Capitals Sign Two
By: Mark Solway 
Posted: 2007-07-02
Category: Washington Capitals News
The 2007 NHL free agent market opened on Sunday, but it was definitely not a day of rest. With 26 players signing with new teams on the first day, it was a feeding frenzy as some of the best names available disappeared quickly. The Washington Capitals struck twice, inking Tom Poti and Victor Kozlov.

The Capitals signed the veteran defenseman Poti after a very productive 44-point season (6 goals, 38 assists) with the New York Islanders. He led the team in assists and ice time, logging almost 26 minutes of ice time per game (11th in the NHL). Not only does he see substantial time on the penalty kill, but he's a power play pivot man with a left-handed shot, something Washington was definitely looking to address. All six of Poti's goals came with the man advantage last season, and considering the Caps power play was just 24th best, they can use the help.

The native of Worcester, Massachusetts brings some much needed experience to the young Caps defensive corps. With almost 600 NHL games (594) for the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and the Islanders, Poti has more than twice that of any other defenseman on Washington's roster.

The Islanders did offer Poti a deal to stay, but in the end were just outbid by the Capitals. New York offered a three-year deal worth about $10 million; the four-year deal he eventually signed, was reportedly worth $14 million.

"Washington called at 12:01 a.m. and showed how much they really wanted me," Poti said. "My negotiations with the Islanders didn't go as well as I thought they would. I had a great year last year, and I loved playing for Ted Nolan."

"Chris Clark called me this afternoon to tell me what the Caps were all about and tell me everything and give me a good heads up on what to expect there. He was a guy I played against growing up as a kid, probably from when I was eight or nine until I was 14 or 15. I also played with Brian Pothier growing up for a few years. I played with Ben Clymer in the World Juniors for two years."

It's always good to see a few familiar faces when you walk into a new dressing room. It will help him get settled in quickly, and he should fit in well.

General Manager George McPhee and the Capitals weren't done with Poti though, they also grabbed another Islander, Victor Kozlov.

Kozlov can play on the wing or at center, and at 6'5" and over 230 pounds, he has presence. He's a top six forward, and is coming off a career best 25-goal performance last year in New York. He added 26 assists for 51 points. He could play on the first line with Alex Ovechkin, or the second with Alexander Semin and make either one better. It was a very utilitarian addition.

He's also pretty good in the shootout - an added bonus considering Washington's penchant for losing them last year.

It should also be good for Ovechkin off the ice. Kozlov is 32 years old and has played 749 NHL games; his steadying influence and experience will only help Alex handle the attention and expectations that he receives.

"Alex has spoken fairly highly of him in the past," McPhee said.

However, when asked if Ovechkin had any influence on the signing at all, McPhee was quick to assert that, "We make our own decisions on players here, you have to do that. But certainly we’re mindful of things that your players say about other players and players’ reputations. Kozlov is supposed to be a class act. He is a big man and we expect he can be really productive here."

Kozlov signed a two-year deal, worth about $5 million. It was an easy decision for him considering that the Islanders are said to have offered him little more than the $865,000 that he played for last season.

In his career, the native of Togliatti, Russia has 169 goals and 273 assists for 442 points. Originally a first round draft pick (6th overall) of the San Jose Sharks in 1993, he joins his fifth NHL team in thirteen seasons - San Jose, Florida, New Jersey, New York Islanders and now the Capitals.

The signing of Kozlov and Poti may not have been as flashy as some of the names that switched teams on Sunday; there were some hefty contracts doled out to sign guys like Daniele Briere, Chris Drury, and Ryan Smyth; but both filled needs, and both accomplished what you try to do when free agency opens - make the team better.

Can Washington capitalize on the fact that they have available cap space, and make another significant addition or two?

Other Notes:

What a tough day for the Islanders. Not only did they lose Kozlov and Poti to the Capitals, but 40-goal scorer Jason Blake signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Richard Zednik left for Florida, and Ryan Smyth appears to have taken less money than New York offered, to go to the Colorado Avalanche.
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