Everyone wants to be a general manager. Or, at least, everyone thinks they have the skills to be a general manager, which is why every year we're subject to a deluge of information around the NHL trade deadline, with seemingly everyone who's ever watched an NHL game assessing the needs of the two dozen or so clubs in playoff contention, deciding which players bottom-dwellers should move for picks and prospects, and rendering instant judgment on every trad.
While it's only natural for deadline day to be one of the most anticipated and talked-about events on the NHL calender, it's the potential for a big splash, a blockbuster that fundamentally changes the landscape, that really sends the media coverage and fan interest over the top. After all, who doesn't want to see their favorite team pick up a former Richard Trophy winner, Norris-candidate defenseman, or even "just" an all-star? Who doesn't want to add high-end talent, shore up their depth, and provide one more weapon for opposing players to have to deal with on a nightly basis?
The reality, though, is that the best move isn't necessarily the flashy one, or the one that comes in on deadline day. To prove that point, you don't have to look any further than the Capitals' Jason Chimera, added not in a burst of fanfare in early March, but with a lot of head-scratching and mixed feelings in late December.
Far from a superstar or household name, Chimera had established himself as a role player in Columbus, hustling through his fifteen-to-seventeen minutes a night, never topping 17 goals or 36 points, the kind of player teammates and fans appreciate, but not a guy who's expected to be the cornerstone of a competitive franchise. But while his skill set isn't jaw dropping, it is exactly what the Capitals needed.
In short, and without taking anything away from the Capitals' 30-6-7 regular season record after Chimera's first game, Jason Chimera is the perfect bottom six playoff player. His speed puts constant pressure on opponents, making them more likely to turn the puck over and less able to take a shift off, something that adds up over the course of a playoff series. The same can be said about his physical play, including his willingness to go to the net hard. He plays with enough snarl to stand up for himself and his teammates, but enough brains to know when to keep the mittens on. He rarely makes bad decisions or turnovers. He's the kind of player you hate to play against for a shift, let alone an entire series.
Just as important is the fact that Chimera excels in areas that are somewhat intangible. By that I don't mean things like 'grit', 'leadership', or 'toughness' (though one would imagine Chimmer does quite well there too), but rather that the team is better by virtue of having him on it, even in ways that aren't generally measured, either because it's difficult to do so or because people don't realize it. The result, as with any positive externality, is that Chimera increases the productivity of his teammates, in effect making them more valuable. Even better, his impact gets more pronounced as each series, and the playoffs, go on, making him more and more valuable as the team gets closer and closer to its goal.
But perhaps the most important thing about Chimera's game is that he brings it night in and night out, something that can't be underestimated for a team so heavily reliant on danglers and goal scorers, players who are generally, by their nature, inconsistent. What Chimera does is eliminate some of the game's inherent variability, contributing positively to his team every game, something that could come in awfully handy in a postseason situation where that kind of inherent variability - a bad bounce, a wonky deflection, or a forgiving goal post - can be the difference between moving on and going home.
Of course, this ode to Chimmer might be somewhat unnecessary; hockey fans are generally smart enough to appreciate the less-skilled, hard-working guys who support the Alex Ovechkins and Nicklas Backstroms of the world, and Caps fans who had years of rooting lunchpail teams are especially attuned to the effort and importance of grinders. Nonetheless, guys like Chimera, who toil outside of the brightest spotlight and play integral roles on their respective teams, can't be celebrated enough. Thus it's important just to remember this: when all is said and done, the success of the Capitals' 2010 postseason may not depend on Jason Chimera - but he'll almost certainly play a significant role in any success the team does have.