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Posted at 7:10 AM ET, 03/ 1/2011

Thoughts on deadline day trades

By Kareem El-Alaily

Yesterday’s trades have brought in two new players – Dennis Wideman and Jason Arnott – to the Caps. This comes in addition to GM George McPhee’s waiver wire pilfering of Marco Sturm from the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. All in all, this was a very good week for McPhee. He gave up relatively little to acquire these players - a second rounder, a third rounder, a long-shot prospect (Jake Hauswirth) and David Steckel for Wideman, Arnott and Sturm. While Steckel’s faceoff prowess will certainly be missed, the team was saddled with a multi-year contract that overpaid a fourth-liner whose skill-set could be replaced by Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon.

So count me as one who is happy with these trades. Undoubtedly, the Caps have improved. In a poll I ran last week, I gave readers six choices of what they thought was the second-most pressing need facing the Caps and McPhee met the needs of the top four vote-getters. The Caps found a scoring winger (Sturm), a gritty, battle-tested veteran (Arnott), a depth defenseman (Wideman) and a power play specialist (Wideman). That comes on top of finding the most important piece of the puzzle, a second-line center (Arnott). Again, for what McPhee gave up this was a great day of trading. They added two top-six forwards and a defenseman who can play top four minutes (if needed) for relatively little.

Does this make this team a contender for the Eastern Conference crown? Yes, but there is still some work to do. The Caps need Arnott, Sturm and Semin to click instantly; they need Wideman to have a positive impact on the power play; they need to get healthy; and most importantly, they need the top line to revert back to last year’s levels of domination. This is all easier said than done. But the Eastern Conference is now a wide open race. Philadelphia is the front-runner, but the Flyers are certainly not miles ahead of the pack. I could foresee just about any top-five team in the East making it to the Finals this year. It will depend on matchups, health and, to the chagrin of all Caps fans, a little luck. Assuming the new-look Caps can gel quickly they certainly are in the discussion for the Prince of Wales trophy.

But is the team now good enough to hoist the Cup? I’m not so sure. While the Caps undoubtedly improved at center it may not be enough to match up against the depth of a Detroit, San Jose or Vancouver. Stanley Cup winning teams need two impact centers on a roster and the Caps do not possess two such players. (With all due respect to the 36-year old Jason Arnott, he’s years away from his prime, and many would not consider the in-his-prime Arnott an elite game-breaking pivot.) Not helping matters was the fact that there were no impact centers moved at the deadline this year. Rumor has it that the price for Brad Richards was a first-round pick, a lower-round pick and two of the Caps top-five prospects. That would have been a lot to give up for renting a currently injured player and McPhee wisely didn’t pull the trigger.

Nonetheless, McPhee is not out of the woods. He stood relatively pat this summer thinking that the team was closer to a Cup than it was. Consequently there was little tinkering to the roster after last season’s playoff collapse. In hindsight he was wrong - the team was much farther behind than he (and Bruce Boudreau) thought. He took appropriate steps yesterday to address some of the team’s weaknesses, but will it be enough to make up for his off-season inaction? We’ll know in a few months. Ultimately, McPhee’s grade will be determined by how far this team advances this year. Yesterday’s trades definitely helped, but another first- or second-round exit with this star-studded team will make people quickly forget about how good a day he had on Feb. 28, 2011.

By Kareem El-Alaily  | March 1, 2011; 7:10 AM ET
Categories:  Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily  | Tags:  Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily  
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Next: First impressions from spring training


Who the heck is Strum?

We got a Sturm and a Strum now?

Posted by: RiverRat56 | March 1, 2011 8:36 AM | Report abuse

Good synopis. I'm not sure how wide open the East is? -- but playoffs are a whole new ball game in the NHL as much as any other sport. I think we gave up a little too much for Arnott but time will tell. We definitely needed to do something to change the mix of the team. GMGM clearly should have done more in the off-season but I agree that there was no point being reckless around the trade deadline.

Posted by: rskinsfan | March 1, 2011 10:12 AM | Report abuse

What's the source for the Richards rumour? Everything I'd seen indicated he was only waiving his clause for the Rangers, and the asking price was way too high for them.

Posted by: GFisher1 | March 1, 2011 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Dallas was very foolish. Richards isn't going to resign with them and now they are going to get nothing for him. The Stars' management just set their team back a season by refusing a trade that probably would have netted them the equivalent of a mid to high first round talent.

But they had to demand 3 or 4 players of that caliber.

Brad Richards when healthy is a very good player but at 30 is a guy with a limited shelf life.

In regards to the Caps moves, I really thought Arnott would land here all along. It made sense. A veteran center with size and Stanley Cup experience who is on an expiring contract.

Exactly the kind of player McPhee was targeting.

The Wideman deal was a bit of a surprise as I didn't think Florida had him on the market.

But I did expect Washington to grab a veteran defender when it became apparent that Poti in all likelihood was not going to be 100% during this season or the playoffs.

Posted by: RoyHobbs4 | March 1, 2011 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Quote: "...they need the top line to revert back to last year’s levels of domination..."

So after trying out a new (defensive) system for most of the season, you're saying they should just scrap that and go back to the old (wide-open) offensive system? Not that I would mind but it kind of makes their efforts for the season up to this point seem like a waste.

Posted by: AmyS1 | March 1, 2011 1:31 PM | Report abuse

There was a twitter rumor going around that Eakin, Holtby, a 1st and a lower pick were either offered or requested. Could be baseless rumor-mongering, but it sounds like the type of price Nieuwendyk would request and why no one bit.

No way the Caps should scrap the new system(s). Their ability to now play dump-and-chase, run-n-gun or trap hockey - depending on the opponent, situation and the score - is the most important improvement this team has made. The first line can still be just as dominant as last year if they were to simply bury the chances they have created (regardless of system).


Posted by: topshelf_22304 | March 1, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Agreed! We shoot....we just don't score :/

Posted by: AmyS1 | March 1, 2011 4:42 PM | Report abuse

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