- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

This is the dicey part.

Some years the final cuts are pretty routine, players making them for management through poor conditioning or sloppy play. Other times, such as now, the cuts come between players so close that management does a lot of hand wringing, wondering if the right decision has been made.

“It’s very close among several guys,” Washington Capitals coach Bruce Cassidy said yesterday, speaking of the defense. “That means some of the guys who were here last year are not going to start here this year.”

The same could be said up front, where there is an abundance of candidates for a limited number of jobs.

NHL teams have until 3p.m. today to reach the 23-player limit. The Caps had 28 players on the active roster as of yesterday, though two might end up on injured reserve — center Michael Nylander (broken leg) and right wing Alex Henry (concussion). Even so, that still leaves three players to separate from the main body.

“There are as many as seven different options we’ve looked at,” general manager George McPhee said yesterday. He acknowledged a trade was among the options but said it would not be of the blockbuster variety.

Last season Washington kept two goalies, eight defensemen and 13 forwards. That breakdown might change.

“Anything is possible,” Cassidy said when asked if he was considering keeping only one spare defender while carrying two extra forwards at least until that logjam clears. “We think we’ve got 26 capable players fighting for 23 spots and George is going to have to do a little stick handling in that regard.”

Three youngsters — centers Boyd Gordon and Brian Sutherby and right wing Alexander Semin — still can be sent down without being exposed to waivers but it is possible all three will make the main roster. Among defensemen, John Gruden cleared waivers Friday so the Caps could send him to Portland, Maine, without fear of losing the veteran.

Based on pairings at yesterday’s practice, it would seem the defensive cuts will come from among three who played here last season: Josef Boumedianne, Rick Berry or J.F. Fortin. But Boumedianne has a one-way contract, meaning he would make NHL money no matter where he plays, a costly move if he was sent down. The other two could be claimed if demoted.

Offensively, the injury to Nylander will leave line combinations unsettled for the time being while opening up a roster spot. Versatile Kip Miller is centering the first line temporarily while Gordon or Semin fill his spot on the left side.

Gordon has played remarkably well for a 19-year-old right out of junior but that should not be a surprise. Last season he was the next-to-last rookie cut in training camp — only defenseman Steve Eminger survived into the season before he was sent to the Canadian national junior camp in December.

The same scenario could be in store for Semin, who was a first round pick in 2002, as were Eminger and Gordon. The 19-year-old from Lada Togliatti in the Russian elite league has what Cassidy said were “dynamic offensive” tendencies but needs to work on other parts of his game. The question is, should he return to Russia for seasoning or be schooled here?

McPhee said he has an arrangement with the Russian team where Semin could be recalled at any time. That would appear to indicate the decision boils down to where he gets more ice time, with the Caps or in Russia.

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