By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Having slipped into a slump that threatened to derail their playoff hopes, it had become obvious to people inside the Washington Capitals' locker room that the team needed help from the outside to make a strong postseason push.
General Manager George McPhee attempted to deliver some of that help yesterday at the NHL's trade deadline.
In separate swaps, McPhee acquired starting goaltender Cristobal Huet from the Montreal Canadiens for a second-round draft pick in 2009, skilled center Sergei Fedorov from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a prospect and agitator Matt Cooke from the Vancouver Canucks for struggling winger Matt Pettinger.
None of the new additions arrived in time for last night's game against the Minnesota Wild at Verizon Center, but all three are expected to give a boost to a Washington team that is five points behind the Carolina Hurricanes in the race for the Southeast Division title with 18 games remaining.
"We thought that if we could give our team a push to get into the playoffs, and add a few things without giving up a lot, then we would do it," McPhee said. "I think we accomplished that."
The Capitals assumed about $2 million in additional payroll for the remainder of the season, but Huet, Fedorov and Cooke all are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in July.
The addition of Huet, 32, bolsters the team's goaltending. But it also raises questions about the future of Olie Kolzig, a fan favorite in Washington and 2000 Vezina Trophy winner who, statistically, is having his worst season since becoming the Capitals' full-time goaltender in 1997-98.
McPhee sent a second-round pick in 2009 to Montreal in exchange for Huet. It's the selection McPhee plucked from the Anaheim Ducks in the Brian Sutherby swap earlier this season.
"You just never know what's going to transpire," McPhee said of the surprise nature of the Huet trade. "We didn't anticipate a lot happening. But when the Huet deal came along, that was one that was hard to lay off of."
Backup goalie Brent Johnson also remains on the Capitals' roster, leaving them with three goaltenders presumably for the remainder of the season.
McPhee said he did not attempt to deal Kolzig, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
"Not a chance," McPhee said. "He didn't ask for it, and we didn't contemplate it."
Asked if the addition of Huet signaled the end of Kolzig's tenure in Washington, McPhee said: "Not necessarily. I wouldn't put it that way at all. That wouldn't be the correct way to put that."
Kolzig started last night's game and was not available to comment before the opening faceoff. Entering the game, the 37-year-old had a 21-19-6 record with a 3.03 goals against average and a .888 save percentage, down from his career averages of 2.71 and .906.
Huet, who posted a 21-12-6 record for Montreal this season with a 2.55 goals against average and a .916 save percentage, said he is open to re-signing with Washington in the offseason. If he does, he likely would be the bridge to prized goaltending prospects Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth.
"Right now, I'm focused on helping the team get some wins and get closer to the playoffs," Huet said from Montreal.
Coach Bruce Boudreau acknowledged that juggling three goaltenders could be a bit tricky.
"Three goalies is a tough thing to handle," Boudreau said. "As I told them, you're not going to make everyone happy. But I'll try my best to communicate with them. It's a good little competition."
While McPhee did address two concerns entering the stretch run, he was unable to land a rugged stay-at-home defenseman, a glaring void in the team's lineup.
"There weren't a lot of defensemen available," McPhee said, "and we weren't going to pay a high price to get it."
The addition of Fedorov, a three-time Stanley Cup champion who at 38 clearly is on the downside of his career, gives Washington the second-line center the team has lacked since Michael Nylander underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in January. The Capitals dealt prospect Theo Ruth, a defenseman drafted last summer, for Fedorov, who had nine goals and 28 points in 50 games with the Blue Jackets.
"We're hoping he's got one more good fight in him," McPhee said. "He's a veteran guy who's had success in this league, who's good on faceoffs and can still make a play."
Boudreau said he had not begun to consider line combinations. But it would make sense for Fedorov to skate on the second line with fellow Russian Alexander Semin.
The trade involving Pettinger and Cooke -- two players in need of a fresh start -- was first discussed several months ago. But McPhee said he held off in the hopes that Pettinger would rediscover the scoring touch that helped him net 20 goals two seasons ago.
Pettinger didn't, and after yesterday's morning skate he learned he had been dealt to his hometown team. The 29-year-old Cooke had seven goals and 16 points in Vancouver, where he acknowledged having a strained relationship with Coach Alain Vigneault.
"I kind of expected a move," Cooke said by telephone from Vancouver.
Huet was expected to arrive during last night's game and take a physical. Fedorov is expected to arrive in Washington tomorrow, while Cooke could be delayed by a day or longer because of visa issues.