When I heard the Caps re-signed Mike Knuble today, I must admit I was curious. There’s a lot to be worried about when re-signing a player who will soon be 40. And I’m not really sure he has a lot left in the tank. For most of this year, he’s looked his age, and has looked agonizingly slow at times, to the point where the Caps have had almost a revolving door at right wing on the first line (I have to think that if Jason Chimera didn’t have hands of balsa wood, he’d probably be up there now, but then again, he wouldn’t be the first victim of the “Russ Courtnall Disease” as I call it.)
I’m also worried about his versatility or lack thereof. To me, if Knuble’s not skating on the first two lines, he’s probably better off being scratched. I think that limits the team’s options on some nights where it could use more scoring.
To me, this contract signifies one major item, and that’s the complete failure of Eric Fehr to assert himself in the lineup and define himself as a first-line player. I expected going into this season that since it was the last year of Knuble’s deal, he would naturally slide out of the door into glorious retirement as Fehr took his place. But F16 has been unable to shake the injury bug (he’s up for his third full year with the team, and his career high in games played is 69), and his general ineffectiveness and lack of production means to me that the organization is still not convinced he can be a first-line player and fill the Knuble role. His time has to be getting short.
Something I’ve noticed in watching Knuble: I can tell how well-respected he is around the league, because it seems like no one ever takes shots at him. He’s never really involved in a lot of scrums, and he’s never taking extra whacks from defensemen. That tells me that not only is he playing smartly, he’s also playing cleanly.
Here’s the thing about Mike Knuble. There’s nothing about him that makes you gasp. Everything about him is wrong. He’s old, he doesn’t skate very well, and he doesn’t punch people in the face or score fancy goals. But what he brings to the table in terms of his heart, his character, and his leadership is enough for me to think the Caps made the right choice in giving the guy one more year. When I saw him call out the team on 24/7, that made me want to run through a brick wall. And I don’t think you can ever have enough guys like that on your hockey team.