Center Walt McKechnie was told not to report for the Washington Capital's practice yesterday at Fort Duponts, and coach Tom McVie said that, "The way things are, he can't help our team and he can't play."
McKenchnie has not been formally suspended, but it is clear that he will not be used by the Capitals for an indefinite period.
Acquired from Detroit as compensation for goalie Ron Low, McKechnie has not scored a point in the Capitals' last nine games, although he has played a regular shift most of the time.
McKechnie was benched during the third period of Tuesday's 2-2 tie at St. Louis, then was given extra ice time during Wednesday's 5-2 loss at Toronto. The combination of his poor play there and a television interview in which he once again expressed his dissatisfaction with the Detroit-Washington deal apparently spurred general manager Max McNab to act.
"From what he said in Toronto and his general attitude, he is not part of this team yet," McNab said. "He is still under contract and still with the organization, but we want him to take a while to do some thinking about the situation. There is a block there we can't overcome."
The Capitals meet the Buffalo Sabres at Capital Centre tonight at 7:30 and McNab said he would call up a center today. A likely candidate is Doug Gibson, who played for Hershey last night in an American League game at Philadelphia. Another Hershey player, Rick Bragnalo, is a possibility.
In addition, defenseman Larry Bolonchuk was recalled from Hampton of the AHL as an emergency replacement for Rick Green, who suffered strained ligaments in his right wrist during a Tuesday fight with St. Louis' Brian Stutter.
McVie, who roomed with McKechnie at Phoenix in the Western League 10 years ago, said, "When we made the deal for Walter McKechnie, I was so elated I would have gone to Detroit to help him pack. But because of some troubles, he's not the Walter McKechnie I knew 10 years ago and he's not the Walter McKechnie who played against the Caps the last two years.
"Something real deep is troubling Walter McKechnie. He's troubled so much his contribution to the Washington Capitals has come to nothing. I can't do anything about his trouble. It's out of my league to find out what's wrong with people. And when the trouble filters into the playing area, then I have to step in."
McKechnie is a native of London, Ontario, not far from Toronto, and McVie made extra use of him Wednesday because "I wanted to go as far as I could go to help him snap out of this thing. It was a last full shot in his own backyard. I started him purposely, so he'd go against Darryl Sittler, hoping it would bring out the best in him.
"Between the first and second periods, I have him some advice on what might help him. He looked at me like I was a jerk. I've tried to talk to Walter about it many times. He's been in my office on several occasions. He just listens, never answers, gets up and leaves. I guess I've used up 5,000 words on him and all he ever said - once - was, 'I read you'."
McKechnie did not return phone calls yesterday. In an interview last week, he admitted that he was playing poorly and said, "When things aren't going well, it's very easy to make excuses. But I'm not going to blame anybody. It's my own problem and I've got to find my own way out of it. I don't know if I'm jinx or what it is."
The Capitals are winless in their last 11 games, but McNab emphasized he was not attempting to blame McKechnie for the team's failures.
"We have other guys that aren't producing," McNab said, "but they're at least showing some intensity."
McVie said McKechnie's current status was not irrevocable.
"If ever he gets his trouble squared away and he can help the team, he can play," McVie said. "If he is right, he could help the Caps."
Meanwhile, McKechnie will continue to draw his salary. The Capitals could obtain waivers, either to ship him to the Hershey farm club or to release him, but in either case they must fulfill the terms of his contract, signed while he was with Detroit. No player may be suspended or fined for indifferent play.
The Capitals' losses extend beyond the NHL standings. A break-in at Fort Dupont while the team was on the road cost McVie his skates, warmup suit and jacket. Other minor items of equipment also were taken . . . Winger Bob Sirois returned to find his car, parked at Capital Centre, with two flat tires and an inoperable engine . . . Buffalo has been potent on the road, blanking the Canadians in Montreal and whipping the Flyers for the first time ever in Philadelphia while compiling a 6-2-1 mark. The French Connection of Gil Perreault, Richard Martin and Rene Robert has accounted for 17 goals in the last nine games, with Perreault netting nine of them . . . The so-called checking line of Don Luce, Danny Gare and Craig Ramsay has collected 21 goals in the last 12 games . . . Tempers are becoming short as the Capitals' winless streak lengthens. When a shot went into the net off Gord Lane's skate in yesterday's practice, the defenseman threw his stick over the glass.