He had tried to avoid the rumors, spending time away from hockey after another early postseason exit. But if the ambient noise didn’t reach T.J. Oshie, text messages from his friends certainly did. At first, he thought the St. Louis Blues might have traded him last weekend at the NHL draft, but when that passed he reconsidered. Maybe the 28-year-old winger would stay put, in the city of the team that drafted him a decade ago. Maybe Oshie would, as he believed last summer, retire there, too.
Then came Thursday afternoon, when the Blues began talking with the Washington Capitals, who, despite landing one of the top free agent forwards on the open market the day before, were still hunting bigger game. And soon a deal was formed: Oshie, the American hero from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, was traded for forward Troy Brouwer, goaltender prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in next year’s draft.
“My initial reaction was a little bit of shock, even though I knew it was a possibility,” Oshie said. “Then after a couple minutes I started getting excited. I’m just really excited to go onto the next chapter of my career. [They were] a team that had a really good chance of winning a Stanley Cup last year. I’m just excited to be included as a piece for the puzzle.”
The move marks the latest alteration to the Capitals’ core made by General Manager Brian MacLellan, who last summer handed $67.75 million to defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. Deep into the first night of free agency Wednesday, he landed right winger Justin Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup winner and a possession monster, for two years and $6.5 million.
Now comes adding two years of Oshie, at $4.175 million in average annual value — no salary was retained by either side, according to an individual with knowledge of the situation — to the top six beside Williams, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and one more forward, likely either Marcus Johansson or Andre Burakovsky. A hero for the United States during their 3-2 shootout victory over Russia in Sochi, Oshie has notched at least 50 points in his past three full NHL seasons. In 2014-15, his 2.27 even-strength points per 60 minutes would have put him far ahead of Backstrom for the team lead, according to war-on-ice.com.
“I’d feel like a kid in a candy store, I guess, playing with that caliber of player,” Oshie said when asked about Ovechkin and Backstrom.
Less than two months removed from his 30th birthday, Brouwer will return to the Midwest. Four summers ago, the Chicago Blackhawks dealt the big-bodied forward to the Capitals for a first-round pick, shipping away his Stanley Cup-winning pedigree and consecutive 36-point seasons.
Hours before his cellphone buzzed with news of the trade, Brouwer arrived at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for another morning workout. He had made skating a focal point this summer, and with his current contract annually worth $3,666,666 expiring after next season, his motivation was palpable. Once finished, he spent several minutes chatting with a reporter, catching up on the moves Washington had made and wondering what might come next. Later, he asked Coach Barry Trotz similar questions, which made the evening’s events all the more stunning.
“Pretty shocked actually,” Brouwer said. “I know the team for a while has been trying to find somebody that can fit in and play on the Capitals’ top line. I know they tried to find it in a few different places. Talking to a few people already, it seemed like this deal came together pretty quickly.”
Included in the deal as a potential No. 3 goaltending option on St. Louis’s organizational depth chart, the 23-year-old Copley comes highly regarded from Washington, which had projected him to open next season as its starting goaltender for the Hershey Bears. Copley went 17-4-3 for the Bears last season with a 2.17 goals against average and .925 save percentage.
The Capitals had begun exploring trade options early into the offseason, when MacLellan proclaimed adding a top-six forward among his most pressing priorities. They had sniffed around Chicago’s Brandon Saad, since dealt to Columbus, and Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly, since dealt to Buffalo, among others. And while signing Williams represented a cost-effective addition, apparently addressing their top-six need, MacLellan remained active, consummating a deal roughly five hours after he spoke on a teleconference and this about activity in the trade market:
“There’s probably still some jockeying going on, based on what’s left in free agency,” he said.
For the newest Capital, the pending move — not the transaction but the actual schlep to D.C. — will be the first of his NHL career after 443 games and 310 points for the Blues. He already reached out to defenseman Taylor Chorney, a fellow graduate of the University of North Dakota, who signed a one-year, $700,000 deal Thursday afternoon. The Capitals reached out to him, too, offering advice about living locations near their facility.
Then he needed to hop onto a teleconference to speak about the move he sensed might have been coming. For the final question, he was asked about the connection between his Olympic success for the United States and the new city he will soon inhabit and whether that was kismet.
“It’s going to be really cool to wear the red, white and blue again,” he replied.
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