- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Brendan Witt, one of two remaining players from the Washington Capitals team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, won his salary arbitration case against the club yesterday.

The physical defenseman was awarded a salary of $2.2million after proving his case, an increase of $450,000 over last season. The Caps had offered Witt a qualifying offer that would have given him a pay increase of $175,000 had he accepted it.

“I’m happy with it,” Witt said from his Florida home. “I had to work the system. That was my only option. It’s not the prettiest thing two sides have to go through, but it had to be done. I’m just happy it’s over, and now we can work toward getting the season started.”

It was the first arbitration case the Caps have lost since George McPhee became the general manager seven seasons ago. In fact, the team’s initial arbitration victory under McPhee came against Witt in 2000.

“Is it a livable figure? Yes,” McPhee said yesterday. “I haven’t read the opinion yet, but we thought after the hearing that [the ruling] would be in the $2.1million range, so we weren’t far off. They had a strong case. Both sides worked hard on it. It was a fairly mild arbitration, as they go, and we look forward to training camp.”

Some testimony at arbitration hearings becomes so personal and negative that the two sides never reconcile. Witt’s hearing was not of that variety.

“It’s business, just a part of the business you have to go through, and there are no hard feelings,” Witt said. “It’s not the prettiest of moments, but you have to know not to take it personal.”

Witt will be the second-highest paid player on the club with his increase but far behind Olie Kolzig, who will earn $6.25million. The goalie is the only other Caps player remaining from the team that played in the finals six years ago.

The defenseman, represented by lawyers provided by the NHL Players Association, initially asked for a salary of $2.5million; the Caps opened with an offer of $1.6million.

It is a far cry from Witt’s first try at arbitration. In 2000, the defenseman sought a two-year deal paying $2million and $2.2million, while Washington offered $850,000 and $900,000. The ruling came back in the club’s favor, and Witt fired his agent. He later negotiated a deal himself that paid him the $1.75million he made last season.

Witt is by far the most experienced defenseman on the team after last season’s salary purge. He has played nine seasons in the NHL, and the team is counting on him to be the leader on the ice, showing the way for younger teammates.

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