- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

The Washington Capitals came close to letting the trading deadline slip past yesterday without participating, then grabbed Chicago's Sergei Berezin, a smallish left wing who has 18 goals and 31 points this season, his seventh in the NHL.

In return, Washington gave the Blackhawks a fourth-round pick in the 2004 amateur draft.

What the Caps did not do was acquire a rugged veteran defensemen, which most observers feel is the club's most pressing need heading into the playoffs.

"We had interest but the price was too high in a lot of respects, either in what people were asking in return or what you had to eat in the contract," said general manager George McPhee.

But some of the Eastern Conference teams the Caps might have to face in the postseason did bulk up on defense. Boston improved the most, adding tough Dan McGillis from San Jose and Ian Moran from Pittsburgh; Tampa Bay picked up Marc Bergevin from the Penguins and the New York Islanders brought in Janne Niinimaa from Edmonton.

The trading deadline ended at 3 p.m. EST yesterday with 24 trades involving 46 players, both one-day records. Since the 30 teams got serious about swapping players last Wednesday, 29 of 30 clubs (only Atlanta abstained) were involved.

It was a seller's market, with some teams Pittsburgh, Buffalo and San Jose the leaders conducting fire sales to drastically reduce payroll to either avoid or escape bankruptcy. And veteran defensemen were the most coveted.

Los Angeles made a last-minute deal with defenseman Aaron Miller for $14 million over three years, making veteran Mathieu Schneider expendable. Detroit, traditionally one of the league's big spenders, sent center Sean Avery, defenseman Maxim Kuznetsov, a first-round pick this season and a second next season for Schneider, now in his 15th season.

Those prices apparently were out of the Caps' range. If money wasn't the problem, personnel was teams were demanding promising youngsters such as goalie Maxime Ouellet, center Brian Sutherby and defenseman Nolan Yonkman. The Caps refused to part with them.

If nothing else, the acquisition of Berezin might come at an ideal time for the Caps. Jaromir Jagr is out with a hand injury and left wing Kip Miller, who has made a living passing the puck to Jagr, is out with a bruised hand, taking away two-thirds of the first line.

"[Berezin] can play anywhere in the lineup," McPhee said. "He adds depth to our forward group. He's a good penalty killer, can play on the power play, gives us speed. And with Kip and Jags banged up, it's nice to have him right now."

Both Miller and Jagr skated yesterday. Miller, out since Feb. 22, still did not appear able to shoot using his forehand, therefore is also not much of a setup man for Jagr. He said he would like to play Friday against Los Angeles but wasn't certain.

Neither was Jagr. He skated wind sprints but did not touch a puck during his 30 minutes on the ice.

"I was skating to stay in shape so that when everything heals I'd be ready to play right away," he said. "We don't have a game until Friday so it's not worth doing anything more than just skating."

Missing completely from yesterday's optional skate was defenseman Brendan Witt, who left in the second period of Monday night's 2-1 victory over Philadelphia after being crosschecked by Keith Primeau. He has sore ribs, a source said, and it does not appear likely he will be available this weekend.

On a positive note, McPhee said Yonkman, who has surgery to repair a broken orbital bone Monday, might be available in four weeks, half the time originally thought.

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