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сентября 1999 года.
Caps Hope Mironov Is Worth the Wait
By Jason La Canfora
Just 14 months ago the Washington Capitals signed defenseman Dmitri Mironov to a four-year, $11.5 million contract. They hoped Mironov would help solidify their blue line, anchor their power play and fire quick transition passes to their forwards. With him, they hoped to challenge again for the Stanley Cup after reaching the finals for the first time in franchise history during the 1997-98 season.
Neither party came close to realizing those goals last season. The Capitals wilted, missing the playoffs thanks in large part to a raft of injuries. Mironov had a strong October but was sidelined by back surgery and played only 46 games. With one of the weakest offenses in the league, the Capitals and their power play lagged as the season wore on.
Another training camp has brought renewed hope for the player and the franchise. Mironov, now in good health, is one of the keys to Washington's hope for a resurgence. He will again be asked to perform as a top defenseman, play 20-odd minutes each night and carry heavy power-play responsibilities. He will be among a core of defensemen instructed to play tougher while also contributing to the offense. If he, Sergei Gonchar and Calle Johansson are moving the puck to the team's scoring threats and deftly rushing up ice, the Capitals hope to be able to muster more than the paltry 2.4 goals per game they averaged last season.
"If he's healthy, [Dmitri] is going to be a lot better for us," Coach Ron Wilson said. "I thought the first month of last season Tree played very well and then, like what happened with a lot of guys, he got hurt. Some people were really pressing and trying too hard and Tree probably felt an inordinate amount of pressure because of his contract. He didn't want to let me down and he felt he was and his back was hurt and it just piled up on him and basically just shut his season down."
Mironov played under Wilson in Anaheim and thrived. The 34-year-old had the two finest seasons of his eight-year career with the Mighty Ducks, posting over 40 points in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Mironov has been a consistent offensive presence, cracking 30 points in every full NHL season he's played in. And the Capitals expect the same from him this season.
Wilson used Mironov almost exclusively with the tandem of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne – the most prolific linemates in the game today – and he's hoping to duplicate that success by having Mironov on the ice with forwards such as Peter Bondra and Adam Oates.
"I know he can do it. It's just a matter of getting the job done and making sure he's on the ice with the same people every night," Wilson said. "Like many Russians he's used to playing in a five-man unit and having the same people to play with. In Anaheim he was probably on the ice every time Kariya and Selanne were, and he learned to jump in the holes and play with those guys. And I think that's what Tree has to do here, he has to be out with same people every shift."
General Manager George McPhee paid a steep price to sign Mironov last summer, when teams were spending freely for free agents. Bondra, Oates and star goalie Olaf Kolzig are the only Capitals who will earn more than Mironov's $2.75 million this season.
"The market was a lot higher last summer," McPhee said. "We paid a lot more than we wanted to. It's like the stock market – sometimes the market is high and we bought when it was high. A lot of teams did the same thing."
But the Capitals will consider their investment a good one if Mironov can help trigger some offense. McPhee believes half of his defense corps could post at least 40 points, while the other three defensemen should provide steady and physical play. The Capitals would also like to see Mironov – at 6 feet 2, 225 pounds – get a little more physical, and he's likely to open the season paired with rugged Brendan Witt, who thrives on pounding opponents. If he can reproduce anything similar to what he did in Anaheim, everyone will be pleased.
"I know what he did with Kariya and Selanne in Anaheim," Bondra said. "I was so excited when we signed [Dmitri]. I figure I'd get some nice passes and maybe [he'd] spring me for some breakaways every season, because he can see the ice and pass so well. But he slowed down with the injury. Hopefully, this year he can stay healthy and he'll be a big part of our team.
"We need four guys involved in the play. That's how you score goals. We're looking for the 'D' to move up and jump in the holes and get involved in the offense. When you play with a guy like [Dmitri] or Sergei, it's a different feeling. You know you'll have an extra hole and you know they can always find you for a nice pass."
That's the hope, anyway. Better late than never.
Capitals Notes: Recently signed forward Richard Zednik will report for his physical this morning and travel with the team to preseason games in Buffalo and Columbus, Ohio, though it's unlikely he will play. ... The Capitals sent center Jeff Nelson and defenseman Steve Shirreffs to Portland.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company