"I like what we did – we got better and deeper and didn’t give up our future to do it. We also didn’t take on any bad contracts to do it. I was really pleased with the way it went." - George McPhee
Heading into this year’s trade deadline, the general sense around the league was that it would be a relatively uneventful one at best. The lethal combination of multiple teams being in the playoff hunt, a shallow crop of pending unrestricted free agents, and some "desirables" moving weeks before the deadline led to a situation where guys like Raffi Torres became highly prized commodities. And it didn’t disappoint, with many calling this the most boring Deadline Day in years – despite a record 55 players finding new homes by the time the dust had settled.
For the Capitals and their fans, however, Wednesday was anything but boring as George McPhee and company added Eric Belanger, Scott Walker, Joe Corvo and old friend Milan Jurcina to the lineup, sacrificing a handful of picks and just one roster player in the process. They may not have been flashy, but the moves definitely sent a message to the rest of the League that the Caps are ready to contend.
Becca H: It will probably be a few games before we really know what we’ve got in our new players; no trade can be judged solely on the paper transaction itself. In the afterglow of their debut, we break down the trades and weigh in on a highly eventful day here in CapsNation.
Question 1: First impressions - overall, how successful do you think McPhee was in addressing needs within the Caps' lineup?
David M. Getz: In a word, "very".
In my opinion the Capitals really needed to acquire two assets: a second or third line center who would move David Steckel to the fourth line and provide more options if Brendan Morrison continues to slump and a top-four defenseman who could take some pressure off the current defense corps and move some guys down on the depth chart. I think the team got that in Belanger and Corvo.
The additions of Jurcina and Walker were almost icing on the cake. What they do is give the Caps more options in terms of depth, which could very likely become key in a playoff run. As D'ohboy pointed out on Wednesday, last postseason the Caps had a significant number of man-games played by guy who, frankly, aren't solid NHL players. That shouldn't happen this year (knock on wood).
J.P.: I agree with D, for the most part. When we talked "needs" before the deadline, strengthening the center position was at or near the top of the list, and they did that. So was beefing up the blueline, of course, and while the team didn't add a "shutdown" or "crease-clearing" blueliner, they did upgrade the position by adding Corvo.
What we didn't talk about as a "need" was depth, and the additions of Walker and Juice add just that. Overlooked in the loss to Pittsburgh was the fact that the team was down to basically three lines of forwards and had a badly beaten up blueline by the end. That won't happen again. The Caps are well-equipped to face the rigors of a deep playoff run.
Stephen Pepper: Initially I was a bit underwhelmed, having been gleefully drawn into the hype of possibly nabbing the likes of Dan Hamhuis or Tomas Vokoun, but I've warmed to the furious deadline day results for the Caps.
Belanger possesses obvious skills -- face off winning and penalty killing (the latter of which on account of McPhee's deadline day say-so) -- of which this team can always use more. As DMG points out, the team now has a viable backstop for a slumping Morrison, or if Tomas Fleischmann suddenly unravels from having to shoulder the burden of a scoring line pivot in the post-season. Scott Walker is a clear upgrade over Quintin Laing on the depth chart (even if he barely tallies two more goals for the rest of the season), as much as we all love Q's heart and determination.
Corvo, while having a checkered off-ice past (from which he's hopefully long since moved on), possesses some dangerous puck moving and PP point-shooting tools. I agree that he may prove to be a vital back-up plan for eating up minutes of some other top four D who is inevitably going to get banged up at some point during the playoffs. He's also, perhaps, a second-unit option on the PP if and when Mike Green needs a rest there (not to mention being a second point option in place of Alex Ovechkin up top, who has been known to promote anxiety and heartburn with a few instances of coughing up the puck at the line with a man up).
Finally, from the beginning of this season, we've noted that team toughness may be an issue with the Capitals. With the additions of the "new" three yesterday, these Caps just got a lot grittier. Nastier. A loose cannon to get opponents a little more on edge, and another center to wear down opposing D. Somewhat in the way that the Pens' additions of Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin improved their "team toughness" at the last trade deadline. And I have to say -- that's the part that excites me most going into post-season play.
JP: One point on Belanger - everyone's quick to praise his penalty killing, but he was one of Minny's worst PKing forward (this year and last) when he was there. Hopefully he works out a bit better here.
BH: As the others have mentioned, the key with all of these acquisitions is depth, depth and more depth.
Every position got a boost, which as J.P. points out will be increasingly important down the stretch and into the playoffs. If there’s an injury, added depth allows the Caps to turn to NHL-caliber talent - instead of having to use players whose talent level falls short. If a player slumps, there are guys behind him able to step in and pick up the slack. It gives the team and the coaching staff options they didn’t have before, and that makes this team harder to figure out and harder to defend against.
What shouldn’t be underestimated is the gritty, veteran presence this team now has. While Knuble and Morrison have partially filled that role, the fact remains that this is still a young team with a lot of emotion and a lot of inexperience. Three of the four new players are in their 30s, seasoned vets with playoff experience who will all be hungry for their first shot at the Cup.
The consensus seems to be that, overall, GMGM had a very successful day - but at what cost?
Question 2: Were there any trades in which you felt McPhee overpaid? And on the flip side, who do you feel was the biggest bargain?
JP: The knee-jerk reaction would be to say that he overpaid on Corvo, giving up a top-six defenseman in Brian Pothier, a big-bodied prospect in Oskar Osala and a second-round pick. But Pothier's health is always a question mark, Osala's skating is suspect and he hasn't come along as hoped (though one wonders if that was a product of the logjam in the organization and his handling in Hershey), and next year's draft is apparently gonig to be the worst in over a decade. So I think that's a fair price on Corvo. If there was any overpayment, it was for Belanger and it wasn't eggregious; time will tell on that one.
Walker's a steal. With all due respect to Andrew Gordon and Stefan Della Rovere, seventh round picks aren't typically worth nearly what Walker can be expected to bring to this team. Great move.
BH: That was my initial reaction on the Corvo deal, too, but you nailed it on the head – giving up three pieces for one sounds like an overpayment, and sometimes it is, but in this case it’s looking like a pretty fair deal for both sides. I’m not even sure that a 2nd round pick for Belanger is much of an overpayment. It’s likely to be a late 2nd round pick, and addresses a specific need: skill and faceoff ability up the middle.
A 7th round pick for Walker is absolutely a steal. He’s never going to be a top 6 forward (at least not on this team) but the intangibles he could bring – combined with the potential for unexpected playoff heroics – make this a low risk, potentially high reward move.
I’d maybe throw in the Jurcina reacquisition as a bargain as well, mostly because it makes the Chimera trade from earlier this year seem like an even better one. That has essentially become Clark and a 6th round pick for someone who fits better and produces more than our ex-captain, all while shedding a bit of salary for a few weeks.
DMG: Same. My initial reaction was that McPhee had overpaid for Corvo, but I admit that part of that was that I was underrating the guy. I basically saw his as a marginal improvement over Pothier - a second-pairing puck-mover as opposed to a second/third-pairing puck mover. I'm happy to say that I'm now pretty sure I was wrong.
By the numbers, Corvo's simply a very, very good player. Alan Ryder's analytical analysis from last season(PDF warning) had Corvo in the top fifteen among defensemen in terms of overall player contribution and 20th in defensive platy contribution, in the same range as guys like Chris Pronger, Robyn Regehr, and Duncan Keith. Now the methodolgy's probably not perfect and numbers don't tell the whole story, so maybe he's not a number one guy. But he's clearly a number two or three. He has a reputation for turnovers, but this season he only has 16 in 34 games - one every other game while playing over 25 minutes a night.
I liked both the Jurcina deal and the Walker deal from a price standpoint. Sixth and seventh round picks have such a low success rate, and each trade addressed the team's need for depth. That's giving up very little to gain something that wind up being very important.
Pepper: Let's also not forget how much of a gamble even a second round selection has been in the past, even through "strong" draft years. From THN, just 30% of second round selections from 1980 through 1999 managed to play in at least 200 NHL games (or 100, if a goalie).
And regardless, if there is a time for this franchise to gamble a bit on the future..., well, "Get Ready, It's Our Time," right?
JP: I'd agree. But I see some places saying GMGM "went all-in," and I just don't see it. I mean, yes, he played some chips. But he by no means pushed his stack into the middle of the table. At the end of the day, this was not a lot out, but a lot in return.
Pepper: Right. All of the "untouchables" - Alzner, John Carlson, the trio of young 'tenders, and Johansson, stayed put.
BH: Question 3: We’ve touched on this a little, but talk about the trade for Joe Corvo as the only one involving a roster player - is your initial sense that Corvo is an upgrade, a downgrade or neither over Brian Pothier?
JP: Clear upgrade, and that's over a healthy Pothier (which is never a certainty). Corvo is more physical, better offensively, and, as D pointed out, probably underrated defensively (which is a common theme now among the Caps' much-maligned top four).
BH: Upgrade. Just based on raw numbers his offensive output was similar to Pothier, and that’s without a bevy of high-scoring teammates to boost his numbers. And to be "just" a -6 as a top 4 defenseman, on a team that has allowed far more goals than its scored, isn’t bad.
Aside from probably being underrated defensively, he also provides another option on the power play – Pothier was never really able to step into that role and the burden often fell to Mike Green to carry the entire two minutes. He’s an upgrade simply in his ability to step in and help manage Green’s ice time while providing a highly capable point man on an already lethal (at times) power play.
Pepper: He's an upgrade in that Pothier, as much as I loved him, never quite blossomed into the offensive threat from the blue line that McPhee envisioned when he signed him to a four-year deal. Obviously the devastating concussion, courtesy of Milan Lucic, in 2008 contributed.
Corvo appears to marginally improve the offensive skill set of the D corps (if not directly addressing the Caps greater defensive need of managing the crease better).
DMG: Clear upgrade. Better shot, better skater, and better defensively.
BH: So we've touched on the new Caps - but there were many other names on the move, and more notably, many other names not on the move.
Question 4: Given the number of buyers versus sellers this year, were you surprised that a few "big" names rumored to be moving (Vokoun, Hamhuis, etc) ended up staying put? Were you surprised by any of the players who DID move?
DMG: I'm slightly surprised on Hamhuis, mostly because I thought the acquisition of Denis Grebeshkov was a precursor to a Hamhuis move. I'm not at all surprised about Vokoun. Florida really should probably deal him, but the summer will let more bidders get in on the action and give the teams more time to work something out.
As a whole, the day was about what I expected. For the most part the trades involving "name" players that were going to happen had already happened.
BH: I was really surprised by Hamhuis as well – I just can’t see the value of his rights being higher than his value at the deadline, and Poile’s not usually one for losing guys for nothing. And I was somewhat surprised at the Wolski-for-Mueller trade (mostly for the inclusion of Wolski), although it seems like a move that will benefit both teams and both players.
JP: I'm not surprised that Hamhuis didn't move. The thing people tend to forget is how much revenue a team brings in per playoff game and how much that might mean to a team like Nashville. Keeping Hamhuis, maybe even winning a round in the playoffs, and then deadling his rights in June are likely worth more to the Preds than what David Poile was being offered in return for a rental D (albeit a good one). Similar logic for teams on the playoff fringe.
As for Vokoun, with another year left on his contract, Florida can look to trade him this summer when there might be more buyers (with more flexibility) and they might get a better return for him.
So no, I wasn't surprised to see the big-name guys (especially those with No Trade/Movement Clauses) staying put. And no one that moved really shocked me either.
Pepper: Big names -- Dion Phaneuf, Jean-Sébastien Giguère, Ilya Kovalchuk, all moved well before the Olympic break, which suggested that big moves, if they got done at all, didn't need to wait this season until the deadline.
BH: Sticking with the guys who did move -
Question 5: A record 55 players changed teams at the deadline; of the 51 who went elsewhere, which ones would you have liked to see the Caps pick up (if any)?
In all seriousness, I'm not sure that I thought, "Damn, I wish the Caps had gotten him" once on Wednesday. What a dud of a Deadline Day League-wide, eh?
DMG: None of the other players that moved do much for me. I could see Steve Staios or Derek Morris if the Caps hadn't acquired Jurcina, but I'm not sure their marginal value is as high as what it would have taken to get either one.
BH: Same. I'd actually say Morris was a downgrade over Jurcina, but that's just basing my opinion of him on getting absolutely undressed by Ovechkin in the playoffs last year and a less than stellar performance with the Bruins this year. I'd take Juice over him any day. Other than that, there just weren't many names that interested me - at least of the guys who moved.
Pepper: I agree. Comparing McPhee's deadline haul only to the universe of players who switched teams yesterday, I don't see a clearly superior option either at F or D. I would have been happy with Seidenberg as well.
BH: Last question - The Caps now have 25 players on the roster and only 20 jerseys available each game. How do you see lineups / rotations shaking out the rest of the season? Who sits, who plays?
DMG: I think Sloan, Erskine, and Laing will consistently be scratches and Gordon, Walker, Bradley, and Steckel will rotate in and out. Of course, that's if everyone's healthy, which they won't be most of the time.
JP: More important than who's sitting might be how they're handled. We saw that Matt Bradley spoke with media before his own coach yesterday when he found out he'd be one of the scratches, and seemed none too pleased about it. So you'd like to see a bit more communication from the top down to try to keep everyone happy.
That aside, I'd look for Boyd Gordon to lose time to David Steckel and to see some rotating among Bradley and Walker, maybe Chimera too, with Eric Fehr getting some healthy scratches when he does whatever it is that he does to get into Bruce Boudreau's dog house. Laing shouldn't see another minute, you wouldn't think.
On the blueline, I think it's obviously Erskine and Sloan, maybe Mo if Juice ever gets healthy.
BH: Laing and Sloan should both be way on the outside looking in - beyond that, I'd agree that we're going to see a rotation of those 3rd/4th line guys down the stretch, barring injury (which we know will never happen). I think it actually gives the Caps an interesting dynamic. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich, these are not guys who wear out easily, although more capable bodies will help manage their minutes more. The guys we should be concerned with and the guys who will likely set the tone for the playoffs are the grinders, the shot-blockers who wear their bodies out.
Oh, and Mike Green.
Definitely agree on the importance of how this is handled. No one wants to sit but Boudreau needs to approach the scratches with more tact than he's used with the goaltenders in the past. We want everyone to understand that they're in this together, even if some guys are sitting every other game.
Pepper: I can't imagine Sloan getting another sweater unless its in a back-to-back game not against the Penguins, and/or the D corps is decimated by injuries. Erskine's largely in the same boat, but for his once-in-a-while sharp outings, he'll probably get a few more opportunities.
As for forwards, I agree that Laing is clearly on the outside, as one-dimensional as he is. Gordon and Steckel's stock will rise and fall in relation to Belanger's PK performance and ability to win key draws (he won 2 of 4 in the D end last night, incidentally, and 1 of 3 against Vincent Lecavalier), and vice versa.
I can see Walker and Brads essentially splitting time for the role they play. Can't ever see both dressed on the same night, barring injury.
It's going to be fantastic to see so many roster battles, with teammates pushing each other to crack the lineup.
BH: The aspect of teammates pushing each other is huge; I'm not sure this team has had that dynamic heading into the postseason in recent years. Imagine playoff intensity combined with fierce competition on a team this deep and talented - no one will want to take a shift off, ever.