July 23, 2009
For Mike Knuble(notes), there are benefits to signing with the Washington Capitals that go beyond the $5.6 million over two years he's due to receive. For example, there's the chance that he's going to play on the same line as his son's favorite hockey star, Alexander Ovechkin(notes).
"[I'm going to] drag him out to a birthday party or something," said Knuble, meeting the local media this week at the Caps' practice facility in Arlington, Va.
For the Capitals, there are also benefits to signing Mike Knuble, who was an unrestricted free agent this summer.
He's the veteran scorer the team seemed to lack last season; the one who will go to the net to create traffic and collect the rebounds produced from sniper fire by players like Ovechkin and Alexander Semin(notes).
He's a piece to the puzzle, but Knuble was emphatic about being content with just being a piece. He's not going to be some abrasive, grizzled leader in the locker room. In Knuble's words, he's not a "rabble-rouser" ... which is a great term to use if you're 37 years old but want to sound like you were born in 1928.
We spoke with the former Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings forward about joining the Caps, the pressure of playing with superstars, how Chris Pronger(notes) meant the end of his time in Philly, his indifference to the NHL's choices for international games ... as well as movies, music and beer, of course.
And here ... we ... go.
Q. Ted Leonsis mentioned on his blog that you were No. 1 on the team's wish list for the offseason. Did you ever think you'd be No. 1 on someone's want-list at this stage of your career?
KNUBLE: You're just happy to be on anybody's list for anything.
I still think I can do what I do, and do it well enough to help a team. It's always good when a team has you marked like that and you feel that what you do will be appreciated. That it's something that the team is lacking.
So what is it that you do? The term that's been used around here about your game is that you're a garbage collector.
That's a good term. I'm proud of that. I feel I'm a solid defender. I can kill penalties or be on the power play. I can break a puck out, get rid of the puck and then skate to the net as quickly as I can with my stick down and hopefully it comes back to me somewhere around the net. If one of those guys shoot it, and there's a rebound around the net, I feel it's my job to go for it.
When you were on the other bench watching these guys last year, did you feel that component was missing from their roster?
Every management team builds their team a certain way. But I'm sure in their post-playoff analysis they realized they were missing a little part of something, and maybe that's around the net. GMs understand what's going on around the league. In the last few years in Philadelphia, we had the top three or four power plays the whole year -- always with a guy in front. Every coach has a different philosophy on running the power play, and I don't know what Bruce's is. But maybe they give it a chance.
Get those Andreychuk goals.
They're awesome, you know? Alex gets 500 shots a year. I just hope they don't go near my head.
Were you always that kind of player, or did you have to modulate your game over time?
You discover it. As a young player, you don't realize what you do well. You don't get a consistent chance ... maybe because you're not consistent as a player yourself. I got a break because [Sergei Samsonov(notes)] was injured in Boston and I took off with 30 goals. Why does that happen? I don't know.
It's been sort of a charmed life for you when it comes to linemates. First it was Joe Thornton(notes) and Glen Murray(notes). Then it was Simon Gagne(notes) and Peter Forsberg(notes). Now it might be Nicklas Backstrom(notes) and Alexander Ovechkin.
That's yet to be determined, but it has been. There's pressure; all of a sudden you start thinking about who you're playing with and you're a little bit shell-shocked. You can't function at times. Coming here, there's expectations on me. Don't get all excited about that you're going to see great individual efforts out of me, because that's not my game. I'm a little more subtle.
You trying to say you never scored a goal from your back?
(Laughs) Yeah: Spinning, log-rolling on the ice. No, I score three-foot, four-foot goals. Little tap-ins.
We were at the NHL Draft when the Chris Pronger trade happened, and one of the first questions asked of Paul Holmgren was about your status as a free agent. Did you think that trade meant the end of you in Philly?
These days, when people are crunching numbers and people spit out those salary cap numbers ... it's all over the place. You don't know if it forces a trade somewhere else. I don't know man, it's crazy.
We were at a wedding on Long Island when it happened, and could hardly get a cell reception. Coming back, your head starts spinning a little bit. You're trying to get a read, you speak to your agent. I guess, in the long run, it marked the end of [my time with the Flyers]. They tried to bring me back, but they were just tied to the cap.
The ultimate Philly question is, of course: Are they going to boo you when you return as a Washington Capital?
I don't know. Maybe there'd be a smattering of boos. I hope not: I think I gave Philly a few good years.
What's the scariest thing you saw from a Flyers fan during your time in Philly?
There was one guy who had a Mohawk and tattoos on the side of his head, and he changed his name -- legally -- to Flyer Eric. That's probably the scariest thing I think I've seen.
Honestly: Did you ever grow to hate the Capitals as a Flyer?
No, it's not that personal when you're playing.
Are you ticked off you're not going to play in the Winter Classic at Fenway?
(Laughs) It was disappointing.
You know, I can't believe the League isn't doing anything [special] with Washington. Like sending them to Europe to open the season. They're sending Chicago and Florida? And St. Louis? I can see Detroit going over there, and Chicago ... alright. But St. Louis and Florida? I can't believe they're not having [the Capitals] over there in Moscow or something.
Non-hockey stuff: What kind of car are you driving these days?
I drive a Lincoln Navigator. GPS it.
What music do you prefer, sir? Do you have an iPod?
I've got about six or seven of them. I don't use them. You just kind of get them in various places.
What do I listen to? XM Radio. Top 20 on 20 (pop station).
Big Lady Gaga fan?
(Laughs) Yeah ... yeah. Lady Gaga.
Best movie, worst movie you've seen lately?
Best one this summer was "The Hangover." But that's the only one we've been to lately.
Finally, your beer of choice, sir?
Oh, Bud Select. Low calories.