When Mike Knuble hits the ice Wednesday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, it will mark the veteran's first time in a pair of skates this summer.
But that doesn't mean he's out of shape. Far from it, in fact.
The 39-year-old arrived at the Caps' headquarters Tuesday looking lean and chiseled, having followed a stringent, five-day-a-week off-ice workout routine this offseason.
“I was very consistent,” Knuble said. “Three days was for weight lifting and cardio, to watch my weight. Then Tuesday and Thursday was for sprinting – the painful stuff. I'm not saying I'm a different player, but I've got to do some things for the fast twitch muscles.”
As Knuble has gotten older, he's had to increase the intensity and frequency of his summer workouts to counteract the effects of Father Time.
But something tells me there were some other sources of motivation, too. Like, perhaps, the addition of Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, both of whom are listed as right wings. And, of course, the fact that Knuble is on a one-year contract and wants to sign an extension.
“I'm out there playing for another deal,” he said. “I'm not riding off into the sunset. I want to make that point clear to everybody. This is no farewell song.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau hasn't tipped his hand when it comes to the line combinations he plans to tinker with next month in training camp. But given his history of juggling, it's possible Knuble will see playing time on the right side of each of the top three lines at some point.
Knuble's preference, of course, would be to remain on the first line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the place he's been for most of his previous two seasons in Washington. Brouwer, however, may have something to say about that.
“I want to remain there and I still feel I can play there,” Knuble said. “It's going to be a challenging year, definitely, with more competition. I look forward to talking to Bruce about stuff. They make that decision upstairs. Am I going to change what I do? Put it this way: They know how I work best. But at the same time, I feel like I'm versatile enough that if you want me to check, I'll check.”
“Nothing is guaranteed,” he added.
Knuble notched 24 goals and 16 assists in 79 games last season, a dropoff from the 29 goals and 24 assists he amassed in 2009-10 (in only 69 games). Some of that, no doubt, was a because of a slower-than-usual start that saw him score only four goals in his first 25 games.
“I don't want to go through that again,” he said. “I would love to have a quick start, and that's why you come here early. I'll probably work a little bit harder before camp and make sure I'm working harder during camp.”
Although Knuble can't be certain of his role this season, he said he likes the direction in which General Manager George McPhee has pointed the team after a second straight playoff disappointment last spring revealed some deficiencies in the team's DNA.
“George has added some more North-South by bringing Brooks [Laich] back, bringing in [Roman] Hamrlik, and the three forwards he brought in,” he said, referring to Brouwer, Ward and Jeff Halpern. “They are not the superstar types, by any means. I don't know if it's a completely different direction; it's more, 'Let's go this way a little bit.'”
Knuble also called this year's team the “deepest” since he's been here.
“I like that we added a veteran goalie,” he said. “Nothing against our goalies, but I like that we have a veteran goalie. I think the guys who have played against [Tomas] Vokoun know he's a pretty good goalie.
“Suddenly we're a more veteran team now. That's a good thing. I liked our team at the end of last year, but we're going to be even better now. This team is deeper.”
“Since I've been here, this is going to be our best chance,” to win the Stanley Cup, Knuble continued. “There's a huge window for our team. Our younger guys are starting to come into their prime. Believe me, I would love to stick around for another three years and be here for the whole window. But this year is a great chance.”