- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

HERSHEY, Pa. — Decisions coming from tonight’s exhibition game against the Flyers in Philadelphia will affect the makeup of the Washington Capitals for at least the near future.

The Caps trimmed two more players off their training camp roster yesterday to get down to 27, four more than the limit allowed by the NHL for opening night. The performance of some players tonight should determine who will be there when the final cuts are announced.

However, several factors enter into the equation before the Caps or any team reaches a final number. Whether a player can be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers is one, and medical questions are another.

Coach Glen Hanlon cleared up the medical aspect yesterday when he said defenseman Jamie Heward, recovering from abdominal surgery this summer, will play tonight, and center Dainius Zubrus, recovering from knee surgery, will suit up for the final two games this weekend. They have not played this preseason.

Either or both of those players being on injured reserve for the opener would have opened up a spot for somebody else, but players on IR are not available for seven days.

Waivers are a different matter. Washington has some players on its roster who, it could be argued, have not stood out at camp and may have earned a ticket to Hershey and the American Hockey League. But they probably would not make it because they have to clear waivers and likely would be claimed by another team.

For that reason, the Caps and many other teams may be sending a few players to the minors because they are still in an entry-level situation and immune from waivers. That way NHL teams have the best of both worlds — the highly prized young players are safe, and players with some value who fill out the roster also are protected.

“After [the Flyers] game you’ll have a better idea of where everybody will be,” Hanlon said after yesterday’s practice, indicating there probably would be more roster reductions tomorrow so he can concentrate on making up lines and defensive pairs.

Left wings Peter Vandermeer and Chad Wiseman were assigned to the Bears yesterday.

Hanlon said he would like to carry seven defensemen and 13 forwards, giving him the immediate availability of a spare body on both sides of the blue line. The Caps currently have nine defensemen and 16 forwards, plus goalies Olie Kolzig and Brent Johnson.

But it is not as simple as pure numbers. Ben Clymer, for instance, is trying to go back to defense from forward, and where he plays affects two jobs. Clymer has made the roster one way or the other. He takes a spot away from a defenseman if he moves back but opens up a spot at his old job on wing or vice versa.

And then there is the option of adding a body from the outside. General manager George McPhee often has picked up a player during the final days of training camp, when other teams are pressured to get under the $44 million salary cap, a situation that doesn’t concern the Caps.

This much is certain: On opening night, Alex Ovechkin will be at left wing, and Kolzig will be in goal. Other than that, a lot of options are open.

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