- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2006

Brendan Witt made his wishes quite clear when the Washington Capitals began training camp and yesterday he repeated them: He would like to be traded, preferably to a team with a chance to go deep into the playoffs.

Within the next two weeks, the chances are excellent the veteran defenseman will get his wish — although where he will end up is still unknown.

“At my age (31) I want to win now,” he said yesterday as the Caps gathered to resume workouts after the Olympic break. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me having that opinion. It’s a goal of mine to win a Stanley Cup within the next couple years. I have nothing against the organization, nothing, but they’re in a rebuilding process.”

General manager George McPhee was in Turin, Italy, yesterday and could not be reached for comment. But a senior team official acknowledged the chances of Witt being a Cap after the March9 trading deadline are slim to nonexistent.

Getting an immediate replacement for Witt became even more important yesterday when it was learned injured defenseman Steve Eminger’s sprained ankle is not healing as fast as hoped. He might be out at least two more weeks.

When Witt departs, he likely will be the final piece of the massive salary dump that started Oct. 22, 2003, when the Caps sent team captain Steve Konowalchuk to Colorado. Only Witt and goalie Olie Kolzig remain from the 1997-98 team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Where might he go? The front-runners would appear to be Nashville, Los Angeles and Vancouver with interest also being shown by Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston. All things being equal, the Caps would trade him to one of the first three to keep him out of the Eastern Conference.

What do the Caps want for a 10-year veteran? Another defenseman — a younger man still developing and definitely one making less money (Witt makes $1,672,000).

Knowing well in advance that Witt probably would be moved, the Caps have waited until just before the trading deadline to maximize his value to 1) a top contender looking to improve its defense; 2) a team trying to better its positioning; 3) a team on the bubble desperate to move a notch or two higher; or 4) a contending team suddenly desperate because of injuries.

Vancouver is an excellent example. It has lost its top three defensemen (Ed Jovanovski, Sami Salo and Mattias Ohlund) to injuries, two within the past week at the Olympics. It is fifth in the West and cannot take a chance that the injuries will be short term.

Nashville is another good example. The Predators are in the fourth position in the West, the surprise club of the season, although that should not be a surprise considering the track record of general manager David Poile. But if Nashville is to make a decent run into the postseason, it could use a little toughness on the blue line and Witt might be the answer.

Los Angeles? Seven points separate five teams fighting for the last two playoff spots in the West; the Kings’ hold on seventh is not firm.

A week ago, Nashville and Washington were rumored to have nearly closed a deal until Boston somehow got involved. Talks were suspended while the Olympic trading moratorium was in effect. What could not be determined was whether the Bruins wanted Witt or were after whatever the Predators were offering for the defenseman.

“I respect the fact he’s worked hard through this and been a good team player for us,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said yesterday. “Anytime there’s been a skate or practice or meeting, whatever, he’s given us 100 percent of his time and effort. But he’s made it clear he wants to leave.”

Right wings Matt Bradley (bruised foot) and Chris Clark (groin) both returned to practice yesterday, but not having Eminger on the ice was surprising. He was hurt Jan.13 against Anaheim and has not played since.

“That caught me off guard a little bit,” Hanlon said. “We’re still waiting to get him better so he can play. It’s been a long time; he’s week-to-week.”

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