Happy Labor Day, the official end of summer and the unofficial start of 2015 NHL training camps. By the end of this week the Capitals should have nearly an entire roster on the ice at Kettler, with captain Alex Ovechkin expected to arrive a week from today on Monday, Sept. 14, three days before his 30th birthday.
In honor of Labor Day, we thought we’d ask your input on who you think are the five hardest-working players on this year’s roster. Feel free to throw in some of the hardest-working players in Caps history in the Comments section below. (Dale Hunter? Scott Stevens? Rod Langway? Steve Konowalchuk?)
Again, this is purely subjective and open for debate:
Ask just about any player, coach or trainer in the organization about hard-working players and Beagle’s name comes up. Whether it’s on the ice at practice, in the weight room or during games, Beagle’s boundless energy has been a benchmark for his teammates.
“Beags is the hardest-working player I’ve ever been around,” former Caps veteran Eric Fehr said at the conclusion of last season.
Undrafted, Beagle, 29, signed with the Caps in 2008 and has been a full-time NHL center/winger the past four seasons. One of Dale Hunter’s favorite players in 2011-12, Beagle is coming off a career-high 10-goal, 10-assist season and was one of the most sought-after Capitals at last year’s trade deadline. The Caps rewarded him with a three-year, $5.25 million contract and he’ll challenge for the third-line center spot in camp.
On the ice, Orpik is the fearless leader of the Caps’ blue line. Approaching 35 years of age, he is still one of the NHL’s most respected and physical defensemen, capable of shutting down some of the NHL’s top scorers.
Off the ice, Orpik is completely dedicated to keeping his body in optimal condition, monitoring his diet like a hawk and encouraging his teammates to do the same. For a player who throws so many body checks (team-high 306) and blocks so many shots (192) Orpik is extremely durable, missing just four games last season.
With four more years and $22 million remaining on his deal with the Caps, Orpik appears to have enough left in his tank to be a top-four blue liner for at least two or three more seasons.
While his name may not be at the top of every fan’s list, Carlson’s dedication to his craft was evident last season. He was on the ice before nearly every practice working with assistant coach Todd Reirden on every aspect of his game.
Carlson carried that same dedication into the offseason, working on his upper- and lower-body strength to make him harder to play against in front of the net and in the corners. Carlson led the Caps with 200 blocks last season but was credited with just 74 hits.
At just 25, Carlson is coming off a career year (12 goals, 43 assists) and his best hockey is ahead of him. If he can continue to build off last season, the Caps could have a franchise blue liner on their hands.
It’s not always the case when a team’s most talented players are also its hardest working, but for years Backstrom has been recognized by teammates as the Caps’ quiet de facto captain, more comfortable skating in the shadows of Ovechkin than basking in the limelight.
Now 27 and approaching his eighth NHL season, Backstrom brings a businesslike approach to every practice and every game. He is attentive and extremely serious about his practice habits and quietly leads with his words and actions in the dressing room.
Having played in every Caps regular season game the past three seasons, Backstrom is coming off the most challenging offseason of his career, rehabbing from May 27 hip surgery. His ability to return to full health will be perhaps the biggest factor in the Caps’ quest for a Stanley Cup this season.
Let me explain. Yes, the Caps’ captain has been criticized up, down and sideways about his “gliding” and disdain for defense. And yes, there are still times that Ovechkin is caught with his stick resting on his knees in the defensive zone.
No one can tell me a player can score 50-plus goals a season for virtually an entire career without working hard in the offseason. Whatever Ovechkin does during his summers in Russia, it’s enough to make him the NHL’s most lethal goal scorer, not to mention one of its most intimidating hitters.
It was clear from the first day of fitness testing under Barry Trotz that Ovechkin would be treated like every other member of the Capitals, and it was equally clear that by midseason Ovechkin’s play away from the puck and willingness to backcheck was vastly improved.
Would Ovechkin benefit from spending a few minutes before or after practice working on the finer aspects of his game? Every player would. But from a production standpoint, no one can do what Ovechkin does every year without putting in the long hours of training every offseason.
Honorable mention: Braden Holtby, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Laich, Jassson Chimera, Dmitry Orlov.
Now, it’s your turn.
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