Washington Capitals restricted free agent Brendan Witt said yesterday that he has filed for salary arbitration. But the rugged defenseman has not ruled out reaching a deal with the Capitals before a hearing.

Witt has had initial talks with General Manager George McPhee about a new contract, but the sides are not close.

Forwards Dainius Zubrus and Jeff Halpern, both of whom are also restricted free agents, had not elected for arbitration as of late yesterday. They had until midnight last night to file.

"It's not that there's any hard feelings or anything, it's just that with the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] the way it is, I want to apply the system before it changes," said Witt, who does not have an agent. "This gets us moving forward in the negotiations."

Witt, 29, appeared in 72 games last season, recording 2 goals, 10 assists and 123 penalty minutes. He is the team's most experienced defenseman and earned $1.75 million last season, which was slightly below the NHL average.

Halpern was not expected to file for arbitration, according to a source. Zubrus and his representatives, meantime, were deciding late last night whether to file. Zubrus signed a contract two weeks ago with Lada Togliatti of the Russian League and will play there next season if he is unable to reach a deal with the Capitals on a new contract or if the NHL season is disrupted by a work stoppage.

-- Tarik El-Bashir