Center Nylander Signs On For Second Stint With Caps

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee made his pitch to Michael Nylander on Sunday, moments after free agency began. Yesterday, the center gave McPhee the answer he wanted to hear following 24 hours of contemplation.

Nylander accepted the Capitals' four-year contract offer worth $19.5 million to return for a second stint in Washington, giving them the playmaking center they've lacked in recent seasons. Although his linemates won't be determined until training camp in September, according to McPhee, it's safe to assume Nylander will spend plenty of time skating with all-star left wing Alex Ovechkin.

"This guy is a terrific player," McPhee said of the 34-year-old Swede, who played for the Capitals from November 2002 to March 2004. "He generates things offensively and he always seems to have the puck. And when you've got the puck you're not getting scored on. . . . That's why we went right at him."

The Nylander signing was the third significant move over the past 36 hours for the Capitals, who appear serious about making a bid to return to the playoffs after three consecutive last-place finishes in the Southeast Division. On Sunday, they signed Tom Poti, a puck-moving defenseman, and Viktor Kozlov, a skilled veteran forward. It's possible, McPhee said, that the team could make another move, either a free agent signing or a trade.

"We had to go through that phase, where we were a young team and we had to figure out exactly what we were and who could do what," McPhee said. "We did some things the past couple of days that make us far more competitive and address some real needs. We hope to be knocking on the playoff door next season."

Nylander will earn $5.5 million in each of the first three years of the deal and $3 million in the fourth, meaning he will count $4.875 million against the salary cap per season over the course of the deal. The Capitals front-loaded the contract in case Nylander's production slips.

He's coming off a season in which he racked up career highs in goals (26) and points (83) for the New York Rangers while skating on a line with Jaromir Jagr. He became expendable after the Rangers on Sunday signed star centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury to seven- and five-year contracts, respectively, for a combined $87 million.

Gomez, Drury and Daniel Briere were widely considered the top free agent centers, with Nylander a close fourth. Briere signed with Philadelphia.

"We certainly had some interest in the other players," McPhee said. "We just a had hunch that [Nylander] would work. We thought that if it wasn't going to work out in New York, that we'd have a real good chance at him."

Nylander played in only 74 games during his first stay in Washington. He suffered a broken leg during practice before the start of the 2003-04 season, and upon returning, appeared in only three contests before being dealt to Boston for a second-round draft pick and a conditional pick during the Capitals' salary purge. He signed with the Rangers as a free agent following that season.

On Sunday, Nylander received offers from several teams and weighed his options for more than a day. At 8 p.m. Sunday, in fact, talks between Nylander's camp and the Capitals broke off and McPhee thought Nylander may be headed elsewhere. But the negotiations resumed early yesterday morning.

"It sounds like he had a difficult time with the decision-making process," McPhee said. "There were lots of offers and lots of interest from different clubs. That's got to be a difficult thing for a player."

McPhee is glad Nylander chose Washington for another reason: He can also help mentor 19-year-old center Nicklas Backstrom, a fellow Swede. Backstrom, the fourth overall pick in 2006, signed with Washington in May.

"It's not why we got him, but it's nice that he can help Nicklas," McPhee said. "We know Nylander well. He's a very driven guy and has lots left to prove, in his own mind, in this league."

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