Peter Bondra's departure yesterday from Washington followed those of fellow longtime Capitals Ken Klee and Steve Konowalchuk and probably won't be the last.
Goalie Olie Kolzig and defenseman Sergei Gonchar could be gone before the March9 trade deadline, especially in light of the likely lockout of players by NHL owners when the collective bargaining agreement expires Sept.15.
"We thought we had a playoff team, but we're deep into the season and we're in last place in our division, so we need to start to rebuild," Caps owner Ted Leonsis told WTEM-AM. "We need to get younger. I'm hopeful that it can work out, [but] there may not be a season next year.
"I think the league is going to look a lot different post the expiration of the CBA. Either you go for it and try to win the Stanley Cup [this spring] or you get some prospects and [draft] picks and some [payroll] flexibility. This is going to be painful, but it's necessary. Hopefully, we'll draft well and get the right kind of people [in trades] and get back quickly to being a playoff team."
Kolzig, Washington's No.1 goalie for seven years, turns 34 in April. The Caps' top pick in the 1989 draft understands that he probably won't be part of a renaissance of a franchise that was a Cup finalist in 1998 but hasn't won a playoff series since.
"When you have a high payroll and you don't perform, coaches are going to be fired [as Bruce Cassidy was Dec.[ThSp]10], and people are going to be traded," said Kolzig, who has become more attractive to such possible suitors as Colorado after allowing two goals in three starts since the All-Star break.
"That's the reality of sports," Kolzig said. "I would assume that if they're going to do a rebuilding process, they'll probably start with the goalie as well. Why not give [rookie goalies Maxime Ouellet and Rastislav Stana] the opportunity to play? I make a pretty hefty salary [a team-high $6.25[ThSp]million]. I've been here so long, I would like my career to end in Washington, but I'm not getting any younger."
Gonchar is four years younger and $2.65million cheaper than Kolzig. The NHL's top-scoring defenseman with 45 points, he remains a valuable asset despite a minus-21 defensive rating. The Russian recently celebrated his ninth anniversary in Washington and returned to the lineup Friday after missing three weeks with a separated left shoulder. He, Kolzig and defenseman Brendan Witt are the only players left from the 1998 Stanley Cup finalists.
"[A trade] can happen any day," Gonchar said. "Why would I think about it? The more you do that, it takes you out of your game. I'm just trying to enjoy every moment with my teammates and trying to do my best. I know they want to have a younger team, so they might get rid of older guys. That's part of the business. You would just have to accept it and go somewhere else."