The best guess is the Capitals will spend $500,000 for the six players they drafted and traded for yesterday.
This is one more mystery about our mystery men of the ice. Why would a team in financial distress, said to be a $3 million loser last season, spend $500,000 on (among others) a kid with one year's experience, an aging Czech and yet another goaltender who makes you want to pull your hair out, if not his?
Capitals owner Abe Pollin isn't talking to the public, and so, like Kremlinologists, we must deduce from his footprints the state of his mind. Bizarre as it sounds, we are seeing Pollin roll the dice one last time. His bold gamble is the first credible sign in months that Pollin's commitment to the Capitals extends beyond rhetoric.
Pollin has spent fruitless months trying to sell the Capitals or find partners. Terms of financing for his Capital Centre make it seemingly impossible to fold the team or sell to anyone who would move it. With all escape routes thus closed, Pollin might have done a Calvin Griffith and sold his stars to get cash and reduce his payroll. On draft day, he might have ordered selection of a dozen cheap fuzzy-cheeks.
Instead, Pollin gave his lieutenants permission to spend whatever it takes to improve the Capitals.
The future is immediately.
Bryan Murray, the coach, indicated that Pollin only in the last day or two gave Roger Crozier, the acting general manager, the go-ahead the men have been awaiting. Last month, Murray said his status was uncertain, adding he didn't even know if the Capitals would exist much longer. Two months after the team's last game, Pollin inexplicably hasn't started selling 1982-83 season tickets.
"I'm very happy now," Murray said yesterday after the wheeling and dealing. And Crozier said from Montreal, "At these meetings, a lot of things happen on the spur of the moment and you have to be ready. Mr. Pollin gave me the okay to do whatever was necessary. All these deals just came together today."
Incurable Capital optimists pronounced yesterday's work good. The six new players could be starters, they said. And hope burned even more brightly when Murray said the new Capitals have "an excellent chance of making a dramatic move in the standings."
Good heaven, Abe, now's the time to sell season tickets. If you can't sell tickets to success, sell 'em to hope.
Sell 'em quick, too, before veteran Capital sufferers point out the dark side of yesterday's deals. These veteran sufferers remember how the Capitals drafted Greg Joly instead of Bryan Trottier, Robert Picard instead of Mike Bossy, Mike Marson instead of Little Orphan Annie. These sufferers remember how Mike Palmateer, the $200,000-a-year goaltender, "guaranteed" he would carry the Capitals to the playoffs.
Behind the silver lining of Pollin's gamble is a dark cloud of question marks. The No. 1 draft choice, 200-pound defenseman Scott Stevens, 18 on April 1, has played only one year of junior hockey. A year ago, he played against kids 15 years old. Will he check Guy Lafleur or get his autograph?
The Czech, Milan Novy, is a world-class player with impressive international accomplishments. But he soon will be 31. Can an aging European gentleman/center endure the nightly muggings of the NHL?
The new goaltender, Pat Riggin, comes from Calgary with a Palmateer-like reputation. As Palmateer is mercurial, good today and horrible tomorrow, so is Riggin. And since when does a 4.23 goals-against average suggest the Capitals' goaltending problems are over?
However it works out, applause is due Pollin, Crozier and Murray for at least trying something. They have in mind a picture of the team they want. They believe the Capitals must be big, strong and aggressive to compete with physical teams in their division. So they added five skaters weighing from 188 to 217 pounds.
Naturally, there being an irrational consistency to the Capitals' luck, Crozier and Murray didn't get to draft the player they wanted most. For some reason unknown to folks gathered by a speaker phone in the Capital Centre press room yesterday, the Flyers made Ron Sutter the fourth choice in the draft instead of leaving him, as expected, for the Capitals.
"Washington has called time," came a voice over the squawk box from Montreal. It was publicity man Lou Corletto, doing play-by-play of the draft for Washington media members who sat and stared at the squawk box.
One imagined, up there in Montreal, frantic running around and hurried conferences as Capital brains pondered this surprise.
"I can't see Roger Crozier," Corletto's floating voice intoned, sort of desperately. "Oh, there he is. Roger has moved . . . He's walking around . . . He's looking for a table . . . He's conferring with somebody during this hold period . . . Wait a minute, Roger now is moving back to his table. Roger's ready."
When Scott Stevens' name was announced, Corletto told us that the young man was "just beaming," and later Stevens said through the squawk box that he knew the Capitals were a young team with potential, "like the New York Islanders, who had a lot of young players and now they've won the Stanley Cup three times."
One year out of Canada's midget leagues, Stevens said he should fit in with the Capitals somewhere.
"Hopefully," he added, full of hope.