“For me, I always said what was on my mind,” Arnott said. “I spoke the truth, and that got me into a lot of trouble. The fans don’t understand when you say you were tired, even when you were. You learn a lot growing up, being put in that situation.”
As the Capitals prepare for a second-round playoff opponent that has yet to be determined, it’s hard to imagine Arnott has ever had a more profound impact on a team. Yes, he had a goal and two assists in the Capitals’ five-game first-round series victory over the New York Rangers. The more telling stat: With Arnott in the lineup, the Capitals lost one regular season game — in a shootout — and one in the playoffs. They have won the other 14 games in which he has played.
Arnott has played 11 of his 1,172 regular season games, and made five of his 111 playoff appearances, for Washington. He scored the overtime goal that won the 2000 Stanley Cup for the New Jersey Devils, and as a Cup winner — not to mention a Cup hero — he carries credibility and cachet into the dressing room.
“The most important thing we were looking for was a talented center,” said Capitals General Manager George McPhee, who, five minutes before the Feb. 28 trade deadline, acquired Arnott from the New Jersey Devils for forward David Steckel and a second-round draft pick. “I guess you can never underestimate the value of leadership, because we’ve gotten much more out of that than we anticipated.”
Under pressure early
Arnott’s upbringing is scarcely different from the scores of Canadians who populate the NHL. He grew up in Wasaga Beach, Ont. — a summer resort town some 80 miles north of Toronto on Lake Huron — where his father Bill was an auto mechanic who bought a Budget Rent a Car franchise, which his wife, Eileen, managed.
The Arnotts had come from little, but their children wanted for nothing. Jason rode dirt bikes, and his father worked six days a week — “You had to convince him to take Sunday off,” he said — so his mother could schlep him to hockey practices that were, sometimes, more than two hours away. Arnott’s own summer jobs included washing cars for Budget — “I hated that,” he said — to getting to drive the forklift in his dad’s wreckage yard, a task “I could have done all day.”
“They gave us everything they had,” Arnott said. “I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have that.”