- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

DALLAS The Washington Capitals are shopping their two holdout forwards around the NHL, but prospective buyers are being scared away by what the players are asking.

Washington general manager George McPhee said yesterday that negotiations with agents for Andrei Nikolishin and Dainius Zubrus, centers who can play all three forward positions, "are going nowhere."

As a result, he has started fielding calls from other general managers, seeing what might be available on the trade front, but interest drops off as soon as they hear what the two players are asking, McPhee said.

Nikolishin made $1.25million last season and was offered the standard 10 percent qualifying offer to retain his rights. He is thought to be asking in excess of $1.7million.

Zubrus, a six-year veteran, made $1million last season and was thought to be asking about $1.8million. He bases his demand on the fact he ended the season as the first-line center, worked very well with Jaromir Jagr and posted career highs in goals (17) and points (43).

Sources say the Caps refuse to offer either player more than what Steve Konowalchuk makes $1.55million, slightly less than the league average as the stellar left wing on the checking line.

Nikolishin is a remarkably strong individual who two seasons ago played with abdominal muscle tears that were so severe that he could not practice yet he missed only one game. Last season, due to trades and injuries, he was the only natural center on the team playing that position as the campaign drew to a close.

At the moment, Kip Miller, a free agent who had been scheduled to play wing, is centering the first line. Robert Lang is in the middle of the second unit and Jeff Halpern, when he recovers from a groin injury, will center the third. Rookie Brian Sutherby anchors the fourth line.

The original plan was to have Miller and Nikolishin on wing with Nikolishin ready to fill in whenever a center was needed. Veteran minor leaguer Chris Ferraro so far has filled the role of the spare.

The Caps also are negotiating with rookie right wing Boyd Gordon, an indication that his stock has risen. The Caps do not like to sign youngsters until it appears they are ready to make the jump to the NHL. The club also has to sign defenseman Steve Eminger, the 10th pick overall in the June draft, who has had an impressive camp.

What the Caps are asking in return for Nikolishin, Zubrus or both is not clear. But an experienced center with offensive tendencies would seem logical since a trade would drastically reduce the Caps' depth at center.

On the other hand, many feel the team's biggest concern should be defense especially if Calle Johansson, recovering from extensive rotator cuff surgery, isn't ready by the season opener. A full year for recovery was mapped out when he had the operation and the first anniversary won't be until early November.

What the Caps might do is try a package deal, with one or more players and a high draft pick as bait for an experienced defenseman or center.

Notes The club practices today at American Airlines Arena in Dallas and coach Bruce Cassidy said the drills will be more intense than those in the past. Washington, winless in three preseason games so far, plays the Dallas Stars tomorrow night and then heads to Carolina to face the Hurricanes on Saturday. Attempts to get the team to bond continued yesterday, concluding with a team dinner last night.

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