Tuesday, September 27, 2005

HERSHEY, Pa. — The Washington Capitals yesterday sent five players to the Hershey Bears, their affiliate in the American Hockey League, and returned a sixth to his junior team. Chances are good the five sent down were told not to sign long-term leases on apartments.

“The younger kids are all now projected to play in the NHL for sure,” said coach Glen Hanlon, admitting the cuts were becoming harder to make with the Oct.5 season opener fast approaching.

Sent to Hershey were right wings Jared Aulin and Eric Fehr, left wing Chris Bourque and centers Jakub Klepis and Dave Steckel. Returned to his junior team in Calgary of the Western Hockey League was defenseman Jeff Schultz, who came close to making the main roster.

“Schultz is being returned to play 40 minutes a game, get stronger and come back next year ready to play,” Hanlon said. “Bourque and Fehr, they’re going down to get some seasoning. We want them to work hard down there, be one of the best players and come up [to Washington] and play.”

The cuts leave 26 players in camp, three above the maximum for opening day. The desire, however, appears to be to carry only the minimum of 20 because Hershey is so close that an injury replacement can be sitting on the Caps’ bench within two hours.

“I don’t want to keep a lot of extra players but there are rules and maybe we don’t want to expose certain players,” Hanlon said. “We have some decisions to make on and off the ice and it gets tougher as it gets closer to the finish line.”

If Hanlon and general manager George McPhee decide to go with just 20 players, six cuts — probably four defensemen and two forwards — will have to be made. Complicating matters are rumors that Washington is shopping for another strong, experienced defenseman.

The possibility remains that right wing Petr Sykora, under contract to the Caps but reportedly hung up in some high level legal or financial dealings with his former team in the Czech Republic, may show up and create another roster problem.

The roster includes 10 defensemen and it appears only three are locks to make the team — Steve Eminger, Jamie Heward and Brendan Witt. Mathieu Biron has not had a strong camp but has a one-way contract, meaning he gets NHL pay even if demoted and that could be a factor on who makes the team.

Shaone Morrisonn is a bright young prospect and has NHL experience but has not done anything to distinguish himself. Rookie Mike Green, on the other hand, has done plenty to stand out and does not have to be returned to his junior team. Club officials are pleased with Nolan Yonkman’s performance so far but are waiting to see how his surgically repaired knees stand up. Jakub Cutta, a career under-the-bubble player, has had the type of camp team officials hope for but they may want to see if the desire lasts.

Jeff Friesen, obtained Monday from New Jersey for a conditional third-round draft pick in 2006, was on hand for practice and will wear his Devils’ number (12), Washington apparently breaking the last cord between the club and former Cap Peter Bondra, who wore that number for 13 seasons.

“It’s nice to have it over,” Friesen said of the constant trade rumors since the Devils broke through the salary cap ceiling and had to dump some payroll to squeeze in. “My full intentions were to be there then … all of a sudden we’re way over the cap. I knew a numbers thing could happen.”

The Devils acquired Friesen from Anaheim in 2002. In one of the strange twists in the small world of hockey, he was traded for a player named Petr Sykora — albeit not the one the Caps are trying to get out of the Czech Republic.

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