McPhee Weighs Deals As Deadline Looms

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 20, 2007

MONTREAL, Feb. 19 -- The next week could be a busy one for Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee. But there's always a chance it won't be, either.

McPhee has been active in recent days, talking on the telephone with his counterparts in other NHL cities, dispatching scouts to evaluate talent and weighing contract proposals to his club's pending free agents. Yet even as the Capitals have plummeted out of the playoff picture, he said it's too early to know whether he'll be a player in the trade market, which closes at 3 p.m. on Feb. 27.

But one thing is certain as the deadline creeps closer: McPhee, who is attending the NHL general managers' meetings in Naples, Fla., is all ears.

"It's hard to say," he said during Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena. "We have scouts going all over the place, so we know the league well. Teams have been calling to see what players might be available. If there's a player we can add to our team that will make us better, then we'll explore it.

"We want to make the playoffs. But we're not getting into rental players."

What transpires over the next week could hinge on progress (or lack thereof) in the contract negotiations with veteran forwards Dainius Zubrus and Richard Zednik; both are due to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. The Capitals want to keep both and continue to trade proposals with the players' representatives. But if neither agrees to an extension, it's possible, if not likely, they could be dealt.

"Yeah, I've thought about it," Zubrus said after Monday's practice at Verdun Auditorium in suburban Montreal. "You have to look at every scenario. It's not just my decision, it's also up to management. If a deal is not there, I'll fully understand if they have to move me. I've been around long enough to understand the business side of things."

Jerrold Colton, Zubrus's New Jersey-based agent, said in a telephone interview: "As long as the Caps are fair to Dainius, he would like to remain in Washington for the rest of his career. He has a lot more value than just what he does on the ice."

The Capitals, who have dropped 12 of 16 games entering Tuesday's contest against the Canadiens, have obvious voids throughout the lineup, specifically on the blueline and at center. McPhee is seeking to address those needs, he said, but also recognizes that acquiring a quality defenseman through a trade is one of the hardest swaps to complete.

Because of that, he's focusing his efforts on bolstering the Capitals' corps of forwards. It's a glaring weakness that's been magnified as Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, wingers Washington relies upon to carry the offense, have slumped. Ovechkin has one goal in his past seven games; Semin has one in nine.

"We like our goaltending and the way our defense is coming along," McPhee said. "But we need a little bit more of a scoring touch to go along with the improving defense."

Capitals Notes: Semin practiced, but he clearly was bothered by his sore right thumb, which was injured when he was slashed by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. He's not expected to miss any playing time. . . . Matt Pettinger has been awarded the second goal the Capitals scored in Pittsburgh. It originally was given to Semin. . . . Ovechkin, Zednik and Donald Brashear all were given the day off from practice.

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