Roenick faceoff heartens Capitals But no offer is made to All-Star free agent

August 20, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

Washington Capitals general manager David Poile said he was encouraged by his meeting with free agent Jeremy Roenick yesterday, but the team has not made an offer to the four-time NHL All-Star.

The rights to Roenick, 26, were traded from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Phoenix Coyotes last week, postponing yesterday's meeting, which was scheduled before the trade. Signing Roenick, who twice has scored 50 goals and has eclipsed the 100-point mark three times in the past five seasons, is a top priority, Poile said, and he will continue to talk with Roenick's agent every day.

However, the nature of yesterday's meeting was not necessarily to complete a deal.

"I think the meeting went really good," Poile said. "He was traded, but that does not change his status. We've been talking to him almost since he became a free agent. Where we are right now is anybody's guess. I think he has a lot on his platter. But I think it was a really good day for us. . . . It will be very exciting if we have the ability to acquire him."

Roenick, who made $1.4 million last year, has not begun serious contract discussions with the Coyotes. He is scheduled to be in New Jersey today to meet with the Devils, and a handful of other teams also appear to be interested in taking on the $4.5 million annual salary Roenick and his agent, Neil Abbott, are looking for.

The Capitals boast one of the NHL's best defenses and Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Jim Carey, but they have lacked the offensive punch to advance past the first two rounds of the playoffs in recent years.

Bothered by ankle and knee injuries the past two seasons, Roenick's numbers have declined. When healthy, he is considered one of the game's most dangerous and punishing forwards. He scored a career-high 107 points in 1992-93 and 1993-94, the last two full seasons he played.

If the Capitals sign Roenick to an offer sheet, the Coyotes would have the right to match it, though they could not trade Roenick for one year.

The Coyotes still could deal Roenick to the Capitals even if he signs an offer sheet with them, in which case Roenick would sign with the Caps after the trade.

The Coyotes also could trade Roenick's rights to Washington, just as Chicago did with Phoenix. Or, the Coyotes could choose not to match a potential offer from the Capitals and they would receive five first-round picks from Washington in return, which is unlikely since the Coyotes are trying to sell hockey in the Southwest and must play for the present, not the future.

"We didn't get him to trade him," Coyotes general manager John Paddock told the New York Daily News yesterday, saying Phoenix would match any offer sheet. "Jeremy Roenick can play for us."

Acknowledged Poile: "It's way too soon to discuss players or compensation. He hasn't even been to Phoenix yet."

Poile said he believes that Roenick is interested in the Capitals. Roenick lived in the Washington area briefly and played youth hockey there. Plus, the Capitals are a young, improving team and they are moving to a state-of-the-art downtown arena in 1997.

"He's very specific about where he'd like to play," Poile said. "I don't think it's quite as large a group as you might think."

The Capitals and Blackhawks had lengthy discussions before Roenick's trade to Phoenix, and the Caps have shown a willingness to spend big bucks in other cases. Earlier this summer, the Capitals signed defenseman Phil Housley to a three-year deal, which sources say was worth between $2.5 million to $2.7 million a year, making him the team's highest-paid player ever.

A league source said the Blackhawks and several other NHL teams were interested in a core of young Caps defensemen -- Brendan Witt, Sergei Gonchar and Nolan Baumgartner, all players the Coyotes, a weak defensive team, would covet. Those names, and forward Steve Konowalchuk, are likely to come up if the Coyotes and Capitals progress to the trading stage.

Housley further bolsters the depth on defense, enhancing the Caps' willingness to trade defense for offense, but they have not yet had internal meetings about a possible match with Phoenix, and are unlikely to do so unless they sign Roenick to an offer sheet.

In the past, the Capitals have relied on young talent from within the organization and have been reluctant to sign pricey free agents. Now they have several young players either in the NHL or on the cusp, and numerous prospects a year or two away.

With prospects so close and an already young nucleus, the Capitals would prefer to part with draft picks rather than players if the Coyotes talk trade.

NOTE: The Capitals signed forward Jaroslav Svejkovsky, their second first-round pick in the 1996 draft, to a three-year contract.

Pub Date: 8/20/96

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