By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
After dropping five of the past six games and dropping into last place, there are lots of frustrated players in the Washington Capitals' locker room. No one, though, is more unhappy than defenseman Steve Eminger, who isn't playing and isn't sure why.
"It's past frustrating," he said following yesterday's practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "It's just a matter of them putting me in the lineup, and putting me in there for more than one game, or moving me to somewhere I'm going to play. Because clearly I'm not in their plans."
Once considered an integral cog in the Capitals' rebuilding plan, Eminger reported to training camp in September nursing an ankle injury he suffered during offseason training. He was put on injured reserve and kept there for a month, though he practiced at full speed for nearly the whole time.
Eminger was finally activated last Tuesday and made his season debut that night in the Capitals' 2-1 overtime loss in Atlanta, logging 15 minutes 38 seconds of ice time. He was beaten one-on-one by Ilya Kovalchuk on a Thrashers goal, but a coverage breakdown farther up allowed the star winger to attack with so much speed. He hasn't played since.
The 24-year-old former first-round draft pick said he approached General Manager George McPhee late last month for an explanation of his playing time. He said he left the informal meeting more confused than before.
"If I've done something, I would like to be confronted about it," Eminger said. "If it's my work ethic or something, someone should come up to me and say, 'Hey, that's the problem.' But I don't think that's the problem."
Eminger also said that no one in his camp has asked for a trade -- yet.
"I like this team, I like everything about these guys," he added. "The organization has been good to me. We're closing in on 20 games, and I'm not playing and I'm 24 years old. Do I need a new start somewhere? I need a start anywhere, whether it's here or somewhere else."
When Glen Hanlon was asked about Eminger's status last Monday in Raleigh, N.C., the coach referred all questions to McPhee. McPhee said there are no plans to trade Eminger and that he was kept on injured reserve for four weeks so his ankle could heal. He also pointedly reiterated the importance of having depth on the blueline, even if that means keeping two capable players in the press box most nights.
McPhee declined through a team spokesman to respond to Eminger's comments yesterday.
Since becoming a full-time player in the NHL in 2005-06, Eminger has often shown promise one night, then frustrated his coaches the next. He appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough two seasons ago, but suffered a sprained ankle in January, missed 16 games and never seemed to regain his previous form. Last season, the Toronto native played in 68 games, but also was a healthy scratch 11 times.
In September, Eminger arrived in Washington expecting to get an opportunity to compete for playing time on one of the league's youngest defenses. Yet despite the team's struggles -- Washington was tied for last place in the NHL with Edmonton and Buffalo through Sunday's games -- he doesn't appear to be an option.
"There should be room for guys on this defense to come in and out of the lineup," he said. "It's not Anaheim where there's Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin, who are complete locks to play. It's a situation where it's a young team and there's going to be a lot of mistakes. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I thought I would have been given more of a chance."