- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

The Washington Capitals face a problem they have known was possible for months — losing their key faceoff man to free agency — and the search is under way for a replacement.

But maybe not. From the Caps’ point of view, the search for candidates may be over. The decision apparently has been made to let the performance of the young centers on the team decide who inherits Jeff Halpern’s most important task — taking critical, must-win faceoffs, especially in the defensive zone.

There is a problem with that scenario. None of the individuals involved are new to the club and their ability to win faceoffs should already be known. Keeping the job within a small circle of already-employed men will reduce payroll but it probably won’t help win games.

Two centers already should have positions guaranteed, Dainius Zubrus with a top line and Brian Sutherby with a checking unit. That leaves Kris Beech, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich and Dave Steckel competing for one spot — assuming that Nicklas Backstrom, the Swedish center taken with the fourth pick last month, decides to come to the United States now, is as good as scouts say and wins a job.

But there is another route the Caps can take, a route that may solve several problems at once. A free agent center is available who has a sharp edge, wins more than half his draws, excels in postseason, can provide some offense, is an excellent leader and, most importantly, plays defense the way it was meant to be played, the way the Caps played it when Kelly Miller, Mike Ridley, Steve Konowalchuk, Ulf Dahlen and, yes, Halpern were around.

Michael Peca is precisely what Washington needs at precisely this time. He can come into the picture as a player, leader and teacher — showing young teammates how to improve, exactly the way an aging Dale Hunter schooled a young Halpern a few years back. Peca is not big — just under 6-foot and less than 200 pounds — but he is fearless. He is an agitator who doesn’t seem happy unless the other bench is in an uproar, a factor long-time Caps fans can remember from the 1998 playoffs when Washington faced Peca and Buffalo in the Eastern finals.

Peca, 32, was horrible during the regular season for Edmonton last year with just nine goals and 23 points and was minus-4 defensively. In the playoffs, the old Peca emerged — six goals, 11 points and plus-5 defensively, helping guide the Oilers to the Western Conference championship. He wasn’t good in the postseason, he was excellent.

And there also is good news for the people who make budget decisions for the team. Peca made $3.99 million last season and knows he was grossly overpaid. Right now the Group III free agent is looking for about half that with a team in the northeast, the closer to Buffalo where he wants to eventually settle, the better.

Still too much money? Washington reportedly was in the bidding for new Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara until the figure reached $6.25 million a season. Sign Peca for $2 million a year for two years plus an option and the most you’re out is $6 million, less than the club was willing to pay Chara for one season’s work.

If other ingredients pay off the way the Caps hope, there is an outside possibility this team could sneak into the playoffs. A seasoned competitor like Michael Peca might be the difference.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide