- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

The Washington Capitals dropped the ax hard yesterday and reduced their roster by one-third. Twenty-nine healthy players remain in camp, with the team required to reach the roster limit of 23 by opening day on Oct. 11.
Three rookies survived yesterday's 15-player cut: defenseman Steve Eminger, right wing Boyd Gordon, both drafted last June, and center Brian Sutherby, drafted two years ago. Sutherby played seven games with the Caps last fall before returning to his junior team in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Some of the players who did not make it might have hurt themselves by what seems like a strange sense of complacency gripping this Caps camp. Apparently, some players did not believe there was a lot of competition for jobs or did not take it seriously, opening the door for others.
But coach Bruce Cassidy told the players as camp started that he wanted to take a good look at everybody available, including those who had experienced long stints in the minors, and open camp to everybody. He kept his promise 11 of the survivors played at least part of last season in the minors plus the three rookies who spent all or almost all of last season in junior hockey.
Cassidy also told the players after the first period of Saturday's exhibition game, in which the Caps fell behind 4-0 before eventually losing 6-3 to Pittsburgh, that jobs were on the line and that players needed to get their acts together. Apparently, not everybody took him seriously.
There are 29 players currently on the roster not including holdouts Andrei Nikolishin and Dainius Zubrus, neither of whom made the trip to Dallas yesterday with the team. There are 16 forwards, 10 defensemen and three goalies, but two of the players, defenseman Calle Johansson and center Jeff Halpern, have yet to play in any preseason games. They are rehabilitating after surgery last season.
General manager George McPhee said he does not agree with the premise that the club needs to be bolstered defensively, but the longer Zubrus and Nikolishin remain holdouts, the closer the time comes to a likely trade involving one or perhaps both forwards. The team is fairly deep at forward but lacks good experienced depth on defense.
"I don't agree [the team is thin] if we're healthy," McPhee said yesterday. "We've played some guys we knew wouldn't make the team but we wanted to take a good look at them so we'd know what to expect if we had to call somebody up in case of an injury. We don't have set combinations yet but as a group of seven guys, they're all capable."
The person taking the biggest hit Saturday night might have been goalie Craig Billington, Olie Kolzig's backup for the past two seasons. He played 25 minutes and was charged with six goals although he certainly could have sued for non-support. However, it appeared at least half the six were stoppable. Rookie Rastislav Stana played the rest of the way and was not scored upon.
Billington is locked in a tight battle for the backup job with Sebastien Charpentier, and Saturday's poor performance may have moved the latter ahead in the competition. Maxime Ouellet, obtained in a trade with Philadelphia, was one of the players cut yesterday and may be teamed with Stana in Portland.
"We'll make that decision in two weeks," McPhee said. "This is what preseason is for, to let guys play and see how they do."
Sutherby, a hard-nosed defensive specialist who is honing his offensive talents, was preordained for months; it was thought a season in the American Hockey League would not do him much good. He will center the fourth line while earning his NHL stripes.
Eminger has impressed management with his ability to handle the puck in tight situations. Gordon is a good two-way player who, like Eminger, is a very good skater.

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