The Washington Capitals dealt forwards Chris Simon and Andrei Nikolishin to Chicago yesterday for center Michael Nylander, the fifth new player brought in by General Manager George McPhee in a month.
Nikolishin, an unsigned restricted free agent, did not figure in Washington's plans; Simon was a fan favorite but his production has been declining steadily. The Capitals also received a third-round pick in the 2003 draft and will get a third-round pick in 2004 if they do not re-sign Nylander, who may be eligible for unrestricted free agency at season's end, depending on league-wide salary figures.
Nylander, 30, spent the last three seasons in Chicago, averaging 21 goals and 38 assists a season. He has good size -- 6 feet 1, 195 pounds -- and gives Washington another option at the center position. The centers already on its roster -- Robert Lang, Jeff Halpern, Dainius Zubrus and Glen Metropolit -- have struggled winning faceoffs and have produced a total of just six goals in 10 games, with Lang accounting for half of them.
Nylander's arrival -- expected in time for tonight's game in Philadelphia -- presents new scoring options for a team that scored two goals or less in nine straight games before last night's contest against Tampa Bay. Nylander, who makes $1.75 million this season, finished among league leaders last season with 46 assists and posted his best season in 2000-2001, with 25 goals and 64 points.
"Nylander is a gifted offensive player," McPhee said. "Now that we've reached the 10-game point, if there is a remedy that makes us better it's adding a little more offense. This player can produce. It's definitely an upgrade for us. It's hard to pass up a trade like this when you can get a player of this ability."
Simon, who had one year left on his contract worth $2.25 million (Chicago will pay the entire remainder), has not been effective since scoring a career-best 29 goals three seasons ago. Multiple shoulder surgeries prevented him from playing physical hockey and maintaining his reputation as the league's most feared fighter.
Simon has scored just one goal in his last 34 games dating from last season and had just two points in 10 games this season. He has scored 24 goals in 152 games since netting 29 goals in 75 games in 1999-2000. He began this season on the first line but failed to stick there, and his penchant for bad penalties led Coach Bruce Cassidy to bench and demote him.
Nikolishin, 29, signed a two-year deal with Chicago. The Capitals had not budged from their initial contract offer last summer -- the minimum qualifying offer (10 percent raise) required to retain a player's rights -- and negotiations had stalled months ago. He was a leader on the team, especially among the European players, but did not score often and the team wanted to work new centers into its lineup. Nikolishin and Simon were two of Washington's longest-serving forwards, acquired within a week of each other in November 1996.
"I don't know how I feel, there's too much emotion right now," Nikolishin said. "It's hard to say. I am really sad, because I wanted to stay here and I spent six years with this team and I think I did a lot for them. I have a lot of friends on this team and lots of memories, but I was sitting out for couple of months and nothing was happening and this will be good for both me and my new team."
McPhee has been the NHL's most active executive this season, acquiring winger Mike Grier from Edmonton, claiming Rick Berry, Andreas Salomonsson and Alex Henry off waivers and bringing in nine players who were not here at the end of last season.
Capitals Note: Defenseman Sylvain Cote, a 19-year veteran, was sent to the minors after playing in just one of 10 games, and center Brian Sutherby, a top prospect, was recalled from Portland, Maine. Cote, 36, makes $1.5 million in the final year of the three-year deal and seems unlikely to play again for Washington. Sutherby was one of the final preseason cuts and was suffering from a shoulder injury at the time. "We've always thought Brian could be a good fourth-line center for us this year," McPhee said. "He's a smart player and he's good defensively, so he's perfect for that role."