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GMs Contemplate Deals as Deadline Nears

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
For the last four years, Caps general manager George McPhee has diligently collected assets in the form of young players and draft picks. For the next four days, his peers from around the league will attempt to pry away some of those young players and draft picks.

From the time that the high hopes and high payroll of the 2003-04 Capitals and that hockey season fizzled and dissolved like an Alka Seltzer tablet, the stated intention of the Caps’ organization was to build a team that was capable of competing for Stanley Cup championships year-in and year-out. Washington might get its first kick at the Cup in five years this spring, but the battle for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference is a spirited one. Thirteen teams are still skirmishing for the eight available postseason berths.

The Caps are one of those 13 teams. Just a few points off the modest pace in the Southeast Division, Washington still holds some hope of winning the division for the first time in seven years, a feat that would give it a home-ice seeding for the first round of the playoffs. The Caps could also still wind up with a lottery pick in the NHL draft for the fourth time in the last five years.

The NHL’s annual trade deadline looms; the swapping store closes promptly at 3 p.m. on Tuesday (Feb. 26). Between now and then, the Caps must play two hockey games and McPhee and his staff must decide what course the team will chart for the remainder of the season.

Should the Caps bolster the roster for a run at the Cup this season? Stand pat and hope to slink into the postseason as currently constituted? Tweak the roster gently and in the hopes of gaining the inside track on the divisional race, because anything can happen once you get in? Add some cheap depth? Replace some of the important veterans whose presence in the lineup is missed more and more with each passing game?

We’ll know by this time next week, but strong cases can be made for virtually every possibility. We do know that the Caps won’t be sellers as they have been at the last three trade deadlines.

“We’re not selling,” McPhee firmly states.

McPhee spent the early part of this week with the other 29 GMs in the league. The group convened for their annual meetings in Naples, Fla. to discuss potential rules changes, the state of the game and other pertinent hockey related matters. Sprinkled among all that was a bit of trade talk as teams look to firm up their rosters for the stretch drive.

“Everybody talks to everybody, just to find out what they’re looking for,” says McPhee, of the Naples discussions. “People have different styles. Some people are really forthcoming, some people play it [close to the vest]. I haven’t hesitated to tell people what we might be interested in doing.”

And what might George be interested in doing?

 “We really like the team we have,” he says. “We’re really happy with how this team has come along. We have some terrific young players and some good vets and we’re going to continue to play [with them].

“If there is something that would help and isn’t too expensive, then we would certainly talk about it. But we like what we have. We like the players we have and the people they are. And we have people in Hershey that can come up and help.

“We’ve done a very good job of developing this team. To start trading things out that could be part of the future of this team makes no sense. We had a power play late in the game [Wednesday] night and five kids jumped over the boards; their average age was probably 21 or 22. It’s pretty darned good. We’ve got to keep playing them if we want to be going for a Cup.”

The five players to which McPhee referred are: Alexander Semin (almost 24), Tomas Fleischmann (23), Alex Ovechkin (22), Mike Green (22) and Nicklas Backstrom (20). All but Fleischmann were Washington draft choices.

At this time of the season, teams whose playoff hopes have vanished try to do what McPhee has successfully done over the last few years: accumulate young prospects and draft choices.

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