Artiscally and financially, the Washington Capitals (1-4-2), reached an all-time low last week. They dropped their first three home games and played before Capital Centre's smallest hockey crowd, 5,690.
That was enough to start one rumor that General Manager Max McNab was on thin ice, and another to the effect that owner Abe Pollin was talking to a conglomerate with the idea of selling the Capitals.
Both reports were shots in the dark. Things are chaotic enough right now without bringing in a new G.M. And nobody is going to buy the Capitals and pay rent to Pollin. Conversely, Pollin cannot permit the hockey team to move. He needs those 40 nights of occupancy at Capital Centre.
Although the Capitals have been a financial drain, they are in a sounder fiscal position than many of their National Hockey League compatriots. For one thing, Washington has paid off - albeit at about 50 percent of parity - its $6 million expansion fee the NHL.Some expansionists from recent years have merely extended their notes.
"I have not received any offers, I have not solicited any offers and the team is not for sale," was Pollin's response to the rumor.
Of McNab's future, Pollin said, "As far as I'm concerned, he's here to stay. I have not set any specific goals he must reach."
Pollin conceded that there was no way the club would attain his announced goal of 10,000 season tickets this season, but he added that "until we reach our goal, I will not be satisfied."
Pollin said he was still willing to spend money "within reason" to acquire new talent, but it seems unlikely that there will any major influx to match the recent sudden acquisition of center Dennis Maruk and right wing Michael Bergeron.
Money is not enough to obtain high-caliber players and McNab has promised that he will not leave the club denuded of draft choices in any round. Maruk and Bergeron were obtained for extra picks acquired in trades.
The obvious need now is not new faces but consolidation. McNab seems determined to rid the team of the nonproducers of last year and it will take awhile for both newcomers and veterans to grasp new Coach Danny Belisle's methods.
"I'm still assessing and evaluating guys," Belisle said. "I'd like to have been able to do this before. There's a bunch of them that I have to see, and I have to put them in pressure spots to see how they react."
"Naturally, we want to win," McNab said, "and I'm very disappointed in our first-period starts. But Chicago and Atlanta are hot clubs and the performance against Los Angeles was pretty encouraging, even though we lost because of a couple of mental boobs in our own end. The try was certainly there.
"We lack a spark early in the game and I can't put my finger on it. But this is the pivotal year for us and we're determined to find the answer."
One answer to the ignition problem could be Ryan Walter, the No. 1 draft choice who has returned to action following knee surgery. It is difficult no to be infected by Walter's enthusiasm.
"The first thing for us to do to turn things around is to be positive," Walter said yesterday."I'm a believer. I think we're going to be a great team."
"I've never seen a guy this age so mature, so sure of himself," and linemate Tom Rowe, who leads the Capitals with four goals. "He's got everybody fired up. If we get up in the dressing room the rest of the year like tonight (in Chicago), we'll be in the playoffs."