While National Hockey league fans prepare for the final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Washington Capital officials are spending the weekend in Regina, Saskatchewan.
The attraction in Regina is the Memorial Cup, Canada's junior championship, and the prize exhibits include five players likely to go high in the NHL draft June 11.
Regina features center Doug Wickenheiser, most valuable player and scoring champion of the Western League; all-star defenseman Darren Veitch and 71-goal winger Mike Blaisdell, Cornwall has Fred Arthur, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound defenseman, while Petersborough, the third finalist, is led by all-star defenseman Larry Murphy.
Wickenheiser, Murphy and Portland defenseman Dave Babych are expected to be the first three players selected. Since the Capitals are fifth in line, they probably are looking closely at Veitch, a superb puck carrier who rolled up 122 points on 29 goals and 93 assists.
Washington General Manager Max McNab, before he made a western trip in early April, wondered whether the team would be wiser to select someone on the basis of future potential, rather than a player who could step right into the lineup, as past No. 1 draftees Rick Green, Robert Picard, Ryan Walter and Mike Gartner have done.
On his return, however, he said, "I think we can be pretty certain of picking a player who can help us right away."
Washington's primary needs are a puck-carrying defenseman in the Denis Potvin style and a mucking winger with some goal-scoring ability like Paul Holmgren. Veitch, 6 feet and 185 pounds, and Blaisdell, 6-2 and 190, have the potential to fill those roles.
Other top defenseman available for draft -- many were signed to underage contracts a year ago -- include Rick Ians of Oshawa, and Paul Coffey of Kitchener. Top forwards include Jim Fox of Ottawa, Brad Palmer of Victoria, 181-point center Denis Savard of Montreal who weighs a mere 157 pounds, and the Brantford trio of Mike Bullard, Kevin Lavallee and Greg Terrian.
Tier Two players, many 18-year-old stay-at-homes who chose to finish high school before heading to junior or college careers, figure prominently in this draft, which rakes in players born in 1960, 1961 and 1962.
Jack Button, the Capitals' director of players recruitment, saw a Tier Two player with ability in a remote British Columbia city and went back later for a second look. He found nine other scouts in the building on the return trip.
While McNab, Button, Coach Gary Green and associates examine the future crop, attorney Peter O'Malley is busy negotiating with agent Norm Caplan. The object of their discussions is defenseman Rick Green, who will become a free agent June 30 if he does not agree to terms.
Although Green would have a tough time signing with another NHL team because of the compensating requirements, the Capitals would like to reach a settlement that would send Green into next season in a happy frame of mind.
"Talks are progressing nicely and we have another chat scheduled next week," O'Malley said. "I see no difficulty in arriving at acceptable figures.
"The negotiations are really composed of two parts. First there are the questions of whether Rick wants to be a Capital and whether the Capitals want him. Both parties have answered that in the affirmative. The other half is the financial arrangement. We'll get to that next."
The other unsigned Capital is McNab, whose contract talks with owner Abe Pollin must await Pollin's preoccupation with the Bullets' coaching job. Season-ticket holders, advised of a price increase, also were told in glowing phrases how much progress the team has made. McNab, the man most responsible for that progress, should join Rick Green in getting a hefty raise.
Sun-tanned Capitals have begun to trickle into town following Florida vacations. Most of the players will be here for Robert Picard's wedding to Mary Sanford May 24.