For the most part, it seems to have been a successful year of wheeling and dealing for David Poile, but when you ask the Washington Capitals' general manager about the trades he wasn't able to execute, he starts to laugh.

"Well, there were a couple nights where we thought we could've used Wayne Gretzky," Poile said, "but he wasn't available."

Poile will tell you that trades are not the ideal way to build a team, but a few deals accomplished during this season have helped the Capitals set team records for victories and points, not to mention their defeat of the New York Islanders, three games to none, in the opening round of the playoffs.

The most prominent acquisition was that of goalie Pete Peeters from the Boston Bruins on Nov. 14 for goalie Pat Riggin. Peeters was excellent in the Capitals' sweep of the Islanders, allowing only four goals in the three games to the team that had eliminated Washington the previous three seasons.

On Dec. 6, left wing Jorgen Pettersson arrived from Hartford in a swap for Doug Jarvis. Then, on March 10, defensemen Greg Smith and John Barrett were released from exile in Detroit, while defensemen Darren Veitch and Peter Andersson were sent to Detroit and Quebec, respectively.

Poile hastens to mention that making trades is a group decision, and part of a plan formulated at the end of each season.

"There is consultation with a lot of people -- the coaches, all of our scouts and myself," he said. "We sit down and review the year at the end of the season. We say, 'Why did we beat this team? Why did we not beat that team?' "

Often, timing is everything.

"Like anything in life, I suppose, you've got to be in the right place at the right time," Poile said. "You have to know what everyone's situation is, but you also have to know what you want to do. There's always a chance somebody could be available, but you have to be ready.

"There was nothing wrong with our goaltending in November, but the thinking as far as a change was done long before November. The fact that we traded Peter Andersson and Darren Veitch on the trading deadline wasn't ideal. If you do it in November, it gives Barrett and Smith a better chance to blend in. But the timing for the trade was there then."

Coach Bryan Murray had become dissatisfied with the play of Veitch and Andersson and was looking to acquire more aggressive players.

"It was a combination of muscle, toughness and a little more experience than Veitch or Andersson," Poile said.

That deal began to show its greatest value against the Islanders. One of the Capitals' problems the previous few years had been that defenseman Rod Langway tended to be worn out by the time the playoffs arrived. Now, as Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin said in describing the biggest change in the Capitals, they can play six defensemen. That leaves all of them fresher, especially in the third period.

"Greg and I play a little bit more physical game, and that's important to getting out of this division. I've never been much of a fighter, but you've got to do whatever it takes to win. Hopefully, I can intimidate a few players a little just by playing aggressively and hitting."

Smith, 30, with his fourth NHL team, has definitely enjoyed coming to Washington, and his pairing with Stevens has been a success so far, with Stevens collecting two goals and four assists in the Islanders series.

The dividend on the Pettersson trade has not been as great as was expected. The scoring he was supposed to provide hasn't materialized. He had eight goals and 16 assists in 47 regular-season games with the Capitals.

"Of course, it's not as much as we expected," Poile said. "Certainly, there's disappointment over Jorgen's production, but I'm sure he shares that disappointment. One thing you can't replace is talent and Jorgen Pettersson is a talent. He has the potential to make the big play, score the big goal. We're sticking with him and he'll play and, hopefully, do something more against the Flyers or Rangers."