The 2010-11 season has been one filled with lowered expectations and disappointment, both on an individual and team level, with the roster as a whole often appearing disinterested, unlucky or both. Despite all that they've remained within reach of the Southeast Division crown, a title they've held for the last three seasons. To get there it seemed as though some holes needed to be filled - and as the Trade Deadline drew near General Manager George McPhee took steps to fill those holes and, hopefully, add some life to a team in desperate need of it.
His first move really came back at the end of November, when he shipped forward Tomas Fleischmann to the Avalanche for steady defenseman Scott Hannan. It was in the days leading up to the deadline, however, that McPhee became very busy, first snagging Marco Sturm off the waiver wire from Los Angeles, then swinging two deals - one that brought in defenseman Dennis Wideman from Florida for a third-round pick and prospect Jake Hauswirth, the other that sent David Steckel and a second-round pick to New Jersey for veteran center Jason Arnott.
After just two games, the new additions to the team seem to be making their mark - now we weigh in on the moves and their potential impact down the road.
Question 1: What is your overall impression of the job George McPhee did at (and in the days leading up to) yesterday’s trade deadline?
Stephen Pepper: I'm pleased with the comprehensiveness with which McPhee addressed needs.
At the beginning of the 2010-11 season, many lamented the lack of depth on defense in the organization, fearing that more than one long-term injury that would demand significant minutes from guys like Tyler Sloan, Brian Fahey, and Patrick McNeill. That concern was addressed first with the addition of Hannan on November 30, and again with the deal for Wideman yesterday.
Additionally, with respect to defense, one large concern with the struggling power play has been an over-reliance on Alex Ovechkin at a point position. Now, with both the emergence of John Carlson in a power play role and addition of Wideman, #8 can be free to patrol more dangerous positions within the PP setup.
And the offense? McPhee does what he does best: acquiring a reclamation project off waives in Sturm who just may be the extra scoring punch that the Caps need at second line, and in any event will improve a third line's attack.
Most importantly, the organization welcomes center Jason Arnott, who scored 20 points in the playoffs in 2000 en route to a Stanley Cup with NJ, went to the Finals a year later, and has played in over 100 playoff contests. Is he on the offensive decline? Sure. But, like Sturm, he's a significant upgrade, in this case over the current two rookie pivots being showcased on the second line. (And his heavy shot from the point, that we saw last night, can boost the PP as well.)
Arnott was the best rental option out there, and McPhee won the prize. Did he give up too much in Steckel and a second rounder? I don't think so. While Stecks leads the circuit in draws won, Arnott is not too bad at the skill himself (50.9%). And in Steckel's case, with his general stagnation -- if not decline -- in other areas of his game, and remaining two years on his current deal, might I suggest addition by subtraction?
Paying that package for Arnott, and picking up term on Wideman, sends a clear message to the team that the time is now.
(And I should also point out that the last time that the Caps went to the Cup Finals, they had on their squad a goalie of German descent in Olaf Kolzig and a reclamation pick up, who, prior to McPhee's signing, was playing in Germany, in Brian Bellows. So adding Sturm seals a SCF appearance for Les Capitals, right?)
David Getz: I agree with Pepper that what's most impressive is how McPhee was able to address most of the teams needs in a few short days, adding a (potential) second line center, depth on the blue line, and depth at wing and at the same time adding grit and experience.
Even more impressive is the fact McPhee did it without giving up all that much - Jake Hauswirth is an NHL long shot, David Steckel's useful but overpaid, and second- and third-round draft picks are valuable, but are far from gold. Adding depth and quality in the areas the team needs it most, without giving up anything they're likely to really miss? To me that's definitely a successful deadline; probably an 'A-' if we were to use a letter grades.
J.P.: What's not to like? He addressed the teams biggest needs (second-line center, power-play, defensive depth) and didn't have to give up a first-round pick or a prospect that'll ever make it to the NHL to do it. Not only that, but the one roster player he did move out was on quite possibly the worst contract on the team.
Kareem: McPhee had a very good day, acquiring three top 10-caliber players for relatively little and unloading Dave Steckel’s bad contract.
The unexpected beauty of this year’s trade deadline (from a Game Theory perspective) was that McPhee watched all the first-movers make their moves and max out their salary situation early on. Then he pounced on a marketplace that had less buyers than normal. It’s unusual that the "late mover" gains leverage as the deadline approaches, but that’s what happened with this year’s trade auction. It’s a credit to him and Assistant GM Don Fishman that they managed the salary cap so well during the season to put them in this position.
Pepper: Further, assuming the reports are true, that the prizes that had been discussed around these parts, notably Ales Hemsky and Brad Richards, were virtually immovable, there is nothing else that actually happened at the deadline that I wish McPhee has accomplished for Washington.
I would have considered a bold move to deal a goalie for a long-term scoring center solution, but there were few to no good fits for trading partners who (i) needed a #1 prospect in net and (ii) had a movable pivot of great interest. And obviously, in any event, salary cap considerations -- the need to make other deals along with it -- made such a move nearly impossible.
Becca H: I think he did a phenomenal job given what he had to work with and what the trade landscape was like. With so many teams in the running for a playoff spot it was hardly a buyers' market - and yet here McPhee is adding three players while giving up relatively little in return, three players who could actually have an impact.
Arnott certainly wasn't my first choice to fill the second-line center position but he appears to have been the best one available - Stephen Weiss. And in his short time here he's already impressed me more than I expected with both his leadership and his apparent chemistry with Alexander Semin. To get him by unloading a troublesome contract in a position where the Caps had plenty of depth...icing on the cake.wasn't going anywhere without a huge offer, and neither was
Then there's Wideman, acquired for a relatively low price but bringing plenty of grit and offensive talent to a blue line that sorely needed depth. It was a shrewd move to get someone like that who not only helps fill the void left by Tom Poti and Mike Green in terms of defense and ice time but also the guy who currently leads all defensemen in power play goals - an area in which the Caps could use some help. And Sturm was as low-risk, potentially high-reward as it comes, a waiver-wire pickup that costs the Caps nothing but his salary yet gives them more depth up front and hopefully a bit more offense.
I like letter grades, so I'll go with David and say A-...with a smiley face sticker for good measure.
Question 2: To some extent the needs filled this year – second-line center, defensive depth, another winger – were similar to those addressed at last year’s deadline; how do you think these moves compare to the acquisitions of Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo and Scott Walker a year ago?
KE: There’s no comparison. Last year’s trade acquisitions didn’t land him a single top 10 skater. There was a vocal minority that felt that Corvo was a 5D, Belanger a 3C and Walker a fourth-liner before anyone saw them suit up for the Caps. With hindsight they were right. This year, McPhee managed to acquire two legitimate second-liners and a potential top-4 defenseman for arguably less than what he paid last year.
JP: I don't think there's any question that Jason Arnott will be a better leader and locker room influence than Eric Belanger was. The same can be said of Dennis Wideman vis a vis Joe Corvo. Sturm is basically a freebie and addresses more of a need than Walker did. Whether these guys produce more than last year's additions remains to be seen, but they are clearly better fits for this team right now.
BH: Unlike last year, in which moves were made seemingly for the sake of depth and depth alone, this year's moves were much more focused on filling a specific need with a specific type of player. As Kareem points out, Arnott is much more of a legitimate 2C than Belanger ever was (and brings leadership and Cup-winning experience as a bonus). Wideman offers defensive depth but can do so from a top-four pair position and could be - and has shown in his minimal time here that so far he is - capable of both big minutes and special teams help. And while Walker brought some grit, he simply didn't have the talent to make him anything more than a part-time fourth-liner, while Marco Sturm's speed and goal-scoring ability make him a great fit on either the second or third lines.
Pepper: I agree with the rest of you -- the additions last deadline were of peripheral players. Each of the three new skaters acquired this February are going to be counted on for key roles and minutes. For example, just look at one of our recent Noon Numbers!
Question 3: Of the three moves made, which would you say is the "best"?
BH: Arnott for sure. Initially it seemed like a good deal simply because of what was given up (relatively little) for what came back (a bona fide second-line center). As we see him establish himself on the team, though, it looks like a better trade with every game. The way he spoke about the team after just one game with them, the way he's already been productive - first with a beautiful assist on a last-minute, game-tying goal and then with the game-winner last night - he seems like the perfect fit for this team.
JP: I'll go with Arnott. I don't love losing that second-round pick, but second-line center has been such a void for so long (since Sergei Fedorov left, really), and to get someone who has already taken on a leadership role in that spot is fantastic. Moving the Steckel contract while getting Arnott back is a bonus (and probably why that pick is a second and not lower). Nothing against Dangerous Dave, but locking up one-trick pony fourth-liners to three-year deals at over $1 million per has never made much sense to me.
KE: Hands down the most "important" trade was for Jason Arnott. The team desperately needs a second-line pivot and his arrival resolves that issue. Let’s also not underestimate the importance of bringing someone in who is vocal and has leadership capabilities. If Arnott can have the same leadership impact on the forwards that Scott Hannan’s arrival has on the defense, then giving up a 2nd and Steckel will be a fairly cheap price.
But the "best" trade was the Wideman one. The Caps gained a good puck-moving defenseman who can eat up minutes for a 3rd rounder and a prospect. If he works out, then the Caps have found a top-4 d-man who costs $3.9M/year and is tied up for next year. If he’s mediocre, then McPhee has a somewhat valuable asset that to move in the off-season.
Pepper: Heck, I'll go with Wideman. I expected a depth D to be picked up, but the Caps' new #6 is a top-four blue liner who can play significant minutes in virtually all situations (and led the D in ice time for each of his two games as a Cap so far) and bolster the power play. And for a modest price. Very well done.
Question 4: Where had you projected the team to finish before these three additions? Has that changed at all?
KE: I wasn’t as optimistic as the "Stay Angry" crowd at the beginning of the season and figured that the Caps were a 2nd round team at best. But the holes have been filled. The defense has improved greatly, the 2C problem has been (temporarily) resolved and the team has learned how to play multiple styles of hockey. Right now, I see the Caps as a 3rd round team but one that can find itself in the Finals if they get some good breaks.
However, there’s a flip side to that. if they get a bad early matchup (Rangers or Flyers), an inopportune injury or unlucky breaks (we are Caps fans after all) then it could be a quick exit. I see five teams that have the ability to win the Prince of Wales trophy which means that the margin of error in the Eastern Conference is razor thin.
BH: Before the season I had them heading to the Finals. Once the season progressed, I knocked that prediction way down to being lucky to get out of the first round. And now...I'll agree with Kareem on this one and say I could see them as a Conference Finalist or even a Cup Finalist, if everything falls the right way (as it has to for any team that hopes to reach that point). Areas of concern before seem much less concerning, and I think over time the new additions will make their mark on the group where they need help the most - the attitude and work ethic - to make the team a true contender.
Pepper: The Caps are still a 4/5 seed, I think. But I'm a lot more hopeful for the playoffs than I was last Sunday night.
JP: I had them finishing on the road in Florida, and that remains unchanged. Zing!