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Capitals see Hannan as missing part in Cup run

by Dave Lozo
There has been talk for the past 3-4 years that the Washington Capitals needed a rugged, stay-at-home defenseman to help balance their flashy, offensive ways.

After the Caps acquired defenseman Scott Hannan from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for center Tomas Fleischmann on Tuesday, Caps GM George McPhee offered an honest answer when asked how long he had been trying to get a defensive defenseman like Hannan.

"Oh, three or four years," McPhee deadpanned.

Hannan, who has been among the Avs' leaders in blocked shots and hits during his three-plus seasons with the team, should provide an immediate dose of grit and toughness to the Caps. With an average of 3:21 of shorthanded ice time per game, Hannan was the Avs' most relied upon penalty killer, something else that made him attractive to the Capitals.

"We were looking to acquire an experienced defensive defenseman who can help us on the penalty kill and settle things down when things need to be settled down in tight games," McPhee said. "We’ve been looking for a while and he was available, so we thought it was the right time to do it."

The Caps, currently leading the League with 36 points in 25 games, are allowing 2.68 goals per game this season, which is 14th-best in the League and a slight improvement from the 2.77 goals per game they allowed last season. The Caps' penalty kill, however, is ranked eighth, killing off 84.8-percent of the opposition's power plays.

After winning the Presidents' Trophy with 121 points last season, the Caps were eliminated in the first round by the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in seven games. While the Caps are looking to avoid a repeat of last season's heartbreak, McPhee didn't want to put that early exit on his blueliners.

"I really don’t think our defense failed us last year," said McPhee, whose Caps allowed 20 goals in that series with the Canadiens. "We weren't scoring the last three games of the playoffs, but it is nice to have this kind of player who does all those little things that make a difference in a game. I think it is just going to be a perfect addition to our group and our group is playing really well and I’m really happy with the way they've been playing, but I just think this makes us better and this is why you do that type of deal."

Hannan spent eight seasons with the San Jose Sharks before coming to Colorado in 2007. The 31-year-old has 73 games of playoff experience, which immediately makes him the Caps' most experienced defenseman in the postseason.
"He's got lots of playoff experience and he's played in the League a long time," McPhee said. "I think it completes our defense. We've been really happy with the way our defense has been playing, but to add one more guy like this helps.

"Our defense moves the puck pretty well. We can generate offense from back there, but to have one more shut-down guy who can block shots and do all the little things and make a difference, we thought was important."

Hannan, who waived his no-trade clause to join the Caps, became expendable after the Avs acquired defenseman Matt Hunwick from the Boston Bruins on Monday. Hannan said it's exciting for him to know the Caps felt he was a missing piece for a Stanley Cup run and he doesn't plan to change his game now that he's making the switch from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference.

"I think my style of game hasn't changed too much," Hannan said. "I'm counted on to be a defensive player and to kill penalties and to play against other teams' top lines. Coming to Washington, I'm excited about playing there, obviously with a bunch of great, talented players there. I'll but put in a defensive role there. I don't think we're going to change that too much.

"You like coming to a team where you know you can fit in right away with something the team wants. I played that role with many other teams. I relish the fact I get a chance to do that on a team like Washington."

Hannan comes with a $4.5 million salary-cap hit that will come off the books after his contract expires following this season. The Capitals still have room to maneuver under the cap and can remain flexible since Hannan's deal isn't of the long-term variety.

"We're in good shape," McPhee said. "As I've said many times, we've managed our cap really well and it allows us to make a deal like this. He has an expensive contract but we have the room to do it."

In order to acquire the lock-down defenseman the Caps sorely have missed, McPhee had to part with Fleischmann, a 26-year-old center who had shown signs of blossoming the past two seasons.

Fleischmann had 19 goals two seasons ago and 23 goals last season, but had just 4 goals through the first 23 games of this season and was a healthy scratch for two games. Fleischmann has potential to be a consistent 20-goal scorer, but the Caps felt they had to fill a need on the back end.

"He's got lots of playoff experience and he's played in the League a long time. I think it completes our defense. We've been really happy with the way our defense has been playing, but to add one more guy like this helps. "
-- George McPhee

"(Fleischmann) was really good," McPhee said. "He’s a great kid, great character -- we’ve never had one issue with (Fleischmann). He's always come to play and been a great organizational guy and good teammate. He had nothing but good things to say to us.
"(Fleischmann) is a good player -- he's not playing as well as he can right now but he will. He'll pick it up again."

Fleischman's departure could open the door for 20-year-old rookie Marcus Johansson to earn more playing time. After scoring just 1 goal in his first 10 games, Johansson has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last five games.

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said last week that he has 14 forwards he'd like to use, so clearly the team thought there was enough depth to make this deal.

"We like the way Johansson is playing," McPhee said. "We’re just trying to do the things we need to do to be a better team."

Whether this is the final move the Caps make remains to be seen, but McPhee was adamant during an appearance on NHL Live! that he had no intention of trading either of his goaltenders, Michal Neuvirth or Semyon Varlamov.

"We're happy with our team," McPhee said. "We like our young goaltenders and we like where our (defense) is at now, so we'll keep looking at things, but it is a pretty good group right now." Correspondent Corey Masisak contributed to this report.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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