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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 02/21/2011

Counting down to the trade deadline...

By Kareem El-Alaily

With one week remaining before the crucial NHL trade deadline there is a general consensus that the Caps cannot afford to stand pat. Other top teams in the East – primarily Philadelphia and Boston – have made notable moves to bolster their lineups. Doubtless, other teams will be doing the same.

It’s generally accepted that the top priority for the Capitals is to acquire a second-line center to help alleviate the scoring pressure that’s been placed on the top line. However, there are other needs, and there is no consensus around what the next top priority is. So I ask you.

Keep reading for a few more trade deadline notes...

-- This trade deadline is a big one for George McPhee who went on record Friday saying that he wasn’t happy with his team’s offensive performance. But his performance in assembling a Cup contending team is going to come into question unless he can find an answer to the Caps issues at center. McPhee has known since the end of last season that the Caps had a second-line center deficiency. And he’s known since very early in the season that neither Marcus Johansson nor Mathieu Perreault would successfully fill that void come playoff time. Like a procrastinating student, he’s waited until the last second to turn in his project. If he can bring back an impact center without giving away core players or taking on an onerous contract, he will have positioned the team to make a deep run in the playoffs; if he doesn’t and subsequently lets another season as a contender slip away in an Eastern Conference that is wide open, he’ll deserve the same pointed criticism he recently levied on his team.

-- McPhee has a hit-or-miss reputation as a “buyer” at the trade-deadline. In 1998 he acquired Jeff Brown, Esa Tikkanen and Brian Bellows on deadline day. That trio helped kickstart the Caps on an improbable Cup run. In 2008 he also hit a home run with his acquisitions of Sergei Fedorov, Matt Cooke and Cristobal Huet. McPhee’s trade deadline mastery those years was just as responsible for the Caps success as anyone else’s contributions. But there have been misses too. In 2000 and 2001 he stood pat with two very good Capitals teams that included in-their-primes Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig. The team subsequently lost in the first round both years. In 2003 he acquired Sergei Berezin, who was not enough to get the team past Tampa in the first round. In 2009 he stood pat while the team that beat them in the second round, Pittsburgh, added players at the deadline. In 2010 the acquisitions of Joe Corvo, Eric Belanger and Scott Walker had minimal impact on the team’s performance. Like I said, McPhee is hit-or-miss as a buyer. For this season to be successful McPhee simply cannot afford to stand pat. Other contenders have made moves. It’s time to channel 1998 and 2008 and counter, as the current construction of the Capitals will not get them past the second round without some tremendous luck.

-- One move McPhee has made that I do appreciate is the Scott Hannan acquisition. Following a poor start to his tenure in D.C., Hannan has developed into a very solid player on defense. It’s no coincidence that the Caps penalty kill has improved from slightly above average to a top-five unit since the Hannan trade. An unrestricted free agent this summer I’m not sure Hannan can afford to be in the Caps plans at $4.5M annually. But I wouldn’t mind the Caps at least exploring the possibility of bringing him back, although I realize it would take some roster tinkering to do that.

-- Congrats to UMBC, Virginia Tech and Maryland for finishing third, seventh and eleventh respectively in the final ACHA Division II Southeast Regional Rankings. All three teams will advance to the Southeast Regional tournament to be held in Philadelphia starting Feb. 26, with the two top finishers advancing to the ACHA Division II National Tournament. Maryland, it should be noted, snuck in because fifth-ranked Ohio State declined their bid to attend the regional tournament. Good luck to the three local teams!

By Kareem El-Alaily  | February 21, 2011; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily  | Tags:  Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily  
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Caps lost in 1st round of 2008 playoffs and then lost Huet in the offseason. Tikkanen scored the game tying goal for the Sabers in 1998 at the end of the 3rd period and missed an open net goal in game 2 of the Cup. Caps would have won that game, series would have been even and coming to DC.

Posted by: leftovers | February 21, 2011 2:07 PM | Report abuse

So forget hit or miss, thats all I remember about Huet and Tikkanen.

Posted by: leftovers | February 21, 2011 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Pretty accurate on the trade front. Although I believe 2001 was the year he traded Zednik and Bulis to Montreal for Zubrus and Linden (and then the next flipped Linden for a first round draft pick). In that sense I'd put that trade deadline with last years' trade deadline: GMGM went for a splash that ultimately undermined team chemistry and had the opposite effect.

If I remember correctly, all the experts were proclaiming the Caps as deadline winners last year, myself included. But hey... we're all wrong at least once.

Posted by: GFisher1 | February 22, 2011 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I didn't include mid-season trades as "deadline-day" trades, so I left out the Trevor Linden trade as well as Chimera-for-Clark and Hannan-for-Flash trade. I was just focusing on deals that occurred in the week leading up to the deadline. If we include mid-season trades the results are similarly mixed for McPhee.

As for last year, I definitely wasn't a fan of McPhee's trade deadline acquisitions. I thought that what we brought in - a 5D, 3C and 4W - wasn't going to be enough as it didn't improve the strength of our top 10 skaters. We were missing a top four defenseman and a 2C and neither hole was addressed appropriately. (Despite all that, we still should never have lost to MTL in the first round.)


Posted by: topshelf_22304 | February 22, 2011 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Arnott would look good in a caps sweater come playoff time. Throw a 2nd rounder and some of Ted's cash at the devils to help pay Kovo's salary.

Posted by: jamieg00 | February 23, 2011 10:39 PM | Report abuse

I thought the Zednik/Bulis was at the deadline. My bad if it wasn't.

Posted by: GFisher1 | February 24, 2011 8:59 AM | Report abuse

You're right. Linden was indeed a deadline-day trade. March 13, 2001 to be precise. So chalk up another "miss" for McPhee's trade day deadline maneuviring.

Posted by: topshelf_22304 | February 24, 2011 9:24 AM | Report abuse

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