- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

The Washington Capitals yesterday announced the signings of three players. Two others, however, seemingly let the deadline to accept qualifying offers pass with no response, which could prove a costly gamble.

Goalie Maxime Ouellet and right wing Stephen Peat initialed their qualifying offers, and defenseman Dwayne Zinger agreed to a contract. All were for one year.

However, first-line center Dainius Zubrus and backup goalie Ratislav Stana did not sign their qualifying offers by the midnight Saturday deadline. A qualifying offer automatically guarantees a 10 percent raise over the previous season. The Caps now can withdraw the offers and offer contracts worth less money.

It was not known whether the two players think contract language will be rewritten as part of any new collective bargaining agreement necessary before the season can start — meaning a better pay scale — or whether they think the 2004-05 season won’t be played, making a contract moot.

Stana already has opted to play with a team in the Swedish Elite League this season no matter what happens with a new CBA. Zubrus, a converted right wing, has signed to play with a Russian Super League team this season but has an escape clause freeing him from his deal whenever the NHL season starts. Zubrus would have made $1.65million had he signed the qualifying offer.

Another player offered a qualifying contract, defenseman Brendan Witt, elected to take the club to salary arbitration. His hearing is scheduled Aug.15. Witt made $1.75million last season.

Ouellet came to the Caps in 2002 from Philadelphia as part of the Adam Oates deal. He is viewed as the Caps’ next goalie after Olie Kolzig retires but has been pushed by Stana. The pair split time last season between Washington and Portland (Maine) of the American Hockey League.

Peat, a converted defenseman, played in 64 Caps games last season but was not always as physical as the team wanted. Zinger is a journeyman minor leaguer who appeared in seven Caps games when the team was short of personnel.

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