Tugnutt adds maturity to Caps crease

The All-Kid goaltending tandem of Jim Carey, 21, and Olie Kolzig, 25, that the Washington Capitals plan to put on the ice this season just got a little incentive to play harder.

With the signing of veteran Ron Tugnutt, general manager David Poile has made sure he will not be caught one goaltender short this season -- as the Capitals nearly were a year ago, when Rick Tabaracci was injured shortly after the Caps had traded their all-time winningest goalie, Don Beaupre, and left the team dependent on the two rookies.


"As we saw last season, you never know what's going to happen," said Poile. "Signing Tugnutt gives us four goalies, the normal number in the NHL."

That experience also should create some competitive tension. The Capitals do not want just to give Carey and Kolzig their jobs. Now, the two of them know that if they slip up, there is a competent replacement in the wings.


"If, God forbid, something happened to Jim or Olie, and all we had was Mike Torchia -- who we think could develop into a good goalie with time -- I wouldn't be pleased over the long haul," said Jack Button, director of player personnel. "Mike would be fine for five or seven games, but now we've got a good, experienced goalie to go to if we have to."

And an inspired one. Tugnutt has been in the NHL since breaking in with the Quebec Nordiques in 1987-88. He once made 70 saves against the Boston Bruins -- "A busy night," he said, laughing, recalling the 3-3 tie.

Now, at 27, he expected to be an established force somewhere.

"It's been a difficult time," he said. "I haven't played much the last few years. It's made it tough for teams to find me. But I'm making the best of it. I'm excited about being here, and I'm looking forward to putting a little pressure on their young guys and to having them bring the best out of me.

"It's good to be back in a situation where you have to prove yourself."

Bondra, Pivonka wait, hope

Peter Bondra, who led the NHL in goal-scoring last season, and his line mate Michal Pivonka, who was third in scoring with the Capitals, will be hoping for the best today, when Poile stops by the office of their agent, Rich Winter, in Edmonton, Alberta.

It will be the first face-to-face meeting between the two sides since May and the first bargaining since early July, when the Capitals offered to more than double Bondra's salary to $900,000, while offering Pivonka his same $700,000.


"We'll see what the wise man from Washington brings," said Winter, who thinks that both players deserve more and that Bondra deserves considerably more -- near the $2 million made by Joe Juneau.

"I'm going to tell him what I have to say and listen to what he has to say, and if we have anything in common that will be great," Poile said.

Best in class?

The latest issue of the Hockey News offers its Top 20 choices for best centers, left and right wings, defensemen and goalies. You'll have fun second-guessing.

Left wing Dimitri Khristich, for instance, has gone from a high of 36 goals in 80 games in 1991-92 to a low of 10 in 43 games last season. When he played for the Capitals, he couldn't buy a mention in anyone's Top 20. Now, traded to the Los Angeles Kings, he's No. 18.

Center Mario Lemieux, who turns 30 Oct. 5, hasn't played in 17 months, but he's ranked No. 2 among centers. Geez, shouldn't the guy have to play at least a week before he is re-anointed.


And defenseman Al Iafrate, who didn't play at all last season and who is facing more knee surgery, checks in at No. 18.

Holdups at every level

The Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils have yet to sign goalie Martin Brodeur, and the Florida Panthers, who have yet to make the playoffs, haven't signed goalie John Vanbiesbrouck. In both cases, the clubs have made three-year offers ($8 million and $6 million, respectively), but the players have said no, pointing to salaries being paid other goalies.