Washington Capitals looking to add a second-line center at NHL trade deadline

GM George McPhee says centers Marcus Johansson, above, and Mathieu Perreault have their off nights.
GM George McPhee says centers Marcus Johansson, above, and Mathieu Perreault have their off nights. (Toni L. Sandys)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2011

ANAHEIM, CALIF. - With 12 days remaining before the NHL's trade deadline, the Washington Capitals' most pronounced need remains what it was at the start of training camp: a proven, two-way, second-line center.

According to multiple league sources, the Capitals are looking to acquire a player who can fill that role before the 3 p.m. deadline on Feb. 28. While rookies Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault have shown glimpses of success on the second line and may thrive in the future, neither has established the steadiness one would expect of the No. 2 pivot on a team that envisions itself as a playoff contender.

As he has done in the past, Capitals General Manager George McPhee remained mum on any possible deadline deals.

"We're as active as any club is right now," McPhee said in a phone interview this week. He did not travel west with the team. "If there's a way to improve the club, we certainly will consider every option to do so."

Through the first 57 games of the year, Washington predominantly used three players as the second-line center - Johansson, Perreault and, before he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, Tomas Fleischmann. Entering the Capitals' game Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks, that trio has accounted for 18 goals, 18 assists and 36 points.

By contrast, players serving as second-line centers of the top four teams in the NHL standings - Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, Detroit's Valtteri Filppula, Philadelphia's Danny Briere and Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier - all have at least 30 points in no less than 41 games.

Despite the lack of point production from Johansson and Perreault in particular, McPhee said he has not been disappointed in their play.

"We've asked a lot of them," McPhee said. "There have been some nights where they've been very, very good and some nights when they haven't met expectations, but that's what you get when they're young."

While the need for a second-line center exists, who exactly the Capitals could try to acquire and what may happen at this year's deadline is uncertain. It's possible many teams, including the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers, would try to add a center after injuries depleted their depth.

Then there's the question of whether McPhee believes any of the organization's younger centers, or prospects, will be ready for the full-time role next season, which would likely determine whether Washington is willing to deal for a player with years left on his contract rather than someone set to become a free agent.

The Capitals will have more than $1.4 million available under the salary cap to make moves at the deadline, according to Capgeek.com. They also hold a number of highly-touted prospects and six draft picks in 2011, after trading away their second-rounder to Carolina as part of a 2010 deadline deal for defenseman Joe Corvo.

Among players set to become unrestricted free agents at year's end is New Jersey's Jason Arnott, who has 24 points this season and 1,155 regular season games of experience, not to mention having won a Stanley Cup in 2000. Arnott has a no-trade clause in his contract. Buffalo's Tim Connolly has 25 points in 41 games but the Sabres may not look to subtract pieces given that they're still in the playoff hunt. Brad Richards has 63 points this year, but it's believed that the Stars are resolved to keep the veteran in Dallas.

Should the Capitals be willing to take on a player whose contract extends beyond this season, the possibilities could include Florida's Stephen Weiss, who is signed through 2012-13 with a combined cap hit of $6.2 million; Columbus's Derick Brassard, with a cap hit of $3.2 million through 2013-14; or Antoine Vermette, with a cap hit of $3.75 million through 2014-15.

Capitals note: Mike Green did not play for the second consecutive game because of inner-ear trauma resulting from the slap shot he took to the side of his head on Feb. 6 against Pittsburgh. The defenseman was scheduled to meet with a specialist on Wednesday afternoon.

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