- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Washington Capitals are close to reaching an agreement on a contract with backup goalie Brent Johnson, who came on strong during the last third of the season after overcoming an extremely porous beginning.

League sources also said the team and captain Jeff Halpern are continuing negotiations, but those discussions are not as far along as the talks with Johnson.

Johnson, Halpern and defenseman Ivan Majesky are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents Saturday, if they don’t sign contracts before then. Majesky isn’t expected to receive an offer from the Caps.

Washington, which has also extended qualifying offers to 11 players, said four other players weren’t tendered offers — center Jared Aulin, right wing Owen Fussey, defenseman Mathieu Biron and right wing Brian Willsie.

The Caps hope they can sign Willsie and avoid a possible arbitration case. Willsie had a career high 19 goals and 41 points but was also minus-19 defensively.

The deadline for qualifying offers was Monday at 5 p.m. The offers tie a player to the team for the coming season with the player usually getting a 5 to 10 percent raise, depending on the previous year’s salary. Players who made more than $1 million receive the same pay. They have until July 15 to accept the offers.

The Caps extended qualifying offers to right wing Matt Bradley, left wings Matt Pettinger and Ben Clymer, defensemen Jakub Cutta, Shaone Morrisonn and Steve Eminger, centers Rico Fata, Boyd Gordon, Kris Beech, Brooks Laich and Brian Sutherby.

While receiving a qualifying offer guarantees a player will make at least what he made last season, it does not preclude a sizable raise in some cases. Pettinger, for instance, could be rewarded for scoring 20 goals last season, six more than his previous career high. He had 38 points — 16 more than he had in 143 career games. Five of his goals came while the team was shorthanded and four others were on the power play.

Strong performances by the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup finals may have given new life to at least two players. Beech, picked up from Nashville in the Brendan Witt trade, led the Bears in scoring. Cutta, who appeared to have run out of options, received a new contract based on a good playoff performance.

Notes — Right wing Peter Bondra, who owns most of the Caps’ offensive records, seems to be headed for retirement. Atlanta general manager Don Waddell said the 38-year-old forward, two goals short of 500 in his career, would not be offered a new contract. … The NHL salary cap range was made official yesterday. It will be $28 million at the lower end (an increase of $6.5 million) and $44 million (an increase of $5 million) at the high end. Last season, Washington spent about $25.5 million on salaries and mandated bonuses.

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