When the Washington Capitals open training camp in about a month, two of the club's cornerstone players might not be on the ice.
Dainius Zubrus hasn't signed a contract and Alexander Semin doesn't have permission from military officials in Russia to leave the country, according to agent Dmitri Goryachkin, who represents both players.
Zubrus, a restricted free agent and one of the Capitals' few recognizable names, rejected Washington's qualifying offer last August, then played in Russia during the NHL lockout. He said yesterday that he has not received another contract offer from the Capitals, but that the sides are in contact.
"So far Washington hasn't shown much interest," Zubrus said from his home in Montreal. "They have talked to my agent, but there is no offer. My first choice is to play in the NHL, but since Washington hasn't shown interest in me, looks like I will play for [Lada Togliatti, his Russian club] because I have to play hockey somewhere."
Capitals General Manager George McPhee was unavailable to comment yesterday.
Zubrus, a 27-year-old right wing, has agreed to a one-year extension for 2005-06 with Lada Togliatti, the Russian Super League team he played for last year. That contract, however, contains a clause that allows him to return to the NHL. Zubrus must opt out of his Russian contract prior to the start of Lada Togliatti's season in September.
The qualifying offer Zubrus rejected last year included a 10 percent raise over the $1.5 million he earned in 2003-04. Zubrus said he will "not lose money" by playing in Russia next season.
"I understand it's a business," said Zubrus, who has been training in Montreal with a group of fellow NHL players that includes Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier and Montreal's Jose Theodore. "I hope [the Capitals] are not playing games, because I have been up front with them."
Zubrus, a nine-year NHL veteran, scored 12 goals and tallied 15 assists in an injury-filled 2003-04 season in Washington, where he was limited to 54 games.
Semin, meantime, still has one year of active military duty left to serve in Russia, according to Goryachkin. The talented but enigmatic 21-year-old left wing was suspended by the Capitals last September for failing to report to Portland of the AHL, then Washington's minor league affiliate, during the NHL lockout. Semin instead joined Zubrus with Lada Togliatti.
"He was drafted [last year] into the military district where Lada is located," Goryachkin wrote in an e-mail yesterday. "Lada contacted the local military authorities and persuaded them to allow Semin to play for them instead of going into active duty. He cannot play for any other team in Russia and he cannot leave the country without permission or he will become a deserter and subject to criminal prosecution."
Goryachkin said Lada is assisting him in trying to secure permission for Semin to leave the country and rejoin the Capitals. Semin is believed to have two years remaining on his rookie contract with the Capitals at $960,000 per season.
"We are trying to resolve the matter with the military authorities," Goryachkin wrote. "There are some chances that the outcome will be positive."
Capitals Notes: Washington signed free agent defensemen Mathieu Biron and Ivan Majesky yesterday. Biron, 25, who is 6 feet 6 and 220 pounds, has played for four organizations since being drafted in the first round by Los Angeles in 1998. Most recently, he recorded three goals and 10 assists in 57 games with Florida in 2003-04. Majesky, 28, has played two NHL seasons, logging 63 games for Atlanta in 2003-04. The 6-5, 230-pounder had three goals and seven assists. . . . No Washington Capital opted for salary arbitration by yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline.
-- Tarik El-Bashir