Bondra follows Jagr out of D.C.

Updated: February 18, 2004, 4:55 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Peter Bondra choked up twice while talking about his trade to the Ottawa Senators. Not even the prospect of playing for a Stanley Cup contender could ease the trauma of a sudden goodbye after 14 years with the Washington Capitals.

Wed, February 18
Ottawa's acquisition of Peter Bondra is a bold move because of Bondra's name and talents, but it's an interesting trade when you consider the No. 1 offensive team in the NHL has brought in another offensive-minded player. The Senators are gearing up for a Stanley Cup run and have gotten a dynamite trigger-man to play the point on the power play, but with injuries down the middle to Radek Bonk and Todd White it would seem they need a centerman more than a scoring winger.

Ottawa seemed to have enough offense and now the question is whether there will be enough pucks to go around with players like Bondra, Daniel Alfredsson, Martin Havlat and Marian Hossa all looking for shots. The deal raises defensive questions as well since Bondra will likely take ice time away from one of the Senators' better defensive forwards rather than one of their snipers. That will make them more fragile in their own end and at some point you have to wonder how much offense is enough.

There is also the issue of Bondra's influence in the dressing room. He has not always been the easiest player in the world to work with, and while certain players have been able to develop a chemistry with him Bondra has shown throughout his career that he cannot play with just anyone.

Bringing in Bondra is certainly a bold stroke, but I don't particularly like the move for a team that seems to have more pressing concerns. But Bondra has terrific offensive skills and we'll have to wait and see over the next few months whether or not he can mesh with his new mates.
"I grew up here. I grew up as a player. I grew up as a person," Bondra said in an emotional farewell appearance Wednesday in the Capitals locker room. "I have to understand that I have to move on."

Bondra became the latest victim of the Capitals' salary purge. The franchise's all-time leading scorer is heading north, giving the Senators another potent offensive threat in their drive toward the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Capitals received prospect center Brooks Laich and a 2005 second-round pick for the fan favorite who had spent his entire NHL career in Washington.

"We're supposed to be big, tough guys, but there were a lot of tears this morning," general manager George McPhee said. "We thought it was best for Peter. We worked harder to find the best place for him to play. Peter didn't want to leave. This wasn't something management and ownership wanted to do. We thought it was good for Peter and good for us."

Unaware that something was up, Bondra showed up for practice Wednesday morning with his two children, who had the day off from school. Then Bondra noticed McPhee at the rink.

"I never see George that early," Bondra said. He said he then instinctively turned to his kids and said: "This is it. This is my last day here."

"When George told me, I was so shocked and, like, my stomach had butterflies," Bondra said. "It was almost emotionally a breakdown. It was tough. ... I was here for 14 years, and all of a sudden it's gone."

The money-losing, last-place Capitals have been trying all season to trim payroll and start rebuilding. Captain Steve Konowalchuk was sent to Colorado in October, and Jaromir Jagr went to the New York Rangers last month.

Goaltender Olaf Kolzig, defenseman Sergei Gonchar or center Robert Lang could be next, but no one has represented the Capitals over the past decade like Bondra.

"When you say Washington Capitals, the first thing you think is Peter Bondra," Kolzig said.

Bondra said all the right things about Ottawa, but it was clear his heart had not yet accepted the trade. He will join the Senators for Thursday's home game against Atlanta, but the Slovak native's family will stay in the Washington area.

"I still don't believe it," Bondra said.

Ottawa moved into a first-place tie with Toronto in the Northeast Division with a 1-1 tie last night at Washington. Already the NHL's top-scoring team with 196 goals, the Senators now have added the player who trails only Brett Hull, Jagr and Brendan Shanahan in goals scored among active players since 1990.

A five-time NHL All-Star, Bondra has 21 goals and 14 assists in 54 games this season, including four game-winning goals. The Senators are now the only team in the NHL with 10 players who have scored 10 or more goals this season.

"Peter Bondra deserves a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup," Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said. "I know what he means to our fan base, but allowing him the opportunity to win a Cup is important. This was a difficult trade."

Bondra, who turned 36 this month, leaves the Capitals as the franchise's career leader in goals (472), points (825), power-play goals (137), game-winning goals (73), short-handed goals (32) and hat tricks (19). Had he finished the season with the Caps, he would have become the leader in games played, passing Calle Johansson.

"If Peter was 26, we wouldn't have done it," McPhee said. "He's sort of on the back nine at 36."

Bondra is in the third year of a four-year $18 million contract, and the final year is an option year. He will become a free agent this summer and could be re-signed by the Capitals if the Senators decide not to keep him, but Ottawa general manager John Muckler said he intends to exercise the option.

"He is not a rental," Muckler said.

Laich was a sixth-round pick in the 2001 draft. He has played this season with the AHL's Binghamton Senators, scoring 15 goals with 18 assists in 44 games. He made his NHL debut this season when he was called up for one game with Ottawa.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press