By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 24, 2008
When the Washington Capitals emerged from a meeting early yesterday afternoon at their Arlington headquarters, just hours after an excruciating overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, one absence was conspicuous.
Veteran goaltender Olie Kolzig had cleaned out his locker stall and left the building, skipping the mandatory meeting. He did not speak to reporters. After Monday's 3-2 loss at Verizon Center, he stripped his name tag off of his locker stall.
Kolzig, a fixture in the Capitals' net for a decade before being essentially replaced by trade-deadline arrival Cristobal Huet, did not play after a 5-0 loss in Chicago on March 19. In recent weeks, Kolzig seemed increasingly detached as Huet led the Capitals to the franchise's first playoff berth in five years. Kolzig, 38, did not return a message left on his cellphone, and his agent, Art Breeze, declined to describe his client's thought process, other than to say: "The choice will be Olie's as to where he plays next year. But rest comfortably that there will be a multiplicity of options available to him."
Meantime, on a busy breakdown day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, General Manager George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau revealed that Boudreau recently signed a multiyear contract extension. McPhee declined to specify the terms of the deal, saying only, "He's our coach . . . for a while."
After being tapped to replace Glen Hanlon on Nov. 22, Boudreau led the Capitals to a 37-17-7 record and from last place in the league to the Southeast Division title. The future of assistant coaches Jay Leach and Dean Evason and the rest of the staff, whom Boudreau inherited from Hanlon, will be determined over the summer, McPhee said.
"He was exceptional and exceeded all expectations," McPhee said of Boudreau. "Maybe we should have known better. To do what he did to get us to the playoffs, and then in the playoffs, midstream, changes the lines and completely change the power play, that's pretty good evidence that he knows what he's doing."
Boudreau said he plans to begin house-hunting in Maryland.
"I'm going to be coaching the Caps for a while," Boudreau said with a smile.
While the coach won't change, the makeup of the Capitals' roster might.
High on McPhee's must-do list in the coming months will be re-signing Huet, who went 11-2 with a 1.63 goals against average and a .936 save percentage in 13 regular season starts in Washington. But the 32-year-old figures to be the big catch in a shallow pool of free agent goaltenders.
"If he wants to stay, we'll try to get a deal done," McPhee said of Huet, who stands to earn a significant raise from the $2.75 million he earned this season.
Locking up Mike Green long-term is just as critical for McPhee. Green blossomed into a top defenseman, posting 18 goals, most in the NHL at his position, in the regular season. In the playoffs, he had three goals and seven points, tied with Calgary's Dion Phaneuf for the most among defensemen. Green, who revealed yesterday he was significantly limited during Monday's game by a hip pointer he had suffered in the previous game, could attract an offer sheet if he and the Capitals fail to agree to a contract before July 1. The 22-year-old could earn as much as $4 million to $5 million per season.
"This is where I feel like home is," Green said as he limped through the locker room. Asked whether he thinks about the big contract he's expected to sign, "Yeah, a little bit, just because of where I came from and where I grew up."
McPhee, who acknowledged the Capitals' payroll probably will increase next season, also must decide whether to re-sign the other two deadline additions, Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke, both unrestricted free agents. Both players made critical contributions during the Capitals' remarkable stretch run. Fedorov, 38, has said he will evaluate all of his options, including retirement. Cooke, meantime, didn't register a point in the playoffs but was at times an effective agitator.
"I had some success here," Cooke said. "I was able to rekindle my role. I kind of lost that a bit in Vancouver."
Other players who need contracts are restricted free agents Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Shaone Morrisonn and Steve Eminger. McPhee said he plans to extend a qualifying offer to Eminger, even though he appeared in just 20 regular season games. Matt Bradley is an unrestricted free agent.
"I'm trying to take positives out of a long and frustrating year," Eminger said. "If it's the right move, yeah, I like this team. I like the city and everything. I don't think I was treated fairly, but this is going to be a contending team."
McPhee also might have to find a replacement for defenseman Brian Pothier, who has a history of head injuries and has been out since January. McPhee acknowledged that Pothier's career could be in jeopardy. Then there's captain Chris Clark, who played in only one game after Nov. 28 because of a groin tendon injury.
"There's a lot to do, and things can change in a hurry," McPhee said. "The good news is we have a terrific young core and lots to build on."
Capitals Notes: Fehr was sent to Hershey yesterday and suited up for their first-round playoff game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. . . . Nicklas Backstrom was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy. The other rookie of the year candidates are Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. . . . Boudreau said Morrisonn played the final two weeks of the season with a broken jaw and that Gordon played with a torn hamstring in the playoffs. Ovechkin also was nursing an injury for the final month of the season, but Boudreau would not specify the nature or location of his ailment. . . . Ovechkin said he would consider playing for Russia in the upcoming World Championships, provided he can find insurance for his 13-year, $124 million contract.