No Easy Nights

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

It has been 10 years since the NHL’s last expansion; the 2000-01 season brought the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild into the league. That completed a flurry of expansion in which the Original 21 morphed into the Original 30 in a decade’s time. Caps center Jason Arnott began his NHL career as a teenager with the 1993-94 Edmonton Oilers, dropping in as the league was right in the midst of its constant Sunbelt expansion and franchise movement. The last time the NHL was 10 years past its last expansion was in 1989-90, which was 10 years after the 17-team NHL became a 21-team circuit in 1979-80. I’ve believed for a while now that the hockey we witness today in the NHL is – for the most part – as good as any we’ve seen since the late 1980s for that exact reason, because we’re finally a decade beyond the most recent expansion. I was happy to have the chance to pose the question to Arnott after the Caps’ practice here at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Saturday morning. Here’s how he responded: “Oh yeah," agrees Arnott. "When the expansion teams came in, you didn’t have the salary caps so you had the Detroits and the Rangers and the Colorados dominating the league and winning all the time and spending the money on players and having them come in. And the leftover guys went to the expansion teams and didn’t really have a fighting chance. “Now it’s more of a level playing field. The cities are great to play in and it’s a level playing field. You can see in the West, how many teams are still in it, down to 13th or 14th place. They’re still fighting for a playoff spot. You would never find that. Usually it was one to eight and that was it after half a season. The rest of the guys were playing just to keep their job and things like that. The league has done a fantastic job on leveling the playing field and making it a lot more fair.” The Capitals benefited from that parity on Friday night. While the Caps were edging the Hurricanes 2-1 at Verizon Center, the Ottawa Senators beat Tampa Bay in its own building to enable Washington to move four points up in the race for the Southeast Division crown. The Islanders beat Boston, allowing the Caps to increase their lead over the third-place Bruins to three points in the Eastern Conference standings. “There’s no easy team to play against anymore,” says Arnott. “Even the Ottawas and the Edmontons that are below us still go out and play really hard. The Islanders that we played the other night, they came out flying. There are no real bad teams that you play that you can take lightly any more. “Obviously when you play the [Philadelphias] and Chicagos, it’s a lot tougher and it’s more of a grinder of a game. It’s nice to play those teams coming down the stretch to match up to them and get out the kinks going into the playoffs.”

next up:

Holtby Gets a Fourth Straight Start

January 14, 2013

Washington returned to Bell Centre in Montreal this morning for the first time since last April 26 when – despite outshooting the Habs 54-22 – it suffered a 4-1 setback in Game 6 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. The Caps come to town his time with an eight-game winning streak and

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