The Washington Capitals' campaign to trade Dennis Maruk, no secret since season's end, reached fruition yesterday when the 27-year-old center was dealt to the Minnesota North Stars, whence he came five years ago.
The price was relatively cheap, a second-round draft choice in 1984, and it reflected the intensity of General Manager David Poile's desire to dispose of the Capitals' all-time leading scorer.
"I'm sure everybody's reaction in this situation will be, 'Why didn't you get more for Dennis Maruk?' " Poile said by telephone from Hilton Head, S.C., where he is vacationing. "Well, I wanted something more, but the players offered, and there weren't all that many, were Dennis' age or older, players who would not have helped our club."
The transaction was finalized in late afternoon, shortly before Minnesota General Manager Lou Nanne left for a vacation in Scotland. Poile attempted to notify Maruk, who lives year-round in Upper Marlboro, but the player was at a parade in Manassas and learned of the deal when The Washington Post called for comment.
"I'm really not surprised, because I had a talk with David before he went to the draft and he indicated he was trying to trade me," Maruk said. "But when he got back, we had another meeting, David and (Coach) Bryan (Murray) and me, and they gave me the impression I'd be with the team.
"It seems funny, going back to Minnesota again, sort of full circle, but I guess nothing should surprise you in this game."
Maruk collected 50 goals in 1980-81 and topped that with 60 in 1981-82. Last season, although his 81 points led the team, he managed only 31 goals and his plus-minus rating was the Capitals' worst, minus 21.
The decline was hardly Maruk's fault, because he spent much of the season in an unfamiliar role at left wing, after having played center most of his hockey career. The shift was dictated by Murray, who felt that Maruk's loose defensive play at center was too much of a liability.
"Dennis did not fit in under our new defensive setup," Poile said. "We tried some experiments, but putting Dennis at left wing did not work and Dennis did not want to pursue it this year.
"We plan to use Bobby Carpenter at center as our big center iceman and the addition of David Christian put the final nail in Dennis' situation. With defensive specialists like Doug Jarvis and Glen Currie, we have an excellent blend at center ice and I don't think it would be to our interest to move David Christian or Bobby Carpenter out to accommodate Dennis."
Poile said he had hoped to complete a deal involving Maruk at the time Christian was acquired from Winnipeg on June 8 for a No. 1 draft pick, but that negotiations had proven unsuccessful.
Although Poile declined to reveal the contents of previous trade talks, it was learned from other sources that last week he had turned down Minnesota's offer of center Tim Young even up for Maruk. At that time, Poile was believed to be seeking winger Tom McCarthy, the man Minnesota chose with the first-round draft choice it received from Washington for Maruk in 1978.
The trade leaves Maruk in a somewhat awkward position, since he never hid his unhappiness with Nanne for sending him away after he had played only two games with Minnesota following the North Stars' merger with Maruk's old team, Cleveland.
A further complication is the presence of Bill Mahoney, Minnesota's new coach. Mahoney was an assistant to Gary Green in Washington, and both Green and Mahoney were fired after a 1-12 start in which Maruk played poorly while complaining of personal problems. After Murray replaced Green in November, Maruk began the hot streak that resulted in his becoming the 11th 60-goal scorer in NHL history.
For much of his career, Maruk heard barbs directed at his size, 5 feet 8 and 178 pounds, and once as a Cleveland Baron, he was refused entry to the Montreal Forum by a guard who refused to believe he was a hockey player.
The 50- and 60-goal seasons convinced everyone--with the notable exception of Murray--that Maruk could play, and play well. However, he never was able to shed a reputation for moodiness that accompanied dry spells.
Maruk was a team leader, entertaining teammates at parties at his home in Upper Marlboro and donning a blond wig to keep them loose in the dressing room. But he sometimes grumbled in the face of adversity and that habit apparently helped to get Murray--and later Poile--down on him, something Poile referred to in oblique fashion yesterday.
"Our team is just moving in a different direction," Poile said. "We need multitalented hockey players who do a lot of different things, players who can play when we're ahead, and players who can play when we're behind."