When the NHL lost an entire season to a labor dispute nearly a decade ago, the Washington Capitals were spared many months of on-ice misery. Had they played, they no doubt would have started their streak of last-place finishes a year early.
''I was in no rush to get back last time,'' General Manager George McPhee said with a laugh. ''It wasn't going to be a whole lot of fun, trying to build a team. When we came out of that, we were trying to fill boots.''
This year's Capitals needed the lockout to end in a hurry. They've been Stanley Cup contenders for a while now, but they have yet to claim the title that once felt so inevitable. A lost season would have meant another crucial opportunity down the drain for Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the talented roster that McPhee has so meticulously assembled.
''We have a real solid team,'' McPhee said. ''We're in good shape. We have a complete team.''
Yet they have a major new element - one that makes a crunch of a season considerably more...