- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

OTTAWA — In a week all the questions will have been answered. But in the meantime, hockey’s hot stove league is in full swing, sending reluctant warriors packing to be replaced by saviors who often burn out in a week.

The Washington Capitals will be sellers in this market, continuing to restock a franchise that was torn apart when it suddenly changed direction, going from a high-stakes operator to one that opts for up-and-coming — albeit unproven — talent that also is inexpensive.

If the Caps were in the running to make a serious playoff run instead of being on the cusp of playoff elimination, they would be in perfect position to sweep some talent off the table. The Caps have at least $16 million of available salary cap room, and the cap will increase next season, growing at least $2 million to $41 million.

But the reality is that several Caps are available, most notably defenseman Brendan Witt, who makes $1.67 million and has asked for a trade. He likely will get his wish, probably to Nashville or Vancouver, with the latter site growing more probable by the day. Washington may end up only with draft picks, the least expensive commodity of all.

Also available is left wing Jeff Friesen, who has not been a good fit with the Caps while hampered with groin injuries for much of the season since being acquired from the New Jersey Devils. He is Washington’s most expensive forward at $2.28million.

Team captain Jeff Halpern also may change addresses. He is making $1.23 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent in July. But the team is going with inexpensive youth, and Halpern, 29, is not having a productive season with just four goals. He is the first locally grown Caps player, but as the yearlong lockout showed, hockey is a business, not an operation for sentimental types.

Backup goalie Brent Johnson also might be attractive to a team looking for an experienced short-term rental.

What do the Caps need? Perhaps they would want a Dave Semenko clone, somebody who can play the game a little bit and also can open paths for Alex Ovechkin simply by being dressed on the bench. Semenko — and later Marty McSorley — was the on-ice policeman who kept the game honest for Wayne Gretzky. Adding an enforcer also may help Caps general manager George McPhee acquire talented players to fill out the roster in the offseason.

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