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Poti, Kozlov decide to sign with Capitals

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2007

With an assist from his captain, Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee landed a veteran defenseman who can quarterback the power play. McPhee also might have found Alex Ovechkin's new best friend.

The Caps signed defenseman Tom Poti to a four-year contract reportedly worth $14 million and center/right wing Viktor Kozlov to a two-year deal worth a reported $5 million on the first day unrestricted free agents were allowed to talk with other teams.

Both played for the New York Islanders this past season. Kozlov, a 32-year old from Togliatti, Russia, had 51 points — including a career-high 25 goals — last season. He has 169 goals and 442 points in 12 NHL seasons.

Kozlov, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, likely will play on the first line for the Caps and has previous experience playing with Ovechkin. They spent some time on a line together for the Russian national team during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

"The nice thing about Kozlov is that he is versatile, and Alex has spoken very highly of him," McPhee said. "He's coming off one of the best years of his career, and he's also pretty darn good in the shootout."

Poti, listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, had six goals and 38 assists last season. All of the goals and 26 of his assists came with the man advantage. He had signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract to join the Islanders before the season.

Poti said he received a call from Caps captain Chris Clark about 30 or 40 minutes before he agreed to the deal. A Worcester, Mass., native, Poti said he had played against Clark since they were 8 or 9 years old and has worked out with him in the past.

"They were the first team to call at 12:01," Poti said. "They were very excited to talk with me. Chris Clark called me to tell me about the Capitals organization and what to expect. ... I had four or five legitimate offers."

The 30-year old Poti was 11th in the league in ice time, averaging 25:42 a game. He joins a defense corps that, besides Brian Pothier, also 30, skewed young toward the end of last season. The Caps also added 29-year old Josef Boumedienne, who has played in Europe since the lockout, earlier this offseason.

"I have played with some guys like Brian Leetch in my career, and I learned a lot from them," Poti said. "I think I kind of fit that role model type of guy. I helped out a lot of the younger guys with the Islanders last year."

Washington yielded 286 goals last season, third worst in the league. The Caps also struggled on the power play, scoring on 16.4 percent of their chances, 24th overall. Of the team's 67 power play goals, only four from came from defensemen (two each from Pothier and Jamie Heward). It was clear the unit often lacked a leader to organize the attack from the blue line.

"Our scouting staff felt [Poti] had the best year of his career last year," McPhee said. "And they felt like he's really coming into his own. He's really good at moving the puck. We needed a little bit more skill to help on the special teams. ... You have to have guys who can move the puck. We have some pretty talented forwards, but if you're always firing the puck off the glass they aren't as effective as when you can hit them with passes."