By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Washington Capitals winger Richard Zednik has received medical clearance to resume playing and is expected to be in the lineup Thursday against the Panthers in Florida, the second stop on a three-game road trip that begins tonight against the Ottawa Senators.
His return from an abdominal injury that caused him to miss 24 games comes at a critical time for the player and his team. With the NHL's trade deadline four weeks away, Zednik figures to attract interest from clubs seeking to add an offensive threat for a run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The only problem is Capitals General Manager George McPhee isn't ready to declare whether he'll be buying or selling -- yet.
McPhee hopes Zednik's speed and veteran savvy will spark the struggling Capitals, who are lagging behind in the tightly packed Eastern Conference race. They enter tonight's game five points out of the eighth and final spot with 32 games remaining.
"We want to make a playoff push and, if we get healthier, we feel we can do it," McPhee said.
But if that push loses momentum, and it becomes clear they aren't going to make the postseason, McPhee expects to begin fielding calls about Zednik, whose second stint in Washington began in July when he was acquired for a third-round draft pick from the Montreal Canadiens. The 31-year-old is in the final year of a contract that pays him $1.976 million.
"We would like Richard to be part of the future here," McPhee said. "We've always liked the way he plays and the way he competes, but all that will be determined as we move along. It depends on how he performs and what he wants for his future. So it's going to be a mutual decision."
After Sunday's practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Zednik said he likes playing in Washington, but his only focus is getting back on the ice and regaining his form.
"I haven't been thinking about trades or anything because I wasn't playing," Zednik said. "Right now, I just want to play good and have fun. Then maybe I will think about that stuff."
This has been a trying season for Zednik, who requested to be dealt out of Montreal when his playing time diminished late last season. He arrived in Washington hoping to earn a long-term contract, whether here or elsewhere.
The plan hasn't worked out. He didn't score a goal until his 11th game and then missed six games in November with a wrist injury. And just when he seemed to rediscover his scoring touch, he went down awkwardly against the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 2. The following week, Zednik underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia for the second time in his career, once on each side.
"It's been hard," said Zednik, who has five goals and 13 points in 20 games. "I came to a new team look for a good start. I got going, then I had one injury. I start back, start feeling good on the ice and then, 'Boom!' -- another injury. Now I'm excited to go back to the ice and produce."
Although defense has been more of a concern than scoring goals for the Capitals, Coach Glen Hanlon said Zednik will be a welcome addition.
"Most times when injured players come back, those first two or three games you don't expect him to make a dramatic difference," Hanlon said. "But in time I'm sure it will. We've missed him, that's for sure."
Capitals Notes: Defenseman Brian Pothier, believed to be out with a concussion, did not travel with the team to Ottawa. He's been sidelined the past three games. . . . Winger Matt Bradley, who has missed two games for personal reasons, did not practice with the team yesterday at Scotiabank Place. His status for tonight's game is questionable. . . . The Senators have won 12 of 15 games.