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During HBO’s “24/7” miniseries, Capitals general manager George McPhee said that if media pundits “knew anything about hockey, they’d be in it” (guilty as charged). If there has been one thing that has been beaten to death by those very pundits/analysts, it’s that the Caps are still missing something that will push them over the Stanley Cup hump. It’s fluctuated among a veteran goaltender, a defensive defenseman and a second line center.
The first two have been neutralized for now; Jose Theodore did an admirable job bridging the gap between Olaf Kolzig and the new generation of Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, while Scott Hannan’s arrival in November gave Washington the defenseman it has lacked for several years. Yet, there is still no true second line center. The “Tomas Fleischmann Experiment” failed (as did Eric Belanger) and even though Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson have progressed over the course of the season, neither of them are the answer.
The Capitals will have to make another move at the trade deadline to bring in a true second line center. With that said, the best possible option for Washington is New Jersey’s Jason Arnott. Here’s why:
- The Devils are tanking. They’ve already traded their captain, Jamie Langenbrunner, to the Dallas Stars and Brian Rolston even went through the waiver wire. With a 12-29-2 record, far and away the worst in the NHL, the Devils will look to knock things down before building them back up. A player like Dallas’ Brad Richards might be a better fit, but the Stars are in the thick of things in the Western Conference and barring a complete collapse, the team needs Richards to compete.
- Arnott would automatically become the most-experienced Capital overall and in the area that they’re the least experienced: the postseason. Arnott has played 1,142 regular season games in the NHL, compared to Mike Knuble’s 931, Tom Poti’s 808 and Scott Hannan’s 794. Arnott has also played in 106 career playoff games and won the 2000 Stanley Cup. Knuble also has his name on the Cup with the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings, but only played three games. Arnott scored eight goals and had 12 assists during his Cup-winning season and scored the series-winning goal in double overtime. Suffice to say, Arnott knows how to win.
- He has been a leader wherever he has been. He captained the Nashville Predators from 2007-2010 and was an alternate captain with the Devils during his first run with the team. Arnott, much like Sergei Fedorov, would provide the intangibles in the locker room that cannot be matched.
- The biggest problem with the current 2C is that neither Flash/Perreault/Johansson are scoring threats, which let opposing teams cut off the puck at the source. Arnott, however, is a threat. Arnott has scored double figures in goals every season of his career, which began in 1993-94. He has scored 20+ goals 12 times (including 10 of the last 11 seasons) and has scored 30+ three times. He can also pass; he has had at least 20 assists in every season of his career. With that said, adding Arnott at 2C would create matchup problems for opposing teams.; they simply couldn’t throw out their top blueliners against the Capitals’ first line without the fear of getting burned by a second line complete with a more consistent distributor.
- On the financial side of things, Arnott would likely fit under Washington’s salary cap. He has a cap hit of $4.5 million this year, but if the Caps make a deal for him at the deadline they would only have to shoulder $991,935 of his salary. They already have $1,452,374 in cap space so a deal could be done. The primary question is what the Caps would have to give up in a deal to bring Arnott into the fold. With New Jersey in trouble, perhaps the Caps could even get him on the cheap. Also, his contract expires at the end of the season, meaning Washington wouldn’t have to make any long-term commitment to a player who’s 36 years old.
Arnott would be the perfect fit for the 2C. All things considered, we might not be in hockey, but Arnott should be a priority on GMGM’s list sooner rather than later.