Caps General Manager George McPhee made some good moves on Tuesday acquiring LW Dustin Penner, RW Chris Brown, D Rotislav Klesla, and a 4th round pick while dealing out a 4th round pick and LW Martin Erat.
But is it enough to put this team in the playoffs come mid April?
Right now my answer, as it was after Sunday’s painful loss to Philadelphia, is still no.
Penner, a two time Stanley Cup winner (2007 Ducks and 2012 Kings), is a big left wing that can score. He brings a dimension to the left side of the lineup that the Capitals just don’t have right now. The 6′ 4″ power forward had 11 points in 20 games with Los Angeles during their Stanley Cup run in 2012 playing a top six role. He will be expected to play in a top six position with Washington down the stretch. Penner is an unrestricted free agent and currently makes $2M. The winger, who at times has been out of shape and not motivated, should be focused on proving himself since he needs a new contract come July 1st. Simply put, for a 4th round pick, this was a good trade and a no brainer despite the fact that he is not a fast skater.
As for the Erat deal, just moving his $4.5M salary cap hit this year and next season is a bonus. The Caps do take on Klesla’s salary with the latest CBA, even though he is going directly to Hershey. The 31 year old Czech defensemen, who has split time at the NHL and AHL level this season, carries a salary cap hit of $2.975M but is an unrestricted free agent after this campaign. Klesla, a former top 5 draft pick (#4 overall in 2000 NHL Entry Draft), has struggled of late and was not happy in Phoenix (he was on waivers in the fall). He does not have good wheels, so it appears that in order for McPhee to unload his problem child in Erat, he had to take on some baggage from another club.
Brown, 23, is an interesting prospect. He had 29 goals in his first season (68 games) in the AHL in 2012-13, but he only has 14 tallies in 51 games this year. The University of Michigan product also played for the US National Under 17 and 18 teams. He’s a 3rd line type, a big right winger who can skate in an organization that is loaded on that side.
So did the Capitals help themselves today?
Yes, it wasn’t hard to do when you get Penner for a mid round draft pick and you get out from under Erat’s remaining salary cap hits for this year and next. But there are still issues with this roster. There remains an overabundance of right wingers and some gaping holes on defense. The third pair is a big problem area now so McPhee needs to either land a top 4 defenseman to bump Dmitry Orlov down to the 3rd pair or upgrade so that Connor Carrick and John Erskine aren’t every game players.
To me, it makes sense to move one of your right wingers so that you can use salary cap dollars elsewhere to improve the defense. That would likely mean Troy Brouwer or Joel Ward would need to be dealt, which would bump Tom Wilson up into an expanded role. Moves to that effect would further balance the roster and also position the Capitals to make even more changes this summer to get back to being a Stanley Cup contender.
Currently, they are a middle of the pack club hoping to climb into the playoffs and go a round or two. Let’s make no mistake about that, hockey is a business and making the playoffs has a huge impact financially. That’s why I believe McPhee, who reportedly is in the last year of his contract, is not done making moves and will do more before Wednesday’s 3 pm trade deadline.
This organization wants to badly make the playoffs. Money and likely jobs are on the line. We saw the desperation to make the post season last year when they traded Filip Forsberg for Erat and Michael Latta. It was a win now type of move that ultimately backfired. They were focused on the short term and wanted another body due to the uncertainty surrounding Brooks Laich’s injury. The truth is, they would have still been able to make the playoffs without Erat in a weak Southeast Division.
This spring, it is not as easy with the new division configuration. Somehow the Caps need to improve enough to pass either the Flyers or the Rangers, and Columbus too. Philadelphia dominated the Caps in some important puck possession statistics on Washington’s home ice last Sunday. Add in that the Capitals upcoming schedule is rated one of the hardest in the league and making the playoffs is going to be very tough.
So the Capitals improved their position today and helped their future, but it doesn’t appear to be enough to secure a playoff position.
That’s way I say to look for more moves from the Caps on Wednesday.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Drew Forrester on WNST 1570 AM Baltimore talking Caps hockey at 7:45 AM on Wednesday. Listen Live at WNST.NET