Will the Caps Make Any Deals at the NHL Trade Deadline?

March 02, 2010 | Ed Frankovic

Well hockey fans, Wednesday, March 3rd at 3pm is the NHL trade deadline and after making no moves on that same day in 2008-09 the question is whether or not Capitals General Manager George McPhee will make any deals to bolster what, right now, looks like Washington’s best chance ever to win a Stanley Cup?

There is an argument that says that McPhee should not make any moves given that his team is sitting atop the entire NHL right now and they lead the Eastern Conference standings by a staggering 13 points with just 20 games to go. Those in that camp will point to the moves GMGM made last summer and in late December as being the key to putting this year’s club in better position than last spring to knock off the Pittsburgh Penguins and any other Eastern Conference rivals en route to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. Those acquisitions were the signings of net crashing forward Mike Knuble and center Brendan Morrison in July and then the addition of speedy and gritty left wing Jason Chimera in exchange for Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina shortly after Christmas. The FA signings replaced the departed (to the KHL) Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov while Chimera gives the Caps a solid left wing for the third line. Clearly these moves have improved this team as evidenced by the squad’s recent club record 14 game winning streak. The “stand pat” at the deadline crowd will also make the point that the Caps have another year of experience under their belt and overall have great team chemistry, so why mess with that?

On the other side of the coin, you have those who want the Caps to either bolster their goaltending, defense, forwards or all of the above. The “add a goalie” crowd will point to Semyon Varlamov’s injury issues and Jose Theodore’s poor outing in the first game of last April’s post season, after which he was yanked for Varly, as the reason to go after a veteran cage minder, such as Marty Turco or a Dwayne Rolosson. The “bring in a D” lot, which seems to be the loudest one out there, believes that the Caps defense is not physical enough in Washington’s own zone and can’t handle the two month grind necessary to take home Lord Stanley. Up front there are some that want another net crasher or a 2nd/3rd line center. You also have a contingent that believes that because of the physicality of the playoffs and the greater probability for injuries that GMGM needs to add some depth. In addition, some Caps fans are pointing out that other teams are making deals (the Penguins acquired defenseman Jordan Leopold from Florida for a 2nd round draft pick and apparently, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger, have made a deal to get left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky from Toronto in exchange for defenseman Martin Skoula and prospect Luca Caputi) so McPhee needs to keep up with the competition. I won’t go into more names about who might be available, because if you want to see some potential candidates, Caps senior writer Mike Vogel does a super job of chronicling this in his lastest Dump N’ Chase column on the team’s website.

Everyone in the debate can make valid points and there is no set recipe at the trade deadline that leads to a Stanley Cup victory and subsequent parade. In 1991-92, fresh off winning a Stanley Cup the previous June, Penguins GM Craig Patrick made a blockbuster deal in February, just before the deadline, moving forward Mark Recchi, defenseman Brian Benning, and a first round draft pick to Philadelphia for forward Rick Tocchet, defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, and goalie Ken Wregget. Had those moves not been made by Patrick then the Penguins likely fall to the Capitals in round one, instead of rallying from down three games to one and then going on to capture their second straight Cup. On the other hand, in 2007, Ducks GM Brian Burke, who had acquired defenseman Chris Pronger the previous summer, opted to only add fourth line veteran forward Brad May in exchange for minor league goalie Michael Wall on deadline day yet his team went on to win the Stanley Cup in dominating fashion.

So clearly whether McPhee makes a move or not is certainly not an indicator as to whether the Caps win the Stanley Cup or go out in the first round. The Caps GM is among the most secretive managers in the league and will rarely tip his hand. In his recent press conferences the GM has said that “we like our team now” and “we want to be good and have a chance to win the Cup for not just one year but for a long time.” Translation: I am not going to give up any of my top young players, such as Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, Braden Holtby, Karl Alzner, or John Carlson, for a rental player for this season. It is hard to disagree with McPhee’s logic there. But is he just giving us his “poker face?” Who knows? However, I think that McPhee really believes in those statements and if he does make a trade, it won’t involve any of the aforementioned young Caps players, unless he gets one super deal.

Remember though, it takes two to tango in what appears to be a major sellers market, and despite all of the speculation from the media and fans, the only people who will really know what deals are on the table for discussion are McPhee and his scouts, who are hunkered down in the War Room at Kettler Ice Plex until 3pm on Wednesday.

Stay tuned…Wednesday should be a fun one for Caps and hockey fans!