Nylander Reports; His Stay Is Uncertain

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 2009

Michael Nylander considers himself a husband and father first, and a professional hockey player second. So when the 36-year-old center arrived from Sweden without his family, speculation about his tenuous relationship with the Washington Capitals grew considerably.

Nylander reported to Kettler Capitals Iceplex on time Saturday and took a physical exam, but it's unclear if he'll be among the 68 players on the ice when training camp begins Sunday. Nylander is negotiating with a number of teams in Europe, team officials said, and if a deal is reached, he might not play another game for the Capitals, despite having two years remaining on his contract.

"He's here in great shape. There is some discussion with some European teams," General Manager George McPhee said. "Something may develop there, but we'll see."

Nylander, the team's second-highest paid player at $5.5 million, saw his role with the Capitals diminish last season and was used sparingly in the playoffs. In August, Nylander was quoted in a Swedish publication saying that Coach Bruce Boudreau told him he "wasn't good enough." Boudreau denied making the remark, but the tension between the two has become obvious.

"I like Michael Nylander as a person," Boudreau said. "We'll just have to wait to see how it all sorts out."

If Nylander and his agent strike a deal with a European team, the most likely destination would be a wealthy club in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. Nylander would then have to waive his no-movement clause and clear NHL waivers. After that, the Capitals would "assign" Nylander to the team. If such a transaction is completed, the Capitals will continue to pay Nylander's salary, but it won't count against Washington's salary cap, possibly providing the team with some much-needed space under the salary cap ceiling. It's also possible the Capitals will receive several million dollars from Nylander's new team under the arrangement.

Nylander declined to speak to reporters through a team spokesman.

While Nylander's situation remains unresolved, this much is certain: It has the potential to hang over a three-week long camp that opens with a number of other questions to be answered. Among them:

-- Which goaltender will win the starting job? Boudreau named José Theodore the No. 1 goaltender entering camp, but it doesn't mean he'll be between the pipes on Oct. 1. Talented youngsters Semyon Varlamov (last spring's playoff hero) and Michal Neuvirth (who went 16-6 to lead the Hershey Bears to the American Hockey League championship) are vying to unseat Theodore, who is grieving the death last month of his 2-month-old son.

"It's the best it could be," Theodore said. "It's something new for me. I'm dealing with it the best I can, and being around the guys here helps get my mind off things. But it's definitely going to be the biggest challenge for me. I've been through some hard stuff but nothing compared to this."

-- Which defensemen will make up the Capitals' seven (or eight)? Seven defensemen from last year's team return, but a handful of others are looking to oust an incumbent. Among those on the outside looking in are Karl Alzner, who said his focus will be playing more aggressively, and 19-year-old John Carlson, who was the best player during the Capitals' just-completed rookie camp.

"We have an abundance of depth," Boudreau said. "We've got at least 11 guys who have played or can play in the NHL on defense. It's going to be a tremendous battle to see who the seven or eight, depending on how many we keep, are."

-- With at least one forward job up for grabs, which player will lock down the spot? Chris Bourque and Quintin Laing would appear to be the front-runners, but it's probably too early to count out Jay Beagle and Alexandre Giroux.

"We want the best team we can put on the ice," Boudreau said. "If guys come here and they are wowing people, it's their job to make it difficult for us."

Capitals Notes: When two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin was asked if he had added some muscle to his 225-plus pound frame, Ovechkin smiled and cracked, "Yes, I make some injections." . . . Right wing Eric Fehr, who had surgery on both shoulders in May, won't participate fully until he's medically cleared.

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