The Washington Capitals' acting general manager, Roger Crozier, says that "at the present time it's all go, there'll be a team (here) next season."
Despite persistent rumors that the Capitals might merge with the financially troubled Colorado Rockies, Crozier said in an interview this week that the "only changes in the works are plans to improve the team on ice."
Owner Abe Pollin has not returned phone calls the last few days, but sources close to the Capitals say there will be major changes involving front office personnel and players.
Earlier speculation that the team would leave Washington has subsided as Capital Centre continues to sell season tickets for next year. Ticket office employes report that business is about average, maybe a little above, for this time of year.
There have been reports that Pollin has been trying to sell the team, which lost approximately $3 million last season, despite average attendance of 11,378.
"Most people in our organization are in the dark and are afraid to say anything," said one Capitals executive, who asked not to be identified. "The last thing they want is their name in the newspaper."
Even basic questions to the marketing department regarding plans for next year at Capital Centre are met with a "no comment."
Coach Bryan Murray says he is ignoring the rumors, and proceeding with strategy for improving the team. The Capitals have never made the playoffs during their eight years, but Murray insists they are "not very far from being a contender."
"I assume I'll be here," he said when asked if he would be coaching the Capitals. "I've got a three-year contract."
Crozier said he is "absolutely" pleased with Murray, who took over last November after Gary Green was fired. "All those rumors--it's always that way when you don't make the playoffs," Crozier said. "People need to talk about something."
Of the suggestion that former NHL coaches Fred Shero or Don Cherry might be ready to coach the team, Crozier said, "Every time a coaching job becomes available, Fred's name surfaces. I don't know if he does it himself or what. But we are absolutely satisfied with Bryan."
Murray, meanwhile, has turned his attention to next month's draft. "We'd like to start next season with at least four different players," he said.
The Capitals will choose fifth from the amateur ranks. Although Kitchener right wing Brian Bellows is the first name on everyone's shopping list, Murray also is interested in defenseman Gary Nylund of the Portland, Ore., team.
"We figure by time we get to picking, Bellows will be gone," said Murray, "but if Nylund's available, we're interested. We need help on the blueline."
Murray also likes Peter Andersson, who played for the Swedish junior team. He said he would like to add a couple experienced players "to give us a dimension we may be lacking."
Murray is confident that adding some "proven" players to those now here will give Washington the plus-.500 team it craves.
Crozier said he is counting on a positive change in the status of injured goalie Mike Palmateer, who missed most of last season with knee problems. "I hope over the summer he becomes healthy and is ready to come back to the team," said Crozier.