Sports

Picking Splinters: Bolstering the Caps

If you said the Washington Capitals were cruising right now, it would be like saying a Porsche had decent pickup. Their league-leading mark of 3.82 goals per game is more than a half-goal better than any other squad, and for the duration of their 10-game winning streak, with which they entered the week, they’ve been scoring at an even higher clip, 4.67 in the month of January. Simply put, that’s an insane rate. And when I say “insane,” I don’t mean “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Insane,” I’m talking axe-through-the-door, “Here’s Johnny!” absurd.

But could it be temporary insanity? We know the Caps have a ton of offensive weapons, but even loaded teams have trouble sustaining a rate of that magnitude. For example, the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings couldn’t crack the four-goal-per-game barrier and that team put up a ridiculous 131 points in the standings that season.

So, likely as you read this, Capitals’ General Manager George McPhee is sitting in his office trying to figure out if this is sustainable. Given what we’ve seen over the past few seasons, I’m inclined to believe it to be more of a blip than any kind of continual breakthrough. And for that reason, I still think they could use a little help before the March 3 trade deadline.

In recent days a whole bunch of names have surfaced in connection with the Caps. Let’s take a look and see which players might fit best in a Washington jersey.

Ilya Kovalchuk – For weeks I’ve heard that Washington is in on the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes. Unless McPhee has been given a lobotomy in that time, I can’t imagine how this could be remotely true.

The one thing the Caps don’t need is more scoring, which is the main asset Kovalchuk would provide. Add in the cost – the Atlanta Thrashers are seeking both first-picks and first-born in exchange for their superstar – and the longterm potential – Kovalchuk is a free agent after this season – and there’s no way McPhee is realistically considering this trade. In exchange, Washington would likely have to give up a combination of its first-round pick, a prospect, a young NHL-ready player like Eric Fehr or Tomas Fleischmann and one of its young defensemen, either Karl Alzner or John Carlson.

Just like me getting a date with Evangeline Lilly, it ain’t happening.

Scott Niedermayer – Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Niedermayer is an intriguing player for a host of reasons. First and foremost, he’s defensively sound in a way that none of the current Washington D-men are. He’s a fast skater, like Mike Green, but with better positioning and more experience, including a few Stanley Cups.

He too would be a rental, as Niedermayer is a free agent at the end of the season and has contemplated retirement the past several seasons, but in his time in Washington there’s a very good chance that he could be the missing piece separating the Caps from a Cup. He would be a veteran presence on the ice that Washington could match against opposing top lines and he would be an ideal tutor for Green, Carlson and Alzner should he stick past this season.

Problem is, I don’t think the Anaheim Ducks are selling just yet. They’ve long held to the claim they want to see Niedermayer retire in a Ducks jersey. Perhaps they’re just trying to drive up the asking price, but Anaheim remains just three points out of the playoff race and trading away their top defenseman would leave an irreplaceable gap. I wish it would, but I don’t see it happening.

Sheldon Souray – The last-place Oilers are sinking and they need to unload their big contracts for a rebuilding phase. Souray has been stewing and miserable for a while now and has already agreed to waive his no trade clause. But not just for anyone.

The rumor is that Souray wants to remain on the West Coast, and preferably be dealt to L.A., where his family lives. With a big shot and big body, Souray could help the Caps’ blueline, but it’s unclear if a shot at the Cup is enough to lure him East when he has two years remaining on his contract after this season.

A broken hand suffered this week complicates matters, but if his absence is minimal (it was unclear how long he’d miss on Tuesday) he could still help the Caps – and the Oilers’ price may have dropped. Even with the injury, of the three players mentioned, Souray makes by far the most sense. We’ll see if McPhee will make it happen.

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