Do We Really Need a Defenseman?

There has been a lot of talk surrounding the Washington Capitals and their defense, lack of defense, improved defense, lack of a top defenseman, and so forth.  For the record, the Capitals are 11th in the league in Goals Against Average, and 4th in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Martin Brodeur-led Devils, the Ryan Miller-led Sabres, and the Tim Thomas/Tuukka Rask-led Bruins.  I don't think a lot of this talk about needing another defensive defenseman is justified.  I do believe it would be prudent for General Manager George McPhee to explore trade possibilities, though, so I'll take a look and see what's out there. I do not believe whatever we get in a trade is worth a player off the current roster, I do not believe we should trade any of our four top goaltenders or any of our other few blue-chip prospects (Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson), and I think trading a first-round draft pick must be justified by a high value in return.

If the Caps need anything, they could really use another puck-moving defenseman.  No, I'm not crazy.  For all of you who watched the playoffs last year, you saw a very potent offense struggle to score, and it wasn't just because we didn't get rebounds or because the NHL hockey game suddenly got "tighter."  Mike Green was sick and injured and Brian Pothier was not 100% in returning from a year off.  Tom Poti did yeoman's work by bagging 7 points in 14 games, but Green is the link that makes the offense go.  "The Human Breakout," as Tampa Bay Lightning Coach Rick Tocchet likes to call him, Green wasn't himself in the 2009 playoffs and as a result the offense suffered.  This year we see a similar phenomenon.  The Caps struggled to score in our last game against Tampa Bay without Green, Pothier is not 100% after missing a good chunk of the season with injuries, and Tom Poti bagged an assist to put us over the top.  If we lose one of them, we'll be in trouble.  The other issue is handedness.  The Caps only have two right-handed defensemen, Mike Green and Bran Pothier (who's listed as a lefty). 

A lot can happen between now and the March 3 NHL trade deadline, but as of now, I see two puck moving defensemen who 1) could help us, 2) that might be available and 3) that we won't be on the hook for next season. These two defensemen play for the same 12th place Western Conference team that's currently sitting 4 points out of a playoff spot and is building toward the future, the Minnesota Wild, and both are UFAs this summer. 

The two defensemen are:  Marek Zidlicky and Kim Johnsson

Marek Zidlicky  (5'11, 190, Sh: R, B: 2/3/77, Age 33, Czech)

Zidlicky ($3.35 Million Cap Hit) is having a fine year offensively for the Wild with 4-29-33 in 54 GP, good enough for a tie for 4th place on the team and 11th among league defensemen.  He averages 23:37 a night and his -2 rating is fairly strong on that team.  Almost half his scoring is on the powerplay (2-14-16).  His 45 PIM indicate he's not prone to taking too many dumb penalties this season.  He's not afraid to shoot, either, with 89 shots on goal, and his right-handed shot would be a boon to the lefty-heavy Caps. 

His career offensive numbers are impressive, with 51 goals and 250 points in 437 games.  He's scored 12 or more goals in three of his six NHL seasons, 42 or more points in 4 of 6, and he's scored at least 30 points in every season so far.  His career playoff numbers are somewhat limited by him playing for Nashville for four years, but he's played 14 playoff games over four seasons with 6 assists to show for it.  He's also had a strong international career with the Czech National Team and after taking home bronze in 2006 he'll have another shot at gold in Vancouver. Add to that leading the Finnish Elite League in defenseman scoring for four years prior to playing in the NHL. He's also not particularly prone to injury, having played in fewer than 76 games in only one NHL season (67 in 2005-06), but his penalty minute totals from earlier in his career are a little troubling (420 PIM).

As for his defensive play, he's third on the Wild in blocked shots with 92, but that number would lead the Caps right now.  He's also had 56 hits in 54 games this year (which would place him 4th among Caps D).  He's had 38 giveaways to 21 takeaways, which isn't a bad ratio for a defenseman, but could be better (for comparison's sake, Green has 50/29 and Poti has 37/26).  He could be a very solid addition to the blueline.

Kim Johnsson  (6'1, 193, Sh: L, B: 3/16/76, Age at Playoffs:  34, Swedish)

The Slick Swede who was taken with the last overall pick of the 1994 Entry Draft and who was the centerpiece of the Eric Lindros to New York trade is quietly plying his trade with the Minnesota Wild to the tune of a $4.85 Million Cap Hit.  Johnsson's offensive numbers aren't as strong this year, he's only posted 6-5-11 in 48 GP, but his 6 goals lead Wild defensemen and would place him second among Caps D.  He's only scored 3-1-4 on the powerplay. He's also a +1 on the season with only 26 PIM.  He leads Minnesota in average ice time with 23:56 per game, though he missed 7 games this season with an upper body injury. He's another defenseman who's not afraid to shoot, with 79 shots on goal.

For his career, Johnsson has been remarkably durable.  Only once has he played in fewer than 75 games, (47 in 2005-06, a concussion that also cost him Olympic gold), and in his 9 prior NHL seasons he's played in at least 80 games 5 times.  In his 727 NHL games, Johnsson has 66 goals (31 on the powerplay) and 278 points to go along with only 402 PIM.  He's had three seasons of at least 10 goals and 39 points and has never finished a season below 21 points.  Only once has he topped 46 PIM in his career.  For his playoff career, he helped the Philadelphia Flyers advance to the second round in 2003 and the Eastern Conference Final in 2004 and has totaled 2-10-12 in 43 career playoff games.

His season defensively is solid but not spectacular, he's not overly physical, as evidenced by his 28 hits, but his 61 blocked shots show a willingness to sacrifice the body.  His 23/21 giveaway to takeaway ratio shows he's responsible with the puck, too.  He would be a safe bet for the blueline, even if he is a lefty. 

I'm not one to predict exact trades, but I could see Francois Bouchard as an enticing prospect in this trade.  His brother Pierre-Marc Bouchard plays for the Wild.  He is a talented offensive player and that's exactly what Minnesota is looking for right now.  He's also not someone I see in the Caps long term plans.

What I don't know is how these players might affect team chemistry, but judging by the international flair of the team, I don't think they'd be a problem.  For my money, I'd go with Kim Johnsson as I don't think his asking price is as high and I think he can do more to help us win.

The only other defensemen I see as available that we could use would be considered depth defensemen:  Darryl Sydor in St. Louis and Andrew Ference in Boston.  If we could get them for cheap, I could see us maybe picking one of them up.  Both have low cap hits (Sydor $1 Mil, Ference $1.4 Mil) and both are UFA in the summer.  Both have (or at least had) decent puck-moving skills and could be useful come playoff time, as both have good playoff experience. 

Two other defensemen that caught my eye were Steve Staios and Sheldon Souray in Edmonton.  I like Staios, but he's got a $2.7 million cap hit this year and next.  Souray's got double the cap hit and double the term, and he's got a history of injuries.  If the Caps wanted veteran defensemen next season, they'd sign their UFAs in Morrisonn and Pothier (whose UFA salaries would balloon after a Stanley Cup win).  Neither of these players contracts make sense for the Caps right now, not with Alzner and Carlson waiting in the minors.

In the For What It's Worth Category, I also do not believe the Capitals truly need another forward and I think the last thing the Caps should do is trade for a goaltender.

As for the goaltenders, the Capitals have three who can win NHL games.  I think Jose Theodore is more than capable at winning in the playoffs, as his four series wins attests.  Semyon Varlamov showed he can carry a team on his back, too, and Michal Neuvirth may not be ready to steal us games in the NHL playoffs, but I think he'd at least give us a chance to win every night.  Plus there's this Braden Holtby guy who's 4th on the depth chart.

As for forwards, we have amazing forward line combinations in DC and great depth in Hershey.  Unfortunately, that depth is mostly limited to depth at checking forward positions.  We have that depth in spades with players like Jay Beagle, Kyle Wilson, Andrew Gordon, etc.  We have some scoring forward depth with Keith Aucoin, Alexandre Giroux, Chris Bourque, and Mathieu Perreault, but with the exception of Perreault and Aucoin, nobody down on the farm has shown they can produce in the NHL.  I think we could use another guy who can pot a goal or two as depth if we can get him for cheap.

Potentially available pending UFA forwards I could see helping us are Keith Tkachuk, Owen Nolan, Ray Whitney, and Fredrik Modin.  Tkachuk and Nolan are old, yes, but both are still productive and have good though not spectacular playoff experience, and Ray Whitney is a wizard.  I think all three of their asking prices will be high, but I think we know what we'd get from them.

Fredrik Modin is an enigma right now.  He's on his last legs in Columbus and has been plagued by injuries this year and the last two.  He's only played in 20 games this year with 2-2-4, but has 1-1-2, +2 and 4 shots in his last 3 games.  He's a big body at 6'4, 218, and he's 35, but he's got 222 goals and 445 points in 834 NHL games, he doesn't take dumb penalties, and he's got Olympic Gold (2006) and a Stanley Cup on his resume (2004, 8-11-19 in 23 GP with Tampa Bay).  He's had five 22+ goal seasons with three teams, including seasons of 32, 29, and 31 goals with Tampa.  If his rocket shot holds up (2001 NHL All-Star Game Hardest Shot Winner), he might still have a little left in the tank, a la Sergei Fedorov.  As we have already seen, the Columbus Blue Jackets are a more than willing trade partner, and Modin's trade value will never be lower than it is now, especially with a $3.25 Million Cap Hit.  If he gets to the Olympics and plays well (and I'm sure Mikael Samuelsson would tell him off if he did), we'd be giving up a lot more to get him.  I don't see him as a regular, but he'd be a good depth scoring forward, which I'm sure we could use for a long playoff grind.  If McPhee was ever looking for a bargain, this would be it.

If this FanPost is written by someone other than one of the blog's editors, the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of this blog or SB Nation.

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