- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2004

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Washington Capitals continued their fire sale of talent and payroll dumping yesterday when they traded NHL scoring leader Robert Lang to the Detroit Red Wings for a prospect and a pair of draft picks.

And they may not be finished.

Sergei Gonchar, the NHL’s top-scoring defenseman, was scratched for last night’s game against the Florida Panthers with what the Caps said was a case of the stomach flu that hit several players Thursday.

Gonchar, the subject of trade talks with Toronto, New Jersey and Dallas among others, participated in the morning skate but was unavailable for comment last night. It is possible that if a deal is in the works for Gonchar, his potential new team asked for him to be held out to avoid injury. He suffered a separated left shoulder in a Jan.23 game here and was knocked a little woozy by a hit against Tampa Bay on Monday.

With 10 days remaining before the March9 trade deadline, Gonchar; Olie Kolzig, the top goalie in Washington history; and rugged veteran defenseman Brendan Witt remain on the trading block.

The Lang trade will save the Caps $5million. The team has cut more than $18million from its payroll this season by trading captain Steve Konowalchuk to Colorado on Oct.22, five-time NHL scoring champion Jaromir Jagr to the New York Rangers on Jan.23 and wing Peter Bondra to Ottawa on Feb.18.

“We’re about where we need to be, so I don’t feel under pressure to make any more trades,” general manager George McPhee said after trading Lang for 19-year-old junior forward Tomas Fleischmann, a first-rounder this June and a fourth-rounder in 2006.

Despite the subtraction of Lang’s salary, McPhee maintained that the trade was “a hockey deal” as opposed to the financially driven Jagr swap.

“We hand-picked Robert [as a free agent from Pittsburgh] two years ago, and he met or exceeded all of our expectations,” McPhee said. “He has had a tremendous season and is a fun guy to be around. But the fact is that three years from now, Robert is going to be 36 and we have to look at our long-term needs.”

Lang, who has 29 goals and 74 points this season, moves from the last-place Caps to the first-place Red Wings and could get a chance to play for his first Stanley Cup.

“You’re always surprised when you get traded, even though after the departure of Jags and Bonzai it was pretty much a matter of time,” said Lang as he left Office Depot Center yesterday. “The way the team is going, when you’re getting rid of everybody, paying somebody $5million doesn’t really make sense.

“It’s always bittersweet because when you spend two years somewhere, you make good friends, but on the other hand, a career is pretty short and you have to make the best of it. I’m going to one of the better teams in the league. It will be fun. I’m excited.”

Yesterday’s move appears to be the latest in a large salary dump by Caps owner Ted Leonsis. The team’s first cost-cutting move came last summer when it decided not to re-sign defenseman Ken Klee.

The Caps have not gotten a lot in return for their star players. In exchange for Konowalchuk, Jagr, Bondra and Lang, who had combined for 174 points in 150 Washington games this season (plus a draft choice), the Caps have received forwards Battaglia and Anson Carter, who have combined for 17 points in 64 games, along with three prospects and three picks. Gonchar’s 49 points are now a team-high, 23 more than any forward had before last night.

Witt acknowledged he is bracing for more deals before the deadline.

“You just prepare yourself and your family as best as you can,” said Witt, along with Gonchar and Kolzig the last links to Washington’s 1998 Stanley Cup finalists. “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”

With next season likely to be canceled or severely curtailed because of an expected labor stoppage, McPhee is focused on putting together a group of young players who will grow up together with Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Maine. Among that group are forwards Matt Pettinger, Boyd Gordon, Brian Sutherby and defensemen Josef Boumedienne, Steve Eminger, Jakub Cutta and Nolan Yonkman, goalies Maxime Ouellet and Rastislav Stana and acquired prospects Fleischmann, Brooks Laich and Jonas Johansson.

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