By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 29, 2009; D01
The Washington Capitals got faster and a bit more feisty Monday when they acquired left wing Jason Chimera from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina.
Chimera, perhaps best known in Washington for starting the scrum that led to Alex Ovechkin's injury in November, had 8 goals, 9 assists and 47 penalty minutes for the Blue Jackets. The 30-year-old likely will skate on the third line and take the spot of Clark, a natural right wing who had been playing on the left side.
"I think back to the game [Nov. 1] and I remember saying, 'Hey, listen, he's bigger than I thought, he's stronger than I thought and he can skate better than I thought,' " Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Chimera. "And he shoots left, which is important, too. We needed a guy that was a little bit more physical and is a really good skater, and he plays with an edge."
Chimera, a 6-foot-2, 216-pound native of Edmonton, Alberta, did not arrive in Washington in time to suit up against Carolina on Monday night. But he was expected to take a physical exam at Verizon Center after the game, then board the Capitals' charter fight and be on the ice for practice Tuesday in San Jose.
Chimera is a veteran of eight-plus NHL seasons split between Edmonton and Columbus and has totaled 81 goals, 172 points and 465 penalty minutes in 461 games. He was limited to 49 games last season because of groin muscle injuries. His best season came in 2006-07 as a member of the Blue Jackets, when he amassed 15 goals, 21 assists and 91 penalty minutes in 82 games.
Capitals General Manager George McPhee said the deal was originally discussed in September and gained traction in recent days.
"We just thought it was the right trade for us right now," McPhee said. "We've had extra defensemen all year, which is not a great situation to be in. So we felt like we could move a defenseman and balance out our forward lines given that we're going to play Brooks Laich more in the middle."
While the deal fills a void on the left side for the Capitals, it also leaves one in the leadership department. Clark had been the team's captain since 2006, but injuries cost him the majority of two seasons. During that time, the Capitals ascended from one of the league's worst teams to one of its elite.
"When he scored 30 goals, he was playing on the top line and playing all the power plays and killing penalties," Boudreau said. "When your team gets better, people move down the list."
Boudreau said the team will discuss the captaincy internally, but is in no hurry to name a replacement in the coming days. Ovechkin, Laich and veteran winger Mike Knuble would seem to be the most likely candidates to succeed Clark.
"You don't slap a 'C' on someone else," said Boudreau, who inherited Clark as captain. "You take your time, out of respect for him and to make the right decision. Because, for me, your captain is a very important part of your team."
Clark, who had a four goals, 11 assists and a team-worst plus-minus rating of minus-4 in 38 games, said he was blindsided by the trade that sends him to the Western Conference's 14th-ranked team.
"I'm shocked," Clark said "I didn't mind a diminished role [in Washington] because we were winning so much and we're such a great team and had a chance to do something in the playoffs. I would have taken any role on this team to do that. But now I'm going to start all over again. Hopefully, Columbus will be in that position in a few years."
Jurcina, meantime, had been a healthy scratch in three of the past four games and did not seem to thrive in a situation where nine defensemen were in competition for six spots in the lineup each night. He will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and after winning an arbitration award of $1.375 million last summer, could be in line for another significant raise.
"We had nine defensemen who could play, and you can't play them all," said Boudreau, who noted that dealing Jurcina leaves the Capitals with two right-handed defensemen and six lefties, which is not ideal.
The trade also netted the Capitals about $2.2 million in salary-cap space, just two weeks after the team cleared almost $5 million off the cap by loaning veteran center Michael Nylander to the minor league Grand Rapids Griffins.
McPhee acknowledged that the moves have provided Washington with the financial flexibility to make an upgrade. But he said the acquisition of Chimera, who has three years remaining on his contract at $1.875 million per season, doesn't necessarily mean that they will make any more moves.
"This wasn't necessarily about cap space and that sort of thing because we have space," McPhee said. "This was about [making] the right move for the team in terms of players."