The letter was waiting in Madison Bowey’s stall when he arrived at the Capitals’ practice facility last week. After he had lived in a nearby hotel since mid-October, Bowey now had the organization’s blessing to get his own place to live. That notification is a rite of passage for NHL rookies, an indication that the team intends to keep him around for the rest of the season. He saved the letter, just as he did the score sheet from his first game.
“It’s pretty special,” Bowey said. “It’s just kind of one step closer to kind of fulfilling and really achieving your dream to be in the National Hockey League club and long term.”
But the Capitals don’t want their rookies to get the wrong idea. The collective bargaining agreement requires teams to pay for 28 days of a player’s hotel stay, and that can be extended up to 56 days, at which point he can get a permanent place without seeking permission. Though Washington told rookies Christian Djoos, Chandler Stephenson and Bowey they can move out of the hotel, that isn’t a guarantee that the organization won’t waive or move a player later.
As an example, rookie forward Zach Sanford got an apartment of his own when he was with the Capitals last season, but then the team sent him down to the American Hockey League for three weeks, and in February, he was traded to the St. Louis Blues as part of the deal that brought defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington.
“Sometimes you lose your focus and you think you’ve made it,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “And all you’ve done is you end up losing it because your focus is on other things, like, ‘Hey, I’ve made it and I don’t have to work as hard.’ …
“So no, I’m not that excited about it, but if they are, good for them.”
Vrana was the only rookie who didn’t receive a letter about getting his own apartment, though of the four of them, he enjoys the convenience of living in a hotel the most. He and Bowey are still waivers-exempt, meaning the organization doesn’t have to risk another team claiming one of them if they’re sent down to the AHL at any point. That designation alone takes away a great deal of security, but for Bowey, the letter also represents some validation.
Unlike Vrana and Djoos, he didn’t make the NHL roster out of training camp, recalled when veteran Matt Niskanen got hurt five games into the season. Bowey has played in 24 games since then with an average ice time of 13:45, beating out veterans Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness to stay in the lineup even when Niskanen returned to the lineup last month.
“My game has definitely, I feel, has improved a lot throughout these last two months already,” Bowey said. “It’s just going to keep on building and keep on getting better as the season goes on. Obviously, this is definitely exciting and a big step ahead in the right direction for me.”
Stephenson might be most familiar with just how hard it is to stick in the NHL. He’s had stints with the Capitals in each of the past two seasons, never lasting more than nine games. After he was waived to start this season, injuries made way for a late October call-up, and he played well enough to bump others out of the lineup. Washington’s unlikely to risk losing Stephenson on waivers a second time, but he’s taking Trotz’s advice about not getting too comfortable just yet.
“It was a goal of mine and an achievement, but it doesn’t really mean a whole lot,” Stephenson said. “Things can change, so you can’t really think that you’re set and I’m going to be in the NHL for the rest of my life. Just have to keep treating it like I have been and what’s given me my success. … It just goes back to the saying of don’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low, because usually when you do let them get too high, that’s when they come crashing down.”
Stephenson, Djoos and Bowey initially discussed living together, but they decided on separate accommodations, taking this week to each find an apartment and finally move out of the hotel sometime next week. It’s a new chapter in what they each hope will be long NHL careers side by side.
“That felt good to get it,” Djoos said. “I’m happy. I’m happy for those guys, too.”
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