Capitals General Manager George McPhee, who has seen his club win just one playoff series since the 1998 season, had to be feeling some pressure coming in to Monday’s NHL trading deadline given his team’s inconsistent regular season following its’ stunning first round loss to the Montreal Canadiens last spring. And boy did the Washington GM deliver on a day when it appeared that achieving his goals of significantly improving his hockey club might be difficult to attain given the limited trade market.
The crafty NHL exec filled his second line center hole with Jason Arnott, who has been a captain in the league and also won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils back in 2000, and brought in another puck moving defensemen in Dennis Wideman. In return he didn’t yield any of the organizations future 1st round draft picks and protected his prize prospect list that includes center Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010 1st round pick and projected future Caps 2nd line center), Hershey defenseman Dmitri Orlov (2009 2nd round pick), WHL forward Cody Eakin (2009 3rd round pick), and Hershey goalie Braden Holtby. McPhee did part with the Caps 3rd round pick in 2011, their second rounder in 2012, ECHL forward Jake Hauswirth, and forward Dave Steckel. The biggest loss, of course, was Steckel who leads the NHL in faceoff percentage at over 63%, but to get something good, you have to give something back and #39 was the sacrificial lamb on this day.
Clearly, the Arnott acquisition was the biggest because ever since Sergei Fedorov left after the 2009 season finding a pivot behind Nicklas Backstrom has been a monumental headache for McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau. Arnott is up there at age 36, but he can still play and just three years ago he had 72 points in 79 games playing mostly alongside another enigmatic Russian winger named Alexander Radulov. Is it possible that Arnott and Alexander Semin can form some quick chemistry and provide Boudreau with that much needed second unit to finally make an opposing bench boss pay for focusing solely on Alexander Ovechkin?
The former first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers (7th overall in 1993) had to waive his no movement clause to come to the Capitals so clearly a player who figures to be another locker room leader sees a talented and inexperienced club that could benefit from his services and leadership. No, he isn’t Brad Richards (who remained a Dallas Star after being named as the deadline’s most desirable player all winter) or Stephen Weiss or Ales Hemsky, some other names that were bantered about as possibilities to fill the Caps void at center, but he was the best center actually available and McPhee grabbed him when a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins was in the running as well. Arnott could finally be McPhee’s revenge on Penguins GM Ray Shero for acquiring Bill Guerin on trade deadline day in 2009 instead of ending up in DC, a move that helped yield the Pens the Stanley Cup.
With the injuries to defenesmen Mike Green, who will be out at least a couple of weeks due to his head injury, and Tom Poti (chronic groin), the need for the Washington GM to add another puck rushing/moving blue liner was paramount. Wideman, who scored 13 goals and was +32 for the Boston Bruins when they won the Eastern Conference regular season in 2008-09, fits that bill and the hope is that he can help a severely struggling Capitals offense. Wideman, who played on Dale Hunter’s London Knights Ontario Hockey League teams from 2001 to 2004, will only turn 28 on March 20th and said he was “excited” to join the Caps. McPhee said he phoned Hunter Monday morning to inquire about the type of player Wideman is and #32 responded, “If he has to block a shot with his face, he will do that.”
In his post trade teleconference, Wideman felt that he could help out the power play and noted that he was happy to not have to try and stop Ovechkin anymore. The man who will number 6 in DC also said that when facing the Washington man advantage, the focus was to keep the puck away from the Great #8 and now he will have the opportunity to try and get him the puck. The added bonus with Wideman is that he is not a rental, he is signed for the 2011-12 season, although the salary cap hit is a bit high at $3.875M.
Arnott’s salary cap hit is $4.5M so today’s tally was pricey, however, because both Eric Fehr and Poti were placed retroactively on LTIR, the Capitals are still under the salary cap and McPhee said if both were healthy tomorrow, which is not the case, they could play and Washington would still be under the NHL’s spending ceiling. In today’s economic driven NHL, it is so hard to pull off the big blockbuster deals that we saw in yesteryear, like when former Caps GM David Poile landed Dino Ciccarelli and Calle Johansson in 1989 and Washington went on to win their first ever Patrick Division title. Is it possible these moves help the Capitals catch the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Southeast Division title? Perhaps, but I imagine right now the focus for the Caps is simply to integrate these new players over the last 19 games and get them ready to take this franchise deep into the playoffs, something they have not done since 1998.
For McPhee tonight, he can finally get a good night’s sleep because his work on improving this hockey club is now done. Many around the league have proclaimed the Capitals as the NHL trade deadline winners after Monday’s events, but in the end all that matters is who walks away in June holding Lord Stanley’s Cup. Maybe Jason Arnott will become Washington’s Butch Goring? Stay tuned….