By Gene Wang
Wednesday, October 6, 2010; D3
Days before they open the regular season, the Washington Capitals made final roster decisions on Tuesday, sending Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle to Hershey and waiving Andrew Gordon while giving Marcus Johansson and Matt Hendricks a chance to play at the NHL level.
"It's always a tough day telling a player he's not ready to play here, or he may have to go through waivers," said General Manager George McPhee, who also waived defenseman Brian Fahey. "That's the toughest part of the job, and today was as difficult as any day we've had doing it."
Among the most compelling story lines during training camp was the competition between Perreault and Johansson, both centers, for one of the final roster spots. Johansson was Washington's first-round pick (24th overall) in last year's draft, and the Capitals made it clear they had elevated expectations for the Swede when they signed him to an entry-level deal in mid-May, announcing the move along with countryman Nicklas Backstrom's 10-year, $67 million contract extension.
Perreault, meantime, became an instant fan favorite his during his limited time in the NHL last season by playing with tenacity despite his diminutive stature. Listed at 5 feet 10, 182 pounds, Perreault joined the Capitals for 21 games and recorded nine points, including a pair of assists in his debut. A sixth-round selection in the 2006 draft, Perreault became the first Capitals player to log multiple points in his first game since Alex Ovechkin in 2005-06.
"I think we're looking for different spots," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of the decision to take Johansson over Perreault. "It might have been a little bit different if we were looking for a number two center. We think Matty, at his stage right now, has probably got more offensive upside. Marcus has got more defensive upside with the skating and just coming from Sweden, where they preach defense all the time."
That's not to say Johansson can't be a capable scorer. He doubled his offensive output in his second full season in the Swedish Elite League with 10 goals and 10 assists in 42 games with Farjestad, and a mentor throughout his NHL acclimation has been Backstrom, one of the most gifted playmakers in the world.
Johansson possesses high-level experience internationally, having won two world junior championships with Sweden. He was a captain on last year's championship team.
"I had no idea coming here today what was going to happen," Johansson said. "I was just very nervous and hoping for the best, so it turned out pretty good."
Circumstances were not so good for Gordon and Fahey, both of whom the Capitals indicated they would send to Hershey if they clear waivers. Gordon played two games with the Capitals last season and 79 for Hershey, where he amassed 71 points and was a second-team AHL all-star. Fahey, whom Colorado drafted in 2000, signed with Washington as a free agent in July.
Tuesday's decisions also meant Hendricks would be with the NHL club when it opens the season on Friday at Atlanta. The 29-year-old forward went to Capitals training camp for a professional tryout and signed a one-year deal worth $575,000.
Hendricks has played in 60 games over two seasons with Colorado, and although he is one of the few new faces on the roster, he has a connection with Boudreau, having played for him in Hershey in 2006-07. He also provides the Capitals with a rugged, on-ice presence they lacked last season and became most noticeable during a first-round playoff loss to Montreal after they led the series, three games to one.
"It was quite a gamble," said Hendricks of opting for the professional tryout. "Looking back as I was going through it, I've wanted to be here. This is where I wanted to be from July 1 [the first day of free agency] on, and I'm happy to get that opportunity."
Staff writer Katie Carrera contributed to this report.