Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Rebuild...Revisited


As a verb, it can mean:

1. to repair, esp. to dismantle and reassemble with new parts
2. to replace, restrengthen, or reinforce
3. to revise, reshape, or reorganize
4. to build again or afresh

With reference to the Caps, it is used as much as a noun, a reference to the “rebuild” that commenced with the 2003-2004 season. Three years down the road, where do the Caps stand? Let’s look at the deals that tore down the Caps and started the rebuild, and the returns.

Steve Konowalchuk – traded to Colorado for Bates Battaglia and the rights to Jonas Johansson, October 22, 2003.

Konowalchuk was, from reports at the time, not happy with the direction of the club and was interested in moving west. He was accommodated in this trade. Battaglia spent one season with the Caps (66 games, 4-6-10, -23) before departing as a free agent. Johansson, who will be 23 in March, has struggled to make an impression at the minor league level.

Grade: F

Robert Lang – traded to Detroit for Tomas Fleischmann and a 1st round draft pick in 2004 (defenseman Mike Green) and a 4th round pick in 2006 (forward Luke Lynes), February 27, 2004.

Lang was an echo of the Jaromir Jagr trade – a center of some familiarity to Jagr who would complement him and help justify his salary. Between the two, they were earning $16 million/year, but the Caps were struggling in the standings. Fleischmann has put up fine numbers in the AHL but has not yet demonstrated an ability to stick at the NHL level. Further, he is a left wing – a position the Caps already have filled with Alexander Semin and Alexander Ovechkin. He might at some point become a trading asset. Green is in his first full year with the Caps after splitting time with Hershey last year. Green is a “Young Stars Game” selection for NHL’s all star celebration and is second on the Caps among defensemen in +/-; he should develop into a solid top-four defenseman. Lynes is a long term project.

Grade: B

Sergei Gonchar – traded to Boston for Shaone Morrisonn and 1st (defenseman Jeff Schultz) and 2nd (center Mikail Yunkov) round draft picks in 2004, March 3, 2004

Gonchar was/is the prototypical offensive defenseman – an all-star caliber player annually among the leaders in scoring among defensemen. He also can be a liability in his own end. Morrisonn shows promise as a top-four defenseman (he is getting top-pair minutes for the moment). He is the closest thing the Caps have to a defensive stopper, which is not to say this should – or will be – his long term role. Schultz has played decently, if unspectacularly, in his rookie season at Hershey. He’s also had a couple of call-ups to the big club. Yunkov is a long term project.

Grade: B

Jaromir Jagr – traded to the New York Rangers for Anson Carter, January 23, 2004 (Caps also liable for a substantial share of remaining value of Jagr’s contract)

Playing “The Seven Degrees of Jaromir Jagr” is always fun. He was obtained for three prospects (Kris Beech, Ross Lupaschuk, and Michal Sivek) and $4.9 million on July 11, 2001. It was, and remains, the single biggest transaction in the club’s history for impact (the selection of Alexander Ovechkin was a given the moment the Caps won the 2004 draft lottery, so the impact there wasn’t as greatly felt). After disappointing results, Jagr was moved for Carter, who was moved for Jared Aulin. Aulin was not resigned by the Caps. He hooked up with the Springfield Falcons on a PTO deal, but was released after 13 games.

Grade: D- (the only saving grace of this deal is that the Caps are liable for only half of Jagr’s salary and it contributed to the Caps’ ability to land the first pick in the 2004 draft . . . it could have been worse).

Peter Bondra – traded to Ottawa for Brooks Laich and a 2nd round draft pick in 2005 (parlayed with another pick via trade with Colorado into the 27th overall pick – defenseman Joe Finley), February 18, 2004

Speculation on whether Bondra would be a victim of the purge lasted for weeks leading up to his eventual trade. The lack of return was somewhat suprising at the time. Laich is a checking forward whose long-term value to the club is debatable (the Caps have many of his type of player, and the Caps should be upgrading their skill as time passes and other youngsters develop). The jury on Finley is still out; he is in his second year at the University of North Dakota.

Grade: C-

Mike Grier – traded to Buffalo for Jakub Klepis, March 9, 2004

Grier was a well-liked member of the club, and his trade was a bit of a surprise (although Klepis was reported to be a favorite of General Managere George McPhee going back to Klepis’ draft by Ottawa in the 2002 draft). Grier has since moved on to San Jose, Klepis is struggling at the moment in his rookie season, getting reduced playing time lately and the occasional healthy scratch. He has an uncomfortable tendency to take the lazy penalty and has not yet consistently displayed the playmaking ability he is thought to have. That he is a rookie is a consideration here.

Grade: C

Michael Nylander – traded to Boston for a 2nd round draft pick in 2006 (Francois Bouchard) and future considerations (a 4th round pick in 2005 – defenseman Patrick McNeill), March 4, 2004.

Nylander moved on to the New York Rangers. Bouchard and McNeill are still with their teams in juniors (Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the QMJHL, and Saginaw in the OHL, respectively). Each must be regarded as long term projects.

Grade: incomplete

Brendan Witt – traded to Nashville for Kris Beech and a 1st round draft pick in 2006 (goaltender Semen Varlamov), March 9, 2006

This is a special case, the last of the 1990’s core of the Capitals to be moved. Witt, who almost certainly would not have returned to the Caps as a free agent at the end of the 2005-2006 season, ended up with the Islanders; Beech returned to where he was originally drafted. Beech has not been the answer at center on the second line, despite repeated opportunities given to him to take that position by the throat. It would appear that Caps fans will have to settle for dreams of Nicklas Backstrom next year insofar as that issue is concerned. The selection of Varlamov is curious, given the long lead time for goalie development, lower free agency age thresholds, and the notorious problems in picking winners among goaltenders high in the draft (see: Brian Finley, Mathieu Chouinard, Maxime Ouellet, Brent Krahn, among others).

Grade: incomplete (but The Peerless isn’t optimistic, owing to the considerable uncertainty surrounding the Varlamov pick).

So there you have it . . . the Caps moved:

Steve Konowalchuk
Robert Lang
Sergei Gonchar
Jaromir Jagr
Peter Bondra
Mike Grier
Michael Nylander
Brendan Witt

…and received in return:

Jonas Johansson
Tomas Fleischmann
Mike Green
Luke Lynes
Shaone Morrisonn
Jeff Schultz
Mikail Yunkov
Brooks Laich
Joe Finley
Jakub Klepis
Francois Bouchard
Patrick McNeill
Kris Beech
Semen Varlamov

…and nothing for Jaromir Jagr

Some might argue that the Adam Oates deal in 2002 should be included – this netted goaltender Maxime Ouellet, and a 1st (ultimately a Dallas pick that yielded Alexander Semin), 2nd (Maxime Daigneault), and 3rd (Derek Krestanovich) round pick in 2002. However, the Caps made the playoffs the following year, and this is not considered part of the “rebuild.”

Indirectly, the biggest prize of all wasn’t obtained in trade. Absent these 2003-2004 deals, the Caps probably do not finish 28th in the league, putting them in position to win the draft lottery for first overall selection. The Caps did, they did win the lottery, and Alexander Ovechkin was the result.


Steve said...

Peerless -
Generally, I tend to agree with with, and if you take all of these trades from todays perspective, I'd agree with you again. But here is a point to consider - All of the players who were traded were at least 29 years old at the time they were dealt. Furthermore, none of the players who came back, with the exception of Beech (who I considered a throw-in to the Witt deal) are older than 24 right now.

Morrisonn - 24
Laich - 23
Klepis - 22
Fleischman - 22
Green - 21
Johansson - 22
I believe the rest of them are 20 or less.

Morrisonn, Laich, and Green all have been playing significant minutes on a team, that while currently on the outside looking in, is in contention for a playoff spot. While not a quantum leap improvement over last year, a definitive incremental one.

Another point - when you approach the market as a seller, and everyone know you're a seller, it becomes difficult to get fair return for the assets you are trying to sell. While Kono was part of the sell-off, I look at that deal differently. It was more done as a favor to him than trying to acquire valuable assets in return.

Always n interesting blog, Peerless. Keep up the good work.

Caps Nut said...

FYI, I have it on very good authority that Steve Konowalchuk was NOT in the long-term future plans of the Caps around 1999-2000. In light of that, it is somewhat surprising that he was held onto until 2003.

Also, his trade to Colorado took place well before the stated firesale and blow up of the team.

Anonymous said...

PP, you are WAY off in evaluating some of these trades. One must consider what exactly one gave up before urinating all over the returns.

1) Konowalchuk played less than 100 games and his career is over. We got nothing. Grade is C-.

2) Lang - even before Green blossomed because Lang was a $5/mil per season overpriced non-winner.

3) Gonchar, A+ based on the two months he played with Boston. Anything after that is based on the decision not to sign him as a UFA, not the trade.

4) Jagr for nothing. Jagr has been traded twice in his life, both times for a bucket of s***. I think this tells you all you need to know. Caps made the best they possibly could out of the situation given that exactly one team was willing to take him. Grade: B.

5) Bondra. Bondra scored 30 goals for the remainder of his career until he retired in 2007. You were way too low on this trade originally and B+ is about right now.

6) Grier - this is a 4th liner that doesn't stay on any team very long. And he's really not too good. The trade is a C, maybe a C- only in that we didn't parlay anything out of it.