March 1 will be ‘Black Friday’ for National Hockey League general managers.
The 2017 NHL trade deadline, a mere four days away, will be remembered for the decisions of all 30 franchises. Teams must agree to trades before 3 p.m. ET on March 1. Deadline day presents an exciting conundrum for teams contending for the Presidents’ Trophy, and it serves as an opportunity for teams at the bottom of the standings to build toward the future.
The Washington Capitals (41-12-7, 89 points), holding a grasp on the Presidents’ Trophy, are buyers. Yet, remaining absent on the trade tracker at this point is a viable option. With eyes on the Stanley Cup, moving a player could disrupt the chemistry of the team.
Since the 2004-05 lockout, Washington has pulled off a total of 21 trades on or within a few days leading up to the NHL trade deadline. These trades involved 41 players and 17 draft picks.
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The decisions of general manager Brian MacLellan, who has been in office since May 2014, and his staff, will impact the team in the short run and long run. Let’s review some trades made by the Capitals in the past 11 years.
Witt to the Preds
In the spring of 2006, the Nashville Predators were looking for support on defense. Caps defenseman Brendan Witt could provide leadership and experience to Nashville. In exchange, the Predators gave up Kris Beech and their first-round draft pick who turned out to be Semyon Varlamov. Witt finished the season in Nashville where he and his new teammates were swept in the first round. Witt signed with the New York Islanders during the summer.
Washington won the trade. Beech suited up in 73 games as a Capital while Varlamov posted a 2.39 GAA and .916 save percentage in two seasons with Washington. The Capitals packaged Varlamov out because of an overcrowded net that featured Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun. Soon, a series of injuries led to a young Braden Holtby earning the No. 1 status as the team’s franchise backbone. Who knows what would have happened had Washington held on to Varlamov.
Giroux to the Rescue
Washington acquired minor-league scorer Alexandre Giroux from the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) in exchange for AHL sniper Joe Motzko. Giroux spent the majority of his tenure with the Capitals on the club’s farm team, the Hershey Bears, where he played the best years of his career. He ranked first in regular-season scoring in 2009 (97 points) and was second in 2010 (103 points) behind teammate Keith Aucoin. Giroux and Aucoin led the Bears to back-to-back Calder Cup titles. AHL success gave future Capitals Eric Fehr, Karl Alzner, Braden Holtby, John Carlson and Jay Beagle a taste of winning professional championships.
Acquiring the ‘Capitals Killer’
To save the 2013-14 season, former Capitals general manager George McPhee traded Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla to the Buffalo Sabres for goaltender Jaroslav Halak and Buffalo’s third-round draft pick. In 2010, Halak had rallied the Montreal Canadiens from a 3-1 series deficit to upset the Caps. The Canadiens became the first No. 8 seed team to overcome a 3-1 hole against a No. 1 seed to win a playoff series. Washington, on the other side, would remember his name.
Halak became available in 2014 when the Sabres were beginning their rebuild. The Capitals jumped on the opportunity for the Slovakian goaltender, hoping he could spark the team in the final weeks of their season. Halak posted a 5-4-3 record. This was the last year Washington did not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. After a reorganizational assessment, the franchise took strides in the right direction.
A Tough Call
“It’s hard to do,” MacLellan said.
General Manager MacLellan had just traded Brooks Laich, the team’s longest-tenured Capital, to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Daniel Winnik. Washington also gave up defensive prospect Connor Carrick and a 2016 second-round pick in order to acquire Winnik and a 2016 fifth round pick. The trade, emotionally speaking, was controversial. Laich spent 11 years in Washington’s red sweater. He was part of the team from the struggling years amid the 2000s to their rebirth of dominance over the past couple seasons.
From a business perspective, the move was logical. Laich carried an overpriced cap hit for playing on the team’s fourth line. Winnik tallied more points than Laich, came at a cheaper price and skated faster on the fourth line. Winnik was also two years younger than Laich.
“You want him [Laich] to be a part [of the team]. He’s earned it, you know? He likes the team, and we’re a good team going forward. It’s frustrating, but we had to do what’s necessary to keep the organization and keep the team going forward here,” MacLellan stated.
Me and u together since my 1st year..We make this team together! Im gonna miss u bro good luck to u!Gonna miss u! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/feKvUGV6TK
— Alex Ovechkin (@ovi8) February 29, 2016
Those are some influential trades from the past 11 years of midseason shopping. Washington finds itself in the same predicament it had last year. MacLellan feels like his guys are excelling in their roles this season. However, Washington cannot predict for everything that happens down the stretch. There are numerous, uncalculated events that lead to and happen during the playoffs.
Losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 was due to the Penguins riding out an insane hot streak. Coming into the final 20 games, Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom (fifth in league scoring) and the rest of the Caps are focused on one thing: winning the Stanley Cup. Trades are up to management.
Michael Mazzuca graduated from The University of Scranton with a degree in journalism and electronic media. Mike began writing for The Hockey Writers in December 2016. He has written for the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as well as the Rockland Boulders independent baseball team. Follow him on Twitter at @MazzucaMike.