- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Cassidy said he couldn't help but be happy.

"I just picked up 12½ feet of hockey player weighing nearly 500 pounds. Of course I'm happy," he said yesterday afternoon.

The Caps submitted their final roster to the league yesterday, 23 names whittled down from the 60-plus who were in training camp and a few others who weren't. It's the two who weren't that were the pleasant surprises.

Washington re-signed center Dainius Zubrus to a two-year deal yesterday, paying him $1.4million this season and $1.5million next season. He made $1million last year.

The arrival of Zubrus caused some roster shuffling, and the expected arrival today of right wing Mike Grier acquired Monday in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers caused even more. Add to that the re-emergence of center Jeff Halpern, coming off a groin injury, and a month of finding chemistry within the lines may have gone down the tubes.

"No, because Zubrus has played with Jaromir Jagr and Chris Simon before," Cassidy retorted. "But as far as shuffling the other two lines, I haven't been able to use Halpern anyway, so Steve Konowalchuk has been with different people and Peter Bondra and Robert Lang have been together since Day 1. Now I'm just trying to find a wing. So I don't consider it a setback at all."

Washington got down to the 23-player limit by retaining 13 forwards, two goalies and eight defensemen.

Veteran goalie Craig Billington, who cleared during the waiver draft last Friday, was assigned to Portland of the American Hockey League, the first time he has been in the minors in 13 years. His demotion wasn't as much about money he makes $868,000 no matter where he plays as it was the club's apparent desire not to expose rookie Sebastien Charpentier to waivers.

Washington made room for veteran defenseman Sylvain Cote to round out the eight blue liners, with Rick Berry grabbing the other spare spot.

Also assigned to Portland were forwards Colin Forbes, Brian Sutherby and Ivan Ciernik and defenseman Todd Rohloff. Rohloff got caught in a numbers crunch, and Ciernik got bumped by Grier. Sutherby, a rookie long projected to open the season with the Caps, was outplayed by Glen Metropolit, who had an excellent camp.

"I think Charpy's a better goaltender than he's showed," Cassidy said, referring to the rookie's goals-against average of 4.32 and a poor save percentage of .846. "He's here as much for what he's done in the past as he is for the expectations we have for him, not for what he did in camp."

Cassidy said he felt pressure on the three youngsters who were projected to make it this fall Charpentier, Sutherby and defenseman Nolan Yonkman (who was demoted Sunday) caused the downfall of the two skaters and prevented the goalie from showing his best. Charpentier will back up Olie Kolzig, who had a GAA of 1.64 and a save percentage of .943.

As for the 12½ feet of hockey player, Cassidy was referring to Zubrus (6-foot-4, 225) and Grier (6-1, 230). Zubrus signed his contract yesterday after holding out all of training camp. Center Andrei Nikolishin is still holding out.

With Zubrus centering Simon and Jagr on the first line, Cassidy now has a top unit that averages 6-33/4 and 232 pounds.

Zubrus bumped Kip Miller from center down to right wing on the second line with Lang and Bondra, while Halpern takes over the third line with Grier on the right side and Konowalchuk on the left. The fourth line will include, at various times, Matt Pettinger, Metropolit, Stephen Peat and Mike Farrell.

Cassidy indicated he might not use the fourth line all that much as a unit, instead using its individuals to spell others or for specific assignments. Zubrus and Halpern, who missed all or most of training camp, are among those who might need a break every now and then.

"They're probably a little bit behind, and that's OK," Cassidy said. "I'd rather have them in the lineup and playing than not involved at all. We'll see as we go along with those two. I'm not sure what they can give; they may not miss a beat."

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