- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

Brendan Witt has gone through some hard times at the bargaining table and in front of salary arbitrators. Yesterday his luck finally changed.

The Washington Capitals announced last night that Witt had signed a three-year contract that will pay him $5 million, starting with $1.6 million this season. The defenseman negotiated his own deal, likely saving himself at least another $250,000 a pretty good start on his daughter's college tuition.

"Two 15-minute conversations and it was done," said Caps general manager George McPhee, obviously pleased that he now has nearly every veteran signed to deals of at least two years.

"It's always nice to sit directly across from a player and do a deal because you know exactly where they're coming from," McPhee said. "It was nice that we could do this as quickly as it was done."

Witt originally was little more than a tough guy with potential who needed a lot of polishing. The polishing has been done: He has developed into one of the league's top defenders, learning to control his temper but still lets opponents know that if pressed, he can and will revert to his unruly past.

"Brendan is becoming one of the leaders on this club, a very valuable player and we hope he spends 20 years with the Capitals," McPhee said.

McPhee said the new deal wasn't to make up for any of the contract problems Witt has had in the past but was offered because the defenseman deserved a bigger paycheck for earning the respect of teammates and opponents with his smart but tough play.

In fact, Witt's play has improved so much in the past few years that Tim Hunter, the club's defensive coach, was upset that his defender was not considered for the Canadian Olympic team.

"Brendan has shown he can play against the best players in the league," Hunter said. "We don't get a lot of attention here in Washington and Brendan is just coming into his own. He's a guy who was definitely overlooked and should have had the opportunity."

Witt, 26, has a history of troubled contract deals. It started shortly after the Caps drafted him 11th overall in 1993 out of Seattle of the Western Hockey League. As an 18-year-old rookie, he was well on his way to making the team in his first training camp when he suddenly disappeared, returning home to Humboldt, Saskatchewan, and then back to junior hockey on orders from his agent, Mark Hall of Edmonton.

The following year it was the same thing. Witt came to camp, impressed everybody but disappeared again, being pulled out of camp by Hall as he was on the verge of making the roster. Next Witt did not return to juniors; he sat out for a whole season.

David Poile, Washington's general manager at the time, described the negotiations as the toughest he had ever gone through. He said Hall refused to talk to him for the first year, in person or on the phone, preferring instead to carry on all negotiations via fax machine. There were no verbal discussions until two summers after Witt was drafted as his draft status came close to expiring, which would have allowed him to re-enter the draft pool.

A deal finally was worked out between Poile and Hall with literally seconds remaining before the Caps were to lose his rights then the fax machine Poile was using to message the league jammed. As time expired, Pat Young, Poile's administrative assistant, unjammed the machine and Witt was a Cap.

A year ago Hall, still Witt's agent, took the Caps to arbitration despite urging from the players' union not to do so. Witt lost his case badly, ended up losing money in the end and harbored hard feelings for months toward management. He since has dismissed Hall as his agent and decided to do his own bargaining.

Notes Intrasquad scrimmages tomorrow and Sunday will replace exhibition games that have been put on hold by Tuesday's terrorist strikes. Both scrimmages will be at 11 a.m. at Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton, Md., with practice one hour earlier on both days for players not involved in the later drills. The Caps had been scheduled to play Philadelphia at the MCI Center tomorrow night and Boston in Portland, Maine, on Sunday night.


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