While the Washington Capitals were learning to cope with travel in these days of air controller shortages, the club's brass was scrutinizing lists of unprotected players, in search of needed assistance.
General Manager Max McNab, assistant Roger Crozier and Personnel Director Jack Button skipped Saturday's exhibition in Hartford and huddled all day yesterday, examining the players available in today's waiver draft.
Each team was able to protect 18 skaters and two goalies, plus all rookies and players with only one year pro experience. The Capitals named two exempt men, Roland Stoltz and Howard Walker, on their protected list to facilitate the assignment of players to the minors and to make room for anyone added today.
The Capitals, although strong up front and in the goal, are short on defense, in part because of injuries that have left five backliners unavailable for play. They also lack enforcer types who figure to be essential for competition in the ultra-physical Patrick Division.
"I've looked at the list and there is no one who will turn a team around," said Coach Gary Green.
Among the possibilities to fill a defensive hole are Bob Hess of Buffalo, John Marks and Miles Zaharko of Chicago, Al Sims of Hartford, Larry Goodenough of Los Angeles, Carol Vadnais of the Rangers, Gerry Hart and Trevor Johansen of St. Louis and Dave Farrish of Toronto. It is not an impressive list, but then the Capital defense has not been impressive, either, during an exhibition campaign that saw the team go winless against NHL opposition, with two losses and four ties.
"If the right one is there, we feel we have to react to the situation," McNab said. "We've felt a considerable setback concerning Timo (Blomquist) and (Howard) Walker. Coming out of Europe, they had made the team, and now their injuries have changed our outlook."
Walker suffered a shoulder separation during a battle royal with Philadelphia. Blomquist's jaw was fractured by a puck. Pierre Bouchard broke his nose in a practice collision and has been bothered by dizziness since. Rick Green has been sidelined by a groin pull and Jay Johnston has a hip pointer.
In the enforcer area, the possible draftees today include Dave Allison of Montreal, Maryland-born Jeff Brubaker and Jack McIlhargey of Hartford, Cam Connor of the Rangers, Kim Claxton of Toronto, Frank Beaton of the Islanders and ex-Capital Archie Henderson of Minnesota.
Capitals Mike Gartner, Ryan Walter and Bobby Carpenter all have been involved in lengthy fights this past week and they are not of much use in the penalty box, covered with blood. Since most NHL referees refuse to penalize aggressors in the manner prescribed in the rule book, it seems logical for any club in the Patrick Division to be prepared to retaliate against opposing stars in order to halt the cycle of nonsense.
"We have our eye on that type of player and we have talked with a couple of teams," McNab said. "It may be necessary on occasion, but 95 percent of what we face requires hockey courage, handling the puck in tight situations and not giving it up because of intimidation. I don't know if we have a contending heavyweight, but most of our guys can handle themselves."
One of the keys to Washington's 6-0 victory in Philadelphia in December was the presence of Henderson, willing to take on Behn Wilson and thereby let his teammates play hockey instead of serving as targets for sticks and punches.
In the last three days, exhibition play has been marred by a 208-minute high stick-slashing mess between Washington and Philadelphia, plus a 285-minute bench-clearing brawl between the Rangers and Islanders. That should be a fair indication of what is to be expected this season.
The trip to Hartford gave a good hint of what is coming on the travel front, too. The Capitals took the only Saturday flight from Harrisburg to Hartford, at 1:15 p.m., and discovered it was a small commuter plane. The team's equipment had to be bused to Hartford, arriving just before the scheduled warmup. Yesterday, the players were stuck in Hartford until midafternoon, when they finally managed a flight to Washington.
"The NHL is worried about the travel problem and it recently met with airline representatives to discuss it," Green said. "The big concern is teams coming in from the West having to make connections and missing them because of delays. Charters are no solution, either. We wanted to charter back from Hartford, but we couldn't arrange one. The charter companies are going out of business because they can't get their flights off the runway."