Well that was unexpected. Of course George McPhee plays his cards pretty close to the vest, so it’s not like I had any read on whether or not Washington would tweak the roster or make a big splash. But adding four skaters to the locker room touted for its chemistry? That was a little surprising for as conservative a general manager as there is in sports. The first move of the day made a ton of sense for the Caps: a 2010 7th rounder for Scott Walker. Walker is best known for ending game 7 last year in overtime against the Bruins in the second round after sucker punching Aaron Ward in game 5. Eerily, Ward was traded to Carolina less than an hour before Walker was traded away. To get Walker from a division rival the Caps traded what will likely be one of the last few picks in the draft, so it’s as pure a salary dump by the Hurricanes as you’ll see. On TSN Tradecentre’s broadcast, Scott Walker sounded giddy: “I have a no trade clause but it’s pretty much a no brainer, I’m assuming everybody realizes that.” He also credited McPhee for moving him from defense to right wing when he was assistant GM of Vancouver. At the time of the trade, it looked like he’d step in as the fourth line right winger and bump Boyd Gordon to healthy scratch land.
Then the Capitals started to get a little nutty, picking up Eric Belanger for 2010′s 2nd rounder. It seemed like overpayment, but Belanger is on pace for a career year in points and gives Washington two of the top seven in the league at faceoff percentage. He also put Jason Chimera on a stretcher in the preseason, so there may be an awkward moment in the locker room when he gets into town. He fits in best as the third line center, but after this deal Washington had 14 NHL caliber forwards, so I guessed that something else was in the works for a defenseman. Perhaps even Fleischmann would be dangled, because now scrappy favorite Matt Bradley looked like a healthy scratch. Belanger played for Boudreau in the AHL, so there must be a comfort level.
As the clock wound down to 3 PM EST, the two most likely scenarios to beef up the defense where reacquiring Milan Jurcina from Columbus or the more aggressive move of going after Dan Hamhuis (he had been mentioned as a target for Washington much more frequently than Tomas Kaberle). Reacquiring Jurcina had been rumored for a few days as a last resort, since he’d certainly fit in the locker room and the Dean McAmmmond rule did not apply. The Caps dealt this year’s 6th rounder for Jurcina, making the net result of this year’s previous deal Chris Clark and a 6th for Jason Chimera. After the deal was made official Bob McKenzie reported that Jurcina has a sports hernia; the Washington Post expects him to miss 4-6 weeks. You can certainly sell this as an upgrade of the #7 D-man for the playoffs, but it doesn’t really upgrade the active roster.
A few minutes after 3, the Caps made their biggest move of the day, their second with Carolina: Brian Pothier, Oskar Osala, and a 2nd rounder probably in 2011 for Joe Corvo. What really catches my eye about this deal is Osala is by far the most highly regarded prospect the stingy McPhee has traded as Caps GM, with the exception of trading for Jagr in what should have been his prime. Even when they desperately needed a center two years ago, he only parted with lightly regarded Ted Ruth for Sergei Fedorov. Osala’s star has dimmed this season whose ceiling is pretty universally considered to be as a third liner, but he’s more likely than not going to develop into an NHL forward. Adding a 2nd rounder makes it look lopsided, but pretty much every team in the NHL was looking for a puck moving defenseman and Corvo is a substantial upgrade on the second power play unit. In yet another odd coincidence, Corvo missed about two months after suffering a leg laceration against Washington in November from the skate of Karl Alzner, who is even less likely to see significant minutes this year after seemingly being passed by John Carlson on the organizational depth chart and the addition of these two defenseman. Corvo was suspended his rookie year for assaulting a woman, which is tough for me to look past especially considering many people in this area still remember the limo incident from 1990. Corvo also played for Boudreau in the AHL.
So here’s how I see the new lines
Ovechkin – Backstrom – Knuble
Laich – B. Morrison – Semin
Fleischmann – Belanger – Fehr
Chimera – Steckel – Walker
Schultz – Green
Poti – Corvo
S. Morrisonn – Erskine
Healthy scratches Bradley, Gordon, Jurcina
Bradley is the toughest guy to scratch here, but he’s a natural left wing and Walker is a right wing. Jurcina is clearly the #7 defenseman since Washington has indicated on by extending Erskine and trading Jurcina their preference.
That’s a pretty tough team on paper. I actually feel better about the Corvo trade looking at the updated roster. That’s the best defensive second line they’ve had in years. They look lethal at faceoffs. They’ve taken on no additional salary for next year, since all four acquisitions are pending free agents (although they didn’t shed any salary either). Discounting Pothier (since Corvo is an upgrade at a similar salary), the 6th rounder, and the 7th rounder, they traded two likely late 2nd rounders and a guy who will likely top out as a third line power forward to upgrade a roster that was already the Stanley Cup favorite, at least in my eyes. Getting four NHL quality skaters and only giving up one, it’s tough not to be impressed with Washington’s new found depth after having to play the twice waived Chris Bourque last month, who went -2 in a 6-5 loss.
About the Author
Written by Ryan Cleaver
Ryan Cleaver was born in Björk’s house in Iceland and grew up on Easter Island, where his parents were giant stone heads. He has the ability to fire beams of tacos out of his hands and he can turn his legs into tigers. On Sundays, Ryan enjoys reading Family Circus and traveling through time. His favorite color is greenish-transparent and his favorite movie is the one you just watched.