By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Andrew Cassels's tenure in Washington began with him suffering a broken bone in his face during an informal pre-training camp skate at Piney Orchard Ice Arena. It ended yesterday in the same building, when the veteran stopped by the Capitals' locker room to say goodbye to his teammates.
Cassels, who struggled to adapt to the 'new' NHL and was admittedly distracted by an ongoing custody battle over his two children, was put on waivers Friday after spending all but one of the Capitals' past 14 games as a healthy scratch. He cleared waivers yesterday at noon, effectively ending his short stint here, and very likely, his 15-year NHL career.
Cassels did not want to be traded and requested that he not be claimed off waivers by another team. Through an understanding with General Manager George McPhee, the 36-year-old center also won't be required to report to the minor leagues, nor will he collect the remainder of his $1.5 million salary, which made him the fifth-highest paid player on the Capitals.
"When I came here, I was thinking things would turn out differently," Cassels said. "I wanted to play a lot and didn't have the opportunity to play a lot. It didn't work out."
Cassels was signed in August as a free agent to a one-year contract, one month after being bought out by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Capitals wanted a proven set-up man to play with dynamic rookie Alex Ovechkin and hoped Cassels, who was one of the game's best passers in his prime, would fit the bill.
But Cassels got off to a slow start with the Capitals after he was hit by a slap shot near his cheekbone, an injury that required surgery and forced him to miss all of training camp. When he returned, it was clear Cassels was hurt by the year-long lockout and the NHL's new rules, which put an emphasis on skating, and to a certain degree, youth. In 31 games, Cassels had only four goals and eight assists.
Cassels was first benched for four games in early November. He returned to the lineup on Nov. 15 and played in 18 consecutive contests, a stretch during which his productivity -- and ice time -- steadily declined. Since Dec. 31, Cassels had played just once.
"We're at a point -- and Andrew knew it, too -- where some of our younger players are going to get a chance to play and we're not going to tie up ice time with an older veteran guy," Coach Glen Hanlon said. "When he signed here, he knew there would be a possibility that he might be moving on, maybe not like this.
"The lockout didn't help him. And the rule changes made things a little more difficult."
Cassels revealed yesterday that he also has been distracted by an ongoing four-year custody battle over his son, Cole, 10, and daughter Scout, 9. Cassels, who remarried last summer, took custody of his children a year ago.
"George asked me if I wanted to get moved, but with my family situation, having my kids right now and still going through a custody battle, I made a choice for my kids and my wife now that it wasn't the right time to be" traded, he said.
Today, the Cassels are moving back to Columbus, Ohio, where he still owns a home. His future, he said, is uncertain.
"I'm not going to retire," Cassels said. "I want to keep [my options] open. You never know what happens. I still think I can play. But it has to be the right situation for myself and my family."
Cassels has 204 goals and 528 assists in 1,015 NHL games. The Bramalea, Ontario, native scored 20 or more goals four times and surpassed 50 or more points eight times, with his best season coming in Hartford during the 1992-93 season, when he tallied a career-high 85 points (21 goals, 64 assists). On Nov. 22, Cassels became the 204th player in NHL history to play in 1,000 games and the sixth to reach the milestone as a member of the Capitals.
"I'm glad he was able to celebrate his 1,000th game with us," goalie Olie Kolzig said. "He's a super guy off the ice and a good hockey player. But it didn't work out. He's had a wonderful career, and he's at a point where family is more important."