Teams around the NHL have been getting a head start on trades prior to today's trade deadline, and the Washington Capitals are no exception. Over the weekend, the Capitals made a couple of depth moves, acquiring defenseman Tim Gleason from Carolina for a pick plus Jack Hillen and winger Curtis Glencross from Calgary for two draft picks (more on that one here). Both moves align with the personal preferences Barry Trotz has made abundantly clear in his short time behind the Capitals bench - both players bring a defensively responsible, and a tough-to-play-against game.
Beyond matters of identity and intangibles, let's look at what Gleason brings to the table.
Gleason was a good "buy-low" candidate. His sub-.900 on-ice save percentage this season is his lowest in the Behind the Net era, and coupled with back-to-back low on-ice shooting percentage seasons on bad teams, his recent boxcars probably underrate his true abilities.
The lockout-shortened season marked the start of a troubling year-plus stretch for Gleason in terms of possession. So many defensive, limited-skills defensemen seem to age early, and Gleason - who turned 32 in January - looked like he may be following suit. But this season, he seems to have rediscovered his game a little, in slightly more limited minutes than he's played in the past. While Carolina head coach Bill Peters still didn't trust him to play top minutes, he stopped getting hammered in terms of possession in his minutes, which is a definite plus.
The x-axis denote forward quality of teammates and the y-axis forward quality of competition—so the top-right corner is Gleason against top opposition with good teammates, and the bottom-left corner is Gleason against depth forwards with worse teammates. Green is 50%-plus Corsi (SAT in the NHL-sanctioned lexicon) and purple is sub-50% possession. The names along the top denote what sort of forward help Gleason might get for each level of F QoT—Skinner comes in at just over 16 min/60, for example.
This chart isn't that impressive - there's not much positive possession away from the easier forward matchups - but Gleason may be another case where familiarity and chemistry play a role. By possession, it probably hasn't helped that in his 800-plus minutes this season, his most frequent defense partners have been John-Michael Liles (240 minutes), Ryan Murphy (162 minutes), and Michal Jordan (148 minutes). Mike Green is (by far) the best partner Gleason will have had in recent memory, and given the stable pairings in Washington this season, a little consistency next to a high-end defenseman could help Gleason.
Additionally, Gleason's chart looks different depending on defense partner. It's almost entirely purple (signaling sub-50% possession) for the Gleason-Justin Faulk pair, while there's a pretty good amount of green for Gleason and Joe Corvo. Gleason is not much of a "play-driver" on his own, but did seem to help (or, at least, not hurt) Liles a little in their time together as well, so there's certainly a precedent for Gleason making a better defense-partner for a puck-moving, offensive-minded partner than the numbers might suggest. That said, it could work the other way, as was the case with Faulk.
The minus is that he still brought up the rear on the Hurricanes blueline in terms of score-adjusted scoring chances. The main driver of that figure was on the offensive end. In Trotz's system, defensemen need to be able to move the puck a little and keep plays alive by pinching aggressively in the offensive zone, and if Gleason can't, he'll be making the team worse than it otherwise would be (i.e. with Nate Schmidt or Dmitry Orlov in the lineup instead).
In terms of usage, it doesn't figure to change much for Gleason. Peters gave him relatively soft minutes with decent zone starts (his "easiest" minutes in five years) and didn't rely on him to play big minutes. Playing with Green, Gleason likely figures to get similar competition, better zone starts, and maybe a little more ice time.
On the penalties front, Gleason draws nearly as many penalties as he takes (which is a fairly modest amount to begin with), making him one of the better defensemen in the NHL in that regard. He could also add a little value on the penalty kill - he held his own as a second-unit penalty killer in Carolina and should be a nice fifth or sixth option on the Capitals.
All-in-all, Gleason is a clear upgrade over Hillen, and depending on how he meshes with Green, could turn the Caps' third pair into one Trotz trusts in all situations (and we've seen an impact there already - in Gleason's Caps debut against Toronto last night, Green had his second-highest five-on-five ice time of the season) .
There's also a realistic chance he shows his age more and fails to fit in. In that case, fortunately for the team, there's a good replacement or two just three hours away, in Hershey.