Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Best Trades Are Often the Ones You Don't Make

We have to admit, we're glad things were slow around the office today so we could watch the trades come in and Darwin's Waiting Room go into total meltdown mode over the Caps not making any trades today. This of course means that once again Ted Leonsis is a fraud and General Manager George McPhee is incompetent as they sat around on their hands all day while such luminaries as Steve Eminger and Olaf Kolzig were traded and the Caps didn't get in on this action.

But while we think that this team could have used a trade to shake some things up in the locker room and provide some new blood happy to be here; sometimes, making a trade just to make a trade is a very bad idea.

So let's take a look a trade the Caps were probably in on from the start, the Bill Guerin trade. Tarik's protestations aside, there is good reason to believe he was coming here for a pick and prospect. The Caps quickly recalled Jay Beagle without explanation on Saturday night and have been willing to deal draft picks in the past, see last year's trade for Cristobal Huet. However, Guerin did not come to Washington on Sunday or today, he ended up going to Pittsburgh for a third round draft pick.

This ends up being a win because the Caps because, the Islander's price for Guerin dropped. So by not making the deal the Caps keep their draft pick and whatever prospect the Islanders had in mind (we wonder if it really was Beagle). Furthermore, while Guerin would have provided more leadership, more "grit," and could have been very happy going from a last place team to a first place team, Bill Guerin is still 37 and may not have been able to keep up with the rest of the team. In other words, he's slow. Also keep in mind that as Corey Masisak reported the Caps have the maximum number of contracts allowed under the CBA. The Caps would have to get rid of a contract in order to bring another one on so making a single trade of a player for a pick was impossible. Finally, Guerin would be a complete and total rental, he's a UFA after this season. $4.5 million to come back may be too much to give him and Sergei (#3) Fedorov but retirement is just as likely. We're not too terribly upset that we missed out on this deal.

Another player who could have helped was Derek Morris of the Phoenix Coyoes. Phoenix ended up trading him to the New York Rangers for Dmitri Kalinin, Nigel Dawes, and Petr Prucha. While any hard hitting stay at home defenseman faster and quicker than John "Coach's Pet" Erskine Bowles would be a welcome addition, there aren't that many of them available in the first place. That's why Morris, who is already 30 years old and a UFA after the season, yielded so much in return for the Coyotes. Kalinin is 28, Dawes 24, and Prucha 26. While Prucha has been injury prone since his rookie season, Kalinin and Dawes have decent upsides, Dawes especially. And should Prucha get and stay healthy, you have a former 30 goal scorer on your roster.

Speak for yourself be we wouldn't have been happy if McPhee had traded some combination of Jeff "Sergeant" Schultz, Shaone Morrrissonnn, Tomas Fleischmann, and Eric Fehr for just Derek Morris. Yes it would have upgraded our blueline, but the cost to the rest of the team would have more than offset the addition and made the trade not worth it.

However, the real cause for McPhee sitting out today's activities was Michael "Meadowlark" Nylander's contract. The Caps owe him $8.5 million over two seasos after this one ends. His cap figure is locked in at $4.875 million and to make matters worse, he has a no movement clause which is why we haven't been able to move him all season. The Caps can't even place Nylander on waivers without his permission. (Think he'd agree to that???) We can't begrudge Nylander for exercising his contract rights nor do we blame McPhee for giving him those rights two years ago. Nobody could have foreseen that Nylander would bomb the way he has.

So what are the Caps left to do with this lemon of a contract? Do the Caps continue keep him as healthy scratch or do they let him play down the stretch and in the playoffs? He works pretty well with Fleischmann and Fehr. Viktor Kozlov disappears when the playoffs start and Nicklas Backstrom still struggles in tight checking games so an experienced top line center is still needed on this team.

Should the Caps buy him out after the season? Well, that would cost the Caps about $5.67 million this June. It would also put him on their cap for the next four season at about $3.4579 million next year, $3.2921 million the year after that, and $1.42 million in the each of the last two years. If they were to retain him for depth purposes as noted above for another year and then buy him out in 2010; the cap hit would drop to $2.875 million in 2010-2011 and $1 in 2011-2012, saving over $1 on the cap in 2012-2013. We could see the Caps going either way on this though we would lean towards keeping him around for another year for depth purposes provided he does not become a locker room cancer. Of course if McPhee can swing a deal, by all means do it.

But getting back to the trading deadline this year, we ask what did Detroit do last year? They won the Cup and only got Brad Stuart at the deadline from Los Angeles for a 2nd round pick in 2008 and a 4th rounders in 2009. Major trades at the deadline aren't needed to win the Cup when you have enough talent to begin with. The most active teams today are the ones that found themselves lacking something. That can be interpreted as a bad sign.

Again, while we're disappointed that there weren't any deals done today, the Caps were right to think long term. Yes, we need help on the blueline and could use a little more "grit" up front. A veteran to sit behind Jose "Alvin, Simon," Theodore wouldn't have been a bad idea either. But any of that had to come at the right price. As the Guerin trade showed, the price was clearly higher for Caps because of their place in the standings and the overall organizational depth.

Furthermore, and please hear us out on this one, maybe we don’t want to win a Cup this year anyway. That's right, it may not be the best idea in the world to go all in after a Stanley Cup this season. We're still a young team and there are players on rookie deals and others heading into arbitration eligibility who would expect big raises with Cup rings already on their fingers. With the current economic conditions, future cap space is too much in doubt to set yourself up for hefty raises to a lot of players.

We also happen to think and want to believe that the goal of the franchise is not to just win one Cup. The whole idea is to win 3-4 Cups over 6-7 year span. There's plenty of time for guys like A.O., Alexander "Slappy" Semin, and Mike "BEAM ME UP" Green to drink from Lord Stanley's Chalice. There's no need to rush things. Look at what Pitt did last year at the trading deadline trying to rush things and what it has meant for this season and beyond. Do you really want that for the Caps? We sure don't.

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