- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

Several personnel developments yesterday for the Washington Capitals probably will change the face of the team this season.
Specifically:
A source familiar with contract talks said the team was fairly close to signing holdout defenseman Sergei Gonchar and that the impasse could end shortly.
Another source said talks between the club and holdout Chris Simon were miles apart and there was the possibility the left wing could sit out this season.
Talks surrounding the impending trade of right wing Peter Bondra are heating up, and a deal could well be finalized by the season opener a week from tonight.
The Caps signed rookie defenseman Jakub Cutta to a three-year entry level contract, meaning in all probability that two veteran defensemen will be moved.
The Gonchar and Cutta developments would leave the Caps with 11 defensemen on the roster, at least four more than the club plans to carry at any time. Two Rob Zettler and Remi Royer are depth players headed for assignment in Portland, Maine, leaving the team with at least two more to trim.
One is assumed to be Dmitri Mironov because he is scheduled to make $3 million this season, more than most observers feel he is worth. A second, short-term solution might be to place a player on injured reserve, and veteran Sylvain Cote, who has been ailing most of camp, might fit that bill.
Gonchar is in his third holdout since joining the team six seasons ago. The club has been trying to get him to sign a longer contract, and a four-year deal is nearing reality that would pay him an average of about $3.2 million a year. He made $1.8 million last season while scoring 18 goals.
The two sides were very close to an agreement within the past several days until the Gonchar side came back with an altered version of the contract, it has been learned. The higher asking price was not significant but the principle is, a source said. There has been no movement since that situation arose.
Simon had a breakthrough season last year, reaching career highs in all offensive categories and leading the team with 29 goals, all while enjoying his first season of relatively good health since turning pro nine years ago. Simon, who made $1.32 million last season, wants to be paid for his breakthrough season; the Caps want him to prove he can make it a habit while staying healthy.
How much is being asked and offered differ according to which rumor is currently in circulation. Union sources say the wing is asking $2.3 million in his first year while management sources the asking price is more than $3 million. Simon reportedly wants a four-year deal; management is offering less.
No matter what the actual figures are, a source yesterday said the two sides are very, very far apart and the team "will survive" without his input if there is no compromise. The last time Simon was in a situation like this he was holding out in Colorado and ended up in Washington, getting what he was asking for.
"Discussions have been better lately, and at the right time when the deal makes sense for us, we'll do the deal," general manager George McPhee said of the Bondra situation. It is believed trades have been proposed to McPhee that do not offer enough in return for a 31-year-old with the potential to score 30-plus goals, and he is waiting for the right offer.
Signing Cutta is significant because it is McPhee's policy not to sign players with junior eligibility remaining unless they can play at the NHL level. Cutta, picked 31st overall in last June's draft, has played with amazing composure for a 19-year-old since the first day of camp.
"He's a very mobile, strong and skilled player," McPhee said. "The only issue with him is whether he's experienced enough, but we're very pleased with what we've seen. We're pretty close to deciding he's prepared to start [the season in Washington instead of Swift Current, Saskatchewan]."
The rookie who appears to have the best chance of cracking the roster is defenseman Mike Farrell, who spent last season at Providence College. If he and Cutta both make it, two veterans will have to be moved to bring the roster in at league limits.

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