Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Cousins of the Roundtable, Part IV

We continue this little interlude with two more questions of a forward-looking nature. Let’s hope the cousins are up to it.

The NHL trading deadline is 3:00 p.m. (EST) on February 27th. The Caps have 14 games to go before that date, so there is some time to find out if they will be a buyer or a seller. Which will they be?

Fearless: A buyer. Of the 14 games to go between now and the deadline, seven of them will be against Southeast Divisions teams, and three others will be against teams below them in the standings. The Caps will not win them all, but they should be favored in all of them (Cheerless…” cough-road games-cough”).

Cheerless’ juvenile commentary notwithstanding, the other four games will be against strong teams such as Boston, the Rangers, and San Jose, but two of those are at home (the Caps will be at Madison Square Garden to face the Rangers on February 12th). If you look at the 14 opponents and their respective win-loss records at home; then compare them to how they fit those records into the Caps’ schedule, they have a combined 168 wins in 340 games. That’s a roundabout way of saying that it is not as tough a schedule of opponents as it could be.

Cheerless: Fearless, you are a certifiable, 200-proof idiot. The Caps scrooed the pooch getting to this point, cuz. They’re gonna be sellers. Take a good look at those 14 games until the deadline. Nine of them – nine! – are on the road. They have a three-game road trip coming out of this break; then they have a four-game trip in the middle of next month. Last time I looked, and that was about two wags of a dog’s tail ago, the Caps had the third worst road record in the Eastern Conference. Only Carolina has a worse road record in the Southeast, for cryin’ out loud.

Then there is the matter of whether Mike Green comes back healthy and effective, and whether Nicklas Backstrom comes back at all this season. Who is a number one center on this team with Backstrom out? Who is a number two center when he’s in? And this team hasn’t figured out a way to string a lot of wins together. Since the seven-game streak to start the season, the Caps have two winning streaks of more than two games, the same number of losing streaks of more than two games since then. Hard to see how they suddenly do more than tread water, and that schedule ain’t lookin’ too good, and it’s gonna be hard to be a buyer when you’re falling out of the playoff group. The Caps made their bed in the first half, and now they have to pay the band in the second half.

Peerless: Neither, at least in the sense a contender is looking to add the last pieces, and an also-ran is looking to sell assets for futures. The Caps have too many holes to think that adding a player like a Jason Arnott, or a Dennis Wideman, or a Sergei Fedorov is going to be the piece that makes them a good bet to go deep in the playoffs. The team has not displayed enough depth or production to warrant that kind of a conclusion. But there will be no selloff, either. One thing that will probably signal whether the Caps are going to be a “buyer” is what happens to Jeff Schultz. If he is traded at the deadline, it will not be for a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman. But packaging him with something else could yield an asset that could be valuable for the playoffs. If the Caps hold onto him, then perhaps it is a signal that they are going to cast their lot with this roster and for Schultz to regard it as a lost season for him, the aim being that perhaps next year he can be a more consistent contributor.

If the Caps do a face-plant out of the gate to start the second half, then one wonders what will happen to Alexander Semin.  The Caps could then become sellers, accelerating what some (ok, we) presume, that Semin will not be re-signed. He could be a valuable asset for a team looking for a forward with a history of scoring goals (whatever his performance this season). That is on the daring end of the spectrum in terms of team shake-up. But the fact is that the Caps have stumbled their way to their place on the edge of the playoffs. They have given little evidence that things are going to change by magic in the second half. And Cheerless, in his convoluted way, has a point – the Caps didn’t do enough in the first half, and now with the schedule putting them on the road, where they have not done well, things do not look promising.


So, you have offered your points of view on buying and selling. Who – or what positions – are bought and sold?

Cheerless: Heck, just about anybody with an expiring contract could be moved. It wouldn’t be the yard sale the Caps had a few years ago, but if the Caps are going to do some renovating, then maybe they start now instead of the summer. Even if they are not a “seller,” they might have to be a “seller.” The Caps don’t seem to have much, if any room to add a piece without sending out a piece. That might be the “Schultz” argument – sending out a player who does not fit into the team’s short term plans for a player who can help them down the stretch. The buyer would have to be a team thin on defense that is out of contention who wants to move an older player or expiring contract.

Fearless: The Caps do not seem to have much room to maneuver here and might have to buy in what amount to chewable bites. They might have to move money out as part of a two-step that brings in another player. In that instance, the first part that deal might not mean much except for what money it frees up. There might not be much return in that part of a deal. As for need and the kind of player the Caps might be bringing in, they have the perennial problems to solve – a second line center and some scoring support on the lower half of the forward lines. Another adept puck mover from the blue line might be nice to try to reverse this nasty trend of getting out shot, out attempted, and out chanced by opponents.

Peerless: One difficulty the Caps will face is that by the end of the month, there might be only half a dozen or so teams that are truly out of contention, the usual suspects for finding a spare part or two. Who might be a trading partner? Columbus has two forwards that might be of interest in Vaclav Prospal and Samuel Pahlsson. If Montreal drops further out of contention, perhaps a Travis Moen comes into play. Anaheim has a number of forwards on expiring contracts, but the Ducks are 8-1-1 in their last ten games and are showing signs that they might yet challenge for a playoff spot.

The point here is that there would not seem likely to be a clear fit of the sort Jason Arnott was thought to be last year, and a bombshell like having Sergei Fedorov come to D.C. is hard to see happening. If the Caps are to be buyers at the deadline, it would seem this year will be more like 2010, when the players obtained – Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo, and Scott Walker – probably were not on anyone’s radar but might have had fans thinking, “OK, that makes sense.” Let’s just hope that if they do go in that sort of direction, it makes more sense after the deals than was the case in 2010.

No comments: