- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

The best news Olie Kolzig got yesterday was that the Washington Capitals had signed free agent Andrew Cassels to a one-year contract.

“He’s actually the oldest guy on the team right now, so I’m off that hook,” the 35-year-old goalie said of the 36-year-old center.

And the two of them are considerably older than most of the rest of the team, one that is in the midst of a youth movement.

The Caps yesterday announced the signing of Cassels and defenseman Lawrence Nycholat, 26, who was a starter in the American Hockey League All-Star Game last season while playing for Hartford, a New York Rangers farm team.

Kolzig also denied reports he had asked to be traded, preferably to a team on the West Coast where he has his permanent home. But defenseman Brendan Witt confirmed that he had asked to be sent to a team that might contend for the Stanley Cup this season.

“I never asked to be traded,” Kolzig said. “I said I would talk to [general manager] George [McPhee] once the season got going about the direction of the team, and that’s where we left it. I’ll be there when training camp opens.”

Kolzig, who has been in the Caps organization since he was drafted in 1989, acknowledged there will be some long nights ahead for the club.

“It’s going to be a battle,” he said. “We’re going to be young, we’re rebuilding. That’s the direction they chose, and we as players just have to make the best of it. We have some talent; it’s just a matter of getting some experience. I would think in 3-4 years it’s going to be a very good team.”

Witt said he did not want to be a part of a rebuilding process and maintained he told the team of his wishes during the salary arbitration process a year ago.

“It would be one thing if I was 24 and had to pay my dues,” he said. “I wouldn’t complain, I’d go along, but I’m 30. I’m looking at it realistically, and I don’t want to play there, plain and simple. And they’ve known it for more than a year.”

Witt, taken 11th overall in 1993, has played all of his nine NHL seasons with the Caps. He said he signed and returned the qualifying offer the team sent him, locking him into a salary of $1,672,000 this season no matter where he plays.

Cassels, a 15-year-veteran, was picked 17th overall by Montreal in 1987 and has played for five NHL clubs, spending the last two seasons with Columbus. The Blue Jackets bought out the remainder of his contract in July for slightly more than $1.5million. He is 16 games shy of 1,000, has scored 200 goals and assisted on 520 more.

In some ways, he has the habits of centers trained in Europe. He has perfected the art of pinpoint passing and often, to the dismay of coaches, lets excellent scoring chances slide by to set up a linemate who might not have as good a chance to score. He is responsible in his own end, another hallmark of good European centers.

Washington’s primary need right now is an experienced top-flight center who can pivot between two young, fast wings, Russians Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. At 36, Cassels is probably not that player any more but would be on hand to tutor a younger center and provide experienced leadership on a team where he might be 16 years or more older than some of his teammates.

The Ontario native has been durable during most of his lengthy career although nagging injuries have slowed him lately. He missed the final 29 games of the 2003-04 season with foot problems.

Nycholat turned pro in 2000 and has played on five teams in three leagues. He played in 79 games for Hartford last season with five goals and 43 points to go with 132 penalty minutes.

He played in nine NHL games with the Rangers during the 2004-05 season, recording no points but coming away with a minus-2 defensive rating, excellent for that club.

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