Talking to Jose Theodore about his career is, I imagine, a bit like talking to Robert Downey, Jr. about his. Their personal lives have been tabloid fodder, they fumbled unbelievable early success through shaky hands; and, of course, both have witnessed a career resurrection within the past year.
So Theodore's two-year, $9 million contract with the Washington Capitals is his Tony Stark moment. He'll start the season between the pipes for a team on the fast track to championship contention; replacing Cristobal Huet, who signed with the Chicago Blackhawks after leading the Capitals to the postseason. The career symmetry between the two former Montreal Canadiens goaltenders is not lost on Theodore. "Huet came, I left. Huet's here, and I come in. It's just the way hockey is I guess."
Starting goaltender for the Washington Capitals was a spot Theodore said he coveted from afar.
"They have the best player in the League, first of all. By watching them the last couple of years, I saw them progress so well," said Theodore, at his introductory press conference yesterday in Arlington, Va. "When I saw things weren't getting better with Cristobal, I knew there was going to be an opening. I didn't want to sign too quickly in Denver. I just waited for the spot, and that was my first choice."
Like Downey, Theodore's a charmer. He drew laughs when he explained why he wears No. 60. (Montreal has "200" numbers retired, Donald Brashear wore No. 35 and no goalie would dare wear No. 33 for the Canadiens.) When asked about playing goal in the Capitals' wide-open offense, he joked, "I'm aware of that. More highlight saves for me, I guess." He also teased about a new goalie mask that could incorporate some iconography of the nation's capital into the design.
But also like Downey, Theodore isn't afraid to admit to past mistakes; he proudly speaks about overcoming them and continuing to prove wrong critics that doubt his turnaround.
"I think it's fair to say that those two years after the lockout were really bad. It's really easy to say 'don't bring anything else outside to work,' but at one point my focus wasn't there. My edge wasn't there. When you lose that, you can't compete in the best league, and it just snowballs. I lost my confidence. I had to work hard to get it back," he said.
"I wanted to prove to everybody that I wasn't done, because I was reading a lot of things. It was the big motivation. Now I can look a lot of people in the eyes and smile."
I snagged Theodore for a few questions yesterday, including one about some rather infamous moments in his career.
It's the past. Certain things I read are not true, so I kind of stop looking at those things. Now I kind of look at it as that it was a little out of control [for me]. I kind of find it funny now.
In Montreal, the media's intense. In Denver, the media certainly covers the team. Here in D.C., it's kind of a different level of scrutiny.
Denver was actually great for that. You could do your stuff off the ice. Walk around with your family, and it wasn't in the paper. Montreal was a great experience early on in my career, but the change was really good. In a place like here, I can focus on what I do for a living, which is play hockey. And that's it.
I owed them respect. They believed in me when things weren't going that well. If they thought it would have been a good idea to buy me out, they would have. But they didn't do that. They're a great organization, so I do owe them for getting me back on track. But I put the work into it also.
What do you have to do to fit your game with what they do here?
Honestly, I think that in Denver, for the most time I was there, we were pretty offensive too. I think the two styles are similar, in a way. The biggest thing for me is to adjust with the defensemen so they know I like to play the puck behind the net and control my rebounds. They have to adjust. The better you control your rebounds, the less shots [opponents] have.
You've mentioned the Eastern Conference/Western Conference switch before. Are there any major differences in style of play, or is it just travel and things like that?
Travel is definitely a big change. I remember when I got to Denver as compared to Montreal. When we'd go to Canada, you had to go through customs, which was a big change. If you played LA or Vancouver, you'd get home at 4 o'clock. Every trip was 2-and-a-half hours, minimum. Does it make a difference? When you're on the ice, I don't think you feel that tired.
I noticed your kicks.** Are you a shoe guy? What's your fashion obsession?
Hats. I got a lot of hats, a lot of colors. Just what I think looks good.
We talking officially licensed team stuff?
Could be anything. Just hats. I have different kinds of styles. In shoes, too. Usually if I'm going to wear a certain pair of white shoes, I'm going to wear a white hat.
Because, you know, Ovechkin is a clothes whore. He's got his own fashion line.
Yeah, well, I saw him at the awards. He looked pretty sharp.
What is your beer of choice, sir?
My beer of choice? I'm not a big drinker. I like Diet Coke, that's it. Oh, and a good red wine, with a good steak.
What's on your iPod these days?
You know what? I don't have an iPod.
No, the 8-tracks. (Laughs). I love music, I'm a big music guy. But I have the XM Radio, so I leave it on.
Try not to listen to the hockey channel too much, right?
I didn't even know they had a hockey channel. OK, that's a lie.
* Ten thousand readers have bugged me about the Paris Hilton question. Please know that I'm willing probe this issue with Theodore, but it wasn't the most friendly environment for such a topic. Much more willing than I am to probe Paris.
** "Kicks" is an outdated slang term for "shoes," as Theodore was wearing these bright white sneakers and I'm nothing if not un-hip. He had the laces untied in a Run DMC fashion, but I refrained from making that reference because all I know about rappers and French Canadiens is that they sound like Patrick Roy's kid.