Though Carpenter denies it and Poile refuses to comment, Murray says that when practice began, a member of the Caps organization overheard Carpenter repeatedly muttering, "I've got to get out of this bleeping organization." "Had I heard that," says Murray, "I would have thrown him off the ice."
After practice, Carpenter was called to Poile's office. "I asked Bobby, 'Can your play improve under the current circumstances?' and he didn't give me the confidence that that would happen," says Poile. "We discussed whether it would be beneficial to the Caps and to Bobby if we parted company. My judgment was that if Bobby didn't want to be here I felt more comfortable if he didn't practice or play until we made a trade."
Carpenter does not dispute the content of his meeting with Poile but he thinks it was part of a long-term effort to force him to say he wanted out. "There were at least five or six meetings this season when David asked me if I wanted to be traded," says Carpenter. "Obviously he was looking for me to say that. He asked me a bunch of times, 'Bobby, would a change of scenery do you good?' and I said, 'No, I don't think so.' Then he asked again and again, and finally I said, 'Well, I don't know, maybe yes, maybe no.' They were putting words into my mouth. I never said I wanted a trade. We just bought a new house. Why would I want to leave?"
But leave he will. Where Carpenter will end up has been a hot topic of speculation. Fifty-goal scorers don't come on the market every day. Of course, Poile is trying to sell Carpenter as a 50-goal scorer, but the general managers to whom he has been talking know that 1) Carpenter has averaged only 30 goals in four of his five seasons; 2) Carpenter is in the midst of a season-and-a-half-long slump; and 3) Carpenter is no longer of any use to the Caps. A trade to another Patrick Division team is very unlikely because the Caps don't need someone with Carpenter's potential coming back to haunt them. Equally unlikely is a deal with a Canadian team, which would have to pay Carpenter the inflated exchange rate on his already hefty contract ($1.3 million U.S. converts to $1.8 million Canadian). The most active bidders apparently have been Adams Division rivals Boston and Buffalo.
Carpenter, who grew up in Peabody, Mass., some 15 miles from Boston, says he has no preference; he just wants the trade to be made soon. So does Murray, who needs something to jolt his team out of its swoon. "I think there were other people, other influences in Bobby's life, who have very high expectations of him," he says. "Whether it's his father [Bob Sr., a Peabody policeman and a part-time Caps scout] or his agent [Bob Murray], I don't know. One minute, he's saying how brutal he thinks he's playing, and a minute later he's talking about ice time or linemates or something. It's hard to figure."
Says Carpenter, "I'm going to have to go somewhere else and prove myself all over again. I don't know if I'll ever score 50 again, but there's no question I'll be a success in another city. It's just too bad it had to end this way."