As expected, Washington Capitals defenseman Kevin Hatcher did not report yesterday for the official start of training camp, a situation that prompted a stern response from owner Abe Pollin.
Pollin said the matter had not yet been brought to his attention, but his comments clearly support the position taken by General Manager David Poile, who said again yesterday he will not negotiate with Hatcher's agent, Ron Salcer, until Hatcher reports.
"Contracts should be considered an obligation," Pollin said during a telephone interview. "If a player feels strongly that he is underpaid, then the way to get us the message is certainly not by saying: 'I'm not going to come to camp.' If he is not going to come to camp, I guarantee I won't talk to him."
The Capitals assembled for physicals and off-ice testing and were scheduled to take a charter flight last night to Saranac Lake, N.Y. Training camp will be held at nearby Lake Placid, with practice starting Sunday.
Today, the players will be tested on the ice for speed, agility and endurance. The team's first of 10 exhibition games will be next Friday in Baltimore against the New York Rangers.
Goalie Don Beaupre and defenseman Bill Houlder also were missing, although their contract situations are different than Hatcher's.
Beaupre and Houlder played out their options and are free agents. As of yesterday, there was no progress in those negotiations.
Hatcher, who will turn 24 Sunday, will be starting his sixth full season with the Capitals. When Scott Stevens and Rod Langway were injured in December, Hatcher stepped up and carried much of the load.
After scoring two goals and recording 17 assists in the first 40 games, Hatcher had 11 goals and 24 assists in the last 40. His goals (13), assists (41) and points (54) were personal records as a Capital and he was the only Capital named to the Wales Conference All-Star team.
He was one of only five players (the only defenseman) to play in every regular season game. His knee injury in the last game of the Patrick Division finals against the New York Rangers rendered him unable to play against the Boston Bruins in the conference finals.
Hatcher still has two years plus an option year left on his contract, which Salcer said will never pay him more than $200,000 annually. Last season Hatcher made $185,000. Hatcher and Salcer say the market has exploded in recent months and the price for a top defenseman has soared. Stevens signed with St. Louis for an average of $1.28 million over four years. Thus, on the average Hatcher will make six times less than Stevens per year.
"We have a problem," said Salcer, who said the Capitals' offer wasn't even close to $450,000 a year.
Pollin called the Blues' offer to Stevens "stupid" and reiterated his objection to a holdout.
"I think Kevin is a fine player," Pollin said. "But he has three years left on his contract. It hasn't come to me, but if it does. . . . If someone is threatening not to go to camp and he has three years left on his contract, I would not talk to him, period.
"If he comes to camp, as he should and as he is obligated to, then I would sit and talk to him to see if we could work out something reasonable, that maybe would include an extension.
"Contracts seem to be only one way in this business and I don't believe in that. If I have a contract with somebody, then I'm obligated to perform. If a player has a terrible year or gets hurt, he gets paid for doing nothing. We don't go back and say: 'We don't want to pay you.' "