- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

Andrew Cassels’ NHL career probably ended yesterday after the Washington Capitals waived the 36-year-old and no other team claimed him.

With new rules favoring younger, faster skaters, players like Cassels — a 1987 first-round pick — quickly became outmoded. The most striking example is Dave Andreychuk, the captain of the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who recently was waived by the team and is no longer in the league.

Cassels was Washington’s most expensive free agent acquisition last summer, signing a one-year deal for $1.5 million. Earlier in the summer the Columbus Blue Jackets bought out his existing contract for $1.5 million.

Cassels was brought in to help teach Washington’s young forward the finer points of the game and, more importantly, how to run the power play. But from the start, there were problems. In pre-training camp drills, he was injured twice, once requiring facial surgery, and he missed almost all of the preseason.

There was little chemistry between the veteran and his younger teammates and instead of centering Alex Ovechkin on the first line, he usually found himself on the third or fourth units, if he played at all. He played in 31 of Washington’s 49 games but only one of the past 14.

He played in his 1,000th game Nov. 22 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh, something only 205 players have done in NHL history. He had four goals and 12 points with the Caps and has 204 goals and 732 points in 1,015 career games.

Cassels’ season, and probably his ability to concentrate on competing, was severely hampered this season by an on-going, bitter child-custody dispute with his ex-wife, who lives in Toronto. Cassels has a son and daughter.

His ability to retain custody of the children was the reason Cassels told general manager George McPhee not to pursue a trade and to tell any team interested in claiming him off waivers not to bother.

He believes if he left his children with their stepmother for any length of time to try to find a house and schools in a new city, lawyers would have him in court with a judge demanding to know why the children were not living with a relative.

“I’m not going to take that chance,” he said yesterday. “Trying to explain why they’re not living with their real dad or mom. It just wouldn’t have worked. We’ll go back to Columbus [Ohio, where he played previously] and go from there.”

It is believed the Caps paid Cassels about $900,000 for his 49 games on the roster. He has refused assignment to the minor leagues, meaning he foregoes the remaining $600,000 of his salary.

This means the Caps have an opening on their 23-man roster, but it likely won’t be filled from within. To do that would mean moving a promising young player up from Hershey, where he is probably playing 25 or more minutes a game and gaining valuable experience, to Washington, where he would play considerably less.

McPhee promised players who were sent to farm teams and excelled would get a look at the NHL level. He has kept his word: The Caps have used 35 players this season, which is an unusually high number.

Yesterday, McPhee threw a new element into the mix, saying an acquisition from outside the organization before the Olympic break would not be ruled out but refused to be more specific.

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