As players try to stay physically and mentally prepared for the resumption of the season, if in fact it does resume, the organization has also been doing its part to help. The Capitals have been in communication with their players and staff nearly every day during this hiatus, making sure everyone is staying healthy.
Capitals strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish has been sending weekly programs for players to aid them in their training. As of Monday, no Capitals players have exhibited any symptoms related to the coronavirus, according to General Manager Brian MacLellan, who spoke with reporters Monday on a conference call that covered a wide range of topics about the state of the team and the league.
In addition to making sure its players and staff are staying safe, MacLellan said the organization has been trying to stay prepared for anything that might come down the line if the league “gets a chance to continue to play — whether it’s in June, July or August.”
The league has offered no timetable for the resumption of play. The period of self-quarantine for NHL players and team staff is set to end April 6, but President Trump announced Sunday that he extended social distancing guidelines through the end of April.
“It’s amazing how your life just comes to a halt and all the things you do day-to-day doesn’t matter anymore and all of a sudden there’s a big picture, there’s a reality going on, and all the little things you’re concerned about on a daily basis don’t really matter much,” said MacLellan, who is at home in Minnesota to be closer to his two daughters and grandchildren. “It’s a change in lifestyle, and it’s a change in probably priorities.”
The Capitals initially wanted players to stick close to Washington after the season was paused, but nine have left the area to go home and 14 have stayed.
Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Nick Jensen and Nic Dowd are among those who have remained near the District. Others, such as Ilya Samsonov, Jakub Vrana, Ilya Kovalchuk, Brenden Dillon and Brendan Leipsic, have left the area to be closer to their families either in different parts of North America or overseas.
As for how the rest of the regular season and/or playoffs could work if the season does resume, MacLellan said he hasn’t thought too much about it, though he has been on conference calls with the league regularly to discuss an array of topics. His initial thought is that he would like to see the Stanley Cup awarded this season.
MacLellan said a lot of options have been considered, but the biggest and most obvious deciding factor will be how long it takes until it is safe to play again. The Capitals had 13 regular season games remaining when play was halted, and they held a one-point lead on the Philadelphia Flyers atop the Metropolitan Division. Ideally, MacLellan would prefer if teams were able to play a few games before the playoffs “to benefit the quality of play and the players’ health,” but he would be fine with jumping straight into the postseason.
Ovechkin said Thursday he would want to go right into the playoffs if the season continues.
“Like everybody else in the organization, probably in society, I look at it as day-to-day,” MacLellan said. “It seems like the situation changes day-to-day on where we’re at and where we’re headed, so I try to stay in that mind-set. We try and take care of our guys; you try and take care of your family at home and kind of move on from that.”
There is also a concern about the quality of play if the games resume. While the NHL has discussed needing some sort of training camp period before games are played to get the players reacclimated, there is still a sense that the ramp-up period could take some time.
“I think it might be scrambly at first, but it’ll be accelerated because of the seriousness and what’s at stake if you’re playing for a championship or you jump right into the playoffs,” MacLellan said. “I think it’ll be hard, but players will adapt to it.”
On the business side of things, MacLellan said the Capitals have talked about all of the scenarios for how the salary cap will be affected, how the scouting combine and draft will work now that they have been postponed, contracts for next season and more. There are currently no answers to those questions, but the team is trying to stay as prepared as possible. The Capitals have big contracts such as goaltender Braden Holtby’s set to expire at the end of June, and MacLellan said the league has started to think ahead if the season is extended.
“The league brought up in the last call that [expiring contracts] would be extended through August if that was the case,” MacLellan said. “If that’s the route we were going down, the contracts I guess would have to be improved by the NHLPA still, too, but they would go to the end of August, if that was the date they chose.”
For now, the Capitals, like the rest of the league and much of the rest of the world, remain in waiting mode.
“All we can do is try and prepare for different scenarios that we see coming,” MacLellan said, “and do the best we can do.”