Mike Knuble reacts to being benched

Knuble (right) has struggled mightily this season and has been a healthy scratch for the past two games.

Mike Knuble has long been considered one of the heart-and-soul players and locker room leaders for the Washington Capitals. Since joining the team in 2009, the grinding right wing has posted back-to-back 20-goal seasons and has become a fan favorite.

But Knuble has struggled throughout this season, scoring just three times and adding eight assists in 53 games so far this year. When the Capitals faceoff with the San Jose Sharks on Monday night, he's expected to be a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game.

Knuble's benching has led many to believe that he could be traded by the Feb. 27 deadline, and his time away from the rink while his team scrapes to stay in a playoff spot is taking a mental toll.

"It sucks, quite frankly, to be sitting out and missing games and watching your team play," Knuble told ABC7's Alex Parker.{ }"It's the best time of year to play."

Knuble, 39, entered the league in 1996 and and owns a Stanley Cup ring from when he was a member of the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings. After stops in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, Knuble settled into a leadership role with the Capitals.

He missed only three games all of last season. His last two healthy scratches were the first two games this year he hasn't played in.

"You never accept it, (but) say 'fine' and sweep it under the rug and wake up tomorrow," Knuble said. "You never accept it. When you do, as a player, then it's over."

He signed a one-year contract extension before this season started and is an unrestricted free agent once 2011-12 ends. Earlier this season, the Capitals and NHL celebrated his 1,000th game.

Rumors of a potential Knuble trade have swirled for days, and the Toronto Sun even went as far to speculate that the Sharks, Monday night's opponent, could be a potential landing spot.

Being traded wouldn't be anything new for Knuble. In 1998, the Red Wings traded him to the Rangers, and then two years later, he was shipped again to the Bruins.

That doesn't make any potential movement any less difficult, though.

"It's just like anything with anybody's job; sometimes your wife wants to hear about it, sometimes she doesn't,"{ } Knuble said. "You figure out a way to handle it.

"There's only one way around it: you work hard and be prepared for the next game."