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Veteran goalie Billington is waived (12/16/02)
The Washington Post

DENVER, Dec. 16 -- The Washington Capitals resolved a lingering goaltending dilemma tonight by activating starter Olaf Kolzig from the injured reserved list, putting veteran backup Craig Billington on waivers and declaring rookie Sebastien Charpentier the regular backup goalie.

Kolzig had missed five games with a pulled thigh muscle, but is healthy again and was scheduled to face the Colorado Avalanche tonight. Charpentier, 25, filled in admirably during Kolzig's absence, cementing today's chain of events. Billington, 36, spent the past four years in Washington and was perhaps the most popular and well-respected player in the dressing room, but will be bought out of his contract if he clears waivers as expected, General Manager George McPhee said.

"This is always difficult to do," McPhee said. "And [Billington] has created a really important role within the team in addition to what he does stopping pucks. But this is honestly the nature of the sport when someone else comes along who is younger and cheaper and can do the job."

Billington was a key mediator between coaches and players for much of his time in Washington. His outgoing personality, quick wit and knowledge of the game endeared him to teammates and people throughout the organization. On a club that has battled chemistry issues for several seasons, Billington helped hold things together.

"People outside the dressing room or people who aren't really close to us look at Biller and think he's just the backup goalie, but he's meant a lot to this team," Kolzig said. "He's a very smart hockey person, he's very serious about the game. He's the consummate professional -- the first guy on the ice, last guy to leave, always makes sure the guys have a goalie to shoot on. . . .

"Biller has been my favorite [goaltending] partner. We're good friends. He keeps everything loose with some of his antics. You ask anybody who has played with him, and they'll tell you the same thing: This is a guy you want on your team."

Billington has played 15 years in the NHL, was once an all-star, and had his best years backing up legendary goalie Patrick Roy in Colorado before coming to Washington in 1999. Colorado may also prove to be where Billington's playing career ends.

"He always seemed to have a grasp on the heartbeat on the team," center Jeff Halpern said, "and he's always been a guy who has been vocal and been a leader in the locker room."

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