- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

For much of this season, Steve Eminger was a forgotten man.

Eighty-two times a coach from the Washington Capitals submitted an official active lineup before a regular season game. Sixty-two times Eminger’s name was not on it. He never played more than five games in a row, and skated fewer than 13 minutes in all but three contests.

“It has gone from really frustrating to not really knowing what is going on to think you’re getting traded — just a lot of different things were going through my head,” Eminger said of the regular season. “Different situations, like just when you thought you might be in and everything was OK, something else presented itself so it was really weird.”

Eminger said he never heard an explanation about why he went from playing 134 games the past two seasons to essentially being the team’s eighth defenseman.

“I don’t think I am a depth player. I think I am better than a depth player,” Eminger said. “I think I can be in the lineup every game. But yeah, I think they viewed me as a depth player and that’s what happened.”

But with Brian Pothier lost because of a concussion and Jeff Schultz out because of an undisclosed injury and then back spasms, Eminger became a vital participant in the postseason. He dressed for five of the Caps’ seven playoff games, and averaged more than 16 minutes of ice time.

Eminger scored the only goal by a Caps defenseman not named Mike Green, and his plus-2 rating for the series was tied for second on the team. Eminger averaged nearly three hits a game and was tied for fourth on the Caps with seven blocked shots.

“It obviously ended disappointingly with losing in the playoffs, but personally I take a lot out of this year as a positive,” Eminger said. “[I thought] with the circumstances and the amount of playing time and the situations I was put into that I did pretty good in those situations. I thought playoffs, again when I had the chance to play, I did good. I think I can take a lot of positives out of really a long and I guess frustrating year.”

Now Eminger is a restricted free agent, and his future remains uncertain. Caps general manager George McPhee said the team would extend Eminger a qualifying offer. Because Eminger made $1 million this past season, that offer will include at least a 5 percent raise.

“He played well. It is unfortunate he didn’t get in many games early, but down the stretch he did and he played well,” McPhee said. “Sometimes it takes this kind of environment to bring the best out of a player, but the coaches dress the lineup all season long that they think they need to win on a given night. They dressed what they dressed, but he’s a good player.”

Eminger’s options include accepting the qualifying offer, asking for salary arbitration, signing an offer sheet with another team which Washington has the right to match, negotiating a multiyear deal with the Caps, or declining his qualifying offer.

If he declines that offer, he would have to either negotiate another deal with the Caps like Tomas Fleischmann did before this season or not play in the NHL. The Caps could also trade Eminger before anything is resolved, and then that team would have to extend him a qualifying offer.

Asked if he would like to return to the Caps, Eminger responded: “Um, I don’t know. If it is the right move, yeah. I like this team. I like this city. I don’t think I was treated fairly, but it is going to be a good team, a contending team so why not? I want to be on a winning team.”

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