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.
"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
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.
"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.