- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2001

The Washington Capitals appear to be assembling a team designed and built to go deep into the playoffs.

General manager George McPhee is building a squad designed to do combat against large, physical opponents like Philadelphia and New Jersey teams the Caps eventually would have to get through to reach the Stanley Cup finals.

"The team continues to get bigger," McPhee acknowledged this week as two youngsters, 6-foot-5, 230-pound defenseman Nolan Yonkman, 20, and 6-7, 215-pound right wing Kyle Clark, 21, mixed it up in a corner during a training camp scrimmage. "It's not always about size, but we sure like to have it."

Size will be an asset against the Flyers and Devils for sure, but some teams rely more on finesse, which also has to be considered.

"You have to get by everybody in the playoffs, and we're looking for the best players we can get," McPhee said. "If they happen to have size, that's good, too, because the playoffs are not only a battle of talent but a battle of attrition. If you can keep your team healthy, obviously you stand a far better chance of going farther."

If a player has size and toughness and the versatility to be used successfully at several positions, he becomes all the more valuable, which is why Washington acquired 6-4, 215-pound forward Trevor Linden from Montreal at the trading deadline last season.

Linden's value can be best illustrated by the fact that two other teams screamed foul when the deal was announced, claiming that they were lied to about Linden's availability and didn't get a fair chance to bid.

"He can play in virtually every situation that comes up in a game," said McPhee, who was an assistant general manager in Vancouver in 1994 when Linden was captain of the Canucks, a team that lost the thrilling seven-game Stanley Cup finals to the New York Rangers.

"Trevor can play the power play, kill penalties, he can play well 5-on-5, he can play wing or center and can take important faceoffs," McPhee said. "He's a good veteran player that has played in a Stanley Cup final and has been captain of a couple teams [the Canucks and New York Islanders]. For all those reasons, we thought it only makes your team better when you add a player that talented and versatile."

But where to play him? Linden is too valuable to become a spare part but seems adaptable enough to switch sides from shift to shift.

"I think I make a better contribution at center, but it all depends on the shape the team takes," the 13-year veteran said. "Certainly, it depends on what's happening with our centers, and how we are looking on the right side will depend on where I play."

Coach Ron Wilson can't shed any more light on the matter because the Caps are only two days into training camp and where Linden plays is not of paramount importance.

"We have to see where everybody else sorts things out and where Trevor fits in," Wilson said. "Do we play Trevor at center, left wing or right wing? There's no timetable right now and won't be until we start playing exhibition games."

Financial considerations forced the Canucks to trade Linden to the Islanders in 1998 and he was sent to Montreal a year later, both hopeless NHL clubs trying to rebuild when he was there. Now he has a chance to get back deep in the playoffs after the Caps traded for him last March.

"I'm looking forward to playing for a team that is expected to not only make the playoffs but do well," he said. "On paper, we're good but we have to do the necessary things to become a good team. You have to become a good team before you worry about the playoffs, and that starts in October and November."

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