- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Washington Capitals yesterday traded left wing Steve Konowalchuk and a draft pick to Colorado for left wing Bates Battaglia and the rights to the Avalanche’s first-round pick in the 2002 draft, Swedish wing Jonas Johansson, now playing junior hockey for Kamloops, British Columbia, in the Western Hockey League.

There appears to be two keys to the deal. The first and most paramount is financial. In swapping Konowalchuk for Battaglia, the cash-conscious Caps save $640,000 and perhaps send a message to the rest of the league that possibly any player on the roster is available if the price is right.

The second key is Johansson, who appears to be a promising forward.

It is the second time in four seasons the Caps have traded their captain to Colorado. In March 1999, Washington sent Dale Hunter to the Avalanche so the long-time captain could try to win a Stanley Cup with a team that seemed headed in that direction. The Avalanche didn’t make it.

“If I had to pick one team,” Konowalchuk said from Ottawa, where he flew with the Caps before learning of the trade. “I told [general manager] George McPhee if he had to trade me to do what he had to do, but I really, really thanked him for picking that team.”

The one time Washington made it to the finals, in 1998, Konowalchuk was out because of surgery on his left wrist, performed a day after the regular season ended. With the left wing in the lineup, the Caps might have done better than being swept by Detroit in the finals.

“That’s what a guy plays for, the Cup,” he said. “I’ve played my whole life for this opportunity. Still, it’s tough [being traded]. You’re in shock.”

The wing sold his house near the Caps’ practice rink in Odenton last summer in anticipation of a prolonged work stoppage next season.

Konowalchuk has been a fixture in a Caps uniform for 12 seasons, most recently on the left side of the checking line with Jeff Halpern at center. He scored 146 goals, had 342 points and was plus-62 defensively for Washington. Thirty-six of his goals were on special teams.

But Konowalchuk was far more than just another grinder. He was elected captain twice simply because of his outstanding work ethic, his never-say-die attitude, his tendency to continue to hammer away at bigger foes until he achieved what he set out to do.

“He’s never taken a shift off in the 12 years he’s been here,” said McPhee. “He’s been a real good leader for us, but he’s 31 and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. We had the opportunity to acquire a player who can step into our lineup now and is capable of being as productive as Kono.”

Konowalchuk was off to a poor start this season (no goals, one assist, minus-5 in six games) and Battaglia was in the same boat. He had one assist this season in four games and had been dropped from the second to the third lines. He was traded to Colorado from Carolina last March to work on the Joe Sakic line, but the two failed to click. He has one goal in 17 games for the Avalanche.

“I wish things had gone better in Colorado, but that’s behind me now,” Battaglia told the Denver Post. “Now I’m looking forward to going to Washington. Maybe going back to the Eastern Conference will help. They’ve got a good bunch of guys there.”

“We think he can play in Washington in two years,” McPhee said. “We certainly made ourselves stronger for the future.”

Johansson was one of the league leaders last season after 26 games with 10 goals and 35 points, but a broken ankle ended his season. This season he is 4-5-9 in 13 games for Kamloops.

Notes — Forward Brian Sutherby missed practice yesterday with a slight groin injury and is questionable for tonight’s game against Ottawa. … Defenseman John Gruden (groin) has taken the full practice two days in a row and will probably be taken off injured reserve so he can play tonight.

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