By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Almost two dozen transactions were completed around the NHL before yesterday's trade deadline, but the Washington Capitals were not involved in any, even as several teams surrounding them in the standings potentially got better.
General Manager George McPhee said he spoke to a number of clubs -- including a brief discussion with Anaheim about all-star defenseman Chris Pronger -- but the asking price was more than he was willing to pay.
"For us to do anything, it had to be an upgrade on what we had, and based on what was out there, there were not a lot of upgrades we saw that we could do," McPhee said. "We thought there were two defensemen out there who would be an upgrade, guys like Pronger and [Florida's Jay] Bouwmeester. But the price to get into that game wasn't something we were willing to pay."
Talks with Florida about Bouwmeester never materialized because it "didn't make sense" to pursue a pending unrestricted free agent. The talks with Anaheim, meantime, did not get far for two reasons: a) the Ducks were not committed to parting with the towering five-time all-star and b) Anaheim General Manager Bob Murray would have wanted one (or more) of the Capitals' top-rated prospects, such as defenseman Karl Alzner, goalie Simeon Varlamov or defenseman John Carlson. Giving up any of those players was a non-starter for McPhee. Neither Bouwmeester nor Pronger ended up changing teams.
"We would like to be a good team for a number of years and be knocking on the door every year, rather than load up and hope you can do it one year and then be scrambling for a few years," McPhee said. "If you can give up a first-round pick or young players to bring in a rental, that's the sucker's game that hurts you a year or so down the line."
McPhee said the Capitals also had passing interest in Phoenix defenseman Derek Morris, who wound up going to the New York Rangers for three players. But the asking price for Morris was high in McPhee's estimation, and with the availability of Alzner (he's in the minors right now) and the possible return of Brian Pothier from a 14-month layoff because of post-concussion syndrome, he chose to stand pat.
"We would rather go with our own guys, and we wanted to make sure we had room for them," McPhee said, referring to Alzner and Pothier. "We believe they can do what [Morris] might do."
Pothier was assigned to Hershey of the American Hockey League yesterday for a conditioning stint. McPhee said there is room under the salary cap for Pothier and the remaining portion of his $2.5 million salary, but probably not for both Pothier and Alzner.
"He's got a conditional clearance to play on a progression," McPhee said of Pothier. "If he gets through that and there are no symptoms, we'll bring him up here and see what he can do. If he doesn't get through that, he's probably done. If there are symptoms then his career is over."
Pothier and Alzner could help a Capitals team that has lost its past two games by a combined 11-4. But McPhee did not address his team's other needs heading into the playoffs: a gritty forward to complement the Capitals' cadre of skilled forwards such as Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom and a reliable veteran goaltender capable of stepping in for José Theodore should he suffer an injury or struggle.
Asked if he called New Jersey about the availability of Scott Clemmensen, who filled in nicely while Martin Brodeur was sidelined, McPhee said: "We are expecting that [Brent] Johnson might be back by the playoffs. Varlamov will play this weekend [in Hershey]. So does it makes sense to go out and get another backup when you've got two who might be ready anyway? It's going to cost you something. We just were not interested in giving up a young player for a rental."
McPhee also was unable to find a taker for struggling veteran Michael Nylander, who has been scratched the past four games and has $8.5 million remaining on his contract over the next two seasons.
In all, 22 trades transpired, down from 25 the previous two seasons. Some of those deals were made by Eastern Conference foes the Capitals might face in the playoffs. Boston added winger Mark Recchi and defenseman Steve Montador; the Rangers added Morris in exchange for defenseman Dimitri Kalinin and forwards Nigel Dawes, Petr Prucha and Nik Antropov for draft picks; Pittsburgh picked up winger Bill Guerin; and the Devils added defenseman Niclas Havelid, among others. Florida, in addition to keeping Bouwmeester, added defenseman Steve Eminger from Tampa Bay.
Despite burning up the phone lines, McPhee said he did not come close to closing a deal, one year after grabbing headlines by acquiring a future Hall of Famer (Sergei Fedorov), a No. 1 goalie (Cristobal Huet) and a veteran forward (Matt Cooke).
"This year I just didn't feel it," McPhee said. "Some years there's nothing out there to help your club and no deal is better than a bad deal."
Capitals Notes: Ovechkin left practice early after being struck on the right foot by a slap shot. The reigning MVP limped to the bench, slammed his stick against the boards and immediately removed his skate before being helped to the dressing room by an athletic trainer. Ovechkin did not speak to reporters, but Coach Bruce Boudreau said he does not expect the all-star left wing to miss any time. . . . Defenseman Tom Poti, who was a late scratch on Tuesday after aggravating a nagging groin muscle pull, did not practice and is questionable for tonight's game against Toronto. . . . Martin Gerber, claimed on waivers by the Maple Leafs yesterday, is expected to start. Staffan Kronwall has been assigned to Hershey.