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.