“Sometimes teams are stuck and they have to move parts that they didn’t necessarily want to move. It’s the salary cap.”
The Capitals carefully considered what Ribeiro and Hendricks were asking – Ribeiro’s four-year deal with Phoenix averages $5.5 million, and Hendricks’ four-year deal with Nashville averages $1.85 million – and decided they did not fit into the salary structure, especially with pending contracts for restricted free agents Karl Alzner, who signed a four-year, $11.2 million extension on Wednesday, and Marcus Johansson, who remains unsigned.
On Monday, Caps general manager George McPhee said the team would turn to Brooks Laich to fill Ribeiro’s shoes. Oates said he’s perfectly fine with that plan.
“I think there’s no question in my mind he can do that job,” Oates said. “He skates very well, he’s a top NHL player. We obviously missed him for a lot of the year and for me I just want to see him healthy and get some games in.”
Groin problems limited Laich to a career-low nine games last season and the 30-year-old veteran finished with just one goal and three assists. The Caps were an impressive 6-2-1 with Laich in the lineup but were unable to make it to the second round of the playoffs, which is when Laich said he would have joined them.
“When he came into our lineup he injected some enthusiasm and skill level and size,” Oates said. “He really helped us. He probably started our little run when we started playing better hockey and we missed him when he went down. He’s one of our better players. We’re going to count on him a lot this year.”
Oates also shared his thoughts on a variety of other topics:
On standing pat with the current roster:
“There’s more stuff behind the scenes than people realize. We feel we’re a good hockey team. We played well down the stretch. We lost two guys [Ribeiro and Hendricks] and that’s an opportunity for two guys to step in. There are guys we expect to grow and become better hockey players for us. It’s part of the job.”
On losing out on Vincent Lecavalier, who signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract with the Flyers:
“I just talked to him about our team and how I thought he would fit into our team. … He got a good deal. He chose Philly. We wish the guy well until we play them.”
On the impact of losing Ribeiro:
“We wish him well. He was a big part of our team this year and we’ll miss him, but it’s part of the deal. It’s part of life, you move on. It’s up to someone else to step up. Maybe it’ll be Brooks, maybe someone else. That’s what being a team is about.”
On the hole Ribeiro leaves on the power play:
“Mike’s a very talented hockey player and he proved it last year. We also had good guys play with him and we’re hoping someone else steps right into that role.”
On losing the character provided by Matt Hendricks:
“He’s a heart and soul guy, very well liked on this team. A great guy and we’re all happy for him as well. It’s an opportunity for someone else to step up and fill that role. It’s a great opportunity for [Aaron Volpatti]. He’ll get tested and we’ll see.”
On the prospect of hard-nosed center Michael Latta replacing Matt Hendricks:
“There are a lot of ways to measure [grittiness]. Some guys can fight and that’s great, but it’s not necessarily grit. He’s got to be able to play. That’s important and we already told him that. ‘I heard you’re a tough guy, great, but you’ve got to prove you can play.’”
On what he hopes to accomplish in this week’s development camp:
“The message to them is we just want to make it a good experience. You come to Washington, we want to show you what we’re about a little bit. I’m not trying to evaluate. It’s not fair. It’s a short span of time, maybe they’re nervous, maybe they’re not in shape,. They’re not playing with guys they’re familiar with. You just try to help them get through it.”