[Ed. Note: For updated coverage, check out our complete Trade Deadline guide here!!]
Capitals General Manager George McPhee is undoubtedly looking for a winger to complement his top combination of Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Mike Knuble worked wonders on the line last year with his size and penchant for net-crashing, but his lack of speed has limited him this year. Jason Chimera has had success on alternate days, in large part due to his speed and aggressiveness, but he’s not a skill player and isn’t consistent enough for regular top-line duty. Eric Fehr had some success there this year before he was hurt, but he may not recover in time to claim that spot before the trade deadline. Alexander Semin brings a whole new dimension to that line when he’s on it, but the team is usually better served to have a second scoring line, especially when the Big 3 get too cute.
In order for McPhee to trade for anyone to improve that top line, he has to be sure of what he’s getting and the price tag can’t be too high. He may look for a low-risk quick fix that could get the Caps through this season, or he might be willing to look for a longer term fix, a player with time left on his contract. Either way, an acquisition has to represent an upgrade over what the team has and there has to be a willing trade partner.
What the Capitals really need is a consistent winger on that line who brings elements that give Ovechkin and Backstrom room to work and improve puck possession. Some combination of size, speed, skill, and defensive conscience is needed here. It’s a short list.
It is important to note two of these players could potentially fill the Caps’ second-line center vacancy, too, a position discussed in an earlier article. Stats are through February 13.
Radek Dvorak, RW, Florida Panthers (Age: 33)
6’2, 190, Shoots: Right
2010-11 Salary Cap Hit: $1.7 million, UFA this summer
2010-11 Stats: 46 GP, 6-13-19, +5, 14 PIM, 16:18 TOI/G (0:14 PP, 2:15 SH), 76 shots, won 22.2% of 9 faceoffs.
-Speed: Radek Dvořák is one of the fastest skaters in the league. He has the ability to blow past defenders going down the wing. He is an excellent defensive forward, which is a plus for this line. He is especially dangerous on the penalty kill, with 8 shorthanded goals over the past 2-plus seasons (the Capitals have 12 combined).
-Experience: Dvořák is a young veteran, he has played 1,098 NHL games for four teams, posting 214 goals (23 shorthanded) and 553 points. More important, Dvořák has 2 points in the 8 Stanley Cup Final games on his resume from 1996 and 2006. Dvořák has posted 7 points in 39 playoff games overall, plus some serious experience with the Czech national team.
-Skill: Dvořák has not been used as much in a scoring role in recent years, but the former 10th overall pick from 1995 has a decent set of hands. He has a 31-goal, 67-point season on his ledger from 2000-01 when he was part of the Czech Mate line in New York. He is still capable of setting up teammates with regularity, but he hasn’t had much powerplay time in recent years. He also has an 19/15 Takeaway to Giveaway ratio, and his 15 giveaways are just over 1 per 60 minutes.
-Consistency: Dvořák is prone to falling into long scoring droughts because he lacks a goal-scorer’s touch. He was drafted as a scoring winger but never really developed into one. With only 3 seasons of 50 points or better, Dvořák will likely best be remembered as a speedy penalty-killer.
-Size: Dvořák isn’t a an especially large winger. His light frame serves him well with speed, but does him no favors in the corners. He will have issues parking himself in the crease and making room for his linemates. With 39 hits in 46 games, he is not prone to throwing his weight around too often.
Likelihood and Cost:
Radek Dvořák’s contract status makes this a possibility. He would fit within the Caps’ salary cap space and structure nicely. He should not be too expensive in terms of return, either, as he has never been an all-star or won a championship. A 3rd-round draft pick would be a reasonable expectation for a player like this, and Florida is likely out of the playoff hunt. Florida’s willingness to trade within the division is almost nullified by Dvořák being unrestricted at the end of the season, but the Caps and Cats do play three more games this season after the deadline. Update – Then again, Panthers GM Dale Tallon is listening to all offers.
Dainius Zubrus, LW/C, New Jersey Devils (Age: 32)
6’5, 225, Shoots: Left
2010-11 Salary Cap Hit: $3.4 million, 2 years remaining
2010-11 Stats: 55 GP, 11-11-22, -8, 37 PIM, 17:05 TOI/G (0:32 PP, 2:26 SH), 88 shots, won 202 of 365 faceoffs (55.3%).
-Size: Dainius Zubrus is a large human being with a big rump that lets him control the puck well in traffic. He averages nearly 5 hits per 60 minutes of ice time, and he has no qualms about going to the net. At 6’5, he has the reach to be a big pain in the rear for opponents, too, his 27 takeaways would rank 5th among Caps forwards. His size also helps him win 55% of his faceoffs.
-Familiarity: Zubrus played for the Capitals from 2001 to 2007, including two years as Alex Ovechkin’s linemate and mentor. Zubrus has never played for Boudreau, but he has played with 10 players on the active roster and for assistant coach Dean Evason. He had his two best seasons playing with Ovechkin (109 points in 131 games). He is also fluent in Russian, having grown up in the former Soviet Union, and could be a steadying influence on some of the younger players.
-Versatility & Experience: Zubrus has the ability to play center and wing. He can be used in more of a checking role, like he is in New Jersey, or as a top-line center in a pinch, as he did in DC. Zubrus has played for 4 other teams in a variety of roles and has been part of two long playoff runs. In addition to 487 points in 959 regular season games, Zubrus has 25 points in 68 playoff games.
-Consistency: Zubrus has never been known for his consistency or his scorer’s touch. He doesn’t have the best hands for scoring or controlling the puck, meaning his scoring slumps can be prolonged because of his inability to make things happen on his own.
-Injuries: Zubrus has a history of concussions and has only played two 82-game seasons. Just last season, Zubrus missed 30 games with a right leg injury. He had a variety of ailments during his time in DC that caused him to miss long stretches, too.
-Discipline: It wasn’t necessarily how many penalties Zubrus took, it was when he took them. He had a penchant for taking bad penalties at the worst times in DC. That habit is something that can’t be a problem deep in a playoff run.
Likelihood and Cost:
Zubrus’s contract has two more years on it, meaning McPhee has to be very sure Zubrus will be an asset. His $3.4 million cap hit is enough to make a dent in the Caps’ remaining space for next year, meaning Knuble doesn’t return and and someone doesn’t get a raise. That alone makes Zubrus a questionable acquisition. New Jersey would very likely be glad to dump Zubrus’s contract for the cap relief, meaning the cost the Capitals would likely be low. This doesn’t look like a very likely move unless McPhee sees Zubrus as a top-2 line forward in DC for the next two years.
Michal Handzus, C/W, Los Angeles Kings (Age: 33)
6’4, 219, Shoots: Left
2010-11 Salary Cap Hit: $4 million, UFA this summer
2010-11 Stats: 56 GP, 8-14-22, +1, 16 PIM, 16:50 TOI/G (2:43 PP, 2:28 SH), 62 shots, win 51.3% of 904 faceoffs.
-Size: Michal Handzuš is a big, strong man who can crash the net for rebounds, as the Caps found out on Saturday. He is good in the corners, he’s physical (63 hits) and he makes room for teammates in the offensive zone.
-Experience: Handzuš has been around a while (818 games with 5 teams) and has been a decent scorer for most of his career, consistently scoring about 20 goals and 40-45 points per season. He’s played 66 playoff games (30 points) that includes a deep run with the Flyers in 2004. He also has big-game experience in the international arena playing for Team Slovakia.
-Versatility: Handzuš is a big man with a large toolkit. He can play all positions and special teams. He could likely be a serviceable second-line center, as he has the playmaking skills and defensive awareness (35 blocked shots) to be effective. HIs faceoff winning percentage would be a help, too.
-Consistency: Handzuš has never blown opponents away with offense. He’s another player that has a lack of hands that can cause him to have long stretches without goals, meaning the #2 center position would be a stretch for him, limiting his versatility on the Caps.
-Speed: Handzuš isn’t very fast, which will limit his effectiveness on a scoring line. After a knee injury in 2006, he’ll likely never get any of that speed back. The Capitals need quick forwards to make an impact in the playoffs with the way they want to play.
Likelihood and Cost:
Michal Handzuš won’t come cheap, especially with Los Angeles still in the playoff hunt. Such an experienced player will have a lot of value at the trade deadline for a lot of teams. He’s the kind of player the Caps will likely have to trade serious value to get, likely including a warm body. If Los Angeles stays in the playoff hunt, he won’t be available anyway, but he’s likely going to cost more than McPhee would want. Update - Thanks to one of our readers, Feds, for bringing him to our attention.
One player in particular that could be a good fit but is unlikely to come to DC is Dustin Penner of the Edmonton Oilers. As he’s a young player on a young team who still has a year on his $4.25 million contract, and the Oilers have plenty of cap room, he’s likely part of the future in Oil town. Penner wouldn’t represent a deadline deal, he would represent a major trade McPhee would be giving away major assets to acquire. Penner is playing well, and there’s no real reason for GM Steve Tambellini to let him go as he tries to build a winning team in Edmonton.
Several wingers were considered that might be available but don’t really fit the bill, as they are too fragile or don’t go into the corners enough to really compliment the top line. Add in No-Movement Clauses for Alex Tanguay and Milan Hejduk and an additional year on Ales Hemsky‘s contract, and they’re doubly out of contention. Andrew Brunette has good hands and a large rump, but doesn’t represent an upgrade over Mike Knuble. He’s a less physical, but more offensively gifted, slow 37-year old.