In one of the quietest NHL trade deadlines ever, Washington Capitals General Manger George McPhee decided to not make any deals. Therefore, the Caps will play the final 20 games of the regular season and then hopefully the playoffs, with their current roster. The one added bonus to the equation would be if center Nicklas Backstrom is able to return, at some point, from his concussion. Noone knows the answer on if and when #19 will be back.
Those who saw McPhee’s press conference would be hard pressed to argue with anything the GM had to say. It was clear there were no big trades out there to make as evidenced by the fact that the biggest deal was likely Cody Hodgson going to Buffalo from Vancouver in exchange for Zack Kassian. The only move that would have made sense for GMGM, in my mind, was to add a top six forward. That type of player clearly wasn’t available for anything less than a first round round draft choice. When a third line center like Paul Gausted is moved for Nashville’s 1st round pick you know the prices are too high. If you can’t figure that out then hum a few bars and I’ll sing it for you.
So where do the Caps go from here? McPhee is counting on his team to make the post season and with Mike Green’s return the defense is much stronger. This is the first time since the beginning of the season that Green, Dennis Wideman, and John Carlson are all in the lineup together. That is a pretty strong right side of the ice, especially from a puck moving standpoint. The key will be to keep #52 healthy and with #6 staying and not getting moved, then the “One Man Breakout” will likely only log 22 to 24 minutes a game instead of the 28 to 30 he used to play when after Carlson there weren’t many other righthanded options on the point.
Up front, the team is rolling the dice with a couple of smallish centers. Both Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault are being asked to do a lot. If Backstrom were back the dynamic changes because 20 to 22 minutes a game is then covered by #19 and MJ90 and MP85 are only playing a combined 25 to 28 minutes instead of the 34 plus they are getting now. Coach Dale Hunter has no choice but to ride on with these two young, scrappy players. They will have their ups and downs so it is imperative that Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Troy Brouwer, and Brooks Laich have strong finishes. If they don’t then the Caps will be on the links come Masters time.
Some wanted to see McPhee move Mike Knuble and Roman Hamrlik, two players who are sitting right now and aren’t very happy. When I hear that keeping them “poisons the room,” I strongly disagree. There isn’t a hockey player in the league who is happier sitting than playing, except for maybe Jaromir Jagr, in some instances. Hunter is a straight shooter and he doesn’t care about a players feelings, it is all about winning to him. There were people who complained when he sat Jeff Schultz and then there was an uproar when goalie Michal Neuvirth wasn’t played in back to back contests a couple of weeks back. Both players got the message, worked their rears off in practice, and are now playing at the top of their respective games. Knuble and Hamrlik may very well be needed at some point so to simply dump them for a lower level round draft pick made zero sense. The Caps expect those two to be professionals and focus on getting better, not providing sound bites to the local scribes.
So now it is time to move forward and see if the Capitals current crew can get on a roll and win the Southeast Division. They certainly have the talent on the roster to do it despite the lack of strong centermen. But every team in the Eastern Conference has flaws.
It is a wide open race and once the dance starts, anything can happen (see Montreal over the Caps and Penguins in 2010).
The trade deadline is over and there is no cavalry coming in to save the day. It is up to every player on the Caps roster to determine how bad they want to make the post season and then succeed if they get in.