Defensemen Brendan Witt and Nolan Baumgartner officially became Washington Capitals at yesterday's NHL Entry Draft in Edmonton, Alberta, but neither of the former first-round picks got to walk to the podium at the Northlands Coliseum and try on the team's new uniforms.
Witt, the 10th pick in the 1993 draft, and Baumgartner, the 11th pick in 1994, donned the old stars-and-stripes jerseys on their draft days, and both signed deals with Washington late Friday night in Edmonton.
With their two first-round picks in the 1995 draft, the Capitals picked left wings, Brad Church at No. 17 and Miikka Elomo at No. 23. The Caps took Dwayne Hay, another left wing, with their second-round pick.
But Caps general manager David Poile wasn't finished. He then traded forward Dimitri Khristich, a two-time 30-goal scorer, and goalie Byron Dafoe to Los Angeles for the Kings' first- and fourth-round picks in next year's draft. So, for the sixth straight year, the Caps will have the opportunity to select twice in the opening round.
Witt, who is 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds, signed his five-year, $6.7 million contract at 11:57 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time, three minutes before he would have been eligible to re-enter this year's draft.
"We feel really good about this signing and our young players," Poile said. "[Witt and Baumgartner] are really big players, and you've got to have big defensemen when you have to play teams like Philadelphia and New Jersey in your division."
The Witt signing ends a two-year negotiation struggle that stalled in January, before the lockout-shortened 1995 NHL season began. Witt walked out of Caps training camp after a deal could not be made last fall, then he refused to play for his Western Hockey League team and sat out the entire year. Witt said he spent the winter tending bar in his hometown of Humboldt, Saskatchewan.
Talks between the 20-year-old and the Caps did not pick up until 11 p.m. Friday, when Poile made the phone call that led to the deal.
"David made a deal I just couldn't turn down," Witt said. "I wanted to play for the Capitals. Hopefully, I can lead the team to a Stanley Cup over the next few years."
In January, Witt was seeking a four-year, $8.4 million contract, and Washington was offering $3.3 million over four years, plus performance bonuses. But, if Witt had re-entered the draft, he would have done so under the new collective bargaining agreement, which places an $850,000-per-year cap on rookie contracts.
"There's no doubt the cap was a factor," Poile said.
Poile said Witt is ready for the NHL next season, and his hiatus from organized hockey will not deter the development of the WHL's top defenseman in 1994.
Baumgartner, 6-1 and 187 pounds, played on Canada's World Junior Championship team, and might need another year of junior hockey before he can jump to the NHL, Poile said. Baumgartner's deal, which will yield a maximum salary of $3.2 million over four years, includes a separate financial arrangement for time spent in the minors.
The trade with the Kings will give the Caps' younger forwards (Pat Peake, Jason Allison and Martin Gendron, for example), a chance for more ice time, Poile said. With the emergence of Jim Carey and the signing of backup Olaf Kolzig, Dafoe was expendable.
Church and Elomo will be counted on to pick up the scoring slack for the Caps, but not quite yet. Church, 18, is a 6-1, 210-pound forward who likes to play an aggressive style similar to Winnipeg's Keith Tkachuk or St. Louis' Brendan Shanahan. He scored 50 points in 62 games with Prince Albert of the WHL, and accumulated 184 penalty minutes.
MA Elomo, 18, scored 12 goals in 28 Finnish Junior League games.
17, Brad Church, LW, Prince Albert, WHL. 23, Miikka Elomo, LW, Kiekko-67, Finland.
43, Dwayne Hay, LW, Guelph, OHL.
93, Sebastien Charpentier, G, Laval, QMJHL. 95, Joel Theriault, D, Halifax, QMJHL.