Divided into three separate groups (Teams A, B and C), 69 players hit the ice today as the Washington Capitals started their 39th training camp in preparation for the upcoming 2013-14 NHL regular season. One of those players – forward Brooks Laich – left the ice minutes after practice started and a 70th player – center Mikhail Grabovski – has yet to report to camp because of visa issues.
Roughly 10 minutes after taking the ice with the first group, Laich left the ice because of what he said was a hip flexor ailment. The hip flexor issue is not related at all to the lower body injury that limited Laich to just nine games last season, and he doesn’t believe it has any long-term implications.
“I’m not that concerned about it,” says Laich. “It wasn’t a severe hit or a violent hit that really jarred me. It was just a little tweak that came on and I think I’ll be all right.”
With opening night still more than two weeks away, there is no reason to rush Laich back to the ice.
“Obviously you feel for him,” says Caps coach Adam Oates in reference to Laich’s Thursday injury following his injury-plagued 2012-13 season. “[It’s] unrelated to last year, but it’s obviously frustrating. He wants to be out here flying and he just tweaked his hip flexor on the other side. Hopefully, it’s just minor.”
Laich is listed as day-to-day.
Centers of Attention
If you believe Laich’s injury is a serious one, it’s the story of the day. If you believe it isn’t, then Oates’ experiment to slide right wing Eric Fehr to the middle of the ice is probably the most noteworthy development on day one of Caps training camp.
Both Fehr and left wing Martin Erat are expected to spend some time this season skating as centermen. For much more on this story, read our earlier piece featuring the viewpoints of Oates, Fehr and Erat.
Teams A and B are comprised mainly of veteran players with a few prospects sprinkled in. Team C is comprised mainly of prospects with some AHL veterans mixed in. You are likely to see mainly players from Teams A and B populating the rosters for Washington’s eight preseason games.
Grabovski was originally slated to skate between Laich and Troy Brouwer on a Team A line at camp. The Belarusian center’s absence opened up a slot for a player to be promoted from Team C to team A, and rookie Chandler Stephenson ended up winning those sweepstakes. Stephenson stepped into that slot between Laich and Brouwer and it’s possible he’ll remain there until Grabovski arrives in D.C. Stephenson was one of the best players on the ice for either side in Monday's rookie game between the Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers at Kettler.
Laich’s ailment opens up the left side of that slot, and it appears as though Australian native and training camp invitee Nathan Walker will be given an opportunity to fill that slot while Laich is healing. Look for Walker to join Stephenson and Brouwer on that line for Friday’s day two camp sessions.
Hockey Night in Canada
The Caps travel to Belleville, Ont. for their preseason opener against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. There is no firm word on which players the Caps will bring north of the border for that game, but it’s quite likely that the NHL would want the team to showcase its best players, including Caps’ captain Alex Ovechkin.
If that is the case, don’t be surprised if the Caps merely bring their Team A roster to Ontario. There are eight defensemen, so two would be scratched. You can bet that Walker and Stephenson won’t argue at all if the Caps simply ship all of Team A off to Belleville.
Around the Metro
On Wednesday, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that defenseman Joni Pitkanen would miss the 2013-14 season because of a broken heel sustained in an April 2 game against the Capitals in Raleigh.
Pitkanen averaged 22:49 per night last season, but he logged 27:23 per night for the Canes when he was in peak health in 2009-10, a figure that was tops among all NHL defensemen that season.
Clearly, replacing a workhorse like Pitkanen has to be a priority for a team. Today, Canes general manager Jim Rutherford inked veteran free agent blueliner Ron Hainsey to a one-year deal to help fill the void left by Pitkanen’s injury. Hainsey, who will earn $2 million for the upcoming season, has averaged 21 minutes or more per night in six of the last seven NHL seasons.
In Philadelphia, veteran winger Dan Cleary left the Flyers at the altar. Expected to report to Philly on a pro tryout agreement for Flyers training camp, the 34-year-old right wing had a change of heart and instead re-upped with the Detroit Red Wings, the team for which he has been employed for the last eight seasons. Cleary signed a one-year deal worth $1.75 million with the Wings.
Day One Media Availability
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