- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The NHL trade deadline passed at 3p.m. yesterday with goalie Olie Kolzig and defenseman Brendan Witt still Washington Capitals.

Almost as surprising was winger Mike Grier’s trade to Buffalo for prized 19-year-old center prospect Jakub Klepis. Grier had been less prominently mentioned in trade rumors than his high-profile teammates. Adding to the surprise is that the Sabres are six points out of the last Eastern Conference playoff spot with 14 games left.

“The good news is that the removal of players from our team is over,” said Caps coach Glen Hanlon, who lost most of his offense with the trades of Robert Lang, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Gonchar, Peter Bondra, Michael Nylander and Anson Carter since Jan.22.

Said owner Ted Leonsis on the team’s Web site: “I’m satisfied we have made the right moves today and during the past several weeks. Without our recent moves, it would have been hopeless — high payroll [since slashed by more than $30 million], underachieving team and no flexibility for the future. We plan to have a younger, hungrier, harder-working team that get results and preaches goaltending and defense as a priority.”

So when four teams inquired about Kolzig in recent days, general manager George McPhee applied this standard, “What will make you better than Olie? Not many things.”

Kolzig is back in the form that won him the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie in 2000, having allowed 13 goals in his last six starts. Yet few playoff contenders were looking for a netminder, especially one who turns 34 next month and has two years and $13million remaining on his contract with a labor impasse looming next season.

“Deep down, I really didn’t think I was going anywhere,” said Kolzig, Washington’s No.1 goalie for seven seasons and a Cap for 10 years. “There’s something to be said for playing your whole career for one team. And maybe if two years from now, we’re not close to winning the Cup and my contract is expiring, George will trade me to a team that is.”

Colorado, one of the teams that had been interested in Kolzig, opted to trade for Edmonton’s younger and cheaper Tommy Salo, while the New York Islanders and Vancouver chose to stick with their current goalie tandems.

At 29 and heading into restricted free agency at $1.75million, Witt is considerably younger and more affordable than Kolzig. However, Ottawa acquired fellow gritty defenseman Greg DeVries from the New York Rangers instead while Los Angeles, Montreal, Nashville, New Jersey and Vancouver all unexpectedly stood pat although McPhee talked to numerous teams.

Witt, who couldn’t be reached for comment, said Monday that he was happy to remain if he was in the organization’s long-term plans. He’ll be a restricted free agent in July, but McPhee plans to retain the rights to such a critical player with a qualifying offer.

“Glennie is building around the idea of limiting the opponent’s scoring chances and to do that, you need a defenseman like Witter,” said Kolzig, noting that Witt’s 557 NHL games are nearly as many as the Caps’ seven other defensemen combined.

Grier, who makes $1.632million and can be a restricted free agent in July, was the eighth and last high-salaried veteran to depart. And just as Bondra did on Monday for Ottawa, Grier has to make a quick U-turn, facing the Caps tonight at MCI Center as a Sabre.

“Whenever your name is out there, you always know something could happen, but I’m a little surprised that it’s Buffalo,” Grier said. “It’s good to know that they want me, but it’s going to be a little weird tonight. I want this game over as quickly as possible.”

Grier, 29, was a Cap for less than two full seasons and scored 52 points in 150 games but made an impact with his work ethic and leadership.

“This is the hardest one for me,” Hanlon said. “Mike exemplified everything we like in a player. He was one of the glue guys who has kept this team together through adversity.”

The 6-foot, 205-pound Klepis, who played on the Czech Republic team that finished fourth in the World Junior Championships, will be 20 in June. He was Ottawa’s top pick in the 2002 draft and has played in the top Czech league this season after finishing fourth in the Western League with 64 points in 70 games for Portland, Ore., last year.

“All our other transactions we did for financial reasons and other issues [such as age and impending free agency], but there’s no other reason behind this one except that we couldn’t pass up a player like Klepis,” McPhee said. “In a year or so, he could be scoring 20, 30 goals in this league. We hope he’s the cream of the crop of a young core group.”

That core also includes defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and forwards Jonas Johansson, Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann and Jared Aulin, acquired in trades for Gonchar, Steve Konowalchuk, Bondra, Lang and Carter, respectively, as well as holdovers Josef Boumedienne, Alexander Semin, Steve Eminger, Boyd Gordon and Maxime Ouellet.

The Caps added physical right wing Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre off waivers from Atlanta yesterday. Grand-Pierre, 27, accumulated 227 penalty minutes the previous three years for Columbus and had 38 minutes in 43 games for the Blue Jackets and Thrashers this year. Grand-Pierre joins defensemen Todd Rohloff and Brad Norton and left wing Craig Johnson in being claimed off waivers during the past two months.

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