Yesterday was the NHL’s trading deadline for the 2009-10 season. Many hockey pundits (or wannabes, like yours truly) thought the Washington Capitals might make a minor move or two, or possibly stand pat with the current lineup. When it was announced on Tuesday that Flyers goalie Ray Emery was out for the season for hip surgery, I especially thought for sure the Caps would do some dealing with the hated Flyers. Let’s face it, the Caps have a strong backlog in goal – Theodore’s finally proving himself (though I think it’s a little too late for any hope of contract renewal), Varly’s been solid – when not injured, and both Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby show significant promise for the future.
But once again, GM George McPhee had other plans. The Caps made four moves in the eleventh hour yesterday, pulling in two forwards (Eric Belanger, Scott Walker) and two defensemen (Joe Corvo, Milan Jurcina) and shedding Brian Pothier and Oskar Osala from the rolls. Osala has spent most of his Caps career with the AHL Hershey Bears, so his absence is a non-factor outside of potential future development. McPhee instead gave away four draft picks (three in the 2010 draft, one in the 2011 draft) in his wheeling and dealing.
So, what to make of this roster “shake-up”?
Snagging Joe Corvo from Carolina is probably the best deal of the day for the Caps. They’ve gained a solid defenseman who will be a monster on the power play. It’s a great addition to the blue line; as an added bonus, Corvo played under Coach Bruce Boudreau with the AHL Lowell Lock Monsters and the Manchester Monarchs between 2000 and 2003, rattling off 31 goals and 109 points in 183 games during that shared stretch. It’s a better trade for the Caps, as Pothier has had concussion problems lately, limiting much of his playing time for the hard-charging Caps.
Another solid grab is trading a second-round pick for Minnesota Wild Eric Belanger. He’s considered an “everyman” center, who can do a little of everything. He’s an unrestricted free agent after this season, however, so it’s little loss if he doesn’t pan out as the Caps hope he will.
The more “awkward” trade is the one for Scott Walker. He’s the Carolina winger who sucker-punched Boston’s Aaron Ward during last year’s playoffs. There’s no doubt he brings grit and playoff experience to the Caps, but is it worth his potential goonerism? I’m wondering if McPhee felt the team needed another Donald Brashear – though honestly, the team seems pretty capable of taking care of their own already. Jason Chimera has been a great help in that; not quite sure what Walker brings to the table that isn’t more than mid-level talent. At least the price wasn’t that high – the Caps only surrendered a seventh round pick from this year’s draft for Walker.
Finally, welcome back defenseman Milan Jurcina. Who restarts his Caps career with a sports hernia, obtained during the Olympics. This one’s a head-scratcher, as Jurcina came back for only a conditional draft pick – but the Caps are well-suited on the blue line without him. It’s possible McPhee’s setting the team up with a solid defensive corps to rotate through the last part of the season, to keep the team as rested as possible. Defensive play is huge during the playoffs, and this may well be the strategy the Caps are taking to go for a deep run into the NHL’s “second season.”
So – will this trade deadline bonanza be considered the tide-turner? Only time – and a deep playoff run will tell. For Caps fans, this may be the tweaking needed to fine-tune the team into a possible Cup win.