- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

The Washington Capitals signed defenseman Brian Pothier yesterday in an effort to improve their porous defense.

The 29-year-old free agent, who played for the Ottawa Senators last season, signed a four-year, $10 million contract — the most the Caps have paid for a free agent since signing Robert Lang for $5 million a year exactly four years ago.

Pothier said he and his wife saw Washington as “a great fit for us. … Every time [Ottawa] played Washington we knew it would be a hard-grinding game. We knew they worked hard, they have some guys who can really burn you and a great goalie. It’s an exciting time to be a part of a team going in the right direction.”

The Caps also announced the signing of backup goalie Brent Johnson, who will make $575,000 next season, a slight raise over what he made last year to back up Olie Kolzig. Johnson would have become an unrestricted free agent yesterday had the Caps not signed him.

Johnson came on strong late in the season after a poor start. He also is a favorite in the dressing room.

Both moves continue the long climb back after drafting Alex Ovechkin with the first overall pick in 2004, a selection that came after the 2003-04 salary purge, which gutted the team of its experienced talent — including Lang — after the failed high-priced campaign centered around the acquisition of Jaromir Jagr from Pittsburgh.

Pothier gives the team a defenseman who just completed his first full season in the league playing for a team loaded with top-notch blueliners until free agency rearranged the Senators’ roster. The Caps may need at least one more experienced defender to help guide the young players and provide leadership on special teams.

Washington will bring back Shaone Morrisonn, Steve Eminger, Jamie Heward and Bryan Muir, and Mike Green probably will be promoted from Hershey. Two Hershey players who probably will get good looks after their performances this season with the Bears are Jakub Cutta and Lawrence Nycholat.

Nolan Yonkman was bought out and Ivan Majesky was not offered a contract.

General manager George McPhee said after acquiring Pothier that any additions to the defense would come via trades if needed. He said he wanted the defense set before training camp so the coaches could concentrate on forwards in what is likely to be a fluid situation.

The signing of Pothier was the Caps’ biggest dip into free agency since the new CBA was agreed to last summer. Washington signed veteran Andrew Cassels to a contract paying $1.5 million last August but the center was gone by mid-season.

Pothier last season was a staggering plus-29 defensively on a team that routinely ran over the opposition. He had five goals (three on the power play) and 35 points playing almost 17 minutes a game, the latter a figure that will rise dramatically with Washington.

“That’s something you dream about,” he said. “You want to be given more responsibility every year you play. I’ve been slowly fed a little more responsibility and it seems I’ve been responding to it.”

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