LANDOVER -- It took more than a week -- and several clarifications from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman -- but the Washington Capitals decided to match the San Jose Sharks' free-agent offer for left wing Kelly Miller yesterday.
In a separate move, the Capitals signed 14-year veteran Keith Acton to a one-season contract.
Miller, 30, will receive a $1 million signing bonus and salaries of $800,000 and $850,000 for the next two years. Miller will have the option of extending the contract for an additional two seasons at $500,000 per season.
San Jose's original offer sheet to Miller, which was signed July 16, was questioned by the Capitals over several clauses. Washington general manager David Poile said one trade clause in the Sharks' offer permitted Miller to extend his contract to the year 2,000 at an average salary of $700,000 for three seasons. That clause would reduce other teams' interest in a trade, and Bettman canceled it from the contract.
Poile said another clause from the Sharks' offer that Bettman redefined was one that said if Miller decided not to extend the contract, then the team could lengthen it from two to four years -- if Miller's $800,000 salary was within $200,000 of his team's highest-paid player. This would be a valid option with the Sharks, because no San Jose player exceeds $1 million in salary, but the Capitals do have players who earn more than $1 million.
Bettman ruled that as long as Miller was within $200,000 of the highest-paid Shark at the time of this move -- no matter what team he was with -- the option could be exercised.
"It shouldn't involve lawyers," Poile said at a news conference at the USAir Arena yesterday. "When you receive it, you should know what you have to match. For this, it took three or four days to even understand it."
"I'm not terribly surprised after they restructured the offer sheet [that the Capitals matched it]," Sharks general manager Dean Lombardi said.
Miller, who has been with the Capitals since Jan. 1, 1987, was a Group III free agent, meaning that the Capitals had the right to match the offer sheet or lose him without compensation.
"Kelly Miller is an extremely talented player who fits into our plans for bringing the Stanley Cup to Washington, and we will not let him go," Capitals owner Abe Pollin said.
Acton, 35, signed a one-year, termination contract. He has been in the NHL since the 1979-80 season, playing for Montreal, Minnesota, Edmonton and the past 4 1/2 seasons in Philadelphia.
Last season , Acton, a center, had eight goals and 15 assists in 83 games, but it is his feistiness and leadership qualities that attracted Poile to him the most.
Acton's emotional style on the ice might help the Capitals in Atlantic Division games. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound center will slip into Dale Hunter's role while Hunter sits out the first 21 games of the season under his suspension for his late hit on the New York Islanders' Pierre Turgeon in the Stanley Cup playoffs.