Whether Peter Bondra returns to the Washington Capitals apparently is up to Peter Bondra.
On the day the Caps announced the re-signing of potential first-line center Dainius Zubrus, general manager George McPhee confirmed he had made Bondra a contract offer.
“We made him an offer that could make him one of our highest-paid forwards,” McPhee said yesterday. “It would be a nice fit for him and a nice fit for us. Basically it’s up to Peter now to make a decision on where he wants to play.”
Through 13 seasons with Washington, Bondra worked his way through the offensive side of the team record book, eventually erasing the names at the top of virtually every list and substituting his own. He is just 16 games short of 1,000 for his NHL career and 23 goals shy of the magic 500 figure.
And the 37-year-old Slovakia native is maintaining contacts with his former teammates.
“He called me today to congratulate me on the contract,” Zubrus said. “He’s a good friend. We talked about the contract, but he didn’t say where he would play this season.”
Bondra became an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2003-04 season when Ottawa, the team the Caps traded him to as part of a salary purge, decided not to pick up his option. Several teams have expressed interest in the wing, but the primary candidates appear to be Atlanta and Washington.
McPhee refused to say how much he had offered Bondra, a long-time fan favorite, but did say it was nowhere near the staggering $7 million over two years the New Jersey Devils have committed to often-injured forward Alexander Mogilny, who is recovering from his second hip surgery since the 2003-04 season ended.
Meanwhile, Zubrus signed a two-year, $3.7 million deal.
“I’m pleased with the contract, and I’m very comfortable in Washington,” Zubrus said. “[Coach Glen Hanlon] called today to say he was happy I’m coming back. We talked about a lot of things, not especially about where I’m going to play and with whom. He knows I’m a flexible kind of guy; I can play a defensive role or an offensive one, depending on who we’re playing.”
Zubrus is a native of Lithuania who came to North America in the mid-1990s to play junior hockey. He was drafted in the first round by Philadelphia in 1996 but never blossomed into the high-scoring wing scouts predicted. Instead, he has been steady and physical but has a reputation of not being able to finish off excellent scoring chances. That and the fact he sees the ice well might have convinced coaches to use him at center instead of right wing.
“He’ll be one of our top centers,” McPhee said. “He’s an excellent two-way player who brings size [6-foot-4, 230] and speed and has become really good on faceoffs. And his ability to speak fluent Russian will really help with some of the younger guys.”
That would refer to left wings Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, both of whom remain in Russia. Ovechkin has agreed to a three-year contract, while Semin, who still is playing for Lada Togliatti in the Super League, is under contract but also under suspension for refusing to honor that deal last season.
“I know he wants to come back,” McPhee said of his wayward wing. “He’s under contract to the Washington Capitals, and we expect him to be here. If he’s not, there’s going to be some issues.”
Semin’s representatives said the wing couldn’t report last season because of a military commitment, which McPhee called “complete nonsense.”