It seemed like any other Saturday at the Carpenter household in Upper Marlboro, Md. Bobby added antifreeze to the Chevy Blazer. Bobby played with Britta, his one-year-old Rottweiler. Bobby and his wife, Julie, entertained relatives who had come down from New England for the Thanksgiving weekend. All the usual stuff.
Except for one thing. Carpenter, 23, the sixth-year center for the Washington Capitals and the first American to score 50 goals in the National Hockey League, had been fired earlier in the week. Terminated. Sacked. Pink-slipped. Booted. It happened after Monday's practice, and since then he had been up for auction. Collecting the bids was Caps general manager David Poile, the man who had sent Carpenter packing.
While Carpenter was worrying about radiator freeze-up, his ex-teammates were in Quebec City trying to break out of their own deep freeze—a nine-game winless streak that had dropped them into next to last place in the Patrick Division, with a 7-12-5 record. "I like the guys on the team, but I'd be stupid if I said I was hoping they won," said the bitter Carpenter. "If they lost 10 more, it wouldn't faze me a bit."
According to Poile and coach Bryan Murray, Carpenter's sour attitude is part of the reason he was put on the block. They say he could not be motivated and that he made it clear he wanted to go elsewhere. Carpenter contends that he never requested a trade and that the Caps, who placed third in the overall NHL standings last season, are "making me the scapegoat for the terrible start this season." The only thing the two sides agree on is that a parting of the ways is best for both.
The divorce was a long time coming. Labeled "The Can't-Miss Kid" as a Massachusetts high school star in 1981, Carpenter scored 32, 32 and 28 goals in his first three seasons and became a cornerstone of the improving Capitals. Then, in 1984-85 all the expectations were met: Carpenter scored 53 goals. That summer he opted for free agency, but no team was willing to meet his price—and compensate the Caps in turn. Carpenter eventually signed a four-year contract with the Caps for an estimated $1.3 million. But he showed up overweight at training camp and then suffered several nagging injuries. The result was a disappointing 27 goals for the season and 39 fewer points than the previous year. This fall, although Carpenter came to camp in the best shape of his life, the slump continued. He had only five goals and seven assists after 22 games.
Suddenly the Can't-Miss Kid was the Can't-Play Kid, puttering around the house waiting for word of a trade. "Six years ago I could never have imagined it would be like this," Carpenter says. "The game isn't fun anymore, that's for sure."
Carpenter and Murray have been at odds for all five years of Murray's tenure. "I know Bryan didn't particularly like me, and there were things that made me not like him," says Carpenter. "He didn't like the way I came up through the ranks...the fact that I didn't spend any time in the minors. Like he thought I'd become too big for my breeches and said, 'O.K., I'm going to show this guy who's boss.' "
Murray, whose Caps have finished with more than 100 points in three of his four full seasons, yet have failed to advance past the division playoffs, rolls his eyes when he hears of Carpenter's charges. "I had no personality problems with Bobby, and I can say that we've done absolutely everything to accommodate him," he says. "There have been so many meetings [with Carpenter!—about ice time, linemates, everything. We just couldn't get him to make the same commitment that he had two years ago."
It all came to a head at that Monday practice. Murray told Carpenter that he would be taking double shifts, working with Jim Thomson and Lou Franceschetti—who are fourth-line players and have three goals between them—in addition to playing on the No. 1 line with Mike Gartner, his regular partner at right wing. Carpenter now says he thought he would be playing on/yon the Thomson-Franceschetti shift, but according to Murray, Carpenter had appeared pleased at the time. "We were giving him more ice time," says Murray. "He seemed happy when I told him, but in the next breath I heard he was upset about it."
Says Carpenter, "It just shows that they don't have any respect and don't want me here."