- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Washington Capitals made their first moves as the trade deadline nears, sending veteran forward Richard Zednik to the New York Islanders yesterday for a second-round pick in the 2007 draft.

Zednik had six goals and 12 assists in 32 games for the Caps this season. Twice he has missed time with injuries, including a stretch of 26 contests from Dec. 6 to Jan. 30. He had one goal and four assists in 12 games since returning from groin surgery Feb. 1.

“I think it is fair value. I think Richard will play better,” Caps general manager George McPhee said. “He got hurt and had the surgery, and it kind of ruined his season, but he is healthy now, and I think he will fare better with a new opportunity.”

Zednik is in the final year of a three-year contract and will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He is making $1.976 million this season, and the Islanders will be responsible for about 22.5 percent of that. McPhee said the Caps had tried to sign Zednik to a contract extension.

“Not very close,” McPhee said when asked how close the two sides came to an agreement. “We have discussed it for the last couple of months, and it just didn’t work out.”

The Caps drafted Zednik in the 10th round of the 1994 draft before trading him to Montreal in March 2001. Washington reacquired Zednik for its third-round pick in the 2007 draft in July.

Zednik joins an Islanders team that has forced its way back into the playoff picture with wins in five of six games and an 8-2-2 mark in February.

Before last night’s games the Islanders were tied with Montreal for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 70 points.

“Richard is a proven offensive talent,” Islanders general manager Garth Snow said in a statement. “When you can add a player of his skill and competitiveness for a playoff push at a fair cost, you do it. We believe Richard will fit in well with our team.”

McPhee also swung another deal last night, sending defenseman Lawrence Nycholat to Ottawa for defenseman Andy Hedlund and a sixth-round pick in the 2007 draft.

Nycholat had two goals and six assists in 18 games for the Caps this season but has not dressed since Feb. 1. Hedlund, 28, has five goals and 21 assists for Binghamton of the American Hockey League this season.

The deals are the first but might not be the last for the Caps before the trade deadline at 3 p.m. today.

Center Dainius Zubrus is also in the final year of his contract and could be a prime target for a contending franchise. Zubrus signed a two-year deal in August 2005 and has a salary of $1.85 million this season.

The 28-year old from Lithuania has centered the Caps’ top line with Alex Ovechkin and Chris Clark for the past two seasons, and he has flourished. Zubrus set career highs with 23 goals and 57 points in 71 games last season and is three goals and five points from those marks with 19 games to play this year.

While other teams covet Zubrus as a top-six forward who is versatile enough to play center or on a wing, his value to the Caps organization goes beyond his production. Zubrus speaks fluent Russian and has been something of a mentor for Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

“The situation is we would like to sign a deal, but it has to be a good hockey decision,” McPhee said. “If the numbers are right and it makes sense to the hockey department, then ownership will sign off on it.

“I imagine we will have one more conversation about it.”

If the two sides don’t come to an agreement, Zubrus likely will be moved and could bring the Caps a nice return. Keith Tkachuk, another versatile player who is seven years older and has nine fewer points than Zubrus, was traded from St. Louis to Atlanta for a first-, second- and third-round pick, and the Blues will receive another first-rounder if he signs with the Thrashers this offseason.

Other players in the final year of their contract who could be moved today include defensemen Jamie Heward and Bryan Muir, though Muir is on injured reserve.

Should the Caps trade Zubrus, Ovechkin will play tonight against the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center without both of his normal linemates because right wing Chris Clark remains on injured reserve with a sprained shoulder.

“It’s the life. They are very good players and very good teammates,” Ovechkin said after Sunday’s loss to the Devils. “It’s the NHL, and you never know when you wake up where you will be next day.”

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