Most NHL players who sought a new home this summer didn't consider Washington an attractive destination, given that the Capitals are in the midst of a lengthy rebuilding process.
Then there were checking-line forwards Ben Clymer, Chris Clark and Matt Bradley; for them, Washington is the perfect place at the perfect time.
All three players hope an increase in ice time and responsibility can jump-start their careers. The Capitals hope they tap into the upside scouts insist they possess.
"It's a good opportunity from a personal standpoint, absolutely," said Clymer, a 27-year-old winger who signed as a free agent in August. "The [Capitals are] trying to mold things and keep a core group together. I don't know if they are trying to do what Tampa Bay did, but I can certainly relate in a lot of ways. I'm really excited to be a part of the Capitals because I know what's possible. I've been there; I've seen the process work. The Capitals have a direction and a clear goal in mind."
Clymer's NHL career began five years ago in Tampa Bay, where he broke in with a Lightning team that was rebuilding, much the way Washington is today. Clymer played in 66 games during the Lightning's run to the Stanley Cup in 2003-04, is a swift skater and dogged defender, and could be a top-six forward in Washington as well as a penalty killer.
"If I had stayed in Tampa, I was going to play the same third- and fourth-line role," he added. "I wanted to push myself and see if I could do more and progress as a hockey player."
Clark, a 29-year-old who became the odd forward out in Calgary after the Flames added Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty, also figures to play on one of the Capitals' top two lines. Acquired for a conditional draft pick, Clark scored 10 goals in each of the past three seasons.
"Hopefully [the trade] will give me the opportunity to do some things I haven't been able to do the past few years," Clark said. "Clymer, myself and guys who have played in the playoffs and know what it's about and know how to win, we'll be able to show some [of the young] guys the way."
Bradley is a 27-year-old right wing who played in all 82 games for Pittsburgh in 2003-04 and received an average of 12 minutes 47 seconds of ice time per contest. That number is certain to increase, allowing the gritty defensive specialist to make a greater impact at both ends.
"I looked at coming here as a great opportunity to show what I can do and get some ice time," Bradley said. "But it's also going to be a challenge because we are going to be expected to do a whole lot more than we did for our previous team."
Whether the three are able to handle bigger roles won't be known until the season begins. But General Manager George McPhee was willing to gamble.
"It's generally the best time to get someone, when they've put in a few years with one organization and they are trying to break through," McPhee said. "Hopefully, we've got them at the right time. Needless to say, there are tremendous opportunities this year for veteran players to get more ice time than they ever had."
Clark said he hasn't been razzed by Clymer about the Lightning's seven-game victory over the Flames in the Cup finals in June 2004. But Clark suspects it's coming.
"We haven't got into it," Clark said with a chuckle, "yet."
Capitals Notes: Defenseman Ivan Majesky, the free agent the Capitals signed to a one-year contract last month, failed his physical exam because of a preexisting knee injury. He is scheduled to earn $800,000, but the Capitals are not obligated to pay him until he is able to play, which could be several weeks if not longer. He suffered the injury while playing for Slovakia in the World Championships in May. . . . Former Capital Peter Bondra has agreed to a one-year contract with Atlanta that will pay him a base salary of $505,000, with incentives worth as much as $2.9 million. Many of the bonuses are contingent on the Thrashers making the playoffs. The Capitals had offered the 37-year-old right wing $1.5 million in base salary and $500,000 in bonuses. . . . Forward Dainius Zubrus is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and should be on the ice next week. Defenseman Jakub Cutta is day-to-day because of an infection in his elbow. Right wing Brian Willsie missed his second day of camp while tending to a family issue. He is expected to arrive today.