Caps Add Scoring, Experience at Deadline

With three days remaining until the NHL’s trading deadline, the Washington Capitals seemed quiet for a team that many felt needed to make some moves. As other contenders added pieces, the Capitals stood idle.

But on Saturday, that began to change: General Manager George McPhee claimed Kings winger Marco Sturm off waivers in the first of three moves for the Caps. By today’s deadline, the Caps had also acquired Dennis Wideman (for prospect Jake Hauswirth and a third round pick) and Jason Arnott (for center David Steckel and a 2012 second round pick).

The players all fill holes for Washington. Sturm can play a good two-way game and still score some goals. Wideman is a great power play quarterback, who will be especially important with both Tom Poti and Mike struggling with injuries. And Arnott, a Cup winner and veteran, will occupy the second-line center spot for Washington, which has been a major weakness all year.

And perhaps most importantly: the three players have a combined 188 games of playoff experience. For a team that has just one series win in this decade, having players who have produced in the playoffs and have been there is very important.

The Caps also did not give up much in return for their additions; Sturm was a waiver-wire pick up and the only roster player lost was Steckel. The draft picks could be damaging, but considering the roster is mostly set for the next few years, the draft picks would have a hard time making the club regardless. Steckel’s role can be filled by Boyd Gordon, who is also known for his face off abilities.

The Arnott deal fills the biggest void for the Caps right now. Their second line center has been a revolving door all year long, as Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson, Tomas Fleischmann (now in Colorado, but injured) and Brooks Laich have all seen looks. With Arnott’s addition, the Caps can place Johansson on the third line and move Perreault back to Hershey. Arnott brings with him experience, leadership, and some toughness that has been absent all year from the Capitals’ centers.

Arnott’s numbers are not mind-blowing (24 points in 62 games), but the move is about more than just statistics. The Capitals have needed more players who have won deep in the playoffs, and Arnott is just that. His contract is also very friendly – an unrestricted free agent after this season – which means the Caps can have some flexibility next season, when they can turn to a more experienced Johansson and perhaps prospect Cody Eakin to fill the void.

Before Arnott’s acquisition, though, the Caps addressed their power play issue by bringing in Wideman, who has eight power play goals this year. While it’s surprising that the Caps, with all their talent on offense, need power play help, they do, and Wideman can do so. With Poti still out with injuries and Green’s status also in question, Wideman can bring a booming shot from the point to a power play that needs a quarterback.

Wideman, like Arnott, is no stranger to the postseason; in 30 games, he has 22 points with a plus-4 rating.

Sturm, who has played with Wideman in Boston, has 52 games of his own, and while he’s still recovering from major knee surgery, he’s scored 20 goals in his last seven full NHL seasons. Getting offensive help while also getting playoff veterans is exactly what Washington needed.

All in all, the moves Washington made today made the team much better than it was five days ago, especially when you consider the moves other contenders have made. They added veteran experience and some depth without giving up much of the future. To me, this deadline feels more like 2008 than 2010; last year, Joe Corvo, Eric Belanger, and Scott Walker did not add much to the team. The moves felt like trades for the sake of trades. In 2008, though, Sergei Fedorov, Matt Cooke, and Cristobal Huet each addressed a specific need, and each filled the need beautifully.

This year’s additions feel much more like those than 2010’s, though it is very early to say that. Time will tell, but if the new players can fit in quickly, this Caps team may have added the pieces necessary to make the deep run at the playoffs they’ve been waiting for.

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