The Washington Capitals' top farm club, the Hershey Bears, won the Calder Cup last spring by capturing the American Hockey League playoffs. As 59 Capitals commence training camp in Hershey today, however, it seems likely that no member of that championship team will be able to earn a promotion.
The offseason wheeling and dealing that brought Mike Palmateer, Jean Pronovost, Dennis Ververgaert and Bob Kelly to Washington has virtually elminated competition for jobs during training camp. In fact, several players who finished last season with the Capitals are likely to begin this one in Hershey.
Coach Gary Green has said he will carry no more than 20 players on the parent roster, possibly only the 19 permitted to dress for each game, because "I don't like guys sitting out and Hershey is close enough to get someone here in an emergency."
Many of those 20 positions are reserved. Palmateer and Wayne Stephenson, for example, will be the two goal-tenders. Rick Green, Paul MacKinnon, Pierre Bouchard, Pat Ribble and top rookie Darren Veitch will be five of the six defensemen.
The makeup of the three principal lines is really apparent. There is no way, for starters, that the Paul Mulvey-Ryan Walter-Mike Gartner unit, which produced 75 goals, will be split.
Since Green is an advocate of balanced lines, the other groups are likley to have Dennis Maruk centering Kelly and Pronovost, with Rolf Edberg again skating between Alan Hangsleben and Bengt Gustafsson.
Guy Charron could be the third regular center, in Edberg's place, but there has been a display of reticence around Capital Centre whenever Charon is mentioned. Green prefers players who check opposing skaters at every opportunity; Charron is a finesse performer.
So Charron, who appears to be completely recovered from knee surgery, may find himself assigned to penalty-killing duty. Green is counting on such specialists on his fourth line and there is no guarantee that holdovers Glen Currie and Wes Jarvis, both centers, will be the nominees, despite their fine work last season.
"Jarvis did a heck of a job last year, and Currie as well," Green said. "Charron and Edberg have capabilities in that area. But we can't have seven centermen on the team. A couple have the ability to switch to left wing and we might have to make a move."
Others who figure in the struggle for those last few forward positions are left wing Greg Polis, in excellent condition following recuperation from surgery; left wing Antero Lehtonen, who was sharp in drills at Fort Dupont this week, and center Tim Tookey, fresh from a 141-point junior season. Holdovers Gary Rissling and Mark Lofthouse seem destined for the minors.
Adding another factor to the scramble at right wing is the acquisition of Ververgaert, a seven-year NHL veteran who played for the Philadelphia Flyers last season.Ververgaert goes to camp as a free agent.
There are six candidates for the sixth defensive berth and Leif Svensson seems to have an edge, because he can also play the wing and is skilled at killing penalties. Yvon Labre, Brent Tremblay and Pete Scamurra are returning from surgery. Howard Walker, signed off North Dakota's NCAA champions, and Hershey standout Greg Theberge are other possibilities.
"Realistically, we have to say all spots are open on the hockey club," Green said. "There's no question, however, that a number of positions are pretty well manned."
Kelly, a spot player in Philadelphia, will be assigned a regular shift, usually on the left wing, although he can play the right side as well.
"I'm planning on it and he'd better be ready for a full shift," Green said.
"He gives us flexibility going left or right. My intentions are left, but sometimes if there is an aggressive guy in the opposition on the left side we'll shift him.
"Our center ice can use the muscle. Mulvey did a lot for Walter and Gartner. We want wingers with size, aggressiveness, the ability to get in the corners and get the puck in geographical position for guys with the finesse abilities to put the puck in the net."
Twenty-five players will fly to Sweden Thursday for a tournament in Stockholm that also includes the Minnesota North Stars and two Swedish teams. It is almost certain the season-opening 20 players will come from that group.
On Sept. 27, the Capitals play Pittsburgh in an exhibition at Johnstown, Pa. That is the night after the concluding game in Sweden and several players not dressing for the finale will fly back early to play in Johnstown. That will provide one more clue as to the makeup of the team for the season opener here against Winnepeg Oct. 10.