The Washington Capitals bought out Bob Kelly's contract yesterday and the 31-year-old winger accepted the check both with equanimity and the vow that his career was not yet finished.
"I think the old legs are good for another couple of years," Kelly said. "Maybe I can make my own deal. I'm capable and confident of playing in the National Hockey League."
Kelly, acquired from Philadelphia for a third-round draft choice in August 1980, enjoyed the most productive of his 11 NHL seasons a year ago, recording 26 goals and 36 assists. In 16 games this fall, however, he had no goals and four assists with a minus-11 rating, worst on the team. He had not played since Nov. 14.
"I'm glad it came to a head," Kelly said. "It wasn't doing me any good or the team any good to be sitting around. I had a hell of a season last year and I couldn't catch a line this year. But I respect their commitment to the younger guys.
"I came down here with a very positive approach. I wasn't playing out the end of the line by any means. I was happy to be with the Caps' organization, from Abe (Pollin) on down. I felt sorry we missed as a team last year. The guys gave it a hell of a shot.
"Everything kind of fell apart for everybody this year. It's not the end of the world for me, though. I'm not going to starve and I'll surface somewhere."
Kelly received a six-figure payoff, since he signed a three-year contract last summer that was estimated at more than $125,000 a season. He had cleared irrevocable waivers and was paid off at one-third of the remaining salary. He is a free agent and still conceivably could hook on with a club that was unwilling to pick up that hefty contract.
"Kelly made an outstanding contribution last year and he was a great guy to have around in the dressing room, but he's not playing and we want to go with the younger guys," said General Manager Roger Crozier.
"I'm afraid the legs have just gone on him," said Coach Bryan Murray. "It's sudden, but it sometimes happens that way. We've got a commitment to young players and I'd rather have Torrie (Robertson) here. He's young and willing and he'll help us in the long run."
Kelly is the fifth veteran player to leave the team in the last five weeks. Jean Pronovost and Pierre Bouchard were sent to Hershey, Pat Ribble was dealt to Calgary and Orest Kindrachuk, like his old Flyer teammate Kelly, was paid off.
A sixth will probably go today, when a decision will be made on Alan Hangsleben. He did not practice yesterday, instead meeting with Crozier, who said he was attempting to move Hangsleben to another NHL team.
Crozier is still trying to trade for a center and a left-handed shooting defenseman. He is willing to flip-flop No. 1 draft choices with a team like Montreal, which has center Doug Wickenheiser, a player Murray covets. However, Crozier does not want to be left without any first-round pick and he does not want to trade any of the team's top-caliber players.