The Washington Capitals made their biggest move of the offseason on Monday when they acquired left wing Jeff Friesen, a proven scorer and one of the game's fastest skaters, from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a conditional draft pick.
Friesen, 29, immediately becomes one of the rebuilding Capitals' best players, and will be the team's highest-paid forward. The five-time 20-goal scorer is due to earn $2.28 million this season.
"Jeff has all of the ingredients of the type of player we are looking for," Capitals General Manager George McPhee said Monday night. "He brings elite speed, some valuable championship experience and is a powerful skater who goes to the net."
Friesen was expected to arrive in Hershey late Monday night and practice with the team on Tuesday, McPhee said.
The Devils made the move primarily for economic reasons; their payroll exceeds the NHL's $39 million salary cap. The Capitals, meantime, are far beneath the ceiling and had been on the lookout for a quality player who might get squeezed by the league's new economic system.
Friesen, a 10-year veteran who played for San Jose and Anaheim before the joining the Devils in 2002, will take the roster spot of highly touted prospect Alexander Semin, who has failed to honor his Capitals' contract for the second time in a year.
Semin, also a left wing, was expected to join the Capitals during training camp but continues to play for his Russian Super League team, Lada Togliatti. The 21-year-old was suspended by McPhee last September when he refused to report to the Capitals' minor league affiliate during the NHL lockout.
The Capitals are mulling over legal options with regard to Semin, who is not expected to join them anytime soon. Meantime, the status of another training camp no-show, forward Petr Sykora, also remains unclear now that his Czech Republic Extraleague team, Pardubice, has refused to release him to Washington and is threatening to take legal action against the player.
"Getting Jeff was a move we may have made anyway," McPhee said. "It doesn't close the door on Semin or Sykora, but we're not going to just sit here and wait for them, either. We are going to cover our bases."
Acquiring Friesen for a draft pick in 2006 amounts to more than covering bases, it's a steal. And it comes at a very good time for Washington, which has only one win in five exhibition games, scored only seven goals and attracted fewer than 5,000 fans to its only preseason contest at MCI Center.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Saskatchewan native has 208 goals and 285 assists in 770 NHL games. His best season came in 1997-98, when he scored 31 goals and tallied 32 assists for San Jose, the team that selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 1994 entry draft.
He had a disappointing season by his standards for the Devils in 2003-04, when the streaky winger recorded 17 goals and 20 assists. The previous year, Friesen helped the Devils capture the Stanley Cup with 10 goals and four assists in 24 playoff games. His memorable playoff performance followed a regular season in which he amassed 23 goals and 28 assists.
Attempts to reach Friesen through his agent were unsuccessful last night.