Plenty of NHL franchises spend more stupidly and recklessly than the Capitals. But the current Washington team is defined by one fat, regrettable contract. In July of 2001, Jaromir Jagr was scooped up from the dirt-poor Penguins and handed a seven-year, $77-million deal. The team envisioned him filling nets and seats, and spoke confidently of a three-year plan to win the Stanley Cup.
A year after Jagr arrived, Robert Lang was signed to act as his centerman. Other veterans joined via trades. With goaltender Olaf Kolzig, scoring engine Peter Bondra and top defenseman Sergei Gonchar on board, a championship run seemed plausible.
Like many such plans, this one has been abandoned early. The Capitals win more than they lose, but are renowned for their uninspired play. Jagr, prey to assorted aches and pains, goes on and off his game, making most of his headlines with gambling debts and IRS troubles. Seats are unsold, and the quest for glory has been usurped by a campaign to get the payroll under control.
Last spring, stinging from another quiet playoff exit, owner Ted Leonsis declared his purse closed. This fit of frugality leaves the Capitals a half-formed team with no plan, three-year or otherwise. Up front, a veteran roster is still trying to find its form, while on defense a youth movement is underway. A year after committing five years and $25-million to the capable but ordinary Lang, the Capitals watched two top defenseman walk away and made no move to replace them.
The Caps seem to have figured out that while there is no substitute for money, there is also no substitute for old-fashioned drafting and development. The cutbacks are being carried out with no more logic or foresight than the spending spree was.
Trouble: Behind Gonchar and Brendan Witt, none of the defensemen have any NHL experience to speak of.
On the Spot: The Washington Post reports that Kolzig "checked the transactions section of the sports pages frequently this summer" hoping to find that the Caps had signed a veteran defenseman. He checked in vain, so he's in for a challenging year.
The Forecast: Reports from Washington say Jagr will be traded to the Rangers if he gets off to a good start. Either way, the team will likely take a couple of steps back before it can move forward.
The Call: 10th in the Eastern Conference.
Defenseman Alexander Riazantsev (trade with Nashville)
Whos Out: Defenseman Calle Johansson (retired)
Defenseman Ken Klee (unsigned free agent)
Right winger Mike Farrell (trade with Nashville)
Left winger Josh Green (free agent to Calgary)
2002-03 Regular Season Numbers:
$50,677,458, 9th overall
(Hockey News, November 15/02. Bonuses not included.)
- Record: 39-29-8-6 for 92 points.
- At home: 24-13-2-2.
- On the road: 15-16-6-4.
- Finish: 13th overall, 6th in the Eastern Conference, 2nd in Southeast Division.
- Goals for: 224 (2.73 per game), tied for 11th overall.
- Goals against: 220 (2.68 per game), 14th overall.
- Goal differential: Minus-4, 14th overall.
- Power play: 17.2 percent, 14th overall.
- Penalty kill: 81.3 percent, 28th overall.
- Olaf Kolzig, 66-33-25-6, 2.40 GAA, .919 SV PCT, 4 SO.
- Sebastian Charpentier, 17-5-7-1, 2.79 GAA, .906 SV PCT, 0 SO.
- Craig Billington, 5-1-3-1, 4.70 GAA, .823 SV PCT, 0 SO.
- Scoring: Right winger Jaromir Jagr, 75-36-41-77.
- Power play points: Jaromir Jagr, 75-13-17-30.
- Game-winning goals: Jaromir Jagr, 9.
- Ice time: Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, 26:34 per game.
- Plus/minus: Defenseman Ken Klee, plus-22.
2002-03 Playoff Numbers:
- Round One: Lost to Tampa Bay 4-2
- Olaf Kolzig, 6-2-4, 2.08 GAA, .927 SV PCT, 1 SO.
- Scoring: Right winger Jaromir Jagr, 6-2-5-7.
- Power play points: Three tied with 3.
- Game-winning goals: Two tied with 1.
- Ice time: Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, 29:00 per game.
- Plus/minus: Four tied at plus-2.