Two of the Washington Capitals' top players, defenseman Kevin Hatcher and goalie Don Beaupre, will not report today for the official start of training camp because of contract disputes.
Hatcher said yesterday he wants his contract to be renegotiated before he will report. Beaupre, who played out his option and is a free agent, remains unsigned.
Also, defenseman Bill Houlder, who split time between Washington and Baltimore last season, is a free agent and will be missing when team members undergo physical exams before departing tonight for the team's training site in Lake Placid.
Hatcher, who established himself as one of the NHL's top defensemen last season, has three more years left on a contract that will never pay him more than $200,000 annually, according to his agent, Ron Salcer.
"Kevin is grossly underpaid," Salcer said yesterday from Los Angeles. "The whole team is notoriously underpaid."
Salcer said the negotiations with Capitals General Manager David Poile had broken down.
"I'm not going to negotiate with Ron Salcer until Kevin is in training camp," Poile said last night, adding there will be a $250-per-day fine. "This is very disappointing, to say the least. Kevin has a great opportunity this season to step out of the shadow of players like Rod Langway and Scott Stevens."
Stevens signed a $5.1 million contract with St. Louis, which also signed Brett Hull to a $7 million deal. Those contracts have sent shock waves through the salary structure of the league. The Capitals have the lowest payroll in the league.
Hatcher, who will be 24 on Sunday, had his best season as a Capital in 1989-90. with 13 goals and 41 assists.
"I like Washington and I'd like to finish my career there, but he made us an offer and we're not happy with it," said Hatcher, who made $185,000 last season.
According to Salcer, last season the 15 highest-paid defensemen made an average of $450,000, and he said the Capitals' last offer wasn't close to that. Salcer ranks Hatcher among the top 10 defensemen. But Poile said he would include Hatcher in the second 10 and his offer would put Hatcher at the high end of that group, in terms of pay. Poile also wants to add a year to the contract at that rate.
Houlder isn't sure of making the squad, but he played 41 games with the Capitals last season.
"We're just not making any progress," said Houlder's agent, Jay Grossman.
Beaupre's agent, Ron Simon, said he and Poile are "miles, not blocks, miles" apart.
"Mr. Poile is comparing Don with players who have salaries that I consider now to be obsolete," Simon said.
Beaupre made $225,000 last season. He carried the load in goal during the first half of the year and finished the year with a 23-18-5 record and 3.22 goals-against average. He was 4-3 in the playoffs with a 2.69 GAA.
"I don't want to get locked into a contract under the old structure," Beaupre said. "I'd like to sign for a couple years. I think I earned it. I thought I had an excellent year and I want to be rewarded for it. Nobody is asking for the world."
The acquisition of goalie Mike Liut certainly helped the Capitals last season and should in the future. But his $455,000 salary -- from a contract that was just extended by one year -- is now the highest on the team.
"It's a major factor," said Simon. He would like an incentive clause, with games played being the major criteria, that would make Beaupre and Liut "reasonably close" in terms of income.