Before we get carried away about the loss of Chris Bourque who was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Penguins this afternoon, let's get clear on what exactly the Caps lost, namely an under-sized 'tweener of a forward with modest upside and a marketable name (had the Caps put "Chris Smith" on waivers, perhaps he'd have cleared), who, in five years since being drafted, couldn't break into the organization's top-12 (or 13, or 14) forwards (and who made it all the way through the dregs of the League and to Pittsburgh before being claimed off waivers).
But what's troubling about the transaction (besides the lightning-quick "Hey, kid, you made it/Sorry, kid, you've been cut" aspect of it) is twofold, as it demonstrates relatively rare asset mismanagement on the part of the Caps' front office and it foreshadows just how little personnel flexibility the team will have this season.
On the first point, regardless of how good Bourque is now or may become - he's probably more Martin St. Pierre than Martin St. Louis - what the Caps had yesterday and, more importantly, all summer, was a 23-year-old former second-round pick who was a 20-goal/50-assist player in the AHL last year. And they got nothing for him. Not even the fifth-round pick they got in return for Sami Lepisto (who makes just $27,500 less than Bourque) earlier this summer. After investing a decent amount in Bourque over the course of his entry-level NHL contract, having nothing to show for it at this point is disappointing.
Perhaps more importantly, though, Bourque was a victim of the salary cap, and was replaced on the roster post-claim by AHL veteran Boyd Kane. In other words, the $77,500 difference in 2009-10 salary between the two players made the difference in allowing the team to squeeze under the $56.8 million salary cap. With that in mind, ask yourself how this team's going to make that key deadline deal, or handle a rash of short-term injuries. It doesn't take much imagination to see how it can get awfully dicey, awfully fast.
At the end of the day, if the Caps had wanted to keep Chris Bourque, they'd have found a way to have kept Chris Bourque. His absence won't make or break the 2009-10 Caps. But what could very well break them is a lack of roster flexibility, and no one player is to blame for that. Point fingers instead, if you must, at a front office that seems to be operating under the assumption that its biggest financial headache will somehow simply disappear. Until it does, it's apparent that there was, and is, no Plan B.