LANDOVER -- Peter Bondra, dressed all in black, entered the Washington Capitals' locker room last night to backslaps, broad smiles and welcome-home wishes.
After a 39-day holdout, Bondra and the Capitals reached an agreement on a five-year, $9 million deal yesterday in time for 1995's leading NHL goal-scorer to climb into a uniform and onto the ice for last night's 7-4 loss to Los Angeles.
"I'm excited, relieved and very happy to have Peter under contract for the next five years," said Capitals general manager David Poile. "To me, there is no question that Peter is one of the most exciting players in the National Hockey League and I believe he has matured and developed each year, from a young kid who didn't speak the language too well, to a sometimes inconsistent player, to the leading goal scorer in the whole NHL ++ last year. . . And I'm satisfied that he has proven himself to be a consistent performer."
Late last night, the team signed its other remaining holdout, center Michal Pivonka, to a five-year deal. He had 18 goals and 23 assists last season.
Pivonka still will have to sit out the first three games of his return because of a suspension received for an incident during the Capitals' playoff series with Pittsburgh.
The deal accepted by Bondra yesterday was much the same as the one he was offered a week ago and turned down. At that time, Bondra and his agent, Rich Winter, felt there was too much deferred money.
Last night, Poile said there is now less money deferred and Winter said he is pleased to have an agreement.
"Peter's happy and that's what my contract calls for, for Peter to be happy," Winter said. "And he's happy enough to sign it. Therefore, my job is complete."
Bondra's smile was so broad it seemed to warm a cold arena.
"First, I'd like to thank Mr. Abe Pollin [team owner] and the organization because we signed a kind of long-term deal and it gives me a lot of confidence," said Bondra. "I will try to keep doing what I did, and maybe even better. I'm here, I'm happy and ready to jump in the game."
Judging by his International Hockey League stats, he is. In seven games for the Detroit Vipers, Bondra had eight goals (including a league-leading three short-handed) and one assist.
"It's so good for us to get him back," said Caps defenseman Mark Tinordi. "It was good we weren't distracted by his absence, but we'll be a much better team with him."
It was a unanimous opinion.