Capitals are plodding, but plotting, too Intentionally slow to trade, no deals as deadline passes


LANDOVER - The NHL trading deadline had just passed when Capitals David Poile recalled the parable about the tortoise and the hare the story that teaches slow and steady wins the race.

"We're the tortoise," said Poile, after revealing that the Capitals had not made any trades yesterday. "[A team like] St. Louis is the hare. On our course, it is harder to see the progress and sometimes, it's more painful. When you're the hare, there are more bells and whistles and fans love it. I'm hoping our fans understand what we're doing and buy into it. . . . I'm hanging my hat on the tortoise."

Poile said he called every NHL team yesterday searching for "the big trade" that would have improved the Capitals' offense for the long term. He made a call to Buffalo to see if he could pry Pat LaFontaine away from the Sabres and was told LaFontaine wasn't available.

"We were looking at the bigger deal rather than a patch, and in the end that deal did not present itself," said Poile.

The Capitals might have waited too long to try to make a big deal, given the way top scoring forwards have moved over the past month. But director of player personnel Jack Button said none of the preceding deals surprised the Caps and that they had tried to participate when it made sense to them.

What Poile said he would not risk was the team's long-term plan of "sticking with the good character veterans who are allowing us to mold in the younger players."

It was a plan that began in 1990, when Washington chose not to match a St. Louis offer sheet for defenseman Scott Stevens. In what was the first major free-agent signing in the NHL, the Capitals were compensated with five first-round draft choices.

"Who knows where we'd be today if we had signed Scott Stevens?" said Poile. "Some people say maybe we'd be the ones raising the Stanley Cup. Well, we don't know. . . . We went another way. We got these draft choices . . . and for five years, we got nothing for Scott Stevens because we got all those 18-year-olds and no one could play. Now we've got something."

The Capitals used those five picks to draft goalie Jim Carey, center Stefan Ustorf and defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt and Nolan Baumgartner. Carey, Gonchar and Witt, before being sidelined with a broken wrist, are all NHL standouts. All but Baumgartner are NHL regulars, and Baumgartner yesterday was named Western Hockey League Defenseman of the Year.

"We don't have all the answers yet," said Poile. "We don't know who will come through in the next 12 games to get us into the playoffs. . . . But in my mind we're back where we were when we let Scott Stevens go.

"Our plan has been to give our young players a chance to succeed at this level. That plan is not without growing pains. But we're like the tortoise, we're tough, durable and making progress, though not always at the speed everyone would like."

Pub Date: 3/21/96

Capitals tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Lightning

Site: ThunderDome, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Time: 7: 30

TV/Radio: Ch. 50/WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)

Outlook: The postseason race gets tighter and tighter, as the Capitals (33-29-8) and Lightning (332-28-10) meet tonight to break a tie between them, which could affect which of them makes the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The Caps are 2-3 in their past five games, including Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim; Tampa is 1-3-1 and on a three-game losing streak. During the streak, all road games, the Lightning have been outscored 16-3. The Capitals will be without LW Keith Jones (groin) and defensemen Brendan Witt (broken wrist) and Ken Klee (groin), while Tampa's D Michel Petit (back sprain) and D Bill Houlder (groin) are day-to-day.

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