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McPhee adds four veterans to top-seeded Capitals

by Mike G. Morreale
Rumor had it Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee was pretty satisfied with the makeup of his team heading into the trade deadline.

And justifiably so, as the Capitals are sitting first in the Eastern Conference with 41 wins and an NHL-leading 90 points entering Wednesday night's action. But even McPhee couldn't pass on the opportunity of upgrading his team in the final hours of wheeling and dealing.

"I'm not sure," McPhee said when asked how his trades will resonate through the NHL. "Everybody does what they need to do and some years, it makes no sense to do anything. Then, this year, I thought the right deals were there and they were. How everyone else perceives them, that's up to them, but we're pleased with what took place today."

In the end, McPhee finalized four deals, including a pair with Southeast Division rival Carolina, on the way to gaining veteran defensemen Milan Jurcina and Joe Corvo and depth along the forward line with the acquisitions of Scott Walker and Eric Belanger.

McPhee began the day by acquiring Walker from the Hurricanes in exchange for a 2010 seventh-round draft pick. The trade enables Walker, a native of Cambridge, Ontario, to move from the conference's 14th-seeded team to a Stanley Cup contender.

"Scott Walker brings experience and grit and can play up and down the lineup," McPhee said.

"Scotty gets an opportunity to go to a team that has a legitimate run at the Cup this year," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "He's earned that over the course of his career because he's such a great soldier."

McPhee then sent a second-round pick to Minnesota for center Belanger before re-acquiring defenseman Jurcina from Columbus for a conditional draft pick in June. Jurcina will be sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks with a sport hernia.

"Belanger brings speed and experience at center and that's sort of the thing we're looking for," McPhee said. "He's really good on faceoffs too."

McPhee concluded the day with perhaps, his best find in Corvo from Carolina in exchange for defenseman Brian Pothier, forward Oskar Osala and a 2011 second-round draft choice.

"We got better and deeper and didn't give up our future to do it," McPhee said. "We didn't take on any bad contracts to do it either. Corvo was the top defenseman available in our minds and we got him. He plays a lot and in both ends of the rink. He defends well and kills and spends time on the penalty kill. He can also generate offense, which is the type of defenseman we like. He averages more time on the ice (25:13) than Mike Green (25:12). He's the one guy we liked a lot and we got him, so I'm happy with the results."

Walker, 36, will certainly provide some toughness, in addition to an added dressing-room presence for the Capitals.  Injuries limited him to just 33 games this season -- he actually returned from a 21-game absence due to a shoulder ailment on Tuesday in a victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 15-year veteran has 3 goals and 5 points this season.

Belanger, 32, had 13 goals and 22 assists in 60 games for the Wild. He is seventh in the NHL with a 57.6 faceoff percentage. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau coached Belanger when both were with the AHL's Lowell Lock Monsters from 1999-2001. He notched 23 goals and 58 points in 78 games under Boudreau.

Both Belanger and Walker are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer.

The Capitals are well-stocked down the middle, with Belanger joining Nicklas Backstrom, Tomas Fleischmann, Brendan Morrison, David Steckel and Boyd Gordon. Still, the acquisition of Belanger comes at a critical time since Morrison, who started the season off so strong, has produced just 9 points in 22 games since Christmas. Boudreau has already slotted Belanger as the team's third-line center.

"I'm not too concerned with our chemistry (from this point forward)," McPhee said. "In our business, guys play hard against the opposition. We basically moved just one player off our team (Pothier) and kept the rest of the team intact. We have a lot of good guys, a lot of committed guys, and I think they're all happy with what we did."
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