Brian Sutherby

Date of Last Contract:October 1, 2001

Signed Through: 2003-2004 Season



Capitals Sign Up Sutherby
Teenager Gets Three-Year Deal to Be Fourth-Line Center

Jason La Canfora
The Washington Post
October 2, 2001; Page D01

The Washington Capitals signed center Brian Sutherby to a three-year deal yesterday, solidifying the 19-year-old's spot on the club's fourth line.

Sutherby, selected 26th overall in the 2000 draft, beat a 3 p.m. deadline for junior hockey players either to sign with their NHL club or return to their junior team. He received a $900,000 signing bonus spread out over three years and will make about $900,000 a season.

"He plays hard and he plays honest and he's very good defensively, which is rare for a young player," General Manager George McPhee said. "He's played well enough that the coaches would like to start the season with him. He'll play a fourth-line role and time will tell if he stays through the year or slides back, but we'll keep an eye on him. One day, when he's fully developed, he'll be quite a player."

Sutherby impressed the Capitals with solid training camp performances this season and last. He will be on the season-opening 23-man roster, which must be finalized by this afternoon, and on the ice when Washington hosts New Jersey Saturday night.

Sutherby, a native of Edmonton who is working hard to get his parents and grandparents in from Alberta for his NHL debut, likely will skate with grinders Joe Sacco and Chris Simon against the Devils; he is set for eight to 10 minutes of ice time a game as a fourth-line player. He has good size -- 6 feet 2, 180 pounds -- continues to add muscle, possesses good hockey sense and has a willingness to be coached. Sutherby, heralded for his hard-edged offensive and defensive play in junior hockey, scored 34 goals and 77 points in 59 games for Moose Jaw last season, and compiled 138 penalty minutes. He set a goal of reaching the NHL this season.

"I'm pretty thrilled right now, I'm unbelievably happy we could get something done," Sutherby said. "It's a great day. I talked briefly [with coaches and management] about what they had planned for me and it was just a matter of getting a deal done. I'm just so relieved right now we got something done.

"This role will suit me just fine. I've always been a guy that can adapt to any role and with not getting a lot of ice time I'll have to work on things harder in practice, but every time I'm on the ice my confidence starts to increase more and more. This will be a big part of my development."

McPhee has been loath to test junior players at this level, hesitant to risk wounding a prospect's confidence. Last season center Kris Beech, since traded to Pittsburgh in the Jaromir Jagr deal, and defenseman Jakub Cutta, who will open this season in the minors, began the season with Washington as teenagers but returned to their junior teams after a few games showed they could not compete daily against bigger and stronger men.

Sutherby's game is better suited to immediate success in the NHL, though he too would be returned to his junior team if he does not stick here; he is not yet eligible to play in the minors.

"You have to be careful in these situations, but we'd like to try to do with Brian what we did with Jeff Halpern," McPhee said. "Jeff played well enough in camp [in 1999] to deserve a spot on the opening roster and did well enough to move up around Christmastime to a third-line role. And if Brian is a fourth-line player all season, that's fine for us, and good for him. He'll get a chance to play and if it doesn't work out, then we'll find another solution."

Sutherby's emergence likely means scrappy center Trent Whitfield, who played the final 61 games with Washington last season, will head back to Portland (Maine) of the AHL. The Capitals would like to unload veteran Dmitri Khristich, who has underachieved since being acquired from Toronto last season, but that seems unlikely at this point, in part because he carries a hefty $3.2 million salary. That leaves him and Stephen Peat as the extra forwards.

The Capitals' other three lines likely will be Dainius Zubrus-Andrei Nikolishin-Jagr, Trevor Linden-Adam Oates-Peter Bondra and Steve Konowalchuk-Halpern-Ulf Dahlen. The team likely will speak with the agent for nonroster invitee forward Rene Corbet today, sources said, about possibly signing him to a minor league deal with a chance to play in Washington.

The Capitals will open the season with the same seven defensemen who closed last season, as well as the goaltending tandem of Olaf Kolzig and Craig Billington, sources said. Calle Johansson remains paired with Brendan Witt, whose sore left knee should be ready for Saturday, while Sergei Gonchar skates with Joe Reekie and Sylvain Cote plays with Rob Zettler.

Veteran Ken Klee is the extra defenseman while journeyman Frantisek Kucera, who was included in the Jagr deal for financial reasons, will be reassigned today, sources said, with the sides perhaps considering options in Europe.

Notes: Jagr, who does not play golf, was given permission to miss yesterday's annual charity outing to retrieve his belongings in Pittsburgh. Jagr watched the Penguins practice from a restaurant overlooking their practice rink and visited his former teammates in the dressing room. . . .

Beech made the Penguins' roster and will open the season on a line with Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux and Stephane Richer, who retired last September after one practice with the Capitals.

2001 The Washington Post Company