Roger Crozier would like to remove the "acting" part of his title as resident hockey expert for the Washington Capitals. He knows Max McNab was fired as general manager for failing to make trades, so seemingly the easiest way to make his job secure is to swing a major deal.
He could do it and the Capitals probably would show considerable improvement. They might even escape last place in the Patrick Division and earn a first-ever playoff berth. However, they would not improve their chances of reaching a competitive position in the division over the next several years.
"I know I can make a deal right now that will improve this club," Crozier said. "In the long run, though, I'm convinced it will hurt. It may cost me my job, but I have to put the organization first and do what I think is best for the future."
What other clubs want are Washington's No. 1 draft pick for 1982 and/or Rick Green, Ryan Walter, Mike Gartner and Dennis Maruk. Crozier does not want to part with any of those ingredients for future success.
The guaranteed path to respectability involves considerable bullet biting. It would mean a last-place finish overall to insure the drafting of Brian Bellows, a 17-year-old forward for Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey Association.
Bellows ranks first on every scouting report and Crozier said of him, "Brian Bellows is the type of player who can turn a franchise around. He's no (Wayne) Gretzky, but he's bigger, stronger and he has a lot of Gretzky's moves. If he came in here today, he would be the best player on the Washington hockey club."
Of the four leading contenders in what is being termed the Brian Bellows Derby, Washington is the only one that still owns its first-round pick in the next draft. But no one is offering Crozier any superstars for that choice.
As the season progresses, the Capitals' situation will determine whether the offers get better or worse. With a few more bad breaks, Bellows could become a definite possibility. So could the possibility of Crozier's being dismissed.
"I am still observing Roger Crozier's performance and a decision will be made at the proper time," said owner Abe Pollin. "That does not necessarily mean I will wait until the end of the season."
As for trading the first-round pick, Pollin said, "We've had discussions on this and we are open to trading the No. 1 draft choice. But the people we get would have to be excellent stars and not just people who will help us a little bit. We will not just trade it for some bodies that could play on our team."
When Crozier arrived in Quebec City Monday night, he was greeted by a fistful of messages. On Tuesday, he spent so much time on the phone that he finally left his room and walked around a shopping mall for a few minutes, just to clear his head.
"People call me up constantly just to talk, hoping they'll get me at a moment when I'll be desperate enough to say 'Yes' to whatever they're offering," Crozier said. "Many of them are just looking for something for nothing.
"I feel for the coach (Bryan Murray). He wants some players and he's the one who is abused by the fans when we lose, and sometimes humiliated by the players' performance. But deep down I look at the players available in the next draft and I see what I've been offered and I know we just have to hold on."
The Capitals flew from Montreal to Boston yesterday on the same plane as the Bruins, who lost to the Canadiens Tuesday, 3-1. The NHL disapproves of such practice, but officials of the travel-weary teams were reluctant to change plans. Murray, asked about the insurance problems, said, "That only matters when you go down." On landing in Boston, linesman Swede Knox, another passenger, said, "Lloyd's of London just breathed a sigh of relief."
The Capitals yesterday returned left wing Errol Rausse and defensemen Howard Walker and Timo Blomqvist to Hershey . . .Defenseman Rick Green and winger Bengt Gustafsson are expected to be ready for tonight's 7:30 Capital Centre contest against the Los Angeles Kings . . . It is the Capitals' 300th home game and they will be seeking their 100th victory at the Centre.