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March 14, 2011
Illegal Curve
Capital Decisions

by Richard Pollock

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The Washington Capitals have had heartbreaking losses in each of the last three playoff seasons. Losing in overtime of Game 7 to the Flyers three seasons ago was harsh, losing to the hated Penguins in Round 2 the season after did not help heal that still fresh wound from the season prior and losing in Game 7 to the inferior Montreal Canadiens last season capped the team's unfortunate playoff results.

Make no mistake: GM George McPhee had those three playoff losses in mind when making the decision to acquire three veteran players the week of the NHL's recent trade deadline. McPhee is a thoughtful general manager, one who is judicious in his roster moves and has shown little panic over his entire tenure in the United States Capital. It is with that background, which, by the way, is certainly not news to Capitals fans that provides us with the lens with which to evaluate the team's recent transactions.

C Jason Arnott

The Capitals traded David Steckel and a 2012 second round pick to the New Jersey Devils on deadline day for veteran center Jason Arnott. Arnott was having an awful season, like most New Jersey Devils players prior to Jacques Lemaire's arrival, posting a measly 26 points in 66 games.

On one hand, Arnott is 36 years old and has played a fairly rough style since his first season in the NHL in 1993-94. On the other hand, the veteran has been a very productive forward for Nashville over the last four seasons. More simply, one could say there has been a lot of tread on his tires and portray that in a good way or a bad way.

Let's take a closer look at Arnott's past three seasons and this current season:

Season		GP	P	TOI		Points/60	PPP/60
2007-08		79	72	18:59		2.65		3.46
2008-09		65	57	18:55		2.54		3.21
2009-10		63	46	18:42		1.75		4.42
2010-11		66	26	15:31		1.42		2.30

Not surprisingly, as Arnott has reached his mid-30s, he has slowed down season by season. Aside from Arnott's power play numbers in 2009-10, his points, ice-time and points per 60 minutes all dropped season by season. That said, Arnott is almost assuredly not as bad as his numbers were in New Jersey this season. Just take a look at the other productive NHL players under John MacLean this season—almost all of them were off considerably from their career production.

What Arnott does bring is a defensively responsible center, faceoff efficiency at approximately 50% (so not a liability, but not close to David Steckel's proficiency), a straight-ahead game and the ability to play with top six forwards—like Alex Semin. Arnott is not what he once was, but McPhee knows that. If Arnott can perform at last season's respectable rate, McPhee will be happy to have landed a second line center for the stretch run without giving up a first round pick.

LW Marco Sturm

Being acquired for essentially nothing by the Los Angeles Kings from Boston and then being acquired by the Capitals for nothing can sure serve as a wakeup call for a proven second line left winger like Marco Sturm. Sturm made a name for himself in San Jose with wheels, a knack for short-handed markers and of course, being a significant part of the Joe Thornton trade.

If Sturm was available for so little, let's examine why. Well, aside from his fairly burdensome $3.5 million contract, that is.

Here are Sturm's past three seasons of production and his production in limited ice-time this season:

Season		GP	P	TOI		Points/60	PPP/60
2007-08		80	56	18:00		1.86		4.58
2008-09		19	13	16:01		2.41		4.94
2009-10		76	37	16:46		1.44		3.09
2010-11		21	9	14:11		1.66		2.48

The German winger is only 32 years old but has had his fair share of injuries over the past couple years. Sturm missed the majority of the 2008-09 season with concussion and knee problems. This season he started with a torn ACL and MCL, so Sturm's legs have been through quite a bit in the past few seasons. For a player whose game is very much built on speed, his effectiveness has waned with persistent leg problems. However, his efficiency at even strength is still respectable and with limited ice-time in Washington, against lesser competition, he should be able to exploit some of the opposing team's weaker defenders. When a veteran with the pedigree of Sturm comes available for nothing and a team has the cap space, there seems to be little, if any, downside.

D Dennis Wideman

The Dennis Wideman acquisition for prospect Jake Hauswirth and a 2011 third round pick was a deft move by GM McPhee. Wideman is a smooth skating, puck-moving defenseman who presents as an upgrade in depth for the Capitals' back-end. When Tom Poti and Mike Green return to the lineup, the Capitals defense will have depth problems for the first time in years. The addition of Wideman provides the Capitals with seven very capable NHL defensemen and provides a nice speed element to contrast a veteran like Scott Hannan who does not skate like he once did.

Wideman has had wild fluctuations in his plus-minus but that stat, as set out on this website many times, is flawed. More importantly, the statistics below set out that he is capable of contributing to a team in a number of ways.

Here are Wideman's past three seasons of productivity and his production in limited ice-time this season:

Season		GP	P	TOI	Quality of Competition of D on team
2007-08		81	36	25:09	4th on BOS	
2008-09		79	50	24:39	4th on BOS	
2009-10		76	30	23:33	2nd on BOS	
2010-11		65	34	24:01	3rd on FLA	

Capitals fans should be happy to see that Wideman logs a lot of minutes and plays in almost every one of his team's games. That type of reliability should not be understated. His hockey sense and decision-making does present issues but the positives outweigh the negatives overall.

Players that are able and trusted to log time at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill are not generally available—never mind available for an ECHL prospect and a third round pick.

Overall

Adding Jason Arnott up front takes heat off of players like Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich. Adding a player like Marco Sturm provides this team with an element of offensive depth, which cost only money and carries no real downside. Adding a player like Dennis Wideman adds a horse to the back-end with speed and the ability to log big minutes. What's more, Arnott and Sturm do not carry contractual obligations past this season and Wideman is only signed for one more season at a $3.8 million cap hit. Giving up money, David Steckel, a 2012 second round pick and a 2011 third round pick to acquire three veteran players who provide scoring, depth and playoff experience seems like more than a reasonable price to pay.

With expectations for Washington seemingly lowered around the NHL, this may just be the time for the Capitals to pounce and make that run to the Stanley Cup Final—or at least to the third round.

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Draft Mid-Terms (03/14)
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