Sweating out the deadline
For hockey fans like myself, the NHL’s trade deadline is something like Black Friday for shopaholics.
It’s like listening to an album by The Dillinger Escape Plan, a hyperactive experience in ADHD that leaves you exhausted at the end. You bounce back and forth from Twitter to ESPN to TSN and other outlets trying to keep up with what your team is doing. Who got moved? Who’s rumored to be moving? You careen off the walls until 3 p.m. looking for updates, and by the time its all over, you ask yourself, “OK, now what?”
Wondering what’s next is especially nerve-wracking when you’re dealing with Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee, a guy who carries himself like Jack The Ripper – witness his appearance on HBO’s “24/7” series wearing a dark trenchcoat with sunken eyes and an intense glare, looking like he’s ready to murder a prostitute or two – and plays his cards VERY close to the vest.
With McPhee, affectionately known as “GMGM” within the Caps fanbase, you never know what he’s thinking, so you never know when he’ll do something big at the deadline.
This year, McPhee did something in between his doing nothing at the 2008-09 deadline and tinkering with last year’s President’s Trophy-winning squad, when he traded for four players. That didn’t work out so great, as the new guys – Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo, Scott Walker and Milan Jurcina – seemed to disrupt the chemistry the team had built up through the season.
The Caps started off by making a deal with the Florida Panthers for Dennis Wideman, a puck-moving defenseman – that’s hockey-speak for a D-man that can pass and rush the puck up ice. This was a move made necessary by injuries to defenseman Mike Green and Tom Poti. Wideman is an insurance policy in case Green, who’s been dealing with a head injury, and Poti, whose injuries have limited him to just 21 games this year, can’t make it back for the playoffs.
Wideman had his best season two years ago with Boston, but I like the trade because unlike the Corvo trade last year, the Caps didn’t give up a ton to get Wideman. It’s also good that, unlike Corvo, Wideman has never had the words “Uh Oh” attached to his name (during his stint with Ottawa, the local press nicknamed him “Uh Oh” Joe Corvo for his propensity for defensive zone turnovers).
The Caps then hit paydirt with a trade that sent center David Steckel and a pick to New Jersey for center Jason Arnott.
Arnott immediately solves the Caps long-time bugaboo, a second-line center. He’s a bit over the hill, but the Caps hope Arnott can play the same role Bill Guerin played for Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup-winning team two years ago: that of the grizzled veteran who comes in and puts a youngish contender over the top.
If nothing else, Arnott brings size and cup-winning experience to a team that has struggled come playoff time. Arnott can flash the ring he won with New Jersey and tell the guys about how he scored the cup-winning goal for the Devils in 1999-00. It can only help to have a guy with that kind of experience.
In giving up Steckel, the Caps gave up one of the best face-off men in the league – as well as a well-liked locker room guy – but also a player that was a bit of a one-trick pony.
Added in that mix was the addition of left wing Marco Sturm, a seven-time 20-goal scorer, off waivers just before the deadline. Sturm has battled knee injuries this year, but he also adds depth and goal-scoring experience on the frontline.
Throw in the trade earlier this year that sent Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado for defenseman Scott Hannan, and you can see where GMGM is going with this. Getting guys with playoff experience and toughness. It’s been an interesting but needed makeover. The Caps needed more Arnotts and Hannans and fewer guys like Fleischmann, a guy who could be counted on to disappear at crunch time and was unbelievably awful in the Caps’ disastrous first-round loss to Montreal last year.
Whether all this works out remains to be seen, but this much is sure – after trying to win pretty the last three years, the Caps have decided to get ugly.