Capitals trade dollars for Ciccarelli's playoff sense

Phil Jackman

June 22, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Check out the trades the Washington Capitals have been able to perpetrate on teams in the NHL during the last decade or so and you soon conclude they have probably led the league in that department.

Good thing. Otherwise, they would still be back in the morass of 20 or so victories a season and in last place in the Patrick Division.

Always a reward of lousy play, however, is that a floundering team assumes the divine right of ineptitude being rewarded in the form of access to top young players worldwide in the annual draft.

Imagine it, the likes of a Mario Lemieux or Eric Lindros in our midst and strapping on the equipment of the Caps. On second thought, better not, because talents like these command big money . . . and, well, that's when the franchise usually goes into a slow faint. Shock, disappointment, the feeling of being betrayed and downright fury were the emotions Dino Ciccarelli felt Saturday when word was passed down that he had been traded to the Detroit Red Wings.

It had been rumored and Dino had been swapped before, remember, but that was for Mike Gartner, a guy who is right at 550 goals while still shy of his 31st birthday.

The payback this time is Kevin Miller, younger brother of longtime Washington reliable Kelly Miller. That's all!

In other words, a guy who has scored 450 goals, who perhaps more than any other player in hockey gives the full measure of his ability every game and is particularly effective in the playoffs, has been traded for just another second-level player. Outrageous.

If Ciccarelli is beside himself being led down the primrose path by the Capitals, fans of the team should be storming the ramparts.

"It all came down to money," said Dino with a sigh. Translation: The Caps didn't want to part with any of it. "They didn't even try to negotiate," he said.

"No question it was going to be a tough negotiation," Caps general manager David Poile surmised, so he apparently decided to forgo the displeasure altogether.

Instead, he decided to go with the usual GM-speak. Things like pointing out Dino's age (32), the fact his absence would provide additional ice time for young players, the future, a new direction, etc., nothing you haven't heard a thousand times before.

Holes were plentiful throughout Poile's explanation. He cited Dimitri Khristich, Peter Bondra and Michal Pivonka as guys who all needed more playing time. One of the facts of the season was Khristich and Bondra got so much ice time early that they showed wear spots several times in the second half of the campaign. And come the playoffs, two of the three were virtual no-shows.

As long as he has been in Washington, that has been Ciccarelli's forte, coming up as top gun in the playoffs. His sudden dumping at least begins to suggest Dino was just one of the guys as the Caps were losing in the first round against Pittsburgh.

Only one player in the hard-fought seven-game series, the only close call the Penguins had in their march to a second straight Stanley Cup, proved better than Ciccarelli, and that was Lemieux.

People who don't know better will crow, "Hey, look what the Caps are doing, making a big change, trying their darndest to bring the best possible team to Washington."

"Yeah, right," said Dino. "They didn't want to pay me, that's all. They got as much as they could out of me and that's that."

He felt that might be the case last fall when Kelly Miller and Don Beaupre had to threaten everything but self-immolation before the team got down to serious business and signed them.

Something they did for Miller they couldn't at least try to accomplish with Ciccarelli? It defies logic.

Then there's the unspoken but implied theory that ever since the alleged sexual assault business of a couple years ago in which Dino and three others were supposedly involved, the team's image and marketing efforts were damaged badly.

But since, Ciccarelli has turned in his typical solid offensive numbers, bent over backward trumpeting the message of the team and apparently done a good job since he was voted the most popular Cap this past season.

Professional athletes are always susceptible to being uprooted at a moment's notice, but Dino must have been given every reason to think his career was set here as he went ahead and built a big house and moved here permanently.

"I did everything they asked of me and always did the best I could. Maybe if some of the other players had done the same, we might have won the [Stanley] Cup. They've always made a big deal about loyalty around here. I was loyal, then they go and trade me."

And almost as bad, proceed to make the deal sound as if getting rid of an old man for a bright young star is all the team needs to be dynamite for years to come.

"It's not a gamble," Poile said of the trade and a spokesman for the Red Wings agreed. "It's a steal," he said and it's likely he was not referring to the caper from a Washington perspective.

"It was strictly money," repeated Dino.

It was the learned Frank Lane, who set the unapproachable all-time record for trading (baseball) players, who once uttered the immortal words, "You can't play money at second base."

Or on right wing and get 40 goals out of it.

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