'On vacation,' Langway ends Caps playing career To decide on future in next two months

March 13, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

Only five weeks ago, Rod Langway handed the captain's "C", which he had worn on his uniform for 10 years, to teammate Kevin Hatcher. Yesterday, he said he was taking an early vacation and announced he "will no longer be a playing member" of the Washington Capitals.

Of course, Langway attached a rider to the statement. He will take the next two months to access his physical condition and determine if he still can contribute on the ice -- either for the Capitals or another team.

"I just look at it as my playing career is over right now," Langway said. "My season is ending early. I'm on vacation, beginning right now."

It was not a retirement statement, but a painful farewell -- at least for the moment -- in a small room, ironically decorated with party streamers left over from some happier occasion, off to the side of the practice rink at Piney Orchard.

Capitals general manager David Poile spoke of Langway's contributions to the team and of what "a very difficult year this has been . . . since the start of the season, not much has gone right for Rod."

Langway sat through the preliminaries, then introduced his friend and attorney, Mark A. Barondess, who read a statement. Langway kept his eyes down.

"It's a tough time," he said afterward, his blue eyes rimmed in red. "I'd love to be ending with the Stanley Cup. I'd like to be a vital part of it -- but it's not going to happen. It's best for me and my team for me not to be around. [Shawn] Anderson and [Jason] Woolley are ahead of me and now they won't have to worry about me. For me to play, someone would have to sit out. . . . If I cause trouble, it's a disease in the locker room and I don't want to do that."

When Langway gave up the captaincy in early February, he did it because he was not playing regularly. He had seen his playing time go from 20 or 25 minutes a game early in the season to five or eight minutes a game. No longer was he an everyday player. Just six games away from an official NHL count of 1,000 career games, Langway found, with more and more frequency, he was scratched all together.

Used to being among Washington's top defenders, it has been a difficult transition.

"It's been a tough and bitter pill for him to swallow, and a lot of mental stress for him," said Poile. "He has always been a big time player and he had to hear me say time after time, 'You're not good enough. You're not good enough.' It wasn't pleasant for him or for me."

Poile said that in the last few months, in some ways, "we've been pacifying Rod Langway. None of us wanted to do that."

Langway appeared in Poile's office last Tuesday to talk about ending his participation with the Capitals for the rest of this season. Langway said it was not a hasty decision.

"I just have too much pride to do what they wanted me to do," said Langway, who has been serving as an unofficial assistant coach during the past month. "At first, the first few games I was behind the bench, I liked it. But then, I wanted to play.

"I know I'll be 36 next year, and to be away from the game like this is taking a chance," he said. "Maybe in two months I'll decide to retire. Maybe I'll decide to play on. There are two new expansion franchises coming in, 70 new jobs to fill. Who knows? I know I'm taking a risk and it will probably come down to whether some other team wants to take a gamble on me."

Capitals president Dick Patrick said Langway "is the most important player in Capitals history."

Langway said: "Terry wants his 20 best players out there on the ice and that's what he's got."

The Capitals will honor Langway's contract for the rest of this season. The contract stipulates that he will have an off-ice role with the Capitals when he retires. Poile and Langway said yesterday they would talk about many things after the season, including any future role he might have with the franchise.

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