Wednesday, July 12, 2006

When Richard Zednik told the Canadiens he wanted out of Montreal, he had no idea he would reunite with his original NHL team.

In a move that should improve one of their biggest problem areas, the Washington Capitals reacquired the veteran wing yesterday for a third-round pick in next year’s draft.

The trade was announced the same day the Caps released their 2006-07 schedule. Washington opens Oct. 5 against the Rangers in New York and closes April 7 at home against Buffalo. The schedule does not have a taxing stretch like last season’s two-week span that included five games against eventual Stanley Cup winner Carolina, three of them in a row.

In four full seasons with the Canadiens, Zednik averaged 23.75 goals a year, including just 16 during 2005-06 when a variety of injuries limited him to only 67 games. In his best season with the Caps (1999-2000), Zednik posted 19 goals and 35 points.

“I had some really good years in Washington in the beginning of my career and now I’m excited to come back as a veteran,” the versatile wing, who played in Washington from 1995 to 2000, said in a statement.

Said Caps general manager George McPhee: “He’s a very competitive player, physically strong and he brings excellent speed and scoring ability. It always seemed with Zed the bigger the game the better he seemed to play.”

It was the second major deal McPhee has engineered this summer. He signed free agent defenseman Brian Pothier from Ottawa on July 1 to bolster a blueline that needed help.

Zednik, 30, also fills a spot that needed shoring up. Washington is heavy on the left side — Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Matt Pettinger, Tomas Fleischmann — but lacked a proven scorer on the right. Officials had hoped one of the southpaws could switch sides, but that may not be necessary now.

Zednik’s arrival might be bad news for Fleischmann or one of the other young prospects who played primarily in Hershey last year. Fleischmann had an excellent postseason for the Bears, leading them to the Calder Cup, but now has to play well enough to dislodge a veteran and create an opening.

The Caps on March 13, 2001, traded Zednik to Montreal along with center Jan Bulis for center Trevor Linden and right wing Dainius Zubrus. Linden is now in Vancouver, Zubrus centers the Caps’ first line and Bulis is a free agent.

Zednik, who plays either side, put his Montreal house up for sale when the season ended to emphasize his request to be moved. Observers said he wasn’t as physical as the Canadiens wanted and he hasn’t been as physical as he once was since he took a devastating hit from Boston defenseman Kyle McLaren in the 2002 playoffs. He is scheduled to make nearly $2 million this season.

Note — The Caps close their 2006 rookie camp with a scrimmage tonight at Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. The scrimmage is free and open to the public.

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