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Capitals’ cap dilemma: Tom Poti working to return for training camp?

Jul 22, 2011, 8:00 AM EDT

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It’s been known for some time that Tom Poti’s groin has been hanging on by a thin thread. He only played 21 games last season and with two goals and seven points, it wasn’t like he was setting the league on fire. With serious concerns about his health going forward, Capitals GM George McPhee went ahead this offseason on the assumption that Poti would not be available for service next season. More importantly, he went ahead with the assumption that his (approx.) $2.9 million cap hit wouldn’t be a problem next season. McPhee went out and acquired free agent Roman Hamrlik on July 1 to join the likes of Mike Green, Dennis Wideman, John Erskine, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson on the back-end. Add Jeff Schultz into the mix and Washington already has seven serviceable NHL defenseman on the roster next season without Poti’s services.

For all intents and purposes, the Tom Poti era was over in Washington. But then—the 34-year-old defenseman threw a wrench into the Caps’ plans. Poti’s agent Paul Krepelka told Katie Carrera of the Washington Post that the blueliner expects to be ready for action in September:

“He is working with his trainers throughout the summer with the intention that he will be ready to fully participate once training camp begins”

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men…

It’s great to hear that Poti is working hard in the offseason to recover from his career threatening injury. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the Capitals want him back—nor do they have room for the former 3rd round pick. The cold, hard reality is that their offseason moves declare that the organization has moved on.

Now, both the player and the team are left in a awkward situation. It’s doubtful Poti will make the club’s roster whether he’s healthy enough to start the season or not. The Capitals are in a position where they have to do something with the defenseman (and his contract) or they’ll be over the salary cap next season. Neither situation is ideal: long-term injured reserve or possibly waived and sent to the minors.

If he continues to rehab but finds that he’s unable to perform in training camp, the Capitals will put Poti on long-term injured reserve. From all accounts, this has been the plan for months—the player still gets paid, but the team gets salary cap relief to replace his role on the team. Of course, LTIR only works if the player is actually injured.

The other alternative for the Capitals would be to waive a fully-recovered Tom Poti and bury his contract in the AHL. Even if he’s healthy enough to play, Washington still has a blueline that is stacked and simply has no room for Poti. McPhee could waive the former Boston University defenseman and (assuming nobody claims him off of waivers) have him play in Hershey for the entire season. Since Poti is on a one-way deal, he’ll still get paid his $3 million this season ($3 million this season, $2.75 next season) but he won’t play in the NHL. There’s nothing stopping Washington from moving him to Hershey since he doesn’t have a no-movement clause in his contract. Having Poti around as an 8th defenseman would be nice, but getting the team under the salary cap is a little more important.

Washington will have to wait to see how the situation plays out over the course of the offseason. It’s doubtful that Poti will see time with the Caps next season whether he can get himself into shape or is unable to recover. The only question left is the method the team will use to hide his contract from the salary cap.

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