- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

On the first day of training camp, Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee said more experienced players almost certainly would be added to the team as the Oct. 5 start of the season approached.

There were 54 players on hand yesterday with two others, forwards Alexander Semin and Petr Sykora, still in Europe. A third, rookie defenseman Patrick McNeill, was sent home when he did not pass his physical and a fourth was absent on personal business.

Also not on the Washington roster yesterday was forward Peter Bondra, the free agent former Cap who was reported last night to be on the verge of signing a one-year contract with the Atlanta Thrashers, also a member of the Southeast Division. The Caps also had offered Bondra a one-year-deal, but if he were to join Atlanta he would face the Caps as many as eight times a season.

Bondra arrived in Atlanta yesterday and took his physical but sources said he had not signed a contract. Financial arrangements were still being worked out and if they were successfully completed, Bondra could be on the ice today with the Thrashers.

Reportedly, Bondra has tentatively agreed to a base salary of $505,000, just $55,000 above the NHL minimum, but the contract includes incentives that could amount to $2.9 million if Atlanta advances deep into the postseason and he plays a significant role.

Bondra, who holds virtually every offensive record in the Caps’ 30-year history, had asked Washington for a two-year contract paying $2.5 million per year, plus incentives and a no-trade clause. The team had approached him first, offering a one-year deal at $1.5 million with incentives. The club also made a verbal offer of a noncoaching front office position if Bondra retired as a Cap.

The Thrashers view the veteran of 984 NHL games as a role player on the second line with Bobby Holik as his center. His role might expand, however, if Ilya Kovalchuk follows through on his threat to remain in Russia, leaving the Thrashers with a huge hole in their offense.

McPhee, meanwhile, welcomed a young Washington team (more than 25 percent of the players on the roster cannot legally drink), one that may change more than a few times before the season starts. Twenty-three players will end up as Caps with at least 20 more making up the Hershey Bears’ roster in the American Hockey League.

Few veterans have jobs in the bank. Goalie Olie Kolzig, defenseman Brendan Witt and centers Jeff Halpern, Dainius Zubrus and Andrew Cassels have little to worry about. Others face midterms on almost a daily basis.

“We want to give the group here a great chance to be a good team,” McPhee said, referring to the farmhands the Caps have nurtured plus the players obtained when Washington conducted its salary dump during the 2003-04 season.

“It’s a short camp and we have to evaluate quickly,” McPhee said. “We’ve told the players not to hold anything back, show us what they can bring to the team now.”

He said he expected some experienced players to become available in the next few weeks as teams try to squeeze under the $39 million salary cap.

“I think there will be” talented players on the market in the very near future “because some teams are already in salary cap trouble and if it’s a player that can help us now and in the future, then we’ll be active.”

That probably spells trouble for players like Swedish defenseman Josef Boumedienne, who figured to be one of the power play quarterbacks but is not in camp. When talks between his agent and the Caps broke down, he signed a contract with a Swiss team that is believed to contain an “out” clause.

More than two dozen former first- and second-round draft picks are in camp. Some have bounced around for years without making a positive impression.

“This is generally the best time to get someone,” McPhee said, “when they’ve put in three to four years with another organization, they’re trying to break through and hopefully we’re getting them at the right time. Needless to say there’s tremendous opportunity here this year. … Hopefully we’ll build a team that can compete for the Cup in short order.”

Note — Practices at 9 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. are open to the public today. Festivities for the fans are scheduled to start at 7a.m. in the Piney Orchard Ice Arena parking lot.

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