The deadline has passed. The contenders have loaded up. Plans have been made for the future, be it long-term team architecture or the short term with eyes on playing some extended Spring Hockey.
And Dennis Wideman and Marco Sturm along with Jason Arnott have made their way to D.C.
In many ways this makes a lot of sense.
But does it?
Let’s take a look at it from a pure hockey basis first.
The Capitals needed a second line center with a bit of size. Badly. Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson have not been the answer. How could they be? Both are rookies, neither of them sniff the 6-foot mark (both are generously listed — 5-foot 10-inches for Perreault and 5-foot 11-inches for Johansson) and, despite their feistiness, do not often win puck battles in the corners.
Arnott is 6-foot 5-inches and has played 1,076 more games than Perreault and Johansson combined. He is a guy who has been with winners and knows his way about the league. Not a lot of teams will look to get older when they make acquisitions, but in the Caps circumstance, it was necessary. The core of the Caps – Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin – are young, even if it seems like they have been around forever. Grand pappy Semin is at the ripe old age of 26 27.
Correction – March 4, 1:18 p.m., 2011: Alexander Semin’s birthday was the March 3, the day this article published and is indeed 27 years old, not 26. I apologize for the error.
The Capitals need some senior leadership. The best they had before the deadline was Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich. Both, it should be added, are standup individuals respected throughout the league. I do not know what kind of a leader Arnott is, I have never met him and only covered a handful of Devils games in my career.
Wideman and Sturm on the other hand, I know all too well.
I have shed more digital ink on these two players than almost anybody else in the NHL not named Blake Wheeler, Milan Lucic, Tuuka, Rask, Tim Thomas or Zdeno Chara. Especially Wideman. For the last several seasons I was on the Boston beat when both Wideman and Sturm were enigma pieces on Bruins playoff teams.
Sturm is another one of the good guys in the league. When he blew out his knee in the 2008-09 season and had surgery, he did not disappear from the Bruins’ dressing room the way a lot of players would have. He was constantly around, constantly part of the team. When the playoffs rolled around, it was Sturm who designed the team playoff hat and the team motto. He is a solid, intelligent person off the ice and exactly the type of person the Caps need to hold some of the “Young Guns” accountable. It probably helps the dressing room dynamic that he is European (German) because at times it seems like the Russian Contingent floats in its own little world. While friendly with the North Americans on the team, sometimes it seems like there is a missing dynamic. There are only a handful of people in the league who would be good on bridging that gap and Marco Sturm is one of them.
On a hockey basis, Sturm is overrated. Always has been. He is known as a scorer, but through his career he has never once topped the 30-goal plateau. He has a good hockey IQ but at times the last several seasons if you blinked, you completely missed his shift. He is not flashy or prolific, is a decent passer with a good wrist shot. The problem with Sturm is that he has no knees. Literally. He has had major surgery on each of his knees the last two seasons that has sapped him of the greatest part of his game – speed. As good of a hockey player that he was and an off-the-ice presence that he is, Sturm may have two years left in the NHL.
Wideman is a different story. This is a player who had perhaps one of the worst stretches of any player in the NHL last year and basically was run out of Boston after the season ended by the fan base and the front office. He has qualities that the Capitals need though, so he has value to this team.
Washington has had trouble moving the puck through the neutral zone all year. When you look at that offense and wonder why the Caps have not been scoring, look at how they break from the trapezoid behind their own net through the neutral zone. It is a mess. Gaining the opposing blue line with a semblance of organization and controlled-momentum is important in hockey. The Red Wings are great at it, so are the Canucks.
Wideman can help with this. He is a good skater and puck handler with a decent eye for passing to open players in front of the net. His shot from the blue line is lively if erratic (he has a tendency to injure his own teammates with that shot, ask Patrice Bergeron) and helps creates a decent amount of assists. Wideman made a play in Game 7 of the Bruins/Flyers semifinals series last year that is an excellent example of his skill as a puck mover. Wideman took a rebound and settled the puck and drove down the right wing, through a couple of Flyer defenders and down close to the goal line in the right corner — “coast-to-coast,” as they would say in basketball. He then flipped a backhand dish towards the crease were Lucic was able to bang the puck home to give Boston a 3-0 lead (it did not hold on, of course, but that is a different story). If the Bruins had won that game, Wideman’s season from hell would have been vindicated.
They did not and Wideman was shipped to Florida for Nathan Horton.
In the dressing room, Wideman is one of the guys. The wringer that is the Boston media seems to have jaded him a touch and his smile is not quite as quick as it once was. He can be sullen and snippy and has perfected the professional athlete’s art of answering a question without really saying anything at all (to be fair, there are not a lot of players who truly speak their minds these days). He is no Marc Savard, who will make fun of media by shouting to other players in the dressing room, but he is not far behind.
In overview, the Caps got better on the ice with Arnott and Wideman, filling two glaring needs in their game. They were not the best options available but each fit the profile and came cheap. Washington got better off the ice with Sturm, who should be a good presence even if he does not end up playing or producing all that much.
Will it all add up and turn the Caps back into the juggernaut they were last season? I do not see it. The holes were plugged but the impact is missing. Their chances of getting passed the first round of the playoffs definitely improved but a Stanley Cup run? Not quite yet.