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Caps Make Big Deadline Splash

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
For several days heading up to Tuesday’s NHL trade deadline, all was seemingly quiet here in Washington and around the NHL on the trade front. Few deals were made, and with few teams out of the playoff chase, it looked like deadline day might come and go rather quietly.

That all changed early on Tuesday when the Caps unveiled a trio of trades that clearly positions Washington as a team that intends on making a run to the playoffs this spring.

First, the Caps sent a second round choice in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft – the pick acquired last November from Anaheim in exchange for center Brian Sutherby – to Montreal for goaltender Cristobal Huet.

“You just never know going into the deadline what’s going to transpire,” says Caps general manager George McPhee. “We didn’t anticipate a lot happening, but when the Huet deal came along that was one that was hard to lay off of.”

Later in the day, the Caps send defenseman Theo Ruth – a player Washington chose in the second round of the 2007 draft – to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for veteran center Sergei Fedorov.

On of the game’s elite players in the 1990s, the 38-year-old Fedorov has slowed a bit since he was winning Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.

“The Fedorov one,” begins McPhee, “with losing [Michael] Nylander [to a rotator cuff injury] I was trying to find another center without giving the future away. The price seemed right on that.

“Like every great fighter, you hope he’s got one good fight left in him. He’s playing for a new contract. We hope that we can get him here and have him play as well as he has played in a long time and see if it makes our club better.

“You’ve got a veteran guy who has had success in this league, is good on face-offs, he’s good defensively and he can still make a play. He doesn’t have to be the go-to guy like he has been in the past. He has to fit in and help us.”

Finally, the Caps swapped winger Matt Pettinger to Vancouver in exchange for center Matt Cooke.

“Matt Cooke and Pettinger,” says McPhee, “we had talked about that before probably three or four times over the last two or three months as something that both clubs might conside. With Petty I was hoping that he would play through and get scoring again. When it wasn’t happening, I thought Vancouver would be a good fit for him and Cooke could help us.”

The moves give Washington goaltending depth, a scoring line center and a feisty checking line forward. 

This is the biggest splash Washington has made at the deadline as a “buying” team since it swung a six-player deal to bring center Adam Oates from Boston to the District on Mar. 1, 1997. The Caps fell just short of making the playoffs that spring, marking the first time in 15 seasons they missed the dance.

“Ted was all for it,” says McPhee, speaking of Caps majority owner Ted Leonsis. “Ted was really happy with what we accomplished. Ownership made it clear that if there was something there that gives us a push, we could go ahead and do it. There are no real commitments for the future, we didn’t give up the future when we did it and I think the prices were reasonable. I think we did a good job.

“When you lose a few players like we have to long-term injuries – [Brian] Pothier, Nylander, [Chris] Clark – that gets hard. Not only do you lose three good players, but the minute you lose another guy to sickness or a three-day groin pull, now you’re down five players. It can catch up to you. I just felt that this team has played so well and so hard the last three months that if there’s anything we could add to help them out, it might be enough to push for a playoff spot.”

Huet, Fedorov and Cooke are all slated to become unrestricted free agents at the conclusion of the 2007-08 season.

Huet, 32, is a native of France. With his arrival in Washington, the Capitals had players from nine different nations (eight, now that Finnish-born Sami Lepisto has been returned to Hershey). Huet is only the second French native ever to play in the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings drafted Huet in the seventh round (214th overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

Huet began his North American career in 2002-03, playing for current Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau, who was then the head coach of the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs. Huet split that season between Manchester and Los Angeles, getting into 12 games with the Kings.

“It is a help,” says Huet, of coming to a team with a familiar coach. “He knows me a little bit and that’s always good. But as a goalie, the tactics and the Xs and Os are not that important. It doesn’t really matter I think. Olie [Kolzig] and Brent [Johnson] have been great to me and I appreciate that.”

Traded to the Canadiens in June, 2004, Huet emerged as a legitimate NHL netminder with the Habs. His win total has increased every season he has been in the league and he has surpassed the 20-win level for the first time in his career in 2007-08. Huet played in the NHL All-Star Game in 2007-08.

Huet was 21-12-6 with a 2.56 goals against average and a .916 save pct. at the time of the trade. A noted Cap killer, Huet is 6-2-1 with a shutout, a 2.45 goals against average and a .922 save pct. lifetime against Washington. For his NHL career, Huet is 72-59-24 with a 2.49 goals against average and a .917 save pct. in 170 NHL games. He also has six games worth of NHL playoff experience, going 2-4 with a 2.33 goals against average and a .929 save pct.

Fedorov is a future Hockey Hall of Famer who is on the back nine of a brilliant career. One of the smoothest and most effortless skaters the game has ever seen, Fedorov won the Hart Trophy in 1994 and is a two-time Selke Trophy winner as the league’s top defensive forward. He has played in six NHL All-Star Games and was one of the league’s elite talents throughout the 1990s.

Fedorov started his NHL career with Detroit in 1990-91, and won three Stanley Cups with the Wings before moving to Anaheim as a free agent for the 2003-04 season. He went to Columbus in a trade early in the 2005-06 season. Fedorov has not exceeded 50 points since 2003-04, but the Jackets have played more of a defensive style of hockey under coach Ken Hitchcock.

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