Well, it's over. The great philosopher Donald Rumsfeld once opined that, "as you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want." Well, this is the hockey team we have. Zednik out...Nycholat out...Helbling out...Zubrus out. Andy Hedlund in...Jiri Novotny in...and a few picks.
Fans will wail and knash teeth . . . "why, oh why McPhee, did you not get us a real live player?! Where is our center? Where is our defenseman?" Fans need to look past the end of February. You take advantage of the opportunities provided and the nature of the market in which you're dealing. The trade deadline is about buyers who want a proven asset to get them over the hump, while sellers are looking to move assets to stockpile picks and prospects from those teams willing to give up a part of their future for a present value return. Folks, the summer will be about finding that higher-end center or defenseman via trade or free agency. This wasn't the market for that.
Now, on to the trades:
OUT: Richard Zednik to NY Islanders
IN: 2007 second round pick
Right now, that pick looks to fall into the 40th-45th pick overall range. We've beaten to death the fact that the Caps do not have on their roster but one pick past the first round of their own picks over the last decade. On paper, this is a fine deal, a steal in fact -- Zednik should not have commanded a pick this high, and where he cost a third to Montreal he brought a second back -- but if the Caps are now a "build through the draft" team, they have to draft well, and that includes this pick. Trouble is, the likely yield won't make itself known until 2010 or so, at the earliest.
OUT: Lawrence Nycholat to Ottawa
IN: Andy Hedlund, 6th round pick (2007)
Well, this seems to have be the premonition of the Zubrus trade that would be made later. Hedlund is the defenseman that permitted the Caps to include Helbling in that later deal. Not that Helbling was key to that deal, but it the kind of attention to detail -- getting a depth defenseman for Hershey in advance of moving another -- that one might expect from George McPhee. Since Nycholat was almost certainly never going to play again for Hershey this year, given the waiver environment, the Caps literally got something for nothing (that is not a disparagement of Nycholat, for his fans reading this...The Peerless hopes he has a successful run in Ottawa). As for the sixth round pick coming back -- Kyle Clark, Zbynek Novak, Marian Havel...we won't hold our breath.
OUT: Jamie Heward to Los Angeles
IN: 5th round pick (2008, conditional)
This one is perplexing until you look at the log jam on the blue line: Heward, Eminger, Erskine, Pothier, Jurcina, Morrisonn, Schultz, Muir...and Green down there in Hershey. Heward would be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and likely did not fit into the 2007/2008 plans. But there is the distant rumble of thunder with this trade. There is still a log jam at the position, even if one does not expect Bryan Muir to come back. If one expects the Caps to try to add a veteran defenseman, one of these guys very well might not be a Cap come next training camp (and yeah, this is part of the "we'll get to that" that we're getting to).
OUT: Dainius Zubrus, Timo Helbling to Buffalo
IN: Jiri Novotny, 1st round pick (2007)
This is an interesting deal on several levels, not least with respect to its aftermath. We'll get to that. As for the deal itself, Novotny is now the early favorite to start next year as the second line center . . . maybe (that's part of the "we'll get to that," too). Novotny led the Buffalo AHL affiliate Rochester Americans in scoring last year (17-37-54 in 66 games. Ten of his 17 goals were power play tallies). He was 6-7-13 in 50 games this season with the big club, but hasn't scored a goal since December 9th (23 games). As for the first round draft pick, that could be a trading asset. Right now, the Caps own what would be the 6th and 29th picks in the first round in what is thought to be a middling draft. If the Caps were inclined to trade a pick for a player, a sixth overall in this draft might not be enough to get anyone to bite. Add another first round pick?...
OK, let's get to the "let's get to that" with respect to the aftermath. First, the comments by George McPhee after the deal was made were, to The Peerless, of the "read between the lines" variety. He was quick to commend Zubrus and his agent for being professional in the negotiations, for liking the way he dealt with the situation since negotiations began in November, and was generally effusive in his praise of Zubrus. It had all the tone of "keep us in mind in July." Trouble is, I think Zubrus just lost $1.5 million or so. He was not an especially productive scorer before being matched with Alex Ovechkin, and it appears more than a mere possibility that a return to that disappointing production will manifest itself once more. That will cost him -- you don't get top line dollars or term for what might end up being third line production, which was his history before the last couple of years. He might already have seen the best offer he's going to get.
Second, this move telegraphs the Capitals' thinking leading into the off season. Having Novotny and Backstrom as the top two centers is a stretch. One will take about 80 games of NHL experience into camp next fall; the other will be a rookie in his first year in North America. The Capitals have to add a free agent center and almost certainly one who can slide into the top line, giving Backstrom and Novotny time to grow into their roles (perhaps Novotny getting time on the right side). If the Caps fill that need -- with a center who is a center (perhaps by dangling a defenseman or looking to go the free agency route), replacing a winger conversion better suited for second or third line duty (who can't be entirely ruled out from coming back), and still have a draft pick to use or trade as a result of this trade -- the Caps not only will have a major plus out of this deal, it could be seen in retrospect as a defining moment in the rebuild.