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Caps fill a need with acquisition of Arnott

by Ben Raby
ARLINGTON, Va. -- In acquiring Jason Arnott from the New Jersey Devils, the Washington Capitals added size up front, depth up the middle and a veteran with Stanley Cup experience. An argument can be made that the 2010-11 Capitals were in need of all three.
Arnott, 36, waived his no-trade-clause to join the Capitals Monday afternoon, with David Steckel and Washington's 2012 second round draft pick heading to New Jersey.
"We've got a young group, as we all know, and we got guys that have been around a long time," Capitals General Manager George McPhee said of his acquiring Arnott, Dennis Wideman and Marco Sturm in the past three days. "Specifically with Arnott, he's been a captain of an NHL team and he's won a Cup and those kind of intangibles are something that we wanted in the room like we had when we got [Sergei] Fedorov [three] years ago."
Arnott is in fact just the latest addition to a long list of players who have had their crack at replacing Fedorov as the Capitals No. 2 center. Since Fedorov left Washington as a free agent in 2009, the Capitals revolving second-line center position has been filled by Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault.
"There weren't many centers available," McPhee acknowledged of Monday's trade market, "and [Arnott] was one that a lot of people wanted to have. He had a no-trade-clause and when [Devils GM] Lou [Lamoriello] told him we were interested, he was hoping that it would work out with us, and Lou played it real well and made it happen."
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Arnott has 24 points in 62 games this season and is an unrestricted free agent at season's end. He also joins Mike Knuble as the only Capitals with a Stanley Cup ring.
While Knuble appeared in just three playoff games during the Detroit Red Wings 1998 Stanley Cup run, Arnott was the Devils leading scorer in the 2000 playoffs and netted the winning goal in double overtime of their Stanley Cup clinching game against Dallas.
"I think we're gaining a little bit of experience, guys that have been through the wars," coach Bruce Boudreau said prior to Arnott's deal being finalized. "People don't think of it, but we're a pretty young team with a lot of young guys that haven’t been in situations like this."
McPhee was active at last year's trade deadline as well, bringing in four new players in Belanger, Joe Corvo, Scott Walker and Milan Jurcina. Knuble used the word "awkward," last week in describing what it was like trying to work so many new bodies into the lineup. McPhee is not worried of a similar outcome this year.
"Not this year because we're addressing specific needs that we had where we were a little bit thin. Last year we were a good team and we were trying to add depth and hoping that depending on who we were playing in the playoffs, that we would have [the best] lineup to play certain teams. Had we won the first round, it might have worked out very well, but when you don't, they tell you it wasn't a good idea. But I don't think it will be an issue this year because we had a couple of holes to fill and we filled them."
With Arnott in the fold, rookie Marcus Johansson will likely see some weight lifted off his shoulders as he will likely see more time centering the Capitals third line. The Capitals other No. 2 center in recent weeks, Mathieu Perreault, was assigned to AHL Hershey over the weekend.
Boyd Gordon will likely see time as the Capitals primary fourth line center, a position previously held by Steckel. Gordon may also split time in the middle with capable centers Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle.
Steckel heads to New Jersey with two-years remaining on his current deal with a salary cap hit of $1.1 million per season. The 28-year-old has spent his entire NHL career with the Capitals, and has five goals and six assists in 57 games this season. Steckel was used regularly on Washington's penalty-kill, and is the NHL's leader in faceoff this season, winning 63.7 percent of his draws.
"He's done really well for us here and he's become an NHL player, a solid NHL player," McPhee said of Steckel. "But we felt that we had some depth there with Boyd Gordon and Jay Beagle, and if we were going to upgrade the club at another position, this was asking price.
"We do it reluctantly, but it's a decision you have to make in this position sometimes, and as much as you don't want to see a guy go, you know you have to do it to improve your club."

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