- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2004

SUNRISE, Fla. — Coach Glen Hanlon was upbeat, as always. Grinders Mike Grier and Matt Pettinger were sad but understanding.

Standout right wing Peter Bondra, however, had the most interesting reaction yesterday to the Washington Capitals trading away 12-time All-Star Jaromir Jagr in the wake of their continued failure to pull themselves out of the Southeast Division cellar.

“There will probably be more trades, and I’m wondering what is going to happen next and who is next,” said Bondra, the Caps’ career leader in points (819) and goals (468) during 13 seasons in Washington. “I can’t imagine playing for another team after all these years, so I don’t know how excited I would be to go a team like Ottawa that has a good chance to win the [Stanley] Cup.”

Caps general manager George McPhee said he wouldn’t respond to rumors like the one that has Bondra going to the Senators or others that have All-Star center Robert Lang, 2000 Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Olie Kolzig or Sergei Gonchar, the NHL’s top-scoring defenseman, following Jagr out of Washington.

“I can’t predict the future,” said McPhee, who began his cost-cutting by letting defenseman Ken Klee depart as a free agent in September and then traded captain Steve Konowalchuk to Colorado for the cheaper Bates Battaglia in October. “We are going to see how this team [with less expensive and less skilled right wing Anson Carter coming from the New York Rangers for five-time NHL scoring champion Jagr] does.”

Hanlon is concerned about how Bondra and the Caps’ other top players will respond to the trade and their own uncertain futures with the March9 trade deadline still more than six weeks away.

“I’m more concerned about the families of the four people left that have been in the headlines: Gonchy, Olie, Bonzai and Langer,” Hanlon said. “This might not be an uncommon day. We don’t know what’s on the horizon. You can’t tell them not to worry, but you can tell them for 2 hours you’re out on the ice and that’s your playground. Use it as a release.”

Gonchar, Lang and Kolzig all declined comment through a Caps spokesman before last night’s game at Florida. Lang is having his best year in his second season in Washington. Gonchar and Kolzig have been Caps throughout their lengthy careers.

Pettinger said the players are well aware that the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the league, which expires in September, played a role in Jagr’s departure — as did the franchise’s annual losses of more than $20million.

“It’s unfortunate,” Pettinger said. “Jags is a good guy and a good player. But you can’t blame Ted [Leonsis, the team’s owner]. We’ve got the [bargaining agreement] coming up, and we’re not winning. No one knows what’s going to happen with the structure of salaries.”

Grier, one of the remaining alternate captains along with Lang and Bondra, said Thursday night’s team dinner for which Jagr paid allowed everyone to say goodbye.

“It has kind of been brewing, but it’s still a disappointing day to lose a teammate, especially someone as skilled and talented as Jags,” Grier said. “And he’s a good guy in the [locker] room, so it’s tough for us right now. There’s lots of speculation about other things happening, but this stuff has been going on for so long that the team has done a really good job of putting that on the back burner and focusing on the games.”

That focus was missing in last night’s 4-1 loss that dropped the Caps to 14-28-5-2 in their worst season in 22 years. After tomorrow’s home game against Philadelphia, the Caps’ next date is in New York against the Rangers and Jagr.

“That will definitely be weird,” Grier said. “I’m sure it will be tough for the guys who have to try check him. It will put a little spice into a game between two teams that are struggling a little bit.”

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