Thoughts on deadline day trades
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.
| March 1, 2011; 7:10 AM ET
Categories: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily | Tags: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily
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