On the last day of April, we wrote…
“Blowing things up based on the Montreal series – what appears to pass for a plan among an awful lot of Caps fans – is an option. It also happens to be a really bad one. One of the things that went wrong early for the Caps in this regime’s tenure was going for the quick fix, then compounding it by trying quick fixes to fix the quick fix (the ‘Snyder Syndrome’).”
Well, the Caps didn’t blow things up. They have not traded Alexander Semin, they resigned Tomas Fleischmann to a one year deal, they have said good things about Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault, both of whom could end up with roster spots by opening night.
And now, from the “tinkering on the margins” file, we have D.J. King, obtained yesterday in trade from the St. Louis Blues for Stefan Della Rovere. King certainly brings a certain “presence” to the ice that the Caps have lacked. Need a hint? OK, look at these numbers…
2006-2007: 27 games, 1 fight
2007-2008: 61 games, 14 fights
2008-2009: 1 game, 0 fights
2009-2010: 12 games, 5 fights
He’s not here to provide scoring support or kill power plays. It is an interesting trade in that the Caps traded a future pest (of uncertain likelihood to reach the NHL roster) for a bruiser who can step into the lineup right now.
Caps fans are probably going to pooh-pooh this trade, that the Caps don’t need an “enforcer.” We think the term is something of an antique, given the state of the game today that places such a premium on skating. But the bottom line here is that the Caps, despite their impressive skill, were entirely too easy to play against, especially on the last two forward lines. David Steckel and Boyd Gordon are very earnest, hard-working players, but making opponents’ lives difficult is not their game. Jason Chimera and Matt Bradley can get their dander up and are the kinds of teammates you would probably want in that foxhole with you. But was either effective at policing opponents’ attitudes?
King, presumably, is the attitude adjuster that the Caps haven’t had. Sure, you could argue that for the three years Donald Brashear was here, he policed the ice effectively for the Caps. But the Caps did not get Brashear in his prime, when he was a passably effective player in addition to his pugilistic exploits. Brashear averaged about eight minutes a game for the Caps over his three seasons.
King might not get many (if any) more minutes with the Caps than did Brashear. In his entire career, spanning 101 games, he has recorded more than ten minutes of ice time in a game only twice. And there is the matter that he has not recorded a point since October 2008 and has not scored a goal since March 2008.
And that brings us to why he might have had such difficulty being productive within the rules. That raises another set of numbers…
2008-2009: 3 games missed to wrist injury
2009-2009: 78 games missed to shoulder surgery
2009-2010: 3 games missed to thumb injury
2009-2010: 39 games missed to right hand surgery
123 games missed to injuries over two seasons is not a confidence-builder if you are expecting someone whose role is to police the ice to actually be on the ice.
The acquisition of King is something of a response move. Look up and down the Eastern Conference, and you can find players who might have felt comfortable taking liberties with the Caps. In Philly, there is Daniel Carcillo and Jody Shelley. In Pittsburgh, Matt Cooke. In New York, Derek Boogaard. On Long Island, Zenon Konopka. In Atlanta, Ben Eager. In Boston, Shawn Thornton. Not that these players are ever going to get any ice time skating against the likes of an Alex Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom, unless they are going off on a line change. But these players might be out there for some time against a second or third line, or might be out there to heap abuse on defensemen, the Caps’ version of which tends more to the skill/skating side than physical. The Caps didn’t have an answer for this kind of player, frankly.
Let's not over-analyze this (he said as he pushes past 800 words). It isn't a big trade in the larger scope of things. This isn't the NHL of 30 years ago, or 20, or ten for that matter. Fighters play a much smaller role in the sport than they did in those days. But that doesn't justify ignoring certain moves that other teams made that could place some of your players at risk in the liberties taken against them, especially if it doesn't cost much for the "protection." In a way, the Caps traded an uncertain future (whether Stefan Della Rovere would ever become a regular NHL player) for an uncertain present (whether D.J. King can stay healthy). But at a $637,500 cap hit for two years (according to capgeek.com), the potential reward is worth the risk. When you compare it to the sorts of compensation others in King's player profile will make -- Boogaard getting $1,625,000, Shelley getting $1,100,000 a year, for example, King could end up being a bargain. He will provide the size and orneriness that the Caps, frankly, lack. And besides, how can you not root for a guy who wasn’t a Cap ten seconds before responding to the news of Max Talbot’s description of Alex Ovechkin as a “douche:”
"Wow. I guess that's not going to be happening too much longer."
Here’s to your health, D.J.