ARLINGTON, Va. - When the Washington Capitals were introduced immediately following their playoff-clinching win last weekend, the fans roared loudest for a player who didn't play.
Olie Kolzig has heard the cheers too many times to count. He was the longtime face of the franchise for the better part of a decade, the only remaining link from the run to the 1998 Stanley Cup final, the player who remained with the team through the lean years of rebuilding, the one whose 301 career NHL wins have all come with the Capitals.
And the one whose days with the team appear numbered.
"I've had a good run here," Kolzig said Thursday. "And I hope it continues in the next two months."
In other words, until the playoffs are over. After that, Kolzig will become a free agent, presenting an understandably murky future for a 38-year-old goalie who lost his starting job just as the Capitals were becoming good again.
"The worst thing I can do is have a pity party," Kolzig said. "I'm not really going to talk about the situation until the end of the year, but it is what it is and I've come to grips with it."
Kolzig has been supplanted by Cristobal Huet, acquired from Montreal at the trade deadline. Huet and Kolzig split playing time for a few games, but Huet was too good to sit. He is 11-2 since joining the Capitals, and his wins in nine consecutive starts at the end of the season mark the longest streak by a Washington goalie in more than 20 years.
Kolzig's recent numbers also have been strong - 15-6-3 in his last 25 starts - but his struggles early in the season had the Capitals eyeing the market for an available netminder.
While obviously not content with his lot - "It is what it is" has become the sports euphemism for "I'm not happy" - Kolzig has maintained his role as locker-room leader.
"He's not playing right now, but he's our No. 1 supporter," centre Brooks Laich said. "He's the first guy to pat Huet on the back when he does a good job, and in the locker-room he's talking to the young guys to make sure we're staying focused."
The way general manager George McPhee sees it, the Capitals wouldn't be in the playoffs if Kolzig had made a fuss.
"We wouldn't be here now if Olie didn't handle it right," McPhee said. "Knowing Olie as we do, it's not a surprise. He's the best team guy that you can ever have."
Kolzig has to be ready to play, just as he was when he replaced benched starter Jim Carey in the playoffs in the mid-1990s. Still, he expects Huet to get the nod every game, starting with Game 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday.
"You don't want to mess with success and chemistry," Kolzig said. "And Huet's obviously had a lot of success."