The Washington Capitals held a farewell meeting yesterday and dispersed for the summer. When the hockey club next assembles in September, a familiar face or two could be missing.
General Manager David Poile, who built a contender primarily through clever trades, wants to put future personnel emphasis on the draft. He realizes, however, that the lack of offensive production on left wing may force him into one more major deal.
As for his team's failure to cope with the New York Rangers in the Patrick Division final, Poile indicated he was satisfied with the coaching staff led by Bryan Murray and its preparation for the playoffs, following a club-record 107-point NHL regular season.
"It's a year-long task, not a one-day thing," Poile said. "Now I have to sit down with the coaches, go through the entire organization, get everybody's opinion on personnel and style, and come up with an agreement on where we go from here.
"Our loss last year was every bit as devastating as this, going down for the third straight year to the Islanders and continuing to face a big psychological hurdle.
"It gets to be an old story. There isn't anyone who doesn't think we were the team to advance to the Stanley Cup semifinals, but the reality is we lost. Our job now is to identify why we haven't lived up to our own expectations."
One problem easy to identify involves the left wing position. During their nine-game playoff venture, the Capitals' left wings had a total of six goals, Gaetan Duchesne scoring four. Greg Adams and Jorgen Pettersson had one apiece, Lou Franceschetti and Yvon Corriveau none.
Over the regular season, the left side scored only 45 goals -- Adams 18, Duchesne 11, Pettersson 8, Franceschetti 7, Gary Sampson 1.
Duchesne is an excellent checker and Adams and Franceschetti are useful role players, but absence of a genuine scoring threat at left wing eases the task of opponents trying to nullify Washington's top scorers.
Asked about the need for a left wing, Poile replied, "No argument."
Murray, while declining to pinpoint specific players for playoff failures, noted, "Except for Duchesne, we got nothing from the left side."
The problem has been present for some time. Poile acknowledged it last summer when he made Corriveau his first-round pick in the draft. Corriveau showed some promise during six games with Washington in April and could become a regular next year, but realistically no higher than on a third line.
"Only Gaetan was able to score in the playoffs, and he is not a goal scorer," Poile said. "Hopefully, we're becoming a team that can build more through the draft than trades.
"We made a big left wing our first choice last year and he will be given an opportunity to secure a position next year. But we recognize there is still a shortcoming and the draft on June 24 is not where it's at.
"We'll be drafting for two or three years down the road. The trading route could be another means to overcome a present shortcoming."
Another problem for Poile will be persuading Bengt Gustafsson to stay with the Capitals at least one more season. Gustafsson is under contract to Washington, but Poile agreed last year to give him a release to play in Sweden at the end of any season in which he asked for it.
If Gustafsson, currently in Sweden recuperating from a broken leg, does not return, he will leave a hole of giant proportions. Gustafsson is the team's No. 1 center and, further, his loss would create a domino effect, with Bob Carpenter, Alan Haworth and Bob Gould forced to step up a notch against tougher opposition.
"I really feel this year, as in previous years, the positives far outweigh the negatives," Poile said. "Where we have come in terms of fan support, improvement in individual players, improvement in the standings, overcoming hurdles like beating the Islanders are all positive things. But the cruelty in sports is that not winning the last game leaves you with a bad feeling."