- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

Washington lost out in free agency again.

The Capitals' initial effort to land a frontline center ended in disappointment when Pierre Turgeon signed a five-year contract with the Dallas Stars yesterday. The deal will pay the former St. Louis player $32.5 million over the length of the contract.

"We were right there," Washington general manager George McPhee said yesterday. The signing came on the first day of free agency.

"We had interest in Turgeon [yesterday]," McPhee said. "We called early [yesterday] morning and negotiated all day. The player had multiple choices, and in the end I believe there were three teams left standing and we were one of them. The player decided he

wanted to play in Dallas."

Turgeon is a 14-year veteran, and the Stars will be his fifth team. He led the Blues in scoring last season with 30 goals and 82 points during the regular season and also was their top producer in postseason with five goals and 15 points.

"It would have been nice if we could have landed a [Jeremy] Roenick or a Turgeon," McPhee said. "We were prepared to beat Roenick's deal and told the agent so, but he decided on another club. With Turgeon, we were right there. It wasn't a matter of money any more. Dallas was the place he wanted to play."

Roenick, who moved from Chicago to Phoenix in 1996, is scheduled to sign a contract with Philadelphia today for $37.5 million over five seasons. Reportedly the center had a similar deal worked out with another club and took it to the Flyers, telling that team he would play there if they would match it. They did.

The Caps were offering a deal that would have paid the one-time Fairfax resident nearly $2 million more, but he rejected it.

The Turgeon signing all but wipes out the list of quality first-line centers who were available through unrestricted free agency, a fact McPhee acknowledged yesterday. He may be forced to make a trade for a quality center, and that could involve some of the young potential stars the Caps have been trying to keep.

Another problem looms with team captain Adam Oates, who has been quoted as saying he never wanted to play for the Caps again after they exercised their option and put him under contact for another season. It would be difficult for the team to bring Oates back as a captain with those statements attributed to him, and the team may be forced to trade him, which is the solution he was seeking.

One deal has been suggested, a trade with Phoenix. The Coyotes offered a second-round draft pick for the 16-year veteran, who will be 39 next month. Phoenix apparently would like to acquire Oates and one of the center's former linemates, free agent Brett Hull. Oates had more than 100 points in two straight seasons when Hull was his linemate in St. Louis.

Moving Oates, however, would only complicate the Caps' problem. They have centers but none with Oates' skill at moving the puck and setting up teammates. That leaves the trade market.

"There are several phases to the summer," McPhee said when asked what comes next. "Free agency is just the first phase. Then you have teams that have to move contracts because of arbitration fears, players who have contract issues in August and September, and we can be involved in all that as well as continuing to talk to teams about trades."

The arbitration issue would seem to zero in on former Cap Jason Allison, now a restricted free agent with Boston, a team that has a history of hating arbitration. Allison has developed into one of the better centers in the league since he was dealt to the Bruins as a part of the deal that brought Oates to the Caps and now wants to cash in. He reportedly was going to ask for a deal paying $7 million annually but has jacked up that figure since seeing what young first-line centers were getting.

Boston also has to sign restricted free agent Bill Guerin this summer, and it was thought only one of the two would get big dollars. Which one gets super rich remains to be seen.

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