The Washington Capitals' roster for next season -- if there is a next season -- continued to take shape yesterday when the team extended a qualifying offer to defenseman Jason Doig and re-signed right wing Brian Willsie, bringing the number of players in the organization who have been qualified or are under contract to 26.
Teams had until midnight last night to make qualifying offers -- a one-year contract equal to last season's salary for those who earned more than the league average, and a raise of 10 percent to those who earned less -- to their restricted free agents. Players who did not receive offers can sign with any team beginning today, the first day of free agency.
Jeff Halpern, Dainius Zubrus, Brendan Witt, Graham Mink, Maxime Ouellet, Stephen Peat, Matt Pettinger, Rastislav Stana, Nolan Yonkman and Doig have been qualified, meaning the Capitals have retained their rights. Halpern, Zubrus and Witt are eligible for arbitration.
As of today, 23 others became free agents, including forwards Kip Miller, Bates Battaglia, Ivan Ciernik, Colin Forbes, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, Trent Whitfield and Darcy Verot, defensemen Joel Kwiatkowski, Rick Berry and J.F. Fortin and goalie Sebastien Charpentier.
Willsie signed a one-year contract for about $450,000, which is nearly $100,000 less than he earned last season.
Washington does not figure to be a big player on the free agent market as an unprecedented number of proven NHL stars become available, General Manager George McPhee said. The Capitals, like most teams, are cautious given the looming expiration of the collective bargaining agreement with the players' union on Sept. 15 and the league's uncertain future.
"We're going to wait until the next bargaining agreement is in place and see what it entails," McPhee said.
Among the top free agents who will hit the open market today are Brett Hull, Eric Lindros, Pavol Demitra and Paul Kariya.
-- Tarik El-Bashir