- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

The Washington Capitals’ trade of Sergei Gonchar yesterday was no surprise, but his destination was.

Gonchar expected to be heading to Toronto. Instead, Washington dealt the NHL’s top-scoring defenseman to the Boston Bruins for rookie defensemen Shaone Morrisonn and picks in the first two rounds of the June draft.

“Toronto would have been easier because I have lots of friends there and because I could play with Kenny [Klee, his ex-Caps partner] again, but I like Boston,” said Gonchar, who leads NHL defensemen in goals and is second in points over the last six years.

“It’s a great hockey town, and I’m glad to go to a team with a chance to win the Stanley Cup,” Gonchar added. “I’m just glad it’s over after all this time not knowing what was going to happen or where I was going.”

Although Gonchar was in his 10th season with the Caps at 29, his reaction to leaving was more like the shrugs of departed short-timers Jaromir Jagr and Robert Lang than that of Peter Bondra, who cried when he was traded to Ottawa last month after 14 years.

“I grew up in Washington,” said Gonchar, who was 19 when he made his debut on Feb.7, 1995, three years after being the Caps’ top pick. “I made a lot of friends on and off the ice and I will always keep my eye on the team, but I’m not sad. I’ve seen some friends go through this, and I know this is a step that I have to make. I need to move on for my career.”

Caps general manager George McPhee, who virtually gave away franchise all-time scoring leader Bondra and current NHL scoring leader Lang in the previous two weeks, received more this time while eliminating another big ($3.6million) salary from the payroll. The picks give Washington three choices in the first round and two in the second in June.

Morrisonn, 21 and Boston’s first choice in the 2001 draft, has been a solid contributor since being recalled from Providence on Dec.29. In 30 games with the Bruins, the Vancouver native had a goal, seven assists and a plus-10 defensive rating while averaging 18:10 of ice time. Morrisonn, who started the season in the minors because of a lack of muscle, didn’t play Tuesday in Toronto because of what is believed to be a minor shoulder injury.

McPhee said he received inquiries about Gonchar from several teams in the past 10 days but that only two or three were able to meet his demand for a young defenseman. In the end, Boston’s offer proved more enticing than Toronto’s package, which likely featured top blue line prospect Carlo Colaiacovo.

Colorado’s offer apparently included defenseman Derek Morris, in his sixth season at 25. However, the Avalanche were interested in a bigger deal in which they also would have acquired Olie Kolzig. The goalie remains on the market, along with defenseman Brendan Witt, center Michael Nylander and, to a lesser extent, forwards Mike Grier and Dainius Zubrus. The trade deadline is Tuesday.

“[Morrisonn] was the best young defenseman available, the one that we wanted,” McPhee said. “When he matures, he can play 20 to 25 minutes a game. He’s a mobile, rangy guy [6-foot-3, 205 pounds]. He can move the puck. He’s not an elite offensive defenseman like Gonch, but he can play in most situations. You need that kind of player to be a good club.”

McPhee envisions the Caps’ post-lockout roster as being filled with such players as Morrisonn and goalies Maxime Ouellet and Rastislav Stana, forwards Alexander Semin and Boyd Gordon and defenseman Steve Eminger — all of whom spent at least three weeks in Washington this season and are 24 or younger.

In the meantime, the Caps — a playoff qualifier in all but two years from 1983 to 2001 and a team that led a first-round series 2-0 last spring — have the NHL’s second-fewest points. Their top scorer has 27 points. Only Kolzig and Witt — the only remaining veterans of the 1998 Cup finalists — and center Jeff Halpern have played as many as 200 games for the Caps, and only Halpern has as many as 108 points or 52 goals in a Washington uniform.

Nylander (31), fellow unrestricted free agent in waiting Kip Miller (34) and Kolzig (34 next month) are the only Caps over 29.

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