Free agency gives GMs a chance to re-shape their teams over the summer, but even that avenue is undergoing a gradual reconstruction.
“We've all realized working with free agency, teams are tying up players for longer term and I think you'll see less and less top players hit the market on July 1st,” Holland said. “And to me that really puts the importance on drafting and developing. And you need to have home grown talent, because you can't rely on July 1st. [When] the players do hit the market, everybody's got money.”
One of the reasons the Caps are in the position they’re in – looking to buy (or at least window-shop) – is because they’ve drafted well the last few years. And one of the reasons they’ve drafted well is they’ve been able to put more picks in the quiver. The value of top picks seems to rise a bit each year, and with one of the best draft classes in recent years in the offing this June, those picks could be gold in the next few days.
“We’ve done a good job with draft picks, too,” says McPhee. “We’ve got a first [rounder] and three seconds in a real strong draft. Next year is a good draft and we’ve got a first and two seconds for that one. We’ve gone to the draft the last few years and made some real good picks and at the same time increased the number of picks we have.
“We’ll use them the right way. If there is something there that makes sense, then we would use a pick to do it. But we’d much rather be sitting at the draft table than trying to nail it and acquire more good players for the organization.”
It’s a sellers’ market at the moment. Plenty of teams are looking for a late push, but few teams have given up the ghost and are willing and ready to start shipping away assets.
“Everybody in the league is looking,” said Holland. “This time of the year everybody can use a top six forward. And you can never have enough D. And I look back toward our run last year, the Final Four, when we lost [Niklas] Kronvall before the playoffs started and we lose [Mathieu] Schneider in the San Jose series.
“I thought that [Danny] Markov and [Chris] Chelios and [Andreas] Lilja did a tremendous job stepping up the minutes. Last year we had really seven NHL defensemen, experienced NHL defensemen. This year we have six. Derek Meech. He's a rookie we like the way he's played, but he's a rookie. This time of the year you're looking for experience. Again, everybody would love to have a top six forward or a number four, number five defenseman. Everything depends on price.”
McPhee is typically not being specific about his needs, but the Caps could use help up front and in the back, and could use an injection of experience, too. But like Holland and McPhee both say, it all comes down to price.
“I think every team depends on the depth of prospects,” said Holland, “and depends on where your team is age-wise and I think different decisions for different teams certainly expect to see lots of trades between now and trade deadline day. I'm interested like everybody else to see who is going to step up and pay some steep prices. But I certainly think in two or three players' cases you hear some rumors out there that somebody is going to pay a pretty good price.”
Washington is in a tightly contested battle for the Southeast Division crown, which may prove to be the only playoff berth the division produces. But McPhee won’t be reacting to any deadline moves the other Southeast teams might make.
“It’s like playing your opponents [on the ice],” says McPhee. “You worry more about what you’re going to do than what they’re going to do. We like the way our team has come along. We’ve always said this whether it’s in October or the trading deadline: If there is something you can do that makes sense to help your team, then you do it. Otherwise, we like what we have.”
And McPhee won’t be pressured into making a deal he isn’t comfortable making, either.
“There is pressure every day in this business with every decision you make,” he declares. “We’re going to stick with this plan that is working so well for us.”
|ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 06: General manager Brian Burke of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates lifting the Stanley Cup after defeating the Ottawa Senators in Game Five of the 2007 Stanley Cup finals on June 6, 2007 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. The Ducks defeated the Senators 6-2 to win the Stanley Cup Finals 4 games to 1. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images) |
“We make more mistakes at the trade deadline than we make the whole rest of the year combined,” said Anaheim GM Brian Burke in last week’s conference call. “The pressure to win is so intense and unrelenting and unremitting that we as a group make horrible, horrible decisions at the trade deadline.”
Early in the season, it didn’t look as though the Caps would be close enough to consider themselves possible buyers at the deadline. Being where they are at this stage qualifies as a minor achievement.
“We thought that if everything went right we could be where we are now,” recalls McPhee. “Things actually didn’t go right for us early on and we got to where we are now. We just hope that we can continue to play well to make it happen this year. It would be great.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries and a slow start, but we’re there. We told the players after the [Dec. 17] game in Detroit, ‘We’re a good team now and we’re going to be heard from for the rest of the season.’ That’s what’s happening. Who knows who will make the playoffs, but it would be nice if it was us.”Page 1
| Page 2