- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

TAMPA, Fla. For the second time this season, the Washington Capitals have claimed a player off waivers to bolster their defensive corps. Washington yesterday claimed Alex Henry from Edmonton when the Oilers tried to assign the defenseman to Hamilton, Ontario, in the American League.

It was unclear last night when Henry would join the Caps, but most likely not before the team reaches Pittsburgh on Sunday. It is anticipated Henry will have problems clearing immigration, as is the case with most players entering from foreign countries since September11.

The Caps claimed Rick Berry off waivers from Pittsburgh during the waiver draft just before the season started, and he is still with the team. The addition of Henry will give Washington a roster of 24, one more than the league allows, but the team doesn't have to make a move until the 23-year-old reports. Who goes and how he goes is open to speculation.

"Anything's possible," general manager George McPhee said last night when asked if the team might keep nine defensemen on the roster and send a forward to its minor league affiliate in Portland, Maine.

Washington's brigate of defensemen includes 18-year-old rookie Steve Eminger, who has played in four games, and 36-year-old Sylvain Cote, who has yet to play in one.

Eminger received a vote of confidence as recently as yesterday from McPhee, and the team would like to keep Cote around for insurance as a proven veteran capable of jumping right in should there be an injury.

But some view the fact that there have been eight defensemen with the team all season, one more than normal, as an indication that there is at least some uncertainty about the makeup of the blue line personnel. Adding another player to that mix increases the speculation.

"We have Brendan Witt, Calle Johansson, Sergei Gonchar they're there every night," said coach Bruce Cassidy yesterday. "J.F. Fortin has struggled a bit, but we like what he's brought so far. Ken Klee, I sat him out one game because I expect more. I like Rick Berry, but I like competition [for playing time].

"But, no, I guess we're not satisfied with the makeup of the group if we continue to add to it. But I guess it doesn't mean we're not satisfied. It just means there's some guys out there who could help us [and] we might as well get a look at them."

Cassidy so far has shown a remarkable ability to change the makeup of his lines almost on whim. He quickly decides as a game is getting started who is having a good night and who is so-so and rearranges the furniture to give the hot players more ice time, spotting the others where and when needed. The fourth line as a unit rarely surfaces.

Cassidy said it is distinctly possible he may start dressing seven defensemen for games to be able to use one or two of the defensemen as specialists.

Henry is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and reportedly not a great skater. But with that size, if he can keep the opposition away from the front of the net and do some pounding along the walls, he will earn his keep.

"The scouts like what they've seen, and they indicate he has made improvements this season," McPhee said. Henry was drafted by Edmonton in 1998, the 67th pick overall, and made his NHL debut this season playing in three games with the Oilers.

"This is a young guy we thought could fill a need that we've identified since the start of the year, a big guy that maybe could go in and out of our lineup when we need that type of player," Cassidy said.

That said, it might be that one of the younger forwards, possibly Mike Farrell or Stephen Peat, both right wings, would be farmed out. With the addition of Henry and with known pugilists like Berry and Chris Simon on the roster, how many enforcers does one team need?

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