With training camp for the Washington Capitals on September 12 and the regular season opener only 16 days away, head coach Adam Oates and company are beginning to get a real feel for what the team will look like during the 2013-14 season. But in this time of preparation, the Capitals have been without their biggest signing of the summer, Mikhail Grabovski, who has been dealing with visa issues and only was able to skate with the team for the first time on Saturday when they were in Winnipeg.
For a player that still needs to get fully acclimated to the systems that Oates will be running and has to earn his role as a second line center, it is somewhat worrying that Grabovski has not been training regularly with the Capitals. While Grabovski is likely not in danger of losing his position as second line center after General Manager George McPhee all but assured the media the job was his after he signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract, the proposition of not having a full training camp could affect both him and his team during the regular season.
First of all, Grabovski will have to catch up to both teammates and opponents who will be in much better shape when the season begins. Sure, Grabovski is likely working out, but there is no substitute for actually playing and practicing against NHL-level competition, as was put on display when Grabovski came back from the 2012-13 lockout and struggled mightily. During the lockout, Grabovski posted 24 points in 29 games for CSKA Moscow of the KHL, not shabby totals, but had the worst season of his NHL career when the lockout ended, posting 16 points in 48 games and racking up a -10 plus/minus. While this is not too say that he was necessarily out of shape when coming back, it does go to show that there is no level of play like the NHL and falling behind can cost you big time.
Secondly, Grabovski will have to deal with getting used to a system that took the entire Capitals team nearly two months during the 2012-13 season to get used to, as well as learning the tendencies of his new line mates Troy Brouwer and Martin Erat. While it is easy to think that Grabovski and his new line mates on the Capitals are all professional hockey players and that getting acclimated to new systems should be very easy the facts are that many talented players struggle when moving to new teams and learning new systems. After all, if Alexander Ovechkin, arguably the best player in the NHL, can struggle just getting used to a new system then it is not as easy as it would appear to be on paper to do so when moving to a brand new city and trying to get used to playing with brand new teammates as well.
In the end, the sooner that Grabovski gets into camp and both into game shape and acclimated to the Capitals the better for both him and the team. After all, Grabovski is essentially playing for a new contract this season, and the Capitals have their sights set on winning the Stanley Cup once and for all so they both have a lot riding on this relationship working. Only time will tell if an inability to get a visa in time for training camp will hamper these goals.