Capitals Camp Full of Stories

By Jeff Charlesworth
Training camp is less than a week old, and there has already been enough turmoil to last an entire season. It is difficult to keep track of all the storylines, and depending on how some of those scenarios play out – the opening day lineup could end up looking very different than the one we anticipate right now.

The most surprising move came after the first practice of camp. Free Agent acquisition Stephane Richer decided he didn’t have it in him to compete in another season, and announced his retirement. He had been brought in from St. Louis to boost our mediocre power play. The move came as a shock to players and fans alike; partly because of the unexpected nature of it, but mostly due to the timing.

Around the same time as the Richer announcement, defenseman Brendan Witt stated that he too was considering retirement. He is unhappy about the contract he received as a result of his arbitration loss during the off-season. Although he seems quite serious about this stance, it is hoped that he will eventually return to the lineup. It is also believed that George McPhee has no interset in renegotiating the pact, and expects Brendan to be in the lineup opening day.

The biggest story of the off-season continued to run into the pre-season. Star forward Peter Bondra had asked for a trade, and McPhee had agreed to deal him. There has reportedly been interest from some Western Conference clubs, but the offers were apparently not to the Capitals’ liking. If Bondra stays with the Caps, it will be interesting to see how he interacts with Head Coach Ron Wilson – who he had friction with last season.

There are still three Restricted Free Agents yet to be signed: Jan Bulis, Sergei Gonchar and Chris Simon. Bulis is not in serious contract negotiations at the moment, as he will not be looking for a pay increase over last season. He will be out until November with a shoulder injury however, therefore the Capitals are in no hurry to sign him. Simon and Gonchar may a little tougher to get signed – they are due to get a large raise as they are very crucial members of the team. It is very possible that these two will still be unsigned when the season begins, but it is expected that they will get back into the lineup eventually this year.

With all of the veterans out of the lineup, it seems like a perfect opportunity for some young players to jump onto the roster. Ron Wilson has said that it would take an outstanding effort by a rookie to earn a spot in the lineup, as there are enough veterans to fill the 23-man roster. Kris Beech and Alexei Tezikov were already expected to become full-time NHLers this season, but they may have company. Forwards Glen Metropolit and Michal Sivek, and defenseman Bjorn Nord have all set their sights on playing in DC this year. However, Sivek and Nord will most likely head home to Europe if they are unable to crack the lineup out of training camp.

Even with Gonchar unsigned, the biggest battle for spots will come from within the defense corps. There are eight blueliners with extensive NHL experience in camp, and that does not include Tezikov and Nord. Not only that, but there are 21 defensemen expected to play pro hockey this season, but only 15 spots between Washington and Portland (AHL). It seems that there are moves that will have to be made in order to clear the logjam, possibly with some big names ending up elsewhere.

The Capitals have been split into four practice groups to help the players skate against others at their skill level. There are two veteran groups and two rookie groups. Most of the first round of cuts will come from the rookie groups, but anything could happen as the roster starts to take shape. The practice groups are as follows:

Veterans, WHITE:

F: Berube, Bondra, Dahlen, Halpern, Konowalchuk, Nikolishin, Peluso, Yake and Zednik.

D: Cote, Huscroft, Klee, Mironov, Rohloff and Tezikov.

G: Billington and Charpentier.

Veterans, BLACK:

F: Beech, Black, Metropolit, J.Murphy, Oates, Pettinger, Sacco, Sivek and Whitfield.

D: Farrell, Johansson, Nord, Reekie, Witt and Zettler.

G: Cruickshank and Kolzig.

Rookies, WHITE:

F: Drapeau, Herr, Nelson, Pittiri, Shmyr, Siklenka and Sutherby.

D: Boilaeu, Cutta, Ficenec, Fortin and Yonkman.

G: Barlow

Rookies, BLACK:

F: Barch, Church, Davis, Hulst, M.Murphy, Peat, Schutz and Tvrdon.

D: Adams, Forster, Lupaschuk, Royer and VanBuskirk.

G: Stana