Sunday, March 24, 2013

Caps Trade Bait

Here fishy fishy... here fishy Feaster.... wait, sorry. We're less than two weeks out from the NHL trade deadline of April 3, and the Caps have made nary a (noteworthy) move. My last post (again, graciously matched by @MikeHolden of focused on why I thought Mike Ribeiro should stay in DC, and touched on the notion of better options to trade. Let's flesh that part out now while there's still time.

I like to think of the trade deadline as trimming the fat off a team. Free agency requires you to make some hard decisions about the future of your team, long and short term. The trade deadline, at least in theory, creates a bit of a frenzy and allows teams to trade off players that are expendable one way or another, but that another team wants. Unless you're completely out of competition and need to rebuild or are so hard up against the cap that salary dumps are imperative for the health and future of your organization, big money moves probably are not what you're looking at as a GM. That's why someone like Ribeiro (pending UFA = no commitment necessary) is way more desired than someone like Bobby Ryan (committing salary and term). More permanent trades tend to be made in the off-season.

The trade deadline is the time to shine for "rental" players. These are the guys who can give a playoff bound, or playoff hopeful, team a boost either by addressing a weakness or doubling down on a strength. These aren't junk players, they're guys with valuable skills. Low-skill players are typically traded around for conditional picks and 7th rounders between teams with injuries or just too much money and free time. Here are four Caps players that I think would be better options to trade than Mike Ribeiro. Not in the sense of the return they'd bring, because probably no Cap would bring back more than Ribeiro, but in the sense that the value that they would bring back would immediately outweigh the sting of their loss.
His "Come at me, bro" plan didn't quite work out
  • Michal Neuvirth - Braden Holtby had a rough start, but has all but locked down the number one spot in DC. Neuvirth has been unable to establish any kind of consistency, having traded ice time with Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov, Tomas Vokoun, and Holtby during his career. He has shown flashes of high-level play, and has established himself as a top-tier backup at worst. His pride has taken a hit, and I would honestly be shocked to see him re-sign in DC as a backup to someone younger than him. Other teams desperately need a goaltender with the youth and passion to compete for a number one spot and be relied on for the future. As a pending RFA, Neuvirth's trade value plummets in free agency, but his current $1.5mil contract is more than palatable to a team like Calgary (which is in desperate need of a top-to-bottom rebuild) or New Jersey (which has an average NHL goalie age of 39.5 and no prospects to speak of). The Caps, meanwhile, have one of the best goalie prospect pools in the league, with Grubauer, Anderson, and even Kostenko down the pipeline. What they lack is a veteran, someone to mentor Holtby. Projected Return: 2nd round pick, or low pick and backup goalie
  • Winner of the team's "Pedobear" award for facial hair
  •  Marcus Johansson - MoJo, as he is so often referred to, is too often lacking his nickname. He has seen long stints on each of the top three lines and at each of the forward positions. He tends to get time on both the PK and the PP. For someone like Brooks Laich, this is viewed as versatility. For Johansson, though, it is the result of trying to find his place. We all know he has the skills. What he has yet to find in Washington is the proper role to break out. Plagued by inconsistency in both his level of play and linemates, he has never really seemed to quite fit. He's easily the team's worst center despite insisting that is his natural spot, but he struggles to control the puck along the boards. Yet he has wheels that can lead to breakouts, can execute a wrap-around with the best of 'em, and man is he just frustrating to watch because you know there's just something missing, something not clicking that is keeping him from breaking out. With Forsberg and Wilson likely on the Caps next season, and Kuznetsov possibly joining after the (presumed) Olympic break, MoJo's value to the McPhee as an RFA is worthy of serious scrutiny. A change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered to help young Marcus finally develop his game and discover his role in the NHL, while allowing the Caps to make room for the other first-round picks. Projected Return: low 2nd or high 3rd round pick, maybe with a mid-level prospect to boot
  • I make the same gesture when I see him in
    the lineup over Wolski these days.
  •  Jason Chimera - Chimera had a career year under Dale Hunter, thanks in no small part to the chemistry he found with Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer under a system that spoke to Chimmer's strengths. Hunter hockey isn't Oates hockey, though. Nor is Hunter hockey Boudreau hockey. Speedy #25's stats under Oates are pretty awful, despite seeing time on all three of the top lines and somehow managing to be possibly the only Caps player not to see a demotion (he's always been a 3rd liner, going back to that role from the 1st doesn't count) or the press box. They're not that different from his boxcar stats in the Boudreau years, either. Both now and in the year prior to Hunter's arrival, Chimera was the worst Cap (along with MoJo) in terms of the admittedly-sketchy plus-minus statistic. With Wojtek Wolski on the bench this season, and Tom Wilson itching to make the Caps roster, Chimera is a redundant player on the team both now and in the future in addition to seemingly being a poor fit with the current system and roster. But he does have upside. Again, he had career numbers last year. He has more to him than meets the eye, and the eye shows one of the fastest skaters in the league and grit to go along with it. He has one year remaining at $1.75mil, easily absorbed by any team in the league. He's precisely the kind of player a contender likes, so long as that contender believes the best offense is a good defense (i.e. Ducks need not apply. Blues, though...). Unlike MoJo and Neuvy, moving Chimera has the potential to immediately free up cap space for next year and has far fewer question marks about what he brings to the table. Projected Return: 3rd round pick, combo of lower picks, player-for-player trade
  • It's not always easy playing hockey, what with
    the Crabbs trying to nip at your ankles.
  • Joel Ward - Of these four, Joel would likely be the hardest player to move, and is the one I have come to like the most. At the time he was signed as a free agent, McPhee said he overpaid Ward by about 15%. That was after an incredible display in helping Nashville get to the second round of the playoffs for the first time and before the salary cap was going to plummet by almost $6mil. With two years remaining at $3mil apiece, Ward's contract would be hard to eat for most teams. That's not to say he isn't a valuable asset. Oates showcased what Ward could do early on this season. He reversed his trend of seeing his offensive numbers decline in every season he has been in the league. He can play on both sides of special teams and has shown that all-important clutch factor in the post-season. He puts in an honest effort and is rarely seen making mistakes. He is the ideal NHL third liner, and can fill in on the top two lines when needed. Even more than Chimera and MoJo, though, Ward has fallen to redundancy in Washington. Of the team's current right wingers, he is fourth on the depth chart behind Ovi, Brouwer, and Fehr. Recently Ward has been playing on the fourth line as a result. Ward is not going to pass Ovechkin and Brouwer on the depth chart, so his Caps ceiling is the third line. There are cheaper options already in the system that can fill his role without losing much, if anything, in terms of on-ice value. He is still a valuable player, and one that a team in the top-5 for salary space could use without worry. Projected Return: 3rd round pick, combo of lower picks and/or mid-level prospects

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