Back in the Cup Conversation

If George McPhee’s Monday morning began on a hotseat, likely it ended in repose on something closer to a throne. Or at least, hopefully: a good leather recliner in his Maryland home, with a bottle of Canadian beer in hand, fetched for him by his hockey playing and Caps’ loving son.

McPhee earned at least that for his deft and creative handiwork on hockey’s most frenetic and high-stakes business day.

On the radio last night, immersed in a multi-hour, post-deadline post mortem, I was joined by WNST’s Ed Frankovic, and Ed offered what I thought was a terrifically astute observation about the corner McPhee was backed into yesterday and how successfully he street-fought his way out. This was very much a seller’s market, with many buyers and high prices set for the limited assets up for auction. “McPhee landed some prized fish from a shallow pond,” Frankovic observed. Indeed.

Let’s be blunt: McPhee went into Monday presiding over an irrefutably flawed hockey club. You don’t get lodged in the league’s bottom third on the power play from bad luck. You don’t get shut out nearly 10 times through 60 games merely from complacency and systems adjustments. As winter begins to transition to spring hockey’s cognoscenti begin seriously vetting the Stanley Cup bona fides for a select handful of clubs who’ve demonstrated not only inordinate winning but champions’ traits through a season’s first three quarters. The Capitals have not been a part of that conversation in 2011. By 3:15 Monday afternoon, however, they rightly were returned to it.

The Capitals this morning are not a favorite per se for the Cup this spring. Instead, what seems to be fair to say about their newly re-engineered lineup is that, given decent health among the prized core, they are likely a seriously tough out this postseason. In this salary cap era of conspicuous parity, that’s really all you can ask for.

* * * * *

Marco Sturm, Dennis Wideman, and Jason Arnott are not All Star performers. They will not infiltrate the Capitals’ lineup beginning Tuesday night and litter the scoresheet with goals and assists. In fact, Sturm and Arnott are likely in the twilight of their respective careers. They’re rentals. But all three bring something of an imperative to a damaged product in red: street cred. Jason’s Arnott’s stick, for instance, is singularly responsible for his New Jersey Devils’ club lifting Lord Stanley in 2000.

That was a while ago, yes, but Arnott knows where he is in his hockey career, knows what he can bring to a talented Capitals’ club, and knows that he wants one more taste of hockey’s greatest glory. And he waived his no movement clause to get here.

Pittsburgh, if reports are true, was sniffing around Arnott a fair bit this deadline season. From the vantage of psychology I thought it was important for McPhee to best Ray Shero in this mutual pursuit. It was of course Shero who won the services of Bill Guerin in 2009, and a Guerin-aided Pens’ club that bested the Caps in seven games en route to a Stanley Cup. The Caps have owned the Pens in regular season play of late, they beat them in the biggest regular season game either team has played New Years Day, and they apparently beat Pittsburgh again yesterday on an important personnel matter. Now it’s time to get it done against them when it matters most.

Sturm, already taking paces with his new teammates Monday morning, was asked about Wideman, with whom he played in Boston. Back then Wideman was partnered with Zdeno Chara. Sturm called the Caps’ new power play specialist the Bs’ best defenseman in the 2008 postseason — not his Norris Trophy winning tower of shutdown partner.

Wideman may never have cause to purchase his own beer in this town for introducing himself as he did on his introductory press call with Washington media yesterday afternoon: with reverence did he drop Dale Hunter’s name. Wideman played his major junior hockey for Hunter in London. McPhee once again dialed up his old captain in vetting the Panthers’ blueliner. You could say that the Caps’ legend offered the GM a glowing assessment of Wideman.

* * * * *

The Capitals were rather universally declared the day’s big winner. It wasn’t a day of blockbuster wheeling and dealing — many impressive moves had been made well before Monday’s deadline. Still, it’s impossible not to admire the scope and ostensible impact of what George McPhee pulled off. JP I think it was who yesterday in social media space referred to McPhee as a “Ninja.” And that’s how Monday afternoon felt for Washington’s hockey fans.

What’s so ninja about his deadline dealings is his steadfast refusal to part with prized assets and still secure what he targets.

“We did not give away our first round pick, we did not give away any of our ‘A’ prospects,” he told media early Monday evening.

Think about who and what he’s parted with over the years to acquire the likes of Esa Tikkanen and Christobal Huet and Sergei Fedorov and now Dennis Wideman and Jason Arnott. He moves tier III prospects — Ted Ruth and Oskar Osala, for instance. On Monday he managed to get Florida to bite on one of his ECHLers, Jake Hauswirth. He strengthens his roster without weakening his development base a lick. And he commonly pursues veteran performers running out the final weeks on their contracts so as to mitigate hamstringing financial obligations of the future. Stan Bowman has a Cup, yes, but it sure looks like that was a seriously short-lived triumph.

There’s a lot to be said for assembling an accomplished team of amateur scouts, watching them haul in talent in rounds early, middle, and later, and as the keepers emerge in development, retaining them. This is an imperative for durable contention in a salary cap setup.

* * * * *

Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of McPhee’s work Monday, in its short-term implications, is what the trio of newcomers affords incumbent Capitals skaters. Jason Chimera has no business skating wing on a first line for a Cup contender. Marcus Johansson and his 40 percent faceoff acumen has no business carrying out top six responsibilities his rookie year. Now high-end third liners will skate on the Capitals’ third line. Quality second-liners will skate on a second line. Suddenly there is impressive balance from line to line where Sunday evening there was distressing doubt and misalignment.

* * * * *

We didn’t quite comprehend how it came to be that our Capitals — tier I Stanley Cup contenders by prognosticators last season and this —  managed to lose their elite swagger, but they lost it alright, in resounding fashion, right around Christmas. With his deft and creative maneuvering yesterday, George McPhee, again going ninja in late February, helped his club reclaim that swagger.

This entry was posted in 106.7 the Fan, Dale Hunter, Dennis Wideman, Ed Frankovic, George McPhee, Jason Arnott, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, New media, NHL Trades, Radio, Sky Kerstein, Ted Starkey, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Back in the Cup Conversation

  1. HITTMAN says:

    If Jason Arnott, Marco “ACL” Sturm, and Dennis “-27” Wideman are enough to regain swagger in the mind of Caps fans, we must have had some low self-esteem. While I’m glad to see GMGM make some noise on deadline day, I’m still waiting for him to address the root cause: Boudreau.

    It was obvious during 24/7 that the Pens excel no matter what because of the professionalism and intelligence of Bylsma. Note their winning ways despite serious injury depletions.

    Intelligence and professionalism are two traits that would not be included when describing Boudreau, who appeared in several interviews with spaghetti sauce on his face and dropped 80% of the F-bombs on that series. His time HAD come in December, yet he remains.

  2. Hittman, I think you woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. You are a well-named commenter.

  3. vt caps fan says:

    While I’m cool with these trades because we only gave up Stecks.(Stecks it’s been real best of luck in NJ). I’d love to be in the Blackhawks shoes. They have a Cup. So yeah GMGM might be planning for tomorrow but so was Al Groh (sorry had too).

    My main wish for Strum and Arnott – please get in front of the net. And for Wideman, whenever you are on the PP – shoot the puck.

  4. HITTMAN says:

    Yeah, not gonna lie, I hate Boudreau. Maybe it’s his commercials?

  5. Sam says:

    Hittman, if you’re going to use +/- to rate someone’s skill, then why isn’t Jeff Schultz’s name on the Cup or why wasn’t he the Hart winner last year?

    Cumulative +/- provides no value whatsoever. Game +/- is good only for comparing players that played in that particular game. If Wideman’s D partner goes out of position forcing Dennis to cover a 3-on-1 and the other team scores, that really isn’t his fault as a defenseman; it was his team’s fault. That’s why all five players are given a minus, not just the defenseman.

    Wideman’s -26 this year only means that his Florida Panther’s team was not good defensively. All teams give up goals. If the Panther’s didn’t score goals when Wideman was on the ice; how is that his fault? It’s the team’s fault.

    Likewise, Wideman was a +32 two years ago. He played on a good Bruins team.

    Do you think Jake Hauswirth would be better for the Caps?

  6. MadCap says:

    Hittman, can we please stop using “24/7” as a reference point for the coaching skills of Bylsma vs. Boudreau ? If that series had been filmed a month earlier, when the Caps were playing decent and the Pens were mired in a losing spell (and quite a few Pens fans on blogs were questioning whether Bylsma was a one-hit wonder with the Cup run), we’d probably have a different perspective of each. The case can be made that Bylsma is a better coach than Boudreau and that Boudreau is not the right man to lead the Caps to the next level, but “24/7” should not be the evidence that is pointed to for one to make this claim.

  7. Sam says:

    I agree Madcap. 24/7 was entertainment. Hundreds and hundreds of hours of footage were spliced to form 4 hours of television. The “spaghetti sauce” on Bruce’s face was already explained to be eczema. And, Hittman, if you think that Bruce is the only coach to use the f-bomb, you’ve obviously never played sports. You don’t think Tortorella or Peter Laviolette use the f-bomb during locker room speeches? It’s easy for someone like Bylsma to stay calm and cool when his team is winning.

    Hittman: since the 24/7 series showed about 10 minutes of intermission locker room time for Boudreau and Bylsma, what evidence do you have regarding their conduct the other 300+ minutes (each) that they’ve been in the locker rooms during intermissions while they were coaching at the NHL level? Since you’ve been in the locker room so much to see their conduct, how about you hook a brother up and take me along next time you’re invited?

  8. Pingback: Looking at the Caps’ 2011 Trade Deadline Day » We Love DC

  9. OvieTracker says:

    Given the fact that this was a seller’s market, I think GMGM did very well to return the Caps into the conversation about legit Cup contenders, as was said in the original post. MacPhee did his job to get the Caps their much needed 2C plus a puck moving D to fill the void in Green’s absence. Claiming Sturm off waivers was an unexpected coup, a bonus piece to the puzzle.

    Forget 24/7 and the entertaining TV experience it provided; now it’s up to Boudreau to play the pieces he has been given for the chess match, and for the players to execute. It’s all in their hands from this point onward.

  10. UVA Caps Fan says:

    VT Caps Fan…..i no joke loled at the Al Groh part. hahahah

    but about the Caps. idk why people are mad at the deals. i for one love what GMGM did. Sturm might not be what he once was but hes still pretty good. i mean out of the three guys the Caps got he might not produce the most points, but he is a good addition.

    as for Wideman, why would ANY Caps fan complain about picking him up and giving up pretty much nothing. Wideman was a beast for the B’s and has been pretty good for a crap FLA team. i mean for playing on a crap team he has better numbers than Green. speaking of Green, sense he will be out for weeks Wideman was a great pick up. put him on the point and watch him blast them. Wideman was a great pick up.

    and as for Arnott. once again why would Caps fan complain about this pick up? once again i LOVE this pick. when it got to around 1 min left in the deadline i was no joke yelling for GMGM to get Arnott. he was the best center out there. he has won a cup and has been in many playoff series. he might not put up the most points, but not to take anything away from stecks, Arnott is better. Arnott was on a crp team in NJ and still put up somewhat good numbers, if he is scoring with NJ he will deff score with the Caps. getting him not only takes the stree off the Caps young centers it takes the stress off Arnott, he had to do it all in NJ. now he actually has a team to help him.

    dont get me wrong i liked Stecks a lot, he was a great guy and good player. but lets get real here, what did he really do for the team other than win faceoffs on the PK? not much. he was a grinder and thats what i loved about him he went hard to the net and he had his chances. but Arnott has more expierence and has more skill than stecks. i wish stecks the best of luck and i thank him for his time with the Caps and how hard he played game in and game out.

    but all in all, i thought GMGM made the best trades in the last 5 years. to me imo this trade deadline is tied with when the Caps got Huet,Cooke,and Federov in 07-08. i think that these pickups (sturm,wideman,arnott) will produce more. i was telling everyone i talked to about the Caps that the trade deadline will show hockey fans and Caps fans where the Capitals stand and what we as fans can expect as far as playoffs go.

    with that being said i like the Caps chances on making a good long playoff run. i think that the Caps can and will make a run at the SE and like in 07-08 win it towards the end of the season. (hopefully not on the last game like 07-08). ill take an ECF series, and ill deff take a cup if it comes to that. i think in order to save the job of BB he needs to get to the ECF. if he wins a cup he will get an extension and a fat bonus.

    GO CAPS!….and CAVS!

  11. DC says:

    Hittman… you do realize that Boudreau is 3-0 against your boy Bylsma this year.. Yes, no?

  12. Rogan says:

    I agree mostly with what hittman says, except for the part of Boudreau being the root of the problem. I’m sure you’ve not said that the previous seasons since his taking over the bench boss position.
    You can see it in the skating, that the issue lies on the ice, not at the bench. There’s no desire shown to truly win, and win with punctuation. I do not believe that the three new rentals will make any difference. If they do, I’d be highly surprised.

    Caps: Surprise us and play like you really want to win.

  13. DONNAB says:

    Hittman are you a Caps fan? Let’s not get so negative before we see them play in a Caps jersey. I am excited for the game tonight. Anyone else excited about tonight? Right now I think Caps fans should be positive. I know Arnott is older but I think his presence in the dressing room could make a difference. Just maybe he is that guy Semin needs to keep him motivated. I don’t know much about Wideman but i did listen to him talk about the trade and when someone sounds that excited I am sure we will see it in his play. As for Sturm, I always thought he was really good. again I know he is older than he was when scoring 20 plus goals, but he could be a great fit!!.. GO CAPS!!

  14. Wahoowah, UVA Caps Fan!

  15. OvieTracker says:

    I’m excited DONNAB! How can I not be? I’m a big Caps fan and I want to see what the new players will do. I’m hoping new blood will excite the other players, hoping the offense can get going and the power play re-emerges. I’m happy the GM did something to lift the Caps out of their rut. The rest of the season and playoffs will be very interesting, much more so than if the GM had done nothing to make the Caps better.

  16. Patrick says:

    George Mcfee did some magic by giving up minimal to get what he got. We lost one good nhl player, and gained three quality nhl players. Everthing I read here in past articles was addressed yesterday. We wanted another puck-moving d—GOT IT, We asked for a in-your-face 2c—BAM, and just for good measure how about another proven left winger with a gritty-crashin’-the-net reputation—POW!! These are three players that were the cream of the proverbial crop, POOF!Now kwitcherbitchen!

  17. Patrick says:

    BTW, Hitman, I’ve seen the 24/7 footage and can speak from over 30 years of playing hockey, and 7 years of managing hockey, Boudreau’s rant was average at best compared to what I’ve seen and heard. Walk a mile in his shoes, It is frustrating as heck to have an extremely talented group that isn’t performing up to their potential. Each time it happens everybody points at the coach, and says that his job is on the line.
    One man a team does not make! It takes everyone giving everything!

  18. DONNAB says:

    I would also like to add that apparently Bruce has eczema and that is what was on his face. he was quite upset with the makeup people on HBO for “missing” the so called spaghetti sauce, but spaghetti sauce it was not. They just didn’t use enough make up to cover up the eczema. This is according to the TSN people. Another tid bit of info is BB was voted #1 by the NHL players as the coach players would most want to play for

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