Paper chase achieves its goal for Capitals Players write down expectations, then strive to meet them

February 17, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

It's just a piece of paper with some words and numbers written on it, just one page with a player's self-worth penned in his own words. It's the form Washington Capitals coach Terry Murray gives each of his players at the start of the season -- almost like a dare.

On the paper each player is asked to write down his personal and team goals. It's like daring them to be great -- or at least to live up to their expectations.

"To put it in writing and review it makes you more aware of it," said Capitals defenseman Paul Cavallini. "And then, when someone else has it, you can't change it. You can't veer away from it, like you never expected it to happen in the first place."

A player can't forget it because Murray has the original expectation on file. And he looks at it. He gets it out of the file cabinet and thinks about it. And he calls his players into his office to talk about it.

"In a business like this, you need to have some goals established," said Murray. "It's OK to think about it. You can sit there for an hour or so and think about what you want to accomplish over the next year or two, but it doesn't mean a thing because that's just a wish.

"When you start talking about your goals, you're starting to make more of a commitment. When you actually sit down with a piece of paper and think about it, talk about it and write it down and actually sign your name to it, then you've made a commitment to yourself, to your teammates and to the organization that you're going to go out and improve as a player and help this team win.

"It's very important to not just put it away, but pull it out and evaluate it again after each quarter. If things went bad at the end of the first quarter or first half and it's going to be a little more difficult or impossible to achieve what you've put down, then adjust."

The basis of this goal-setting paper work is wrapped up in an idea Capitals general manager David Poile had 12 years ago to break down the season into 10-game segments. That bit of goal-setting, plus Murray's reading of goal-oriented books, combined to give birth to the present system.

"I know we were the first team in the NHL to break the season down like that," Murray said. "We looked at each 10-game segment and realistically determined how many points we'd like to achieve. It kept everything focused on 'now' and it allowed us to be focused on the big picture without being overwhelmed by the big picture. It grew from there."

The Caps are one of the few teams in the NHL to use such a form -- Pat Elynuik said he had to fill out a similar one in Winnipeg. Most teams simply ask their players to set goals mentally.

The Capitals have been handing out the forms for about four years and Murray said the players enjoy it.

"I think they like knowing where they're going," he said. "They're not going down the road to nowhere. You can't just say, 'OK, I want to win the Stanley Cup. That's my goal.' Well, how do you get there? What do you have to do to get there? It's everyone's ultimate goal, but a lot of things have to take place before you get there. I think we're trying to push the buttons that are going to help everyone play their role, do their thing to help the team be successful and achieve the ultimate."

The numbers and the dreams, says team captain Rod Langway, have to be realistic.

As Murray so vividly put it: "If your goal is to see the sun rise and you start walking toward the east, that's not a very good goal. You're going to walk -- you're going to be dead before you see it."

Langway has at times this season felt like a man walking east. He has gone from being a full-time player to part time. When he looks at his original form and the one he recently filled out, the changes are obvious.

"I like filling these in at the start of the season because it puts your head into what you've been thinking about all summer," he said. "Mine has always been kind of the same. I don't put down a lot of points -- they've never been my thing. I put down that I want to be a plus player and be a leader. I look at the team goals and said I wanted our goals-against-average to be under 3.00.

"To say I've personally had to reassess is an understatement. I still think our defense can be better and on the personal side, I just try to be positive and work on my leadership role. That's always been my personality."

The Capitals aren't shy about revealing their personal goals. Elynuik said his is to score 30 goals this season. With 13 in 50 games, he is off the pace, but with 32 games left, he still is determined.

"It's time to crank it up," he said. "I generally finish the season strong and I think I can still reach it."

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