Witt the lone Caps dissenter

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

Brendan Witt still wants to leave the Washington Capitals, but the line is not forming to the left.

With Alexander Ovechkin providing hope for the future, a year of hard knocks behind them and a good draft ahead, D.C. could eventually become a desirable address in the National Hockey League.

"First and foremost we've tried to create a teaching environment to impress upon people that we have something beyond this year in our plan," coach Glen Hanlon said before last night's game against the Maple Leafs. "We're trying to create an environment where everybody wants to stay here and work hard. But we also understand the integrity in the league. We play Carolina five times. It's very important that we give a good effort."

To tank those games would be a transparent ploy to improve their draft lottery chances against lowly clubs such as Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Chicago, and give the Hurricanes the means to beat the Ottawa Senators for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Hanlon bears Witt no grudges, though it's unclear where the latter will go with the trade deadline a week tomorrow. Witt and goalie Olaf Kolzig are the last of the Caps' 1998 Stanley Cup finalist team.

"Sometimes we all know honesty hurts, but it's a very honest statement Brendan has made since Day 1," Hanlon said. "We've tried to make it easier for him to stay, but he wants to go to a team that contends and we can live with that. We're quite happy with the way he's worked. When he leaves, we will speak of him in nothing but good terms."

Hanlon, who has a record of 34-60-9-5 in two years with the Caps, hasn't soured on NHL coaching.

"We have great kids here. Not once have I had to come to the rink trying to clear the slate of any behavioural issue. We get right to the grass roots of coaching and trying to make the team better.

"The hard part for coaching in this environment is (losing). Because no matter if you are developing or even if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, losing is very difficult."

Ovechkin, battling Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh for the Calder Trophy, continues to perk up the team.

"The word you use to describe him is 'dynamic,' " defenceman and ex-Leaf Jamie Heward said. "He's a fantastic kid and a good guy in the room.

"He's a superstar in everyone else's mind already, but in his own mind, he's very down to earth. He's not demanding that you pass him the puck all the time. That's refreshing, because he'll be here a very long time and they needed someone who'll be good for the organization, not just for himself."


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