- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

Sergei Gonchar could be the next Capitals star to leave Washington.

Gonchar told Caps general manager George McPhee within the past month that he wants to be traded to a contender — preferably to the Toronto Maple Leafs — if the Caps are going to be rebuilt.

“I told George that if the team is rebuilding and wants to build a young team from level zero, I want to go somewhere else,” Gonchar, 29, said yesterday. “I’m not getting any younger, and I want to win a Stanley Cup before my career is over.”

Gonchar was named an All-Star three times in his 10 years with the Caps and this season leads all NHL defensemen with 48 points.

He is one of just three players — goalie Olie Kolzig and defenseman Brendan Witt are the others — remaining from the Caps team that appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998.

The financially strapped Caps, enduring their worst season in 22 years, have traded some of their top-paid players to reduce payroll.

Jaromir Jagr, their highest-profile player, was dealt to the New York Rangers in January. Peter Bondra, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, was traded to the Ottawa Senators last week, and captain Steve Konowalchuk was sent to the Colorado Avalanche early in the season.

McPhee denied he and Gonchar had such a discussion, but he continues to discuss trades with other clubs. Gonchar, Kolzig and NHL scoring leader Robert Lang are the prime trade targets on the Caps for teams that, unlike the Caps, are in the playoff hunt. The trade deadline is March9.

Gonchar, a native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, lives in Bethesda, but he has spent a month in each of the past two summers working out with former NHL defenseman Igor Ulanov in Toronto. Also, Gonchar’s former partner on the Washington blue line, Ken Klee, signed with the Maple Leafs in September after the Caps declined to re-sign him as a free agent.

“If I am traded, Toronto is a city that would be nice,” Gonchar said of a story that was first reported on “Hockey Night in Canada” on Saturday night. “I have a lot of friends there, and maybe Kenny and I could play together again.”

If Kolzig, 33, is traded, he could be reunited with Konowalchuk.

David Aebischer has done a fine job of replacing the retired Patrick Roy as the Avalanche’s goalie but has never started a playoff game. The Avalanche’s goalie coach, Craig Billington, is a friend of Kolzig’s and was his backup when he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie in 2000.

Almost any team would like to have Lang, who’s having a career year at age 33. The Los Angeles Kings, with whom Lang began his career, are a frequently rumored destination.

The wealthy Detroit Red Wings could be interested in Kolzig and Lang as they seek their fourth Cup in eight years. Curtis Joseph, who was in the minors at the start of the year, is the Red Wings’ No.1 goalie, and 38-year-old Steve Yzerman is one of their top centers.

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