The NHL trade deadline came to a close this past Wednesday and it was a slower deadline than usual. A flurry of trade activity occurred the day before the deadline, which is not as common. Washington entered the approaching deadline with needs at landing a top six forward and a top four defensemen.
The Capitals made their first trade Tuesday when they acquired Anaheim’s first line forward Dustin Penner. In his 49 games played this season for the Ducks, Penner recorded 32 total points. Penner was one key factor in the LA Kings Stanley Cup run back in 2011. Washington gave up a 4th round pick for Penner, a 4th round pick they received from Anaheim in the early portion of the season from the Matthieu Perreault trade.
Penner is known to be a good player, but at times his motivation is in question. He is an un-restricted free agent at seasons end and will eventually be on a line amongst Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. That should be enough motivation for Penner to bring out his best hockey for the remainder of the season.
Dustin Penner is a low risk potential high reward trade and an excellent acquisition. You get a player similar to what Mike Knuble was in Washington as Penner is a big body at 6’4 and plays well in front of the net. Net presence is something Washington needs heading down the final stretch.
Martin Erat had requested to be traded early on in the season and he finally got his request. Erat was traded to Phoenix with a prospect in return for a 4th round pick, prospect Chris Brown and defensemen Rostislav Klesla. This was another good trade by McPhee, Erat did not want to be in Washington and his production was not cutting it as a top six forward. Erat only registered one goal all season, his only goal being an empty netter.
With the Erat trade, Washington created some additional cap space. The Caps had the worst salary cap space in the league entering the trade deadline and they were not done freeing up the space.
At deadlines end Wednesday, the Capitals had one more move they made. They traded Michal Neuvirth and recently acquired defensemen Rostislav Klesla to the Buffalo Sabres for Jaroslav Halak and a third round pick. Halak has started 40 games for the St. Louis Blues this season with a 24-9-4 record and a .917 save percentage with a 2.23 goals allowed average.
Halak is most known from the Washington faithful with his beyond stellar play in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. He singlehandedly sent the Caps home after Washington had won the Presidents trophy that season. Halak is an un restricted free agent at season’s end and it will be intriguing to see how he will be used going down the stretch.
Washington’s goal tending situation is not as bad as portrayed amongst the national media. The secondary scoring to go along with the consistently poor defensive effort are the team’s top problems. The Halak trade raises several questions within the organization.
Holtby signed an extension last season and has been the consensus number one goal tender throughout the season despite some rough patches. Philipp Grubauer has come up and shown glimpses of great goal tending in brief chances. Halak does not seem to be in the future plans and that would make it a reasonable move. If the intent of this trade was to clear up cap space by moving Neuvirth away and acquiring a pending free agent, that’s a good trade. I just can’t see Halak being in the future goaltending landscape in Washington.
So at the end of every trade deadline, teams are assessed if they were winners or losers for their acquisitions. So at the end of it, was Washington a winner?
The Capitals top needs were a top six forward and a top four defensemen. George McPhee did his job in bringing in a top six forward in Penner, in hopes that he helps with the secondary scoring. What Washington did not do was bring in another defensemen.
Washington was a winner at the deadline for a couple of reasons. They brought in a top six forward without giving up anything significant. While they did not get a defensemen, they made moves to clear up a good amount of cap space. Getting rid of Erat and Neuvirth helped the Capitals get to about $18 million dollars in salary cap space for the upcoming season.
This amount of cap space can help Washington with several different options going forward. If Penner plays great for the rest of the season, they can choose to bring him back. Washington can also look to extend Mikhail Grabovski, who signed a one-year deal last offseason. With this cap space, Evgeny Kuznetsov will be able to be signed to an entry-level deal once he crosses over into American soil.
So at the end of the day, George McPhee had a nice performance at the deadline. He cleared up space for potential moves in the offseason and brought in a top six forward for next to nothing. McPhee also did not manage to trade away a top prospect for another Martin Erat. McPhee did his job and only time will tell to see if it helps the Caps make their way into the post season.