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Deadline Days

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
We’re still about two weeks shy of the 2006-07 NHL trading deadline (it’s Feb. 27 this season), but the trends are pointing toward the Capitals being on the sellers’ side of the ledger as that date approaches. Washington finds itself nine points out of the final playoff spot with 25 games left to play and five teams to surpass in the standings. All five of those teams have played better than the Caps over the last 10 games.

History shows that at least 90 points will likely be needed for even remote playoff consideration; no team has made it to the playoffs with fewer than 90 points since 2002-03. At its current pace, the eighth-place team in the Eastern Conference standings (Carolina) would finish the season with 89 points. The Caps would need 18 wins in their final 25 games to get to the 90-point level. The Caps have stayed close to the playoff chase for two-thirds of the season, and the players and coaches will obviously remain driven towards that goal. Management must now weigh the likelihood of a prolonged hot streak suddenly occurring vs. the likelihood of the team falling short.

Milan Jurcina
Other teams in Washington’s general area of the standings have already made the decision to give up on the 2006-07 season and start positioning themselves for the 2007-08 campaign. The Boston Bruins, currently tied with Washington in the Eastern Conference standings and with three games in hand on the Caps, have moved two defensemen (Milan Jurcina and Brad Stuart) in the last two weeks. Boston has also traded away two-thirds of the return (Stuart and Wayne Primeau) it received from San Jose in the Nov. 2005 trade that sent center Joe Thornton to the Sharks.

Ladislav Nagy
The Phoenix Coyotes traded $3 million-a-year left wing Ladislav Nagy (the team’s second highest paid forward and its leading scorer) to Dallas on Feb. 12, getting a prospect (Mathias Tjarnqvist) and a first-round draft choice in return. Clearly, the Coyotes have given up on the 2006-07 season.

It’s certainly worth noting that two of the first teams to start selling off assets (Boston and Phoenix) were two of the biggest spenders last summer. Boston inked defenseman Zdeno Chara to a six-year contract worth $45 million and also signed center Marc Savard to a deal worth $20 million over four seasons. Chara and Savard are both having all-star caliber seasons, but it hasn’t helped the Bruins much in the standings.

Phoenix shelled out $39 million over a six-year period for defenseman Ed Jovanovski last July. Despite their lavish expenditures on defensive improvements, both Boston and Phoenix rank in the NHL’s bottom five in goals against this season.

If Caps upper management determines that Washington is indeed in the playoff hunt, what piece(s) might be useful for the Capitals the rest of the way? The Caps’ young core of defensemen has played better of late, but teams are always looking to improve their blueline via the trade route, and Washington would be no exception.

The Caps would also likely be in the market for a playmaking center, but so would several other teams. The laws of supply and demand could combine to drive up the prices beyond what the Caps might reasonably want to pay.

Jamie Heward
Bryan Muir
If, on the other hand, management deems the playoffs to be a bit beyond the team’s grasp, more than 20 other playoff hopefuls will start eyeing Washington’s roster from top to bottom, looking for pieces that might help their own springtime bids for Lord Stanley’s coveted chalice.

Veteran defensemen Jamie Heward and Bryan Muir have contributed a lot to Washington’s rebuilding cause over the last two seasons, but the Caps have some promising young defensemen who are starting to push their way into more prominent roles here in the District. The recent acquisition of 23-year-old blueliner Milan Jurcina makes the Caps even deeper at the position. When Muir, Brian Pothier and John Erskine come off injured reserve (hopefully soon), the Caps will have 10 defensemen. The 35-year-old Heward and the 33-year-old Muir might prove attractive to teams looking to add defensive depth heading into the postseason. There is also something to be said for keeping a vet defenseman or two around to mentor the kids over the last 25 games.

Richard Zednik
Up front, 31-year-old right wing Richard Zednik is healthy and in the last year of his contract. Zednik’s good health, his speed and the three 20-goal seasons on his résumé will make him attractive to potential suitors. It’s possible that the Caps could sign Zednik to a contract extension, but it’s also possible that they’d trade him and then talk to him about returning when the free agency season opens on July 1.

Center Dainius Zubrus is in a similar situation. He is in the final year of his own pact, but by all accounts seems interested in working out an extension as does the team. But if the Caps and Zubrus are unable to come to terms between now and Feb. 27, Washington owes it to itself to put out feelers around the league and find out what sort of booty Zubrus might fetch in a trade. There’s a dearth of centers available on the trade market, and there are many teams with a need at the position. It doesn’t take an economics whiz to determine that it’s a seller’s market for centers. The Caps could move Zubrus for some future puzzle pieces, and then reopen negotiations with the 28-year-old pivot after he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.

Finally, the Caps have some organizational depth on the wings, and also in goal at the lower levels. If the team were able to find a way to use those surpluses to achieve better depth at center and/or defense, it’s something that could lend balance to Washington’s organizational depth chart heading into the offseason. Seemingly minor moves (like the ones that brought Colin Forbes and Kris Beech into the organization) that could fortify the Hershey Bears’ bid to defend their Calder Cup championship might also be on the menu as deadline day draws near.

There have been several stellar deadline day deals in Washington’s past. The mediocrity that characterized the better part of the franchise’s first decade in the league rendered moot any sort of meaningful deadline deals for many seasons. It wasn’t until 1989 that Washington was earnestly involved in the deadline day proceedings, but then-GM David Poile jumped in with both feet that year.

Calle Johansson
Poile started small, sending Jim Thompson to Hartford for Scot Kleinendorst on Mar. 6, 1989. That was a mere warm-up for the two blockbusters that followed on Mar. 7. Poile dealt goaltender Clint Malarchuk, defenseman Grant Ledyard and a sixth-round pick (Brian Holzinger) in the 1989 draft to Buffalo in exchange for defenseman Calle Johansson and a second-round pick (Byron Dafoe) in the 1989 draft. Johansson was the very definition of class, steadiness and durability for more than a decade in the District and he holds the franchise’s all-time games played mark with 983.

Poile then dealt longtime Caps winger Mike Gartner and longtime Caps defenseman Larry Murphy to the North Stars for winger Dino Ciccarelli and defenseman Bob Rouse. Rare is the deal that involves three Hall of Famers, but this one might before it’s all said and done. Gartner and Murphy are in the Hall, and Ciccarelli belongs.

On Mar. 6, 1990, Poile obtained veteran goaltender Mike Liut from Hartford for forward Yvon Corriveau. The Caps constantly tinkered with their goaltending throughout the 1980s and well into the ’90s, but none of them were ever able to help deliver the team to the Cup finals. Liut was no exception.

Poile had another very active month of March in 1994, making three deadline day deals on Mar. 21. He got defenseman Jim Johnson from Dallas for winger Alan May and a seventh-round pick (Jeff Dewar) in the 1995 draft. He got defenseman Joe Reekie from the Lightning for blueliner Enrico Ciccone, a third-round pick (later traded to Anaheim, the Ducks chose Craig Reichert) in 1994, and future considerations. Finally, Poile swapped defenseman Al Iafrate to Boston for center Joé Juneau.

Joé Juneau
Poile changed the complexion of the blueline while adding a crafty playmaking center. Johnson was a good utility player here for a couple years, Reekie gave the Caps a dependable stay-at-home defenseman for the better part of a decade, and Juneau was a key contributor for five years. He scored what remains the biggest goal in franchise history, the overtime game-winner at Buffalo in June, 1997 that propelled the Caps to the lone Stanley Cup finals appearance in their history.

On Mar. 1, 1997, Poile made what would turn out to be the last trade of his 15-year tenure as the team’s general manager. He traded goaltender Jim Carey and forwards Jason Allison and Anson Carter to Boston in exchange for goaltender Bill Ranford and forwards Adam Oates and Rick Tocchet. It was a desperate attempt to jolt an undermanned Washington team into a 15th consecutive playoff berth, but the Caps fell short and Poile was replaced three months later. Oates was a big part of the 1998 Cup finals team, and he was the team’s top center for half a decade.

George McPhee’s first deadline day as the team’s GM came in 1998, and he made a couple of slick moves that paid dividends. On Mar. 9, he dealt Dwayne Hay to Florida for veteran center Esa Tikkanen. On Mar. 21, he did some deft loophole maneuvering to sign and then slip veteran forward Brian Bellows through waivers. On Mar. 24, he sent defenseman Sylvain Cote to Toronto for rearguard Jeff Brown. Tikkanen and Bellows were instrumental in Washington’s run to the Cup finals that spring, and Brown might have been too, had he not suffered a concussion that limited him to just two playoff games.

Deadline day in 1999 was a sad time, as the Caps bade farewell to some longtime stalwarts. The injury-riddled Caps tumbled from contention, and McPhee made five deals in the week leading up to the deadline. Brad Shaw went to St. Louis, Tom Chorske to Calgary, Juneau to Buffalo, Dale Hunter to Colorado and Craig Berube to Philadelphia with a handful of draft choices and defense prospect Alexei Tezikov coming back as the total return in those deals.

As the Mar. 13, 2001 trade deadline approached, the Caps were the hottest team in the league. Washington was 15-1-2-1 in its previous 19 games, but then-coach Ron Wilson felt his team needed a big center capable of playing against and shutting down the other big Eastern Conference centers the Caps would likely face in the playoffs. With that in mind, McPhee dealt young forwards Jan Bulis and Richard Zednik and a first-round draft pick to Montreal in exchange for forwards Trevor Linden and Zubrus and a second-round pick. Linden was the big center Wilson coveted, but Washington was eliminated in the first round of the postseason anyway.

Adam Oates
The night before the Mar. 2002 trading deadline, Philadelphia lost two centers (Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau) to injury. The Caps expected to stand pat at the deadline that year, but the Flyers’ sudden desperation for a center led to them offering goaltending prospect Maxime Ouellet and three draft choices (one in each of the first three rounds) in the 2002 Entry Draft to the Caps for veteran center Oates, who was months away from unrestricted free agent status.

After some internal discussion, the Caps accepted the offer and made the deal. That first-round pick was later traded to Dallas along with another pick for an earlier first-round pick (13th overall) in 2002. Washington ultimately used that choice to select left wing Alexander Semin.

Minutes before the deadline in 2003, McPhee shipped a fourth-round choice to Chicago in exchange for scoring winger Sergei Berezin. That marks the most recent time that Washington was a buyer at the trade deadline.

A 2003-04 season that began with a high payroll, a star-studded roster and playoff hopes crumbled to dust in a span of about two months. A coaching change and a series of swaps designed to position Washington for a post-lockout rebuild ensued, starting with the Jan. 23, 2004 trade of right wing Jaromir Jagr to the New York Rangers. It was the first of seven trades in a span of just over six weeks that went a long way toward shaping the Capitals into what they are today.

Jagr, Peter Bondra, Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar, Michael Nylander, Anson Carter and Mike Grier were traded in deals that brought in the likes of Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Green, Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz, Jakub Klepis and a handful of other prospects still bubbling beneath the radar. Many of those players were instrumental in leading the Caps’ AHL Hershey Bears farm team to a Calder Cup title last spring. It is hoped that the same group might help lift the Caps to a Stanley Cup title in the not-too-distant future here in the District.

Brendan Witt
Last year’s trade deadline saw Jeff Friesen and Brendan Witt dealt away for a pair of high draft picks and center Kris Beech. Beech was a key cog in Hershey’s title run.

What this season’s deadline might bring to and take from the Capitals remains to be seen. But after a season of relative inactivity league-wide, the trading coals have started to heat up in recent weeks. Boston, Phoenix and Philadelphia are all in selling mode, and others are certain to follow soon.

The Caps added Jurcina in a Feb. 1 deal with Boston, and he has been a good fit on the backline thus far. Another piece or two and another pick or two, combined with some off-season roster additions/adjustments might help position the Caps as buyers come this time next season.

Just for fun, here’s a look at the last deals the Caps made with each of the other 29 teams in the NHL, and with some of the previous homes of some of those teams. These deals include only those that involved a player on at least one end, not swaps made on draft day that merely involved the flipping of picks.

Eastern Conference
Atlantic Division
New Jersey Devils – Sep. 26, 2005, traded a third-round choice (Kirill Tulupov) to Devils for left wing Jeff Friesen.

New York Islanders – Jan. 11, 2001, traded left wing Craig Berube to Islanders for New York’s ninth-round choice (Robert Muller) in 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

New York Rangers – Jan. 23, 2004, traded right wing Jaromir Jagr to Rangers for center Anson Carter.

Philadelphia Flyers – July 1, 2003, traded seventh-round pick (Triston Grant) in 2004 NHL Entry Draft to Flyers for defenseman Dmitri Yushkevich.

Pittsburgh Penguins – July 11, 2001, traded centers Kris Beech and Michal Sivek and defenseman Ross Lupaschuk and future considerations to Penguins for right wing Jaromir Jagr and defenseman Frantisek Kucera.

Northeast Division
Boston Bruins – Feb. 1, 2007, traded conditional draft choice in 2008 NHL Entry Draft to Bruins for defenseman Milan Jurcina.

Buffalo Sabres – July 30, 2005, traded left wing Tim Kennedy to Sabres for sixth-round choice (Mathieu Perreault) in 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Montreal Canadiens – Jul. 12, 2006, traded a third-round pick in 2007 NHL Entry Draft to Canadiens for right wing Richard Zednik.

Ottawa Senators – Feb. 18, 2004, traded right wing Peter Bondra to Senators for center Brooks Laich and Ottawa’s second-round choice (later traded to Colorado, Avs selected Chris Durand) in 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

Toronto Maple Leafs – Dec. 11, 2000, traded third-round choice (Brendan Bell) in 2001 NHL Entry Draft to Maple Leafs for left wing Dmitri Khristich.

Southeast Division
Atlanta Thrashers – None.

Carolina Hurricanes – Dec. 28, 2005, traded left wing Stephen Peat to Hurricanes for center Colin Forbes.

Florida Panthers – Mar. 3, 2001, traded defenseman Remi Royer to Panthers for right wing David Emma.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Jan. 17, 2000, traded right wing Jaroslav Svejkovsky to Lightning for Tampa Bay’s third-round choice (later traded to Toronto, Leafs chose Brendan Bell) in 2001 draft and seventh-round choice (later traded to Kings, Los Angeles chose Evgeny Fedorov) in 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

Western Conference
Central Division
Chicago Blackhawks – Mar. 11, 2003, traded fourth-round choice in 2004 NHL Entry Draft to Blackhawks for left wing Sergei Berezin.

Columbus Blue Jackets – None.

Detroit Red Wings – Feb. 27, 2004, traded center Robert Lang to Red Wings for left wing Tomas Fleischmann, Detroit’s first-round choice (Mike Green) in 2004 and fourth-round choice (Luke Lynes) in 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Nashville Predators – Mar. 9, 2006, traded defenseman Brendan Witt to Predators for center Kris Beech and Nashville’s first-round choice (Simeon Varlamov) in 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

St. Louis Blues – Nov. 29, 2000, traded right wing Mike Peluso to Blues for left wing Derek Bekar.

Northwest Division
Calgary Flames – Aug. 4, 2005, traded seventh-round choice (Devin Didiomete) in 2006 and sixth-round choice in 2007 NHL Entry Draft to Flames for right wing Chris Clark and seventh-round choice in 2007.

Colorado Avalanche – Oct. 22, 2003, traded left wing Steve Konowalchuk and third-round choice (later traded to Carolina, Hurricanes chose Casey Borer) in 2004 NHL Entry Draft to Avalanche for left wing Bates Battaglia and right wing Jonas Johansson.

Edmonton Oilers – Oct. 7, 2002, traded second-round choice (later traded to Islanders, New York selected Evgeni Tunik) in 2003 NHL Entry Draft and third-round choice (Zach Stortini) in 2003 to Oilers for right wing Mike Grier.

Minnesota Wild – None.

Vancouver Canucks – Nov. 10, 2001, traded center Trevor Linden with a second-round choice (Denis Grot) in 2002 NHL Entry Draft to Canucks for Vancouver’s first-round choice (Boyd Gordon) in 2002 and third-round choice (later traded to Edmonton, Oilers chose Zach Stortini) in 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Pacific Division
Anaheim Ducks – Mar. 9, 2006, traded left wing Jeff Friesen to Ducks for Anaheim’s second-round choice (Keith Seabrook) in 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Dallas Stars – July 14, 1995, sent cash to Stars for goaltender Mike Torchia.

Los Angeles Kings – Aug. 12, 2005, traded future considerations to Kings for defenseman Bryan Muir.

Phoenix Coyotes – Feb. 3, 2006, traded defenseman Dwayne Zinger to Coyotes for left wing Doug Doull.

San Jose Sharks – None.

The Old Guard
Hartford Whalers – Nov. 9, 1996, traded defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn to Hartford for center Andrei Nikolishin.

Winnipeg Jets – Feb. 15, 1996, traded right wing Denis Chasse to Jets for defenseman Stewart Malgunas.

Quebec Nordiques – Jun. 20, 1993, traded Reggie Savage and Paul MacDermid to Nordiques for Mike Hough.

Minnesota North Stars – Jun. 21, 1991, traded Steve Maltais and Trent Klatt to North Stars for Shawn Chambers.

Colorado Rockies – None.

Cleveland Barons – Dec. 9, 1977, traded Walt McKechnie to Barons for Bob Girard and second-round choice (Paul McKinnon) in 1978 Amateur Draft.

California Golden Seals – None.

Kansas City Scouts – None.

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