- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2000

Now that Chris Simon's contract is out of the way, there's only one thing left for George McPhee to do: trade Peter Bondra. The sooner the better.

Unfortunately for the Capitals' general manager, this is easier said than done. It takes two teams to make a trade sometimes more and so far McPhee hasn't received any offers to his liking. Everybody, it seems, is trying to get Bondra on the cheap. Also, Bonzai has some say in the matter. He wants to sign a new, long-term deal with whatever club he goes to. That was one of the sticking points in discussions with Montreal over the summer.

It's an awkward situation, to say the least. Bondra wants out, the Caps are willing to oblige him and yet he continues to play for them. Heck, he's the leading goal-scorer on the team, with five in the first eight games.

"Unique," McPhee calls it.

Yeah, you could say that.

Still, you wonder about the club's esprit de corps. The players are handling it all very professionally, but Ron Wilson talked yesterday about "a cloud that's been hanging around" meaning the unresolved Bondra issue. That's one of the reasons he was so happy to have Simon back with the team.

"It helps our chemistry," he said. "[His return] just brings a little more harmony to the locker room. We were a little off-key."

Which is why it behooves McPhee to find a new home for Bondra fast. With Simon, the Capitals' top goal-scorer last season, back in uniform, there's less need to keep Peter around. So why not unload him now and let the Caps get on with their lives?

Actually, McPhee says, Simon's absence had nothing to do with the club's hanging on to Bondra. The Caps GM insists he has been willing to trade Bonzai yesterday, today or any day; he just wants a decent return for the two-time 50-goal scorer. The problem is, he doesn't have much leverage; Peter can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. So the team has to trade him if it doesn't want to come away empty-handed.

That drives his price down. Seriously, what can McPhee expect to get for Bondra 50 cents on the dollar? He's probably hoping a club will get desperate enough to offer him more a young player or two with potential, perhaps, or at least a No. 1 draft pick. The Capitals don't have much youth on their roster, especially after sending Kris Beech and Jakub Cutta back to their junior teams. In fact, they're pretty much the same club they were a year ago. This might explain their sluggish 1-3-3-1 start. There just wasn't that much competition for jobs in training camp.

Bondra has done the Caps and himself, no doubt a big favor by coming out flying this season. Obviously, he can still put the puck in the net, and that should make him more marketable.

"He's been the perfect gentleman about all this," says McPhee, ever the diplomat. "He's working hard, and I'm sure things will work out well for him."

Bondra explains his renaissance this way: "I owed something to myself and the team after last year. It was a disappointing season; I had a couple of injuries. This year I came ready to play, and so far knock wood I've been healthy. I just feel a lot better than last year.

"I'm not asking to be traded because I'm upset or anything like that. It's just a business decision. I don't know what else to tell you. But I can promise you I'll play hard for as long as I'm here and whatever happens happens."

For the Capitals' sake, let's hope something happens quickly if only to stir things up a little. They don't want to dig themselves a hole like they did last season. They aren't likely to go 32-10-7-1 again after Christmas.

"I can't tell you if [a trade is] going to happen next week or next month," McPhee says. "All I can tell you is that we're going to continue talking [to clubs]."

When a team trades a scorer like Bondra, the tendency is to send him as far away as possible e.g. the Western Conference so he doesn't have much opportunity to terrorize his old club. If I were McPhee, though, I wouldn't worry about that. I would concern myself only with making the best possible deal. If the Flyers offered the most, I would trade with them. If Carolina, a team in the Capitals' own division, offered the most, I would even trade with them.

This is no time to be conventional. The Caps need bodies bodies they might be able to win with in the future. What Peter Bondra might do to them four or five times a year is small potatoes compared to that.

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