Sounding calmer than might be expected, Dennis Maruk pondered the thought that he might not be with the Washington Capitals next season.
"I've heard rumors that I might be traded, and I guess it's possible that could happen," he said. "The rumors upset me a bit--I've been here five years, and want to stay--but I guess my year last year, well, it wasn't the best."
Maruk, who had 60 goals and 76 assists during the 1981-82 season, finished the last campaign with 31 goals and 50 assists, which still made him the team's top scorer. But he rated at minus-20.
"They were scoring goals against somebody, and I guess I was always out there," he said, attributing his drop in production partly to playing most of the time at left wing.
"Putting him there took away his greatest asset, which was scoring, and I think maybe it took away some of his enthusiasm as well," said General Manager David Poile. "But the point is, Dennis is a center-ice man, and it's where he wants to play. It's the only place he should play for the most effective level. The experimentation is over, and (Coach) Bryan (Murray), Dennis and I agree on his position."
Whether that position will be with the Capitals, however, Poile would not say. And Maruk said he has not yet discussed the subject with Poile.
Maruk played his 60-goal season between wingers Ryan Walter, traded to Montreal last September, and Chris Valentine, who spent most of last season on the Capitals' Hershey, Pa., farm team.
"When we stayed together, Ryan had his best year, Chris did well, so I was a bit surprised at the trade," Maruk said. "We helped a big position on the team (in acquiring defensemen Rod Langway and Brian Engblom), but then our weak spot was left wing."
"That was Washington's No. 1 line," Poile said. "When Ryan was traded and with Chris in Hershey, it left Dennis without a line. Because we felt the area we lacked was left wing, Dennis was moved over, so he spent most of the season out of position. Part of the problem, too, was that Dennis didn't have a set line, because we kept changing."
"It was hard to adjust to winger," Maruk said. "I think I handled it pretty well, since it's so hard to do your best at a position you don't really know. Psychologically, as a center, you're a more freewheeling player; as a winger, you've got to move up and down all the time. I got caught (out of position) a lot of times.
"The biggest adjustment was concentration. When I played center, I never had to look for my wingers, I just knew they were there. That's what I tried to do."
Maruk has just returned from playing hockey in Europe, where, he said, "I felt myself again. I had maybe four goals and four assists in 10 games, playing center, and I played well."
He went to Europe right after the Capitals' first-round exit from their first-ever playoffs, four games in which Maruk said he felt pressure to do well. He had one goal and one assist.
"Because it was my first playoff, I wanted to do well," he said. "I knew a lot was expected from me, and I expected it, too. Maybe I put a little too much pressure on, and got away from my game."
Poile looked back at the Capitals' one playoff victory in four games with the New York Islanders and recalled that the Capitals' other top offensive players--Bobby Carpenter and Mike Gartner--also were shut down by the Stanley Cup champions.
"I would just like to chalk up the playoffs for those guys, and Dennis, as first time jitters," he said. "They'd never been there before, and the Islanders played very well." He admitted he anticipated getting more scoring from Maruk, hoping a postseason performance would balance out the regular season's statistics.
"But, basically, going into the playoffs, he had no momentum going," Poile said. "We all hoped the playoffs would be different."
If Maruk's tone of voice at first indicated disappointment that he may part from the Capitals, he was realistic as well.
"I don't want to leave Washington, but I definitely want to be back at center ice next season," he said. "And I'm sure that any team that picks me will want me as a center, not a left wing."