Carpenter, Caps bury past, seeking better future


LANDOVER -- The new guy on the block said he didn't want to talk about it, but that wasn't going to work. Not after what happened here several years back.

The last we saw of Bobby Carpenter in a Washington Capitals uniform occurred right around Thanksgiving, 1986. He was in his sixth season as a Cap and things had gone pretty well during the first five.

The kid, drafted and signed right out of high school, had proven indestructible, never missing a game. Right at the start, he appeared something special, scoring his first goal after just 12 seconds of his first NHL game.

Carpenter scored 32 goals each of his first two seasons, then 28 in his third. His point totals were 67-69-68. In a word, Carpenter was consistent, sometimes spectacular. He took a reach for stardom and made it in 1985, scoring 53 goals to go along with 42 assists. He was still just 21 years old.

Carpenter's numbers through five campaigns were spectacular: 172 goals, 183 assists, 355 points . . . Hall of Fame, here I come.

Then, all hell broke loose. Bryan Murray, the coach, said maybe the kid's success had gone to his head. He didn't seem willing to play as hard and as physically as he had earlier. Carpenter became something of a clubhouse lawyer. More than once he was heard to bellow, "Get me out of this chicken organization."

In one of the strangest announcements ever in professional sports, the Caps said the organization and the player had agreed it would be best for all concerned if he played the rest of his career elsewhere. Strangely, the kid neither played nor practiced with the team for more than a month as it attempted to peddle him.

Three teams and 5 1/2 seasons later, Bobby Carpenter was back at the Capital Centre yesterday, raring to climb back into his old No. 11 jersey. He just signed a one-year $500,000 contract and the team has an option year at the same price.

Following the customary "This is a great addition for us" from coach Terry Murray, and "I loved it and enjoyed playing here" from the player, Carpenter had to address the circumstances that saw him bundled and dispatched from here on New Year's Day 1987.

"It was all a mistake and a huge misunderstanding," he insisted. "What was said, what was written, all of it got out of proportion. I got over it quickly."

Finally, after dancing around the issue for a while, Bobby admitted he "made some mistakes" and that "my strong head got in the way." But after six years' maturation in places such as New York, Los Angeles and in his hometown of Boston for the last 3 1/2 years, he is at peace with himself.

"If I knew 11 years ago what I know now, I would have still been here," he said.

Next came the question about why the Bruins, after years of trying to get him, let Carpenter wander off into free agency. After all, Bobby had a pretty good season coming back from a serious knee injury, logging 25 goals and 23 assists in 60 games.

"I don't know. I haven't heard or read anything," he answered, innocently. That seems hard to believe, considering the Boston media treats everything in sports right up there with wars, national elections and other disasters.

"The team never contacted me but once," he continued. "I had taken a complete physical a month before and they wanted me to come in again so they could check out the knee. I was just about to leave on a trip and it would have been a 2 1/2 -hour ride down there [to Boston]. I said I'd be in touch when I got back."

Voila, his name showed up on the waiver wire and Washington reportedly beat four other teams in the race for his services.

"It's the knee, Boston was worried about it," said Caps director of player personnel Jack Button. "Maybe they saw Bobby not rushing in for another look as some sort of doubt on his mind. But our medical staff checked it out and says it's OK."

If Carpenter's work last season didn't prove it, Button is convinced it will this season. "Experience has taught me that when a guy has a serious knee injury, he really doesn't get back to his old self for another whole season after that. That's this season coming up."

Murray spent a day poking around with Carpenter in the area last week and had much to say about the signing. "A couple of hours together and I told [general manager] David Poile I wanted him," Terry said. "Bobby said all the things you want to hear. He's a proven veteran player with a multitude of skills that will fit right in. He'll help us become a much better team than we were last year."

These words were part of the coach's introduction of the player to the media. The player listened and appeared slightly embarrassed. He broke the ice by opening, "Gee, my parents didn't want me this much."

All the parties were joyous, certainly a far cry from December of 1986 or right up until Bobby Amtraked up to the Big Apple in exchange for Kelly Miller and Mike Ridley.

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