By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 12:21 AM
With a pair of moves on the day of the NHL's trade deadline, General Manager George McPhee attempted to address the Washington Capitals' specific needs of defensive depth and experience at center while still managing to preserve the team's bevy of young prospects.
The Capitals acquired center Jason Arnott from New Jersey and defenseman Dennis Wideman from Florida, who, along with waiver pickup Marco Sturm, bring a veteran presence to a young roster that is still in search of consistency with 19 regular season games remaining.
McPhee sent Washington's second-round pick in 2012 and faceoff specialist David Steckel to the Devils in exchange for Arnott; he sent the Capitals' third-round selection in 2011 along with fringe prospect Jake Hauswirth to the Panthers in the Wideman deal.
"We did not give away our first-round pick, we did not give away any of our A-prospects," McPhee said. "We took [Steckel] out of our roster; he's just a great guy and he's done really well for us here and he's become an NHL player, a solid NHL player. But we felt that we had some depth there with Boyd Gordon and Jay Beagle, and if we were going to upgrade the club at another position, this was the asking price."
After auditioning inexperienced forwards Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault in the second-line center role for the bulk of the season, with inconsistent results, the Capitals added Arnott to help shoulder some of that responsibility. Arnott, 36, won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2000.
With 1,161 regular season games in 19 years in the NHL, he becomes the most experienced player on Washington's roster.
"Those kind of intangibles are something that we wanted in the room, like we had when we got Sergei Fedorov two years ago," McPhee said.
Arnott, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the season's end, waived a no-trade clause in order to join Washington.
It was a tough decision for Arnott, who has 24 points in 62 games with New Jersey this year, as the Devils have won 17 of their last 19 contests to play their way back into playoff contention and are nine points out of eighth place.
"With the roll we were on and the group of guys we have in the dressing room, it was hard," Arnott told the Newark Star-Ledger. "But like I said a long time ago, I was in a situation before [in Nashville] where we were three or four points out and we didn't make it. I'm at that point in my career where I really want to play in the playoffs and Washington is in the playoffs right now. . . . I'm at the end of my career. I want a chance at another Stanley Cup. I think Washington has good potential to be a Stanley Cup championship team."
Both Arnott and Wideman are expected to skate with the Capitals on Tuesday morning in Arlington prior to the contest against the New York Islanders at Verizon Center.
The decision to bring in another defenseman was one that McPhee said resulted in part from uncertainty about the health of Tom Poti and Mike Green.
Poti has played in parts of only 21 games this season largely because of a nagging groin problem, and the latest flareup has caused him to miss 19 consecutive games.
When Green then suffered a second blow to the head in a 19-day span Friday against the New York Rangers that could keep him out for at least "a couple weeks," McPhee said bringing in a defenseman was a necessity.
"When Mike went down it was really important to help this team now," McPhee said. "Wideman seems to be a real good fit because he's an offensive guy, he's good on the power play, he's a right-handed shot. So we were real pleased that we were able to do that deal and it's not a rental."
Wideman, 27, has one more year remaining on his current contract and will have a salary cap hit of $3,937,500 in 2011-12. He recorded 33 points in 61 games despite a minus-26 rating this season with the Panthers, who traded away six NHL regulars as part of their latest rebuilding process.
"Hopefully I fit right in with what they're trying to do there," Wideman said. "I think my game, and what I've tried to play on the teams I've been on, is good breakout passes, good first passes and I jump into the rush whenever I can. This is a team that controls the play a lot; they have the puck a lot and that's the type of hockey I enjoy playing."