Reggie Savage was disappointed, but accepting. Concerned,
but hopeful. His promising career had hit a snag.
On Sept. 24, the Washington Capitals demoted Savage, the team's top pick from the 1988 draft, back to Baltimore for a second season. After scoring 32 goals in 62 games with the Jacks last season, Savage, a right wing, said he thought he could make the Capitals this year.
The Caps, who ranked 14th among the 21 NHL teams in scoring last season, hoped so, too.
"It seemed like, after last year, I was going to get a good shot to make the club," said Savage, who scored 107 goals in two junior seasons after signing with the Capitals. "I got [to play in] three exhibition games and had a couple points [two assists] and they said we want you back in Baltimore."
In six games so far with the Skipjacks, Savage has three goals and two assists. But he got four of those points in the first two games. His assist yesterday, in a 5-4 loss to Maine at the Baltimore Arena, ended a three-game scoring drought.
"We have high expectations for Reggie," Jacks coach Rob Laird said. "He's here to create offense for our hockey team, and we're looking for a little more consistency."
But Laird said Savage was working hard, rather than sulking in his demotion. It was that intensity, or lack of it, that earned Savage a return trip to Baltimore in the first place.
"It's really a matter of hard work and consistency," said Capitals general manager David Poile before the season. "He didn't show the work habits, either in camp or in the exhibition games, that we're looking for. More than talent, we always look for hard work.
"Unfortunately for Reggie, and for us, the decision [to send him down] was an easy one."
But Savage, 21, may have had an excuse for the appearance that he was not hustling in training camp. On Feb. 6, the day after Savage played his first and only NHL game, he suffered an injured groin while practicing with the Caps. He sat out for more than a month, and spent much of the off-season rehabilitating rather than conditioning.
"This training camp was just a matter of Reggie getting into shape and getting the injury out of his head," Capitals director of player personnel and recruitment Jack Button said. "Nothing has done anything to diminish his status [as a prospect]. I think there were valid reasons for him being the way he was in training camp."
Savage said his groin has "felt pretty good" during the opening two weeks of the AHL season. He also said the slow start in scoring is not unusual.
"It's just a matter of time," he said. "It's a 80-game season and [slumps like this] will happen."
Laird stuck to his contention that Savage is a sure-thing to make the Caps eventually.
"There's no doubt in my mind Reggie will be in the NHL," he said.
Button isn't worried either.
"We just want to keep seeing that progress and for him to work hard," he said. "For every player, there's a time that you know he's ready for the NHL. We thought the time was this year for Reggie, but then he blew the groin out."
Button said the Capitals will wait for Savage.
But Savage might be a little tired of waiting for the Caps. Before the season started, he agreed this was a pivotal year in his career.
"I'm still young," he said. "But at the end of this year it will have been four seasons since I was drafted. After this year, it's going to be time to talk about what's going to happen in the future."