In 2008, Sergei Fedorov’s presence helped make the Washington Capitals a playoff team for the first time in four years. The following spring at 39, the two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings scored the goal that beat the New York Rangers in Game 7 and gave the Caps their first postseason series triumph since 1998.
Fedorov was gone in 2010 and the President’s Trophy-winning Caps were stunned in the first round by the eighth-place Montreal Canadiens. So this year, Washington general manager George McPhee added Jason Arnott, author of the Cup-winning goal for the 2000 New Jersey Devils, at the trade deadline.
As with Fedorov, the 36-year-old Arnott helped the Caps get one round further but no farther before signing this month with the St. Louis Blues.
Washington’s latest idea is to add that championship feeling without the age. To wit, McPhee traded this year’s first-round draft pick to Chicago for 25-year-old winger Troy Brouwer, who helped the Blackhawks win their first Cup in 49 years just 13 months ago.
“We probably would have made the move anyway (even if Brouwer hadn’t skated with Lord Stanley’s chalice),” McPhee said. “We like the way he plays. We think he’s a real good fit for us, but having more guys who’ve won Cups always helps.”
Brouwer and the Hawks didn’t defend their Cup this spring, but they rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the first round against Vancouver before finally falling in overtime in Game 7 on the road against the eventual finalists.
“I think I can bring a lot to this team,” said the 6-foot-2, 214-pound Brouwer, who slipped from 40 points in 2010 to 36 in 2011 but whose hits rocketed from 189 to 262, fifth-most in the NHL. “Every time I’ve had one of my better games, I’ve had five, six, seven hits. For me to be successful, I need to be physical.”
And now, Brouwer is in the role that former New Jersey Devil John Madden filled for the 2010 Blackhawks: the guy in the room who’s not a superstar but who has won it all.
“There’s a lot of experience I had in Chicago, obviously winning the Cup (and) certain games I can think of: Game 5 against Nashville in the very first series,” Brouwer said. “We were down a goal with a minute left and we were on the penalty kill and we were able to tie it up and win it in overtime. … When we got tied up 2-2 in the finals against Philly, (John ) had been there and he (knew) what those situations were like. … I learned from him and I’ll try to bring that to this team. … When we get in certain situations, I can try to calm guys down or excite ‘em up.”
As Brouwer knows, the Caps have gotten Washington fans excited the past four regular seasons only to let them down in every postseason.
“It’s surprising that they haven’t made a real strong push for the Stanley Cup,” Brouwer said. “Right now, we might be a better team than they were the past couple of years. When we won (in Chicago), it was because we had so much depth and you see a lot of that on the Caps now with what George has done (in trades and free agency during the past month). I’m not saying we’re winning anything yet, but I think we have a real good opportunity.”
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.