George McPhee, Capitals Must Trade For Second Line Center This Summer

The second-line center position has been the proverbial white whale for the Washington Capitals since Sergei Fedorov left at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season. Since then, the Caps have seen Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, Tomas Fleischmann, Jason Arnott, Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson try and ultimately fail to provide a long-term solution behind Nicklas Backstrom.

With the Caps holding two picks in the first round of the NHL Draft Friday, free agency looming July 1 and the hopeful long-term fix – Evgeny Kuznetsov – not available for at least two years, the aforementioned white whale has transformed into the elephant in the room: Washington will go another season without a second-line center if they do not trade for one.

Despite having the 11th and 16th overall selections in this weekend’s draft, it is unlikely that either of them will make an impact in Washington for at least two seasons. Meanwhile, the depth of unrestricted free agent centers this summer is incredibly shallow. Phoenix Coyotes center Daymond Langkow ($4.5 million salary cap hit last season) saw time at second-line center last season, but he was pushed down to the fourth line after the team acquired Antoine Vermette from the Columbus Blue Jackets; Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll ($3.6 million) is a solid third-line center that can adequately fill in at 2C, but quite frankly, after winning the Stanley Cup this season, re-signing is the likeliest option.

Calgary Flames center Olli Jokinen ($3 million) is inconsistent at best and is certainly not the scorer that he used to be, while Buffalo Sabres center Jochen Hecht ($3.525 million) is recovering from a concussion. Coincidentally, it looks like Arnott may actually be the best available free agent option at center, which, after a injury-plagued season with the St. Louis Blues, is saying something.

Making a trade is necessary and it should be one that removes General Manager George McPhee from his comfort zone. There might not be a more thrifty general manager in the NHL than McPhee, who has the uncanny ability to turn nothing into something (after all, he acquired Fedorov for Theo Ruth). Yet, if McPhee wants to dramatically improve his club by finally filling a huge hole, he must make a big splash.

The most valuable pieces to do just that are both first-round draft picks and Mike Green’s negotiating rights. Trading away Green, a restricted free agent, might be a risky move because of what looks to be the inevitable departure of Dennis Wideman, but the Caps have puck-moving defensemen in John Carlson, already on the top pairing with Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov, who could step into a larger role (not to mention that there is a shortage of quality unrestricted free agent offensive defensemen). Any combination of the draft picks and Green’s right could fetch the elusive second line center that has disconfigured Washington’s depth chart for three years.

When asked June 14 what he felt were the Caps’ biggest needs, McPhee did not budge, saying that “if I tell you that, then that’s all we’re gonna hear about for the next two months.” Perhaps McPhee had a point, but if he does not make an effort to rip the band-aid off the second-line center position and continues to look for the short-term fix, he is going to be hearing about it for a lot longer than that.

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11 Comments

Filed under Capitals, NHL, NHL Draft, Opinion

11 responses to “George McPhee, Capitals Must Trade For Second Line Center This Summer

  1. The Fingerm

    I’m with you on trading the two picks, but you really think Mike Green’s rights are worth something on the trade market? The “right” to pay $5 million for a player who has been constantly injured the past two years, scored one goal last year in the time he did play and hasn’t looked anything like the Norris Trophy-finalist Mike Green for a long time? Hope he returns to form, but can’t imagine any other team taking on that salary next year hoping for that.

    To me, the biggest problem the Caps have in trading for a second-line center is that the system cupboard is bare. There’s not much to trade that’s not already penciled in for next season. Orlov would be a good trade chip, but they’re likely not trading him. Could see them trading Eakin or MJ90 along with the picks for a second-line center–does that get it done? And how do you replace Semin? Other than perhaps Grubauer, is there anything in Hershey that anyone would want?

    • Considering the lack of impact defensemen on the free agent market this season after Ryan Suter and potentially Dennis Wideman, i think Green could fetch some interest. Yes, he is perennially injured, but he is a former Norris Trophy candidate. A team with limited defensive depth would take a look, I’m sure. High risk, high reward.

  2. The Fingerm

    Yeah, but they’d have to pay him close to that much in salary. The way I read the rules, he’s eligible for salary arbitration, and you can’t receive less than 85 percent of your previous salary in arbitration. So whatever team trades for him would still have to spend a lot of money to sign him. Just have a hard time seeing any team — other than the Caps — being stuck with that kind of salary for a player that hasn’t proven in the last two years that he can stay on the ice. But maybe I’m wrong.

  3. Jason

    Personally, I’d be OK with trading Green’s rights and 2 picks (potentially more), for Pittsburgh’s disgruntled 3C–Jordan Staal. He’s better than a 3C as he proved when Crosby and Malkin were both sidelined. He’d fill the gaping hole quite nicely and could take 1C role if (lord forbid) Nicky gets injured.

    On another note, I’d also make a play for Bobby Ryan from Anaheim. Semin’s rights for Bobby Ryan. Semin’s already familiar with the coach and I believe Anaheim could afford him (could be wrong about that).

    Anyway, that’s my opinion

    • The Fingerman

      I’d be fine with trading two picks and Green’s rights for Jordan Staal. Problem is, Pittsburgh isn’t going to do that unless they’re high.

      Love Bobby Ryan, too. Semin’s rights aren’t worth anything, though. He’s going to be an unrestricted free agent in a week. You’re going to have to give up two picks and roster players for Ryan. Can’t get something for nothing.

  4. Great piece Adam. I definitely agree. The Caps need a 2C or they won’t be going any farther in the playoffs. I’m just afraid GMGM won’t do anything to make a trade. I don’t understand why he is so “I’m fine with this team, we have a great team.” “With Nick Backstrom in the lineup we can beat anyone” (remember that gem from the deadline?) Their needs to be a shakeup in the core. Trading Green + picks would be perfect in my opinion. But then again they did already send him a qualifying offer.

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