- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

SUNRISE, Fla. | Last season, negotiations between George McPhee and Donald Brashear on a one-year contract extension lasted all of five minutes.

The Washington Capitals’ general manager said he approached his team’s enforcer about a new deal, and the pair quickly agreed to a $1.2 million salary. That was in January 2008; fifteen months later, there is no new deal in place for Brashear, who would become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

“I’m not really worried about it. I guess George decided it would be better [to wait],” Brashear said. “They don’t really like dealing with contracts during the season. If you deal with the negotiations, it can take away from a guy’s focus, so he preferred to wait until the end.”

Added McPhee: “I don’t talk about contracts until they’re signed.”

This has not been an easy year for Brashear. He is likely to miss a 14th consecutive game Saturday because of a sprained right knee. One of the sport’s top fighters, Brashear got caught by a left cross from Nashville’s Wade Belak on March 10, and his knee buckled awkwardly as he fell to the ice.

It was the third injury of the season for Brashear, who will finish the regular season with just one goal and four points in 63 games. But Brashear’s value to the Caps is not tied to his offensive numbers. He remains one of the most feared pugilists in the league, and there are nights when just having him in the lineup is enough to deter violence.

“He is one of the toughest guys around, but he can also play the game,” forward Matt Bradley said. “He’s an effective player. The great thing about Brash is he knows when to fight and when not to fight. He’s been around long enough, and he’s always a team-first guy, so he isn’t selfish about it.

“He has nothing to prove — everyone knows how tough he is. He only fights when it benefits our team.”

Brashear has been a welcome member of the Caps in his three seasons here. He is one of the most popular players on the team, and coach Bruce Boudreau has no reservations about tapping him for a regular shift — something that distinguishes him as an elite enforcers.

But Brashear said he hasn’t necessarily found a home in the District.

“Well, homes are nice anywhere,” he said. “There are other teams in other places. I’ve played on many different teams so far, and it has always been positive. I was able to come in and help teams. I like the job that I have, and I like the role that I have, but I will be a free agent and there are always other teams. I always keep it in the back of my mind that I might be playing somewhere else in the year after.”

The Caps also don’t have an heir apparent in place. Bradley and defenseman John Erskine are willing combatants, but they are not heavyweights like Brashear.

Given his age — he’ll turn 38 in January — it would seem unlikely that Brashear would earn a substantial raise on the open market. Georges Laraque and Brashear are typically considered the top two enforcers in the league; last offseason, Laraque signed a three-year, $4.5 million contract with Montreal, but he is six years younger.

One thing is certain: Stepping away from the game is not an option.

“I’m not retiring,” Brashear said. “Things happen, and you get hurt or knocked down, but that’s what we do. You give some and you take some — that’s who we are. You just keep going as long as you can, and the money is good — so why leave it?”

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