- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Washington defenseman Jeff Schultz can look around the locker room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and see the looming situation.

Defensemen John Erskine, Bryan Muir and Brian Pothier have been practicing with the team and are close to returning from injuries. Add in recently acquired Milan Jurcina and the six defensemen the team had been using, and the defensive corps is suddenly 10 deep — leaving little room for Schultz.

Both Pothier and Erskine said yesterday after practice that they are ready for tonight’s game at Tampa Bay, and coach Glen Hanlon concurred. Pothier has missed 10 games with a concussion, and Erskine has been out 29 with what he said was a broken ankle (it had been reported as a broken foot). Muir has missed 24 games with a broken foot and is close to being ready.

“We haven’t completely decided what we’re going to do, but we’ll decide by 5 o’clock tomorrow,” general manager George McPhee said. “There is no way we are going to have three guys come in at once. These guys have been out of the lineup for a long time. I would say Pothier will play for sure, then we’ll decide [on Erskine]. We’ll see how he is tomorrow.”

Between now and the Feb. 27 trade deadline, the maximum roster size is 23 players. The Caps are at 23 now, so adding any of the three injured defensemen will force the team to remove someone. After Feb. 27, teams can have as many players on the roster as they can fit under the salary cap.

Schultz, who turns 21 in 10 days, is in his first full season as a professional and on an entry-level contract. This means the team can recall him from the minors and send him back down without passing him through waivers. So despite his strong play in the past 11 games since being recalled, he knows he could be sent back soon.

“Absolutely. They told me that if anything was wrong with injuries that I would be right back up here,” Schultz said. “These guys have been here from the start, and they deserve to play, so if I go back to Hershey I will keep working hard and see what happens.”

The other players who can be sent down without being put on waivers are right wing Eric Fehr and defenseman Mike Green (and left wing Alex Ovechkin, of course). Should Fehr or Green be demoted, it would qualify as a surprise.

Other players who could be sent down include center Kris Beech, who has been a healthy scratch for five straight games, and defenseman Lawrence Nycholat, who has been held out of the lineup for four consecutive contests. They would have to be placed on waivers, and any team could claim them.

Once everyone is healthy and the 23-man roster is set, Hanlon still will have to decide which three players will be scratched. He has been dressing 12 forwards and six defensemen, but Hanlon could dress an extra blueliner and double shift someone, most likely Ovechkin.

“We’ve got to do whatever it takes to try to make a playoff push,” defenseman Jamie Heward said. “We get good players that come back and can make a difference in our lineup, then that is the way it is. I think at this point, anybody can sit out or step aside to let the lineup be what is best for the team. We’ve got lots of numbers right now. I think it is a matter of getting a lineup that is going to work and go from there.”

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