All last season, the Washington Capitals had a guy who is arguably their best playmaker, Dale Hunter, centering makeshift lines of checkers, fighters and guys only an even bet to put the puck into an empty net. Not surprisingly, he ended up with a lackluster season and lousy numbers. During the playoffs, they gave him people to work with, guys who at least had a chance of finishing off plays, and he was the team's leading scorer and sparkplug.
All that was apparently forgotten during the summer, however, because already Hunter has been designated as center on the fourth line. Talk about purgatory. "There's no message being sent to Dale," says coach Terry Murray. Not much.
It will be the official opening night at the Piney Orchard rink in Odenton tomorrow when hors d'oeuvres are followed by someone cutting a ribbon and then the Caps and Philadelphia Flyers getting around to their usual round of rabbit punches in a scrimmage. Friday, the team opens the exhibition season with a game against the U.S. Olympians in Albany, N.Y.
* Boston University, Towson State's foe here Saturday evening, is going with a redshirt quarterback, Greg Moore, after Stan Greene, the top passer in school history after just two seasons, left school. Several top grid powers were after Moore out of high school, but he had a stumbling start last weekend when the Terriers were bombed by William & Mary, 48-22.
* Three things you never expected to hear about Eddie Murray: He was injured earlier this season diving for a ball . . . he's going on one of those mingle-with-the-fans boat cruises this offseason . . . and, apparently, the honeymoon is over in Los Angeles; he doesn't expect to re-sign with the Dodgers.
* It appears a solid, 21-year history is going by the wayside as the Virginia Slims of Washington event goes from a regular tournament with lots of players (28 to 32) to one of those in and out before you can get the license plate exhibitions. Such undertakings don't help in the development of players and/or the game, simply stuffing more loot into the pockets of players who already have more money than they'll ever need.
* One of the really nice people at the Capital Centre, John "Chief" Gentry, keeper of the Bullet mascot "Tiny" and involved with the backstage operation since the building opened in 1973, passed on last weekend at age 68.
* Maybe it's time Matt Biondi, one of our greatest swimmers, hauled himself out of the pool and went about beginning the rest of his life. No youngster and with a degree from a great school, Cal-Berkeley, the five-time gold medalist said of a recent training camp he attended, "They [U.S. Swimming Inc.] want the good things out of us, the world records and our leadership as team captains, but they don't treat us like we're special, unique."
* In case you hadn't noticed, Toronto is done playing American League East foes for the season, a situation that could be made even more ridiculous if Boston and Detroit get hot and close their four- and six-game gap. It's inevitable, with two seven-team divisions, that there be a couple of swing teams. In the AL East, it should always be woeful, out-of-it by Mother's Day Cleveland.
* It seems appropriate at this time to recall what ex-fighter and writer Jose Torres once said of Mike Tyson: "Cus D'Amato [the fighter's manager and guardian] taught the kid what to do and how to act in the ring, but he died before he could get around to teaching him how to act outside the ring."
* They can explain the move until the cows come home, but the Bullets sending Darrell Walker away for a couple of down-the-road draft choices who will be hard pressed to even make the club defies logic. And general manager John Nash says, "We've been working on this deal for some time." What, giving one of your starting players away free?
* Boy, talk about a funny name for a tournament. The official name of the $1 million event in Sydney at the end of the month is Uncle Toby's Australian Indoor Tennis Championships. Listen to the guys set to visit ol' Tob: U.S. Open champ Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and David Wheaton.
* Nothing personal, understand, but it was sort of a charge watching Maryland's defenders stuff Terry Kirby after reading that the Virginia tailback rides around in a car with the license plate "IRUN-TDS".
* There's just no telling the sacrifices a parent will make for his kids. A Massachusetts golfer was first off the tee at a father-daughter championship, then came back in the afternoon for another round with another of his girls. One tandem finished ++ first, the other fifth and the poor guy probably got accused of favoritism.
* Where did these football and basketball hotshots coming out of college get the idea that they're stars until proven otherwise? If they get nothing else out of five years at State, those character-building coaches should inform the lads that the burden of proof is back on their shoulders as pros.