- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 14, 2002

One area where the Washington Capitals did not think they were going to have trouble this season was depth at the three forward positions. That may not be the case.
Andrei Nikolishin, the only natural center playing his position at the end of last season, and Dainius Zubrus, who had career highs in goals (17) and assists (43), are holding out. There do not appear to be any ongoing discussions between the agents for the players and the team.
Normally, the two would simply wait each other out, the sides nudging their offers up or down until a settlement was reached. But this does not appear to be a normal season; it seems as if the club is in a hurry to get things moving. In other words, there does not appear to be any room for distractions with a new coach in the building still trying to assess individual pluses and minuses.
To reach that end, the possibility of trades involving one or both players would appear logical if the holdouts become long term. Training camp this season seems to be built around getting things done as quickly as possible so the club is fully prepared for the season opener.
Nikolishin made $1.2million last season and did not accept a 10 percent qualifying offer made to bind him to the team. He is thought to be asking $1.8million. Zubrus made $1million last season but finished it centering the first line. He also did not accept a 10 percent qualifying offer and is thought to be asking about the same as Nikolishin.
The Caps now have to shuffle personnel to fill holes. Yesterday Kip Miller, normally a wing, centered Chris Simon and Jaromir Jagr, while Robert Lang worked between Mike Farrell and Peter Bondra.
That would indicate there are plans for a top center to materialize, either the return of Zubrus or a replacement through a trade. Otherwise, Lang, the most talented offensive center on the roster, might have worked with Jagr and Simon yesterday.
Management has been hoping this is the year that Brian Sutherby moves from juniors straight to the big team, skipping a stop in the minors. If that is the case, he would probably start as the fourth-line pivot.
That would leave three people battling for one, possibly two jobs in the middle. Jeff Halpern returned after extensive knee surgery and had his first contact since mid-January; Glen Metropolit has shown he can be a valuable utility forward; and Trent Whitfield has played center for the Caps in the past. Colin Forbes, pressed into service as a center last season, is back at wing.
Miller played for coach Butch Cassidy before and played with him when both were with Indianapolis in the International League. Another thing, he has experience playing with both Jagr and Lang in Pittsburgh and will need less time to adjust to them. However, at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, he rarely has played center in the NHL.
Notes
Owen Fussey, a left-handed-shooting right wing, signed a three-year deal with the Caps. The timing is significant because the Caps normally do not sign prospects until they are on the verge of turning pro. Fussey, 19, was drafted a year ago as the Caps' second pick. Although he scored 43 goals and 70 points for Calgary in the Western League last season, he is viewed more as a checking forward than a frontline prospect. Also signed was defenseman Jason Doig to a one-year deal. He played for Cassidy last season in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Practices and scrimmages are scheduled today 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Parking was at a premium yesterday with Piney Orchard packed to overflowing. The first major cut will come tomorrow when the 60-odd man roster is trimmed by about one-third with mostly junior players returned to their teams.


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