By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 23, 2000; Page D01
The Washington Capitals signed restricted free agent forward Chris Simon yesterday to a two-year deal with a club option, ending a lengthy contract impasse. Simon, 28, the team leader in goals last season, is scheduled to report for routine medical testing this morning and practice with the club today, though it could be a week or more before he is fit enough to return to the lineup.
Simon will make $2.25 million each of the next two seasons and $2.5 million in the 2002-2003 season should Washington exercise its option. A 6-foot-4, 235-pound left wing, Simon was primarily an enforcer before emerging last season, when he set career highs in goals (29), assists (20), points (49), power-play goals (7) and games played (75). Simon became too valuable to spend time in the penalty box; his vicious shot and ability to finish are attributes the Capitals lack. Simon's return adds pop to a middling attack and likely means that Kris Beech, 19, will return to his junior hockey team, where he would have to spend the rest of the season.
"The team is complete now and it's probably a little bit better today than it was yesterday," General Manager George McPhee said. "We still think Si can continue to improve as a player. We think he can improve his agility, improve in his own end and we think he can score more than 30 goals in a season.
"He's got great instincts around the net and has a wicked shot. He scored 24 goals in the second half last year, and if he keeps his fitness up, we could be in for a couple of big years from him."
Simon, who was traveling from northern Canada to Washington yesterday, has a rare combination of brawn and skill. In addition to topping the club in goals, he led the Capitals in penalty minutes (146). Though McPhee urged Simon last season not to drop the gloves, he remains one of the game's intimidators and creates space for himself on the ice. That separation allows Simon a few extra seconds to unleash his heavy and accurate wrist shot, often off a feed from top center Adam Oates.
Simon scored 25 goals in his final 52 games last season while skating with Oates, helping lead a second-half charge that resulted in the team's second division title in franchise history. Washington opened this season winless is six games and has not played at last season's level.
"I think if we had [Simon] from the beginning we'd probably have a couple more wins," Oates said. Simon's absence, and the looming trade of disgruntled winger Peter Bondra, seemed to hover over the club.
"It seems we allow little distractions to bother our play," Coach Ron Wilson said. "Now, with one exception [Bondra], we've eliminated those distractions. . . . Missing someone like Si, who was one of our more important players, has obviously had some sort of impact on us. And getting him back is getting us closer to being the team that we were."
However, Simon will need time to work himself into game shape. In the past, he has been criticized for not training in the offseason and he attributed much of last season's success to a summer spent working out with other NHL players in California, a routine he duplicated this summer. Simon told teammates he has been skating and lifting weights daily since returning from Los Angeles, but that does not equate to playing games at this level. McPhee held Sergei Gonchar out of games for about a week after the defenseman signed at the end of the preseason, and Simon is essentially two months behind his teammates.
"I don't know when Si is going to be ready to play," McPhee said. "We'll take our time with him like we did with Gonch. I don't know if [Simon] kept his fitness level up, but he's been pretty good with that the last few years."
Simon's emergence was one of several pleasant surprises last season; now the onus is on him to build on it. Simon, selected 25th overall by Philadelphia in the 1990 draft, was plagued by injuries his first three seasons in Washington, when he failed to play in more than 42 games or score more than nine goals. Simon underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in December 1998--his injury problems played a major role in negotiations--but suffered no setbacks last season.
Injuries "are always a risk," McPhee said. "But he played 75 games last year. He seems to have everything under control."
© 2000 The Washington Post Company