Rick Smith flies back to Detroit today, far more contented than on his last visit.
This time, Smith will stay just long enough for his new team, the Washington Capitals, to meet the Detroit Red Wings in a televised (WDCA-TV-20 at 7:30 p.m.) contest from Joe Louis Arena.
Smith's previous trip to Detroit lasted a month, and it was not a delight. It began Oct. 8, when the Red Wings grabbed Smith off Boston's roster in the waiver draft, and ended Nov. 7, when the Capitals claimed him on $2,500 waivers from Detroit.
Although neither move came as a surprise, the yoyo effect did little for Smith's sense of well-being especially since his wife, Carol, had given birth to their first child, Dustin, Sept. 20.
"I knew I didn't fit in Boston's plans at all," said the 32-year-old Smith. "They wanted to go with the kid, (Larry) Melnyk, and they had (Gary) Doak as an assistnat coach ready to suit up. I was their eight defenseman.
"I don't want to use the baby as an excuse, but it did have a weighing effect on my mind. It added a lot of a mental thing, worrying about my wife and son and still trying to fit in with a new team.
"But I could maybe give 10 reasons why I didn't play well in Detroit. I wasn't doing the job and I knew unless I started playing, I wouldn't be there long. I played the first four or five games on a regular shift and we lost them all. Then I was used sparingly, so it didn't come as a shock when they put me on waivers."
The Wings have only nine points to rank 20th in the 21-team National Hockey League and Monday they fired both Coach Ted Lindsay and assistant Marcel Pronovost. Making his NHL coaching debut tonight will be Wayne Mayner, brought up from the Adirondack farm in a move similar to the one that brought Gary Green to Washington a year ago.
Smith declines to dissect the root causes of the Wings' clipping, but he is not sure that dismissing Lindsay will turn things around.
"Ted was a very good coach," Smith said. "He was patient and knowledgeable. It was a funny situation there. The club had some tough breaks and I don't know the reason things weren't going better.
"They were trying to change their style, from a finesse team to a work hard team, and they were going with young players. The players were upset by all the bouncing up and down from the farm team. It lent a joke to the whole thing. But I don't think Ted had much to say about that."
If he is reluctant to discuss Detroit, Smith is ready to volunteer his thoughts on his present teammates and employer. The Capitals have brought Smith along slowly, sympathizing with his desire to settle his family before joining the club and even suggesting that he sit out the first game after reporting in order to get a better understanding of the team's system.
"This club is tremendous," Smith said. "The players are exceptional to get along with. They've really made me feel at home. That's the biggest thing when you come to a new team and try to get your family settled -- you hope you'll get a good welcome.
"I have nothing but the highest praise for the organization. This is probabaly the best organization I've seen and I've played for six of them. This is a real major-league operation."
Smith was acquired because of the injury to Paul MacKinnon and, not long after he arrived, Rick Green went down, too. It would be natural for the Capitals to expect Smith to fill a lot of the gap those losses created, but he claims there has been no pressure.
"Losing two players of their quality is a severe loss," Smith said. Greenie is really a team leader and hopefully he'll come back sooner than they think. Anytime you find yourself short like this, you naturally hope the veterans will provide leadership.But nobody has put any pressure on me."
Whatever the reasons for his poor play in Detroit, there are no complaints with Smith's work here. He scored the game-winning goal in his debut at Hartford and has been a plus-two performer in his first four contests. Yesterday, he was working overtime, following the Capitals' practice at Fort Dupont, giving that little extra coaches love to see.
"The last couple of weeks in Detroit, I didn't get enough exercise," Smith said. "I'm just trying to pick up on my conditioning."
Although Smith obviously hopes he has found a home in Washington, he has not bought one.
"I bought my last home in Boston," Smith said. "Now I'm selling real estate, not buying."
Rick Green's cast is scheduled to come off today, at which time it will probably be determined whether his right wrist has been fractured. If not, he could be back next week. But if there is a break, he will be out about two months. Dennis Ververgaert, who missed Saturday's game because of the death of his father, will play in Detroit. Glen Currie, who replaced him, returned to Hershey in time to score a last-minute winning goal at New Haven. . . Detroit goalie Gilles Gilbert has a career record of 9-0-0 against Washington, with a 1.76 goals-against mark.