Whenever a trade's made in any sport, it seems like the question everyone wants to ask is, "Who won?" It's a natural question given the fact that professional sports are, at their core, based around competition, and memories of lopsided deals that would shape respective franchises for years to come (think Cam Neely coming to Boston from Vancouver, or the Eric Lindros deal) only make it more tempting to try and assign a "winner" and "loser" to the deal.
But that type of evaluation is only part of the process. What's just as important if you're a general manager - or perhaps even more important when you're talking about midseason trades in a salary cap world - is how a player fits in to your team. And that's what made Tomas Fleischmann expendable for the Washington Capitals.
Fleischmann's not a bad player by any means, but his ability to contribute to the Capitals isn't all that high. He didn't have the defensive prowess or playmaking skill to be an effective second line center, and he didn't have the skill set to be an effective bottom six forward. Three of the four top six wing spots are spoken for with Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Mike Knuble, and Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr (current slump notwithstanding) offer comparable offense to go along with better defensive play and stronger forechecking. Fleischmann was simply squeezed out; fifth or sixth on a depth chart that only had room for four. The only way he would get to play the role he was best suited for was if other players fell victim to injury, and even then his skill set may not have been the best way for this team to use a roster spot. In simple terms, he just didn't have a ton of usefulness for the Capitals.
What the team's front office has thus done with yesterday's trade is turn nothing in to something, taking an asset that didn't have much value and swapping it for one that addresses one of the team's biggest needs.
Scott Hannan isn't going to be a Norris Trophy finalist, an all-star, or a household name; he's not an elite shutdown player or a major physical force. Yet adding him to the Capitals lineup instantly makes the team significantly stronger. Tyler Sloan and John Erskine will be the ones who will see the steepest reduction in ice time, providing everyone gets and stays healthy, but Hannan's addition does more than bump Erskine and Sloan down on the depth chart - it provides the potential to make every other member of the team's defense corps more effective.
At even strength, Hannan's addition means the Capitals can be more judicious about how they deploy first-year defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson, both in terms of ice time and in terms of matchups, and won't have to rely as heavily on Mike Green and Jeff Schultz, leaving each with more energy for the special teams situations where they're most valuable. Shorthanded, Hannan gives the team another solid penalty killer and should lessen the load for Schultz and Tom Poti, giving them some reprieve from one of the game's most exhausting situations. That the addition of Hannan will allow the team's other defensemen to be more easily put in positions where they can be successful is likely to be the deal's biggest benefit.
The most impressive part, however, is the job of asset management by the Capitals. They turned a redundant player in to one that address one of their most pressing concerns, shedding an asset that cost more than it was worth while simultaneously making their team better, deeper, and harder to play against. And that goes a long way towards building a Stanley Cup team.