During Mike Knuble’s time with the Capitals the team went through several phases of playing styles. There were the run-and-gun, offensive firework Caps from the early days of Bruce Boudreau’s tenure, then the half-offense, half-defense hybrid Caps, and most recently, Dale Hunter’s risk-minimizing, maddeningly patient and defense-first Caps.
While he won’t be a part of the next chapter in Washington, Knuble offered some insight as to what direction the team might take in 2012-13 under a new head coach when I spoke to him Wednesday.
“Finding someone who can go between Bruce’s style and Dale’s style, I think, is key,” Knuble said. “The Caps have a lot of skilled players who don’t have to play so conservatively all the time; you can be a little more aggressive at the start of the game. I think you’ve got to let them go be the world-class talents that they are. Then you work to get everybody playing defensive when the situation calls for it.”
All but one of the Capitals’ 14 playoff games this year was decided by one goal, and Hunter’s brand of hockey ensured that they would be in every game. But they never truly dominated contests.
Finding a balance between the two extremes of all offense and all defense is what Knuble thinks can help swing the balance in some of those 50/50 games the Capitals played this spring. Equally important as the style, though, will be how the next coach handles the star players.
Boudreau was an affable players’ coach who was criticized for not holding the stars to an even standard with the rest of the roster. Hunter, meanwhile, didn’t hesitate to make unpopular decisions or limit the ice time of Alex Ovechkin or any other star player.
“The next coach will be able to handle the stars. He’ll deal with Alex, keep him going in the right direction, but at the same time make sure that he has a great relationship with him,” Knuble said. “I think the young guys are getting older and they can be dealt with without kid gloves and I think that was established this year. You can ruffle some of the guy’s feathers, say things that they might not want to hear. They’re not kids anymore.”
Update: Here’s Ovechkin’s goodbye tweet to Knuble:
Good luck @MikeKnuble22 !!! Gr8 time with you!!!...U were best old guy i know who like russian musichahahah!!!!— Alex Ovechkin (@ovi8) June 7, 2012
More on Knuble:
Knuble a “typical rink-rat dad” (Nov. 2011)