Thursday, August 18, 2005

With potentially explosive scorers in place on the left side, the Washington Capitals appear to be trying to even things out by adding some on the right.

The Caps yesterday signed rookie right wing Chris Bourque to a three-year contract and extended a contract offer to right wing Peter Bondra, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, league sources said.

Those two seem to match up with the two young players the team hopes will anchor the left side of the ice for the foreseeable future, Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. Who would center any possible lines remains unclear.

Bondra spent his entire 13-season NHL career with the Caps before he was sent to Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2004, for center Brooks Laich as part of the 2003-04 salary dump. Bondra finished the season with the Senators, scoring five goals and 14 points in 23 games.

Ottawa, however, chose not to pick up Bondra’s option, making him an unrestricted free agent. He made $4.5million that season, a figure that would be reduced to $3.4million after the 24 percent CBA rollback, but at age 37 he likely would not be able to command anything near that figure.

In any case, he is one of the three or four most popular players in the 30-year history of the franchise. He played 961 games in a Washington uniform, scoring 472 goals (137 on the power play) and 825 points. Twice he scored 50 or more goals in a season, one of just four players in team history to accomplish that feat once.

Bondra also received offers from Florida and Atlanta, and there has been interest from San Jose, the sources said.

Had Bourque signed before the lockout that wiped out an entire season, he might have been in line to make more than $1million under the rookie salary cap. Now, however, the third pick in the second round of the 2004 draft will be well under that figure.

Bourque, oldest son of Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, was the brightest star during the Caps’ 2004 rookie camp even though there were 11 first-round draft picks also on the ice. By today’s NHL standards, he is small at 5-foot-7, 170 pounds, but he plays like a much bigger individual.

His style of play will be familiar to long-time Washington fans. He looks and acts around the net like retired right wing Dino Ciccarelli, another small man who played much bigger than his size and paid a frightful physical price to remain close to the crease, waiting for rebounds and tip-ins.

Where Bourque plays this season has not been decided and probably won’t be until management sees what he does in training camp. He won’t be 20 until late January, meaning he is still eligible to play major junior in Canada (Moncton, New Brunswick, owns his rights), but that appears unlikely. The Caps apparently have him tentatively set for one of the top two offensive lines in Washington or the top line in Hershey in the American Hockey League.

Bourque spent last season as a freshman at Boston University but left school after hockey season ended. He was signed by the Caps to an amateur tryout contract with Portland, Maine, in the AHL and had a goal and assist in six games with the Pirates. He also played for Team USA in the world junior championships.

The Caps yesterday also re-signed minor league defenseman Dwayne Zinger, who appeared in 58 games for Portland last season.

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