Washington Capitals captain Rod Langway, long the cornerstone of the franchise, has reached the crossroads in his career.
During a meeting between Langway, 36, and Capitals general manager David Poile yesterday, Langway was asked to become a part-time player. Until last week in Calgary, Langway, when healthy, never had missed a game in a Caps uniform. Now, he has sat out two of the last three and will not play this weekend.
"I discussed his role with the club," said Poile. "I told him he may JTC not be playing every game. We had a good, frank discussion, and he asked for a little time to think about it."
Langway could not be reached for comment.
The Caps (5-8) face the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning tonight and travel to Hartford for a game with the Whalers tomorrow. Poile said he expects to have another meeting with Langway before tonight's game.
"Rod is the captain of our team," said Poile. "He has been a star for a long time, and now, after all these years, it is hard to say to him that he has to play less than regularly."
Langway's options are limited. He can accept the limited playing role, retire or ask for a trade.
If Langway, who is in the last year of a two-year contract, chooses to retire, Poile said there will be a place for him in the organization, "though we haven't talked about where. It could be on the hockey side or in PR or marketing."
The trade option, however, may not be an option at Langway's age.
"That's a tough question," said Bryan Murray, former Capitals coach and now coach and general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. "There may be a team out there, but it would be a real question."
There is some behind-the-scenes speculation that Langway may prefer to retire instead of playing part time.
"I don't know what Rod's thinking, but he has a lot of pride," said Bryan Murray, who coached Langway for 7 1/2 seasons. "It wouldn't surprise me if he'd choose retiring. This is a very difficult decision."
Caps coach Terry Murray said he talked to Langway about limiting his playing time at least a week before sitting him out in Calgary.
"Time catches up with everyone, whether the game gets faster or the player gets slower," said the Caps coach. "But let's give him some time to think. He needs to get away and decide what route he wants to take."
Three things have gone against Langway this season. He has lost a step, the game's pace has picked up because of rule changes that have cut down on hooking and holding and the Caps have gotten off to a slow start.
And Sunday, Poile traded Kevin Miller to the St. Louis Blues for top-line defenseman Paul Cavallini. When that happened, Langway's problems became less tolerable.
"His play, what we've been used to seeing from Rod, has slipped a little bit," said Poile. "With that . . . and the addition of Paul Cavallini, it makes it hard to use him at the same level we have been."
Al Iafrate, who has played most often with Langway the past few seasons, says he has not had to cover for the veteran, but adds: "It's not my job to make those assessments. I'm just a player. This is simply something management feels it has to do."
And it certainly isn't something management looks forward to doing. Langway, who came to the Caps in 1982, led the team to the playoffs for the first time that year. He became the first American to win the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman in 1983 and repeated the performance in 1984. He has played in seven All-Star games and is 14 games shy of 1,000 in the NHL.