The Washington Capitals have cap space for a change, and they have the potential to make a few trades for some good players at the trade deadline. I think the forwards are set, barring an injury, so I’m not planning to concentrate on them right now, but I wouldn’t ignore the possibility of a McPhee move. The same applies to the goaltending. I just don’t think we need anything barring injury or meltdown. Someone like Ray Whitney or Martin Biron would probably be available and could be useful if the situation called for one of them. McPhee has been waiting for this for a few years. He has maneuvered his chess pieces around the board for this moment, and it seems as though the moment is right for him make a move, likely closer to the deadline.I think where the Caps will want to make a trade is on defense, and I think they’d trade defensemen for defensemen. The defensemen the Capitals will keep are: Tom Poti, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, John Carlson. Trade bait are: Shaone Morrisonn, Milan Jurcina, Brian Pothier. Possibilities are Tyler Sloan and John Erskine. This doesn’t count draft picks and prospects as trade bait. I can see us trading some of our B-grade prospects (Francois Bouchard, Jay Beagle, Andrew Gordon) if the return was right.
I don’t think I need to explain the keepers. The trade bait players are all unrestricted next year. Erskine is a possibility because he’s not indispensible, but he is signed for next year and he’s our only sandpaper. Sloan is unrestricted, but I’m not sure what his trade value is and he’s cheap on the roster, so I don’t see the point of trading him.
Defensemen the Capitals would want that would potentially be available:
First, McPhee isn’t going to want a defenseman that he wouldn’t consider an upgrade, so that leaves a bunch of defensemen off the list right away. He’d rather stand pat with what he has, which isn’t bad.
Second, McPhee likes players that don’t have a lot of time left on their contracts because he doesn’t want to get saddled with salary next year when he hasn’t even signed Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom yet. Don’t count on him bringing in anyone who has a contract for next year or who isn’t signed at a reasonable price for next year. He just won’t do it. And I’m not expecting teams with RFAs to let them go.
I can’t see McPhee going after more than two defensemen. There’s the obvious reason that they’re expensive to acquire in a trade, but also there’s a chemistry issue.
The teams to look at are the ones who likely will miss the playoffs. This can change quickly, as we all know, but for now, it looks like the Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets, Edmonton Oilers, and the Minnesota Wild out West, and the Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Montreal Canadiens in the East. I’ve got to think the Florida Panthers stand pat again this year like it did last year. I think also that trades within the division will be unlikely. I recently took a look at a couple more teams, on the advice of some JapersRink commenters, so I've included the Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes, and Vancouver Canucks to my list of trade partners.
So, here are my four picks as the likeliest defensemen to trade for, and I’ve added in a couple honorable mentions who don’t quite make the cut, but I wouldn’t be too shocked if we picked them up.
Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim (Age: 36)
6’1, 194, Shoots: Left
2009-10 Salary Cap hit: $6.75 million. UFA for 2010-11
2009-10 Stats: 34 GP, 3-17-20, -10, 16 PIM, 26:24 TOI/G (4:24 SH, 3:27 PP), 26 Hits, 34 BS, 19 GvA, 19 TkA
Pros: This is obvious, but I’ll spell it out anyway. Regular Season: 1,217 games, 165 goals, 547 assists, 712 points, only 762 PIM, career +166. Playoffs: 202 games, 25 goals, 73 assists, 98 points, 155 PIM, career +20. Won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000, 2003, and 2007 and went to the Final in 2001. Awards: 2004 Norris Trophy; 2007 Conn Smythe Trophy; 2004, 2006, and 2007 NHL First All-Star Team; 1998 NHL Second All-Star Team; 4-time All-Star. Team Captain of New Jersey and Anaheim. Experience, leadership, speed, skill, and a legendary playoff beard. He would be a good fit on our up-tempo team. He plays 26:24 a night.
Cons: Possibly age, but it doesn't seem to be slowing him down. Possibly the -10 rating he's sporting this year.
Cap hit: Monstrous. The Capitals would need to move players from the active roster to accommodate him. This is where trading away Pothier, Morrisonn, or Jurcina comes into play.
Price: Considering what Anaheim asked for Pronger, I can see Niedermayer getting expensive in a hurry if there’s any kind of bidding war for his services. I can see the Caps giving up a prospect or two on this, I just hope we don’t give away a first round pick, McPhee has been golden with his first round selections. McPhee has given up prospects for sure things in the past (Theo Ruth for Sergei Fedorov in 2008, Dwayne Hay for Esa Tikkanen in 1998).
Paul Mara, Montreal (Age: 30)
6’4, 210, Shoots: Left
2009-10 Salary Cap hit: $1.675 million. UFA for 2010-11
2009-10 Stats: 31 GP, 0-7-7, -12, 44 PIM, 20:18 TOI/G (2:33 SH, 2:07 PP), 38 Hits, 57 BS, 21 GvA, 5 TkA
Pros: Paul Mara is an experienced defenseman with a big frame and a relatively small cap hit. He’s playing 20:18 a night this year, including time on the powerplay and the penalty kill. The New Jersey native has some good offensive skills and he has a mean streak (8 fights the last two years, including Patrick Kaleta, Arron Asham and Darcy Tucker.) His career numbers: 670 games, 63 goals, 246 points, -107, 684 PIM. He also has 7 points and 50 PIM in 32 playoff games. He played half a season in Boston in 2006-07 with Milan Jurcina, for what that’s worth. He has shown his offensive ability in the past (15 goals, 47 points with Phoenix in 2003-04), and it certainly played a part in him getting drafted 7th overall in 1997. He has pretty good durability, playing in at least 73 games 6 of the last 7 years (and that other year he played 61). He played the Caps in the playoffs last year and had a monstrous playoff beard. He averages a rugged 3.62 Hits and 5.43 Blocked Shots per 60 minutes of ice time.
Cons: He has let his aggression get the better of him at times, one of those fights last year earned him an aggressor penalty and gave his opponent the powerplay for 7 minutes, and a fight this year cost him an instigator. He has more penalty minutes than games played, which isn’t usually a good sign. He played on a lot of bad teams early in his career, and that hurt his plus minus, especially his first 101 games with the late ‘90s Tampa Bay Lightning (-47), and that cost him the chance to earn playoff experience and learn winning hockey. His numbers this year aren’t impressive either, he’s sporting 44 PIM and a -12 in 31 games this year along with no goals and 7 assists. He’s also got a shoulder injury at the moment that’s kept him out for the last 4 games, and it’s not exactly the first time a shoulder injury has kept him out of the lineup. He's not particularly slick with the puck, either, as evidenced by his 2 Giveaways per 60 minutes and 0.48 Takeaways per 60.
Cap hit: Relatively low, the Caps may not need to move anyone from the active roster for Mara.
Price: Relatively low, for a defenseman.
Darryl Sydor, St. Louis (Age: 37)
6’1, 211, Shoots: Left
2009-10 Salary Cap hit: $1 million. UFA for 2010-11
2009-10 Stats: 26 GP, 0-4-4, +2, 10 PIM 18:26 TOI/G (2:43 SH, 1:09 PP), 8 Hits, 52 BS, 10 GvA, 3 TkA
Pros: Darryl Sydor is the second-most experienced defenseman in the league, after Nicklas Lidstrom. He’s played 1,270 career games and has scored 503 points and has only 750 PIM and is a career +29. He’s playing 18:26 a night in 26 games this year for the Blues with a +2 rating and only 10 PIM. He’s got the playoff experience, too, 155 games, 56 points, only 73 PIM, and +7. He’s got Stanley Cups in 1999 and 2004 and Cup Final appearances in 1993, 2000, and 2008. He’s also a 2-time All-Star. He’s durable, he hasn’t missed many games in his entire career. He’s also got legendary toughness, if you remember the 2000 Stanley Cup Final where he hurt his knee during the play and crawled to the front of the goal in an attempt to block shots because the refs hadn’t blown the play dead yet. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lO-Z3wPlZF0&feature=youtube_gdata. He still blocks a ton of shots, He averages 6.5 Blocked Shots per 60 minutes of ice time. He's also pretty responsible with the puck, with only 10 giveaways on the year, a 1.25 Giveaways per 60 minutes.
Cons: Age. While Sydor was once known for his offense, that has dried up. He has only 4 assists this year and only had 28 points combined in the previous two years. He was also a healthy scratch for all but 4 games of that 2008 Cup Final run in Pittsburgh. He’s not the same player he used to be. He also only has 8 Hits and 3 Takeaways all season.
Cap Hit: Low, easily affordable.
Price: Relatively low, unless there’s a bidding war.
Kim Johnsson, Minnesota (Age: 33)
6’1, 193, Shoots: Left
2009-10 Salary Cap hit: $4.85 million. UFA for 2010-11
2009-10 Stats: 27 GP, 2-4-6, +1, 14 PIM, 23:41 TOI/G (2:41 SH, 3:02 PP), 13 Hits, 32 BS, 11 GvA, 15 TkA
Pros: Kim Johnsson, the last player taken in the 1994 draft, is a veteran defenseman with offensive instincts and good speed. The slick Swede’s career numbers are pretty good: 706 games, 273 points, 390 PIM, +18. Add to that 12 points in 43 playoff games and Olympic experience with Team Sweden in 2002. Johnsson was the centerpiece of the trade that brought Eric Lindros to Broadway, and when he got to Philly he showed why: three straight seasons of 10+ goals and averaging 40 points, plus a trip to the conference final in 2004. He doesn’t take a lot of penalties, he’s got the speed and skill for the new NHL, and he’s got a European mindset, something our defense lacks outside of Milan Jurcina. He’s been durable throughout his career, with only the 2005-06 season as a blip with a concussion. He’s the kind of player that should fit right in. He's also very responsible with the puck, he averages 1.03 Giveaways per 60 minutes of ice time, and is one of a very few defenders to have more Takeaways than Giveaways.
Cons: Johnsson is on the small side at 193. He’s not very physical, with only 13 hits in 26 games this year. His offense seems to have dried up a bit, with only 6 points this year. Durability this season has been an issue, he missed 7 games earlier this year.
Cap hit: High, we’ll need to move players from the active roster.
Price: High, he’s a very good defenseman in the mold of a Calle Johansson, don’t expect him to come cheap.
Jordan Leopold, Florida (Age: 29)
6’1, 200, Shoots: Left
2009-10 Salary Cap Hit: $1.75 million, UFA for 2010-11
2009-10 Stats: 35 GP, 4-6-10, -7, 16 PIM, 22:23 TOI/G (3:23 SH, 0:50 PP), 33 Hits, 52 BS, 13 GvA, 9 TkA
Pros: Jordan Leopold is a relatively young defenseman at 29, but he’s strong on clearing the puck and transitions, as evidenced by his 1 Giveaway per 60 minutes of ice time, which is lower than even Kim Johnsson's rate. He has decent offensive upside, more than most Caps defenders at the moment, and his resume includes a 9 goal, 33 point season in 2003-04. He played 83 games last year and has played in all 35 this year for Florida. He is very good at staying out of the penalty box, as evidenced by his 178 career PIM in 390 games. He’s also posted career numbers of 33 goals and 119 points, including 15 powerplay goals. He has also played in 46 playoff games, posting 15 assists, a +9, and only 18 PIM. He was a teammate of Chris Clark’s on the 2004 Calgary Flames team that went to the Final, and he had 10 assists in 26 games that post-season. He also averages 2.53 Hits and 3.98 Blocked Shots per 60 minutes, not bad.
Cons: Durability may be a concern, he played 58 total games in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, missing games for hernia surgery, wrist surgery, and groin and hip injuries. His offense likely won’t return to 2004 levels, and part of the reason is that he isn’t shooting as much. He has also played on some bad Avalanche teams the past few years, which has dented his plus/minus rating to a career -22. His experience isn’t much of an upgrade over several Caps defensemen.
Cap hit: Relatively low, we likely won’t need to take anyone off the active roster.
Price: High for what he is. Florida won’t be willing to part with him cheaply if they are anywhere near a playoff spot. This was a major part of their return on the Jay Bouwmeester trade, and I don’t think their philosophy will have changed much in that regard. Florida is starving for a playoff team to rejuvenate interest in the team. I think it highly unlikely McPhee would trade for him at that price, and certainly not within the division.
Dan Hamhuis, Nashville (Age: 27)
6’1, 209, Shoots: Left
2009-10 Salary Cap Hit: $2 million, UFA for 2010-11
2009-10 Stats: 31 GP, 3-8-11, +5, 26 PIM, 21:03 TOI/G (2:45 SH, 0:28 PP), 49 Hits, 36 BS, 23 GvA, 22 TkA
Pros: Dan Hamhuis is a durable defenseman, he has only missed 5 games in his entire career to injury, and only 9 total. He has played 436 NHL games and has scored 148 points with a +4 career rating and 352 PIM. Add in 22 playoff games (7 points, 16 PIM) and 6 appearances in international play with Team Canada (2 World Junior Championships with a Silver and a Bronze; and 4 World Championships with a Gold and 2 Silvers) and Hamhuis is a young but seasoned. He has offensive upside, he’s scored at least 20 points in all 5 seasons, with a career high 38 coming in 2005-06. He has the ability to take to puck from opponents with his stick (22 Takeaways, 3rd among NHL Defensemen) and his body (49 Hits). He’s also a decent shotblocker. He has 11 points this year, all at even strength, but he knows the powerplay, as 8 of his 30 career goals are powerplay goals.
Cons: For all his Takeaways, Hamhuis also has 23 Giveaways (2.11 GvA per 60, double a player like Leopold, Johnsson, nearly double Niedermayer or Sydor). His goal production has dropped in each of the past 3 years. He’s prone to taking penalties along the rate Jurcina did last year. He was a minus player the past two seasons, one on a playoff team. He’s also still young, so he wouldn’t be bringing tons more experience or maturity to the blueline.
Cap Hit: Reasonable, by the deadline he shouldn’t force someone off the roster.
Price: Hamhuis is on a team that is currently in playoff position. He’s also due a big raise next year. These factors may offset, but Hamhuis won’t come cheap, and he’ll likely go to a team that has some cap space to use, if he gets traded at all. This is questionable as to whether he’ll be available at all, but if he is, he’ll likely demand a lot in return as he’s young and relatively cheap.
Next up: Willie Mitchell, Vancouver.
Honorable mention: Marek Zidlicky, Minnesota ($3.35 mil, UFA), too expensive for what he is, offensive minded and not an upgrade defensively.