Caps Need to Make The Big Move

March 02, 2009 | Ed Frankovic

So we are less than 48 hours from Wednesday’s 3pm NHL trade deadline and here are some items to ponder to help you decide whether or not GM George McPhee should stand pat or change up his roster heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

The Colorado Avalanche started their six-game road trip with a win at Washington (4-1), but dropped the final five. They were outscored 14-3 in consecutive losses to New Jersey and New York’s Rangers and Islanders. The Avs are in last place in the Western Conference.

The Caps are 3-3 in their last 6 home games losing to a more physical Flyers team, a more inspired Panthers team, and a bottom feeder in Colorado (and we’ve seen other losses since January 1st to Edmonton, Los Angeles, and Columbus that were eerily similar).

In last Thursday’s blog I mentioned that I spoke with a scout about the Red Wings and discussed their chances of repeating as Stanley Cup Champions. His response really surprised me when he said the following: “No, they don’t come to play every night, the last 2 years those Red Wings went hard every night, you can’t win playing spot hockey.” Well lately “Spot Hockey” is an accurate description of the Washington Capitals.

Today our friend Rob Yunich over at Storming the Crease (www.stormingthecrease.com) jumped on a Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau quote from yesterday after the Florida debacle that indicated a lack of leadership in the Washington locker room. Boudreau says he can’t keep yelling at the players to play hard each night and that somebody inside the dressing room should be doing it. I kind of thought in the absence of Captain Chris Clark that veteran Sergei Fedorov would be the guy to do that or even Alexander Ovechkin but it doesn’t appear to be happening. We continue to see the team not show up about every third game, especially when the opponent is below them in the standings. We’ve heard alot about team chemistry and the need to keep these guys together but how good is the chemistry when every third night the team seems to be mailing it in?

Those three or so minutes last Tuesday against Philadelphia, when the team was playing hard that evening, keep flashing in my mind. Big forwards Scott Hartnell, Jeff Carter, and Joffrey Lupul manhandled the Caps defense, heck even Arron Asham went around Jeff Schultz, to send the Caps to a defeat. Then yesterday noone on the back end, and especially Schultz, could clear the front of the Washington net against a Florida team not exactly known for powerful forwards. Do the Caps really want to go into the playoffs with this crew of defensemen who aren’t very physical and take alot of penalties?

Adding all of this up there is no doubt in my mind that the Washington Capitals need to upgrade their roster if they intend on competing for the Stanley Cup. The team’s biggest problem is not goaltending (although they could use a veteran backup as insurance for Jose Theodore), it is on defense, so fans should hope that GM George McPhee can make a big move to upgrade a defensive corps that has really struggled lately.

If Chris Pronger is available and willing to come to the Eastern Conference (and why Anaheim would be stupid enough to move him to a team in the West is beyond me??) then McPhee needs to land him because as former team statistician and team ophthalmologist Mike Herr said to me on the phone tonight: I bet you if you polled scouts around the league and asked them where they thought the Caps weakness is they would no doubt point to the defense. Even Boudreau pointed out that as a deficiency when he was on interviewed by Drew Forrester on the Comcast Morning Show last Wednesday morning on WNST.

Chances to win the Stanley Cup don’t come around often, although the Caps are a young team and have a bright future, but I don’t see these six defensemen as maturing enough to take this team to a title in the next two to three years. Even adding Karl Alzner up from Hershey, and he definitely needs to be brought back up now, won’t put this defense in a Cup winning position this year or possibly next. Mike Green and Alnzer provide a very good base for the blueline but neither guy is physical. The non-physical Tom Poti is clearly the best of the remaining five d-men but as for the other four (Shaone Morrisonn, Schulz, Milan Jurcina, and John Erskine) you aren’t going to deter any net crashing with them (Erskine is the most physical but also the worst skater).

So I say a prominent physical defensemen must be brought in to get this team over the top. #25 from Anaheim seems like the right fit if a halfway decent price can be had (possibly one of the young goalies, Tomas Fleischmann, a prospect like Chris Bourque or Oskar Osala and a draft pick?). Given that Anaheim has to move either Pronger or Scott Niedermayer now that they traded for Ryan Whitney from Pittsburgh last week, a good bargain could be available. Of course, guys like Pronger who have won a Stanley Cup are likely to be in high demand. But if Pronger goes to Boston, New Jersey, or Philadelphia then the Caps chances of going anywhere this season (or possibly even next since Pronger has one more year on his current deal) seriously diminish. So should the Caps stand pat or move their chips in and take a serious shot at going all of the way for the first time in franchise history? I’m saying the Caps should go all in.

Stay tuned, this is going to be an interesting Tuesday and Wednesday.

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