ARLINGTON, Va. - If the Washington Capitals of two years ago had tried to recruit Jose Theodore, he would have been a tougher catch.
"I might have paused," the 31-year-old goaltender said. "I don't say I wouldn't have come, but it would have been maybe a different scenario."
As it is, players such as the 2002 NHL MVP are more than happy to join a team that has left its last-place rebuilding seasons behind and is clearly on an upward curve with current MVP Alex Ovechkin and a cast of other young stars. Theodore was formally introduced Thursday by the Capitals, one week after signing a US$9-million, two-year contract.
"When you're a free agent, the first thing I look at is I want to play for a team that has a chance to win," Theodore said. "And then obviously the contract. With all the work that's been done, getting players, I think the organization shows that they're willing to make good moves, and that's what they did."
Also Thursday, the Capitals announced that right-wing Eric Fehr had been re-signed to a one-year contract. Fehr, 22, split last season between the Capitals and the Hershey Bears of the AHL.
Theodore is the latest winner in the chaotic game of musical goalies played out by the Capitals this year. Longtime favourite Olaf Kolzig lost the starting job to trade deadline acquisition Cristobal Huet near the end of last season, but Huet became a free agent and demanded more money than Washington was willing to play.
So Huet signed a four-year, $22.5 million contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, and Kolzig left in a huff. He didn't bother to say goodbye and has since signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"I called, and he didn't return my call," general manager George McPhee said. "It didn't have to be that way, but that's the way it went. He didn't have a good year last year. He's expecting to have a good year this year. No hard feelings."
Theodore looks like a relative bargain, having played well over the second half of last season with the Colorado Avalanche. He finished with a 28-21-3 record with three shutouts and a 2.44 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
Theodore knows those numbers might be harder to maintain with the Capitals because of coach Bruce Boudreau's aggressive style that has players such as defenceman Mike Green always looking to attack the net. Theodore joked that he'll be on the television highlights more as he tries to make one-on-one stops.
"All he has to do is stop two breakaways a game and we'll be good," Boudreau said. "Because we're going. And if we're going, he'd better be ready for that one big save."
Washington is hardly a hockey-mad city, and that suits Theodore fine. He was in the spotlight often while spending parts of 10 seasons with Montreal. It didn't help that he tested positive for a masking agent for steroid use during pre-Olympic screening in 2005, and that he was once linked to Paris Hilton.
"So many things I read are not true, so I stopped looking at those things," Theodore said. "I now probably look at it like, 'Hey, it was a little bit out of control.' I kind of find it funny in a way."
The trade to Colorado in 2006 helped him regain some privacy, and he should find much the same in the U.S. capital.
"Denver was great for that," he said. "You were able to do your stuff off the ice, walking around with our family and it wasn't in the paper. Montreal was a great experience early on in my career, but I think the change was really good. Being here, I'm really excited. I can focus on what I do for a living."
As Theodore spoke, the Capitals were having a little fun with a quote from Tampa Bay owner Len Barrie, who this week told the St. Petersburg Times: "I'll predict right now, Tampa Bay will win the division. That's how much we like our team."
In response, Boudreau deadpanned: "We just hope to be in second place because Tampa said they're going to win the division. If we play good enough to get to second place, we'll be happy."