Mathieu Perreault, Tom Wilson, and Roster Decisions

Photo by RMNB's intrepid Chris Gordon

Sunday night, the Washington Capitals finally addressed an elephant in the room when they traded center Mathieu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for minor leaguer John Mitchell and a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft.  With the move, the Capitals are now at 23 players on the NHL roster and seem to have their opening night 23-man sheet all set to go for Tuesday’s tilt in Chicago – young forwards Tom Wilson and Michael Latta make the team full-time, as does young defenseman Connor Carrick.

This trade really makes little sense to me from every angle, and I fear that it will come back to haunt Washington this season during a campaign in which they were showing promise.  Every theoretical reason for trading Perreault is easily debunked, and it looks as though George McPhee has made his team worse with this move.  Especially since he got practically nothing in return for a serviceable NHLer.  (Yes, a fourth round pick and a career AHLer is practically nothing).

Perreault had to go to make room for Wilson.  This is the one that makes the most sense on the surface.  In case you were unaware, the Capitals have this great young power winger named Tom Wilson currently on the team.  He hits, he fights, he scores goals, everybody loves him.  With Perreault gone, Washington now has enough salary cap room to keep Wilson on the team to start the season.  But there were other ways to clear that salary cap space, like getting rid of Aaron Volpatti, or John Erskine, or maybe even Jason Chimera.  And as good as Wilson has been in the preseason, it’s still preseason.  Wilson has proven little, and to jettison a serviceable and talented center so an unproven winger can try to run roughshod seems to be poor roster management in my opinion.  That’s not to say Wilson is’t a great player with huge potential, because he is.  But he’s 19.  Let’s temper expectations a little bit.

Perreault never proved anything during his time in DC.  This is simply factually incorrect.  Perreault has 33 goals and 70 points in 159 career games, which while not excellent, is much better than Volpatti.  Perreault has also been one of Washington’s best puck possessors in recent years, posting a corsi rel of 11.1 or higher in each of the last three campaigns.  Finally, he did most of this while playing with linemates who were not offensive players, and was a valuable sparkplug and offensive fill-in when injuries or suspensions struck Washington’s roster.  Oh, and he’s proven far more than Tom Wilson.

Perreault was expendable.  Not nearly as expendable as Michael Latta, Volpatti, or Chimera, who all get to remain on the roster over him – MP is either younger or better than all three of these players.  Fighting is not a momentum swinger, despite popular opinion, and as mentioned, MP was an excellent offensive stopgap who produced when he played.  In fact, only 43 players have more points per 60 minutes than Perreault since he entered the league – and studs like Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand are below him on the list.  If you believe a player like that is expendable, you should re-evaluate your standards.

This move makes the team tougher to play against.  Actually, it makes them easier to play against.  One injury to a top-six forward forces Wilson in a bigger role, which puts more pressure on him and the rest of the lineup around him.  That means Volpatti plays every night, which would likely mean a fourth line of him, Jay Beagle, and Chimera – a possession nightmare.  Instead of having a player who can score to plug in to the lineup, Adam Oates will be forced to roll players with far less talent and scoring ability.  That makes the Capitals easier to play against, not harder.  And no, teams are not intimidated with a fourth line of Volpatti-Chimera-Beagle.  This move eliminates flexibility at the center position, too.

In closing, the Capitals on Sunday decided that the best way to make room for a player who hasn’t proven anything would be to get rid of someone who has proven a lot at this level while keeping grinders and fighters on the roster.  This move, when combined with the recent demotion of Dmitry Orlov, means that Washington has willingly kept two mainly offensive talents off the roster in favor of size and “toughness.”  It’s disturbingly Toronto-like, especially for a team who struggled last year in terms of possessing the puck. 

It’s not that I don’t think Tom Wilson is a great player with a bright future, because he is.  It’s not because Perreault is some sort of stud, because he isn’t.  But these types of little moves add up, and a deeper analysis outside of Perreault was “small” and “soft” reveals a player who was granted little prime opportunity to show what he could do.  Now he’s gone, and there is a void left in his absence.  There is little question in my mind that a team without Tom Wilson and with Perreault would be able to sustain results longer and more effectively than the one where the situation is reversed.  Especially long-term – if Wilson doesn’t have a big year, his valuable entry-level dear gets a year knocked off with little to show for it.

In the end, there is no way of knowing how a long-term roster decision like this will work out until we see the results.  But know this: the Capitals made another risky decision today, and it could have significant negative implications for them down the road.

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