- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

The Washington Capitals extended qualifying offers to 14 players yesterday but turned 11 others loose, making them unrestricted free agents.

The moves do not provide a major cut in last season’s $50.4 million salary, but three players who spent a considerable amount of time with the team last season — left wings Ivan Ciernik and Josh Green and defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski — were among those not receiving offers.

Neither do the moves represent the quick-fix payroll reduction the team has sought. Washington has been attempting to deal right wing Jaromir Jagr and his $11 million annual salary but has found no takers.

Washington’s primary suitor had been the New York Rangers, the only organization thought capable of swallowing the Jagr package, worth between $56 million and $66 million. But even the cash-happy Rangers said that was too much, asking the Caps to take on Eric Lindros’ contract (as much as $9.3 million) and maybe Pavel Bure’s ($10 million with an option). There was plenty of talk but no deal.

Yesterday the Rangers made some room in their salary structure, but whether it was for Jagr was not immediately clear. They sent defenseman Brian Leetch, the cornerstone of the team since he joined the club 16 seasons ago, to Edmonton. The defenseman made $9.7 million last season but played only 51 games because of injuries.

A Washington spokesman said yesterday there was nothing new about Jagr and declined further comment.

Qualifying offers guarantee a club continues to control the players’ rights but must contain a salary increase of 10 percent over last season. Those receiving qualifying offers remain restricted free agents, meaning they can accept offer sheets from other teams, but the club that owns their rights has the right to match the offers.

Simply because a player does not receive a qualifying offer doesn’t mean he won’t be back with that club. Often these maneuvers are used to force a player to accept a lesser offer than the one in his contract.

That Kwiatkowski became a free agent was considered a surprise. He played 54 games last season, including 34 with the Caps after he was obtained from Ottawa in a trade. He was paired with Jason Doig and was averaging a respectable 15:32 minutes a game at the end of the season. But he was prone to mistakes, often leaving his man open with bad results.

Still, the move was a bit of a surprise because Washington has few veteran defensemen. Unrestricted free agent Calle Johansson, who played more Caps games than any other player, decided to move on after openly disagreeing with coach Bruce Cassidy’s philosophy. And veteran Ken Klee, Sergei Gonchar’s partner last season, is an unrestricted free agent for the first time. He and the team are not close on a new contract.

“The Washington Capitals did not offer me a contract,” Klee said yesterday. “They made zero offers. As of midnight [last night] I’m a free agent. I’m going into this with an open mind; I know I can bring a lot to teams that are interested.”

Besides Gonchar, the only proven returning veteran on defense is Brendan Witt. Doig is expected to be one of the top four this season, but after that there is little experience. J.F. Fortin returns, as do Rick Berry and Josef Boumedienne. Plus, there’s Nolan Yonkman and Jakub Cutta from the minor league team in Portland, Maine, and Steve Eminger, who split time between the Caps and junior hockey.

Those not receiving offers include the Ferraro twins, Chris and Peter; forward Colin Forbes; and defenseman Todd Rohloff. The twins, while speaking highly of the organization, were looking for a better shot with another team. Likewise, Forbes thought he could do better elsewhere, while center Glen Metropolit, who played 103 games over four seasons with the Caps with 10 goals and 47 points, has decided to try his luck in Finland.

Washington tendered an offer to Michael Nylander, obtained from Chicago, but did not extend one to unrestricted free agent Sergei Berezin, who also was obtained from the Blackhawks. It also extended an offer to right wing Mike Grier.

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