As free agents continued to sign contracts at a dizzying rate around the NHL yesterday (see story, E10), the Washington Capitals remained among the shrinking group of clubs yet to snag one.

But that doesn't mean General Manager George McPhee hasn't been bidding for players. He just hasn't been willing to commit to the kind of money or contract length the players sought.

"Our strategy is to spend money on the right player at the right price," McPhee said last night. "We think this market is very overpriced. It's akin to jumping into the stock market when it's at its height. We've been involved in discussions, but we are not going to jeopardize the future of this hockey club.

"Some teams are going to regret [the long-term free agent] deals in a few years. The salary cap could go down next year. That would put some teams in quite a bind. We're committed to playing our young players next season."

The Capitals did make one move yesterday: McPhee acquired rugged right wing Chris Clark from the Calgary Flames for a conditional draft pick in 2006. Clark, 29, amassed 10 goals, 15 assists and 106 penalty minutes in 2003-04 for the Western Conference champions, and will add some much-needed toughness and veteran leadership.

McPhee also said contract discussions with 2004 No. 1 draft pick Alexander Ovechkin are ongoing and that there "are no major issues" left to be resolved.

"Alexander Ovechkin will be here," McPhee said. "He made a commitment to us when he opted out of his Russian contract. Our fans will see Alex in a Capitals uniform next season."

Washington's conservative free agency plan shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Majority owner Ted Leonsis said last month that his team's payroll would hover between the salary cap minimum of $21.5 million and $25 million.

The Capitals have 10 players under contract for next season, including goaltender Olaf Kolzig and wingers Alexander Semin and Boyd Gordon. The club has also made qualifying offers to 14 of its restricted free agents, therefore retaining the rights to those players.

-- Tarik El-Bashir