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Why the Caps Should - and Could - Be Trying to Trade David Steckel

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"According to multiple sources, free agent centre Eric Belanger has a one-year deal in waiting to return to the Washington Capitals. ... What's interesting is that he has been told not to announce [the deal] ... due to the fact the team he's headed to is working on a trade. ... [O]ne player the Caps are looking to trade is 26-year-old Tomas Fleischmann, who had 23 goals and 51 points in a bit of a breakout season last year and signed a one-year, $2.6-million deal this summer." - James Mirtle

That the Capitals would be looking to trade Tomas Fleischmann isn't terribly surprising in and of itself, given his troubling trend of late-season flameouts culminating in playoff failures. But sign-and-trade (with the ink still drying) has never been George McPhee's modus operandi, so the rumor at least raises an eyebrow.

So let's, for a moment, consider who else the Caps might be trying to move. Since the move would seem to be integrally related to re-signing Belanger, one can probably assume that it's a player who's made somewhat redundant by the return of the 32-year-old pivot, since it is much more likely to be a roster spot - and not salary - driving the deal (and that would explain the desire for GMGM to have the Belanger deal kept quiet, so as not to weaken his bargaining position). Katie Carrera offers the following:

Belanger's return will certainly make it an interesting battle for among a group of players potentially including Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Fleischmann and Mathieu Perreault for ice time behind top-line center Nicklas Backstrom.

Belanger, Perreault, Johansson, Laich and Fleischmann are probably all in the running for the second-line center spot (in varying degrees) at present, with one of Laich and Flash also as potential top-six wingers. No matter how that shakes out, Belanger, Laich and Fleischmann are locks for second or third line spots, with Alexander Semin also a second-line lock and Eric Fehr sure to be a top-nine forward. That leaves four forward spots (likely the third-line center and the entire fourth line) up for grabs, with Johansson the most likely candidate for the third-line center spot and Perreault, Gordon, Steckel, Matt Bradley and D.J. King fighting for three positions (to say nothing of a Hershey guy like Jay Beagle or Andrew Gordon making a bid). That's quite the logjam on the back end.

So if the Caps had their choice of whom to move from that surplus of checking forwards, who would they want to trade? Perreault has value as a fill-in on a higher line, especially if prized prospect Johansson isn't quite ready for the NHL. Bradley is a heart-and-soul leader, with a manageable contract - one year, $1 million. Gordon really stepped up his game in the playoffs last spring, but more importantly has a good deal - one year, $800,000. The Caps actively sought out King last month, so it surely wouldn't be him.

That leaves David Steckel, a fine enough fourth-liner (though be careful not to overstate the importance of a good faceoff percentage - see here, here and here), but with a bad contract, one that will pay him $1,100,000 in each of the next three seasons. It's not a cripplingly bad deal, of course, but rather one that's tough to love for a guy whose game regressed in 2009-10 (I strongly recommend re-reading his Rink Wrap) and who was a healthy scratch in four of the seven playoff games, when cheaper checkers like Blair Betts (and Boyd Gordon) seem to be available every summer. [Sidenote: in retrospect, this was not exactly GMGM's best day, eh?]

Could the Caps expect to get much of anything in return for Steckel? Probably not, unless they found a potential trade partner who was looking to unload a moderate salary to free up some cap space... which is where a team like Vancouver comes in. Say they move the oft-rumored Kevin Bieksa for Steckel. The 'Nucks save $2.65 million of cap hit (coincidentally, nearly the exact amount of salary they need to drop, per CapGeek), move a player from a position of overflowing depth, and better their bottom-six forwards. The Caps, in such a move, would upgrade their defense, move a player from a position of overflowing depth, be out from under Steckel's deal for the next three years, and pick up an affordable - and expiring - deal in Bieksa. Because it rids the team of a bad contract, a deal like that makes sense for the Caps in a way that signing Willie Mitchell doesn't (though, to be sure, a Mitchell signing makes sense in numerous ways this hypothetical would not, namely providing more of what the Caps need on the ice).

Over the past few years, Caps fans have fixated on what they perceive as bad deals - Michael Nylander's, John Erskine's, Tyler Sloan's or even Fleischmann's new contract. But Steckel's should join that group, and don't think that the powers-that-be don't know it and wouldn't try to do something about it.