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He aims to please

Don't accuse Capitals GM McPhee of a cold-hearted fire sale

Posted: Thursday March 4, 2004 1:31PM; Updated: Thursday March 4, 2004 2:43PM
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Peter Bondra
Peter Bondra will get a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup with Ottawa.

Defenseman Sergei Gonchar wanted to get traded to Toronto, where he trains in the summer, where he could have played alongside his old partner Ken Klee, where he'd have had a chance to sneak into the Stanley Cup finals. Instead the Caps sent him to the Bruins, a good team with a fine young captain but, well, who would you rather pin your silver dreams on: cold-blooded playoff hero Ed Belfour (Leafs goalie) or green Andrew Raycroft (Bruins goalie)?

Gonchar muddied the waters a couple weeks ago when he let it be known he wanted out of Washington ASAP. If he'd just sat tight, let a trade come to him, the bet here says he'd be sharpening his skates at the Air Canada Centre right now. You see, Capitals general manager George McPhee is conducting the kindest, most considerate fire sale you ever will see. "I feel an allegiance to our players," McPhee explained the other day. "You like to feel like you're sending them off to a good place. To a place they might win"

All together now: Awwwwwwww.

McPhee means it too. First he sent Steve Konowalchuk to that all-star team in Colorado. Then he placed Peter Bondra among the offensive gliterati in Ottawa. He packed up Robert Lang to the Western-Conference leading Red Wings. And sources say the only reason goalie Olie Kolzig is still a Capital is because McPhee likes the guy too much to send him to the mismanaged, skating-in-circles Rangers who wanted him.

After McPhee traded Bondra he said proudly: "We worked hard to make sure that he went to a team that could win the Stanley Cup."

After he traded Lang he said proudly: "We have given Robert a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup."

You've heard of a players' coach. Now meet McPhee, the players' GM. He's the anti-Lou Lamoriello -- that Devils maestro who'll ship you to the Peoria Icecaps if you're not careful. Does McPhee feel solidarity with his guys? A couple of years ago when he thought the Blackhawks were gratuitously trying to beat up his players in an exhibition game (What, the Blackhawks? Never!) he went over to the Chicago locker room after the game and punched coach Lorne Molleken in the eye.

I want McPhee on my side. I mean, here he is dumping salary, getting his team younger and cheaper ahead of the new CBA, and still he's thinking about the guy he's getting rid of. He invariably meets the media after a trade sounding subded and saying that it was "extremely difficult" to trade Steve/Peter/Robert.

I know what you're thinking: What about Jaromir Jagr, the moody superstar who was sentenced to the gloom of Rangers blue, far from the postseason. Well, it was a small miracle McPhee was able to trade Jagr at all. Kind of like putting a guy on Mars. There was only one team rich enough, and misguided enough, to take on Jagr's $48 billion contract.

This is a time of year when a player can get uprooted in a hurry. Rangers center Petr Nedved just got sent 3,000 miles away to Edmonton where the Oilers are out of the playoffs and where it'll be 10 degrees tonight. (Of course if you've seen Nedved's wife on the cover of the Swimsuit Issue, you're not feeling too bad for him.) McPhee, bless him, aims to make that uprooting just a little bit easier.

McPhee can't please everyone (see: Gonchar). He's got to try to trade wisely for Washington. It seems the Capitals, who have dealt three of the four guys on the cover of their media guide (Bondra, Jagr, Gonchar; Kolzig is the fourth), won't be done trading until they've unloaded their logo from center ice. On Thursday morning, McPhee sent Michael Nylander to the Bruins for a 2006 second-round pick and future considerations. Who knows where Kolzig will wind up? Or Brendan Witt?

We do know that McPhee will try to find those puppies a good home, and then he, like the rest of the Capitals, can settle in and get ready to watch the playoffs on TV. "I'm not going to be rooting for anyone particular," McPhee says. "But I do have prediction: One of our guys is going to win the Stanley Cup."

Sports Illustrated senior writer Kostya Kennedy takes sides each week at SI.com.