Roger Crozier, still laboring under that restrictive title of "acting" general manager of the Washington Capitals, left for Montreal yesterday with the prospect of precious little nap time before the National Hockey League entry draft is conducted Wednesday.
Washington, as the nonplayoff team with the most points, has the fifth selection and Crozier expects to sift through several offers from other clubs before he decides whether to exercise that choice or accept a swap that would include immediate help as well as rights to an untested young player.
"Right now, it's 50-50 that we will work out some sort of a deal involving our draft pick," Crozier said. "In comparison to other years, there's a lot of interest. Possibly that's because of the first six teams, only two have their own pick.
"It'll go down to the wire. We can expect to be up till 5 in the morning all the time and even then something could be done right on the floor, depending on how the selections go."
Whatever Crozier decides, he will try to avoid the kind of decision made by Billy MacMillan in Colorado and Jimmy Skinner in Detroit, resulting in a perpetual loss of sleep for those gentlemen since they traded away their top picks for veterans who failed to improve their teams.
The 1-2 men in the draft are expected to be Brian Bellows, a gifted right wing for Kitchener's Memorial Cup champions, and Gord Kluzak, a 6-4 defenseman from Billings who has been recuperating from knee surgery. Each is capable of turning around a franchise. However, the teams whose fortunes they will not be turning around are Colorado and Detroit.
Instead, Boston obtained the No. 1 selection by yielding Dwight Foster, a rather ordinary forward who recorded 12 goals for Colorado, which lost its franchise and is now operating in New Jersey. Minnesota picked up the second choice for Greg Smith, an undistinguished defenseman with the Red Wings, who merely changed ownership for the first time in 50 years.
Toronto, choosing third on Wednesday, is expected to take Portland defenseman Gary Nylund, the third solid standout on the available list. From there on, however, the names are a matter of speculation.
Philadelphia, picking fourth through Hartford's miscalculation on Rick MacLeish, is believed to be waffling among Oshawa center Dave Andreychuk, Billings right wing Rocky Trottier and Portland center Ken Yaremchuk.
That would leave Washington with the opportunity to grab a man Crozier covets, center Ron Sutter of Lethbridge. The Capitals need defensemen more than centers, however, and Crozier also likes Scott Stevens, a backliner for Kitchener who improved his standing during the Memorial Cup.
Chicago, drafting seventh, has Darryl Sutter and would like to add brother Ron. So, perhaps the Hawks would offer Washington a useful winger like Ted Bulley in exchange for a flip-flop of picks. If the Capitals could be convinced that Buffalo, No. 6, was thinking forward, they could agree and still pick Stevens.
"This is the first pure 18 draft, where we're looking at basically 17-year-olds, and nobody knows how it's going to go," said Jack Button, the Capitals' (presumably acting) director of player recruitment. "Each club has different ideas, both in selection and development.
"Some of these guys will be physically and mentally ready to go right into the NHL and would be hurt going back to junior. A lot depends on the maturity of the player, the philosophy and needs of the team, and the situation of the junior team."
If the Capitals choose Ron Sutter, he should be able to move into the lineup, as draftees Bobby Carpenter, Gaetan Duchesne and Chris Valentine did a year ago. In Stevens' case, Washington probably would try to spot him to give him experience, because adaptation to the NHL is so much more difficult for young defensemen.
"We want to take the best player, one who can add the greatest dimension to help our hockey team," said Coach Bryan Murray. "It's true we have an abundance of centers, but we could always use somebody like Ron Sutter at right wing."
"Ron may be the best of all the Sutters," Button said. "He's probably the most skilled and the best skater, but he's not as aggressive as the others. He's still aggressive enough.
"Stevens is exceptionally strong and he's very good at moving the puck in his own end. Presumably, he will improve offensively as he matures."
The draft consists of 12 rounds and the Capitals have 11 selections. They gave up their No. 3 choice to Philadelphia for Bob Kelly. Washington will pick twice in the sixth round, with a blank in the seventh, as a result of maneuvering in the Lee Norwood-Tim Tookey trade with Quebec.
Players turning 18 before Sept. 16, are the nucleus of the draft eligibles. A few late bloomers overlooked last year are included and, for the first time, all veteran players from outside North America must be drafted in order to play in the NHL, thereby ending the free-agent bidding war in Europe.
The Capitals still find themselves involved in a European free-for-all, however, as they attempt to sign 1980 draftee Peter Andersson, a highly rated defenseman.