- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Ten Washington Capitals returned signed qualifying offers by yesterday’s deadline, giving the team a roster of 33 players, with the status of at least four others uncertain.

Those agreeing to undisclosed terms include centers Jeff Halpern, Brian Sutherby and Graham Mink; right wings Stephen Peat and Brian Willsie; defensemen Brendan Witt, Steve Eminger, Shaone Morrisonn and Nolan Yonkman; and goaltender Maxime Ouellet.

Defenseman Josef Boumedienne, who was tendered a qualifying offer, apparently did not return it, and his status is unclear. The same is true for center-right wing Dainius Zubrus, who did not return the offer he was tendered a year ago and may opt to play in the Russian Super League again this season.

Two players the Caps recently acquired via trades also have not been signed — right wing Chris Clark, obtained from Calgary, and defenseman Bryan Muir, acquired from Los Angeles. Both were believed to have received qualifying offers from their previous clubs.

Also listed on the roster posted on the Caps’ Web site is left wing Alexander Ovechkin, who has come to terms with the team on a three-year contract. But the 19-year-old is still in his native Russia and has not signed the deal. He is scheduled to make $1.3million in salary and rookie bonus this season; another $2.7million in salary cap space has been reserved for possible incentives.

While training camp doesn’t open for another month, troublesome holes seem to be present on the roster. For instance, if Zubrus elects to remain in Russia, the team needs to find a leading candidate to center the first line, which should include Ovechkin and wing Alexander Semin.

A larger question mark hangs over the defense. If — or perhaps when — Witt is granted his wish and is traded, nobody on the roster would have an appreciable amount of NHL experience. The Caps could demand an experienced defender in return, but the team is finding good ones are more valuable than first-line centers and are not available.

Witt, Halpern, Zubrus and goalie Olie Kolzig are the only veteran Caps still with the team after its salary dump of 2003-04.

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