Encouraging Signs from Capitals Pre-Deadline Day

Dustin Penner sent the Kings to the 2012 Final with this goal. (TheScore)

Tuesday was an eventful day for the Washington Capitals, with General Manager George McPhee making two trades.  In the afternoon, he acquired left wing Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a fourth round draft pick.  Then, later in the evening, he was able to get rid of the Martin Erat disaster by sending the maligned winger and John Mitchell to Phoenix for defenseman Rostislav Klesla, prospect Chris Brown, and a fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft.

Let’s start off with the Penner deal.  In a vacuum, it’s a great move.  Fourth-round picks are virtually worthless with the intense level of scouting in today’s NHL, and Penner is a big, powerful winger who will fit along nicely with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the top line.  He does not drive possession particularly well, with a dead even 0.0 corsi on according to BehindTheNet (but a 4.0 corsi rel).  He’s scored 13 goals to go along with 19 assists this year, certainly not bad numbers, and has established himself as a key player on a Cup winning team twice before – the 2007 Ducks and the 2012 Kings.  Overall, this was an excellent value move, bringing in a good player for effectively no useful assets.

However, I am slightly wary of this deal for two reasons.  One, it did not address the chief need that the Capitals have – defense.  And two, Penner is the definition of a rental player, though there is little doubt in my mind that George McPhee will try to re-sign him.  This is because he is all of the things McPhee seems to value in recent player moves – namely big, strong, and “hard to play against” (which is baloney).  As I have written in this space several times over the last 24 months – I have a hard time believing the Capitals are a contender as currently constructed, and I worry that management is holding on to the past instead of trying to retool slightly and go for it when some of their younger players mature.

The second deal saw the Capitals finally rid themselves of Martin Erat, closing the book on perhaps the worst player exchange in Capitals history that did not involve Scott Stevens.  In return for Erat and John Mitchell, the Caps got three assets, but two players.  One was defenseman Rusty Klesla, who never really panned out after being picked 4th overall by the Blue Jackets in 2000.  Klesla is a big, physical, left shot defenseman.  He’s reporting to Hershey, which means that the team doesn’t view him as a solution to its defensive problems – at least not now.  They also acquired a center prospect in Chris Brown, who scored 29 goals in the AHL last year and has a great shot, according to a former coach.  With both of these things considered, it’s clear that the main gain in this deal was salary cap space – which is just what the team needed – although if my math is right that figure is only just north of $1.5 million right now.  And McPhee deserves credit for that.  But as we tweeted earlier, that credit is for getting out of a situation that he put himself in – but it’s not like he made some great trade.  It’s a shame that Filip Forsberg eventually turned in to “salary cap space,” but beggars cannot be choosers in this instance.

Overall, this was an encouraging day as the Capitals did not spend major assets to improve (however slightly) and also ridded themselves of salary in preparation for the summer.  But more deals have to be coming before Wednesday’s 3 PM ET deadline – and I caution that any deal that involves a big name rental for high-level assets will leave me, shall we say, upset.  Get ready for a drama-filled day.

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